D&D's Missing Archetypes

Dungeons & Dragons' classes have expanded to include popular tropes from fantasy fiction. Now D&D itself is influencing what archetypes appear in fiction. There's still a few missing.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay

This thought experiment is rooted in the idea that classes need to be in the Players Handbook to be deemed official. This article specifically addresses popular fantasy characters that don't seem to easily fit into one of the existing classes.

Of the original classes, the fighter and wizard find their inspiration in literature and history. Of those with historical roots, bards and druids were inspired by Celtic history (the bard was originally much less a musician and much more a multi-class fighter/thief/druid) and paladins from chansons de geste (and specifically the fantasy fiction, Three Hearts and Three Lions). Speaking of fiction, many of the classes were inspired by the popular fiction at the time: the wizard and rogue were patterned after Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, clerics were inspired by Dracula's vampire-hunting Van Helsing (more likely the Hammer films than the original novel), rangers after Aragorn from J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, barbarians after R.E. Howard's Conan series, and monks from the Destroyer series featuring Remo Williams.

After their debut, many classes were largely refined. Bards became a full class, clerics became more religious, and monks diversified to represent more martial arts. But the sorcerer and warlock are more recent, filling niches that better represented other spellcasting sources. Wizards were very much a Vancian-inspiration, so sorcerers filled the many other spellcasting archetypes in literature in video games. Warlocks were the second antihero after rogues with some dubious magical origins that made them different from sorcerers and wizards, a caster more inspired by cultists and witches than magical formulae and raw willpower.

The archetypes below are the next evolution of these ideas, inspired by new media that has debuted since and roles that aren't quite being filled by existing classes. That said, variants of all these exist in some form, but not as a core class. Almost every character archetype can be recreated by tinkering with the rules, be it via third party supplements or homebrew. But at some point an invisible line is crossed where players expect to be able to play the character they see in other media. If fantasy games, movies, and books are any indication, here's three archetypes that might be on the path to becoming core classes in D&D's future.

Artificer​

The rise of steampunk-style characters has been propagated by video games that regularly included magical tech in their settings. That in turn has created its own media offshoots, like Wakfu (based on the titular Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and Arcane (based on the online battle arena game League of Legends). And of course, anime is a major influence, which was regularly mixing fantasy and technology going as far back as the works of Studio Ghibli with Castle in the Sky.

The artificer originally appeared as a specialist wizard in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Option: Spells & Magic, only to reach prominence in Third Edition with the Eberron Campaign Setting. It was an official base class in Fourth Edition's Eberron's Player's Guide. The artificer has since shown up Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, but it's not part of the core classes in the Player's Handbook.

The reason for that may be that artificers have built-in assumptions about the campaign universe that requires some "magitech" inclusion by the dungeon master, and not everyone may be comfortable with that default assumption. That said, clerics assume a divine connection to deities, barbarians assume a culture of raging primal warriors, and warlocks assume a (somewhat sinister) connection to other beings willing to exchange magic for power. It's not that big of a stretch to include artificer in the core rules and it may well be included in future editions.

Witcher​

The Witcher was originally a book series, which in turn inspired a video game franchise, which in turn created a Netflix series. Watching The Witcher series feels a lot like watching someone's Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and that's no accident. Witchers have a lot in common with rangers and in the original setting where they originated, may well have been inspired by them. But origins aside, the ranger has always been something of an uneasy fit for a witcher.

That's at least due in part to the revisions to the core ranger class itself. Xanathar's Guide introduced a proper monster slayer archetype that fits the witcher mold. And of course there's the Bloodhunter class created by Critical Role's Matt Mercer in The Explorer's Guide to Wildemount.

Gunslinger​

Critical Role is so popular that it's begun to influence the game that inspired it, so it's perhaps not a surprise that another of Mercer's creations, the gunslinger, fills a missing archetype. Like the artificer, the gunslinger presupposes a level of technology that is not currently the default in D&D. But also like artificers, gunslingers are everywhere, including in Vox Machina.

In the cartoon, Percival de Rolo is infernally-inspired by the demon Orthax to create firearms, justifying their inclusion in a fantasy setting that didn't initially have firearms at all. Since his debut, Percival is now considered the inventor of these kinds of weapons, which just goes to show how a determined DM can make the archetype's inclusion work in their campaign.

