What Is One D&D?
Table of Contents:
What Is One D&D?
New and Improved?
Wizards of the Coast is currently playtesting and tinkering with “One D&D”, which they claim will be the definitive version of Dungeons and Dragons for the foreseeable future. One edition to rule them all, and potentially in the darkness to bind them. But what exactly is it? Is this a new edition or just an update? Should you be excited or afraid? And most importantly, are they messing with your favorite character classes? Hold onto your core books and kiss your old character builds goodbye as we go through everything you need to know.
The Surrounding Issues
The rest of this article will go over the new rules as we know them and how your games will change with One D&D but first, we need to talk about several elephants in the room. The announcement of One D&D came in the middle of a massive debacle regarding the OGL the Virtual tabletop, and a ton of confusion about what One D&D even is or is meant to be. If you just care about the new rules skip ahead but the surrounding issues are too important to leave out.
What is the OGL and why should you care?
OGL stands for “open gaming license” and it’s the legal document that allows 3rd parties to create D&D content and sell it themselves. I won’t go into the legal-ese and details, but the short version of the story is that along with One D&D Wizards of the Coast tried to sneak in a change to the OGL that would demand royalties from 3rd party developers and grant themselves way more power over the market. Alarm bells were raised in the community and after a huge backlash and fight, WotC capitulated and backed off from their proposed change. Instead, they’ve put out a new OGL that actually grants 3rd parties a bit more access to the core 5e rules to use for their own.
There’s a problem though. WotC has essentially pulled a gun on the 3rd parties, misfired, and then put the gun away and promised not to do it again. They’ve shown their intention is to clench down on the market and kill 3rd parties, which has already caused a lot of players and creators to find different systems to work with.
A big part of One D&D’s announcement was that this wasn’t just an update, but a “unification” of the D&D experience including book codes for virtual copies using D&D beyond and a new D&D exclusive virtual tabletop. The idea of buying an adventure path and automatically getting not only a virtual version of that book, but also all the encounters, monsters, and terrain from that adventure sounds amazing but there’s a catch.
Firstly, until they backed off the OGL, their plan was to make it so their VTT was the only VTT where you could play One D&D, striking down with the ban hammer on other 3rd party VTTs that tried. Next, and this is only rumored and not confirmed, but there’s a good chance the plan was or still is to make this whole “One D&D” package a subscription service for 20 bucks a month. Every corporation drools at the thought of subscription services, and this rumor falls right in line with Hasbro’s overall goal of getting better monetization out of D&D.
The VTT doesn’t even exist yet, and there’s no point getting upset about what hasn’t happened yet, but I’m not looking forward to paying a monthly fee for playing D&D. Finally, I should add that a lot of the rules changes make a ton of sense when you think in terms of making it easier for a VTT to handle. Rules are much more compacted and make fewer outside references, which is good in and of itself, but they do seem to be changes made with the VTT in mind.
This is 5.5e
Trying to claim this isn’t a new edition is just marketing wanting to have their cake and eat it too. No this isn’t a full new edition, but it’s definitely a 5.5. We’ve been in a new golden age of TTRPGs with 5th edition D&D as the shining frontrunner, but now that it’s time for an update they’re very hesitant to say anything close to “new edition”. This edition update is the hopefully happy middle ground, keeping the skeleton of 5e and then tinkering with the details. This is like 3.0 moving to 3.5, or the pathfinder “unchained” update. A big fix and update but you don’t have to throw out all your old books.
It’s All Playtest
Before we get too deep it’s important to note that at the time of this writing all the available information on One D&D is from unearthed arcana playtest material. Nothing is set in stone and tomorrow they could decide to throw out all the test content for something else entirely. So, if the current playtest is gutting your favorite class, hold off on that rage until it actually gets released and you have the final version.
Quite a bit actually, we won’t go through every little change since at that point you may as well be reading the actual playtest. What we’ll go over are the bigger sweeping changes, and the changes that’ll affect your games the most.
A lot of 5e’s clunkiest bits are getting streamlined down by creating overarching categories that can be referenced rather than having a million instances of reminder text, patch rules, and references. Some of the big ones are:
A ton of the weapons got little tweaks, but the big change is the addition of new “weapon masteries”. These weapon masteries are extra effects or abilities that each broad weapon category is capable of, but only if you have the “weapon mastery”. All the martial classes get to choose one or more “weapon mastery options” to unlock. To sum all that up, martial classes get a few “favorite weapon” types, and if they use their mastered weapons, they get to do things like tripping attacks, or a little extra damage.
