Unearthed Arcana: One D&D Character Origins Analysis

Some have talked about it. Some have feared it, while others have prayed for it. But we all knew it was coming sooner or later. And now it’s here. The next D&D edition is coming and the playtesting has started.

Before I begin an attempt at commenting on the playtest material we have received I want to say a few things. I will format them into a list in order to keep it short.

  • We will be getting more playtest material every month until 2024, when One D&D launches.
  • One D&D is a codename. And even if it isn’t, we will just end up calling it either 5.5e or 6e.
  • I mention 5.5e because it has been stated that One D&D is going to be backward compatible with 5e.
  • I don’t know which of the 5e publications the backward compatibility will cover. 5e has seen a lot of changes in the last couple of years.
  • There is a 1-hour video where Jeremy Crawford talks about the released playtest material. I highly suggest watching it.
  • Don’t panic, don’t argue, and don’t grumble about the material. Be civil and polite when discussing it, either you like it or find it not to your taste. If you have any feedback, you can submit it to the survey.
  • I didn’t write this sooner because I needed time to understand the content as best as I could so I can provide you with the best analysis I can write, and not chase the views and drama.

With that out of the way, I suggest you get a beverage and find a comfortable seat. The document is 21 pages long so it’s going to take a while.

Oh, and you can find both the document and the link to the playtest survey right here.

The first document of the playtest covers the origins of our characters. The origin is comprised of three things: their Race, their Background, and their language. Immediately we can see a few things have been shifted from the Race to the Background, such as the Ability Score Bonus and language. This is an interesting decision, to be honest. First of all, this puts more gravity to the Background as a design element. Backgrounds were a nice idea in 5th Edition. However, from what I experienced, in many cases it ended up just as something that gave a couple of Skill Proficiencies. Maybe this is an attempt to fix this, while also providing some versatility to character creation. Let’s move to one of the biggest parts of this document.

Character Races

In this document, we get to check out nine races, which are Human, Ardling, Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Orc, and Tiefling. There is a note that a character can be the offspring of a union between different humanoid races. If we do that, we pick the mechanical traits from either parent’s race, and then we can mix and match visual characteristics.

Human

We begin, of course, with the Humans. I won’t get into the lore of the Humans, just that it’s mentioned they probably originate from Sigil, which is okay I guess? Other than that, the document just says that Humans are many, live short lives, and love to travel.

  • Creature Type. Humans are…Humanoid.
  • Size. Humans can be either Medium or Small. Crawford mentioned in the video that some races will get to pick between sizes. I am fine with that. Does it mean something mechanically, though?
  • Speed. Regular 30 feet speed, for both sizes.
  • Life Span: That’s an average of 80 years.
  • Resourceful. You gain Inspiration after a long rest. Again, Crawford mentioned they want to change things so that players don’t hoard Inspiration and just use it. We will see.
  • Skillful. Proficiency in one skill we choose. Oh, will the available skills change?
  • Versatile. We get the Skilled Feat or one 1st-level Feat we like. Skilled gives us Proficiency with 3 skills we aren’t proficient in. Also, 1st-level Feat? What’s that? Well, Feats now have level prerequisites. We will get there later.

Overall, this reminds me a bit of the Variant Human. It feels like a tabula rasa that you can do anything with them, because they don’t have any specific lore around them. Humans are okay for me.

Ardling

This is a new race, I believe. They come from the Upper Planes and they have the head of an animal. This is enough for me to give it a passing grade (who doesn’t like a talking fish?). They have three legacies, each connected with different planes. Exalted are connected to the Chaotic Good planes, Heavenly to the lawful Lawful Good planes, and Idyllic to the Neutral Good planes. More on that in a bit.

