Classy Considerations: Roles, Continued

Let’s look at four additional roles–Leader, Lurker, Skirmisher, and Soldier–and discuss their place in the game and what else might be missing.

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As I write a series like this, it’s important to remember that our terms are just that: that is, we’re using these labels for convenience and a way to organize our thoughts. This doesn’t mean that you have to use or even agree with these labels to discuss classes in this game. TVTropes, for example, has a page that covers a lot of this stuff in a slightly different way. But without making some decisions about how to think of things, our conversations can’t go anywhere. So in this post, let’s look at four additional roles–Leader, Lurker, Skirmisher, and Soldier–and discuss their place in the game and what else might be missing with these roles.

Leaders–although this label doesn’t necessarily do a good job and I think was made more to make cleric players feel better about themselves–are characters that make their allies better. In D&D 4e, one of the design goals was to give these characters more to do and not necessarily force them to use their combat actions solely on healing. The designers succeeded, and to some degree this thought has been carried into 5e as well, with spells like Healing Word or the out of combat Prayer of Healing. Current leaders would be Bards, Clerics, and secondarily Druids; you could probably also throw non-Vengeance Paladins in there with Lay on Hands and their auras. For the most part, though, we’re talking about Bards (between spells and Bardic Inspiration) and Clerics in this role. Druids could be better at the role if they had a support-focused Circle, but we can see there’s a lot of room for Leader versions of martial classes and probably other primal and arcane versions. Several classes from previous editions would be designed as Leaders, at least to some extent: among them, the Artificer, Shaman, and Warlord stand out. Alchemists too would be a good option here, and I think these classes together cover some of the most popular homebrews. The Incarnate from Magic of Incarnum also hit this role in a somewhat weird way.

Lurkers are more of a DM tool than players’, who generally know and want to know where their allies are at all times, but a few base classes could fit here with an emphasis on stealth and high damage but low defenses otherwise. Rogues are the most obvious with their Sneak Attack, but a properly built Ranger or Way of the Shadow Monk also fills this role. You could also put Warlocks using the Devil’s Sight invocation here. This is also probably the hardest to think of new classes. I could envision a Beguiler, using magic to hide and strike unwary foes, or maybe some sort of transforming class that turns into ambushing creatures (more so than the Druid), but otherwise I can’t think of much else that isn’t just a “shadow” version of an existing class. Perhaps there are things I’m not remembering at the moment.

Skirmishers seem closely related to Lurkers, but they rely on mobility as a defense instead of stealth. Again, Monks, Rangers, and Rogues are going to be the best at filling this role, as all have some mobility features, but properly built you could include a Barbarian (Eagle totem features) or lightly armored Fighter here as well. In terms of previous editions, an update of the Scout could provide something here, although it might work almost as well as a Ranger or Rogue archetype. Part of the difficulty here involves changes to the game itself: movement is encouraged more in this edition, so a mobile class doesn’t need features to incentivize it in the same way. From 4e, the Avenger might be the best option for an update, though it might work as a Rogue archetype. This is the same problem with a Ninja–it’s fine as just an archetype (probably Assassin or Way of the Shadow Monk, unless you wanted some other unique features). For a more magical approach, you have the Arcane Trickster, and I suppose a Conjuration Wizard might be able to go here as well. If we introduce psionics, we could put in the Lurk or Elocutionist, but psionics are unrepresented anyway and could introduce classes for all of these roles, which is why I haven’t really mentioned them before.

Soldiers are the last of our roles, a role with solid defenses and decent combat options and so a good all-around class. Defensive-minded Barbarians, some Clerics (Tempest or War, definitely), Fighters, and Paladins generally fit as examples. For a more magical approach, Valor Bards or Abjuration or Transmutation Wizards might even qualify here. 3e’s Knight would be a good example, though a 5e update would likely just be a Fighter archetype, and 4e’s Swordmage and Warden would also be good choices if unique mechanics were developed for them. Swordmage is also one of the most popular homebrews I’ve seen, so I think there’s some demand for more magical (read: arcane) versions of this role.