Practically All the Character Creation Options
There are more character options changing than there are staying the same and we’ll go through each race and class that is significantly changing on their own. But here are the general changes you can anticipate:
With all the overarching stuff out of the way, let’s go through the species (formerly races) and backgrounds seeing the most major changes.
Aasimar are gone, now we have… Animal angel people? The theming here is weird but our celestial blooded race now has animal heads and beast features like a strange mixture of the aasimar and shifter. Time will tell if it sticks but I’m sad to see the aasimar go and excited to see what people do with these.
Breath weapon is a touch weaker but in exchange the dragons finally get darkvision and they get magical wings at 5th level made out of their draconic element. Cool stuff and seems like an overall buff.
The dwarf subraces have been sort of combined into one and they made stonecunning useful. Stonecunning now grants tremorsense on stone surfaces. They have tweaked how tremorsense works a bit but it’s still a powerful new addition that replaces a feature that hardly ever had an effect.
Mostly the same, except an extensive update to the tinkering feature for rock gnomes that is more like having tiny mechanical minions than the previous glorified noisemakers. Wordy and a bit confused, but a definite buff.
Goliaths lose the elevation trait, stone’s endurance, and the powerful build feature that never matters. And in return they gain 5 feet of extra movement, the ability to grow large at 5th level, and their choice of a giant ancestry feature (one of which is stone’s endurance again). The giant ancestry stuff is both mechanically strong and flavorfully interesting, it's a big win for the giant kin.
Like the dwarves, the halfling subclasses were sort of combined into one, meaning you essentially just get more features for the same halfling price. Other than that, the big change is their 30-foot movement speed which replaces the unpleasant 25.
Gone is the era of banning variant humans, humans just get a feat at 1st level, flat-out. They also get a feature that automatically restores inspiration on a long rest which means hopefully we’ll see inspiration getting more use in the future.
Mostly the same except the aggressive feature has been tweaked into adrenaline rush. You can still dash closer to a target as a bonus action, but now you also gain temporary hit points at the cost of making the uses limited to your proficiency bonus per long rest. It’s worth noting here that it seems that half-orcs and the other half-races are gone.
Mostly the same features but the original tiefling has been combined with a couple of the alternative fiendish varieties of tieflings. You mainly get a choice of the racial spell sets from before, not a buff or nerf but a streamline.
Now we get to the meat of the changes. Some classes got minor tweaks, but some are complete overhauls. So far, we have a playtest version of every class except for artificer and monk.
Low-level barbarians will feel hardly any changes at all but tiers 3 and 4 got massively shuffled. The majority of the changes were taking the tier 4 features and shifting them down into tier 3. Probably the most extreme shift down was indomitable might, an 18th level feature originally that has been shifted all the way down to 9th level. Beyond that we get some minor common-sense tweaks to rage (no more hitting yourself to keep rage up) and overall the class seems stronger.
Also, the path of the berserker is finally playable! They got rid of the exhaustion mechanic and fixed up the bonus action conflict that made berserker so bad.
Bard has been pushed more towards a healer role, with a base alternate use of bardic inspiration for healing, and a feature called “songs of restoration” that gives you a list of healing spells that are always prepared in addition to your other spells. Bardic inspiration uses are linked to proficiency bonus rather than Charisma bonus now which means fewer uses early but about the same later. Except font of inspiration has also been pushed up two levels to 7th, meaning you’re going to have to be really sparing with that inspiration until much later now.
I’ve got to say, it feels very weird to nerf their core mechanic, while also trying to push bards hard into a healing role which has always been more of a side option for them. It’s just a very surprising nerf and shift, as I’ve never heard people complain that bards are overpowered. If playgroups allow it I suspect a lot of players will stick to the original version of the class.
For clerics, a lot of the features have been changed slightly or shuffled around. For example, the blessed strikes feature turns all those archetype features that add damage into one core feature for the class. The big change here is starting the archetype at 3rd level instead of 1st which means you’ll be a sort of generic “holy man” until you pick a god at 3rd level, which is odd. They’ve also shifted down and changed the turn undead feature, getting rid of the weird “turned” quasi-condition and replacing it with the new “dazed” condition.
