D&D 5E D&D Next Q&A: Warlock Pacts, Patrons, and Iniate Feats

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
DMZ2112 said:
To answer the question directly, it's absolutely okay; classes need flavor to fill an expository role, but that doesn't mean the provided flavor should be anything but a default setting. If you want to roll up a healer with no god, roll a cleric and give him a different backstory. If you want to roll up a caster who gets his spells from a god, roll a wizard and give /him/ a different backstory.

All I'm trying to say is that if you're writing RPG rules, and your system is class based, then maybe your classes ought to have rules impact. You seem to want a system where classes are non-binding, and I just don't understand how such a system is class based to begin with.

See I think you got this backwards.

A cleric in OD&D, 1e, 2e, 3e, 4e, and, presumably, 5e, is a wielder of divine magic, granted by the gods.

That is the thing that is consistent -- definitional. That is not mechanical, it's purely, entirely, and completely story-based. It's about the cleric's role in the narrative of the world, the kind of hero the cleric is, how the cleric relates to the powerful forces of the universe...all story things.

They don't need flavor to fill an expository role, they are 100% expository, almost the only thing that has been true about the cleric in all incarnations is its exposition.

That, to me, means that that is the most important thing about the class. That is what a class does: it gives you an expository role.

What mechanics go on under the hood there -- whether you're a caster or a summoner or a healer -- are subordinate to the story. Mechanics is not really what a class does, speaking about D&D in general (it might be what a subclass does!) -- mechanics are only there to support a given story. A cleric is a healer because "healer" is a great mechanical representations of "a heroic character who gains powers from the gods." It starts with the story, and gives mechanics to support that story.

The other way around (healers are clerics because a hero gaining power from the gods is a great story representation of the healing mechanic) is flawed because it fails to embrace the story as its core element, and so leads to a design philosophy centered on making "healers," rather than making divinely sanctioned heroes. And when you play D&D -- especially when you're a n00b to it -- the mechanical role is not as relevant as the story role.

I mean, what do you remember from your last time playing a cleric? That you healed 65 HP? Or that you saved your friends from dying at the hands of the orcs with the power of Saint Cuthbert?
 

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DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
See I think you got this backwards.

This discussion is fascinating and hardly makes me want to twist my head off at all. ::deep breaths::

They don't need flavor to fill an expository role, they are 100% expository, almost the only thing that has been true about the cleric in all incarnations is its exposition.

That's a bit of a stretch. A derived spell list, the capacity to disrupt undead, and an equipment loadout somewhere between rogue and fighter have all defined the cleric in every edition of the game that I'm familiar with.

That, to me, means that that is the most important thing about the class. That is what a class does: it gives you an expository role.

Okay. Let me try another tack.

Let's assume for a moment that you are correct and classes should give characters expository roles irrespective of their mechanical capabilities. Do you accept the premise that classes should be definitive? That every member of that class must occupy the expository role of the class?

Because if that's the case I don't see how you don't have thousands of classes, in order to give players access to the breadth of expository roles they deserve.

I mean, what do you remember from your last time playing a cleric? That you healed 65 HP? Or that you saved your friends from dying at the hands of the orcs with the power of Saint Cuthbert?

Well, it's a combination of both, isn't it? It's not just about achieving goals, it's about achieving goals using an internally consistent framework of tools. The tools have no meaning without the goals, but by the same token the goals have no meaning without the tools. At least in my experience, players remember their characters finding and wielding Arcthresh, the Blue Storm, against the wicked orc shaman-king Drogthul, but they are just as excited about Arcthresh's attack bonus and bonus electrical damage, and what that bonus and damage speciifcally did to Drogthul's eyeballs when they rolled a natural 20 and hit him in the throat.

That's why it's a game and not round-robin storytelling.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
DMZ2112 said:
That's a bit of a stretch. A derived spell list, the capacity to disrupt undead, and an equipment loadout somewhere between rogue and fighter have all defined the cleric in every edition of the game that I'm familiar with.

