Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The trouble with themes

When I read about themes in D&D Next, I can't help but cringe a little. I'm not opposed to the idea in principle, but they seem quite nebulous at the moment. And ultimately, I'm not sure that they'll do much for the game.

First, what are themes? The latest news from the playtests is they are a feat delivery mechanism. So, your wizard can be a guardian or a slayer or a thief or a healer by choosing the right theme, which is presumably a list of pre-determined, thematic feat choices.

So here's the first concern. What makes for a good theme and how many will there be? Its presumably anything you want, from Archer to Zymergist, with stops at demonologist and knight along the way. Nice to be able to customize a character, but I can't help but feel that themes are going to be the new prestige class, paragon path, or kit. There'll be an overwhelming number of them scattered throughout a bunch of books. Assuming each theme might come with 3 feats, that's either a lot of feat permutations (how many will grant cantrip access or two-weapon fighting?) or a lot of new feats (let's face it, there's going to be hundreds of themes eventually, right? There's 93 currently in the character builder for 4e and 574 paragon paths...).

Furthermore, why are some things classes (Wizard) while other things themes (Magic User)? I understand that the Magic User theme lets and fighter or rogue use a few low-powered spells, while a wizard or cleric gets a few more of those low-powered spells. But isn't this what multiclassing did before? A wizard who is also an assassin or a thief used to be a multiclass mage/thief, while one that was good at fighting was a multiclass fighter/mage.  So basically, what does this do to the class system? Are all class features just going to be modular themes/feats too?

Finally, will some of these themes be tied to classes or class-specific? One thing I really liked from 4e is that it was hard to make a character who was useless. But now, will a Guardian Wizard be a poor choice? Will other themes be limited to certain classes? So that wizards take a scholar magic style, a channelling magic style (aka sorcerers and sorceresses), or an eldritch pact style (aka warlocks and witches)?

Ultimately, I wonder if themes will sprawl through the new edition, just like kits, prestige classes, or paragon paths. Man, paragon paths are the least exciting thing about 4e. Something about the delayed gratification and inability to make use of them with a beginning character maybe. I guess backgrounds are also a concern as well. It seems like one or the other might be enough to add in flexibility to the classes without watering down the class system.

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