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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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

Jim Cummins

First Post
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.
 

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Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Very high specific numbers aside, I could dig that.
Well the high numbers is part of the concept. In RPG fantasy, there are a few archetype that do the Setup into Very High Spike Damage as part of their mechanics and lore
  1. The Assassin
  2. The Bomber
  3. The Charge up Spellcaster
  4. The Wrestler
  5. The Combo based Light Warrior
The Assassin is already a Rogue subclass. Firearms has to be accepted for a Bomber class, D&D's magic doesn't work well with charging up. So you could combine 4 & 5 into a single showman Gladiator class.

Now if Rogues all ready deal Xd6 bonus damage every turn, you will have to make the Gladiator deal at least deal damage similar to the same damage a rogue deals in those turns. So if you say it takes 2 turns of setup to do a signature move, then the move needs to deal bonus 3xd6 damage.
 


Laurefindel

Legend
Okay. I'm not sure where you're going with this.
You mean, other than gratuitous pedantry? ;)

A class (I’m excluding multiclass atm) might be green because we designed it through a green lens, filtering red out. Or perhaps with fine enough blue parts and yellow parts to look green even when you look at it relatively close.

Or it is built with green as a primary colour, perhaps with a bit of red in to make it yellower, or a bit of blue to make it minty-green.

but I’ve been trying to explain it with concrete example for t he last half hour and I’m getting baloney… So it seems it was only pedantry after all. Mea culpa.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I just want to reassure everyone I'm fine. Luckily casters don't use ranged weapons and barbarians don't know what ranged weapons are, so I only had to survive the Fighters, Rangers, and Rogues (and some weirdo Monk with a musket).
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Well the high numbers is part of the concept. In RPG fantasy, there are a few archetype that do the Setup into Very High Spike Damage as part of their mechanics and lore
  1. The Assassin
  2. The Bomber
  3. The Charge up Spellcaster
  4. The Wrestler
  5. The Combo based Light Warrior
The Assassin is already a Rogue subclass. Firearms has to be accepted for a Bomber class, D&D's magic doesn't work well with charging up. So you could combine 4 & 5 into a single showman Gladiator class.

Now if Rogues all ready deal Xd6 bonus damage every turn, you will have to make the Gladiator deal at least deal damage similar to the same damage a rogue deals in those turns. So if you say it takes 2 turns of setup to do a signature move, then the move needs to deal bonus 3xd6 damage.
I actually don’t agree that the Assassin is necessarily a “charge up” class.

I think the gladiator should probably be compared in damage spikes to the Paladin, though, since it has to be limited to hit the concept. Probably balanced around every other round or every 3 round spikes that are maybe a little bigger than a paladin’s spike, and can be used a little less often. Possibly using a limited resource pool that is also used for social things and impressive counters, both of which also fit the idea of the gladiator/prize fighter.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
In other words, a simple concept becomes complicated and fiddly. Plus, up-front burst damage is usually preferred to back end damage. It's sadly just more efficient to make enemies go away sooner than later.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I actually don’t agree that the Assassin is necessarily a “charge up” class.

I think the gladiator should probably be compared in damage spikes to the Paladin, though, since it has to be limited to hit the concept. Probably balanced around every other round or every 3 round spikes that are maybe a little bigger than a paladin’s spike, and can be used a little less often. Possibly using a limited resource pool that is also used for social things and impressive counters, both of which also fit the idea of the gladiator/prize fighter.
Assassin in fantasy and RPGs are mosly Setup into Kill types.

8-10 dice of damage at level 5 is balanced around 3 turns of setup. Backend damage and requiring a setup are 2 penalties. Even if you make it come from a resource, you'd need to make the damage very high to make up for the penalties.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
Assassin in fantasy and RPGs are mosly Setup into Kill types.

8-10 dice of damage at level 5 is balanced around 3 turns of setup. Backend damage and requiring a setup are 2 penalties. Even if you make it come from a resource, you'd need to make the damage very high to make up for the penalties.
Either that or ‘low accuracy, massive damage’ types where whiffing your attack results in you doing no or scratch damage instead,

The ‘required setup’ would probably be needing some advantage on the hit same as rogue sneak attack but would execute differently rather than just additional damage, or maybe they would have to sacrifice actual Advantage to instead perform ‘assassinate’ or whatever the ability would be called.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Another missing archetype is the Warrior with Superpowers.

Demigods from various mythologies. Various chosen ones. Warhammer Grail Knights and Chaos Knights. Dragon Age Grey Wardens. CDPR Witchers, warriors with dragon, demon,vampire, or werewolf heritage.

D&D 5e doesn't have a way to represent a warrior with some sort of superpower than can trained and used frequently. Spells usually have too sort a duration to produce the effect and the cast and lose long rest aspect of slots doesn't match many superpowers of fantasy warriors with magical heritage or have undergone special magical or alchemical procedures.

