The scheme’s the thing

One thing I welcome in the D&D Next playtest packet is the return of discrete rules elements nestled inside the different character classes. Each class, by design, feels different right from the start, because the way they are created is different. A Fighter doesn’t build or operate in the same way as a Cleric or Wizard, for example. I like that.

I should add the standard disclaimer here before the Edition Warriors begin to flood the comments (please don’t. It’s old and boring now). I love 4e D&D and appreciate the way it unified and streamlined character generation. Going from this to D&D Next is a breath of fresh air though. Nothing more or less. Saying something is good doesn’t necessarily imply that I’m saying something else is bad. It is possible to think two things are good both at the same time, ‘kay? Thx.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Rogue Schemes are a good example of this. What they allow the Rogue to do (and this is, so far, unique to the Rogue) is take two Backgrounds – one which is a traditional Rogue archetype (Thief and Thug are the two presented in the playtest packet) and, as with every other class, have one other gained from the character generation process. In addition, they also gain extra features as they rise in level depending on which Roguely Background they take. The Thug, for example, gains Thug Tactics at level 1 which allows them to use Sneak Attack when the target is within reach of two or more of your allies. Perfect for the Rogue who likes strength in numbers.

Of the Backgrounds we’ve seen so far (and I hope the finished product will contain many, many more) the Charlatan and Spy are also excellent candidates for being Rogue Schemes too, though of course there’s no reason why you couldn’t create a Rogue/Thief now, and take Charlatan as your Background right now, for example. I would particularly like to see Spy as a Rogue Scheme because then I could create a Rogue/Spy with the Noble Background and be a freakin’ medieval James Bond. Oh yes.

One area which could could be explored is using the Rogue Schemes’ additional Background-related benefits to replace the Rogue’s Sneak Attack class feature with something else. After all (As Mike Mearls quite rightly pointed out in an article I’m too lazy to find and link to), not every Rogue is necessarily an Assassin.

Here’s a few examples of potential Rogue Schemes/Backgrounds, along with suggestions at to what could replace Sneak Attack:

  • Trapsmith Trap-making and improvising traps in combat (jury-rigging a door to explode, wall collapse, etc)
  • Pickpocket Disarming/pickpocketing in combat (“Is this your sword?” BASH!)
  • Agitator Taunts (Kender Thieves!)
  • Footpad Specialist in knocking unconscious (Sap-wielding mugger thieves!)
  • Streetfighter Improved improvised weapons use (“….. what do you mean she killed them all with a chair leg?”)
  • Acrobat Thief/Acrobat ftw! Climb talent, ability to ignore difficult terrain and move through hostile foes

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many more.

What Rogue-inspired Backgrounds also do is effectively replace the need for or reliance on multi-classing rules. If you want to create a Rogue-like Fighter right now you can simply generate a Fighter with the Thief or Thug Background.  Take the Thief, and you have a Fighter who can find and remove traps and sneak around. Take the Thug and you have a tattooed Fighter with a bad reputation and an intimidate skill to match. Not too shabby. The Rogue will always be better than you with the same Background (thanks to their additional Scheme benefits), but you can use heavy armour and carry bigger weapons. It’s a fair trade.

Much as I like the different classes having discrete class features, the Rogue Scheme mechanics could also be used for Wizard Schools (or Traditions, as they seem to be called now), but this time apply to Specialties rather than Backgrounds. We already have two Wizard-inspired Specialties, the Magic-User and Necromancer (with more doubtless to follow – Summoner, Evoker, Illusionist, Diviner, etc, as well as less Spell School-based Traditions such as Wu Jen and Defiler), and it would be a simple enough leap for the Wizard Tradition class feature to give the class one Specialty from this list (in addition to the one they get as part of character generation) and additional Tradition-related benefits as they rise in level.

As with Rogue-inspired Backgrounds, making them Specialties has the happy accident of making it easy to create multi-class-like characters without the messy multi-classing rules. Want to play a Cleric with the Thief Background and the Magic-User Specialty? You can, right now!  Dude, that’s triple-class sugary goodness.

In all, Rogue Schemes and Backgrounds are quite an elegant sub-system. I like it.

What do you think?


8 Comments on “The scheme’s the thing”

  1. I think that every time you write about D&D5, you make me want to invest in it (and I haven’t bought a D&D product since 2nd ed.). So I’m hoping the game actually goes in the directions you suggest!

  2. I always enjoy your 5e posts, a refreshing honest and thoughtful look at the mechanics as compared to the angry edition warring rampant elsewhere. And yes, I’m very excited by the “multi-classing” possibilities inherent in backgrounds and specialties.

  3. And not every Rogue is a thief… A lot of the choices don’t focus on stealing things. I’ve used the rogue class in other editions as the basis of a swashbuckler. You could easily make a swashbuckling scheme and pair it with appropriate backgrounds and specialties.

  4. I’m also excited about the pseudo-multiclassing that themes/specialties seem to promise. Having a fighter arcane dabbler or a magic-user slayer opens up so many possibilities, without the need for complexity and too many build options.

    I’m not sure that I’m sold on “schemes” though, as it seems like a reiteration of the specialty idea. Why not let rogues take two specialties at first level? That would be a bit more elegant, and fit the idea of the rogue as a flexible class (which is really what the skill schtick has always been trying to model, no?).

    1. I’m ok with the Scheme because it looks like it meshes in with the way the other classes are being designed. So right now I’m seeing the following options at Character creation:

      1. Race
      2. Subrace (Unless you’re human.. but damn)
      3. Class
      4. Build (Domain, Fighting Style, Scheme… nothing for Wizard?)
      5. Background
      6. Specialty

  5. Bah! I’ve been trying to wait patiently for the new D&D, not getting into whatever playtesting they’re putting out. Time flies faster that way, I think.

    I failed by clicking this article.

    Can I just say that I really don’t want to read about what the next edition might be like; I want to play it! Alas, I don’t think I can stay away. I think I’ll have to start downloading the material…

    Oh poor me…

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