  • Creature Type. Ardlings are Humanoid
  • Size. Again, we get to choose between Medium and Small
  • Speed. Just 30 feet. Nothing fancy. That comes later.
  • Life Span. 200 years on average
  • Angelic Flight. You get to use your Bonus Action to sprout spectral wings fly for a distance equal to your speed. You fall after that. This trait can be used a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus and recharged with a long rest. This is an attempt to provide limited flight to characters. Flight can be a serious problem when provided freely at lower levels. Maybe this can work. The only way to find out is to look for ways to exploit this. I will leave that as homework. Enjoy.
  • Celestial Legacy. Remember the legacies I mentioned 12 rows above? No? Well, you have a really bad memory. Now that you went back and read about them again, let me tell you what they do. Depending on which you pick, you get 3 spells, one at 1st level (it’s a cantrip), one at 3rd level, and one at 5th level. Slotted spells you can cast once for free and after that you need to use spell slots. This recharges with a long rest. You can choose what’s your spellcasting ability with these spells when picking your legacy. The spells (you can see them below) are all pretty nice. I don’t know if I prefer one list over the rest. Plus, they fit the flavour of Ardlings quite well. Oh, and almost all of them are Divine Spells. Figuring which one is not is another homework for you.
    • Exalted. Thaumaturgy, Divine Favor, Lesser Restoration
    • Heavenly. Light, Cure Wounds, Zone of Truth
    • Idyllic. Guidance, Healing Word, Animal Messenger
  • Damage Resistance to Radiant damage.

Overall, I don’t really know. I like the pick your animal thing but, other than that, I am not feeling too positive or too negative about this. Flight can, and probably will, be an issue. As I said, go break…I mean playtest this.

Dragonborn

Dragonborn are cool. Their creation may or may not have been blessed by the dragon gods. Nobody knows. Offsprings of Dragonborn of different colours will match the colour of one of their parents.

  • Creature Type. Dragonborn are Humanoid
  • Size. Just Medium this time.
  • Speed. 30 feet
  • Life Span. Average of 80 years. Pretty regular stuff so far.
  • Draconic Ancestry. You get to choose your colour. This defines your Dragon Breath, your resistance, and your colouring. I will reserve my comments on that for the end.
  • Breath Weapon. Your damage is dealt in a 15-foot cone. It’s not determined by your ancestry anymore. It’s just a cone. Also, this attack deals 1d10 damage + your level (type is determined by your ancestry). Previously the damage increased by 1d10 every few levels. My brain is a bit cloudy at the moment (don’t write too much PHP all at once, kids) but I think the average damage is the same, however, the previous version gave a higher maximum, but also a lower minimum. Unless you hit multiple opponents, this is kinda meh as usual. Oh, and you can use it a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus that recharges with a long rest.
  • Damage Resistance to the damage type determined by your ancestry. Pretty standard stuff.
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet. This is a new Dragonborn trait. Everyone gets Darkvision these days! Back in my day……..
  • Draconic Language. You know Draconic. What I like here is that you know it instinctively. That one word adds a ton of flavour and I like details like that.

So, the Dragonborn didn’t change a lot. The major change is the Darkvision. As for the breath damage, it doesn’t really matter. My question, however, is why didn’t they add the gem Dragonborn from Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons? That book isn’t even one year old. Unless the playtest doesn’t offer all the available options and just part of them, that’s a real shame.

Dwarf

I am a Dwarf and I’m digging a hole…

  • Creature Type. Dwarves are Humanoid.
  • Size. Only Medium is an option.
  • Speed is 30 feet
  • Life Span of an average of 350 years.
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet.
  • Dwarven Resilience. This one gives resistance to poison damage and advantage on saving throws against the Poisoned Condition (to either avoid or end). I think this is written a bit more clearly than in 5th Edition’s Player’s Handbook.
  • Dwarven Toughness. It gives you +1 hit point per level. This used to be a trait of the Hill Dwarf but there is no distinction anymore. Crawford mentioned (if I remember correctly) in the video that Hill and Mountain were more of a cultural distinction than a physical one.
  • Forge Wise. You gain Proficiency with two tools chosen among Jeweler’s Tools, Mason’s Tools, Smith’s Tools, or Tinker’s Tools. Previously, the Dwarf had the option to choose the Brewer’s supplies and I don’t know why this was removed. We need to see whether tool proficiencies will make any difference in the next edition. They weren’t that much of a thing in 5th Edition. Oh, and we also wrote a really cool supplement that tries to make tools more interesting! Trust me, it’s good!
  • Stonecunning. Now it gives you Tremorsense if you are standing on a stone surface. I guess now the trait will be more relevant, but I liked the previous one as well.

