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So What Is a Subclass?
Mike Mearls

L ast week, I talked about feats and the overall transition in complexity between the basic rules and the optional rules elements you can add. This week, I want to talk about subclasses and the role they play in the game.

Subclasses are already present in the D&D Next playtest. Each class will have a different take on what a subclass actually represents to it.

For a cleric, it's deity choice. For a wizard, it's tradition. Every class in the game is a broad archetype that represents a range of possible characters. The subclass choice within a class reflects that broad range.

The key class features that all members of a class receive represent the core identity of the class. They are the shared elements that all fighters or wizards gain.

The really nice thing about subclasses is that they represent another way we can scale complexity. The basic rules that I've referred to in an earlier Legends & Lore article present a wizard subclass that is simple and easy to use, but no less powerful than more complex options you might see in the standard and advanced rules, like necromancer or wild mage.

The biggest change you will see in an upcoming packet involves the fighter and the rogue. For too long, those classes existed well within the shadows of other classes. We're taking concepts such as warlord, knight, samurai, gladiator, or scout, and we're transforming them into fighter options. For the rogue, you'll see options such as the assassin, the thief, and the vagabond.

Does that mean that anyone who steps into an arena must be a fighter? By no means, but it does mean that we're creating special powers and abilities for fighters who trained as gladiators. In other words, we're creating unique and special mechanics that only fighters and rogues can access. We're not simply giving them better access to our (now optional) feat and skill systems.

This move also puts more pressure on the paladin and ranger to remain distinct from the fighter. That's why our first draft of those characters more prominently featured spellcasting.

Finally, this move allows us to be more flexible in how we handle the classes. The fighter can offer a warrior option that gives a bonus to damage rolls and attack rolls that is perfect for beginning players or people who just want to hit stuff hard. In contrast, the duelist has abilities that make the character acrobatic, talented with light weapons, and capable of using powers that improve the character's ability to disarm, parry, and so forth. The two subclasses don't even have to present the same core mechanic, with the duelist using expertise dice and the warrior simply gaining a series of static bonuses.

It's important to note that concepts like archer or two-weapon fighting specialist don't fall into subclasses. That's where feats come in, since they can offer specialization in areas that aren't linked to specific classes. After all, a rogue, a fighter, and a ranger have all supported archers, two-weapon fighters, and so forth in the past.

Feats also allow us to create that paladin-gladiator without using multiclassing. If your concept of a gladiator is a warrior who fights with a trident and net, you can use feats to focus on those weapons with your paladin and ranger if you'd prefer not to play a fighter.

Mike Mearls
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He has worked on the Ravenloft board game along with a number of supplements for the D&D RPG.
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