There's plenty of examples of clerics since 2e who can't disrupt undead and have different equipment loadouts, so these can't be said to be definitive. This aspect has changed. It's not something that all clerics share. Since your 2e specialty priest who could turn fire elementals and had no armor was still a cleric, there's gotta be something else that defined him as a cleric.

As far as I can see, what all clerics across all editions have in common is basically story.

Not that is necessarily must be this way for every game, just that it is this way for D&D.

Because if that's the case I don't see how you don't have thousands of classes, in order to give players access to the breadth of expository roles they deserve.

It's true. I'd basically agree that the number of possible classes is essentially infinite -- In D&D, the particular classes that a particular campaign/game/table/setting uses helps define the kinds of story characters the game has a focus on. It's why settings can change the class roster as freely as they change the race roster -- and part of the appeal of playing in other settings (playing different kinds of heroes). Eberron wouldn't be Eberron without an Artificer, defined as a worker of technological magic (whatever the mechanics used to represent that).

Well, it's a combination of both, isn't it?
...
At least in my experience, players remember their characters finding and wielding Arcthresh, the Blue Storm, against the wicked orc shaman-king Drogthul, but they are just as excited about Arcthresh's attack bonus and bonus electrical damage, and what that bonus and damage speciifcally did to Drogthul's eyeballs when they rolled a natural 20 and hit him in the throat.

I'm not convinced that it is. To me, the 65 HP of healing is in the service of the story of saving your friend from the orcs. The attack bonus, electrical damage, and natural 20 are all in service of the story of slaying Drogthul. The story is clearly the important thing there. You can see this by removing the story entirely: is a player excited about an attack bonus or a die roll when it's just adding and subtracting numbers without a narrative? If you remove the mechanics, is the player excited about slaying Drogthul even if he doesn't have to track attack bonuses or roll dice?

Without the mechanics, the story is still interesting. Without the story, the mechanics are kind of pointless. This drills down to the class level: even with different mechanics, a hero who channels the might of his goddess is still interesting. Meanwhile, without the hero, 1d8 recovered hp is kind of meaningless.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
DMZ2112 said:
That's a bit of a stretch. A derived spell list, the capacity to disrupt undead, and an equipment loadout somewhere between rogue and fighter have all defined the cleric in every edition of the game that I'm familiar with.

There's plenty of examples of clerics since 2e who can't disrupt undead and have different equipment loadouts, so these can't be said to be definitive. This aspect has changed. It's not something that all clerics share. Since your 2e specialty priest who could turn fire elementals and had no armor was still a cleric, there's gotta be something else that defined him as a cleric.

As far as I can see, what all clerics across all editions have in common is basically story.

Not that is necessarily must be this way for every game, just that it is this way for D&D.

Because if that's the case I don't see how you don't have thousands of classes, in order to give players access to the breadth of expository roles they deserve.

It's true. I'd basically agree that the number of possible classes is essentially infinite -- In D&D, the particular classes that a particular campaign/game/table/setting uses helps define the kinds of story characters the game has a focus on. It's why settings can change the class roster as freely as they change the race roster -- and part of the appeal of playing in other settings (playing different kinds of heroes). Eberron wouldn't be Eberron without an Artificer, defined as a worker of technological magic (whatever the mechanics used to represent that).

Well, it's a combination of both, isn't it?
...
At least in my experience, players remember their characters finding and wielding Arcthresh, the Blue Storm, against the wicked orc shaman-king Drogthul, but they are just as excited about Arcthresh's attack bonus and bonus electrical damage, and what that bonus and damage speciifcally did to Drogthul's eyeballs when they rolled a natural 20 and hit him in the throat.

