Thursday, September 6, 2012

Classes for D&D Revisited

I've posted about class lists before, but my ever changing thoughts on the matter are here again. Since my big document o' thoughts has things listed differently, I thought I'd take the time to think about the changes that I've made any why. I should also note that this list is somewhat setting-specific. There's no need for some of these in a setting based on the Incas or Celts, for example. I think that these fit a really broad setting that incorporates traditional western fantasy but also some non western (specifically East Asian and Southeast Asian) fantasy elements.

I currently have six class groups: Warrior, Knight, Scoundrel, Magician, Priest, and Ascetic.

Each of these groups is similar to a "macro class" or the AD&D second edition class groups. Classes within a group probably aren't appropriate for a gestalt or hybrid or old-school multiclass treatment. Across group combos are probably better.

At some level these groups could be combined into one generic class, like Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric. But that's a little too abstract in my book: combining everything into four classes would push all the character creation choices into those four (or more) basic classes and that's not the right level of granularity to me for a class-based game.

Why six groups though? This is actually based on the Gygax divisions found in Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures. Knights are different kinds of warriors, and it seems more intuitive to me that a paladin/fighter or captain/cavalier combo are appropriate than a Cavalier/Paladin. Also I can imagine cleric/monks much better than cleric/druids. I can actually imagine wizard/warlocks or wizard/sorcerers well, but that might be a case where a feat-based multiclassing works much better than the gestalt/hybrid/old-school multiclassing. If multiclassing works differently, there might be no real reason to distinguish these groups though, so this sort of division might not hold up to more scrutiny though. Or, it might be purely descriptive.

Within these six groups, classes can easily be restricted based on the game the group wants to play. If the setting is one where the PCs are working for the wizard's guild, church, or emperor then some classes (Berserkers, Druids, Prophets, Sorcerers, Shamans) can easily be banned while others (Ranger, Bard, Warlock, Mystic, Monk) could be restricted, leaving a manageable number of choices. Races, of course, would be similar. The full list, however, lets people play a number of atypical options and lets multiple classes fill distinct party roles (Healer, Face, Front-Line Defender, Heavy Hitting, Artillery, Battlefield Control, Traps, Tracking, etc).

This is also a bit of a maximal list. 20 classes is a lot, but if that's about the limit (maybe it'll hit 24?), that seems good to me. AD&D had a relatively small list (both first and second edition), but second edition put most of the variability into the bloated kit system. Third edition started with a nice core of 11 and quickly added about 3 classes in each of the complete books plus the players' handbook 2, plus Tome of Battle, Incarnum, and Tome of Magic. Plus Heros of Horror and Heroes of Battle. Plus variants in Unearthed Arcana. Not to mention prestige class bloat. A limit around 20 seems like it ought to cover just about every archetype.

Anyway, Here's the groups. Class names in Parentheses are other well-known class names that fall in with the listed class. In some cases just the name has changed.

  • Fighter (Includes Kensai/Weapon Specialist option)
  • Berserker (Barbarian)
  • Captain (Warlord/Marshal, Also Noble)
  • Ranger
The fighter here isn't quite the 100% generic fighter. I'd rename it as Martial Artist if that didn't have such unsuitable connotations. But he's a trained warrior, and has learned fighting styles like the 3.5 Warblade or Swordsage. The rest are basically what's expected from previous editions. The berserker might have a dervish variant as an ascetic-type, and maybe even a wildshape or skinwalker variant. The ranger might have an inquisitor option to lose some wilderness specialization to gain a little divine magic and urban skills.

  • Cavalier (Also Samurai)
  • Paladin
Notice how the knights are a bit more thematically aligned (duty, honor, fidelity) than the warriors (combat). Captain could potentially be moved to knight. I think the samurai might be covered by the cavalier if its written broadly enough, and classes should be written broadly. There's potential room to expand the group to include a blackguard and/or ronin. I like the idea of a paladin losing his powers if he falls from grace, but fairness might suggest that, depending on how/why he falls from grace, he might become a sort of anti-paladin or just a masterless warrior who can still take advantage of some aspects of the honor and faith he once knew.

