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One D&D Playtest, Unearthed Arcana: Character Origins

Welcome to the One D&D Playtest

If you caught the recent Wizards Direct (or any of the surrounding buzz), you already know about what Wizards is calling “One D&D”. If this is your first time hearing about it, One D&D is the upcoming “evolution” of Dungeons and Dragons tentatively planned for release in 2024.

As part of the journey toward “One D&D”, Wizards of the Coast is releasing monthly Unearthed Arcana documents to get feedback on potential changes to the core rules of the game. These documents will be released monthly with a feedback survey opened to the public two weeks following the release of the playtest materials.

If you want to get in on the playtest, the documents will be distributed as PDFs on DnDbeyond.

I’m Scared, Please Help

I know how closely this community will be watching these playtest documents and feeling every emotion under the sun. I can’t make any promises about the future or about what WotC will do. But I’ve been through a few edition changes before, I participated in the D&D Next playtest.

I’m still an idiot, mostly.

But I’ve survived this before, and I think I’m a bit wiser now than the last time, so I’m going to try and be a steady hand here. I’ll be publishing these blog posts every time we get a playtest document, and I’m going to dig into the crunch with all the same spirit that I take to character optimization articles. I’m going to break stuff, I’m going to fix stuff, I’m going to make educated (using that word generously here) guesses about what will happen to any given thing. I’m going to share opinions from the RPGBOT team, too, because they’re poring over all of this alongside me and they’re pretty smart.

I’m hoping that these will be both fun and informative. We’re in exciting times here, and we get to help shape the future of a game that we love.

What’s with the name?

Wizards of the Coast is nominally doing away with the concept of “editions” and hoping to keep all players on a single compatible version of D&D, thus the name “One D&D” rather than the inevitable moniker of “D&D 5.5” that the rest of us will almost certainly adopt. If you’re having flashbacks to XBox’s confounding naming scheme, you’re not alone. I’m sure the final books will just say “Dungeons and Dragons”.

Backwards Compatibility(asterisk)

When the next evolution of D&D was announced, we were told that it would be backwards-compatible but we didn’t get details about what exactly that would mean. Currently, it means that the rules will be backwards-compatible with all of the published adventures.

It’s also likely that more recent supplements including Monsters of the Multiverse and Spelljammer: Adventures in Space will be compatible with the new rules because they’re already updated to the new design philosophy for backgrounds and races. We don’t have any word on other supplements like Tasha’s, but I’m going to ask you to hold your temper for the time being.

There will hopefully be something in place to help adapt existing character options to the updated rules. If not, I’m sure someone from the community will write them. Maybe me, but my crystal ball is not that clear yet.

Origins

Every character’s “origin” includes their race, their background, and an additional language that they know (for a total of three since you get Common for free and one from your background).

Races

Yes, they’re still using the term “race”. Since all Humanoid pairings can now by the rules produce viable offspring, the term is technically inaccurate, and I’ve written before about how D&D should move away from the term.

We’ve seen 5e evolve over time with the custom origin rules and the gradual shift in how races are designed, eventually landing on the new design method in Monsters of the Multiverse where every race used generic ability scores (+2/+1 or three +1s), every race got 30 foot speed at minimum, and every race used the same height/weight/age ranges as humans unless noted otherwise.

The ability scores have moved to be a part of your background, but that’s a distinction without a difference.

All races now explicitly specify their creature type. Since we’ve added several fey and some constructs, this is going to become more necessary over time.

All races now use the updated rules for innate spellcasting, allowing you to choose a spellcasting ability and re-cast the spells using spell slots. No surprise there. Innate spellcasting typically grants a cantrip at 1st level, a 1st-level spell at your 3rd character level, and a 2nd-level spell at your 5th character level. There are, of course, exceptions (see the Gnome, below).

Subraces both are and aren’t a thing. “Cultural” subraces have gone a way in favor of defining those cultural aspects with your background. Subraces with innate physical effects have stuck around, following the model of the Aasimar published in Monsters of the Multiverse. Effectively, you have one trait that gives you a multiple choice option for your subrace which generally then gives you one or more traits or a suite of innate spellcasting.