I'm not convinced that it is. To me, the 65 HP of healing is in the service of the story of saving your friend from the orcs. The attack bonus, electrical damage, and natural 20 are all in service of the story of slaying Drogthul. The story is clearly the important thing there. You can see this by removing the story entirely: is a player excited about an attack bonus or a die roll when it's just adding and subtracting numbers without a narrative? If you remove the mechanics, is the player excited about slaying Drogthul even if he doesn't have to track attack bonuses or roll dice?

Without the mechanics, the story is still interesting. Without the story, the mechanics are kind of pointless. This drills down to the class level: even with different mechanics, a hero who channels the might of his goddess is still interesting. Meanwhile, without the hero, 1d8 recovered hp is kind of meaningless.
 

pemerton

Legend
the Big Model Wiki defines 'positioning' as "behavioral, social, and contextual statements about a character." So in this context, the question is really whether a character's class makes a statement about that character. To me, this seems contentious in the extreme, and therefore best avoided.
I was using "fictional positioning" in the way I learned from Vincent Baker's blog, or maybe a slightly expansive version of that. Here's "positioning":

if I want to shoot your character with a gun, I have to first establish that there is a gun present, that it is loaded etc. . .​

Here, Emily's talking about the player's position: what gameplay options do I, as a player, have available to me right now? Over the course of the game, my legitimate moves change; what are my legitimate moves at this moment of play?​

"Fictional positioning", then, is moves available on account of the state of the ingame fiction.

The relevant fiction can both be part of the PC ("I am able to bully the shopkeeper because I'm a 6'-something 200 lb hafl orc") or external to the PC ("I will have trouble climbing that wall because it is very slippery") or relational between PC and external gameworld ("I am able to defeat those enemies in combat because they are not as tough as me").

Not all mechanics establish fictional positioniong in and of themselves: for instance, that a cleric starts with N skill slots doesn't tell us much about the fictional position of the cleric PC until we know how those slots can be filled; that a fighter starts with X hit points doesn't tell us much about the fictional position of the fighter (is he comaratively tough, or comparatively vulnerable?) outside the broader context of the combat mechanics.

But a class's abilities need to tell us something about the fictional positioning of PCs of that class: are they (on the whole) tough or vulnerable? Educated or not? Capable in the wilderness, or capable in the city? Beloved by the gods and their servants, or spurned by others and reliant upon their own resources?

If, after building a PC, none of these questions have been answered, then I'm not sure that the PC build rules have done their job, of telling me what sort of PC I've built. In a class system, some of these answers are going to have to be provided by class options (in D&Dnext, others will come from race and background). Hence my reason for saying that I don't think classes can be devoid of flavour.

A derived spell list, the capacity to disrupt undead, and an equipment loadout somewhere between rogue and fighter have all defined the cleric in every edition of the game that I'm familiar with.
Agreed. The default flavour of the cleric is heavy warrior who is not quite as tough as a fighter but who hates undead and who heals his/her friends.

At least in my experience, players remember their characters finding and wielding Arcthresh, the Blue Storm, against the wicked orc shaman-king Drogthul, but they are just as excited about Arcthresh's attack bonus and bonus electrical damage, and what that bonus and damage speciifcally did to Drogthul's eyeballs when they rolled a natural 20 and hit him in the throat.
Agreed.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
There's plenty of examples of clerics since 2e who can't disrupt undead and have different equipment loadouts, so these can't be said to be definitive.

I feel like this observation is dismissive. It is not incorrect, but, taking your robed water cleric example: while he turns fire elementals instead of undead the turn mechanic remains intact; while he wears no armor his other abilities are buffed in some way to make up for that loss because armor is still the default assumption. He may not strongly resemble the default cleric in aspect, but on paper he is defined by the same elements. The robed water cleric is not a "cleric and," he is a "cleric but." And I will take that distinction all the way to the bank -- the cleric I describe has been the D&D standard for at least 35 years.

As far as I can see, what all clerics across all editions have in common is basically story.

What story unifies an undead-turning, hammer-and-shield-wielding chaplain and an elemental-turning, staff-wielding priest? Certainly their stories are no more the same than the same chaplain's and a fighter's?

