Building a better Class system

Let’s talk for a minute (ok, maybe more than a minute unless you can read really quickly) about the D&D Class system and how it would look in my mythical ideal Next Edition of the game.

We begin with the four core Classes: Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard. They have been at the cornerstone of the game since almost ever and there’s no reason for them to change. There is a zen-like beauty to the way they work together; they represent the Four Elements (Fighter = Earth, Rogue = Air, Cleric = Water and Wizard = Fire) and it’s only right that they should be the building blocks for all things Class related[1. This is also the make-up of the Fantastic Four (Thing = Earth, Invisible Girl = Air, Reed Richards = Water, Human Torch = Fire), which just goes to show that good party composition crosses all genres.].

Just like a Class-themed version of Alchemy, if we combine those core Elements, interesting things happen. In D&D terms we have something akin to old-school Dual-Classes where PC gain partial advancement in two Classes each time they level up. What if we give each of those Dual-Class(-ish) combos special names along with a couple of abilities to make them unique.

If your PC is a Swordmage, for example, he is a Dual-Class Fighter/Wizard with the additional schtick that he can cast spells through his weapon of choice. He gains fewer spells per level and lower combat bonuses than either the Wizard or the Fighter, but that’s balanced by the fact he’s a frickin’ Swordmage.

Want a Paladin? That’s just the posh name for a Dual-Classed Cleric/Fighter who has traded some of the Divine spell-casting capability for a bit more stabby-stabby. Simple.

The Ranger is an interesting Class because historically it’s a bit all over the place. Is the Class a nature-loving bow wielder, a twin-blade wielding dervish of vengeance or an urban hunter? The Ranger Class is all of this, but each individual Ranger is usually one thing or another. If your Ranger is more of a Stealthy hunter who does damage against certain foes (in 3e Terms, she has a Favoured Enemy) then she is a Dual-Class Fighter/Thief. If she gains a bonus depending on terrain (3e: Favoured Environment) then she’s a Fighter/Druid. More on those in a moment.

Now it’s time to complicate things a little with Specialities. Every PC can take an optional Speciality at certain levels (say 3rd, 7th, 12th, etc). They each offer a boon in return for a penalty, and help further define the character’s place in the world.

Specialities cover a lot of ground. Fighters may specialize in certain weapons or fighting styles (Archer, Swashbuckler, Knight, Dervish, etc) while Rogues focus on certain aspects of their Roguely nature (Assassin, Burglar, Trapsmith, Conman).

Specialist Clerics generally become Clerics of a particular deity (Cleric of Pelor, for example) and would gain proficiency in their deity’s weapon of choice (WP:Suntan Lotion) and a bonus to certain types of spells, in return for adherence to religious strictures. Other specialities include the Priest (more spell power in return for loss of combat ability) and Druid (gain Shape-change and a deep love of nature, lose right to eat bacon and all self-respect).

Pyromancer (specialist Wizard) could gain +2 bonus with Fire-based spells, but be unable to cast Water spells. An Axeman (specialist Fighter) does extra damage with Axes but has to wear a lumberjack shirt at all times. A Thief-Taker (specialist Rogue) is immune to Sneak Attacks but can never join a Guild, etc.

If further Specialities are taken at later levels, all restrictions must be followed. Your Pyronecromancer might not be able to cast Water or Life spells, but they can Summon Flaming Zombies, so that’s ok.

The Dual-Class variants can take Specialities of either of their parent Base Classes along with any which are unique to themselves. The Paladin could become a Paladin of Pelor, a Knight Paladin, or Holy Champion Paladin, or even take all three when high enough level and be a Holy Champion Knight Paladin of Pelor. Hope you left enough room on the Character Sheet  in the box marked Class..

Unlike Dual-Classing (which create a new, unique Class by combining elements of two others), Multi-Classing refers to advancing levels in several Classes, but only one at a time. A Rogue could elect to take levels as a Wizard, for example, rather than improving in Roguely things. Any Class can choose to Multi-Class – taking a couple of levels in Fighter is a good way for a Paladin (Fighter/Cleric) to  show that he favours Martial might over his Divine training.