Will They Ever Become Official?​

Pathfinder, with its massive array of character options, is a good guidepost for the future of D&D. All of the above archetypes are covered as base classes, although they're not (currently) part of Pathfinder's core rules either.

Of the three classes, the artificer has steadfastly appeared in each edition, and with each debut a little less attached to the campaign roots of Eberron. Its inclusion in Tasha's completed that journey, so it seems likely that the next logical step is to include artificers in the core rules. If that happens, it's not hard to see a gunslinger being an option, either as a fighter or ranger archetype. And the Witcher-inspired class is likely not far behind, benefiting from a subclass in Xanathar's Guide (the Monster Slayer) and Mercer's own Bloodhunter class.

Your Turn: There are surely archetypes that are popular in fantasy-related media that don't fit any of the current classes. What did I miss?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I guess I was just spoiled by 4e when I could perform some kind of maneuver every turn, and then switching to 5e and playing a Battlemaster was like, wait, that's it? And when I complained about it, everyone was like "OMG if you had more dice it would be broken, look at the damage you'd do!"

And everyone sort of ignored me when I said "I really don't care about that...". For awhile there, the way people talked, I started to think 5e was the "MOAR DAKKA!" edition.
 

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vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
I guess I was just spoiled by 4e when I could perform some kind of maneuver every turn, and then switching to 5e and playing a Battlemaster was like, wait, that's it? And when I complained about it, everyone was like "OMG if you had more dice it would be broken, look at the damage you'd do!"

And everyone sort of ignored me when I said "I really don't care about that...". For awhile there, the way people talked, I started to think 5e was the "MOAR DAKKA!" edition.
I dont know if you remember the increasing/decreasing psionic die they tested once in UA? This could replace Superiority dice pool and allow the fighter to do nearly at-will maneuvers, with a chance of draining its ''stamina'' more quickly. You could even have a later feature allowing the fighter to recover one die size when using Second Wind.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
No, I don't remember that, but that does sound neat. Of course, the 50e version of the Battlemaster will probably have a very different amount of dice, since it appears they want to get away from short rest mechanics. Maybe double proficiency bonus per long rest or something?
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
@James Gasik, here's the general idea. Just switch ''psionic'' to Superiority, and replace de Talent options with BM's Maneuvers. I'd restrict it to once per round or turn, though.

Psionic Talent
You harbor a wellspring of psionic power within yourself, an energy that ebbs and flows as you channel it in various ways. This power is represented by your Psionic Talent die, the starting size of which is a d6.

Psionic Talent Options
You can use your Psionic Talent die in the following ways:

Protective Field. When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to roll your Psionic Talent die and reduce the damage taken by the number rolled plus your Intelligence modifier (minimum reduction of 1), as you create a momentary shield of telekinetic force.

Psi-Powered Leap. When you make a high or long jump, you can roll your Psionic Talent die and extend the distance of the jump, up to a number of feet equal to twice the number rolled plus twice your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1 extra foot). This extra distance costs you only 1 foot of movement.

Telekinetic Strike. You can propel your attacks with telekinetic force. Once on each of your turns, immediately after you deal damage to a target within 30 feet of you with a weapon attack, you can roll your Psionic Talent die and also deal force damage to the target equal to the number rolled.


Changing the Die's Size
If you roll the highest number on your Psionic Talent die, it decreases by one die size after the roll. This represents you burning through your psionic energy. For example, if the die is a d6 and you roll a 6, it becomes a d4. If it's a d4 and you roll a 4, it becomes unusable until you finish a long rest.

Conversely, if you roll a 1 on your Psionic Talent die, it increases by one die size after the roll, up to its starting size. This represents you conserving psionic energy for later use. For example, if you roll a 1 on a d4, the die then becomes a d6.

Whenever you finish a long rest, your Psionic Talent die resets to its starting size. When you reach certain levels in this class, the starting size of your Psionic Talent die increases: at 5th level (d8), 11th level (d10), and 17th level (d12).

Psi Replenishment
As a bonus action, you can calm your mind for a moment and restore your Psionic Talent die to its starting size. You then can't use Psi Replenishment again until you finish a long rest.
 