The playtest PDF includes a sidebar about characters with mixed racial heritage. You pick one race to define your traits (the mechanical parts), average the lifespans of your parents’ races, and describe your character’s appearance how you see fit. I’m curious to see how this affects half-elves and half-orcs, especially since neither are included in the playtest document.

The races have updated lore entries, too. Where the 2014 PHB describes races as they exist in the Forgotten Realms and very similar worlds, this text takes a broader view of the DnD multiverse and describes settings and deities from numerous official settings including Dragonlance and Eberron.

Let’s look at the included races:

Human

The standard human was dropped (not that anyone ever played one), so all humans get one skill and one feat. You also get Inspiration on a long rest, which ties into the updated Inspiration mechanics in the playtest document.

Ardling

New race. Think Tieflings, but celestial, and instead of colorful with horns they have animal traits. They can fly one turn at a time PB/day and can cast some cleric spells based on your choice of “Celestial Legacy”.

I’m not sure what will happen to aasimar, but Crawford described ardlings as “cousins” of aasimar, so they may continue to exist alongside each other. But considering that the Heavenly Ardling has a lot of overlap with the Aasimar, I wouldn’t be surprised if aasimar go away or are absorbed by the Ardling.

Wild guess: Something like the obscure Hellbred race from 3.5 or the Cambion will be added as the new opposite to Aasimar.

Dragonborn

Updated to allow breath weapon PB/day, but it also went back to being an Action rather than replacing an attack. The damage scaling was also changed yet again, and everybody uses a 15-foot cone.

Dwarf

Largely the same as the Hill Dwarf, but two tool proficiencies instead of any weapon proficiencies. Stonecunning is now Tremorsense for 10 minutes at a time and doesn’t give you anything around weird stone. Thematically different from what Tremorsense has been for decades, but mechanically much more useful.

Elf

Elves use wording closer to the updated Eladrin and Shadar-Kai from Monsters of the Multiverse and the Astral Elf from Spelljammer. Fey Ancestry affects charm, Trance affects sleep. Unlike those three varieties of elf, the base Elf’s Trance doesn’t give you proficiencies. Otherwise, the core elf traits are unchanged.

Where elves saw the most change is in their new “Elven Lineage” trait (the subrace replacement). Drow are mechanically almost identical to the 2014 PHB but with updated innate spellcasting mechanics and Sunlight Sensitivity is gone. High elves add some leveled spells and can retrain their cantrip on a long rest. Wood Elves are fast and get some druid spellcasting, including Pass Without Trace to replace the nearly unusable Mask of the Wild.

Gnome

Gnomish Cunning now applies all Int/Wis/Cha saves, which is huge and accounts for most of the Gnome’s power budget. Gnome Lineage (the subrace replacement) offers the same Forest Gnome and Rock Gnome options as the 2014 PHB. Forest Gnomes upgrade their ability to cast Speak With Animals so that it’s no longer limited to specific sorts of animals, but can only use it PB times per day. That feels like a loss of flavor, but it’s much more useful. Rock Gnomes get two cantrips and can use Prestidigitation to replicate their tinkering ability for the 2014 PHB, though the effects have been reworded to essentially make the produced item single-purpose Prestidigitation is a box.

Halfling

Effectively identical to the Lightfoot Halfling in the 2014 PHB, but Naturally Stealth is now just proficiency in Stealth rather than the unique ability to hide behind other creatures.

Orc

Playable since at least the 3rd edition Monster Manual, the Orc finally makes their way into the roster of core races. Their traits are unchanged from Monsters of the Multiverse, which is strong evidence that those races will work unchanged in the updated ruleset.

The lore text describes Gruumsh briefly, but intentionally skips over how Gruumsh lost an eye. I’m curious to see how WotC will handle that in the future. To make a guess: WotC will do something similar with orcs to what they did with drow where they say that not all orcs followed Gruumsh into his war with Correlan, though some did just as some drow continue to follow Lolth.

Tiefling

We got a pronunciation guide for Tieflings! No longer will new players pronounce it “tye-fling” unless they skip over that bit of text.

