Wednesday, February 18, 2009

D&D class overview (III): The awesome classes

Having determined what is good and bad in a D&D class, we are ready to start applying all this theory. Starting today, I will briefly go over the nine currently complete classes (the ones in the first Player's Handbook and the Swordmage from the Forgotten Realms Player's Guide) and point out where I think they fail, and where they offer something unique that hasn't been exploited.

I have ordered the classes in three tiers, from the ones less in need of changes to those that need them most. The first category is composed by the rogue, swordmage and warlord.

Maybe I should have put today's classes on top.

These three classes are, in my opinion, the most polished ones, and I consider them a good reference for how I'd like other classes to be. They fulfill their function, offer plenty of options and use original and interesting mechanics.

Rogues work amazingly well for a class designed around a single mechanic such as Combat Advantage. With a reward as huge as Sneak Attack, gaining CA becomes the focus of the rogue's game, encouraging movement and use of skills, and conditioning target selection. It's a very interactive process. I have some concerns about the playability of ranged, stealthy rogues, as I find the Stealth skill a bit daunting even after the errata, though I admit I haven't seen it in play yet.

Another success in rogue design is the requirement of light blades to enable powers and features. I am often wary of such practices, as they tend to feel arbitrary and pointless - like clerics of old editions being forbidden the use of sharp weapons, or druids that could only wield wooden armament and, for some reason, scimitars. But, in this case, the technique works together with flavor and mechanics, turning rogues into masters of weapons that less nimble hands would find weak.

While there are many good things to say about the Swordmage design, it is the class features, and Swordmage Aegis in particular, that stand out. I have previously stated that having less than three combat related features is a bad proposition - yet Swordmages show how to get away with just two. Of course, it helps that Aegis is a class-defining feature that just has it all: it varies with build, powers off secondary attributes, interacts with many powers and is plain awesome. My only is a slight imbalance between the two kinds of Aegis: Assault is cool, but Shielding is sickeningly effective.

Although the leader role derives from the clerics in early editions of D&D, it is the Warlord who best defines what leading means. We are talking of a class whose only special power is commanding others, here. I love how the warlord channels his powers through other characters' actions, involving himself (having to get into melee range, or hit someone) and increasing the sensation of teamwork and camaraderie.

The most important warlord contributions to the game are exploring the vast potential of tactical movement in powers, and defining basic attacks. While melee basic attacks, as defined in the core rules, serve only for charges and opportunity attacks, the warlord gives them a new purpose by being an essential part in many of his own powers. Sadly, not all characters have decent basic attacks, and the end result is strongly dependent on party composition. Ranged basic attacks are a different animal, and I think they could have been given more support, as warlords have few ways of interacting with them and, aside from a few very powerful magic items, they seem to lack a clear purpose in the game.

NEXT: The not-so-awesome classes!

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an older post but I wanted to comment on what you wrote about the Warlord class. Having made a brand new one and played it at a local convention, I'd have to say your analysis is spot on. Not only does the class play well, but it's also extremely fun to play. I had a great deal of enjoyment commanding the nearby Barbarian and Fighter to strike down foes, and strategically setting the big enemies up for group smackdowns. I'm glad I discovered the Warlord because I had already been through a few characters and I wasn't really feeling the fun factor... nothing was clicking with me. Then again I was playing Defenders, which are mostly just big bags of hitpoints for the monsters to beat on while the rest of the party deals out damage.