  • Rogue (Factotum)
  • Assassin (Also Ninja)
  • Bard
  • Thief
I broke Thief and Assassin out of Rogue. I now envision the rogue more like the factotum of 3.5, where he does a little bit of everything. The thief is a more dedicated (old-school) burglar/treasure hunter, while the assassin is obviously a hired killer. Occasionally I consider Ranger to be in this group.

  • Wizard
  • Sorcerer
  • Warlock
Exactly what you expect.

  • Cleric (Includes Crusader and Theurge options)
  • Druid
  • Prophet (Invoker/Oracle/Favored Soul)
  • Shaman
I've gone back and forth on whether or not druid should be its own class. A cleric with a different spell list is just a variant cleric, after all. And I envision an option for the Cleric to sacrifice a domain or some magical power for more combat (Crusader) or sacrifice combat skills for more magic (Theurge). The druid is its own class if it has a different way to access magic, and its own abilities. I think focusing the druid more on forces does this. So a Druid isn't just a priest of nature, but is also a priest of balance, of harmony, and of justice (remember the Ultima games?) or duty. The prophet is distinct from a theurge-style Cleric because he can invoke miracles in different ways, often through offending the temporal powers-that-be and has a large focus on spells that curse and tear down, as well as build up. The Shaman, of course, accesses spells mostly through spirits, rather than learning or training. Though I'd still give the shaman practice with wards and abjurations and exorcisms. The idea of the druid as a philosopher-priest could still be divorced from traditional D&D wildshaping and nature spells though and the druid could be returned to variant-cleric status. Though moving the wildshaping to the berserker (rage as animal form?) could also be interesting.

  • Monk
  • Mystic (Psion) 
These two could potentially be folded into the Priest group, since they're clearly related. But I still envision these two as dealing with the inner divine, and as such they could mix with clerics or druids or prophets. This is most important to me because it gives a different perspective on religion and psionics. If you look at Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and other religions of East and Southeast Asia, you'll see why I might want different classes for different religious/philosophical traditions. I occasionally still debate having an ardent/philosopher class as well, but my current notion of the druid seems to fulfil that role right now.

What else warrants being a class? I still think the runecaster/runepriest does. The story of a runecaster sacrificing his health and wealth to understand the runes is neat, and that might make it distinct from a warlock's pact, a sorcerer's bloodline, a wizard's academic study, the devotion of a cleric or the asceticism of the mystic. It seems to be most similar to the prophet, so it could be a variant of that.

Others with similarly unique access to game systems (i.e. spells) like the artificer or sha`ir are also good candidates, but its not clear that they're necessary and couldn't be done as wizards or warlocks. If they don't fit the setting, though, there's little point of really developing them fully.

I still like a class similar to the Ardent as a philosopher class, but I might have that role covered by the Mystic and Druid currently.

There may be room for the "evil" knight class: Blackguard, Ronin, or Antipaladin, though they could also just be variants on the two suggested knight classes, where masterless Cavaliers are Ronin and Fallen Paladins are Blackguards. Its a way to let have a fall-from-grace story without crippling the character. And especially since the fighter isn't just a generic swordsman, these guys need something to fall towards potentially.

As I have 19 classes listed above, I hesitate to suggest others like the  Inquisitor/Avenger or Gunslinger. Some might be best done as variants, such as a Kensai being a fighter who forsakes some weapon/armor training to focus on one weapon, or the Crusader/Thuerge clerics who focus on combat/magic respectively. Similarly, an inquisitor could be a type of urban/divine ranger, focused on hunting down heretics and rooting out sin, rather than slaying giants and scouting the wilderness. Magic specialties like Necromancer, Shapeshifter, Mentalist, or Summoner are probably best as the caster classes who focus on those spells (wizard specialty schools, sorcerer bloodlines, cleric domains, etc).

Classes also need a solid place in the campaign world, so until I really have a good idea of where some ideas would fit in my Rule of Law setting, I'm loathe to just propose a million additional classes. That said, I'm relatively happy with my list thus far. And to figure out some of these details (like if I really need six groups, what the druid is, if the thief is necessary, etc) I'd probably have to spell out the classes in playtestable detail.

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