Tieflings now get a “Fiendish Legacy”, replacing the myriad variants and subraces introduced throughout 5e’s history. Tieflings all get Thaumaturgy by default, but you’ll also get a damage resistance and a full suite of innate spellcasting from your Fiendish Legacy themed to one of the three major “lower planes” (hell, etc.). Infernal remains largely identical to the 2014 PHB Tiefling, though Vicious Mockery has been replaced by Fire Bolt.

Backgrounds

Backgrounds got a major update which we’ve seen coming for a while now based on the previous Unearthed Arcana documents for Heroes of Krynn and a few others, as well as the new backgrounds published in Spelljammer: Adventures in Space. We expected feats to become a part of backgrounds, but the new playtest document goes even further.

While the 2014 Player’s Handbook had rules for customizing your background, many players didn’t realize that the rule existed. Now, a custom background is the default and pre-written backgrounds are there to serve as easy examples and pre-made options if you don’t want to do the work yourself.

Notably, the Traits/Ideals/Bonds/Flaws are absent from the new background rules. I would say “they’ll add those later”, but the same change was made in the new backgrounds published in Spelljammer. I always enjoyed those as inspiration or a character’s personality and they’re a great tool for quickly describing NPC personalities, but of every player I’ve spoken to on the subject, very few of them can remember those parts of their character. Kobold Press saw the same challenge and tried to make them mechanically interesting in Tome of Heroes, so there’s a clear consensus that there’s an issue in the current design.

Your character’s background is now a much more defining part of your character both thematically and mechanically. Every background grants +2/+1 or three +1 ability score increases, two skill proficiencies, one tool proficiency (which includes artisan’s tools, gaming sets, vehicles, and general tools like Thieves’ Tools), one language, a 1st-level feat, and 50 GP.

Among the published backgrounds, we see some familiar options like Acolyte and Criminal, but we also get some great new ones like Cultist and Farmer.

I may be looking too hard, but Cultist feels like the easy go-to for warlocks and grants a +2 to Intelligence and a +1 to Charisma. This is absolutely a guess, but I’m curious to see if warlocks may be Intelligence-based in the new rules. They were briefly Intelligence-based in the D&D Next playtest, but people cried foul since they were Charisma-based when first introduced in DnD 3.5.

Languages

Little has changed here except that characters will all know 3 languages by default rather than 2 to 4 depending on your choice of background.

Common Sign Language was added, which is exciting. A non-verbal language for communication is both useful tactically for stealth-inclined and a wonderful move towards inclusion.

Feats

Every feat has a level. The current playtest document only includes 1st-level feats, but it covers many of the familiar feats from the 2014 PHB. The wording on feats and how they work is much more explicit and precise, and every feat specifies whether or not you can take it multiples times (yes for Magic Initiate and Skilled, no for everything else in the document).

1st-level feats no longer grant ability score increases, so there’s no starting at 18 in something.

Alert now adds Proficiency Bonus to Initiative instead of a static +5. This change means it no longer stacks with the Harengon’s Hare Trigger trait, which is fine, but it also means that unless Reliable Talent is reworded, this feat allows all Rogues to do what Harengon Rogues can do. I don’t know if that’s good or bad for the game, but Harengon will need an update.

Crafter is new and it seems like a great option if you rely heavily on mundane items, especially expendable ones. However, if they don’t fix Crafting no one except maybe Thief Rogues enjoying Fast Hands is going to use it.

Healer is actually good now. Battle Medic spends the recipient’s hit dice rather than providing an additional source of healing as it did previously, but you can also use it repeatedly so long as the target has hit dice and you have an operable Healer’s Kit. You also get to reroll healing that you provide both from Battle Medic and from spells if you roll a 1, so this is useful even if you have other sources of healing available.

Lucky now has PB/long rest uses instead of a fixed 3, but what those points do has also changed. Instead of rolling an extra die and picking which one to use (which conveniently let you pick any of 3 dice if you had Disadvantage in the 2014 PHB), you now grant yourself Advantage after rolling a d20 Test. You can also impose Disadvantage on an attack against you.

Magic Initiate got a major rework. You now choose from one of the three universal spell lists (see below) rather than from a class and you can pick your spellcasting ability, so if you want to be a wizard and get Healing Word as an Intelligence-based spell, that’s an option. You always have the leveled spell prepared, which clarifies how it works with spell slots. I remember early in 5e’s lifetime a lot of people (including me) were confused about how it worked.

