Evolution of Fifth Edition, Part 2: Maneuvers & Schemes & Sorcerers & Warlocks!

The second part in my series about the evolution of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Evolution during the play-testing period from 2012-2013 when it was known as DnDNext! If you haven’t read the first part, you should.

The first look we got at DnDNext dated to May 2012, consisting of: a bestiary, an explanation of ability checks, a scant section on exploration, a ruleset for combat, and some sample characters. Three months later in August 2012, we get a vastly expanded play-test packet focused on how to create characters in the everchanging system. And then another play-test release just five days later, offering two new spell-casting classes with totally different mechanical relationships to magic. Let’s see what they cooked up!


Monsters have been slightly changed: some getting more hit points, most getting less. What’s more interesting is a new attribute that’s appeared, called “level”. Each monster has a level, up to 6 in this packet, which factors into how encounters are balanced: easy encounters should use monsters whose level is less than or equal to the party’s average; average encounters should use monsters whose level is the same as the party’s average; and tough encounters should use monsters with a level up to the party’s average plus 2. This is combined with XP budgets, which is kind of annoying—but the idea seems to be that levels are for picking monsters, while XP is for how many monsters there should be.

I’m kind of interested to see if there’s a relationship between level, XP, and hit points, so here’s a table to see. Level values with an asterisk are also indicated as “elite”, whereas those with a dagger are designated as “solo”. Approximate hit point values (as given) with a question mark are weird, and I’ll get to that below.

Monster Level HD hp XP
Beetle, Fire 1 1d6 3 50
Bugbear 6 4d8 18 480
Centipede, Giant 1 1d6 3 70
Dark Acolyte 3 1d8+1 9? 270
Dark Adept 5 2d8+2 14? 200
Dark Priest 3* 4d8+4 25? 260
Drow 3* 6d8 27 350
Gelatinous Cube 2† 7d10+35 73 200
Gnoll 4 3d8 13 450
Gnoll Leader 4* 5d8+5 27 610
Goblin 1 1d6 3 120
Goblin Leader 1* 4d6+4 18 210
Gray Ooze 3* 4d8+12 30 350
Hobgoblin 3 2d8+2 11 320
Hobgoblin Leader 3* 5d8+5 27 500
Human Berserker 3 2d8 9 250
Human Commoner 1 1d8 4 50
Kobold 1 1d6 3 70
Kobold Dragonshield 2 2d6 7 210
Kobold Trap Lord 1* 5d6 17 120
Kobold, Winged 1 1d6 3 80
Medusa 4* 6d8+6 33 300
Minotaur 5* 7d10+14 52 570
Ogre 3* 5d10+5 32 480
Orc 3 2d8+2 11 460
Orc Leader 3* 5d8+10 32 670
Orog 5 3d8+3 16 580
Owlbear 4* 5d10+15 42 540
Rat, Cave 1 1d6 3 60
Rat, Dire 1 1d8+1 5 170
Skeleton 2 2d8 9 230
Stirge 1 1d6 3 40
Troll 6* 7d10+28 66 810
Wight 3* 6d8 27 280
Zombie 2 2d8 9 200

Oh my God, look at how much lower the hit points are for the big scary monsters! Medusae go from 66 to 33, minotaurs from 132 to 52, ogres from 88 to 32, owlbears from 110 to 42, and trolls from 132 to 66. That is definitely a plus. What definitely is not, though, are the three dark cultists whose approximate hit points are extremely weird and not at all actually approximate; someone was probably in a rush, deciding that a roll of 1d8+1 must be approximate to 9. Whatever.

Back to level and XP, one cannot help but appreciate the effort to simplify relative monster rankings, but it seems a little out of whack, especially when compared to XP. I excluded the dark cultists.

Level Avg. Non-Elite Hit Points Avg. Elite Hit Points
1 3.33 17.5
2 8.33
3 10.33 29.17
4 13 34
5 16 52
6 18 66

There is not a clear overarching relationship. For monsters of level 3+, it seems like elite monsters tend to have three times the hit points of non-elite monsters, but it seems like this does not hold for level 1 monsters. The function of level seems to matter less for hit points, therefore, than for general monster strength. I feel like Pathfinder, Second Edition does it better by leaning fully into levels without distinguishing elite and non-elite monsters, and granting XP that is relative between player-character and monster level. Like, it would be easier if a goblin leader was a level 4 monster as opposed to an elite level 1 monster. I also think, early on, we see the instability in using different hit dice for differently sized creatures insofar as it results in a monster’s level and their number of hit dice not having a 1:1 relation. Besides, how often does monster size not correlate with monster difficulty? Doesn’t it seem that hit points here (and in the final publication) are a more reliable measure of difficulty than hit dice, since they can be directly compared? But isn’t that also inconvenient and not very abstract?

