Beasts and Backgrounds
When a player makes a character, that persona is more than just a class and race combination. It’s a sum of all its various components, and one aspect I for one am celebrating is that of backgrounds. One of my favorite things to do when making a character is to try and somehow work something into them to represent their background. A wizard might have some training as a bookmaker or record keeper because he grew up working as a clerk or craftsman before beginning their arcane studies. A young swordsman might have an acceptable knowledge of nature, geography or perhaps even be a capable farm hand. Doesn’t make either more powerful in combat or anything but it speaks to where they came from, makes the character have just that; more character. Its fun opens up interesting options for stories and allows you to really think about where they came from – not to mention why they do what they do.
The addition of backgrounds as a component of character creation, at least to me, was a welcome and delightful feature. So, in continuing my look at the final playtest packet released for D&D Next, let’s start with Backgrounds.
- There was a Yesterday for everyone – Every background presented grants the character proficiency with three skills, (up to) three tools, and a trait. The traits are basically an extra special ability the character can use that relates to their background. Some backgrounds also provide additional languages as well. A list of recommended gear is also present for those who take the class quick start gear packages complete with cost.
- Tied Traits – Generally speaking, the traits granted to a character also serve to provide a tie to the world as well. They allow for them to have a potential connection to various groups they can interact with. In this way they don’t just provide a static bonus or ability, but instead a means to establish them as part of the world around them. A member of the thieves’ guild might recognize someone speaking in code, but it also means they might know others or be called on to settle guild business. It opens potential plot hooks for stories and serves to ground the character.
- Enough to go Around – Not every imaginable background is listed among the samples. However, there is more than enough variety to cover most of the basics. And, should some specific background desired not be among those listed there are guidelines to come up with your own. More than sufficient enough to be of use to play with.
Let’s turn our attention as we take a moment to consider the monsters themselves now, since no adventure could be complete without bad guys to beat.
- Monster, Monster, Goose – I haven’t counted them, but there are almost 90 pages of bestiary entries describing quite the range of monsters. But not every entry is just another beast to battle. There are also stated descriptions for animals like horses, and various humanoids as well.
- Familiar Foes – Go ahead and grin, I know we all will; some of our favorite enemies are back once more. Like those vicious little lizard-looking kobolds for example. There is quite a collection of classic and iconic creatures to do combat with.
- Don’t Expect The Same Fights – Even though some of the same monsters are back, there are also new ones as well. Monsters like kobolds now come in different types. Others have chieftains/leaders to be faced as well, and a new random recharge means you can never be certain that beholder is empty of energy blasts. So prepare for some familiar fun but don’t forget to keep an eye out for some surprises too.
- Encounter Building Blocks – Gone are the challenge ratings, encounter levels and other such figures used to calculate which monsters made a threat and which were too much. Included in each entry is a single section at the end listing what level is appropriate for the party to be and how much xp is rewarded.
- And… Action – The monsters presented aren’t just bland sets of stat blocks, they also list key traits, attacks and any customizable options for the dm. This includes any tactical strengths, average damage on a hit (damage dice are listed as usual), etc. Customizable features for some monsters can be things like if the creature can change shape, cast spells, curse its foes etc. Not every creature of a set kind will all be cookie cutter clones. All the better to have provide you with some variety in your opponents, no?
Even with some classic monsters and the inclusion of rules regarding backgrounds Next still proves to me to be fresh, innovative and a clear return to the game’s core. It shows us some of the games defining elements in new ways or with refreshing simplicity. Things may be changing but the past is not being forgotten nor is it replacing the future.