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.