Monday, September 1, 2014

D&D 5E Rules: Foresight

Like a lot of D&D fans, I’m digging into the new 5th Edition to see what makes it tick. There is a lot that’s familiar, and my overall first impression is good, but it will take an actual playtest and a decent chunk of time to really find the new game’s merits and warts. One easy thing I can do is take a look at rules that I don’t care for in 3E and see if and how they’ve changed in the latest version.

To start things off, I’m going to look at a spell that has gotten quite a bit of derision from my
longtime 3E/Pathfinder players. That spell is Foresight, a 9th level arcane spell that seems rather underpowered. Read on for a brief summary of the spell’s effects in 3.5/Pathfinder and 5th Edition, followed by a brief discussion of the differences.

Level: 9
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Duration: 10/min per level

This spell grants you a powerful sixth sense in relation to yourself or another. Once foresight is cast, you receive instantaneous warnings of impending danger or harm to the subject of the spell.

For the duration of the spell, you are never surprised or flat-footed. In addition, the spell gives you a general idea of what action you might take to best protect yourself and gives you a +2 insight bonus to AC and Reflex saves. This insight bonus is lost whenever you would lose a Dexterity bonus to AC.

When another creature is the subject of the spell, you receive warnings about that creature. You must communicate what you learn to the other creature for the warning to be useful, and the creature can be caught unprepared in the absence of such a warning. Shouting a warning, yanking a person back, and even telepathically communicating (via an appropriate spell) can all be accomplished before some danger befalls the subject, provided you act on the warning without delay. The subject, however, does not gain the insight bonus to AC and Reflex saves.

What does that second part mean? Is the GM supposed to allow the subject a kind of “do-over” against a triggered trap or other avoidable danger? It seems like that's the intention, and it's certainly more powerful than a mere +2 AC / Save bonus, but it lacks any kind of game mechanic to support it.
Why is the lesser spell effect detailed while the (potentially) greater effect left totally to abstraction? I'd accept such a spell in a less detail-oriented game like Basic D&D, but in Pathfinder, this seems to imply the spell is very underpowered for it's level. It basically boils down to nothing more than a meager bonus to AC and Reflex saves.

Level: 9 Spell
Casting Time: 1 minute
Duration: 8 hours

While under the effect of this spell, the caster can never be surprised. He gains advantage on all attack rolls, ability checks, and saving throws. In addition, other creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls against the target.

The 5th Edition version has a longer casting time (1 minute vs 1 standard action), but lasts effectively all day (8 hours vs about 3 hours). As to the effects, the meager bonus of +2 to attacks and reflex saves is replaced by advantage to attacks, ability checks, and saves and disadvantage on attacks against the target.

While the math behind advantage and disadvantage is a bit complicated (see here for more), it basically boils down to a +5 or -5 modifier. Thus, we could say that the spell gives a +5 bonus to attacks, ability checks, and saves and gives all enemies a -5 penalty to all attacks against the target for 8 hours. Perhaps not as obviously powerful as other 9th level spells (power word kill, for example), it has certainly been beefed up from 3E.