Musician is new and allows you to grant multiple people Inspiration after a rest, making it abundantly available to the whole party. Humans will get less benefit because they already get Inspiration after a Long Rest.

Savage Attacker, which was never a great feat, got reworded. It now works with ranged weapons, but now it no longer works with attacks made as a Bonus Action (so no two-weapon fighting), made as part of a spell such as the Booming Blade or Green-Flame Blade cantrips, or with attacks made as Reactions; you can use it with more weapons, but it’s less useful. The limitation on what weapons you could use was never the problem. The problem was that mathematically it adds almost nothing to your damage output and the benefits become less relevant as characters advance.

Tavern Brawler is mostly the same, but you can both deal damage and shove a target at the same time once per turn, which involves changes to how Unarmed Strikes work (see below). That feels tempting since it makes your unarmed strikes deal 1d4+Str damage, but rerolling 1’s on a d4 adds nearly nothing to your average damage.

Rules Glossary

Conditions: Grappled, Incapacitated, Slowed

The Grappled condition ties into updates to Unarmed Strike, so see Unarmed Strike, below.

Incapacitated does more stuff. It’s still conceptually the same, but the rules are more precise and it breaks Concentration so it’s more impactful against spellcasters than it was previously.

Slowed is a new condition. Movement costs double (you move at half speed), attacks against you have Advantage, and you suffer Disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws. If you read the Grappled condition and you’re getting nervous about moving grappled creatures, don’t worry: you’re only slowed while moving the creature, so as soon as you finish moving you’re fine. Don’t walk into anything that requires a Dexterity save, though.

d20 “Tests”, Natural 1’s, and Natural 20’s

This is all d20 rolls: ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws. Having a universal term for that trio to use as a shorthand is helpful.

Natural 1’s and 20’s now result in automatic failure and automatic success, which is how a lot of people already thought it worked. This means that there’s a remote chance that the world’s greatest pickpocket will still mess up, but it also means that there’s a 1 in 20 chance that a human peasant can rip a door off of its hinges.

Rolling a natural 20 now gives you Inspiration, which means that there’s an easy way to “farm” inspiration. Outside of combat you could make repeated pointless rolls until you roll a natural 20. Throw rocks at something until you get a natural 20 on the attack roll.

Critical Hits are also very different. They only work for weapons and unarmed strikes (no more crits with spells, not that those happened much for anyone but warlocks), they only multiply your weapon or unarmed strike damage dice (no more multiplying Sneak Attack or Divine Smite), and they clarified that you do roll the dice twice rather than rolling once and doubling it, which was ambiguous in the 2014 PHB.

Inspiration

Inspiration, 5e’s metacurrency, has always been a pain. DMs forget to award it, players forget to use it, so it functionally doesn’t exist for many groups.

The playtest document makes some changes. You get inspiration on any natural 20, providing a fixed, guaranteed source that isn’t subject to your DM remembering. You also lose Inspiration when you start a long rest, so it’s a “use it or lose it” situation. You can still only have one Inspiration at a time, but if you get another you can give it to another PC so it’s not wasted.

I like this, but I also fear that people are going to force pointless d20 rolls to farm Inspiration.

Spell Lists

WotC followed Paizo’s example and now has three “universal” spell lists: arcane (wizards, etc.), divine (clerics, etc.), and primal (druids, etc.). It’s unclear how exactly this will work out in terms of spell availability, but we may end up in a world where bards can cast magic missile and fireball without resorting to Magical Secrets, clerics can (and often should) cast Compelled Duel, and wizards can cast Hex. It might get weird.

Unarmed Strikes, Grapple, Shove

Unarmed Strikes got a major face lift, and they now replace the combat applications of the Athletics skill in addition to the ability to deal damage. Hitting with an unarmed strike allows you to choose to deal damage, grapple the target, push them 5 feet away, or knock them prone.

The Grappled condition is now more of a problem for the subject because they now suffer Disadvantage to attack anyone except the grappling creature. If you’re grappled by multiple creatures, you’re in trouble. The rules for moving grappled creatures got reworded, and, weirdly, tiny creatures can carry each other around without being Slowed.

