What are the main One D&D changes compared to 5E? In advance of the new Dungeons & Dragons ruleset coming in 2024, Wizards of the Coast is starting to eke out playtest materials for tweaked rules, mechanics and classes in the hope that player feedback will help guide the upcoming iteration of the fantasy roleplaying game – and we’ve got our first good look at what’s different in the new edition.
As with any rule change, there will be winners and losers, supporters and naysayers, things buffed or nerfed, as the publisher tries to maintain balance across D&D’s many mechanics while keeping things fun and attracting new players to the bestselling fantasy roleplaying game.
One D&D changes
- Character creation: races, backgrounds and ability scores
- Classes: Expert, Mage, Warrior and Priest groups
- Spells: lists and preparation
- Digital: updates, D&D Beyond and virtual tabletop
- Everything else: hiding, exhaustion, Inspiration and two-weapon fighting
D&D 5E, the current version of Dungeons & Dragons that launched in 2014, is widely seen as the most accessible D&D edition yet, and it’s crucial that One D&D’s differences from 5E don’t undo the things that Fifth Edition does right.
At the same time, this is a huge opportunity to rewrite unpopular rules, fix common pain points and open up the game to an even bigger audience than before.
The One D&D playtest isn’t final, of course. The whole point is that Wizards of the Coast can put out suggested edits, and players can comment, praise and complain to help shape One D&D’s direction – new playtest materials will be dropping every month through 2023.
The changes in One D&D we’ve seen so far already paint a clear picture of where the RPG is going. We’ve run through the key differences below and will keep updating this page with the latest playtest materials, too.
Character creation changes in One D&D: races, backgrounds and ability scores
The first One D&D playtest materials were largely to do with character creation – fitting, given that making a D&D character is usually the first thing you do in the game.
Character creation in One D&D largely formalises changes from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, the D&D 5E sourcebook that introduced ‘floating’ ability score increases – meaning that an orc, elf or gnome receives bonuses to any ability score instead of being locked into certain choices. This side-steps some of the ickier assumptions around some races – orcs as hefty brutes with high strength, tieflings as devious charlatans oozing charisma – and opens up far more mechanical variety and choice for playable characters. These bonuses are now tied to a character’s background instead, making it more of a cultural consideration.
The playtest also does away with ‘half’ races, like the half-elf or half-orc, focusing on clearer identities for the core handbook. More races now have the option of going either Medium or Small, allowing for more customisation.
There’s also a brand new race in One D&D, the Ardling, which is a celestial-themed humanoid with the head of an animal – think Anubis, or other divine avatars that cross beast and man. Given the popularity of animal races such as Tabaxi and Tortle, it’s great to see a D&D player race that allows for so much imaginative freedom. Want the head of a dog, a swan, a bird? It’s very easy to pick what feels fun without needing a whole other set of mechanics for each iteration.
Feat changes in One D&D
It’s no secret that D&D 5E’s feat system was a bit unbalanced. Some feats offered massive advantages for low-level characters, while others became redundant for high-level ones. The One D&D playtest gives each feat a level requirement, while also tying one first-level feat to every background.
This gives each level one character a fun bonus ability to play with, and ensures more even power bursts at designated feat levels (1, 4, 8, etc). ASIs, or ability score improvements, are now tied to a specific feat, too.
Class changes in One D&D: Expert, Mage, Warrior and Priest groups
No new classes in One D&D for now, but the 5E classes are being reorganised for this new edition. Each D&D class now falls into one of four groups: Expert, Mage, Warrior or Priest. The idea is to help standardise class features and improve mechanical balance, while offering some clarity to the distinct purposes of each class. (The best party build for a group of four should include one of each category.)
Experts include the Rogue, Ranger, Bard and Artificer. In the One D&D playtest so far, the Rogue is largely untouched (for better or worse), the Bard is slightly tweaked and the Ranger solidifies most of the changes from Tasha’s to vastly improve on the original 2014 class. Another key change is that the Ranger now benefits from Expertise, a feature that doubles certain skill proficiencies; we expect to see more cross-class abilities like this in the other groupings too.
The remaining class groups are the Mages (Wizard, Warlock, Sorcerer), Priests (Cleric, Druid, Paladin) and Warriors (Monk, Barbarian, Fighter), though we have yet to see the new versions of these classes. Watch this space!
Spell changes in One D&D: lists and preparation
Spell lists, previously divided by class, are now sorted into Primal, Divine and Arcane lists - with each class having access to a different list depending on the source of their magic. The Wizard uses the Arcane list (learnt magic), the Cleric uses the Divine list (magic granted by a deity) and the Druid uses the Primal list (magic of the natural world). Various spells appear on multiple lists (eg. Light) though the changes in One D&D seem to have locked some classes out of spells they did have access to previously.