Again, the new Pathfinder does it better, though we should appreciate the effort still.

Character Creation

Finally, no more pre-gens! Here’s the basic procedure:

  1. Roll ability scores, summing the best 3 of 4d6. If you prefer, use a standard matrix of {15, 14, 13, 12, 10, 8}. Don’t assign them yet, however.
  2. Pick a race: dwarf, elf, halfling, or human. Each non-human race has two subraces, each of which grants a +1 to one ability score.
  3. Pick a class: cleric, fighter, rogue, or wizard.
  4. Optionally, roll or pick a background.
  5. Optionally, pick a specialty.
  6. Assign ability scores, now that you know who you’re playing.
  7. Figure out combat numbers: hit points, hit dice, armor class, initiative modifier, attack modifiers, magical attack modifiers. Yippee.
  8. Choose equipment, a name, and an alignment.

Very basic stuff. It’s notable that, since last time, your starting hit points have changed: you now start with hit points equal to a maximum roll of your hit die size plus your constitution modifier, and gain one hit die roll of hit points per level past the first. To say the least, this is kind of a nerf from having starting hit points equal to your constitution score plus hit dice.

It’s also interesting that it prescribes the AD&D method of determining ability scores, over the standard matrix assignment method. Very much trying to pay homage; we should not forget that, in spirit, this is the fifth edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as opposed to the Basic line. Isn’t it obvious? We’re talking three hardcovers.


In May 2012, backgrounds were presented as past or current professions which grant a character certain skill bonuses (often in lore) and a special ability, often one which gives the character an “in” with factions or institutions in the game-world. This time, we learn how backgrounds work and also receive a list of 12 backgrounds to roll or pick from.

Each background offers three skills, one trait (special ability), and an equipment package which you are supposed to combine with the one from your class (or forgo both in favor of 150 gold pieces to spend on buying equipment). Each skill starts at +3, and you can increase one by +1 every even-numbered level to a maximum of +7. Skills work differently than we might expect from, say, Third Edition: rather than being added to a roll in addition to an ability modifier, you must choose the highest of the two modifiers. For example, if you have a +1 dexterity bonus and a +3 stealth skill, you’re better off taking the +3 on your roll when applicable. This does not apply to weapon proficiency, however, which works how you might expect.

Below are each of the 12 backgrounds, their skills, and their trait:

  1. Artisan (Diplomacy, Local Lore, Professional Lore): Craft mundane items by using raw materials equal in value to one-half the market price of the final product.
  2. Bounty Hunter (Spot, Stealth, Streetwise): You can find and take on bounties in “civilized areas”, as well as be sought out by authorities who need your services.
  3. Charlatan (Bluff, Insight, Sleight of Hand): You have a second identity which allows you to disguise yourself and forge documents.
  4. Commoner (Animal Handling, Local Lore, Professional Lore: You straight-up have a comfortable homestead and small local business. Go figure.
  5. Knight (Animal Handling, Diplomacy, Heraldic Lore): Wherever your knighthood is recognized, you can receive free accommodation and shelter.
  6. Noble (Diplomacy, Heraldic Lore, Societal Lore): You start with three helpers who will perform mundane, non-threatening tasks for you.
  7. Priest (Diplomacy, Insight, Religious Lore): Clergy of the same faith as you will give you aid in non-threatening situations, and you will receive free healing and aid at temples.
  8. Sage (Pick 3: Forbidden Lore, Geographical Lore, Heraldic Lore, Historical Lore, Local Lore, Magical Lore, Natural Lore, Planar Lore, Religious Lore, Societal Lore, Underdark Lore, Undead Lore: If you do not know a piece of information, you always know who to ask or where to go in order to learn.
  9. Soldier (Intimidate, Spot, Survival): Fellow veterans still recognize your rank and will defer to you if your rank exceeds theirs, and you can refer to your rank in order to requisition equipment.
  10. Spy (Bluff, Spot, Stealth): You are part of a spy network and can request information from other spies.
  11. Thief (Find/Remove Traps, Open Locks, Stealth): You basically know thieves’ cant or whatever, and can spend an hour in any city to find and make contact with another criminal.
  12. Thug (Intimidate, Stealth, Streetwise): People are afraid of you wherever you go, and will not report minor offenses to authorities for fear of major retribution.