They’ve killed my baby! Wild shape is utterly gutted, instead of being able to turn into any sort of beast you’re stuck with 3 set stat-blocks that represent land, air, and sea creatures with none of the flavor. Then to add insult to injury, they still lock the air and sea forms behind even higher levels than we had before. They also strangely shift druid to be more like a cleric, putting their healing powers front and center alongside a channel divinity-like feature called “channel nature”.
I hate this new version, but I can see the logic. Three forms is a lot easier to implement in a VTT than potentially infinite animal forms from random bestiaries. I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
They’ve put fighter up as the poster child for their new weapon mastery features giving the fighter more of them than any other class and a new feature that lets you swap them out on long rests. Action surge got a minor nerf but in practice it’ll be essentially the same. Probably the biggest change is a nerf to second wind, making it twice per long rest rather than once per short rest.
It does seem like the fighter archetypes are just straight up gaining more features, as their example of the champion archetype is getting more features and some features earlier than they were before.
Practically unchanged and unscathed, a little bit of shuffling in the later tiers but you should find paladins mostly the same.
Hunter’s mark is now baked into the class and you don’t have to concentrate on it (at this point I have to ask why it’s even considered a spell but here we are), which is a sizable buff. All rangers are starting with spellcasting at 1st level rather than waiting. They’re getting better late game features, and that quasi-invisibility feature that was terrible is now straight up invisibility which is great. Overall it seems like the class got buffed and a lot of the mechanics that just never worked with ranger have been stripped out.
The core class is passing through practically unchanged with just some late tier feature shuffling and some slight rewording to make sneak attack clearer. The thief archetype however has been completely reworked and now allows you to take the new Search and Sleight of Hand actions as a bonus action using your cunning action. Thieves are also getting a built in climb speed and bonuses to jumps, along with just straight up advantage on stealth checks.
More spell slots, more metamagic, and more new features, sorcerer makes out like a bandit this edition. As part of a trend that will hold for all the other spellcasting classes, you’re also getting some specific “class spells” that are always prepared for you and don’t count against the rest of the spells that you know. For sorcerers their class spells are chaos bolt and sorcerous burst. Chaos bolt is unchanged and sorcerous burst is essentially the cantrip version of it, dealing a small amount of a damage type of your choice. Once you hit 5th level you also get a new unique sorcerer spell sorcerous vitality, which gives the paper-thin sorcerer a way to heal themselves.
All of this adds up to a big buff, and you’re going to be able to metamagic spells a lot easier now. The fact that the “class spells” are now baked into the class means you’ll be seeing those spells a lot, but it’ll help distinguish each mage class from the other. The one thing that hurts is moving the archetype to 3rd level, which means all sorcerers will be very samey in the early levels.
This one hurts, it looks a lot worse than it actually is, but it still hurts. The class has been taken apart, twisted inside out and put back together into something new. Not bad, but definitely a departure from what you’ve played before. Firstly, pact magic is no more, now they just have a spellcasting feature and regain spell slots on a long rest like everybody else. Next, a lot of what were warlock features have been morphed into class spells and baked back into the class. You get medium armor for every warlock, and the book of shadows is a cantrip now that lets you shuffle spells around.
I don’t personally like these changes and I’ve seen a lot of people share the sentiment, but I suspect this is a resistance to change rather than logical objections to the changes themselves. It’s easier if you think of it as an entirely new class, since the differences are so extreme.
Wizards at early levels won’t feel much different. Most of the changes concern consolidating some of their rules together and making them easier to understand. Adding a spell to your spell book is now a spell called scribe spell you automatically get, and you can use your spellbook as an arcane focus which is a nice change.
Where wizards will feel different is in tiers 2 and 3 which get you a set of special class spells that let you modify spells and even create new ones. They’re trying to push wizards as not just spellcasters but as spell crafters which is an amazing route that I can’t wait to play around with. They did technically get a nerf in that arcane recovery has been pushed to 2nd level, but it’s a minor nerf at worst.
It’s almost pointless to try and draw a conclusion on playtest material, everything we just went through could be completely different tomorrow. But in general, they seem to be streamlining things that were clunky, restructuring the character creation system in a good way, and putting great efforts towards making the system ready to function in a VTT. Only time will tell what changes stick, and how the community at large will react, but surrounding issues aside, I’m seeing mostly positive changes that should create better gameplay. Let’s just hope Wizards of the Coast doesn’t get any ideas about paid subscriptions and keeps their hands off the OGL.
Last updated: January 27, 2019
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