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On January 12, , Wizards of the Coast released the Systems Reference Document, 5th Edition under the Open Gaming License - effectively making the core rules and much of the more generic fantasy content in 5th edition free.
Ability scores can give small bonuses to your dice rolls.
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Characters can be skilled at predefined tasks like "acrobatics" or "intimidation" to get bonus to rolls. Universal dbased system of roll-over target numbers. Experience points , with every class requiring the same number of EXP's to advance to the next level. Classes get features as they reach new class levels. Hit points, class-based hit dice. If a character has an 'advantage' for a skill roll or combat roll, the player rolls two d20 and takes the better one.
If a character has a 'disadvantage', roll two d20 and take the worse one. These advantages and disadvantages cancel each other out, and do not accumulate; you will only ever roll two d20 and choose one. So if your second level rogue is trying to pick a lock but he is on fire and drunk as players of rogues often are but he's being aided by another person, he'll pick the lock just as well as if he was totally fine.
The explosion of buffs has been dramatically scaled back from 3E, where having ten buffs at once was not unheard of. Attributes are the same ol' six, but more important than before. They're used for skills checks and saving throws. Ability score increases are now class features, meaning that you have the potential to lose them if you multiclass. Most classes get 5 ASIs, at levels 4, 8, 12, 16, and Rogues get a couple extra, and Fighters get a couple more than Rogues.
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Feats are now fewer in number and more potent. If a character wants to obtain a Feat, they have to give up one of their Ability Score Increases to gain access to it. In order to maintain the 'bounded accuracy' system described above, ability scores have a 'soft cap' of 20, which can only be broken using rare magic items, or exceptional circumstances such as the Barbarian's level 20 feature.
There is a hard cap of 30, which cannot be exceeded by any means.
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Swarms are still a problem, as are clever little shits like Tucker's Kobolds ; no more Superman characters. No more skill points; either you have proficiency in a skill, or you don't. Seems small, but see above about skill checks and ACs not getting stupid large even at high levels. Saving throws are like skills checks. Each class is proficient in two attributes for saving throws, so they get to add their proficiency bonus.
No more 'fort','reflex','will' per level, although Constitution, Dexterity, and Wisdom are still the three most common saves.
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Each class gets two saving throw proficiencies, one "common" and one "uncommon. Races come with racial bonuses, but some races also choose a racial sub-type.
This has been around since Dragon Magazine was still a print magazine, but it's codified right there at character generation. The exceptions are humans, half-elves, half-orcs, and tieflings.
It is very similar to 3e Sorcerers.
Older players may recognize this system from the Final Fantasy 1 and Wizardry vidyas. Each class has a subtype called "archetype" you choose at 1st, 2nd or 3rd level, depending on the class. This lets you choose some of the class features you get as you level up. For Clerics this would be their god's domain that the Cleric is gonna be all about Basic Set only has "Life" domain.
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For Wizards it's the school of magic Basic Set only has "Evocation". Paladins have the Oath they swear, bards have the College they join, etc.
Character background is now a mandatory part of character generation. A Background includes additional skill and tool proficiencies, and even bonus equipment, as well as a "Feature" that gives some sort of social advantage. For example, a Criminal has a contact in the criminal underground, or a Sailor being able to get free passage for their party in exchange for assisting the ship's crew.
Backgrounds also have tables players will roll on to get two Personality Traits, one Ideal, one Bond, and one Flaw, though like most tables of this nature the player can just choose whatever sounds best to them or come up with their own that fit the background 'cause this is a roleplaying game. When you role-play well, the DM can give you an "inspiration" token you can spend to gain advantage on a d20 roll, or pass it off to another player in the group.
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This has often been a house rule but now it's codified and it will likely push people into using the fanmail mechanic more often, and roleplaying for benefits instead of being entitled to a hero point with every long rest. Additionally, you can only ever have one inspiration token at any given time, effectively incentivizing you to spend it quickly and not hoard it.
Presumably this is all to help out new players with the idea of playing a character that isn't of their own personality, but it also probably helps the players who view their characters as walking stat blocks with little to no personality into trying actual roleplaying for once.
The PHB even explicitly suggests working with your DM to come up with a custom background if none of the ones in the book really fit your character. The basic set comes with five pre-made character backgrounds, and tables so you can roll the "traits" "ideal" etc. Notably, the bard's performance can also grant inspiration.
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Starting equipment is now decided with the use of a list for a given class, as well as equipment granted by choosing a background. Some things in a list give you an option, such as choosing between two kinds of weapons or item packs. It's an awfully generous amount of items to start with when you add it all up. Of course, you can roll for starting gp like in older editions, but you stand a decent chance of rolling poorly, and considering how the monk's starting item set alone has the potential to be worth more than the maximum roll for their starting money None of the core books have rules for playing as "monster races.