It's true. I'd basically agree that the number of possible classes is essentially infinite

All right, but logistically you must realize this is impossible. If classes must be definitive, and the source of that definition is based in character concept rather than capability, the only possible solution is that there be a class for all possible character concepts. Even when tempered by setting -- Eberron may be improved by the inclusion of the artificer, but by your rules it is hopelessly crippled by the countless nameless classes it omits!

I'm not convinced that it is. To me, the 65 HP of healing is in the service of the story of saving your friend from the orcs. The attack bonus, electrical damage, and natural 20 are all in service of the story of slaying Drogthul. The story is clearly the important thing there. You can see this by removing the story entirely: is a player excited about an attack bonus or a die roll when it's just adding and subtracting numbers without a narrative? If you remove the mechanics, is the player excited about slaying Drogthul even if he doesn't have to track attack bonuses or roll dice?

At my table, a cheer goes up for a natural 20 even if the party is fighting giant rats in a cesspit. Admittedly I lack empirical evidence, but my gut feeling is that the dungeon master simply announcing, "Put those dice down -- you kill Drogthul with a mighty blow to the throat; as his life blood spills to the floor, Arcthresh's cerulean energies surge through his body and pop his accursed eyeballs in a shower of gore," is significantly more disappointing than him saying, "Nat 20, huh? Nice. The orc king dies. In his hoard you find..." At least in the latter case the characters had a role in the victory.

I was using "fictional positioning" in the way I learned from Vincent Baker's blog, or maybe a slightly expansive version of that. Here's "positioning":

And I went to the Forge specifically to look it up to make sure I was approaching the discussion correctly. Sigh. Oh, well, at least we seem to have come to similar places, if through different means.

"Fictional positioning", then, is moves available on account of the state of the ingame fiction.

This is my understanding as well.

The relevant fiction can both be part of the PC ("I am able to bully the shopkeeper because I'm a 6'-something 200 lb hafl orc")

My concern was that you were suggesting that membership in the class itself "made moves available" to a character, for instance, "I am able to bully the shopkeeper because I am a barbarian."

But a class's abilities need to tell us something about the fictional positioning of PCs of that class: are they (on the whole) tough or vulnerable? Educated or not? Capable in the wilderness, or capable in the city? Beloved by the gods and their servants, or spurned by others and reliant upon their own resources?

I absolutely agree. As long as the flavor colors mechanics, and it is those mechanics that define their relevant class, I have no objection to "class flavor" influencing character positioning in the fiction.
 

pemerton

Legend
My concern was that you were suggesting that membership in the class itself "made moves available" to a character, for instance, "I am able to bully the shopkeeper because I am a barbarian."

<snip>

I absolutely agree. As long as the flavor colors mechanics, and it is those mechanics that define their relevant class, I have no objection to "class flavor" influencing character positioning in the fiction.
I think if a player says "I am able to bully the shopkeeper because I am a barbarian", and is using "barbarian" as shorthand for "very strong and obviously vicously martial character with an evident disposition to violent fits of rage", then I'm OK with that.

But if I am meant to be envisaging "barbarian" as something having meaning within the gameworld itself, rather than as a metagame shorthand that everyone playing the game at the table understands, then I don't want that at all. The only D&D class that I can really see having some sort of "real" ingame existence is the wizard, because of its ultra-distinctive spell book mechanics. But even then if someone used wizards as written, but when it came to working out the ingame fiction reflavoured the spell book in various ways (rune scrolls, totem staffs, etc) then that wouldn't bother me.

I think we're on the same page here. (But if I've misunderstood you and we're not, I'm happy to be corrected.)

If classes must be definitive, and the source of that definition is based in character concept rather than capability, the only possible solution is that there be a class for all possible character concepts.
Not wanting to create yet another damage-on-a-miss thread, but this relates to an issue that has come up a couple of times on those threads.