I mean at this point, a cult of demon worshippers flooding their warriors with demon steroids isn't even absurd outside of D&D. And on the heroic side, "Warrior with Super Strength, Agelessness, or Near invulnerability" is older than Knights.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Another missing archetype is the Warrior with Superpowers.

Demigods from various mythologies. Various chosen ones. Warhammer Grail Knights and Chaos Knights. Dragon Age Grey Wardens. CDPR Witchers, warriors with dragon, demon,vampire, or werewolf heritage.

D&D 5e doesn't have a way to represent a warrior with some sort of superpower than can trained and used frequently. Spells usually have too sort a duration to produce the effect and the cast and lose long rest aspect of slots doesn't match many superpowers of fantasy warriors with magical heritage or have undergone special magical or alchemical procedures.

I mean at this point, a cult of demon worshippers flooding their warriors with demon steroids isn't even absurd outside of D&D. And on the heroic side, "Warrior with Super Strength, Agelessness, or Near invulnerability" is older than Knights.
I keep arguing that this should be the default, but alas, the "Everyman Hero" guys get really irritated about this.
 


Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Warlord (or even better, give its stuff to the fighter to pad at little its niche)
this is my preferred solution.. Game Plan: start by collapsing PDK into core class follow up by modifying all BM maneuvers to affect and protect nearby allies but also I mean to add quite a bit including bravura (risk trading options) and initiative boosting/sharing and multi-target maneuvers and some bits for the core game like more robust universal charging rules then let the battlemaster maneuvers interact with those.
(AND add ways for mental stats to not be a dump.) For me the idea starts simple but sort of rolls.
 


steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
"Needed" Fantasy Archetypes:

The Warrior Guy: Fighter.
The Casterly Guy: Mage/"Wizard"/Magic-user.
The Skillz Guy: Thief/"Rogue."
The Support Guy: Cleric.

The Warrior + Casterly: "Swordmage/Spellsword/Magus/Witcher" types, some Bards, some Warlocks guys.
The Warrior + Skillz: Barbarian, "Warlord," Acrobat, Assassin, and/or some Monk guys.
The Warrior + Support: Paladin/Cavalier/Knightly type, some Ranger, some Shamans, and/or some Monk guys [Warlord can go here, if you need a separate one].

The Casterly + Skillz: some Bards, some Warlocks, and/or "Trickster/Jester"-Rogue types [Artificer can go here, if you need one].
The Casterly + Support: Druid, Witch, some Warlocks, some Shamans, and/or "Invoker"/caster-Priest-Cleric types [Artificer can go here, if you need one].

The Skillz + Support: some Bards, some Rangers, some Shamans, Acrobat, some Monk guys.

Everything else is a matter of changing/specific mechanical and fluff gravy.
 

this is my preferred solution.. Game Plan: start by collapsing PDK into core class follow up by modifying all BM maneuvers to affect and protect nearby allies but also I mean to add quite a bit including bravura (risk trading options) and initiative boosting/sharing and multi-target maneuvers and some bits for the core game like more robust universal charging rules then let the battlemaster maneuvers interact with those.
(AND add ways for mental stats to not be a dump.) For me the idea starts simple but sort of rolls.
The main problem is they already tried that, and it wasn't good.

Like, that's literally what the Battle Master is supposed to be. And what the Banneret is supposed to be. They're both supposed to be "the Fighter killed the Warlord and took its stuff" options. It didn't work. People who disliked Warlords are at best iffy on the Warlord-like elements of these subclasses, and people who liked the Warlord rightly point out how small and weak these options are. The Banneret in particular went over like a lead balloon with Warlord fans.

Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that 5e took two and a half of its three years of public playtesting just to figure out the basic Fighter kit, and as a result, did not have enough time to pivot to some new Warlord-type options in the final stretch after the utter failure of the "Specialties" mechanic.

For those who missed or forgot the D&D Next playtest: originally the designers claimed they were going to support Warlord-type options for Fighters, explicitly including martial healing. Notably, this did not appear in the final product, and the team got real, real quiet about all this stuff in the last 6 months or so before publication. That's because they had decided to shift the Warlord-type Fighter to focusing on "Specialties," which were pre-made bundles of feats that you would choose early on in a character's journey, and gain slowly over time. You could invent your own specialty if you wanted, but the pre-made bundles were intended to be more digestible/accessible. Problem was, Specialties were...just not very good. And they didn't have the time to playtest them until they were good--they had only a few months left at most, because the D&D Next playtest moved at glacially slow speeds. So, almost inevitably, they simply dropped Specialties entirely, since nothing depended on them...except the Warlord Fighter. As a result, the Warlord Fighter was basically completely dropped from 5e, despite the designers openly saying they intended to include it.

Soooooo...yeah. You may think this is an effective strategy, but we've been here before and it didn't work. In fact, I'm almost certain you were present for the "Warlord Quarantine" that ENWorld went through after 5e launched and failed to live up to expectations on that front.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The ‘required setup’ would probably be needing some advantage on the hit same as rogue sneak attack but would execute differently rather than just additional damage, or maybe they would have to sacrifice actual Advantage to instead perform ‘assassinate’ or whatever the ability would be called.
To me, the Assassin should do fine without setup, but when the target is vulnerable they should be able to spike like crazy.

