D&D 5E Class vs. Subclass vs. Feat Track

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
This idea is kind of forked from the discussion on class groups – I found myself diverging from the topic at hand to dwell on class archetypes and what makes a class worthy of distinctiveness, and it led to this “experiment.”

I took a minute and reviewed a list of classes mostly drawn from D&D3 and the Pathfinder APG to see how many true archetypes I felt there were represented in the list. I omitted D&D4 mostly due to sheer volume, although perceived redundancy was also a consideration. I mean no disrespect.

Out of 28 classes I found seven archetrypes (possibly six, possibly eight): Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Druid, Psion, and Summoner. I think seven is a good number, and what’s more I like the ratio: one archetype for every four historical D&D classes sounds about right, drawing from personal experience.

So what’s an archetype? The criterion I’m using is that a class archetype should be defined by WHAT a character does. A character of a specific class ought to do a thing that is reflected in every member of that class and not reflected by any other class. Exactly HOW the character does this thing should be determined by his subclass.

So by this definition (which largely ignores mechanics, I realize), the wizard, the sorcerer, and the warlock are part of the same archetype, which is to say, ‘spellcaster.’ It’s difficult (for me, at least) to find a truly archetypal division between those three classes.

I think the aforementioned eight class archetypes are unique in that they are not derivative of any other class, and their skill sets are sufficiently self-definitive that they cannot generally be applied to another archetype without fundamentally altering that archetype into something else (i.e., a fighter with wizard spells is a wizard and a fighter [and a multiclass character], but a fighter with ranger abilities is ultimately just a survivalist fighter).

I believe every other class in the list could be better devised as either a subclass of an existing archetype or a feat track available to any class. Let me know what you think:


Cleric – Archetype. Healer.
Fighter – Archetype. Combatant.
Rogue – Archetype. Operative.
Wizard – Archetype. Spellcaster.

Barbarian – Fighter subclass. Rager.
Bard –See below.
Druid – Archetype. Shifter.
Monk – Feat track. Qigong. (But a strong case could be made for archetype status, given how no other classes focus on internal magic.)
Ranger – Feat track. Survivalist.
Paladin – Feat track. Saint. (Meaning a divinely inspired individual with innate powers rather than spells)
Sorcerer – Wizard subclass. Non-academic.

Warlock – Wizard subclass. Pacted.
Warlord – Feat track. Tactical.

Ninja – Rogue with the Monk feat track.
Samurai – Fighter subclass. Bushido. (Really just a reskin of a knight [chivalry])
Shugenja – Cleric subclass. Shinto.
Tattooed Monk – Monk subclass. Tattoos.
Wu Jen – Wizard subclass. Tao.

Psion – Archetype. Mentalist. (I’m not a big fan of psionics, personally, but I’ve always felt that if they were going to be around, they could easily be made definitively separate from magic.)
Psychic Warrior – Feat track. Psionic. (Similar to the existing arcane and divine spell feat tracks)
Soulknife – Feat track. Mindblade.
Wilder – Psion subclass. Undisciplined.

Alchemist – Wizard subclass. Alchemist. (PF APG class names are much more descriptive than core D&D3 class names!)
Cavalier – Feat track. Mounted.
Inquisitor – Feat track. Inquisitor.
Oracle – Feat track. Oracle. (Similar to ‘saint’ but with karmic debt)
Summoner – Archetype. Summoner. (Could make a case for Wizard subclass but I admit some fondness for the very different influence from Final Fantasy, here.)
Witch – Wizard subclass. Witch.


To clarify, I know with virtual certainty that every class in this list (or a facsimile thereof) will be represented in D&D5 by a full-fledged class. That is unfortunately how D&D rolls, these days. I further realize that my definition of archetype and the application of the concept to this list is entirely a matter of opinion. This is just a thought experiment to potentially illustrate how the proposed mechanics for D&D5 could be used to provide greater character customizability without resorting to class glut.

I’m torn about the bard, because I want him to be a ‘jack of all trades’ archetype, but realistically that concept does not introduce any value that a fighter/mage/rogue would not. What I really don’t want to recommend, but I feel obligated to, is that the bard be represented by a feat track granting inspirational music abilities.

I feel strongly that the bard’s music is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself, but this has not been a part of D&D canon since AD&D1. Musical powers are here to stay, and to that end the D&D5 bard should (regrettably) be a musical feat track applicable to any class.

I am interested in your thoughts!
 

log in or register to remove this ad

pemerton

Legend
a class archetype should be defined by WHAT a character does.