Part of the "concept" of the GWF who does (modest) damage even on a miss is that s/he is so relentless, so overpowering in combat then no one can escape at least being somewhat worn down when engaging with him/her for 6 seconds of fighting. In giving effect to this concept, other - in principle equally viable concepts - take second place, such as the concept of the "graceful dodger". (Not completely - you can certainly approximate a graceful dodger via a rogue using cunning action, but in mechanical terms it's a little more roundabout than the straightforward autodamage of the GWF.)

I think that designing mechanics is always going to foreground some concepts and background others, and I think in a class-based system that's particularly so. Designing the ability bundles that make up classes will mean that some abilities are strongly correlated, and others separated, in ways that open the doors to some concepts and close the doors to others. (Eg the rogue, and not the fighter, has been the "precision fighter" in D&D at least since 3E. In AD&D the monk to some extent had this role, with + half level to damage based on knowledge of weapons and anatomy; and likewise the thief and assassin. The fighter has never had it.)

So I'm not saying that there has to be a separate class for every possible character concept - multiple concepts could fit under most classes (eg in 4e the STR paladin and CHA paladin are in my view at least different concepts, and the charismatic warlord and the INT-based archer warlord even moreso are different concepts under the same class umbrella, and there are plenty of other examples too). But I think that there will always be many character concepts that cannot be realised effectively within a given PC build system, and I think a class system in particular is likely to make this so, because of the way it takes certain archetypes (whether defined in story terms, mechanical terms or both) and puts so much effort into distinguishing and prioritising them.

On the particular example of the cleric being discussed by you and [MENTION=2067]Kamikaze Midget[/MENTION], I think the traditional D&D heavy weapons + turning + healing cleric, and the 2nd ed era specialty priest, are the same class in name only. They have no more in common within one another than either does with the paladin (in fact, the paladin has more in common with the trad cleric than with the robed fire-wielding specialty priest) or with the wizard (who I think has as much in common with the robed fire-wielding priest as that priest does with the trad cleric - as seen in 4e, where both are non-melee capable controllers).

Working out how to allocate these sorts of build options across classes is a technical problem - is it more efficient, given the range of options you are trying to present and catalogue and integrate, to make the specialty priest a cleric variant with different proficiencies, class features and spell list (but perhaps comparable hp - which has the potential to be broken if the character ends up just a wizard with better HD, as can sometimes be the case for druids)? Or to make the specialty priest a varian mage with comparable proficiencies, and some element of the wizard spell list, but a different "power source" (divine rather than arcane - Rolemaster solves the problem this way)?

In the abstract I'm not persuaded that it is anything more than a technical problem of the sort I've described. In the context of writing a new edition of D&D, though, it is also a marketing problem - do your (hoped for) customers prefer their classes catalogued by mechanical function (suggests the fire-throwing specialty priest as a mage variant) or by backstory and power source (suggests the fire-throwing specialist priest as a cleric variant)? 4e of course tried to cater to both approaches, by creating new classes to fill roles using new power sources, but then got criticised for class bloat!

My feeling is that D&Dnext will take the more conservative (2nd ed AD&D) route and class fire-wielding specialty priests as cleric variants rather than mage variants, and I predict that one upshot will be either (i) complaints about characters being forced to have turning abilities and/or healing abilities that don't fit their concepts, or (ii) particular builds that are, in effect, wizards with d8 HD that are therefore seen to be overpowered, or perhaps (iii) both.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
Working out how to allocate these sorts of build options across classes is a technical problem - is it more efficient, given the range of options you are trying to present and catalogue and integrate, to make the specialty priest a cleric variant with different proficiencies, class features and spell list (but perhaps comparable hp - which has the potential to be broken if the character ends up just a wizard with better HD, as can sometimes be the case for druids)? Or to make the specialty priest a varian mage with comparable proficiencies, and some element of the wizard spell list, but a different "power source" (divine rather than arcane - Rolemaster solves the problem this way)?
This is spot on, and what I was (poorly) trying to say when I said I preferred a mechanical skeleton over a narrative one. That is to say, I prefer the specialty priest as a variant mage, because of commonality of effect; rather than variant cleric because of commonality of backstory, as reflected in the poorly defined "power sources".

