Mike Mearl’s latest Legends and Lore column touched on a topic from my previous Wizard’s post, here; namely the variability within the class structure possible to achieve the flavour of character desired.
As I said last time, I am impressed by the current incarnation of the cleric and rogue classes, which have specific choices (deity and scheme) that lead to substantially different flavour, and mechanics, over the course of the character’s progression. Other classes however, such as the paladin and ranger, seemed a little fixed in their options, with the only real variability seemingly available via feats.
So it was very interesting to read that the concept of ‘subclasses’ is going to brought in more strongly in future material, with potentially quite different powers/mechanics available to one subclass compared to another, whilst still retaining the core features of the base class. Feats are then used to add snippets of flavour that are not subclass specific. As an example, characters using different fighter subclasses e.g. Warlord and Gladiator might have substantially variable abilities (e.g. leadership vs. arena-fighting), but might both use a feat to become experts at two-weapon fighting.
I definitely like this approach, and indeed it seems like the only way the design can scale to match the huge spectrum of expectation from the community. Using this model, a player can chose a very simple 1e style fighter (choose Fighter with e.g. Warrior subclass, ignore background and specialty, press play!), or choose from a myriad of options, using class, subclass, specialties, backgrounds and feats to create the desired build in the manner favoured (expected?) by the 3E/4E generation.
Although in some ways I have to chuckle. 4E already provided this concept: class was essentially a top-level concept which you then built out in many different ways with the infinitely flexible system of powers and feats. 4E Essentials later added the simpler builds with less choice required (i.e. simple start-up), and yet was pilloried for somehow being a new game! Oh well, water under the bridge now I guess… 🙂
One question I have is how far they will take this in providing significantly different subclasses, especially for iconic classes such as the paladin and ranger. Currently for example the ranger is definitely pitched as a Druidic style spell-caster, whereas in my view there are many valid ranger concepts (e.g. Beast-master) which are not related as explicity to spellcasting ability. Its hard to see how a subclass could differentiate enough without substantially changing the core class concept. However Mike does makes it clear in his post that the current versions of these classes are draft, so I have some hope here 🙂
In any case, one thing is obvious. The flexibility of this class-subclass-specialty/feat model will definitely provide plenty of scope for DMs to build setting specific flavour into the character choices available to their players. This is important to me, and one aspect I think was strong in 4E, so its good to see it continuing in the next generation of the game!
I’m certainly looking forward to the next playtest release to see how this develops!