<snip>

So by this definition (which largely ignores mechanics, I realize)

<snip>

Paladin – Feat track. Saint. (Meaning a divinely inspired individual with innate powers rather than spells)
The difference between innate powers and spells is mechanical, I think. As far as archetype is concerned the paladin and the cleric look the same to me (heavy armour, good weapon choice, healing and protective magic).
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
The difference between innate powers and spells is mechanical, I think. As far as archetype is concerned the paladin and the cleric look the same to me (heavy armour, good weapon choice, healing and protective magic).

You're right, but the exercise was not to eradicate concepts; rather to find a place for each of them. Given my druthers I would never have introduced the paladin in AD&D1, given its similarity to the cleric, but Gary Gygax was not taking game design advice from newborns in 1978.

By making the cleric an archetype and the paladin a feat track, we keep the concept as a front line contributor to the mythos but also grant players the capacity to play, say, a sainted fighter (paladin) or a sainted wizard (invoker?), and have holy abilities while definining their play with a different archetype (warrior, blaster).

As I said in the other thread, a war-domain cleric and a sainted fighter should come out looking very similar, but the key difference is that the archetypical choice, the cleric, is still defined by his healing and buff spells, while the sainted fighter is mostly defined by his combat capability -- his holy powers are secondary.
 

MoonSong

Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
This idea is kind of forked from the discussion on class groups – I found myself diverging from the topic at hand to dwell on class archetypes and what makes a class worthy of distinctiveness, and it led to this “experiment.”

I took a minute and reviewed a list of classes mostly drawn from D&D3 and the Pathfinder APG to see how many true archetypes I felt there were represented in the list. I omitted D&D4 mostly due to sheer volume, although perceived redundancy was also a consideration. I mean no disrespect.

Out of 28 classes I found seven archetrypes (possibly six, possibly eight): Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Druid, Psion, and Summoner. I think seven is a good number, and what’s more I like the ratio: one archetype for every four historical D&D classes sounds about right, drawing from personal experience.

So what’s an archetype? The criterion I’m using is that a class archetype should be defined by WHAT a character does. A character of a specific class ought to do a thing that is reflected in every member of that class and not reflected by any other class. Exactly HOW the character does this thing should be determined by his subclass.

So by this definition (which largely ignores mechanics, I realize), the wizard, the sorcerer, and the warlock are part of the same archetype, which is to say, ‘spellcaster.’ It’s difficult (for me, at least) to find a truly archetypal division between those three classes.

I think the aforementioned eight class archetypes are unique in that they are not derivative of any other class, and their skill sets are sufficiently self-definitive that they cannot generally be applied to another archetype without fundamentally altering that archetype into something else (i.e., a fighter with wizard spells is a wizard and a fighter [and a multiclass character], but a fighter with ranger abilities is ultimately just a survivalist fighter).

I believe every other class in the list could be better devised as either a subclass of an existing archetype or a feat track available to any class. Let me know what you think:


Cleric – Archetype. Healer.
Fighter – Archetype. Combatant.
Rogue – Archetype. Operative.
Wizard – Archetype. Spellcaster.

Barbarian – Fighter subclass. Rager.
Bard –See below.
Druid – Archetype. Shifter.
Monk – Feat track. Qigong. (But a strong case could be made for archetype status, given how no other classes focus on internal magic.)
Ranger – Feat track. Survivalist.
Paladin – Feat track. Saint. (Meaning a divinely inspired individual with innate powers rather than spells)
Sorcerer – Wizard subclass. Non-academic.

Warlock – Wizard subclass. Pacted.
Warlord – Feat track. Tactical.

Ninja – Rogue with the Monk feat track.
Samurai – Fighter subclass. Bushido. (Really just a reskin of a knight [chivalry])
Shugenja – Cleric subclass. Shinto.
Tattooed Monk – Monk subclass. Tattoos.
Wu Jen – Wizard subclass. Tao.

Psion – Archetype. Mentalist. (I’m not a big fan of psionics, personally, but I’ve always felt that if they were going to be around, they could easily be made definitively separate from magic.)
Psychic Warrior – Feat track. Psionic. (Similar to the existing arcane and divine spell feat tracks)
Soulknife – Feat track. Mindblade.
Wilder – Psion subclass. Undisciplined.