DeviousQuail

Adventurer
I dont know if you remember the increasing/decreasing psionic die they tested once in UA? This could replace Superiority dice pool and allow the fighter to do nearly at-will maneuvers, with a chance of draining its ''stamina'' more quickly. You could even have a later feature allowing the fighter to recover one die size when using Second Wind.
I really liked the concept except for the randomness of the increase and decrease of the die. Just give a few dice that decrease in size as you use them and partially reset on short rests. Maybe in tier 2 or 3 a feature makes it so you can use your abilities at a d4 even if you're out of dice.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
@James Gasik, here's the general idea. Just switch ''psionic'' to Superiority, and replace de Talent options with BM's Maneuvers. I'd restrict it to once per round or turn, though.

Psionic Talent
You harbor a wellspring of psionic power within yourself, an energy that ebbs and flows as you channel it in various ways. This power is represented by your Psionic Talent die, the starting size of which is a d6.

Psionic Talent Options
You can use your Psionic Talent die in the following ways:

Protective Field. When you or another creature you can see within 30 feet of you takes damage, you can use your reaction to roll your Psionic Talent die and reduce the damage taken by the number rolled plus your Intelligence modifier (minimum reduction of 1), as you create a momentary shield of telekinetic force.

Psi-Powered Leap. When you make a high or long jump, you can roll your Psionic Talent die and extend the distance of the jump, up to a number of feet equal to twice the number rolled plus twice your Intelligence modifier (minimum of 1 extra foot). This extra distance costs you only 1 foot of movement.

Telekinetic Strike. You can propel your attacks with telekinetic force. Once on each of your turns, immediately after you deal damage to a target within 30 feet of you with a weapon attack, you can roll your Psionic Talent die and also deal force damage to the target equal to the number rolled.


Changing the Die's Size
If you roll the highest number on your Psionic Talent die, it decreases by one die size after the roll. This represents you burning through your psionic energy. For example, if the die is a d6 and you roll a 6, it becomes a d4. If it's a d4 and you roll a 4, it becomes unusable until you finish a long rest.

Conversely, if you roll a 1 on your Psionic Talent die, it increases by one die size after the roll, up to its starting size. This represents you conserving psionic energy for later use. For example, if you roll a 1 on a d4, the die then becomes a d6.

Whenever you finish a long rest, your Psionic Talent die resets to its starting size. When you reach certain levels in this class, the starting size of your Psionic Talent die increases: at 5th level (d8), 11th level (d10), and 17th level (d12).

Psi Replenishment
As a bonus action, you can calm your mind for a moment and restore your Psionic Talent die to its starting size. You then can't use Psi Replenishment again until you finish a long rest.
Thanks, vincegetorix, that's a really neat system, and it would have kept me levelling as a Fighter (once I realized I wasn't really going to get more dice, just bigger dice, I opted to multiclass).
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I'm kind of against wedding Maneuvers to Superiority Dice, since you run into the problem that you can't have a lot of dice, or people will start freaking out about your damage. A pool like Ki might be better, IMO. Call it...a "Bravura" pool.
Level up used the term exertion and merged ki with it.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I have seen upper tier manoeuvres that cost two superiority dice but border on magical (allowing multiple allies to move; creating shockwaves to knock multiple enemies prone, granting temp hp to multiple allies and granting saving throws etc.
collapsing extra attacks into the performance or just making them take the whole attack action is also a method.
 


cbwjm

Legend
I guess I was just spoiled by 4e when I could perform some kind of maneuver every turn, and then switching to 5e and playing a Battlemaster was like, wait, that's it? And when I complained about it, everyone was like "OMG if you had more dice it would be broken, look at the damage you'd do!"

And everyone sort of ignored me when I said "I really don't care about that...". For awhile there, the way people talked, I started to think 5e was the "MOAR DAKKA!" edition.
I think battlemaster would be better if it had a pool of dice as it currently does but when it uses those dice up, it switches to a d4, allowing it to keep on using their manoeuvres, but with reduced capability. That, or it just always has a d6 which maybe upgrades eventually to a d8 and it instead gains some flavourful abilities instead of dice upgrades as it levels.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yeah because I didn't see the Battlemaster as being the "damage Fighter". So the fact that you get extra damage dice per short rest was really secondary to me. It wasn't until later that I found out the Champion is actually terrible at dealing damage (wow, a 5% greater chance for a crit that increases to a 10% greater chance at level 15, which at most does another 2d6 damage! Woo).