Dwarves look fine. I really don’t mind that they removed the Mountain/Hill thing. I didn’t consider it important anyway.

Elf

We get some nice lore for the Elves, which I think is a really quick summary of the lore found in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

  • Creature Type. Humanoid
  • Size. Medium. Again, why not small?
  • Speed is 30 feet
  • Life Span is on average 750 years
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet. Nothing weird so far.
  • Elven Lineage. That’s what we call the Elven subraces now. We get the PHB choices of High, Wood, and Drow Elf. You get something cool (hopefully) at levels 1, 3, and 5.
    • High Elf. At 1st level, you get the Prestidigitation cantrip, which you can swap for another cantrip, from the Arcane Spell List (what’s that?! Wait for it) every long rest. At the 3rd and 5th levels, you get Detect Magic and Misty Step, respectively. I like all 3 spells so I can’t complain. Plus, the cantrip can be swapped, which is also nice.
    • Wood Elf. At 1st level, your speed goes up to 35 feet and you learn the Druidcraft cantrip. Then you learn the spells Longstrider, Pass without Trace. Pass without Trace is a really nice spell to have. Still, I prefer prestidigitation.
    • Drow Elf. Your Darkvision is doubled and you learn the Dancing Lights cantrip. Of course, Faerie Fire and Darkness are the spells you learn later.
  • Fey Ancestry. Advantage against the Charmed Condition (avoid or end).
  • Keen Senses gives you Proficiency with Perception.
  • Trance. You don’t sleep, you just meditate for 4 hours instead of 8 that is the average long rest. Also, the thing about magic not being able to put you to sleep has been transferred here from Fey Ancestry.

There have been a few changes here, probably for the better. Also, I doubt some weapon proficiencies that were removed will be missed by many.

Gnome

The first part in the lore gave me “get off my lawn” (pun intended) vibes. I like their description to the point that I am considering playing a Gnome at some point.

  • Creature Type. Humanoid. I wonder when we will see something different.
  • Size. Just Small this time. I guess Medium wouldn’t make much sense.
  • Speed. 30 feet. I see we don’t go below 30 feet now.
  • Life Span. Average of 425 years. I didn’t know Gnomes lived that long. Cool.
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet.
  • Gnomish Cunning. Advantage in Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma Saving Throws. The magical part is gone. You just have advantage in all those rolls.
  • Gnomish Lineage. We get to pick between Forest and Rock Gnomes. It’s evident, at this point, that the Lineage trait has a pretty straightforward format.
    • Forest Gnome. You learn the Minor Illusion cantrip and can also cast Speak with Animals. Just a note here that the Speak with Small Beasts trait has been replaced with Speak with Animals spell. I guess this, technically, is an upgrade and makes it clearer what the character can and cannot do.
    • Rock Gnome. You learn the Mending and Prestidigitation cantrips. I like both cantrips. Moreover, your Prestidigitation is kinda Artificey, in a way that the Tinker trait used to work. You can spend 10 minutes and 10 GP in order to create a device that produces one of the effects of the Prestidigitation cantrip. This feels so Eberron.

I think this is fine. I see a pattern here. We see traits getting fitted into spells. While I see how this can be helpful, I haven’t decided whether I like it or not, yet.

Halfling

  • Creature Type. Humanoid
  • Size. Just Small
  • Speed. 30 feet
  • Life Span. Average of 150 years
  • Brave. Advantage on Saving Throws against the Frightened Condition (avoid or end).
  • Halfling Nimbleness. You can pass through spaces occupied by creatures larger than you but can’t stay there.
  • Lucky. This one lets you reroll a 1 on a d20 Test. Is Test a new keyword that covers all the basic d20 rolls? I am a bit rusty on this one.
  • Naturally Stealthy. Proficiency with Stealth.

