Despite being someone who did a ton of homebrew building for Warcraft material in D&D‘s 3rd edition, 5e is so much better for homebrewing and a more balanced system to use from the ground up. I think the design team did very well in creating 5e, but I do happen to think there are still some gaps that could be explored with additional classes–not just new class options for the existing 12. I’ve already developed several in my homebrew efforts here, but I thought I’d run a primer for some questions to ask if you’re considering making a new class rather than a new class option for 5e. The existing classes all distinguish themselves in a number of ways from one another, but, looking at them with a critical eye, I think the 5e designers had these aspects in mind.
- Thematics – what is the core character archetype fulfilled by this class? As you think about the different classes, they generally embody a particular fantasy trope, or you can think of a group of fictional characters that would fit with that class. Some classes may be thematic overlaps of others–the paladin is like a cross between the warrior and priest, for example. This also ties into considerations of “power” source, to borrow a concept from 4e’s handbooks.
- Mechanics – what is the class’s unique mechanical aspect(s)? These can be major building blocks of the class or fairly minor and even further subdivided. Your full casters have some similarities to one another, but spell lists still distinguish them, and each has their own unique mechanic as well. Creating a new class should have something from a rules perspective that makes them different.
- Roles – what is the class supposed to do within a D&D group? Dungeons & Dragons is generally a cooperative game, and for years a “balanced” party has been made up of a front-line heavy, damage dealer, magical utility specialist, and support character. Or, to again put it into 4e terms, a Defender, Striker, Controller, and Leader–for all of my criticisms of that edition, I think codifying these roles is helpful for people trying to understand the game. (They’re not necessarily for new players, but as a critic I find them helpful terms.) 5e has also had a trend toward making all characters provide some support (at least potentially), which makes your typical Leader players feel like they’re shouldering less of the burden and thanklessness of helping everyone out.
- 5/31 Update: Flexibility – is the class broad enough to encompass multiple archetypes? In other words, is the class so narrowly defined that it won’t have class options? 5e is designed to have some flexibility within classes so that they can embody a wide range of characters, and I’ve seen a few homebrew classes that are probably just too narrow to warrant this kind of implementation. If you can think of multiple different characters that would fit as part of this class, it’s probably a good start.
If you can’t find unique space within these areas, you should probably make your idea into a class option. For instance, I might want a heavy-hitting frontliner who gets a lot of attacks but calls on nature magic to power his abilities. Thematically, that may be unique, but I want a mechanically generic Defender–why don’t I just make a Fighter Archetype instead? It will still be new, but it won’t require the same work as a full class. Or perhaps I like the idea of a melee warrior using nature magic–but in that case I can take inspiration from the Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster and do a Barbarian archetype with druidic spells. You need to find multiple dimensions of need before you set out to design a whole new class.
Perhaps there is an area or two I’ve missed–let me know if you think there’s some other consideration I’m ignoring.
In upcoming entries, I want to explore these further through the lens of homebrewed classes I’ve done to break down some of the design decisions I’ve made. For your thoughts: what classes do you find missing in 5e? How would you find unique space for them within this 5e framework?