Rangers also use the Primal list, albeit without access to Evocation spells, and the Bard has similar restrictions: “Any Spell you prepare for this Class must be an Arcane Spell, and it must be from one of the following Schools of Magic: Divination, Enchantment, Illusion, or Transmutation.” This certainly feels more organised, but risks feeling over-organised, or less intuitive than 5E’s class spell lists. We’re hoping player feedback guides this in the right direction.
Additionally, both the Bard and Ranger were ‘known’ casters in 5E, meaning they learnt a small number of spells each level, locking players into certain playstyles – unlike other ‘prepared’ casters that were able to pick and choose from their spell list at the start of each day. These two classes are now in the latter camp, which should offer more variety, freedom and experimentation – and prevent players from being stuck with less optimal choices for long periods of time. However, we’re yet to see whether this is the case for other ‘known’ casters like the Wizard.
One D&D goes digital: updates, D&D Beyond and a virtual tabletop
While the RPG’s physical sourcebooks aren’t going anywhere with One D&D, it’s clear that Wizards of the Coast is looking to focus more on the digital experience of playing Dungeons & Dragons.
One D&D is set to be the ‘forever’ edition of Dungeons & Dragons, one that’s fully integrated into the D&D Beyond platform (fully absorbed into Wizards as of 2022) and does away with the need for a sixth or seventh edition.
Time will tell how long this lasts, but it sounds like the aim is to offer incremental tweaks and changes as more of a live service game, instead of the firm distinctions between earlier and later editions. Given the immense popularity of 5E, it makes sense that Wizards of the Coast thinks it has the formula pretty much pinned down, with its One D&D FAQ saying: “The evolution of Fifth Edition has shown us it’s less important to create new editions of the game and more important to grow and expand the game you love with each new product.”
You’ll also be able to buy physical/digital bundles of sourcebooks through D&D Beyond, meaning you’ll get a digital copy through the platform when ordering a physical sourcebook – though the offer is exclusive to D&D Beyond purchases for the moment.
Embracing the D&D Beyond toolset goes even further than this; we know the company is working on a “Digital D&D Play Experience”, described as an immersive tabletop space that is currently in “early development”. We’ve only seen a short amount of alpha footage so far, but it looks like Wizards wants to cater to online gamers and streamers by offering virtual maps and gameplay beyond what competing virtual tabletop tools like Roll20 can offer.
Everything else in One D&D: hiding, exhaustion, Inspiration and two-weapon fighting
Alongside larger race and class changes, there’s also a host of smaller tweaks and edits coming in One D&D that will have a big impact on how the game is played day to day.
Dragonborn now automatically benefit from darkvision (a change lifted from the recent 5E book Fizban's Treasury of Dragons), while Dwarves can listen out for creatures via vibrations in the ground (Tremorsense – a much more useful ability than 5E’s enhanced architecture checks). Tieflings, too, now have one of three lineages with slightly different spells and damage resistances, depending on your preference.
Ritual casting now applies to all casters, instead of being an exclusive feature for certain classes – we imagine many tables were running rituals like this anyway.
Hiding is a simpler affair: instead of rolling against an enemy’s passive perception, players simply have to beat a DC 15 Stealth check, which slightly simplifies things and lets players know immediately how they’ve fared.
Exhaustion has also had an overhaul. 5E’s rules for this were quite punishing, as even low levels of exhaustion gave disadvantage on ability checks and halved movement speed – neither are minor afflictions. In the One D&D playtest, each level of exhaustion simply subtracts -1 from all d20 rolls, which is far easier to track than its 5E counterpart.
Failed dice rolls are also a little more forgiving. Suggested rules for a critical failure (rolling a 1 on the d20) say to grant the player Inspiration, allowing advantage on a later roll to help soften the blow – and granting Inspiration after rolling a 20 as well, to celebrate the success – though we can see this being an optional rule ignored at some tables. Human PCs also gain Inspiration after each Long Rest.
Two-weapon fighting is finally a viable playstyle, too. If you hold a Light weapon in each hand, you can now attack with both weapons as part of the same action – albeit without the damage modifier on the second roll. In 5E, a second attack used up a bonus action, which meant it was rarely worth doing and ate up a lot of your action economy.
There’s plenty more playtesting to come, and it remains to be seen whether the changes so far will make it into the eventual edition. Just remember that you can head to D&D Beyond yourself to view materials throughout the playtest, and give feedback a few weeks after each part of the playtest is available for download.