With a publication history as rich as Dungeons & Dragons, it’s no surprise that we can look to past editions (or spin-offs like Pathfinder) and find missing options for basically all of the rules that are less thoroughly explored. The next post or two on this topic will probably be the last, as we summarize what classes might be good options for development and sketch through what they might look like. We might also spend a post discussing which updates wouldn’t work very well in 5e, as there are a handful of classes that I don’t think could make the transition very well.

To this point, is there anything you think I’ve missed? I’ve tried to cover most of the classes from 3e and 4e, but it’s always possible I’ve missed things.

Classy Considerations: Roles

We’re going to look at a few defined roles and see what might be missing based on the current class options we have.

For all the grief I give D&D 4e, it was pretty well-designed from a gaming standpoint. Sure, it went too far with killing some of the game’s “sacred cows,” but as a balanced game and one that tried to provide options to every class, it accomplished its job admirably. The separation of classes into concrete roles and power sources made things pretty balanced, even if it became more difficult for classes to distinguish themselves from one another as time went on. They did a decent job of naming unique mechanics, but who really wanted to see, say, the Seeker as a class?

We’re not going to use their classification system, however. Well, not exactly. Sure, Defender, Controller, Striker, and Leader make sense and work pretty well, but I also like the monster categories that were even broader: Artillery, Brute, Controller, Leader, Lurker, Skirmisher, and Soldier. Sure, there might be overlap, and it could be useful to think of secondary features of certain classes, but today we’re going to look at the first three roles and see what might be missing based on the current class options we have.

Artillery characters have strong ranged attacks but weak defenses. As it is, this role would be covered by Sorcerers, Wizards, and Warlocks for magical characters, Fighters for martial characters, and Rangers for something in-between. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be too much room for innovation here. Yes, you could think of some more ranged tricks for a character to do with weapons, but it might be just as easy to make them Battlemaster Fighter maneuvers if so. The best option for making new classes in this role might be to introduce more advanced technology for a grenadier or sniper-type class or develop a non-magical Ranger (even if Wizards of the Coast has suggested a variant for that).

Brutes are strong characters with powerful attacks and generally high health, though they are usually fairly easy to damage. The Barbarian is the archetypal example of this class, but you could make similar characters of other classes depending on how you allocate resources. Fighters may also fit here, as would Moon Druids, Abjurer Wizards, and Tome of the Blade Warlocks. I still think there might be some room here for class options, but new classes themselves don’t seem to come into mind.

Controllers have a lot of utility power, and in D&D this usually means magic. Most Wizards will fall here, and depending on spell selection Bards, Clerics, Druids, and Warlocks do well in this role. However, there really isn’t a martial Controller or a half-caster that focuses on it, though Rangers get some spells for it. The Battlemaster comes fairly close, but it’s not a role that can be played from level 1. It’s easy to see why the Warlord might be a popular idea. It’s also easy to think of a gadgeteer or trapmaster pulling off some control abilities with technology, which might be another good option for design. You could also introduce an arcane half-caster that would work well here: 4e’s Swordmage had a lot of control abilities to make it a better Defender, while the Hexblade of editions past was also sort of designed to fill that role.

Next time we’ll consider additional new classes for the other roles. Happy gaming!

Thirsty Thursday: Let’s Homebrew a Barbarian Path

This was done as a user request from the Giant in the Playground forum. It’s an attempt to capture a particularly popular main character from a particularly popular and heavily modded RPG from 2011. I think it works, but only sort of: it really feels more like a Bardic College type to me, and I deliberately made the features not very powerful because they provide a lot of versatility to the class.

New Barbarian Path: Voice of the Scaled King

It is not in dragons’ biology or their arcane study that you hope to find their power. Instead, you have learned the speech of dragons, and in their words you command elemental forces beyond mortal understanding.

Dragontongue: You have begun to learn the language of dragons, giving you a measure of their mighty power. Beginning at 3rd level, you learn the Draconic language if you do not already know it and 3 Draconis Lexia from the collection below. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Constitution modifier (minimum of 1). When you finish a long rest, you regain all expended uses.

Unless otherwise specified, using these words takes an action. If a saving throw is required, the DC is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier.

