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Classes and Subclasses
Mike Mearls

B efore I dive into this week's Legends & Lore, I want to take a moment to thank Dave Christ, Robert Altomare, and all of the DMs who ran our tabletop gaming events at Gen Con and PAX Prime. Those conventions are an important part of what makes D&D work. Every year, thousands of gamers take their first step into D&D at those shows. Thanks for all your hard work!

This week, I'd like to talk about classes and subclasses, and explain how they allow us to manage complexity in the game.

From a player's point of view, subclasses are the most powerful tool we have to slide from a simple game to a more complex one. The fighter's Path of the Warrior is a great example of this, since it allows you to opt into a fairly simple fighter. In comparison, the Path of the Gladiator offers a lot more options each round.

That said, subclasses also play a key role from the DM's side of things. The subclasses you allow into your campaign say a lot about your world. For that reason, we're looking at subclasses shouldering almost the entire burden in D&D Next, which were previously handled by character classes.

When we introduce new types of magic into the game in the future, we won't need to add a set of new classes to the game. Instead, we can present subclasses that tap into that power source. The shadow dancer can be a rogue subclass that dabbles in shadow magic, while the hexblade does the same for the fighter class. Psionics can fill a similar role, with subclasses that tie into it granting access to its powers and abilities.

This line of thinking illustrates the principles behind the design of the mage class in D&D Next. By making the wizard an option under the mage, we open up space for the warlock, sorcerer, psion, artificer, and other casters without having to reinvent the wheel for each caster. They can share spells, magic items, and feats as necessary, allowing new design to focus on the elements that make them unique and interesting.

It's important to remember that while these casters share the same base class, that doesn't mean they share the same casting mechanics. The entire point of this change is to focus on what makes those classes unique. The same goes for subclasses. Although the hexblade might be a fighter subclass, it can still gain access to spellcasting. The shadow dancer as rogue can still teleport between shadows and use overt magic.

This approach ties back to subclasses and their role as a DM tool. If you run a low magic campaign, you simply eliminate the hexblade and shadow dancer from the list of subclasses in your game. If nonmagical healing runs counter to the tone of your game, strike the warlord from the fighter's list.

So, that's the basics of subclasses in D&D Next. They help us regulate complexity for players, and they are a powerful tool that allows DMs and groups to determine the tone and feel of their campaigns.

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.
I actually really like the framework struck with the Mage, Rogue, and Fighter especially. I don't think squabbling over naming semantics is that important as the base mechanics for psionics are parallel to other spell casting classes as well, and obviously they are considering formerly spontaneous casters as well (probably come out with a spontaneous caster class and maybe we'll get Bards too).

I say go full steam ahead on the subclasses, though one thing I would seriously suggest is consider making the Barbarian a subclass of Fighter. As it stands now and seems to me for a few editions, Barbarians don't have a significant identity or specialty other than Rage to set them apart from being modified fighters. Paladins and Monks at least have enough to justify themselves, but not Barbarians (or at least not yet).
Posted By: Huan (9/17/2013 2:38:28 PM)


The principle makes sense - create the core template, allowing for modular expansion to add content that won't disrupt the original content. My suggestion is to try not to make it too messy. Back when the "Complete" books were released for 2nd edition, ("The Complete Fighter's Handbook" and such), my first thought was "this is cool." Instead of just making a fighter, a player could use a kit to make a beast-rider or a swashbuckler (for example), two very different characters who were nevertheless fighters. My players started using the kits, and it really got their imaginations going away from the fairly generic characters they had been making. However, in time it became rather sloppy. As a DM, I had to try to remember a bunch of different sub-sets of rules in order to adjudicate the game. Some DMs are great at that, but my focus has always been on telling a story, and as soon as the mechanics get cumbersome, I find that play gets bogged down and the... (see all)
Posted By: BeardBard (9/11/2013 2:59:07 PM)


