D&D Next: The Dizzying Heights of Sixth Level

One of the effects of mostly experiencing the playtest rules only through my weekly D&D Encounters sessions is that I’m now very familiar with low-level play in the game. And, likewise, I have no idea what happens at the higher levels. This Saturday, I’ll get a chance to see something new: play at the dizzying height of sixth level!

Fifth and sixth level have generally been the point at which characters in D&D move from the “just a little bit better than average” into fully-fledged heroes. The major sign of this change comes from the magic-user spell of fireball. (My friends often taunt me with my first fireball in a Dragonlance game, which did all of 4 points of damage after the monsters saved, thanks to the effects of the moons. Sigh). We’ve skipped over fifth level in my group as it didn’t seem worth gaining the level just for one session, so Dead in Thay will be the first time that the players are at a truly heroic level.

For D&D Next, what does that mean?

The Cleric has third level spells (and a total of ten spells per day). Level 3 spells have never been that inspiring for clerics, with the major additions being dispel magic and remove curse. Next adds in a mass healing word spell, which is a bit underwhelming, but prayer (+1 to most dice rolls) – and castable as a swift action – will likely see play a lot. I expect that animate dead may interest the players, despite my reservations about such magic! All in all, the Cleric doesn’t really change that much at this level. Of all the classes, the cleric tends to gain abilities slowly and incrementally, without seeing the big power jumps of other classes.

The Fighter has gained two major improvements, the key one being an Extra Attack. It’s hard to overstate what a big deal this is. It’s also really interesting when compared to older editions of the game. In AD&D, extra attacks came very slowly – at 7th level the fighter gained one extra attack every two rounds, and only gained the full extra attack every round at 13th level! 3rd Edition gave extra attacks every five levels – 6th, 11th, 16th – but each extra attack was taken at a penalty of -5. By level 16, your attacks were at +16 for the first, +11 for the second, +6 for the third and +1 for the fourth. With such a huge change in numbers, resolving the attacks actually became quite slow and complicated. And 4th edition used martial powers instead to boost damage through the levels rather than just adding extra attacks.

These extra attacks are the simplest and easiest ones the Fighter has ever had. One of the key features of 3rd Edition extra attacks – how you had to remain still to use all your extra attacks, leading to a static battlefield – is gone as well. You can happily move between attacks. When compared to the increasing power of the Mage, this may well help the Fighters keep up.

The other feature the Fighter has at this level is a second ability score increase – or feat. With the increased utility of feats in this edition (they tend to be rarer and more effective), I’m a little uncertain as to whether this will increase the fighter’s power or just their versatility.

The Mage gets their big, defining spell: Fireball. Of course, that’s what it used to be like. Is it defining here? Well, it’s still pretty darn good. 6d6 damage to everyone within 20′ of the detonation point is a big deal. The Troll (per Dead in Thay) has 66 hit points compared to an average of 33 in AD&D, so one fireball isn’t going to be destroying monsters of about the same level, but when you consider than a fighter will likely be doing about 2d8+10 damage a turn, it makes for an impressive effect. I note that fireball doesn’t expand to fill the area (like AD&D) which means the Mages will likely not be killing their party by mistake – always fun for the AD&D DM, if not the players. The step-up for the Mage is that they finally get a big area effect spell that damages their opponents.

I’m interested to see what else the Mage does, however. Will they be using their third level slots to cast enhanced spells of lower levels? Or will they try other spells… like haste?

The Rogue has gained a very unusual ability – Evasion. When they’re struck by an attack, they can halve the damage against them. Certainly this only works once per round, but it adds significantly to the survivability of a class that already was pretty good at the hit and run tactic. Their Sneak Attack has also gained an extra die, so they’ll likely be doing 3d6+5 or similar damage a round – which is quite similar to the output the Fighter is putting out. The real difference is that the Rogue’s potential is conditional, the Fighter just does the damage. In a lot of ways, the Rogue hasn’t really changed too much from a couple of levels before – he’s just getting better slowly, like the Cleric.

What we have here is a number of classes that are now quite competent at their jobs. They have the hit points so they can survive encounters without random deaths, and they can keep going longer. The Mage and Fighter have also definitely stepped up a gear. How that actually translates to the game we’ll witness over the next few months, as we run Dead in Thay.

2 comments

  1. Adam Strong-Morse

    I think you’re underestimating the effect of 3rd level spells for clerics. In particular, Crusader’s Mantle has the potential to be huge–if you assume 4 successful hits by allies within range per round, which seems like a conservative estimate, it does a total of 4d8 damage per round. And it can easily do more than that, depending on party size, composition, AC of opposition, etc.–if you have a two-weapon fighter (with a fresh extra attack, of course), the fighter alone could do 3d8 damage per round off of the Crusader’s Mantle. Conversely, Prayer seems pretty bad when compared to either Bless (1st level, bigger increases to hit and saves, no bonus to damage rolls, AC, or ability checks). My evaluation is that Prayer is only good when you can’t afford the action to cast it–otherwise either Bless (for hard to hit foes, or if you care about saving throws) or Crusader’s Mantle (for easy to hit foes) is likely significantly better. Swift matters, of course, but it matters less for a concentration spell than for other spells. Of course, figuring out how good Bless, Prayer, and Crusader’s Mantle are in practice requires either a lot of experience, or some number crunching with more specific assumptions based on party and type of foe.

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    • merricb

      You’re probably right. In fact, I’m probably underselling the effects of Dispel Magic and Remove Curse on the game; although they’re not often a major effect in combat, they have a significant effect on the ability of the party as a whole to deal with threats.

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