I think these are kinda bad. The last two, besides being backgrounds, are also the names of rogue schemes (which we’ll see below) with extremely similar abilities. In general, there is also a lot of overlap and extraneous bits, not to mention the fiddliness of how they work in general. Check out the picklist of sage lore, and how many backgrounds have skills for diplomacy and stealth. It’s boring and complicated.

Oh, here’s a random table of commoner professions:

  1. Farmer
  2. Fisher
  3. Innkeeper
  4. Merchant
  5. Messenger
  6. Sailor
  7. Servant
  8. Stable master
  9. Wagon master
  10. Woodsman


Our four basic bitch classes: cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard. They do not survive the first play-test packet unchanged.


“Channel divinity” is no longer a general special ability granted by a particular god (though as clerics in the previous packet only had the option to turn undead), but an ability to heal the living and harm the undead—or the opposite if you’re evil lol! Clerics now start with only one “channel divinity” per day, but increase this number as they level up. Meanwhile, turning the undead is now a spell that the cleric is considered to have prepared each day without it counting on their spell slot budget.

Now clerics have zero-level spells as well, called “orisons”. They also get spells particular to their deity’s domain; interestingly, here domain is not tied to a specific D&D-brand god but is generic (“sun” and “war” being the two options in the packet).


Here’s the new stuff! The very new stuff. Fighters pick one out of four possible fighting styles at first level. Each fighting style grants them a special maneuver at the first, third, and fifth levels. How do you perform a maneuver? You spend expertise dice, as many as you want to spend; you regain all your expertise dice at the start of each turn, and you gain more and better expertise dice as you level up. Initially you just have 1d6, but this increases up to 2d8 by fifth level.

Let’s look at each fighting style, and which maneuvers they enable:

  • Tumble (lvl. 1): Once per turn, spend an expertise die to move through the spaces of hostile creatures.
  • Jab (lvl. 2): When you spend your action doing something other than attack, you can still spend an expertise die to attack an enemy and deal the expertise die roll in damage.
  • Shift (lvl. 3): When you spend your action to attack, spend an expertise die to move up to 10 feet before or after the attack.
  • Protect (lvl. 1): When an enemy successfully hits an ally, roll as many expertise dice as you’d like to reduce the damage taken.
  • Push (lvl. 2): When you hit an enemy in melee, spend an expertise die to push them up to 10 feet away from you.
  • Knock Down (lvl. 3): When you hit an enemy in melee, spend an expertise die to also knock them prone.
  • Precise Shot (lvl. 1): When you shoot at a creature taking cover, roll your expertise die and add it to your attack roll. Use a maximum result of +2 when they’re taking full cover, or a maximum of +5 when they’re taking three-quarters cover (basically, the maximum is equal to the bonus that the enemy gets to their AC when they take half or three-quarters cover, not to exceed that).
  • Snap Shot (lvl. 2): When you spend your action doing something other than attack, you can spend a single expertise die to make a ranged attack and deal the expertise die roll in damage.
  • Shift (lvl. 3): When you spend your action to attack, spend an expertise die to move up to 10 feet before or after the attack.
  • Glancing Blow (lvl. 1): When you fail an attack roll but still roll at least a 10 on the d20, you deal as many expertise dice in damage as you want to spend; this will not trigger any abilities usually triggered on a hit, since it is still considered to not be a hit.
  • Cleave (lvl. 2): Once per turn when you defeat a creature in melee, deal damage equal to an experise die roll against a creature within reach.
  • Jab (lvl. 3): When you spend your action doing something other than attack, you can still spend an expertise die to attack an enemy and deal the expertise die roll in damage.

These are all pretty interesting, though I find it kind of annoying that you can spend as many expertise dice as you’d like per turn, when you are otherwise restricted by regular action economy and single-use abilities. It feels like a lie in practice despite being true on a technical level. I think I would prefer if it said, like, you can use one maneuver per turn, or even if there were no stated restrictions or resource tracking. Why not? Fighters would be able to pull off too many cool tricks and strategies for linking them? They literally know a maximum of three tricks!

