Outclassed: Escaping the Class System

Posted on December 29, 2012 by


I’ve been thinking a lot about Next recently, and about some of the decisions they’ve been making regarding classes.  I won’t go into my thoughts on those in this post, but the whole thing has gotten me wondering; do we really want the next generation of Dungeons and Dragons to have classes at all?

I know that this sounds like the frenzied lunacy of a madman, but hear me out.  How many times have you been making a character in a game and found yourself wishing that you could make your own class?  How many times have you reflavored an existing class to fit your character concept?  I’ve played a Ranger/Artificer that was reflavored to seem more like a divine assassin, a sorcerer that was reskinned as some kind of spectral plant wizard, and I’ve seen entire races recast as something else while maintaining the stats of the original just for gameplay purposes.

D&D players are a creative bunch by nature, we like to make something our own.  Many of the players I know will rename their attacks just to add that flavor which seems to be so abundantly missing in 4th edition, or change magic items in concept but not functionality.  We want to make our characters our own, and I think that the next iteration of the most popular pen-and-paper game on the planet should embrace that and give us the tools that we need to make the characters that we want to play.


So I’ve designed the system that I would have used if I had been in charge of D&D Next.  Let’s call it the Origins system for now.

So to start with, you choose your Origin.  These represent the broadest possible archetype into which your character falls.  Unlike the choices that will follow, a character’s origin only really defines the class mechanics, and does not confer any benefits or drawbacks of any kind.  Instead it helps you to choose the path that your character will take.  We’ll start with four, based on the most iconic of all D&D classes:
The Fighter is a combatant that specializes in the use of weapons and armor, with various fighting styles.  Their unique mechanic would be the absolutely superbly designed “expertise dice” system that is seen in Next.
The Mage is an arcane spellcaster.  Generally softer and squishier than other classes, they have huge versatility, but must know when to save their magic and when to let it flow.
The Priest is a devout individual with access to divine magic.  While they are the game’s healers, that does not mean they can’t bring some major pain when pushed into a corner.
The Rogue is the party’s expert, whether that manifests itself in skill with locks and traps or just a knack for putting a knife between somebody’s ribs is largely up to the rogue.

After your Origin is chosen, you choose your Archetype.  These are more specific classifications that will determine your character’s to-hit, damage, hit points, abilities, saves, and all of the other important stuff that really makes a character work.  Is your Fighter a light guy that dances in and out of combat with a sword in each hand, or a seven foot monster who only needs to land a single blow?  Is your party’s Priest praying for his spells each morning, or does divine magic just flow through her like the air she breathes?  These Archetypes make up about 75% of who your character is and what they can do.

Finally, each character also has a Specialty which further defines them, a set of abilities or bonuses general enough to apply to all or most of the Archetypes in a given Origin.  Does your Mage have a powerful pet, maybe a construct or a bound demon that accompanies him into battle, or is he especially talented at ritual magic?  Perhaps your Rogue is a ninja, capable of running on walls and water, or maybe he can cast a handful of arcane spells.  These Specialties make up the remaining 25% of your class, and should be considered to be something that helps to flavor your playstyle.

All of this would be further customized by feats, skill choice, magic items, and all of the goodies that we as players have come to expect from our tabletop gaming.  I believe though that escaping from a rigid class system is what Dungeons and Dragons needs to take it to where it needs to be.  Players enjoy choices, and we enjoy getting to play a character that really feels unique and special, not just in terms of roleplay choices, but in terms of gameplay that enhances with those choices and works with them in a meaningful way.

Posted in: Game Talk, Gamecraft