I don’t think there is anything new here. One note I can make is that there are no lineages.

Orc

Orcs are pretty cool. I like the lore about them being warriors and fighting everyone. It’s not an evil vs good thing. It’s that they are meant to fight and look badass while doing it.

  • Creature Type. Humanoid
  • Size. Medium
  • Speed. 30 feet
  • Life Span average of 80 years
  • Adrenaline Rush. You can use the Dash Action using your Bonus Action. It also gives you temporary hit points equal to your Proficiency Bonus. You can use it a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus that recharges with a long rest. I guess this can help in some tight situations, not sure though.
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet.
  • Powerful Build. This is unchanged, I believe. You count one size larger when you want to carry, push, drag, or lift stuff.
  • Relentless Endurance. The trait has no changes. Instead of dropping unconscious, you drop to 1 hit point. Of course, you have to not get outright killed by the attack.

The only question I have is whether this replaces Half-Orcs.

Tiefling

The major change with Tieflings is that they come from various places of the Lower Planes from the get-go. To be honest, I like this change. It adds more flavour options.

  • Creature Type. Humanoid
  • Size. Medium or Small. I want to see small Tieflings!
  • Speed. 30 feet
  • Life Span average of 100 years
  • Darkvision up to 60 feet.
  • Fiendish Legacy. Following the same pattern, we get some good things on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th levels, depending on the legacy we choose.
    • Abyssal. You get resistance to poison damage and learn the Poison Spray cantrip, with Ray of Sickness and Hold Person being the 3rd and 5th level spells.
    • Chthonic. You get resistance to necrotic damage and learn the Chill Touch cantrip. Then you learn False Life and Ray of Enfeeblement.
    • Infernal. You get resistance to fire damage and learn the Fire Bolt cantrip. Hellish Rebuke and Darkness follow right after.
  • Otherworldly Presence. This one gives you the Thaumaturgy cantrip.

Flavour wise, this is great. I also like the damage type pattern of the Fiendish Legacy trait.

Overall, I think the races are okay. What I see with a first glance is more design patterns instead of regular text that can be open to different interpretations. Some people may like it but other will not. Maybe more lore like traits was something they liked in 5th Edition.

Character Backgrounds

Moving on to Backgrounds. There have been some changes to Backgrounds. Mechanically, they now feel like a set of interchangeable components. We have three options.

  • Create a new Background
  • Use a sample Background
  • Pick a sample Background and make changes to it

The intention behind that was to give more options to the players in order to tailor the Background to fit their character’s story. However, we only get a couple of questions in a bullet list that are supposed to help the player work the Background into their character’s story.

In other words, what I feel is that this will turn into an optimization tool and not a backstory tool. I hope I’m just pessimistic and strict. But let’s take a look at the available Background traits.

  • Ability Scores. As I mentioned before, Ability Score Improvement has been moved to Backgrounds. It allows a +2 and a +1 or 3 +1s.
  • Skill Proficiencies. Choose 2 Skills and gain Proficiency with them.
  • Tool Proficiency. Same with Skill Proficiencies but you get to pick just one tool.
  • Language. You get to pick one language from the Standard or the Rare languages. I like that you can pick a rare one.
  • Feat. You pick one 1st-level Feat.
  • Equipment. You go on a shopping spree with 50 GP and keep the money that’s left.

And that’s all for the Backgrounds. I don’t think there is a point to go over the sample Backgrounds. The available ones in the document are Acolyte, Artisan, Charlatan, Criminal, Cultist, Entertainer, Farmer, Gladiator, Guard, Guide, Hermit, Laborer, Noble, Pilgrim, Sage, Sailor, Soldier, and Urchin. We have seen most, if not all, of them before. Oh, one thing I didn’t see is a part about interesting items a Background may have, which is a shame because this is actually a nice story tool.