Official online supplements are being released to cover some of this with the first one including all the Eberron -specific races as options , and the DMG does offer very free-form rules for homebrewing new races off the template of the old. Bastard swords and spiked chains are nowhere to be found. Hand crossbows are now martial weapons after 4th edition downgraded them from exotic to simple. Instead, the rules tell the player to use equivalents for flavor katanas are just longswords, etc.
Psionics haven't reared their head yet, save for a brief mention that Illithids are "Psionic Commanders" and possess "psionic powers" with no further description for what that means to the player some other monsters also mention possible psionic powers, for example quaggoth and gray ooze.
In the Unearthed Arcana article for Eberron, it was mentioned that rules for psionic classes would be published "once such rules are made available," implying that WotC is working implementing a Psionic class and as of this writing there is currently a rough draft of psionics in existence.
The Warlord has yet to make a 5e appearance despite the battlemaster being the Eldritch Knight to its wizard and the Warlord being a core class from 4e.
No epic progression.
The DMG has rules for epic boons, but there's not much support beyond this. Consequentially the Monster Manual lacks epic monsters like Atropals and Orcus. The atropal is now in Tomb of Annihilation, but it has a much lower CR. Official material and pre-made adventures soft-cap at around level 12 to better support the Adventure League.
Paladin flavor definitely leans towards the Good alignments, but focus is given on following their archetype's Oath rather than a specific alignment. PC racial traits are more like 4E than other editions. There are no ability score penalties, level adjustments, or favored classes.
Eladrin returns as a playable race, here an Elf sub-race introduced in the DMG. Warlock remains a core class and Bard is a full-fledged caster. Fighter and Monk don't completely suck. Second Wind lives on as a class feature for Fighters.
Bits and pieces of Defender Marking also turn up such as Protection fighting style and Sentinel feat. Action Points live on in the Fighter as well, in the form of Action Surge, which lets a Fighter make a second action on their turn, but needs a short rest before getting this extra action back.
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Speaking of short rest, many class-related feature-powers are designated as needing either "a short rest or a long rest", or "a long rest" to recharge after being used. On the other hand, the definition of "Short Rest" has changed a bit. In 4e, a short rest was a 5-minute breather, and it was generally assumed that you'd get a short rest after every encounter. In 5e, a short rest is more like a 1-hour lunch break, so you won't get them as often. The use of hit dice to regain hit points during a short rest is based on 4th edition's healing surges.
Psychic damage type is still here. Poison is also a damage type in this edition, but since Poison damage was a 2e thing that 3e chucked out for some absurd reason, it doesn't really count.
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Lightning and Thunder damage retain their 4E names instead of Electric and Sonic. Likewise, Necrotic and Radiant energy survived the edition change, though they are tied to the old "Positive Energy Plane" and "Negative Energy Plane", which are here imagined as secondary planes beyond even the Outer Planes.
Nine spell levels return from previous editions, but as in 4E, spell effects don't scale with caster level, other than the aforementioned attack cantrips.
Instead, lower-level spells can be cast in higher-level slots for more potent returns, like targeting additional enemies or dealing more damage. Cleric's Channel Divinity and the 'ritual' mechanic for spells were also introduced in 4th edition. The Swordmage 's iconic cantrips appeared as available to wizards, sorcerers and warlocks in the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide , along with a Wizard archetype that roughly fits their M.
Spells don't vanish like Vancian spellcasting "fire-and-forget". Spellcasters get a small number of 'cantrips' that they can cast at-will. The attacking ones are sort of equivalent to weapons, and scale up with level.
Non-cantrip spells do not scale up their effect with character level, but they may have bigger effects if cast using a higher spell slot. For instance, the 1st-level spell Burning Hands 3d6 damage does 4d6 when cast as a 2nd-level spell, 5d6 as a third-level, etc.
The caster either prepares a number of different spells each day cleric, druid, paladin, wizard or uses all the spells in his repertoire ranger, sorcerer, warlock, bard which are then freely cast using spell slots.
There is no "Improved Hold Person" instead you cast this 2nd level spell using a 3rd level slot to affect one additional person.
Some spells can be cast as rituals, usually utility stuff. They take an additional 10 minutes to cast as a ritual, but don't use a spell slot. Still needs to be on your spell list, but this means no more blowing an entire day's worth of spell slots on casting "Read Magic" and "Identify" just so you can assess loot.
Some spells, like buff enchantments or protection abjurations, have a continuous effect maintained by 'concentration'.