Legends & Lore: Class Roles...I Mean Groups

3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons introduced the sorcerer as a kind of wizard that, like pretty much every wizard in fiction that was not based specifically on Dungeons & Dragons, was not forced to memorize/prepare her spells in advance prior to using them.

The bit of flavor on them suggested that they carried the blood of dragons, but pretty much nothing about the class backed that claim up: they were basically wizards that just managed their spells in a slightly different way, material spell components and all.

Eventually articles in various Dragon magazines and I think Unearthed Arcana allowed you to burn one or more feats in order to gain minor benefits and access to additional spells, both on a per-day basis and to your list in general. On one hand it was something, but on the other 3rd Edition characters were incredibly feat-starved: picking up the entire tree would eat up about half your feats and levels.

Thematic bloodline features were something that should have been part of the class from the get-go...which is what they did when the sorcerer made its debut in 4th Edition: each spell source gave you an assortment of class features, they had a list of spells separate from the wizard, and your spell source could affect what various spells did (meaning that you were not forced to choose certain spells, but there were benefits to sticking with a theme).

Next's short-lived sorcerer was actually surprising in a very good way in that, unlike many other parts of the game, it did not bear a bunch of 3rd Edition mechanics seemingly just for the sake of it. In fact I think it was way cooler than 4th Edition's take, in particular how you would transform as you used magic. It got pulled a packet or two later, and after awhile of hoping that they were simply going to refine it discovered that it was getting rolled in with the warlock (which suffered a similar fate) as a mage subclass.

Thankfully it sounds like that, despite some benefits, this direction was not well received.

For some reason one of 4th Edition's controversial additions was explicitly stating a class's general role and, perhaps, actually enabling a class to do what it was supposed to do.

That and giving fighter's nice things.
Some people took this to mean that they were pidgeon-holing a class, but all it really did was let you know at a glance that the class would have a marking mechanic, encounter-heal, some sort of bonus damage, or probably access to more area-effect and/or condition-afflicting powers than the rest. Many classes not only had an implied secondary role, but there were enough optionsespecially through subclasses, variant class features, multiclassing, hybrids, and skills powersto really shake things up if you wanted to.

It is because of this that I like that they are going to start grouping classes in categories in concept, but their method leaves a lot to be desired:
  • Warriors are masters of arms and are tougher than other characters.
  • Tricksters are experts in a variety of fields.
  • Mages specialize in arcane magic.
  • Priests specialize in divine magic.
So in this model are paladins warriors or priests? Are rangers warriors or tricksters? Are bards tricksters or mages? Illusionists sound like they would take to the trickster label pretty well. Since for some reason the primal category is gone, where do druids fit in? Same goes for psionics.

This sounds a lot clunkier than 4th Edition's role/power source combo, even before dual-source/role classes became a thing, so much that the only reason that I can think as to why they would ignore it is because it was a 4th Edition thing. Think about it: if each class and class feature had a set of associated keywords, aspects, or tags they could easily design magic items, feats, and other options to be applicable to precisely what they want. When new stuff comes out, just attach the appropriate keywords, or add more as necessary.

In this system paladins would be martial and divine, rangers would be martial and maybe primal if you wanted to add in some nature magic, and bards would be martial and arcane. Bard spells might have a "song" keyword, but you could also make divine songs that evoke the feel of a chant or hymn, or even primal shouts for barbarians (or just make shout its own thing). Then you could make a magical lute that works with either arcane songs, or just songs in general.

Ultimately this development has got me...tentatively intrigued by Next, because even if it is clunky and shortsighted it looks like they are taking steps to making a good game, instead of one largely shackled to legacy mechanics, just with better art.


  1. I'm beginning to wonder if the public playtest is basically being swept under the rug as a failure. At this point, I'd actually be somewhat reassured if the development team was just starting over from scratch. Unfortunately, I think they're shooting for a 2014 release date. To get the game printed and published in time for D&D's 40th Anniversary requires that the content and layout be near completion very soon.

    To make matters worse, D&D has been missing a program manager for a while and it just lost its senior art director. If I were in their shoes I would want more time and budget to ramp up to a fully functioning development team. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if Hasbro will be willing to foot the bill for another year of R&D while there's no brand product on the market. Looking at the requirements for the job ads, it seems that management expects those positions to be filled and fully up to speed in the next three months. Consequently, there may not be much time for the development team to return to the drawing board.

  2. It would be nice if they started over and tried to build the game from the ground up to do what it is supposed to do, do it well, and do it elegantly, instead of trying to please a bunch of often directly opposed camps with the same system.

    Monte Cook managed Numenera in around a year, so really if they wanted to scrap it I would expect them to be able to at least crank out a solid "basic" game in time.

  3. Looks like the development of the game it still blind and directionless....the biggest fears is that either hasbro will push the release of the game, ready or not, or even decide to scrap it...The only significant profit that D&D have got for wotc in the last year and a half it's DDI....and i can expect a drop on subscription when they stop publishing dragon & dungeon on december...

  4. I'll keep it going for the Character Builder and Compendium, though I dunno when I'll get around to running D&D (and if/when I do, I might be playtesting my own D&D hack).

  5. Sadly, DDN seems to be pandering too much to the old school types. It seems too focused on dungeon exploring and the base four classes. They are important, but I don't want to see too much design focused on them exclusively.

    They dumped roles because people associate them with MMO's. But it's just formalizing something that has been basic party composition for a while. It also let people build a balanced party without being stuck with specific archetypes. You could build a balanced party while focusing with a specific power source for example - letting you play a no-magic game, or a group based on an arcane academy, and so on.

  6. Which is strange to me seeing as how poorly the (arbitrary) four classes and dungeon crawling are both designed and supported. If they would de-emphasize the necessity of magical healing and get rid of per-day resources, then DMs would have a much easier time pacing the game and it would be a better fit for all those Appendix N sources that Next is really not conducive for.

    Oh well, still have 4th Edition, which very easily AND functionally lets me run a low-, no-, or all magic game. Or all primal. Pretty much whatever I want with minimum fuss.


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