5E Class vs Subclass

Xeviat

Explorer
The recent Psionics UA (Fighter as Psychic Warrior, Rogue as Soul Knife, Wizard as Psion) has got me thinking a lot about the nature of classes and subclasses. When should a new character idea be a class? When should it be a subclass of an existing class?

I have long questioned the differentiation between the Sorcerer and the Warlock. They serve similar party roles. They use basically the same tools (spells, which tend to be offensive or be self-only defenses). The thematic difference between bloodline and pact is a flavor difference, but these differences could have been cooked into a single class (we don't need a separate class for philosophy clerics and God worshiping clerics, for instance). "Where does your magic come from" could have been part of the Sorcerer flavor text; I feel the only thing we would have lost was the pact magic mechanics (which the sorcerer could use IMHO). The warlock lost curse as it's core ability and doesn't have a general reward for sending souls to their pact master, so why not mix them?

I've asked the question "What is a Ranger" before. And that question will crop up here again.

So, what is a class? What is a subclass? I think a class needs to be broad enough that there will be multiple versions, archetypes, and interpretations of members of that class. A class needs to have subclasses. Notice, that many classes from 4E became subclasses in 5E (Avenger became a paladin, Invoker became some of the cleric subclasses).

A class also needs to be thematically and mechanically different from other similar classes. If it's not distinct enough, then make it a subclass of that similar thing. The recent Psionics UA asks this question and answers with an attempt. Above, I ask if the sorcerer and warlock could be mixed. They're thematically different, and they are mechanically different. But that mechanical differences might be difference for difference sake (like the 3E sorcerer, whom most seem to consider was there just for the spontaneous casting mechanic).

The class as subclass approach does bring up class baggage. Classes themselves bring abilities of their own to a concept, so if your character idea doesn't fit that, it might be a bad way to build it.

So that brings us to the new UA. I won't discuss the implementation here (I'll join in another thread later), but is like to look at them through this light.

Should the Psion just be part of the Wizard? Personally, I don't think so. There are enough kinds of psions that Psion probably needs subclasses of its own (but those differences could just be spell choice, I devil's advocate myself). The psychic warrior and soul knife feel better as subclasses, but they could be subclasses of the Psion itself, or of the Fighter and Rogue as they're presented this time.

They tried this with the artificer a couple of times before settling on a class, and I think it worked out. There are enough character types that fall under the Artificer umbrella that having them just be a wizard subclass.

So, what so you think differentiates a class from a subclass? Do you think the paladin should just be a fighter/cleric? Do you think the sorcerer and warlock are distinct enough? Do you want psions to be their own class. Is Warlord distinct enough to be a whole class, or should it just be a fighter subclass (as it kinda is now)?
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I think a class can be needed when any combination of a subclass, feat, or background skill can’t replicate the archetype for the most part.
So basically, with how 5e is built, rarely. Most everything can be a subclass under a general chassis of the core 3 (fighter, skill, magic). And I do honestly believe we have some classes that don’t pass that metric simply because of history or tradition (like the ranger and even cleric)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
In my opinion, no concept that can be adequately expressed as a subclass should be made into a full class, and no concept that can be adequately expressed as a feat, fighting style, background, or similar-scale option should be made into a subclass. Of course, we can debate for ever about what constitutes adequate expression of a concept, as that is largely subjective. But needless to say, I feel there are a lot of unnecessary classes and subclasses, even in the PHB.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
Whether or not something should be a class or subclass depends on what level of development you want to put into them. Take the Barbarian for instance. The Barbarian could easily have been a subclass of Fighter, but they chose to develop it enough to warrant its own class. The same can be said of most of the classes we have now. Could a Ranger be a subclass of Fighter? Sure. Rogue? You bet. It could easily fall under either Fighter or Rogue easily enough. Sorcerer and Warlocks could both fall under Wizard (or more appropriately "Mage" at that point).

