D&D 5E Broad vs Narrow Classes


When thinking about 5E in general and what you prefer and/or would like to see, do you want classes that are broad or ones that are more narrowly defined.

For the purposes of this discussion, by "broad" I mean lots of options as you create and level a character so that a single class can cover a lot of different archetypes or party roles. Note that I mean this in an ongoing way. That is, you continue to make those choices throughout character advancement and development and can always switch gears.

Conversely, by narrow I guess what I mean is "focused": fewer choices (at least after the initial ones) but a high degree of fidelity toward one particular expression of that class. Assume effectiveness and solid balance here. Presume a well designed focused archetype.

So I guess the question comes down to how much control do you want over progression? How much freedom versus focus?

This is largely a player facing question but GMs should feel free to discuss how such a choice might affect a campaign they run.

For my part, when I am a player it kind of depends on the nature of the campaign. If we are playing a canned campaign, I definitely prefer a focused character advancement track. But if it's a more open, unpredictable campaign i want the freedom to switch gears if the game goes in an unexpected direction.

As a GM I actually prefer if both options are available to players who have different preferences, and hope I can manage to juggle both.

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I would favor broad classes with many paths to focus them as you want. You can eliminate several of the classes and have the others cover them. The fighter could cover ranger, barbarian, and paladin for example. It just depends on the 3rd level path and options at each level if they wanted to offer them similar to 4e with powers you choose.


B/X Known World
Broad classes if they must exist. Lots of options to tailor the character to the player’s fantasy. But also pre-built archetypes for players to grab and go. The four categories for 5.5 would work as classes, or even collapse cleric and mage into one. Expert, spellcaster, and warrior. Done.

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
What I would like most is for classes not to straightjacket design choices, but for there to be a real reange in creative options within each.

One measure of this is whether a particular class can support different primary stats (can you build a strength rogue and be competitive? That's a win. Does a strength paladin play diffferent than a dex paladin or a charisma paladin? Yes. That's a win.). That flexibility of design doesn't need to be "broad" as you have it, but it does mean that if ten people each play through a class, they won't all look the same at level 10. Even though I'm only following one path with my character, I want the sense that the class is giving opportunities for different results.


Follower of the Way
I prefer "broad" in the way I would define "broad," which is neither "narrow" nor "desultory." I suspect a lot of things I would consider "desultory" are what others would classify as "broad."

For me, a "narrow" class has a small number (say, 4 or less) rigidly fixed paths. You don't get meaningful choices, nor can you "drift" (if I'm using that term correctly) into other ways of doing things. E.g., if every Cleric is a heal it, but some are endurance healers (low rate but high volume), some are mitigation specialists, some have limited but huge heals (high rate but low volume), etc., and cannot become anything else, then I would call that too narrow.

Conversely, a "desultory" class is one that gives you zero structure or guidance. Instead of rigidly fixing you on one and only one path, it seems to go out of its way to eliminate any guideline you might follow. The 3.X Fighter is a great example here. The idea was supposed to be huge freedom and variability due to the massive pile of extra feats, but because good feats were almost always locked behind piles of bad (or at least boring) feats, the implementation was extremely poor. It's well known in 3.5e charop circles that building an effective Fighter is an extreme challenge, something only for real charop experts, because it is just SO easy to get it wrong and end up with useless crap.

A broad class avoids these pitfalls. It offers clearly-defined starting benefits and functional guidance on what to do, while offering real choice and internal diversity/variation without ironclad limits.

As far as I'm concerned, most 4e classes were "broad" by this definition. They gave you a reliable starting point and a good idea of how to move forward...but left it up to you whether to do that or to pursue something else instead. Between Themes, Paragon Paths, and the multiclass or hybrid rules, you could do just about whatever you wanted, and have a good idea of whether it would be worthwhile or not. Certain options, particularly later on e.g. Vampire, fell short of this goal.

For comparison, I find both the 5e Fighter and 5e Wizard to be desultory. They do nothing to set you on a productive path, they barely if at all support their theme, and they contain several "trap" options or flawed implementations. And with how shallow the mechanical elements of 5e are, it's hard to do much of anything to redirect things or alter your course.


The High Aldwin
Kill the sacred cow. Remove classes completely.

Offer pre-determined archetypes (like Tasha's did with Battle Masters) for new players or players who have a concept.

Otherwise, select what your PC does at each level, allowing your PC to grow organically.

If I have to choose, closest would be "broad" I guess.


I lean with broad, but realistically this is hard to build into leveled progression for any non-spellcaster (spellcasters can customize via spell selection). Having a broad base at key levels, primarily level 1, then having some standardized abilities is probably the best way to go. For example, being able to build a wide variety of Fighters, but all of them are going to be good in combat, gaining Extra Attack and durability benefits. I think another layer of customization for non-caster classes would be a worthwhile addition in reaching this goal.


Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Ultimately, this seems to be a false dichotomy from a writer's standpoint. Yeah, there's a "Distinction in Structure" but it seems like you want the narrow class in either case. You just wanna take extra steps to get there.

The broad class with narrow archetypes requires an evergrowing number of narrow ways to do the broad class. The narrow class structure requires an evergrowing number of narrow classes.

Even classless, or self-defined classes, require the same evergrowing number of incredibly narrow options grouped by type for people to choose from which are, essentially, narrow classes broken into even smaller pieces so a given player can create an even -more- narrow class, one that is theoretically unique to them... Though in practice it typically means a narratively unfocused powergaming exercise with high monotony between different characters who select the same suite of "Best" functions. Like Magic Tournament Deckbuilding. After a little bit of time with the cards, 2-3 "Powerful" plays show up and all other variations on a 60 card deck are ignored.

I can't help but wonder if WotC went to the broad classes narrow archetypes structure as a money-saving or content-inflation maneuver, in hindsight... When you pay a designer and writer to make something you're ultimately paying by the word. Archetypes have a -vastly- lower word-count than a full class, but still provide players with a new hook for their particular concept of a barbarian or wizard.

Alternatively, because of the lower cost of an individual archetype, you can use the space a whole class would take up to create 3-4 archetypes, inflating the apparent value of the product for your customers. Like I could put out 3 new narrow classes, Tome of Magic style, or I could do 9-12 archetypes for the same cost by wordcount in the hopes that shotgunning those archetypes at your table, several of your players might be interested in those rather than one person playing the new Duskblade, y'know?

ESPECIALLY after the massive wordcounts of 4e's class design and narrow class structure of role+source for an ever-expanding set of narrow classes...


Broad? Narrow? I don't really care as long as its not half-@$$*d or trying to do both side by side.

If a game opts for classes, they should be fun to play and distinct from each other. Games should make it easy for players to select a class. The archetype, class fantasy, and playstyle should all be clear.


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