It's a main reason I've been advocating that in a back-to-basics approach to D&D tropes, Next should emphasize the cosmological differences between arcane and divine, and use that as a rationale to divide classes between power sources. Spell out in the core that divine magic is only capable of effects like X, and that arcane can only do effects like Y. That way, you have fidelity to the classic D&D narrative, while still retaining a meaningful mechanical difference between classes.

Of course, this doesn't quite paper over the central tension of D&D pantheons, which goes roughly like this:

1) There are gods for pretty much everything.
2) Priests worship these gods, and gain powers related to their particular god's interests.
3) Priests powers are represented using divine magic, which has a limited set of historical effects available to it.
4) To represent the breadth of their divine powers, priests need reskinning or many different granted abilities.

You see this tension in 2e specialty priests and the 3e, 4e, 5e domain systems. 4e took a narrative crack at explaining the similarity of divine powers by saying that divine power originates from the Astral Sea, and the gods are on a team and merely expedite its use, rather than granting it directly. I think that sort of idea works well to represent clerics in their current 5e state.

If you want clerics who are channels of their god, and gain powers flavored to match their god, I'd much rather see clerics who gain 3e warlock type invocations related to their god's domains. A priest of a fire god should do fire stuff, not heal and bless and turn undead.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
But if I am meant to be envisaging "barbarian" as something having meaning within the gameworld itself, rather than as a metagame shorthand that everyone playing the game at the table understands, then I don't want that at all.

...

I think we're on the same page here. (But if I've misunderstood you and we're not, I'm happy to be corrected.)

Nope, that's it in a nutshell. The part of me that can't wipe the smile off my face when I'm watching the old D&D cartoon thinks that the idea of a four-color D&D setting where the classes each represent universally recognized identities ("Take extra care when Yanick is on duty. He's not just a guardsman -- he's a Fighter.") has undeniable legs, but I would never propose that it should in any way be core canon. It's just too niche.

Regarding the rest of your post, I think I may have misrepresented myself in my vehemence -- I absolutely think classes should be guided by flavor, and I am not suggesting that they be sterile stat blocks. I was a huge supporter of the D&D4 role/power source grid (or mechanics/flavor grid, if you prefer), and I was deeply disappointed when it seemed they just gave up on it wholesale. Despite my fervent belief that all of D&D characterdom can be distilled down to less than ten classes, I would not have objected in the slightest if WotC had stuck to their guns and filled out the grid, resulting in 30-40 classes.

The trouble with D&D4 was not the number of classes; it was the interchangeability of those classes. The classes were insufficiently defined, not in the least because many of them occupied the same role/power source combination. The creation of the roles and power sources was an excellent first step, but it should have tipped WotC off to the notion that whether you are differentiating classes based on mechanics OR flavor, either way you need a certain amount of distance between each concept.

I think there are lots of reasons for this, but the big one is easily explained: D&D is not a competitive game, and classes do not need to be balanced against each other. However, if two classes are too similar, suddenly they do have to be perfectly balanced, or else one will be played and the other panned. Each class should have its own reason for being, and its own draw to players. That way, it will always have an audience.

Returning to the thread topic, that is my concern for the warlock. It needs to be functionally distinct from the wizard. If it's a pet class or a gish, that would be great! Neither of these things are yet represented in D&D PC canon. But it can't just be a spooky spellcaster, because then it's going to be in a permanent balance war with the wizard, because anyone can reflavor the wizard to be spooky if the wizard is a better class mechanically, or reflavor the warlock to be less spooky if the warlock is a better class mechanically.
 


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