Many of the subclasses aren't necessary IMO. A larger pool of "bonus features" could have been listed under each class, allowing the player to build their own path via subclass features. Then again, I know many players would like to have only subclasses and get rid of core classes completely. meh ;)
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Honestly, with the absolute sheer amount of Prestige Classes 3/3.5E, I feel like subclasses are alot better.
I REALLY agree with this. PrCs made me roll my eyes. I didn't much care for Paragon Paths or Epic Destinies in 4E either, even though I'm a huge 4E fan. I kind of dislike bloat in general.
 

Xeviat

Explorer
Whether or not something should be a class or subclass depends on what level of development you want to put into them. Take the Barbarian for instance. The Barbarian could easily have been a subclass of Fighter, but they chose to develop it enough to warrant its own class. The same can be said of most of the classes we have now. Could a Ranger be a subclass of Fighter? Sure. Rogue? You bet. It could easily fall under either Fighter or Rogue easily enough. Sorcerer and Warlocks could both fall under Wizard (or more appropriately "Mage" at that point).

Many of the subclasses aren't necessary IMO. A larger pool of "bonus features" could have been listed under each class, allowing the player to build their own path via subclass features. Then again, I know many players would like to have only subclasses and get rid of core classes completely. meh ;)
I certainly have a fondness for the 12 classes that were picked for 5E (largely because those were the 12 4E classes I decided could stand alone and couldn't just be builds of the others). I think they cover a lot of archetypes, though many of them are self references at this point. I only recently started to think on the Sorcerer/Warlock issue: they're both "mages", both use charisma, and their subclasses have strong thematic ties to various magical creatures or figures. Any role a sorcerer can do, I can see a warlock doing, especially when they wrote out the curse/boon mechanic being core to the warlock.

Yes, many of those 12 could be subclasses of the others. Ranger could be a specialist fighter. But I can imagine more kinds of rangers (if I was in charge, I would have had the Ranger's subclasses be tied to their favored foe, and built them that way) than I can imagine kinds of psychic warriors (also why I tend to not be supportive of 'Arcane Warrior' as a class when it isn't tied to a character trope).

We've been given a lot of kinds of barbarians (I love the Zealot), paladin oaths, and others on classes that I could have once been convinced were too specialized.

But you are definitely right: legacy and sacred cows go a long way (I've seen very compelling arguments to merge the fighter and rogue so you don't have fighters lacking out of combat abilities, but I don't fully agree).
 

NaturalZero

Explorer
Whether or not something should be a class or subclass depends on what level of development you want to put into them. Take the Barbarian for instance. The Barbarian could easily have been a subclass of Fighter, but they chose to develop it enough to warrant its own class.
Yeah. We literally have 2 heavy armor melee divine spell caster classes that use channel divinity. The paladin could have easily been just a cleric or fighter, if the subclass system was more robust.

I'm just disappointed that we don't have a full swordmage or battlemind class, though the warlock sorta, kinda fits if you squint hard enough.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Whether or not something should be a class or subclass depends on what level of development you want to put into them. Take the Barbarian for instance. The Barbarian could easily have been a subclass of Fighter, but they chose to develop it enough to warrant its own class. The same can be said of most of the classes we have now. Could a Ranger be a subclass of Fighter? Sure. Rogue? You bet. It could easily fall under either Fighter or Rogue easily enough. Sorcerer and Warlocks could both fall under Wizard (or more appropriately "Mage" at that point).
My ideal D&D would be something like that. The classes would be something akin to power sources in 4e. Maybe like, Fighter, Mage, Mystic, and maybe rogue, with a lot of what are classes in 5e as the subclasses. Then the more specific builds would be expressed via feature choices at a more granular level, akin to like the 5e Warlock’s Invocations.
 