One way to have both is to allow study to make the target vulnerable, but also allow being hidden from them to do so.

My assassin class has a damage spike fueled by “shrouds”, where you place the shroud and get benefits to hide from and track the target, and you can consume the shroud to deal several d10s of damage. Their other main ability is that they get extended crit range against target that are unaware of their presence, incapacitated, or under a poison, fear, or charm, effect from the assassin. Such targets are also, if they are reduced to HP equal to the assassin’s assassin level or lower, reduced to 0hp instead.

But the class also has extra attack and can sometimes attack as a bonus action after killing a creature with an attack, because all of the inspirational assassins I am drawing from are also good at normal hand to hand combat.

They’re rounded out by some speciality tools (mechanically similar to the warlock’s choice of boon), a subclass, and some utility abilities they can use as a bonus action or in place of an attack when they take the attack action. The subclasses mostly make them very good at a specific methodology of assassination, like poisoning, infiltration via disguise and “social stealth”, stealthy parkour and “drop bear” attacks from above (assassins creed style), or shadow magic and teleportation. Their direct lethality is almost entirely in the base class. It’s a fun class, and surprisingly needs to be slightly tuned up if anything, but further playtesting will tell.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
The main problem is they already tried that, and it wasn't good.

Like, that's literally what the Battle Master is supposed to be. And what the Banneret is supposed to be. They're both supposed to be "the Fighter killed the Warlord and took its stuff" options. It didn't work. People who disliked Warlords are at best iffy on the Warlord-like elements of these subclasses, and people who liked the Warlord rightly point out how small and weak these options are. The Banneret in particular went over like a lead balloon with Warlord fans.

Of course, some of this has to do with the fact that 5e took two and a half of its three years of public playtesting just to figure out the basic Fighter kit, and as a result, did not have enough time to pivot to some new Warlord-type options in the final stretch after the utter failure of the "Specialties" mechanic.

For those who missed or forgot the D&D Next playtest: originally the designers claimed they were going to support Warlord-type options for Fighters, explicitly including martial healing. Notably, this did not appear in the final product, and the team got real, real quiet about all this stuff in the last 6 months or so before publication. That's because they had decided to shift the Warlord-type Fighter to focusing on "Specialties," which were pre-made bundles of feats that you would choose early on in a character's journey, and gain slowly over time. You could invent your own specialty if you wanted, but the pre-made bundles were intended to be more digestible/accessible. Problem was, Specialties were...just not very good. And they didn't have the time to playtest them until they were good--they had only a few months left at most, because the D&D Next playtest moved at glacially slow speeds. So, almost inevitably, they simply dropped Specialties entirely, since nothing depended on them...except the Warlord Fighter. As a result, the Warlord Fighter was basically completely dropped from 5e, despite the designers openly saying they intended to include it.

Soooooo...yeah. You may think this is an effective strategy, but we've been here before and it didn't work. In fact, I'm almost certain you were present for the "Warlord Quarantine" that ENWorld went through after 5e launched and failed to live up to expectations on that front.
Except this is conflating multiple distinct concepts.

One method of making a warlord fighter didn’t get through the playtest for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with the actual warlord part of the class, and a couple others have had lukewarm reception almost entirely because of how little of it a subclass can give.

Neither of those relates in any meaningful way to the concept of letting the base class eat the banneret and Battlemaster and thereby power up the warlord bits into a satisfying level.
 

vincegetorix

Jewel of the North
no that applies to only casters...who get to whip reality for free /sarc

Everyman should stay in his Tier (low levels)
I think I start to agree. Low-magic/gritty should be 1-10 level, high magic should start at 11-ish.

There's plenty of features you could give to martial classes to make them more suited to high level, high magic campaigns pass 10th level.

Rogue:
  • Steal Thoughts (see Mind drinker vampire)
  • Nose for treasures, partial x-ray vision.
  • At-will partial invisibility (see Blind Spot from UA mystic's at-will power)
  • Shadow Jump (see Shadow Monk)

Fighter:
  • Spend Second Wind to clear an effect.
  • Share Second Wind, Action Surge (PDK features).
  • Coop features (see Expert's inspiring help features)
  • Action Surge boosts movement/jump/lift etc
  • Dispatch low-CR creatures on a crit.

Barbarian:
  • Dispel magic on a hit.
  • Rage frightens in an AoE or pushes and deals thunder damage when first entered.

Ranger:
  • Break 1 use of Legendary Resistance
  • Ignore the effect of Regional Effects
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Well, Everyman hero guy here thinks it’s easier to add a class that does it than work under the assumption than everyone is a demigod/super-soldier/
Well, Everyman hero guy here thinks it’s easier to add a class that does it than work under the assumption than everyone is a demigod/super-soldier/
That's why you do

One Class for Achilles.
One Class for Agamemnon
One class for Odysseus
 

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