Monday, September 30, 2013

Dungeons and Dragons Next News: Class Groupings

This morning Wizards of the Coast published the latest Legends and Lore column by Mike Mearls: Class Groups.

According to Mr. Mearls the class grouping system that is coming out for the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is an outgrowth of their attempts to deal with the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard classes in a meaningful manner. Under the current system the three are sub-classes of the Mage class. It is apparent that this class, sub-class arrangement is an effort to address one of the major problems with the last two editions of Dungeons and Dragons: multiple classes performing the same purpose with no substantive difference between them. For example, other than a game mechanic difference (preparation of spells) there is no real difference between the Sorcerer and the Wizard in third edition Dungeons and Dragons. By making them a sub-class of the Mage you can create fundamental narrative and mechanical differences between the sub-classes that go beyond the name of each group. 

That is a huge step forward in the development of the game from its most recent iterations. 

This class grouping system originates with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition game. In that system you had a Class and several sub-classes to pick from. In Second Edition the Warrior Class included the Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger; the Priest Class included the Cleric and Druid; the Wizard Class included the Mage, Specialist Wizard, and Illusionist; and the Rogue Class included the Thief and the Bard. The use of sub-classes made it easier to understand the overall purpose of the Class while allowing for each sub-class to express different styles of play.

This system works well in the early stages of production, as it did in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, but problems develop in the system with the introduction of each new supplemental rules accessory. Each new product attempts to provide the consumer with a new and improved reason for purchasing the product; and without question this often comes in the form of more powerful player character sub-classes, races, magical spells and items. This 'power creep' eventually becomes so bloated that the system is unable to continue on and must be rebooted. 

In essence this creates a built-in shelf life for the product which is dictated by the volume of material published that provides fundamental changes to how the game is played. 

What all that means is that by looking at the previous incarnations of the game we can estimate that the new system will last seven to ten years (third and fourth edition will each have been in publication for seven years when they were replaced by new editions and second edition was in publication for ten years) before it becomes so bloated with supplemental rules, sub-classes, races, specialized items and equipment that a new system will be needed to clean up all the mess.

Which is fine by me. 

The current system that is being discussed by Mr. Mearls uses four Classes: Warriors, Tricksters, Mages, and Priests. The exact shake-up of what sub-class goes where is not really spelled out yet but by looking at the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Classes we can have a good clue as to where the base sub-classes will end up - though one thing is clear, if the comments on the article are of any value than the Trickster Class will be renamed the Rogue Class.
". . . Our goal with class groups is to provide an easy framework that magic items and other abilities can use to refer to classes, to give people a set of terms they can use to compare and contrast classes in broad strokes, and to make it easy for players to understand how the classes beyond the core four (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) relate to that basic group . . ." (Class Groups by Mike Mearls).
In researching this article I've noticed that there are a rather vocal group of commentators out there who are lambasting the new system for having items associated with classes. They act as though this is something that existed exclusively with Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons and that it was the kiss of death for that system. 

They are clearly wrong. 

There have been Class exclusive items present in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While it is true that the concept was taken to its limits in Fourth Edition, it is not a new concept to the game. It was not the kiss of death for any other system; and I daresay it will not be the death knell of the new edition.


  1. By the way, has anyone else noticed how he's getting eaten alive in the comments section on practically every part of this article?

  2. Soooo....groupings of classifications of characters? This is braindead.

    They've renamed Rogues (again). HUGE step forward for the system!

  3. Oh Anonymous, the groupings of characters under singular classes is as good a methodology for the game as any other.

    By the way, thanks for commenting.

  4. Sometimes I wonder what they are trying to get control of. At least in the early editions there were only suggestions where you could take the game. With "newer" editions they at first produced the need for accessories and wondered later that it wasn't compatible with the "masses". I'd hoped they got wise this time and at least tried to develop a basic game from which the individual DM could transfer to the needs of his game, giving only options how they perceive what a more developed game could look like.

    Ah well. They seem quite desperate.