Draconis Lexia

  • Brass Protection: You can absorb elemental energies and send them back at your opponents. When you take acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage, your can use your reaction to reduce the damage by 1d6. The first time you hit with a melee attack on your next turn, you can deal an additional 1d6 damage of the triggering type.
  • Breath of Flames: Fire erupts form your mouth, igniting the area in front of you. Each creature in a 15-foot cone must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 2d6 fire damage on a failed save or half as much on a successful saving throw. This fire also ignites any flammable objects in the area that aren’t being carried or worn.
  • Breath of Illness: You can make others sick with a breath attack. Make a ranged spell attack using your Dexterity modifier against a creature within 60 feet. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 poison damage and must make a Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, it is also poisoned until the end of your next turn.
  • Breath of Life: You can invigorate others with your presence. You breathe on an adjacent creature, which regains 1d4 hit points and additionally gains 1d4 temporary hit points.
  • Copper Mockery: A creature within 60 feet must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, it takes 2d6 psychic damage and has disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before the end of its next turn. On a successful saving throw, it only takes half damage and its attacks are unaffected.
  • Dark Ambush: You can teleport up to 60 feet to an unoccupied space you can see and become invisible. You have advantage on your next melee attack roll made before the end of your next turn.
  • Freezing Tongue: You can hurl a frozen missile that shatters on impact, sending shards of ice into nearby enemies. Make a ranged spell attack using your Dexterity modifier against a creature within 60 feet. On a hit, the target takes 1d8 cold damage. Each creature adjacent to the target must make a Dexterity saving throw or take 1d8 cold damage as well.
  • Reveal the Unseen: Each object in a 20-foot cube within range is outlined in gold or silver light (your choice) for 1 round. Creature in the area when the spell is cast must make a Dexterity saving throw or also be outlined in light. For the duration, objects and affected creatures shed dim light in a 10-foot radius. Any attack roll against an affected creature or object has advantage if the attacker can see it, and the affected creature or object can’t benefit from being invisible.
  • Paralyzing Breath: Your breath inhibits a nearby creature. Make a ranged spell attack using your Dexterity modifier. On a hit, the creature either drops prone or on its next turn doesn’t move and takes no actions. A flying creature stays aloft, provided that it requires only minimal movement to do so. This feature has no effect if the target is a construct or undead.
  • Sandstorm: You conjure a cloud of sand, limiting visibility within its radius. You create a 30-foot-radius sphere of swirling sand centered on a point within 60 feet of your position. The sphere spreads around corners, and its area is heavily obscured. It lasts for up to 1 minute or until a wind of moderate or greater speed (at least 10 miles per hour) disperses it. Creatures that enter the storm must make a Strength saving throw or spend 10 feet of movement for every 5 feet they move.

Majestic Speech: Beginning at 6th level, you can add double your proficiency modifier on Charisma-based skill checks that use language and for which you are already proficient. Additionally, you learn 1 new Draconic Lexum and can exchange one already known for a different one.

Inspiring Presence: Your voice encourages others to fight with greater facility. Beginning at 10th level, you can use your action to choose a number of allied creatures within 30 feet equal to your Constitution modifier. For the first attack roll affected creatures make before the beginning of your next turn, they can add 1d4 to the result rolled. On your turn, you can use your action to continue maintaining this effect up to a total of 1 minute. If you become unconscious, this effect ends. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a short or long rest. Additionally, you learn 1 new Draconic Lexum and can exchange one already known for a different one.

Outburst: You have learned the most powerful Draconic Lexum and can powerfully unleash elemental energies during your rage. While you are raging, you can use your action and expend all uses of your Dragontongue. Hostile creatures within 30 feet of you take 2d10 of your choice of acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder damage for each use of Dragontongue expended. A Constitution saving throw halves the damage taken. Your rage immediately ends and you gain 1 level of exhaustion. Additionally, whenever you enter a rage and have no uses of Dragontongue left, you regain 1 use.

DM’s Reflection: On Ending an Adventure

I’m so glad it’s over.