Because for the first time since I started playing the game back in the days of second edition, I'm excited about a new version of the game. My read through and limited play-testing of the new edition material impressed me with its simplicity. The use of advantage and disadvantage, for example, is an elegant way to avoid having to remember and then crunch a bunch of numerical modifiers. Taking this simple framework and then adding a bunch of sub-classes has the potential to, in my mind, add unnecessary complication to the game. Obviously the idea of sub-classes exists because variety is what keeps the game interesting. Those people who want to ignore them can, as suggested above. At the same time, the idea of the shadow dancer does sound like a fun character type that some players might really enjoy.
Posted By: BeardBard (9/11/2013 3:04:54 PM)


My thought is this though: why not have the modular element of character design more of an ability package rather than a distinct class? Stick to a handful of core classes to keep the mechanics simple, but then allow players to swap out a block of abilities in exchange for different abilities of comparable power. For example, let's say that the standard fighter is composed of major, intermediate, and minor elements, as is the standard mage. A character who wants to make a spellcasting warrior can elect to keep the major and intermediate fighter abilites, but swap some minor benefits for some minor magic, or even swap the intermediate and minor fighter attributes to make a less versatile fighter who is fairly strong in magic, but who will never become an archmage. Alternatively, the player could choose to make a battle-mage who trades out some minor magics (such as cantrips) for some minor warrior benefits (the ability to use weapons and/or armor) to make a character who can eventuall... (see all)
Posted By: BeardBard (9/11/2013 3:06:22 PM)


(I think I got the issue figured out. My apologies for the extra posts.)
Posted By: BeardBard (9/11/2013 3:07:22 PM)


I was able to save a couple of comments from before the data setback, please forgive the ragged margins…
It almost goes without saying that Soulknife should be a Fighter option and Psychic Warrior, the same for Monk. There are several classes, such as Adept and Skulk, created as psionic counterparts to standard ones in the Expanded Psionics Handbook, which can be integrated into Cleric, Rogue and so on.
I hope Psionics can return to being a base class with Disciplines, as in the Complete Psionics Handbook and Psionics Handbook. Telepathy, telekinesis, psychoportation, psychometabolism and clairsentience fit neatly into the concept of subclasses as exemplified in this article (Psions and Wilders might be added to provide the simple and generalist choice paradigms). Kobold Avenger observed that there is much duplication between magical and psionic effects, but this was not true before Bruce R. Cordell was exhorted to make psionic powers more consistent with spells for the Ex... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (9/11/2013 2:33:58 PM)


Here is a related subthread (sorry I wasn't able to preserve the whole thing) from Rodney Thompson's lost article on essentially the same topic.
Marches58 wrote:
Mike Mearls admits that "...while these casters share the same base
class, that doesn't mean they share the same casting mechanics."
I'll assume that means each subclass of Mage will install its own casting
mechanics. I would think (hope) this choice would have to be made at
level 1, not 3. Wouldn't it be silly to start your career as a "basic"
Mage and then get to level 3 to "branch out" as a psion?
On the same note, maybe Mage isn't even the best name for the class,
given all that they intend to pack into it. I feel that MAGes are associated
with MAGic. Psions don't use magic. It would have to be something
real generic-like. Maybe Spellcaster? No, spells are m... (see all)
Posted By: RadperT (9/11/2013 2:26:22 PM)


"The text in your comment does not pass validation. Ensure that all of the approved tags are properly closed."

Being unaccustomed to the Blog world, I have no idea what this means.
Posted By: BeardBard (9/11/2013 2:21:25 PM)


I think it was left out intentionally vague in the article, but in my mind there is a big difference between the concept of the psion and the sorcerer and they should not share anything (from my current POV, at least). Unless "mage" is now being used in a broad, confusing definition as any class with non-physical, non-divine power source, it makes little sense to me.
Posted By: cruzeiro (9/11/2013 8:39:55 AM)


I like how subclassing can be used to provide different levels of player complexity within the same class, ie, the "easy" fighter and the more complex one, not just "simple" fighter vs complex mage.
Posted By: dmfumbl (9/11/2013 12:13:57 AM)