Friday, 20 April 2012

D&D Next: Class Variety

Dominic Matte
The D&D Next discussions of character creation that introduce theme and background are excellent, and look like they'll really help create some interesting and unique characters on a fairly level playing field. There are a few concerns for balance, but that's not what I want to talk about here.

There have been some rumblings that seem to imply that the designers think that theme and background choices can fill in for certain classes, keeping the number of core classes small.

This can't happen!
While backgrounds and themes, as presented, definitely allow a huge amount of variety and even mechanical variation within a class, that's only variation, not difference. A classic sword-and-board militaristic fighter and a lightly armoured unarmed-and-improvised-weapon fighter are very different characters, but at their mechanical cores they're still fighters.

In terms of the base classes in 4e, almost every single one of those classes is too unique in terms of both lore and mechanics to simply be rolled into a sub-class. While I could see the runepriest as a cleric build, and I  might be able to see a warlord as a highly militarized bard, I can't imagine a monk as an unarmed fighter variant, the swordmage as a wizard with a sword, or the battlemind as a psion focused on body modification. There are some unique fundamentals at work there that aren't as simple as slapping on a few feats.

And even if you could feasibly work out one of those classes using a bunch of feats, it'll probably take too long. I don't want to have to wait until 5th or 10th level to fully realize a very tough character who focuses on short range spells cast through a sword, I want to be able to do that from the start. If the swordmage is functionally a wizard with the right feats, I doubt I'll be able to pull it off convincingly at level 1, since I'll need some advanced weapon training, high armour, lots of hit points, and a reasonable selection of short-range spells and abilities, including both attacks and teleports.

If D&D Next is going back to a slightly more old-school approach to the way classes are defined, it should make it much easier to create multiple classes than in 4e, which was a lot of work due to needing at least 4 powers for almost every level. It also opens up the potential for more variation in the core mechanics of the classes, like in 3e.

So if it'll be easier than ever to create classes that are unique mechanically, why not include all the base classes from 4e?

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