I believe we are going to see a ton of minmaxing coming from Backgrounds. It’s not necessarily bad, as long as it won’t ruin the other players’ fun. I’m just pointing stuff out, since this is an attempt to make an analysis.

Starting Languages

I don’t have much to say about languages. Characters start with 3 languages, which are Common, the one you got from their Background, and one extra from the Standard Languages. I also like to point out that the sign language is there, which is cool, and that Thieves’ Cant is a Rare Language.

Feats

Feats now have a level prerequisite. Maybe that’s a good thing. There may also be another prerequisite in order to gain a Feat. Finally, there is the Repeatable part of the description, which can be yes or no. This document has 10 Feats that are all 1st level. None of them has a prerequisite, which makes me wonder whether 1st level Feats are going to have a prerequisite. Let’s take a look at them

Alert. You add your Proficiency Bonus to Initiative rolls. Moreover, you may swap Initiatives with an ally that is in the same combat and not Incapacitated. It’s a bit late so I may be misunderstanding things, but I have a question about the Initiative swap thing. Do you swap the final results, with bonuses etc, or just the roll? The way I read it, I understand you swap the final result.

Crafter. You gain Proficiency with 3 Artisan’s Tools. You also get a 20% discount on nonmagical items. Finally, the crafting time of an item is reduced by 20% if you are using tools you are proficient with. Unless the crafting system is getting an overhaul, this Feat will probably not be that useful.

Healer. This is one of the Feats discussed in the video by Crawford. The purpose of the redesign of the Healer Feat was to make it useful to people who can heal but also to characters without healing capabilities. You can expend a use of your Healer’s Kit and an Action, and an ally can use one of their Hit Dice. You get to roll that die and heal the ally for a number of hit point equal to that roll plus your Proficiency Bonus. That’s the part that allows non-healers, let’s say, to heal. It’s important to note that you are the one who rolls the ally’s Hit Die. Why? Because the second part of the Feat says that whenever you roll a 1 on a roll to heal (magic or otherwise) you get to reroll that die roll and keep the second result. I believe this is an upgrade to the previous version of the Feat.

Lucky. This has changed a bit. After you roll a d20 for a d20 Test, you can give yourself advantage. Also, after a creature rolls a d20 to attack you, you can give it disadvantage. You can use those two actions a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and they recharge after a long rest. To be honest, I don’t know if I like the way the Feat is written. I like the two options but I think the way they are written, especially the first one, can end up being confusing.

Magic Initiate. This is the first repeatable Feat we see in the list. You can pick up this Feat once per spell list (Arcane, Divine, Primal). When you pick a spell list, you learn two cantrips of your choice. You also get to learn one 1st level spell that you always have prepared and can cast once for free. After that, you can use spell slots and the free cast recharges with a long rest. You can also swap one of those spells when you level up. I believe the only difference with the previous version is that you can just choose your Spellcasting Ability, which is a general thing for this edition, it seems.

Musician. You gain Proficiency with 3 musical instruments of your choice. Moreover, when you finish a Short or Long Rest, you can give Inspiration to a number of allies equal to your Proficiency Bonus by playing a song using a musical instrument you are proficient with. Okay, you can use this as many times as the rests your party is taking. That’s quite good, I believe, and an extra reason to have a Short Rest.

Savage Attacker. Once per turn, when you hit a target with a weapon attack, you can reroll your weapon’s damage die and use either outcome. I don’t think this has changed so it remains kinda meh.

Skilled. Another Repeatable Feat. You gain Proficiency with 3 skills. You can’t be already Proficient with them. If you like skills then this is the Feat for you.

Tavern Brawler. This one has changed a bit. You Unarmed Strikes deal 1d4 plus your Strength modifier. You can also reroll the 1 on the damage rolls of your Unarmed Strikes once, and then keep the result. But wait, there’s more. When you hit a creature with an Unarmed Strike, you can also shove it 5 feet. However, this can happen only if you have hit the creature using your Action, so no attack of opportunity shoves. And finally, we get a really fun one. Small and Medium furniture can be used as a Greatclub and tiny furniture as a club. I want to see more stuff being used as weapons. PLEASE.