Last night was the last session for a sandboxy adventure I’ve been running a bit more than a year now. We’ve gone through 7 different players at various times: more, if you consider a group that was in the same local region and fell apart–I kept one of the players and reloaded. I had a lot of fun with it, but at the same time I’m so glad it’s over.

When you’re planning an adventure, I think it’s good to have an end in mind, even for something that’s effectively a sandbox. My original intention was to have them going around the valley recruiting support against an invading army, with either a siege or big battle or something being the climax of that particular plot line. Thanks partly to my lack of direction (and some consequences for earlier decisions), they meandered away from that and found themselves helping a group that was legitimately trying to help war refugees but supported the invaders (unbeknownst to my players). At that point I had something else in mind for a climactic finish–I haven’t used it, so I’m not going to reveal that in case any of my players find this–but it would’ve taken a while to get there and probably felt kind of bad in some ways.

So what did I actually end with? Well, the cult had tasked them, essentially, to get things started for the refugees and secure some territory for the cult. A few weeks ago, they were in the middle of going to a nearby farm and driving out a Druskan garrison, and I thought that would make a suitable finale. With some foreshadowing of “dragon-kin” (not full dragons but relatives), I thought the farm battle would have a lot going on: the soldiers, civilians, taking refuge, and monsters outside trying to destroy the party. They’d use their resources and need to be resourceful to survive. And you know what? I think it went fairly well. One of the players’ characters was executed by the group for being evil and fed to the dragon-kin, but they fought a suit of powerful steam armor, persuaded the garrison captain to fight with them against the dragon-kin, and even had a bit of romance for our cleric (she decided she was suitably impressed with the captain’s heroics after he cut one of them in the throat). The party achieved some short-term and character goals: the farm was secured, our pants-crazed warlock got new material for pants, and our cleric made a connection with an NPC, so I think it provided a fairly satisfying cap to our journey thus far.

As a DM, you also have to have the forcefulness to say when the session’s over. We’d finished everything we were really going to but played another 30 minutes as two of my four (the executed character’s player was missing) players tried to figure out how they could get into a sealed trapdoor that was being guarded by an ally they’d made during the session. Now, I’d forgotten something that would’ve probably ended that discussion more quickly, but I really should’ve shut it down rather than dragging things out for everyone. (DM Tip: If you really want players to do something, tell them they can’t.)

All in all, though, I’m glad we came to what I feel was a good conclusion. I’ve had so many groups just end, but it feels more satisfying when you can bring things to a natural close. I want to write something up to end their stories for the time being, but I’ll be glad for the break from that adventure, and we might revisit those characters down the road.

How have you ended groups / adventures in the past? How do you plan for drawing things to a close when it becomes necessary?

5 Reasons to Be a Dungeon Master (or other GM)

Long story short, DMs are in short supply–but you can help change that.

People like lists, and last week I talked about some things a DM needs to ask when getting ready to run an adventure. Really, though, that’s putting the cart before the horse. If you’re at the stage that you’re actually doing prep work for it, the hard part of convincing you to be a DM is already past. Now, I’ve always had a bit of a creative streak, so it made sense that I would eventually turn to DMing anyway, but back when I started playing D&D it was me and one other guy switching off responsibilities for it. I really appreciated that, but other than a Star Wars group that ran for a couple of months I’ve never been in anything really long-term since then. Long story short, DMs are in short supply–but you can help change that. Hopefully by the end of this post you’ll be more convinced of the value of running things yourself and want to give it a go.

Reasons to be a Dungeon Master yourself:

1. You get to have cool characters.

You know all of those character ideas you have bouncing around? You can use them here. Have you ever wanted to see a Dwarf Sorcerer in action? Cool, now he’s an NPC (non-player character) in your game. Elf Warlock? Sure. Tiefling Barbarian? Absolutely. If you’re someone who likes to play a lot of different characters, this is a way to do that more quickly.

2. You get to have cool monsters.

Not only can you use all those character ideas you had, but you also aren’t bound to creatures that would normally be suitable as a PC (basically, Medium or Small humanoids). A giant jumping land-shark? You can see what that will do. Like the idea of a relentlessly regenerating adversary? Try a troll. Demons, devils, angels, inevitables, slaad–there’s a whole host of otherworldly creatures players never get to use. You can even play a dragon, to use an old but good monster.