Anyway, I think this is a Trojan horse for Fourth Edition at-will abilities but more annoying. It’s also most likely inspired by Dungeon Crawl Classics’ mighty deed die, which warriors add to any attack roll or combat-related check, and which increases in size as they level up. Expertise dice, in my opinion, are not as good or intuitive as either of these. But, again, one appreciates the effort!


Finally, (sorta kinda) non-thief rogues! We get two so-called rogue schemes: thieves and thugs (these are also the names of backgrounds, which is annoying). Each scheme gains an ability at the first, second, and fifth levels.

First level rogues start with two abilities regardless of scheme: skill mastery and sneak attack. Skill mastery allows rogues to choose between their current ability modifier or a bonus of +3 whenever attempting an ability check at which they are skilled (though what skills they have are unlisted; this is otherwise just like background skills). Sneak attacking allows the rogue to deal extra damage when they attack a creature with advantage, starting at 2d6 and increasing by +1d6 per level. I don’t know why it wouldn’t just start at 1d6 since it’s in addition to something like 1d6 or 1d8 base damage anyway. Whatever.

Second level rogues also get an ability called ‘knack’, with two uses per day, where they can give themselves advantage on a check; this increases to three times at fifth level, and four times at ninth level.

Let’s look at our rogue schemes now!

  • Thief Sneaking (lvl. 1): You can attempt to hide even when you are lightly obscured, as if there are shadows covering you.
  • Night Vision (lvl. 2): When you spend at least one minute in darkness, you treat darkness as shadows and shadows as normal light up to 30 feet away.
  • Hit and Run (lvl. 5): When you sneak attack, you can move up to half your speed as part of the same action.
  • Thug Tactics (lvl. 1): You can sneak attack whenever the target is within the reach of two of your allies (this is phrased as “instead of just when you have advantage”, but why not say you just gain advantage when you meet this condition—thus triggering a sneak attack anyway?).
  • City Savvy (lvl. 2): You can’t be surprised while you’re able to take actions.
  • Cheap Shot (lvl. 5): When you sneak attack a creature, their speed drops to 0 until the end of their next turn.

This is basically how I wish the fighters’ maneuvers were handled, as abilities with trigger conditions as opposed to having an associated resource. What’s funny is—spoiler alert—they’re going to try giving expertise dice to rogues alongside (and, at one point, instead of) fighters. Too extra.


Not much is new, except now wizards get zero-level spells as a class feature rather than by their theme (which has been renamed to specialty, and relegated to a seemingly optional rule)! Wizards’ zero-level spells are called, of course, cantrips. But remember, clerics’ are called orisons instead. That’s cute.


Not many changes here, except one that sticks out to me like a sore thumb: it now takes 5 minutes to take off heavy armor instead of 1d4+1. Lmao. Why? Okay. No one’s using that either way. No one cares.


Themes have been renamed to specialties, and have also been expanded to not just be first-level feats but a sequence of feats gained at the first, third, sixth, and ninth levels (though the play-test only includes up to the third level). This is funny to me because it feels like a simpler way of doing classes, almost GLOG-style (and recalls my own project), but it also exists alongside traditional D&D classes. It feels like an unhappy compromise. Why not just lean into it? Oops, all feats? All the class abilities are already so bite-sized, anyway, except for spell-casters who are always going to be complicated by their nature.

I do have a correction with regards to the previous post: it seems like many abilities that the pre-generated characters gained at third level were due to their theme (now speciality) rather than their class. This will become apparent from the selection below.

There are 10 specialties, though they aren’t numbered for you to roll on. Do you think one of them will be a thief and/or thug again?

1. Archer

  • Rapid Shot (lvl. 1): As an action, make two ranged attacks using a weapon with which you have proficiency.
  • Sniper (lvl. 3): As an action, choose a creature that you can see. On your next turn, you have advantage if you attempt to shoot the creature using a weapon with which you have proficiency.

2. Acolyte

  • Initiate of the Faith (lvl. 1): Choose two orisons (minor spells) from the cleric’s spell list.
  • Sanctified Weapon (lvl. 3): As an action, sanctify a weapon so that it deals holy damage (or unholy damage if you are evil) instead of whatever physical damage it regularly deals.

3. Dual Wielder

  • Two-Weapon Fighting (lvl. 1): While wielding two finesse weapons with which you have proficiency, you can make two attacks albeit each with halved damage.
  • Two-Weapon Defense (lvl. 3): While wielding two finesse weapons with which you have proficiency, increase your armor class by +1 (that’s all?).

