D&D 5E Broad vs Narrow Classes

Reynard

Legend
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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aco175

Legend
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.
 

overgeeked

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
Supporter
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.
 

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.
 


DND_Reborn

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.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
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...
 

Aldarc

Legend
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.
 




Exactly.

Most of the classes could be split into 2-3 classes and have players multiclass or take feats to take more than one focus.

Hmmh. I would not go this far.
I think, a certain broadness enhances the multiclassing effect.

I think, the fighter might be a bit to broad, while the barbarian and the monk are a bit too narrow. I think, we could just scrap the paladin and the ranger amd make them proper fighter/rogue/druid or fighter/cleric multiclass.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
If you are going to use a Class-based system... then each class should have their own flavor and thematic intention story-wise.

In 5E in my opinion there are 3 Broad classes and 10 Narrow ones. Fighter, Rogue, and Sorcerer are the three Broad classes, in that their flavor and theming come out of their subclasses and not the base class. The words "Fighter", "Rogue", and "Sorcerer" are more catch-all terms used as a title heading to encompass all the different "real" thematic classes within them.

Whereas the Artificer, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Warlock, and Wizard all have their flavor and thematic intent baked into their base class, and the subclasses are merely different ways or paths to present it or to focus on a specific thing within the base class.

Having both types within the game is what causes all the hullabaloo, because two of the three Broad classes are the two purely MARTIAL classes in the game. Which means it gives the impression that the game is focused on magic because there's all these other spellcasting Classes in the game and only "two" Martial classes. But that's not really "true" per se... because all of what WOULD be the heaping amount of Martial classes are actually presented as subclasses under two Martial umbrellas. The Samurai, Thief, Scout, Assassin, Swashbuckler, Cavalier, Gunslinger, Banneret, Champion, Mastermind et. al... could ALL have been their own Classes in the game sitting right alongside the Cleric, Wizard, Warlock, Druid et. al. And if WotC had done that, there wouldn't be any of this caterwauling about not having enough Martial Classes.

Which is why I most certainly understand many people's desires for the condensing of Classes down to "Fighters, Rogues, Priests and Mages" or even "Fighters, Rogues, and Spellcasters" to make ALL the "Classes" be Broad. And then every "Subclass" or whatever designation you use becomes Narrow. It makes sense from a categorization perspective to do it that way. Make it so that none of the umbrella Classes have much flavor in and of themselves, where instead all of their unique story perspective and flavor comes from the subclass.

But I think the reasons WotC don't do that is because of tradition AND the fact that most of the Classes in the game have unique game mechanics to themselves. And as a lot of people want (ne DEMAND!) unique game mechanics for Classes (see the multitude of Psionics debates)... condensing Classes down into three or four Broad classes condenses the types of unique game mechanics you have for each of them (unless you start adding all kind of mechanics back in via Feats or somesuch.. but that'll piss off a bunch of people that way too.) So I suspect any sort of condensed mechanics or 'pick 'n choose' mechanics via Feats would be an anathema to a vast majority of the D&D populace.

At the end of the day, I personally would prefer Narrow classes, if for no other reason that it would force WotC to turn all the Fighter and Rogue subclasses into their own specific classes (like Pathfinder does for the most part)... thereby giving us a huge influx of Martial classes to add to the Caster ones... and thus finally ending the endless wall of complaints that WotC cares more about spellcasters than they do martial warriors.
 
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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Hmmh. I would not go this far.
I think, a certain broadness enhances the multiclassing effect.

I think, the fighter might be a bit to broad, while the barbarian and the monk are a bit too narrow. I think, we could just scrap the paladin and the ranger amd make them proper fighter/rogue/druid or fighter/cleric multiclass.
The Fighter could be easily split into 3-5 classes.
The Cleric can be split into a Healbot, Warpriest, and Laser Priest.
The Druid can be spell into Wildshaper or Animal Lord
The Paladin can be split into a warrior/priest half caster smiter and a noncaster warrior with tons of abilities like WHFB Grail Knights
The Ranger can be split into a monster hunter, a beastmater, and a warrior/scout/druid.
The Rogue can be split into pure Expert and Expert/Warrior classes.
The Warlock could have the Hexblade pulled out into its own class

The Barbarian and Monk I agree are narrow as is. But the Totem Warrior and Elements Monk could easily be their own classes.
 


Staffan

Legend
In a "general purpose" RPG like D&D, I prefer broad classes that you can mold to fit the thing you're trying to accomplish.

In a game trying to fit a more specific setting, it could be cool to have more narrow and flavorful classes – the kind that would have been covered by prestige classes (as originally intended) in 3e. So instead of a "wizard" class, perhaps a particular city has three competing wizard guilds, each of which has its own class and spell list. This also offers the opportunity of a somewhat higher power budget for the class, because you don't need to worry about combinatoric shenanigans since the class is mostly on rails. But that requires a specific setting, and probably a fairly narrow one or you'll get a veritable explosion of classes.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
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 Sorcerer was about the same as the Fighter in that regard. Everyone felt like it was the "easy" Wizard, but in reality, with so few spell choices, you had to go over your spell list with a fine toothed comb to make sure you got the best options.

The last 3.5 Sorcerer someone came to the table with had multiple, redundant mobility spells, like levitate, spider climb, and fly, and all their feats were metamagic. shudders
 

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