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This Week in D&D
Legends & Lore
Mike Mearls

B ig news this week: We have a new playtest packet coming this Wednesday, March 20th. So, what can you expect to see in the next packet? Let's take a look. In fact, I'm grilling Jeremy Crawford about this stuff as I type this.

Druid: The druid in the packet gains wild shape at 1st level, along with the choice of a circle. The circle of the oak grants improved spellcasting, while the circle of the moon focuses on wild shape. The druid matches the cleric's healing in terms of spells, but also has more access to damaging spells.

Wild shape is a daily ability that allows a druid to turn into a specific, chosen form. For instance, a 1st-level druid can transform into a hound that has a high speed, low-light vision, and a superior ability to find hidden things. Its bite attack makes it a useful combatant.

At higher levels, you gain access to more forms. Both circles gain access to forms that provide noncombat abilities, such as a fish or bird. The circle of the moon druid can turn into a bear or assume other mighty forms that can tear a swathe through the battlefield. In contrast, the circle of the oak druid gains more spells and can thus unleash flame strike and similar spells on enemies.

Paladin: For the first time ever, we are giving you the paladin, the anti-paladin, and the warden, all in one package. Those three characters map to good, evil, and neutrality. The class as a whole is called the paladin, but the individual types are the cavalier (good), blackguard (evil), and warden (neutral).

A 1st-level paladin gains a bonus to saving throws, can detect evil undead and fiends, and takes an oath that determines the character's ethos. The oath grants a paladin domain spells and special channel divinity options, such as smite evil or the ability to control undead.

At 8th-level, a paladin gains a mount, whether a celestial charger, a nightmare, or a summer stag. In the past, the paladin's mount has been a bit of an issue in dungeons and other areas where a mount has trouble maneuvering. The mount's attacks are fairly weak, meaning it doesn't have much value in terms of the paladin's combat abilities. Instead, it is useful for traversing rough terrain while traveling overland or for paladins who specialize in mounted combat.

The paladin is our knight in shining armor, whether that knight is clad in white, green, or black. Compared to a fighter, the paladin lacks tactical maneuvers but gains spells and the benefits of an oath.

Ranger: The ranger gains spellcasting at 1st level, marking a bit more of an emphasis on magic in this class than in earlier editions. The ranger's favored enemy serves to give this class a set of special abilities that grant the class a set of static bonuses and advantages. This class feature illustrates the ranger's role as guardian of the wild.

The favored enemy bonuses are themed around specific opponents such as dragons or giants, but the mechanics are versatile enough that you can gain their benefits against a wide range of creatures. For instance, picking dragon as a favored enemy grants a ranger immunity to fear. This ability is useful against a dragon's fear aura, but is equally useful against undead, spellcasters, and so forth.

In a bit of a change from the past, the ranger does not feature specific abilities to augment archery or two-weapon fighting. The specialties we offer allow a ranger to pursue those paths. We thought about creating ranger-only versions of them, but that approach ended up competing with the fighter's maneuvers.

New Spells: This packet includes many new spells to support the druid and ranger.

Math: The math has been overhauled, with character damage dropping. Monster stats are remaining the same, but you might see some monster levels and XP values shifting. More importantly, the martial damage bonus is going away for our weapon-users. Instead, they will gain multiple attacks at higher levels.

Fighter: The fighter is getting expertise dice that are spent to gain a bonus to AC or attack rolls, along with other specific abilities. A die spent is gone until the fighter pauses for a moment to rest, with an action spent to rest allowing the fighter to regain a die.

Skills: Skills are part of our ability check system as before, but we've made some tweaks to how we present them. For instance, you gain your skill die when using Intelligence to search for traps. The system is similar to what you've seen before, but we are casting it as an augmentation to your ability checks. The biggest benefit I've seen at the table is from a DM's point of view. I've quickly fallen into a cadence of saying things like, "Make a Wisdom check to listen" or "Make a Strength check to break down the door." The idea is that those descriptive reasons for the check map to our skills.

Two-Weapon Fighting: Our default assumption is that if you fight with two weapons of the appropriate size and are proficient with both of them, you are on par with a two-handed weapon user or a sword and board character. Feats and such make you better at two-weapon fighting. This change reflects our overall approach to character options, with options making you good at things rather than merely competent.

Swift Spell: The word of power mechanic has been renamed as the swift spell rule, allowing us to use it as necessary with other classes and clearing up confusion between the rule and spells such as power word stun.

Races: We've revised races a bit, refining their abilities so that they are simpler and easier to apply in character creation.

Exploration Rules: These are in the packet this time, rather than just listed in the playtest email alert.

What's Next: Just as a new packet is going out to the world, we've finished up an internal packet with even more races and classes, along with multiclassing. Those will be the big pieces of our next packet.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplements for the D&D RPG.
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