Thoughts on the LevelUp5e Playtest

If you’ve missed it, EN Publishing is working on a set of rules to make 5e crunchier, or more advanced, or something.
I signed up for the playtest materials. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to use them, but I can give my feedback and initial thoughts, and maybe try and use it if I get the chance.

So, the first packet deals with character origins. Let’s take a quick dive in.

We’re presented with some different options from the standard 5e choices, and one that’s tweaked – heritage, culture and background.

Heritage gives us a character’s speed, size, some traits and a choice of one ‘heritage gift’.
Culture gives us some cultures based on the heritages, and a few general cultures also. Right up front, we have the suggestion of ignoring the heritage listings, so a dwarf can be raised by wood elves and vice versa.
Backgrounds are much the same as those in the 5e Player’s Handbook with a few tweaks – the backgrounds are where we’re getting our ability score modifiers, the randomised bonds, ideals and flaws are also joined by randomised trinket and contact tables. There’s also improved benefits available by adventuring.

So, let’s look at heritage:
The standard races from the 5e PHB are all here, but with a couple of tweaks –
1/ Most races gain an extra or improved racial ability at 10th level as a paragon (dwarves are harder to kill, humans learn a bunch of things, tieflings ignore fire resistance. I presume halfling paragons are still in development).
2/ Dragonborn have twenty-five ancestries to choose from, including dragon turtle, gem dragons and even spirit dragons.
Then with the choices taken from heritage gifts, every character feels that bit more unique. Tieflings can have a mixed infernal/celestial ancestry. Not all dwarves are resistant to poison. Some orcs are adept at magic.

When we then add in culture, we get some more twists to the character creation:
Looking at the general cultures (cosmopolitan, guild member, nomad and so forth), there’s maybe a bit of overlap with backgrounds as far as naming conventions go, but these things pack a punch.
Cosmopolitan gives you the prestidigitation cantrip, an extra contact and skills, amongst other benefits. Nomads effectively gain expertise with land vehicles, and repairing one with tinker’s tools also gets that benefit. Pretty much all the generics give two languages on top of Common.
Back in the heritage-based cultures, most only give two languages, with a couple of exceptions.
Imperial tieflings get a choice of cantrip at level 1 – either fire bolt or thaumaturgy, and they can choose between Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma for casting. Under half hit points, they can use a bonus action to make their next attack deal fire damage equal to that casting modifier.
Their cousins the Carnival tieflings gain proficiency with improvised weapons (the ability is call Slapstick), and they can cast disguise self, again with the options for casting modifier.
Longstoic Orcs gain ritual casting, and their cousins the Warhordlings can create ramshackle versions of most simple weapons that break when a natural 1 is rolled to attack.
One kind of halfling can effectively cast augury by burying their feet in soil.
They’re all really fun ideas.

As I said before with backgrounds, they’re more or less the same as in the Player’s Handbook, but there’s a few fun twists:
Many of the backgrounds allow you access to hirelings – guild artisans gain eight proficient apprentices, nobles can gain a title with a retinue of servants and eight guards, outlanders gain eight tribal warrior followers. (Eight seems to be important.)
Other backgrounds get deeper access to game mysteries – sages get better access to their research libraries, the voice in the hermit’s head might tell them where a great treasure is, urchins can gather information through their network of street contacts.
The mementos and the connections look like a lot of fun too. Sailors can get a harpoon or a treasure map, guild artisans can have a commission to earn themselves ten thousand gold once they have the right materials, charlatans can end up with counterfeit coins.
Connections can be good or bad – acolytes might have a former adventurer as a patron, but might also have been framed and banished by an inquisitor.

So, that’s the overview of what’s in the document currently.
What do I think?

If I steal nothing else from these ideas, I’d steal the upgrades backgrounds. They look like an easy way to throw a lot of fun into the roleplaying elements of the game.
The fact you can upgrade your background gives a lot of extra effect to picking it at first level, even ignoring that these rules use the background for ability modifiers.
The idea of mixing up heritage and culture could be fun too. An orc raised by halflings who can still dig his toes into the soil to cast augury is fun, or an elven warhordling could be interesting too. I’m not entirely sold on how well some of them interact, but I’d probably have to sit down and play with them to get a better idea.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this to see how it develops.

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