What is tricky about Multi-Classing is that pesky 1st Level.

Y’know what – I’ll talk about that another time. My minute is up.



23 Comments on “Building a better Class system”

    1. That’s one option, and I could certainly see that work for some campaigns. I tend to favour the “choice is good” philosophy which allows all of the (campaign appropriate) classes from 1st level, with specialization a few levels down the line.

  1. Sorry, but Rogue/Cleric mix already has a name: It’s a Bard. Why has everyone forgotten that? (Oh yeah… bards…)

    1. Lol! Yeah. Bards.

      I want to do something different with Bards to give them their own niche which separates them from both the Cleric & Wizard as their special abilities don’t really fit with either spell list. Going the 3e route and making them jacks-of-all-trades is just too wishy-washy.

      I’ll be talking about this next time, but what I would do is add a 5th Core Class – the Psion – which opens up a whole new load of Dual-Class combinations, and make the Bard the Rogue/Psion. His abilities come from the creative side of the mind, rather than any arcane or divine power source. I’d totally play that.

  2. Nice!

    Wizard + Cleric + Rogue = Druid
    Cleric + Rogue + Fighter = Monk
    Rogue + Fighter + Wizard = Assassin (Ninja)
    Fighter + Wizard + Cleric = Warlord

    Wizard + Cleric + Rogue + Fighter = Bard

    1. I like much of greywulf’s ideas, but I believe some of the combo classes are not accurate. I think saw this post and agree there could be even further combinations pulling from 3-combos and 4-combos.

      I don’t know about this poster’s Wizard + Cleric + Rogue = Druid; I think Druids pulls from Wizard and Cleric for sure, but I think Alignment and/or Planar callings must have an effect that would add to this molecular mixing. If we are think in an alchemy way. I believe Druids would be Wizard+Cleric+Nature=Druid.

      Other combos I would make changes to:

      Wizard+Far Realm Power=Warlock?witch
      Fighter+Psychic (Far Realm Power)=Monk.
      Fighter+Rogue+Psychic or Shadow=Assassin(Ninja)

  3. I like this system a lot. And actually, while studying the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules (and hacking them up to create my own classes and races), I noticed they operated on a very similar structure. Each class breaks down roughly as follows: two major abilities, one moderate, and one minor. So then to create a new class, all you’d have to do is trade features with another.

    1. That’s how I would see this working as well. Pick half the features from one class, and the other half from a second. Dual-Classes get a unique special ability that is their own (possibly with more features as they rise in level).

      I’ll have to take a look at the Dungeon Crawl Classics rules. Thanks for the heads-up.

  4. Hmm, like the structured thinking. That would make the rules much simpler, since everything outside the Core Four is just a combo. You can focus on designing the core well and everything else falls neatly into place. Intellectually I like it, but it’s not grabbing me emotionally. The non-core classes don’t really have their own identities any more–there’s a loss of “cool factor” (well, okay, Summon Flaming Zombies is pretty epic).

  5. Very nicely done. Almost duplicates what I’d used several years ago with a 1st ed AD&D game I ran; everyone had to begin with one of the four core classes and at certain levels they could dual-class into a secondary class. Now, the bard I did have established as X levels fighter/X levels rogue/X levels wizard before moving on.

  6. Very interesting idea- I like your structure there it is very easy to follow, esp with a few diagrams.

  7. Why worry about “core classes”? Why not break everything into their individual class features and let the player choose them at first level?

    1. I would like that the most!
      Just have a bunch of abilities/level-up quirks (like different BAB progress) with a point cost. Give points as they gain experience (a level system like now isn’t bad) and let the players juggle it as they see fit. On first level, I want the ability to sneak attack. I want to save enough points to be able to dual wield on 3th level, so I buy myself the cheap ability to cast one specific favored theme related spell at second. And after that, I’ll concentrate on giving a bit more punch by going with a better BAB progress…

  8. Wow. You guys did some great work visually. I tweaked what I saw from your efforts and put this Pathfinder Class Matrix together. I’m using it for home use only to help explain it to my daughter. Obviously, I make no claims for dreaming this up. The images were taken from the Paizo site. Enjoy!…07.23.2012.jpg

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