4. Guardian

  • Defender (lvl. 1): When a creature within 5 feet of you is attacked while you are holding a shield, you can use a reaction to impose disadvantage on their attack.
  • Hold the Line (lvl. 3): When a creature of your size or smaller moves past you while you are holding a shield, you can use a reaction to cause them to lose the rest of their turn.

5. Healer

  • Herbalism (lvl. 1): Spend 1 hour making up to three items (pick from: antitoxin, healing potion, healer’s kit). If you start with this feat, you also start with those three items.
  • Healer’s Touch (lvl. 3): When you roll dice for a healing effect, do not roll dice but use the maximum possible result. You can also use healer’s kits to tend to the wounds of yourself and six other creatures during a rest, allowing them to restore maximum possible hit points from their hit dice spent.

6. Jack-Of-All-Trades

  • Skill Training (lvl. 1 & 3): Acquire a new skill.

7. Lurker

  • Ambusher (lvl. 1): When you start your turn hidden from a creature, you have advantage on your first attack against that creature even if you are revealed or otherwise become unhidden during that turn.
  • Skulker (lvl. 3): When you are hidden from a creature, if you miss with a ranged attack, you do not reveal your location.

8. Magic-User

  • Arcane Dabbbler (lvl. 1): Choose two cantrips (minor spells) from the wizard’s spell list.
  • Find Familiar (lvl. 3): Choose a special creature that you can spawn, and which will obey your commands (though otherwise act independently) within 100 feet. You can also see through its eyes and hear through its ears for 1 round, gaining the benefits of any special senses as well.

9. Necromancer

  • Aura of Spells (lvl. 1): As an action, steal the soul of a creature that has died within the last minute. The spirit will dissipate after 1 minute, but you can destroy one soul to give yourself advantage on a necromantic spell attack.
  • Animate Servant (lvl. 3): Transform a small or medium skeleton into a loyal undead servant with 3d6+3 hit points.

10. Survivor

  • Toughness (lvl. 1 & 3): Gain an additional hit die of d8 size along with the associated additional maximum hit points.

Sorcerers & Warlocks

The second drop! These two new kinds of spell-casters were introduced specifially to add new methods of magic into the game, besides the spell slot system used by wizards.


Sorcerers have a certain number of “willpower” points per day which they spend on casting spells (where the level equals the number of points spent), while knowing a limited number of spells of any level up to a maximum. For example, a fifth level sorcerer has 16 willpower points and knows 6 spells with a maximum level of 2. Sorcerers also start with two cantrips and a sorcerous origin.

The only origin given in this play-test packet is draconic heritage, which allows the sorcerer to spend 1 willpower to acquire dragon strength which allows you to deal 2d6 extra damage on your next successful melee attack. At fourth level, they can spend 2 willpower to use the dragon scales power which allows them to spend a reaction to reduce incoming damage by 10, as well as giving yourself elemental resistance according to your draconic heritage until the end of your next turn. Additionally, when they spend 3 willpower during the day, they add +2 to melee damage they deal until after they complete a long rest.

They use d8 hit dice like clerics do.


Warlocks borrow magical power from a supernatural force, gaining two “favors” after any short or long rest (during which they beseech their patron for more favors). Each favor can be spent to cast a lesser invocation, or the warlock can cast minor invocations without spending a favor. Finally, they also know a number of ritual spells equal to their level, with the maximum spell level depending on their advancement; each ritual takes 10 minutes to prepare and perform, requiring only the cost of material components but otherwise having no limitation.

They use d6 hit dice like rogues do.


This is the point at which DnDNext is becoming more of a unique ruleset, what with its special fighter maneuvers, its different rogue schemes, and its two spell-casters who differ not by spell lists but by magic mechanism. We also see more of a piecewise character building aspect, combining traditional classes with character backgrounds and “specialties” (which function, basically, as secondary/lesser classes that work in parallel with primary/major classes), not to mention subclasses which determine the vast majority of character powers for fighters and rogues (and to a lesser degree for the others).


  1. Love your breakdown of these playtest packets.

    Maybe this is funny, but the time constraint of doffing and donning armor was relevant in my current campaign. Sometimes you gotta get off that plate to go for a swim.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Plagiarism in Unconquered (2022)

OSR Rules Families

Bite-Sized Dungeons