Alchemist – Wizard subclass. Alchemist. (PF APG class names are much more descriptive than core D&D3 class names!)
Cavalier – Feat track. Mounted.
Inquisitor – Feat track. Inquisitor.
Oracle – Feat track. Oracle. (Similar to ‘saint’ but with karmic debt)
Summoner – Archetype. Summoner. (Could make a case for Wizard subclass but I admit some fondness for the very different influence from Final Fantasy, here.)
Witch – Wizard subclass. Witch.


To clarify, I know with virtual certainty that every class in this list (or a facsimile thereof) will be represented in D&D5 by a full-fledged class. That is unfortunately how D&D rolls, these days. I further realize that my definition of archetype and the application of the concept to this list is entirely a matter of opinion. This is just a thought experiment to potentially illustrate how the proposed mechanics for D&D5 could be used to provide greater character customizability without resorting to class glut.

I’m torn about the bard, because I want him to be a ‘jack of all trades’ archetype, but realistically that concept does not introduce any value that a fighter/mage/rogue would not. What I really don’t want to recommend, but I feel obligated to, is that the bard be represented by a feat track granting inspirational music abilities.

I feel strongly that the bard’s music is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself, but this has not been a part of D&D canon since AD&D1. Musical powers are here to stay, and to that end the D&D5 bard should (regrettably) be a musical feat track applicable to any class.

I am interested in your thoughts!

I'm not a fan of placing classes on these kind of silos, but that aside I believe You have it backwards with the wizard equating him with "the archetypal wizard" because it isn't, the D&D wizard is a poor fit for the two most cited examples of wizards, as they are more accurately described as sorcerers with a mix of a traditional druid (Gandalf was an angel, Merlin was the scion of a demon, even if we go back to the Odisea, Circe was a minor goddess, none of them were specially thought of as extremely smart, Gandalf and Merlin were Wise, and Circe was as cunning as imposing). In my view if we were to have this system, the wizard would be only a feat track available to sorcerers warlocks bards and druids.

A similar thing happens with the cleric, the cleric is the Templar, the crusader, the vampire hunter, so would be obtainable by applying a martial feat track to a more general priest class.

Also I would pick archetypes by "what you are" instead of a "what you do". In this view we would have: The "witch" species(sorcerer), The worshiper(cleric, shugenja, warlock, witch inquisitor), The tradition keeper (bard, druid, wu jen), The saint/champion (paladin, oracle, favored soul, Healer), The hunter/commando (ranger), The warrior (Barbarian, Fighter, cavalier) , the scholar (Magic-user, alchemist), the mystic (monk, psion) and the rogue
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
I'm not a fan of placing classes on these kind of silos, but that aside I believe You have it backwards with the wizard equating him with "the archetypal wizard" because it isn't, the D&D wizard is a poor fit for the two most cited examples of wizards, as they are more accurately described as sorcerers with a mix of a traditional druid (Gandalf was an angel, Merlin was the scion of a demon, even if we go back to the Odisea, Circe was a minor goddess, none of them were specially thought of as extremely smart, Gandalf and Merlin were Wise, and Circe was as cunning as imposing). In my view if we were to have this system, the wizard would be only a feat track available to sorcerers warlocks bards and druids.

Well, putting aside for a moment that we /are/ talking about D&D here, which after 40 years has its own archetypes and no longer needs be beholden to what came before, that is a perfectly valid point. In a differently constructed mythos, wizard could absolutely be a subclass of a "loreseeker" archetype, which is how I gather you characterize warlocks, bards, and druids.

A similar thing happens with the cleric, the cleric is the Templar, the crusader, the vampire hunter, so would be obtainable by applying a martial feat track to a more general priest class.

Is this not what I did with the cleric class and the paladin feat track? You'll note that I've characterized the cleric archetype as the "healer" -- I don't think the archetypal D&D cleric is /necessarily/ a warrior (although, to be fair, I probably should, given my own rules).

Also I would pick archetypes by "what you are" instead of a "what you do". In this view we would have: The "witch" species(sorcerer), The worshiper(cleric, shugenja, warlock, witch inquisitor), The tradition keeper (bard, druid, wu jen), The saint/champion (paladin, oracle, favored soul, Healer), The hunter/commando (ranger), The warrior (Barbarian, Fighter, cavalier) , the scholar (Magic-user, alchemist), the mystic (monk, psion) and the rogue

Well, first of all my objective is not to categorize but rather to de-categorize -- to eliminate classes that might as well be duplicates and reduce "class groups" to single classes. Here's why I discarded your approach as an option in my experiment: what is ultimately important about a class in a class-based game is that it plays fundamentally differently than every other class.