Creatures also get an automatic save at the end of each turn to end a grapple without spending an Action to do so, and it’s always made against a DC (for players, it’s 8+Str+PB) rather than as an opposed check if it’s the player doing the grappling. This means that players who aren’t built for grappling have a reasonable chance to escape a grapple without wasting a turn, teleporting, etc. but it also means that a creature can’t take an action to escape and then walk away because the save is at the end of their turn. If the Monk’s Martial Arts keeps similar wording to now with respect to Dexterity in place of Strength, this change might make Monk grappling a legitimate option.

The real sleeper problem here is that shoving a target prone now only requires an attacker to beat the target’s AC with an Unarmed Strike, and then declaring Shove to prone. While the size restriction remains, this is really strong. Especially with Inspiration flowing so freely now, there’s no reason to not just get Advantage on the Unarmed Strike so your whole party can have Advantage to stab the target for however long it takes the target to stand up.

Additionally, nothing is preventing an attacker from grappling or shoving a target as an opportunity attack now that these effects are simply riders on an Unarmed Strike. This has some interesting implications.

These changes also mean that the grapple/shove combo is seriously impacted. You can no longer make yourself an unstoppable grappler by heavily optimizing Athletics. Considering how annoying the grapple/shove combo is for the DM, this is probably a good idea, but I’m still sad because I enjoy the grapple/shove combo so much.

Thoughts from the RPGBOT Team

Everyone added themselves in order of when they could get through the PDF. This order is likely to change in the future.

Tyler

I mostly like the changes to races. I hope that aasimar don’t go away; maybe they become the Heavenly Ardling and the animal-featured Ardlings are just the ones with the Idyllic legacy since that’s the one for the Beastlands. I also hope that they’ll do something to make halflings more interesting. Maybe something around food?

I love the improvements to the wording on feats. I’m glad that WotC realized that no one considers them an optional rule and they’re leaning into making them both more interesting and more a core part of customizing your character.

I suspect we’ll see a lot of gish builds around Shillelagh using whatever ability score makes sense. Paladins and Rangers are going to be locked into taking Magic Initiate if they want an optimized build, and having one clear “best” answer isn’t much fun because it makes any other option mean that you’re giving up effectiveness to do literally anything else.

Musician doesn’t work as well for humans because you lost the Inspiration from a long rest.

Savage Attacker is still weak.

I hope that there are class-exclusive spells which go beyond the universal spell lists. Bards having the exact same spell list as wizards would be really weird.

Allowing natural 1’s and 20’s to work on ability checks is a mistake. I’m going to throw 20 commoners at all of my problems instead of actually being good at ability checks because on average one of them will get a natural 20 and solve my problems for me.

Players can “farm” Inspiration by making useless ability checks or attack rolls.

I do not like the changes to critical hits. Crits now feel really underwhelming even, but maybe I’m undervaluing Inspiration gained from a natural 20.

Grappling: What happens if multiple creatures grapple me? Do I need a free hand? Does maintaining the grapple require a free hand? Can I grapple multiple creatures? And if so, how many?

Asher

I like the new race changes and that they add a stipulation that races can look like anything but use these stats

Ability scores tied to backgrounds is a brilliant change. And the fact that they are implementing feats as a baseline feature is great.

I disagree with Tyler on the crit changes. Everybody has been ruling crit success on skill checks and automatic failures on a one for years in both home games and on actual plays. I don’t feel it breaks anything and if it bothers you it can be ignored. I also think critical hits being limited to martial classes is a decent choice as it gives more value to martial classes as opposed to just making spellcasters better at everything.

That being said, I hate that only weapon dice are doubled. That is a mistake and makes rogues way more underwhelming.

Rocco

This UA Playtest doesn’t actually tell us much about the direction of the game going forward. This test is all about whether or not the new method of character creation works right and feels right, and to that I would say yes, this is fine. Attempting to speculate on anything beyond that narrow focus right now is a fool’s errand.

I can speculate on why certain rules are in this document though.

