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Class Design Concepts
Legends & Lore
Mike Mearls

L ast week, I wrote about how we are treating expertise dice. There's a chance that we'll end up changing the name of the dice to make their role clear in the game. For instance, we might call this element a martial damage bonus, much like we have an attack bonus in the game, and then simply refer to spending dice of your martial damage bonus to activate maneuvers. Under this setup, your damage bonus simply applies to your attacks or is split up among your attacks if you strike more than once.

It's looking like only the fighter and the monk get maneuvers as a default. Everyone else accesses maneuvers through feats, and even then only a subset of them. Meanwhile, the rogue's sneak attack is likely transforming into a class feature that gives extra damage in certain situations rather than a maneuver.

This does not mean that abilities that resemble maneuvers are no longer part of the rogue. We're exploring a similar dice-based mechanic that can contain the simplest expression of checks and bonuses while also covering special abilities that interact with checks and other abilities that aren't combat-only options. If you look at the monk's maneuvers beyond attacks—Step of the Wind is a good example—you can see how this system might look.

On top of this, we have the D&D spellcasting system. We're likely going to standardize casting a bit, both to keep things simpler and to make it much easier to convert from Vancian spell slots, a powers system, and so on, depending on what fits your campaign or setting.

It's worth noting that things like the skill overhaul we're looking at represent something of a target of opportunity. With the playtest working so well, it gives us a chance to experiment a little more than we might otherwise attempt. When we have easy fallback mechanics, it's worth trying something new to see how it works out.

So, that leaves us with three basic systems that are shared between the classes. These systems cover basic competence in using weapons, making ability checks, and casting spells. It says something about a class if it lacks access to one of those abilities, such as a wizard's lacking weapon abilities or a rogue's inability to cast spells. Where things get interesting is when you look at the unique mechanics a class receives. Those mechanics might be wholly unique, or they might modify how a class interacts with our basic weapon, skill, and magic systems.

Looking at the monk, that class gains access to unique maneuvers that have overtly magical effects, such as walking across water, running up walls, and plucking arrows out of the air. The monk can also channel ki to produce magical effects, with options for stunning a creature or healing presented as a default (we can expand the class later to give options you can take in place of those two). Finally, the monk is an expert in unarmed combat and defense, drawing on ki to dodge attacks and inflict deadly blows.

In the monk's case, ki is an overlay that gives different options for attacks and checks. Ki can function within a maneuver, but it also grants a special mechanic that exists outside of the monk's martial damage bonus.

With our core system settling into place, we can narrow our focus to creating the features and abilities that make classes stand out. Soon, probably in the next month or so, we'll hit a tipping point where new classes and races come out at a fairly steady pace. With the core system marked out, even if the details aren't clear in all areas, we can start to focus on what makes each class unique. In terms of design time, that's actually the easy part of this process.

Let's take the paladin as an example. The paladin's base weapon abilities might be equal to the fighter's, but the fighter has a class-specific ability (or abilities) that make it stronger with weapons. The paladin also has spells, though at a reduced power level in comparison to a cleric. The paladin's unique abilities, and the true source of the class's power, come from the power a paladin gains by swearing allegiance to a specific alignment. A lawful good paladin protects the weak and drives back the forces of darkness. A paladin of this alignment can lay on hands, project an aura of protection, smite evil foes, and detect the presence of unholy creatures. A chaotic evil anti-paladin might have the ability to sense weakness, ravage enemies with unholy power, and exert an aura that steals vitality from other creatures. A lawful evil anti-paladin might have the power to dominate other creatures, forcing them into slavery as it subverts law into tyranny. The paladin you create might mix and match some of these abilities, depending on your character's alignment and ethos.

In this case, the paladin's abilities don't really rest in any of our three basic silos. They might look like spells, but they aren't prepared and cast in a way that functions like them. Like the monk's daily ki abilities, they are unique talents that only paladins can gain access to.

The key is that the three basic systems described above are merely the mechanical framework for a class. The interesting parts are the unique elements of a class that spring from its story and its place in the world. The stuff above about the paladin might sound great, or it might be the worst idea ever.

As an aside, I'm really interested to see what the feedback on the monk has to say about the alignment requirement.

Again, thanks for your feedback so far, and we look forward to reading more of what you have to say on these topics!

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.
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