Friday, 6 April 2012

D&D Next: "Beyond Class & Race"

Dominic Matte
To summarize: Wizards wants to simplify character creation down to only 4 choices, while still allowing the complete customization that veteran players know and love. Those choices are race, class, theme, and background.

Background is a set of skills and knowledge based on your character history; for example, the thief background gives you Pick Pocket, Stealth, Streetwise, and Thieves' Cant, while the soldier background gives you Endurance, Intimidate, Survival, and an extra language.

Theme is your class specialization, or how you do things - melee or ranged fighter, for example. These sound like 4e's builds.

Reading the article, I was getting an ominous "oh no" feeling, but it turns out that's only because the author left a key paragraph to the end: if you don't like the pre-existing packages, or none of them fit your character concept, you're free to build your own.

That's perfect. It gives new players (or those uninterested in spending an hour building a character) four quick and easy choices which define their character and encourage roleplaying. It also gives those who prefer a more in-depth approach access to all the options.

It'll be important to ensure that the default packages are balanced against each other to some extent, but the real trick will be making sure that a customized set of abilities won't be more powerful than the generalized ones. It's hard to balance asymmetrical attributes, but I think the optimal way to go about it would be to try to balance every single option against each other, and then to allow a custom background to pick any 4 attributes/skills from the list.

The best part of the system is that it doesn't limit you to a short list of five or six class skills. Theoretically, you could build a fighter who lurks in the shadows or casts the occasional spell, easily, right from character creation at level 1 without having to worry about multiclassing or working towards a prestige class.

My only complaint is actually almost entirely unrelated to the system: is Pick Pocket a skill again? I liked that 4e condensed it into Thievery, because picking pockets seems like altogether too specialized to waste a skill slot that could be spent on something with far more widespread use like Endurance or Survival.

This 4-step class/race/theme/background character creation looks like a really good idea, defaulting to simplicity but allowing complexity. If the whole system shapes up this way, it could easily be one of the best editions.

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