Because Inspiration and the Lucky feat both mention “d20 Test”, the rules explaining d20 Tests had to be in the document, and it just happens that Critical hits are a subsection of d20 Test. Therefore we get the current experimental version of Crits without any context from possible class changes.

The Tavern Brawler feat mentions Unarmed Strikes so, naturally, the rules for Unarmed Strike are in here, which necessitates the new Grappling rules be printed as well.

Many people are claiming that this whole idea is a huge mistake. I think WotC’s only mistake in this playtest is context and pacing. The rules in this UA definitely rely on other changes that exist on their complete internal experimental build and we can’t see those dependent changes.

And while I shouldn’t speculate on what they mean by backwards compatibility, It’s not that hard to see what that looks like, they’ve already done this inside 5th edition. Did you forget the Beast Master rework in TCoE? Or the Volo’s races reprinted in MMoM? Instead of doing the core books piecemeal, scattered across a dozen splatbooks, just doing it all at once makes sense. “Oh no my PHB will be obsolete.” Yeah, that’s the point, the PHB, DMG, and MM, but not Xanathar’s, not Tasha’s, not the setting books, and not the 5 or 6 books coming out in 2023.

Colby

I echo the thoughts that all my colleagues have expressed, but find it relatively difficult to weigh in on a document that’s currently so unfinished. Of course the critical situation is interesting, but given the reaction, and that they are asking for the community’s opinions, I assume a great deal will change in that particular realm.

Instead of repeating ground that’s been well covered in the last few days since the announcement, let me highlight a point I hope gets a bit more attention. I’m excited for the updates surrounding race and background, but I’d like to see a little more effort into mixed race children than how it currently functions. While it’s a great leap to come out and say that all races can mix, forcing players to ultimately choose one collection of racial traits doesn’t seem to be the inclusive move they think it is. A goblin-elf who just has the mechanics of a goblin or the mechanics of an elf just doesn’t seem to represent that heritage well. 

I’ve personally had multiple DMs homebrew mixed races (and this can be seen with Jester’s genasi/tiefling mix in Critical Role) by choosing some blend of different racial traits to better represent a character’s diverse heritage, so it would be nice if that was actually canonized in the rules. Since it seems that WotC and Paizo are in a cycle of borrowing mechanics from each other, I cross my fingers for a system similar to Paizo’s PF1e “race point” values so that this can be done in a way that makes sense. Perhaps instead the team at WotC will figure out a better way to do this that I can’t currently imagine. The dialogue surrounding fantasy races and mechanics for them will probably always be fraught, especially on the internet, but WotC seems interested in making this work. 

Random

I think Tyler’s note about the large increase in gish builds is very likely. It’s the first thing I thought of when I saw how easily accessible Magic Initiate now was. I wish it wasn’t the case that the first round of combat for many parties going forward is going to involve at least one casting of Shillelagh, but it does actually open up some interesting possibilities for people who wanted to be Charisma SAD but were already including non-hexblade warlock levels (like my Oath of Conquest paladin).

In the Discord server, the team had a lively discussion on the changes to crits and I come down pretty firmly on liking the fact that DMs won’t be critting anymore. It personally always felt like killing someone because a natural 20 decided it was their time to die rather than the character doing something foolish (or noble) cheapened the story, so this, combined with the design decision to focus more on the recharge mechanics, means that a death is more likely the result of a player choice which feels good for agency.

I also miss the character traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, but even more so, I miss that the backgrounds no longer have any mechanical flavor. Many of them amounted to “I can get my party a place to sleep somewhere for free,” but just having that be gone in favor of a feat makes them as a part of character creation feel much less interesting.

Conclusion

I’m excited to see where this goes. There are some interesting ideas in the playtest rules and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch them evolve over time.

If you’re looking at the playtest rules, too, be sure to send your feedback to WotC once the feedback survey opens on September 2nd. Remember: we’re helping to shape the future of a game that we love.

9 Comments

  1. Julia Pluta August 23, 2022
  2. Carlos Alexandre August 24, 2022
  3. Christian D. August 24, 2022
    • RPGBOT August 25, 2022
  4. Joe August 25, 2022
  5. Max September 13, 2022
  6. Greg Davenport September 15, 2022
    • The Great Mage Ylai September 24, 2022
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