And once I multiclassed to Rogue and got a few dice of Sneak Attack I really felt there was something wrong about that balance point.

Especially when watching the Paladin throw around spell slots for Smite damage. I mean, I know D&D 5e classes are like comparing apples to oranges, but it's sometimes hard to see what makes the Fighter special until very high levels when they start getting more attacks.
 

Jer

Legend
Supporter
Especially when watching the Paladin throw around spell slots for Smite damage. I mean, I know D&D 5e classes are like comparing apples to oranges, but it's sometimes hard to see what makes the Fighter special until very high levels when they start getting more attacks.

I'm realizing that almost every class in 5e has a solid core idea of what that class is, but the fighter doesn't. What is the fighter? A damage dealing powerhouse? A canny defender? A brilliant tactician? A dumb brute that swings a sword? Almost every other class has to pick something that the are, and then subclasses build or vary that vision, but the core Fighter is just - almost nothing. And so the subclasses have to take up the slack to define what a Fighter "is" in a way that isn't true for the other classes.

(The other class without a solid core idea of what it is is the Wizard IMO. But in a different way - where the core Fighter has almost no definition and leaves it to the subclasses to define what a Fighter is, the core Wizard is given everything, leaving little room for the subclasses to build on or very the idea of the Wizard.)
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Unfortunately that's been true of the Fighter for a long time. His identity is "guy who fights". Except everyone can do that. You can argue he has more options (Fighting Styles, proficiencies/ASI's) than other classes, but there's very little the Fighter has that's unique to them.
 

Scholar/Priest/Sage;

The one who has accumulated a lot of random knowledge

With no armour proficiencies, AC increase with level as they get better at not getting dead.

No specific weapon proficiencies But does get at-hand weapon proficiency

Can pick up a chair, stick, tome, discarded helmet and use them proficiently as weapons, but then discards them. Damage is tied to level regardless of the object.

Has many non weapon/armour proficiencies

With various abilities added as they progress and the environment they are in,

Can make one or two potions,

Have selection of vastly disconnected cantrips, from other classes

Legend lore to randomly have needed knowledge of a little of history, magic, religion, science or super specific in-depth knowledge of one field such as history, or monster physiology.

Maybe can draw a ward to attach a cantrip to an object. Or has leaned a simple psionic talent,

Speaks a variety of languages, bonus to get NPC to reveal information.

Advantage on resisting mind influencing effects,

Has some divine favour, a small benefit that can be requested once per long rest.
I'd add the ability to cast both divine and arcane spells given the eclectic nature of knowledge.
 

We;ll that's because 5e edition was designed around having multiple short rests a day.

Back when I was brainstorming a Scholar class, I pondered having "Brain Points" equal to your Intelligence score per long rest. So with 12 INT, you'd have 12 points a day. That's the same amount as superiority dice as 2 short rest and 1 long rest.
In my group, our book nerd, would do Knowledge checks to acquire (or recalled) factoids about a creature new to us. Your brain points idea is cool if you jave to spend more the more specific you're being. as examples, it takes two points to know if they have a breath/ranged weapon. It takes four points to reveal a vulnerability.
 


Jer

Legend
Supporter
Wizard sidekick.
I laugh, but that's actually seems to be what the fighter originally was back in the day when the game was being developed from the stories I've read about those original sessions - the meat shield that Gygax's players used to make sure their wizard PCs didn't die.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Well the idea was, the Wizard was a portable siege engine- powerful but needs protection. Fighting-men were heroic soldiers, but didn't have the same impact on the battlefield, so yeah, it was their job to protect the artillery.

One man being worth 10 men isn't really all that fantastic if you're fighting 1000 soldiers. One wizard being able to carpet bomb the battlefield, turn regular earth into pea soup, summon fog banks, or send a fireball to hit the commander's tent from the other side of the battle? Yeah that means a lot, even if they can be taken out by a stray arrow.
 

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