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One D&D changes vs 5E: What's new in the next Dungeons & Dragons edition?

From creating your character to casting spells, here’s how One D&D is different to 5E.

Image: Wizards of the Coast

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. Most recently, we’ve been given a new look at two key classes in the new edition and how they differ from 5E.

One D&D’s February 2023 playtest materials have now dropped for the Druid and Paladin, with some key changes, buffs and nerfs that will likely have some players sated and others in uproar. Balancing a game with such sprawling mechanics is a tricky thing, but a move towards standardised classes and class groupings will no doubt help – even if some individual class flavour is lost along the way.

One D&D changes - February 2023

The latest One D&D updates are a welcome change from the D&D discourse of recent months, after proposed changes to the game’s licensing agreements saw a massive outcry from fan bases and third-party publishers, leading to a swift backtrack (and a flurry of fan interest in alternate game systems).

After a couple of months without any updates, we seem to be entering a regular monthly cadence again, so we’ll have plenty of One D&D updates and differences from 5E to pore over in the coming months.

Some of the biggest changes in One D&D

The changes in One D&D we’ve seen so far already paint a clear picture of where the RPG is going. As previously announced by publisher Wizards of the Coast, the playtest materials remain a work in progress, with new changes and updates based on player feedback due to arrive throughout 2023.

We’ve run through the key One D&D 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

One D&D formalises a number of character creation changes seen in 5E book Tasha's Cauldron of Everything. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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.

The December 2022 playtest changes for One D&D included the giant-descended Goliath. The game's designers have clearly taken inspiration from the Rune Knight subclass in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, offering a mix of subraces based on Fire, Hill, Cloud or Storm giants - as well as an ability to temporarily grow your size – which admittedly all feels a bit overkill. Dragonborn are much improved, however, being able to choose a 15ft cone or 30ft line when casting their breath weapon, instead of being locked into one option. They also get a temporary flying ability at level five!

Feat changes in One D&D

One D&D's changes to feats make them a bit more balanced for characters of all levels. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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

Certain character classes are grouped together in One D&D, with a typical four-player party build including one from each category. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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.

Cleric changes in One D&D

Playtest changes for a revamped Cleric have also gone live, giving us a clear look at the future of One D&D’s caster classes. In 5E, each class specialises into a subclass, but at different starting points: Warlock, Cleric and Sorcerer at level one, while other classes get specialisations at level two or three. That’s now been standardised, with the new Cleric waiting until level three to get a subclass, allowing the first couple of levels to act as a simpler tutorial for newer players.

At first level, One D&D's Cleric gets its Channel Divinity feature, which includes both the classic Turn Undead feature and a Magic Spark ability to either heal allies or harm foes – neatly capturing the essence of the class. At level two, you pick a Holy Order, like a Fighting Style for the Ranger/Fighter classes - helping to organise some common Cleric features, such as proficiency with Heavy Armor, which in 5E is scattered inconsistently across different subclasses.

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Druid changes in One D&D

We’ve now got a good look at the Druid and Paladin, too. The Druid has seen the biggest overhaul, with sweeping changes made to Wild Shape and other core Druid abilities. The class now has a ‘Channel Nature’ feature, as a parallel to the Cleric’s Channel Divinity, with options to Wild Shape (now at level 1), cast a plant-themed healing spell (level 1) or summon an otherworldly familiar as a pet or scout (level 2). You can also speak when Wild Shaped into an animal, though, which is helpful for social encounters and general party communication, and even cast Abjuration spells.

Wild Shape is much simplified, with three set templates for land, sea and sky creatures you can turn into – cleaner than 5E’s sprawling list of creature stat blocks, if a little less flavourful – and the feature no longer confers an HP bonus when you transform. Fly speed is also locked behind level 9, while you can’t turn into a Tiny creature until level 11 (and only for 10 minutes at that). The Moon Druid subclass has lost its Elemental Wild Shapes, and feels very pared back – focusing instead on quite straightforward damage resistances – but we may see that feature return in another subclass down the line.

Paladin changes in One D&D

The Paladin, already a powerful and beloved class, has some smaller tweaks and changes – including the decision to introduce spellcasting at level 1 (instead of level 2 in 5E). Smites, the damage boosting spells previously unique to the class, seem to be available to any class with the Divine spell list now, but are no longer concentration based, now apply to ranged as well as melee weapons, and are limited to once per turn (to prevent players spamming Smite attacks for a nonsensical damage output). The Find Steed spell is now a full-blown class feature, too, with variable steed abilities defined as Celestial, Fiend or Fey, and feels very flavourful.

The remaining class groups are the Mages (Wizard, Warlock, Sorcerer) 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

One D&D separates spells into Primal, Divine and Arcane lists, with different classes able to harness different types of magic. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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.

The December 2022 One D&D playtest also offers a neat solution to the number of spells you can prepare. Instead of calculating a number of prepared spells each day based on your level and casting modifier, you simply prepare a number of spells at each level equal to your number of spell slots. So a level one Cleric has two 1st-level spell slots, and can prepare two 1st-level spells. It’s that simple!

One D&D goes digital: updates, D&D Beyond and a virtual tabletop

One D&D will include a new official virtual tabletop for Dungeons & Dragons, replete with impressive 3D visuals and helpful tools for players and DMs. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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.”

The reveal trailer for One D&D

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

One D&D's playtest materials will be introducing new changes and refining its rules through 2023, ahead of a full release of three core rulebooks in 2024. Image: Wizards of the Coast

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 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. When Hidden or Invisible, you also get advantage on attack rolls and initiative rolls.

As for rests, Wizards of the Coast has made the wise decision not to punish players for a middle-of-the-night ambush. Interrupted sleep will no longer ruin the effects of a Long Rest, while all HP/hit die are automatically restored by the morning, instead of having to calculate a percentage. For impatient players, the ritual spell Prayer of Healing now confers the benefits of a short rest in only 10 minutes, which feels like a brilliant boost to the spell.

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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.

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.

A new Dazed condition limits affected creatures’ abilities to move and take actions on the same turn - and is already popping up in a few spell and feature descriptions (as in the Paladin’s level 9 feature Abjure Foes).

There’s some mention of the next D&D Unearthed Arcana featuring weapons and equipment – with different weapons getting distinct abilities, that should help make playing martial characters a little more varied, but we’re yet to see those playtest materials in detail.

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.

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About the Author
Henry St Leger avatar

Henry St Leger


Henry is a freelance arts, games and entertainment journalist with bylines for Edge, TechRadar, Little White Lies and The Times. As a former theatre maker, he loves narrative-heavy games - and is usually found playing a healer to keep the rest of his D&D party alive.

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