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D&D 5e Playtest Issues: Hit Points & Healing

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The is the first post in a occasional series on the issues my group had with D&D Next (which I will call 5e as I think the D&D Next name is stupid). However, before I start a series on the problems with the initial 5e playtest draft I want to say that even with all the issues we had with 5e, it still felt more like the type of D&D I enjoy than 3.x with many splats or 4e did ever did. The fact that the game rules do not assume that a grid and minis will be used is a huge improvement as is the much faster combat that results. My overall reaction to 5e is "meh"; it's not bad, but there is nothing there that would get me to choose it over OD&D (or M74), B/X, 1e, or BECMI/RC. I do not see any reason I'd choose to play 5e over any of those games. The players in my group agreed. They voted to continue to use Microlite74 over 5e, to the point that we will probably not even try future playtest versions unless a lot of the issues we had with 5e go away.

The first major issue we had with 5e was Hits and Healing.

First, both PCs and monsters had far too many hit points. The large monsters listed in the playtest rules had about four times the hit points of the 1e version of the same monster. While damage was slightly higher, we did not see any reason for the hit point inflation and we definitely did not like it. The higher hit points often made combat "grindy". It was still fairly fast but many of the combats we had took much longer than they would have if hits points were closer to 1e levels. An ogre, for example, has 88 hit points in the 5e playtest bestiary. A 1e ogre has 4d8+1 hit points -- ranging from 5 hit points to 33 hit points, but an average ogre would only have 19 hit points.

This brings up our second problem with 5e hit points: they don't vary. An ogre always has 88 hit points. One never happens across a weaker than normal ogre or a stronger than normal ogre. All ogres have 88 point points. As the hit points never vary, players can easily track the hit points of the monster(s) they are fighting. This makes it easy to min-max one's spells or limited use magic items. A player will never "waste" a spell or ability that average 20 points of damage if they know the monster only has 6 hit points left. When monster hit points are determine by rolling dice as they were every edition of D&D prior to 4e, players actually hat to take risks in combat. Those 5 ogres might be 5 hit point push-overs or 33 hit point badasses (or more likely somewhere in between those extremes), but the players would never know for sure how many hit points each ogre had until that ogre keeled over.

Our third issue was with "Hit Dice". Hit Dice are no longer the dice one rolls to find out how many hits points a monster has. Instead they are dice you roll to recover hit points. When you look at the effect of "hit dice" in the game their effects are a lot like 4e "healing surges" -- and healing surges were a show-stopper for many players who did not convert to 4e. 5e Hit Dice, like 4e healing surges, are a way to get rid of long term combat consequences in the game -- a way to make sure PCs are at "full power" at the start of almost every encounter. Some 5e playtesters have said that it would be easy to drop Hit Dice healing from 5e if one wanted to. It does look easy to ignore. However, when you look at the 88 hit ogre (and other hit point inflated monsters), you realize that the 5e monster hit points are designed around that assumption that Hit Dice healing will be used so that PCs will be at full or near full hp when the average encounter starts. The monsters aren't designed for play in games where combat tends to have consequences that do not end with the end of the encounter.

Our fourth issue is an extension of the third issue, it is hard to have consequences that last more than a day. In most cases a good night's rest restores all your hit points and all your healing Hit Dice. Hit point Recovery is far too fast for any type of old school play -- where "old school" in this case means "pre-4e D&D."

My group classified these Hit Point/Healing issues as "edition killers", meaning that if rules like these from the first playtest make it into the core rules of the final 5e game (without optional/"gray boxed" rules to easily remove them), our group will have no interest in using 5e to run our games.

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