Legends & Lore: Subpar Classes

I am not a fan of 5th Edition's approach to classes, even with the introduction of subclasses: you pick a class, then a few levels in pick a subclass, and aside from some stat boosts/feat choices your character is effectively on rails for the rest of the campaign.

The rationalization is that it allows a player to manage complexity in the game: if you want to play a complex fighter then you go with gladiator, and if you want to play a simple one then you go with warrior. The problem is that you cannot change your path after you choose it, and you cannot play a fighter that can use maneuvers and defend your allies.

Also, I guess all fighters capable of using maneuvers are gladiators?
Why does it have to be like that? Why let players only make a few decisions? What about a new player who starts out taking simple options, but as she becomes more used to the system wants to branch out into maneuvers? What if the character concept shifts over the course of play, like a rogue that decides later on to become a shadowdancer? Are you just supposed to just roll up a new character?

Why not give each race, class, and maybe even race/class combination access to a list of class features? You could even rank them by complexity (something that 13th Age does with classes), so that if players want to stick with the easy stuff they can without having to sift through a bunch of options. You could also provide sample archetypes with recommended features. This would make it a lot easier to accommodate organic character growth, and sounds ultimately much more satisfying than locking a concept in very early on in the character's career.

One of the things I love about 4th Edition was how powers made classes feel and play very differently from each other: fighters did not feel like warlords, who did not feel like rogues, who did not feel like rangers (despite sharing the same power source/role combination). It is because of this that I am concerned about the warlock and sorcerer being relegated to mage subclasses: 4th Edition made them conceptually and mechanically distinct, things that 5th Edition lacks (mostly within a class, but even outside to a point). The bit about sharing spells and feats does not help.

While the article specifically mentions focusing on what makes them unique and interesting, I have not seen anything unique or interesting about magic in Next ever since they culled the sorcerer and warlock. Yeah there is probably a year or so before the game gets released, but from what we have seen I am fully expecting each subclass to have its own spellcasting mechanic, none of which will make any sense, be interesting, or really evoke the concept of the class it is being used for.

On the plus side it is good to hear that warlords will have non-magical healing. I wish the game did not require access to constant, adventure pace-destroying healing, but it is something.

No, I am not entertained.


  1. And yet, suggest that WotC slaughter the greatest of sacred cows, and eliminate the need for classes altogether, and people think you're crazy.

  2. While I think that classes could be removed and the game would still feel like D&D, for now I would be fine with each level you choosing a class to determine hit points and some other static features (fighters get attack and AC bonuses, wizards get spell research, clerics get more interventions, etc). I think that this model keeps things simple, but still allows meaningful choices.

    I would also advocate the removal of XP, at least how it is used in D&D. It reminds me of how "old-school" video games used lives. I would much rather see XP used as it is in Shadowrun or Numenera, increasing your stats incrementally.

  3. The homebrew fighter I wrote up for our Next games was a kind of combination of the subclass thing mixed with the old expertise for the fighter, where you get a d4 (d6 at 11th level) to use whenever your abilities allow it.

    You pick a path at 1st level to define your fighter, giving you a unique ability at 1st and 11th levels, but can choose extra abilities from the same list regardless of path as you level up, somewhat like 4e.

    In our current test, we've got a knight who hangs back and keeps the wizard covered with her defender skills, but she picked up the warlord subclass ability Battle Orders (you can issue basic orders to allies that give them a bonus if they follow them), and it works pretty well.

  4. In other news, just last night I helped a friend create a 4E Wizard who uses an orb as their arcane implement -- the very first I've ever seen! Everybody is always after the staff, or maybe the wand, but I've never seen a spellcaster character use an orb as their implement. The balance of mechanics and roleplaying is pretty great in that regard -- though he had more envisioned a character with a staff, the orb granted him some very choice abilities that he wants to take advantage of. Because of that choice, the concept morphed from a crotchety hermit who performs tricks for children to an Eladrin outcast who tells fortunes only to those who make the trek to visit him.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that the inherent character of spellcasters is as much about the mechanics as it is about the roleplaying. It doesn't matter if you can roleplay them as distinct classes, if the mechanics are generic and the same for all spellcasters, there's no point in even choosing one over the other.

    More and more, I'm finding myself thinking that 4E is the definitive D&D and that I won't have to go anywhere else for my dungeon fantasy needs. I guess I've come full circle, eh?


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