Tough. You gain 2 extra hit points per level. That’s it.

I think, overall, the design of Feats is going well. These are only 10 1st level Feats but my eyes can see two patterns, or I’m just overthinking. The first one is that some Feats remind us of Classes. For example, Healer hints a bit of Life Cleric, while Musician gives off Bard energy. I don’t know how Classes are going to work but I won’t be surprised if I see some major changes. The second one is that I may be seeing 4th Edition design elements. I won’t say more for now, because it may be just my excitement since I love 4e.

Rules Glossary

This is the final part of the document. Here we can see either new terms or terms that have been revised. Let’s take a look.

Arcane Spells, Divine Spells, Primal Spells. I am grouping these three together because it makes sense. So, a major improvement is that spells now belong to categories. This means when a new class comes out, the whole spell issue is much less of an…issue. Artificers, Bards, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards use Arcane Spells. Clerics and Paladins use Divine Spells. Druids and Rangers use Primal Spells. I like this change. I do believe it will require some fixes, because we will probably see a lot of questions popping up regarding specific spells and whether a Class should or should not have access to them.

Artisan’s Tools, Gaming Sets, Musical Instruments. These are the three categories of Tools a character can be proficient with. Some price changes may apply.

Creature Type doesn’t really change.

D20 Test. This is a blanket term for d20 rolls, I guess, which are skill checks, attack rolls, and saving throws. In order for a d20 test to be warranted, the target has to be between 5 and 30. This is probably here to protect the game from weird situations. Natural 1s are auto-fail. Natural 20s are auto-success and also grant Inspiration. However, it is also mentioned that nat 20s don’t bypass limitations, such as range and line of sight. Again, this is here to protect the game (and the GM).

There is a special ruling regarding Critical Hits. They apply only to Weapon Attacks and Unarmed Strikes, so no critical hits with spells. Moreover, the extra damage for the Critical Hit is the die of the weapon or the Unarmed Strike. This means other stuff, like Sneak Attack, are not affected by the Critical Hit. So, if I read this correctly, we won’t be seeing huge chunks of damage. I don’t know how I feel about this, yet.

Grappled. This is an existing condition that has changed. When you are Grappled, your speed is 0, you can attack only your grappler without having disadvantage on your attack roll, and your grappler is Slowed (a new condition), unless you are Tiny or two Sizes smaller than them. You can escape the grapple by attempting a Strength or Dexterity Saving Throw at the end of each of your turns. Also, if the grappler is Incapacitated the Grapple ends. Finally, if you are move (without using your speed) outside the grappler’s range, the grapple ends.

The main change here is the new condition applied to the grappler. So instead of waiting, let’s check it out now.

Slowed. Every foot of movement costs one extra, when you use your Move action. Moreover, attack rolls against you are made with advantage. Finally, you have disadvantage on Dexterity Saving Throws.

This condition makes sense and it also makes sense that a grappler gains that condition. By the way, it’s not a new condition to D&D.

Incapacitated. I believe this is more of an update than a change. The condition is the same but it clears up some situations. The main effect is that you can’t take Actions or Reactions. This causes your Concentration to be broken. You also can’t speak and you have disadvantage on Initiative rolls.

Inspiration. Inspiration gives you advantage on a D20 Test. So far so good. The main way to gain Inspiration is to roll a 20 on a D20 Test. You can have only one Inspiration at a time and you lose it at the start of a Long Rest.

I like the last part a lot because it really pushes you not to hoard Inspiration. Plus, we get more mechanical ways to gain Inspiration other than “the GM’s discretion”.

Long Rest. You have to have at least 1 hit point in order to gain the benefits of a Long Rest, which are gaining all your hit points and up to half your Hit Dice. Moreover, and quite important, is that if you have rested for at least 1 hour and your rest is then interrupted, you still get the benefits of a Short Rest. I like that last addition a lot. Again, this is more of a clearing up how some situations work, but it’s helpful.