    Nice analysis, by the way! Sometimes I also wonder how far you've strayed from the original 3E :-)

    1. I'm getting further and further away from it every day ;)

  5. Just awful. They keep trying to fix things that are not broken, ignore horribly broken things, and refuse to learn anything from the successes of 4e.

    1. I think that they are trying to respond to the criticisms that have come to them from the people who play the game. Unfortunately I think that a lot of those criticisms are provided from the Wizards of the Coast forum - where the trolls play - and you should never answer trolls.

  6. You know what I'd like to see? Martial, Arcane, Divine; Controller, Striker, Defender, Leader; Easy, Medium, Hard.

    Fighter - Martial, Defender, Easy
    Wizard - Arcane, Controller, Hard
    Rogue - Martial, Striker, Medium

    And any "balancing across the pillars" (i.e. don't worry that you're not as good in combat, you're great at skills!) has to go.

    1. See for me that would be a game that I would not play.

      While I enjoy certain aspects of Fourth Edition, and there is a lot there to have fun with, the way that they organized classes felt too much like a video game and took away from my enjoyment of the system. Going back to terms such as Martial, Arcane, Divine, Controller, Striker, Defender, and Leader creates a situation where I feel as though there is an expectation for how I play the game based on the grouping I choose. By contrast using the terms Warrior, Rogue, Mage, and Priest creates a narrative expectation, rather than a mechanical conception, that I am comfortable with as a player and Dungeon Master.

      And if you attach Easy, Medium, and Hard to any character you want me to play then you will not have me play in that system. I will not have myself judged by my fellow players based on the difficulty rating of a character I'm playing (as I have witnessed happen with games of WoW).

      I will determine how dangerous or difficult a character I am playing is both within the system and within the campaign I'm involved in. Just as my fellow players will do the same.

    2. What does "Warrior" mean? Focused on weapons? Can't use magic? Has the best armour class and HP? What does this leave for Rogue? Like a warrior, but trades HP and AC for skills?

      I don't really care how you group them, but characters fill roles (Striker, etc.) and are more and less difficult to play (in combat) under 1st-3rd edition.

      2nd edition fighter - easy. 3rd ed. fighter - hard. 3rd ed Sorcerer - easy. 3rd ed Wizard - hard. I don't need this listed in a book to know it (and to judge you, if I'm that way inclined). :-)

    3. For me Warrior means a person who is engaged in or experienced in battle. That's it. Just the actual definition of the word without any game terminology attached to it. The sub-classes are the place for the rest of those game definitions to come into play.

  7. So... rangers and rogues *aren't* warriors, or *are*?

    1. Rangers would be warriors and thieves would be rogues or tricksters as Mike called them.

  8. Wait - why is a Ranger in a different group than rogue? They both use weapons and light armour. Is it because one has bigger weapons and more hit points and the other has more skills? And by "battle" did you mean "D&D combat" or "formal army vs. army battle"?

    1. ". . . why is a Ranger in a different group than rogue? They both use weapons and light armour . . ."

      By that logic we should be discussing the Barbarian too. ;)

      No, the Ranger is in the warrior group for two reasons. First, the primary examples of rangers in fantasy literature are guys that go out and fight things in the wilds directly (for example, Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Second, when you discuss rangers in real life they are generally people who become directly involved in dangerous situations (for example, Army Rangers and the famous Texas Rangers).

      The thief on the other hand does neither of those things. In fantasy literature thieves often attempt to avoid direct combat to get to their goals (for example, the Grey Mouser, Gord the Rogue, and even in early tales of Conan where he acts as a thief rather than the conquering barbarian hero of later tales), And, again drawing from real life, thieves don't directly involve themselves in combat. Instead they sneak around volatile situations to the best of their ability so that they can steal some valuable stuff.

      And by battle I mean simply fighting in combat. I'm not using game mechanic definitions here but real world definitions of actions in our daily lives.

  9. Ah. You're talking tradition and fluff. Not interested.

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