Your divisions are no less valid than my classifications, but they do seem to suggest that, for example, the bard and druid should play similarly, if they are both "tradition keepers." In my estimation, the bard is traditionally defined by music, and the druid by animal shapeshifting -- it is difficult for me to draw a parallel between them without introducing substantial complexity to their relationship.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I have a hard time seeing a 'Summoner' as an archetype... considering that you summon things using magic (and thus it falls within the purview of 'spellcaster'.) The fact that you included it as an archetype mainly just because you enjoyed it in Final Fantasy is a pretty strong indication that it's not actually a D&D archetype.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
I have a hard time seeing a 'Summoner' as an archetype... considering that you summon things using magic (and thus it falls within the purview of 'spellcaster'.) The fact that you included it as an archetype mainly just because you enjoyed it in Final Fantasy is a pretty strong indication that it's not actually a D&D archetype.

You are right. D&D combat summoning should probably stick to Summon Monster spells and their ilk. I caught myself between a rock and a hard place by pulling from the APG -- I wanted more volume for my experiment, but the classes from that book, good as they are, definitely blur the lines of D&D.

I classified the summoner as an archetype for the same reason why I classified the druid as an archetype -- both are "spellcasters," in the purest sense, but the summoner is defined by his eidolon in the same way that the druid is defined by his shapeshifting. No other class has a shapeshifting ability like wild shape, and no other class has a summoning ability like the eidolon.

But you're right: it's an archetype, but not necessarily a D&D archetype.
 

Gadget

Adventurer
I'm not sure I agree with the definition of 'Archetype' being used here. The usage here seems to have more in common with 4e's roles than what I think of as archetype, I think archetype is so much more than this. To me, archetype is a certain fantasy Je ne sais quoi that a class is trying to tap into and capture, usually through a mechanical representation, but is so much more than those mechanics. For Instance, in recent years (and I would argue much longer than that), there has been strong push back on cleric as healer definition. Sure a cleric can be a healer, and certain gamest and mechanical necessities my shove the class in that direction, but I think the archetype is much greater than that. It is more white mage, holy man, vampire/demon hunter, spiritualist, servant-of-greater-powers, healer, knight-Templar. If the game is only able to get healer out of that, it may show a weakness of the game, the designers, or narrow thinking on the part of the players. Or even worse, a game that starts with the premise that healer is all you need from that is, IMHO, already on shaky footing. Yes, D&D has been around long enough to influence and help direct what the popular fantasy archetypes are, but I still feel going back to this common well while stile honoring tradition is the way to go.

This is not to say that archetypes are inviolate or don't change over time or even overlap. The paladin as the pure knight-in-shining-armor, Sir Galahad, paragon of honor clearly has some overlap with part of the cleric's holy man, knight-Templar shtick. I just wonder if there is a danger of being to self-referential here, especially with clouding archetypes with a mechanical role.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
I'm not sure I agree with the definition of 'Archetype' being used here. The usage here seems to have more in common with 4e's roles than what I think of as archetype

Oh, that's not good; I was heading in exactly the opposite direction.

For Instance, in recent years (and I would argue much longer than that), there has been strong push back on cleric as healer definition. Sure a cleric can be a healer, and certain gamest and mechanical necessities my shove the class in that direction, but I think the archetype is much greater than that. It is more white mage, holy man, vampire/demon hunter, spiritualist, servant-of-greater-powers, healer, knight-Templar.

I think you are absolutely correct, so I'm hoping our disagreement is merely semantic. The archetype "cleric" is broadly defined, focusing only on the healing aspect, because it is the one thing that all of these other roles you have mentioned -- these subclasses -- have in common. It is the thing that makes them all clerics, no matter what else they may be. The inclusion of healing -- or, if you prefer more detail, the channeling of holy/unholy energy -- specifically makes them clerics and not a member of any other class.

I am absolutely not suggesting that any of these cleric concepts should be excluded from the game; merely that they should share a core mechanic that ties them to each other and to the backbone of the game. I think the class/subclass system provides this unity, and I am hoping the designers make good use of it. I would hope that the subclasses that represent these concepts are robust and diverse, and each worth playing in its own right, but I would also hope that players always feel that any of them are capable of fulfilling the role of the cleric in play, which is ultimately the most important thing (to the execution of the game itself).

What I'm saying in an oversimplified nutshell is this: forget class groups. If a class is a "priest," it is probably a subclass of cleric.
 


Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top