3. You get to ignore the rules.

Don’t get me wrong on this point–you shouldn’t cheat rolls or ignore what your players can do, but in building your own monsters and making rulings about their capabilities you can do things that wouldn’t normally be allowed. It doesn’t matter if the ghost has 45 hp and is supposed to vanish at 0–if you want it to come back for unfinished business, it can do that. I had a Cleric player one time who came to a door sealed with unholy power (a variant of the arcane lock spell) who, after an appropriate check, I told realized that he could use Turn Undead to dispel it. He promptly said, “But my ability can’t do that.” It can if I say it can.

4. You can exercise your creative side.

I think everyone likes to express creativity in some way, whether that’s telling stories, improvisation, acting, etc. One of the great things about DMing is that there’s a lot of potential artistic expression that can go into it. If you like drawing, make maps or draw characters for your players. Writing? Make a detailed plot. World-building? I…might have done a few posts on that topic. Whatever your outlet, chances are good you can find some way to express it through D&D.

5. Your DM needs a break.

Technically, this may not be true–and there are some people who are happier behind the screen than others–but I think nearly  all DMs enjoy the chance to be a normal player and not worry about everything that’s going on. This was a large part of my motivation for getting into it when I did: I didn’t think it was fair for one person to do all of the prep work forever. And I really do love running games, but given that my current group has been going basically a year with little interruption (and I haven’t been a player in years no matter how you count it), I need a break. (Our adventure ends tomorrow night, in fact, before going on indefinite hiatus.) Even if it’s something short or a side adventure, your DM will probably appreciate you taking on the job for a little while while he or she recharges.

So here’s a few reasons to take up DMing yourself and not always leave it to others. What else can you imagine that would incentivize you stepping behind the screen?

Thirsty Thursday: Let’s Homebrew a Rogue Archetype

Let’s dredge up another old 3e prestige class: the Skullclan Hunter.

I don’t think I’ve done a rogue yet as part of this series. I’ve tried to cover a variety of classes thus far, and I’ve gotten through quite a few of the: Bard, Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Ranger, and Warlock. That’s not even counting two races and what I’ve done in other entries (a Fighter and the “Call of the Wild” document). We’ll eventually reach them all; don’t worry.

For this week, let’s dredge up another old 3e prestige class: the Skullclan Hunter. In theory, you might think that this class would work well as a Ranger archetype, and it probably would be fine. However, it was really a Paladin / Rogue multiclass, and it’s biggest advantage was giving Rogues a way to deal extra damage to undead creatures. Now this is actually a default thing in this edition, so we’ll have to adjust it a bit, but Sneak Attack is a uniquely Rogue mechanic and so it works best for this class. We’re also going to make it a bit more generic to work around product identity.

Rogue Archetype: Death’s Rest Stalker

Sometimes the dead refuse to pass to their final rest. When zombie hordes threaten civilization or ghosts haunt forgotten homes, the hunters of the Death’s Rest clan cull the undead numbers and preserve life for the living. The stalkers, the clan’s most secretive agents, are experts at putting the dead back to rest permanently and silently.

Life from Death: Beginning when you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you learn a brief necromantic ritual to sap the life from defeated foes. When you reduce a creature to 0 hit points you can use a bonus action to regain your rogue level in hit points (or twice your rogue level if the creature is undead). You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1). You regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Disruptive Strike: Also starting at 3rd level, you can deal radiant damage with your Sneak Attack dice when attacking an undead creature.

Two features here: the first draws on divine power to grant the Rogue health, which feels very “righteous” to me (and also makes undead more valuable to kill). The second isn’t that much more than a ribbon (only a few undead have radiant vulnerability), but it’s a cool feature.

Blades of Light and Darkness: Starting at 9th level, you can empower your weapons with a bit of magical energy. Your weapon attacks count as magical and can strike incorporeal creatures.

In some ways this is a fairly minor feature, but it combines a couple of 3e features into one and means that you don’t have to worry so much about selecting the right weapon to battle undead.