jmartkdr2

Villager
I REALLY agree with this. PrCs made me roll my eyes. I didn't much care for Paragon Paths or Epic Destinies in 4E either, even though I'm a huge 4E fan. I kind of dislike bloat in general.
While I absolutely agree that bloat was a problem, I found that Paragon Paths and Epic Destinies were actually pretty good solutions to an issue with high level play: after a while, it stops being fun to get the same abilities but bigger. PP's and ED's gave you ways to add new toys mechanically and new paths narratively to characters who would otherwise be getting stale.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

On the original question: it's really hard to say based on the existing structure because frankly there isn't an existing structure. What a class represents varies from mostly mechanics (sorcerer) to almost pure flavor (druid) to both (done well - paladin - and done poorly - monk) to a vague collection of things that look like they should fit together but are just piled up (ranger). Without a clear delineation of what a class means (ie what it tells you abut the character) vs what a subclass means, how do you know what should be a class or subclass?

If we were to overhaul the classes, I'd make classes about the mechanical identity of the character and let subclasses provide most if not all of the flavor. But that's a big change.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
It’s also not unheard of to group the classes into class umbrellas, with the actual old class names being more like subclasses. 2e did it, with fighters, rangers, and paladins all being part of the warrior class. It didn’t ruin the game to alter that sacred cow. They could have done it with 5e
 

gyor

Hero
It’s also not unheard of to group the classes into class umbrellas, with the actual old class names being more like subclasses. 2e did it, with fighters, rangers, and paladins all being part of the warrior class. It didn’t ruin the game to alter that sacred cow. They could have done it with 5e
Perhaps, but they stopped doing it after
2e for a reason, it was very unpopular.
 

Undrave

Adventurer
I REALLY agree with this. PrCs made me roll my eyes. I didn't much care for Paragon Paths or Epic Destinies in 4E either, even though I'm a huge 4E fan. I kind of dislike bloat in general.
I feel like the concept could work better if it just outright replaced your class. At level 10 you no longer advance as a Fighter, you advance as say a Purple Dragon Knight or some Racial Exemplar path and then you get your Epic Destiny. That way you'd have less features to build up and you could have paths and destiny that are available to various types of characters. It could be possible for a Fighter and Wizard for example to have the same Path or Epic Destiny, but two Fighters could have two different set up too.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Unpopular with who? I never heard any one complain about it...
Me either. Most complaints about 2e were the removal of the monk and assassin and half orc, and renaming devils. I can’t think I ever heard of complaints about putting fighter, ranger, and paladin under the warrior class. Most actually found it better, because it was more streamlined.
 

gyor

Hero
Me either. Most complaints about 2e were the removal of the monk and assassin and half orc, and renaming devils. I can’t think I ever heard of complaints about putting fighter, ranger, and paladin under the warrior class. Most actually found it better, because it was more streamlined.
The results speak for themselves, they stopped doing it.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
The results speak for themselves, they stopped doing it.
I think the reasons they went a different route were due to other factors than people didn’t like it. 3e was a complete redesign. I haven’t seen any evidence that putting class umbrellas was a bad thing, or lost players because of it. The design of 2e isn’t cited as a reason for the decline of TSR. Bad management decisions and sudden change in fads (Vampire rpg and MtG) are the biggest reasons. In fact, I’ve only heard good things about how they made specialty schools of magic compared to having individual magic user and illusionist classes.
 

dnd4vr

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
I agree, 2E was the most robust in many facets. There is SO much extra material it is crazy. While I enjoy 5E, 1E/2E is still my favorite. But, we digress... :)
 

Eric V

Adventurer
In my opinion, no concept that can be adequately expressed as a subclass should be made into a full class, and no concept that can be adequately expressed as a feat, fighting style, background, or similar-scale option should be made into a subclass. Of course, we can debate for ever about what constitutes adequate expression of a concept, as that is largely subjective. But needless to say, I feel there are a lot of unnecessary classes and subclasses, even in the PHB.
What is the downside to "unnecessary number of (sub)classes"? What is the bad thing that happens when there are more options?
 

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