Delver Evolution: Class Paths

I’ve noticed two interesting changes in the new D&D Essentials line. First, they’ve broken the strict one to one linking of classes to roles. Fighters can now be defenders or strikers. Druids can now be leaders or controllers, and so on.

The second interesting point is that certain class features are being reused. Defender’s Aura and Healing Word are prime examples of this. Given how many highly similar powers had been creeping into the system, this choice makes a certain amount of sense. Healing word an it’s variants are an excellent example of this.

Let’s take a look at what would happen if we extended these two ideas a bit further.

Modular Features

Let’s start by moving those shared features out of the individual class entries and into a common area. While we’re at, we can move some updates to those features into the same area. This gives us rough feature set or development paths centered around a strongly defined focus.

We can then put alterations to those features in the class entries. For example, the Cleric might add the divine keyword the healing word feature, while a shaman would add the primal keyword instead.

This approach can also be extended to powers. For example, fighters, paladins, and barbarians might share access certain weapon based powers. Each class could also have certain power sets of their own and some of their optional features may open up access to other sets.

Tactical Roles

Once we’ve got features grouped into themed sets, we can attach tactical roles to those sets rather than the classes themselves. We can then give the player a choice of each of these options, letting them pick their role just like any other build option. Granted, some classes will have more features for some roles than others.

Classes as Archetypes

This decoupling of classes from roles leaves us with a looser definition of what classes are. To me, this seem like an excellent opportunity to treat them more as archetypes and less as source/role combos.

This may lead to the consolidation of a few classes. The seeker would probably be absorbed into the ranger. The invoker might merge into the cleric, unless they can make the flavor even more distinct. The warlord might blend with the fighter, and so on.

Classes Combinations

These are a variety of ways D&D has let us mingle classes and similar feature sets through it’s history. Let’s take a look at some of these options.

Minor Classes

The earliest example of this is probably Kits from AD&D. These are essentially very limited sets of abilities and modifiers that help the character fit a certain theme. These can be merged with different classes to give the resulting character a unique flavor without over powering them. As such they’re a definite plus.

I’d suggest making these available to all characters early on as they provide nice character hooks. You might even set it up so they can have greater effect if the character diverts some extra resources into them.

Advance Classes

The earliest example of this I’m aware of go way back to OD&D. At higher levels, fighter could become paladin, knights, or avengers, while clerics could become druids.

In 3E, these took the form of prestige classes. In 4E, they’ve become paragon paths and epic destinies.

If I were extending on this, I’d probably stick with 4Es approach of limiting these extra picks to key points in the character’s development. However, I might add more of these points and theme the paragon / name level pick toward the character’s links to an organization or part of the game world.

I might also let at least one of those slots let the character minor in another class.

Split Classes

Though they do complicate things, characters that mix classes have been around since D&D’s earliest days. In fact, the original elf and cleric were hybrids to an extent. In the elf’s case this involved switching between two classes, while the cleric mixed two classes (fighter & magic user) and add it’s own distinctive touch to them.

Distinguishing major and minor feature might help with this as you could limit them to a certain number of each from either class. Similarly, you could limit them to only one role defining feature from either class.

Another possible option is extend the rules for minoring in another class. If set up right, you could start them as minoring in 2 classes, but give them a certain number of upgrade picks which must be split between those classes.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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