Death’s Rest Defenses: Starting at 13th level, you gain resistance to poison and necrotic damage. Additionally, your hit point maximum can never be reduced.

Another adaptation from 3e, but one uniquely suited to going against nasty creatures. Comparable to what several other classes get around this point and a defensive option in contrast to the overtly aggressive ones of other features.

Death’s Rest Secrets: Starting at 17th level, you gain the following benefits based on the study of your clan’s hidden knowledge:

  • When you reduce a creature to 0 hit points on your turn, you may make one additional weapon attack with the Attack action.
  • You may cast feign death as a ritual.
  • You gain advantage on any saving throws made to defend yourself against the abilities of undead creatures.
  • You can use Sneak Attack dice once per turn against an undead creature even if the attack would not normally qualify for Sneak Attack damage.

A pretty big collection of benefits, though two are anti-undead only. Feign death isn’t much more than a ribbon at this level, and the other is pretty strong but requires you to be hitting things and maintains a connection with death. It also sort of makes up for using your bonus action on Life from Death if you dual wield like many Rogues.

Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with this. It’s designed to be more specialized, but I think the features have broad enough application and will also feel quite good against its favored foe.

Like this content? You can find this race and other homebrewed material here.

Classy Considerations: New Mechanics for Classes

For this post, I’m going to ponder a few mechanical options that aren’t really represented at the moment: proficiency-based resources, “pets,” and multiple in-class options.

Dungeons & Dragons 5e does a very good job of covering broad fantasy archetypes in its different classes. You could very happily play the game for years and find that most of the character concepts you want are (broadly) covered by the existing choices. I am not, however, one of those easily satisfied people, so I have given some thought as to what unique mechanics might be introduced to justify creating new classes.

If you remember from last post, I was discussing how the major unique class mechanics seem to fall into these categories:

  1. State changing, like Rage and Wild Shape.
  2. Point-based, like Ki and Sorcery Points.
  3. Expertise for skill bonuses.
  4. Magical modifiers, including Sorcery Points, Metamagic and Divine Smite. Pact Magic should also probably be included here.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to ponder a few options that aren’t really represented at the moment and what new mechanical implementations might look like. Here’s my list:

  1. Proficiency-based resources
  2. “Pets”
  3. Multiple in-class options

Proficiency-Based Resources

As unified a mechanic as proficiency is, it baffles me that it doesn’t intersect with unique class mechanics more. Expertise aside, the Barbarian (with its Rages) is the only one that has proficiency tied to numerical uses (until its capstone, at least). When looking at other limited-use class features, they’re either tied to the binary short / long rest refresh or some sort of ability modifier. Both of these are fine mechanics, but what about another class that “transforms” a proficiency modifier number of times per day? Or how about a class that has the strength of its features based on proficiency (3e’s Incarnum is a good fit here)? The power curve for these features would look differently, certainly (weaker earlier and probably stronger later), but it’s interesting that it hasn’t been much used.

Pets

Two class options focus on “pet” use (that is, an NPC controlled by a PC as a class feature): Beastmaster Rangers and Pact of the Chain Warlocks. You also have the find familiar and find steed spells that provide pretty good representation for these features at a weaker level, but what if I want to have a pet from 1st-level? I imagine people might enjoy a Beastmaster or Cavalier class on the mundane level or a Summoner for a more magical approach.

Multiple In-Class Options

The Warlock does this in that you can choose both Pact and Patron, but none of the others really have this kind of flexibility. I definitely understand this, as it makes it harder to balance multiple options and their interactions, but I’m sure you could think of other classes. A servant of the gods, for example, might have features based on alignments or ideals as well as a desired class-option role. Anything new here will need to be careful, but there’s potential.

You could find other unique mechanics not represented effectively. New magic systems would likely be the most obvious–runic magic should probably be different, as might name-based magic or a skill-based system. But we can save those for another post. Are there mechanical options that you find overlooked in the current Player’s Handbook, or do you think the classes are distinct enough and mechanically diverse enough to not warrant new classes?

Next time for Classy Considerations we’ll continue talking about what could justify creating new classes in terms of roles.