Posted by : David Guyll October 22, 2012

There is a lot on Mearls's class design guidelines that I like.

Using what previously exists is an obvious start, and this is how I went about making my own class homebrews. What I really like about this is where they actually challenge their bullet list by determining what is absolutely critical about the class's identity. Trying to find common ground between editions is a good start, but as lengthy ranger threads have shown, what makes a class for one person might not work--and might even break it--for someone else.

I also like that they are willing to move former class features into more generally available options. In the example of two-weapon fighting 3rd Edition required a feat tree, and while rangers could get the feats for free it was only arguably effective thanks to massive attack penalties. 4th Edition made two-weapon fighting the venue of specific classes, building powers that let you benefit from it (as well as ensuring that it worked).  While I originally praised this approach, I think that a middle-ground where characters can take it if they want, and it works, is best as it avoids having to build in exceptions to classes later on.

Even better is the fact that they are willing to try entirely new things. Bards have had daily spells since 2nd Edition at the least, but that does not mean that it is the best (or even ideal) method to represent how they access and use magic. Frankly a bard whose magic is more closely tied to music, and not limited to x times per day sounds a lot more interesting. I am eager to see other classes that deviate from "tradition", not just wizards.

My only experience with animal companions (or companions in general), was in 3rd and 4th Edition. In 3rd Edition they tended to be virtually worthless...unless a player conjured something with a spell list, such as a cleric summoning an archon that has access to more cleric spells than she does. To be fair some class features and feats could lead to easily abusive results, such as dread necromancers and the Corpse Crafter tree. It also dragged the game down by giving one or more players the potential to take several turns at once.

4th Edition fixed all of these issues by giving companions continually scaling stats based on your level, and sustaining the action economy. This helped ensure that summons/companions were always useful, but you still were only taking one character worth of actions. Later they added in instinctive actions that kind of allowed a character to break this, but it was not always optimal (or beneficial, especially when it made a creature attack an ally).

It sounds like that this time around they are going to make companions a rules module that combines 3rd Edition's complexity with 4th Edition's efficacy; they basically act as a second character, being able to gain XP and everything, which helps make sure that they do not become obsolete after a few levels. Given that this is not ideal (or even enjoyable) for every group, they are designing classes without companions as a default option. Good for someone like me, who has always wanted to be able to play a wizard with a bound something-or-other, bad for groups that wanted something more simple to play with.

This modular approach is going to be worked into a number of classes on a number of levels, and I am excited to see classes further develop with these design methods in mind. Hopefully this will prevent class bloat, where we have a class that is like a wizard with one or two differences, but make it easier to apply campaign setting-specific mechanics without simply adding on to a class to evoke flavor material (such as 4th Edition's Dark Sun Campaign Setting and Arcane Defiling).


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