or this week's column, I thought it would be interesting to give everyone an insight into what we've been working on. As I write this, we're focused on the next playtest packet, which will cover character levels 1 through 10. It sets the stage for our push into high-level play and also gives us a chance to make sure everything functions smoothly as we scale things up.
So, here are updates on classes, backgrounds, and specialties.
First off, we're pulling back a bit on the warlock and sorcerer. Both classes need some polish, but we want to first see how the changes we've made to the wizard and cleric go over. This direction ties back into our overall plans to make sure that the core four classes—cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard—are in good shape. The feedback we received on the sorcerer and warlock was very useful in helping to keep the cleric and wizard on track. Specifically, people want to make sure that the spellcasters feel balanced against each other, and they would prefer that casting mechanics rest at the system level, rather than the class level.
With that said, I believe that giving DMs more options for cleric and wizard magic gives us more room to maneuver in making the warlock very different. There is a chance that, based on your feedback, we might introduce an overall class category called magic-user that features wizard, sorcerer, and other options as choices beneath it. The nice thing about this approach is that we can create rules and flavor text that refer to magic-users as a group and that also allow individual campaigns to map that to the general category of character.
After looking at feedback on the sorcerer, I would not be surprised if we renamed the class, tweaked its flavor a bit, and brought a true warrior/mage class to the core of the game. A lot of people like the sorcerer, but a number of people commented that it made translating existing sorcerer characters difficult. Since our goal is to make conversion as easy as possible, that's a powerful argument for treating the concept we presented as a new class.
The wizard will receive traditions, which can include at-will spells and signature spells that are regained 5 minutes after casting them. Typically, a wizard has one spell that is a signature spell and can regain only one casting of it. The at-will spell and the signature spell tie in to the wizard's tradition.
For clerics, we've returned turn undead to a class feature and have removed channel divinity as its own thing. Instead, you gain special abilities based on your god. The manuscript includes a set of generic deities that speak to the common archetypes that appear in different pantheons. For instance, the Trickster stands in for Loki and Olidammara, and grants his or her clerics the ability to turn invisible for a brief time, along with access to more illusion spells than other clerics get. Rather than mandate a certain type of armor, the Trickster grants training in the Sneak skill and provides access to ranged weapons, the rapier, and other weapons that rely on Dexterity. If you play a cleric of the Trickster, you'll likely want to wear light armor and act sneaky, but we don't try to make that a requirement or limitation. These deity archetypes are a starting point, and you can expect that campaign-specific expansions could give options tailored to that world's deities.
The fighter went over very well last time. Right now, we're focused on creating a set of options that allow someone to play a very simple fighter.
The rogue is receiving a greater emphasis on skills. The rogue receives more skills and continues to be the best at using them, though we have simplified those mechanics and dialed down the emphasis on automatic success. DMs were frustrated that rogues had no real risk of failure. It distorted the game in irritating ways.
It's also worth keeping in mind that, at this stage, we're working on what I consider to be a fairly advanced version of the game. The core D&D game, which is the starting point for new players and the game of choice for veteran players who want a streamlined system, is mostly done at this stage. This game looks a lot like D&D as presented in D&D Basic Set or in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. You pick a race, pick a class, and play. We've put a lot of effort into making sure that the game not only telescopes in complexity for established players, but also creates an easy path for new players to start the game, master its core elements, and then move on as they wish.
Backgrounds and Specialties
We've made a few minor changes here. Backgrounds now give four skills instead of three, primarily because we've tweaked skills back to giving a bonus to a roll regardless of what ability you're using. Thus, a DM only ever asks for an ability check. The player either adds the skill or asks the DM if it is appropriate. This also means that we can have skills that are a little narrower, but compensate by giving you more. If we built the list correctly, skills remain useful as things that help make your character unique and interesting.
Specialties haven't changed much mechanically, but they have undergone an overhaul in how we present them and what they represent in the world. Previously, they tread on the same conceptual ground as backgrounds. They had names that made them sound something like titles in the world. Now, we've instead treated them in a way that I think better reflects their name—specialties—and role in character creation.
A specialty is something that your character has focused on and developed. You can be a two-weapon fighting specialist, a stealth specialist, or an investigation specialist. It's likely something that you picked up as part of your background or as part of your class training. Ideally, when you describe your character, it's something that other players can quickly understand, rather than needing more explanation. "Duelist" doesn't say what your character does. "Shield specialist" makes it clear that your character is good at defense and probably (hopefully?) carries a shield.
We all wish to thank you all for your continued interest in playtesting and providing feedback for D&D Next. It won't be long before the next playtest packet is available, and we hope that you'll continue to join us in playtesting the game.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.