Tool Proficiency. This is one more part in the attempt to make using tools a thing, because it’s not. Having Proficiency with a tool means you add your Proficiency Bonus to the ability check when using said tool. Additionally, if you have Proficiency in the Skill you are using, you get advantage. Nice, but probably not enough.

Tremorsense. You can, kinda, detect the location of creatures and moving objects within range, if you are both on the same surface (or liquid). It doesn’t affect flying things and it’s not a form of sight. I think I would make some exceptions regarding the flying part, depending on how much sound the flying object’ is making. As for tremorsense not being a form of sight, it’s either there to fix some previous issues (which I can’t think of) or we may see something new soon.

Unarmed Strike. This is the last item in the glossary, but it’s quite packed with info. The way you make attack rolls hasn’t changed, you add your Strength modifier and Proficiency Bonus. However, if you hit you can choose one of three effects:

  • You deal 1 bludgeoning damage plus your Strength modifier.
  • You can attempt to grapple your opponent.
  • You can either shove or knock prone your opponent.

I am not sure on this one. I think I find it okay but I have a feeling I’m missing something.

Finally, the document has lists of cantrips and 1st-level spells for the Arcane, Divine, and Primal spell lists.

And then we are done! That was quite exhausting. I have gotten a bit rusty with writing these so returning to write about a 21 page document wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot. And if you have reached that far, you probably have enjoyed it as well. Thank you for reading this.

I just want to say that I saw things I liked, I saw things I didn’t, and I saw things that need more work. I am fine with that since it’s a playtest document. I am really looking forward to future installments, that’s for sure.

You can find the document and the survey (which will be open until the 15h of September) here.

And until next time, have fun!

3 thoughts on “Unearthed Arcana: One D&D Character Origins Analysis

  1. I 100% also think that this background approach will turn into an optimization tool and not a backstory tool. Instead of choosing x background to get y, it’ll be choose y and move on. Why bother with the ‘background’ step at all? I see this very quickly moving to “you can choose a background but don’t worry about it – it doesn’t matter anyway. Just choose the stat increase and a feat that is good for your class and a useful skill (stealth or perception).”

    I think moving stat bonus to class would be a good first step – people choose stat bonus to suit their class anyway so this will remove all the “you have to choose to play a ” problems.

    For backgrounds to be meaningful they need to be part of a living world, and only the DM really knows that world. So, the next step is a guided discussion you have with the DM, starting with the following questions, so that both of you can find the actual place in the world that you are from;

    • Did you grow up in the wilds or an urban, or rural area?
    • What was the place like (dangerous, friendly)?
    • What do you family do for a living, or what did you do before you started training to be your class (noble, craftsman, labourer, trader, hunter)?
    • Why did you change (tragic event, heroic moment, divine intervention)?

    Then group the 1st levels feats by the responses (ie, the feats for growing up in the wilds, the feats for coming from a dangerous environment etc…). The feats would be in more than one category – lots of overlap. Like, you could get ‘arcane initiate’ from where you grew up, what you did for a living, or what made you change. Pick a 1st level feat that reflects one or more of your answers. This represents a particularly significant aspect of, or event in, your background.

    Then expand languages so that knowing a language means you also know about that society. Speak Orcish? Then you may also know the culture and traditions of the tribe that has just confronted you. Speak elvish? You may know about the courts of the fey etc… And instead of saying ‘choose a language’ ask ‘what other people have you spent time with? Was your best friend growing up of a different species? Did your family trade with different tribes? Was a favourite teacher from another species, or even another plane of existence?

    If this feels like an involved process, that’s kinda the point. If backgrounds are going to be a backstory tool, then go story. Ironically, the proposed system really suits people who are not interested in story at all, and it underserves those that are by saying “it doesn’t matter, just choose some game abilities.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really like your suggestion regarding languages. Yes, someone may have picked it up somewhere randomly. But in many cases, one who’s learning a language is also exposed to the culture of those who speak it.

      Like

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