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.

dwarf-6692467_960_720.png

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?
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
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
Careful, that first Fighter option is starting to sound like Iron Heart Surge, and you can't mention The Tome of Battle without being prepared for someone's badly researched rant about how it destroyed 3e. : )
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The main problem is they already tried that, and it wasn't good.
No 5e nibbled at best...
Its been quite a while since I was working on it partly because of my interest turning to Level Up
There is a thread on here that I think doctorbadwolf started, but I cannot remember the name.

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.

Nods yeh I think the idea could work and make the fighter the most battlefield role flexible (truly the best at fighting via on the fly choices) class the game ever had, it not only gives a warlord but it increases the core defender capability if you want it. All pre feat all pre-subclass choice.
 
Last edited:

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
No 5e nibbled at best...
Its been quite a while since I was working on it partly because of my interest turning to Level Up
There is a thread on here that I think doctorbadwolf started, but I cannot remember the name.



Nods yeh I think the idea could work and make the fighter the most battlefield role flexible (truly the best at fighting via on the fly choices) class the game ever had, it not only gives a warlord but it increases the core defender capability if you want it. All pre feat all pre-subclass choice.
Absolutely. I think that adding manuevers dice to the base class, with the basic use being a simple damage buff or to boost an ability check, would be a good start.

A full on warlord would still benefit from a subclass or 3, but it could certainly work, especially if your make the change I’ve proposed before to change Action Surge into Heroic Actions (PC legendary actions).

Some warlord stuff could also live in a non-caster or very light casting Bard variant, with auras and group buffs and attack granting.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
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.

Yup.I keep saying D&D needs a Scholar class.
It is missing fantasy fields of study.

Fantasy Medicine= Surgery and Dagger use
Fantasy Chemistry= Potioncraft
Fantasy Smithing= Armor and Wepon buff and Hammer use
Fantasy Physics= Engineering, Knockback, and Crossbow use
Fantasy Zoology= Beastmastery
Fantasy Psychology= Fear, Anger, and Charm defenses and offence
Fantasy Linguistics= Bonus Languages
Fantasy Occultism= Wizard Cantrips and Monster Weaknesses
Fantasy Religion= Cleric Cantrips and Monster Weaknesses
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
I guess the question is, what would the Scholar do? I mean, ok, he'd be good at skill checks, but we have classes that do that. What makes him unique? I suppose he could have an ability like the Battlemaster's to size up foes; as 5e doesn't have dedicated monster knowledge rules that could be handy, but then I think you'd find most DM's would assume that only Scholars can do this (making for an OD&D Thief situation).

But even then...I can't imagine an academic is a great fighter. Unless it's a caster subclass, like the Cloistered Cleric, they'd maybe have some sort of tactical benefit, due to advice they can give?

So kind of like the Bard and the "Warlord"?
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I guess the question is, what would the Scholar do? I mean, ok, he'd be good at skill checks, but we have classes that do that. What makes him unique? I suppose he could have an ability like the Battlemaster's to size up foes; as 5e doesn't have dedicated monster knowledge rules that could be handy, but then I think you'd find most DM's would assume that only Scholars can do this (making for an OD&D Thief situation).

But even then...I can't imagine an academic is a great fighter. Unless it's a caster subclass, like the Cloistered Cleric, they'd maybe have some sort of tactical benefit, due to advice they can give?

So kind of like the Bard and the "Warlord"?

A scholar tosses a specially distilled vial of a alchemical fire from his specialty crafted crossbow that shoots vials after bombarding you in psychological insults in your mother tongue while slipping in True Speak to lower your Dex saves all while his trained falcon harassed you from above.


Alchemical, Beast training, Weapon and Armor modification, Fear and Charm, True Naming, Battlefield Tactics, and maybe a pinch of magic.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
no that applies to only casters...who get to whip reality for free /sarc

Everyman should stay in his Tier (low levels)
While I imagine this was made in a tongue-in-cheek snarky way; yes, spellcasters should be able to break laws of nature because that's what magic does by its very own definition. And while - after what, fifteen thread and a hundred posts, @Minigiant finally convinced me that a demigod/super-soldier/chosen-of-god character would be better represented as its own class(es) - I agree that the option of breaking nature's law (in blatant ways) without casting spells is presently unsupported, I don't think this should be the default assumption. Has magic become so mundane that it must necessarily permeates everything and everyone?

Maybe it has and I hang on to the "mundane" of D&D because I would find it too sad otherwise...

Alright, this was overly dramatic! But I persist in saying that magic needs to be the exception and not the rule.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
That's why you do

One Class for Achilles.
One Class for Agamemnon
One class for Odysseus
Ok, you probably elaborated on this a hundred times but for the hundred and first, what would the specifics or concept behind each class be (in a few words only)?
 
Last edited:

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Ok, you probably elaborated on this a hundred times but for the hundred and first, what would the specifics or concept behind each class be (in a few words only)?

The first is the Warrior of superpowers who weaves their powers in their offense and defense. For example, Achilles, due to his invulnerability, could attack with extreme aggression as he doesn't have to cover himself.

The second is the fighter.

The third is a warrior that utilities knowledge, intuition, and personality to bolster allies and manipulate enemies through trickery, tactics, and example. They alter statistics, unlock unseen elements, and open and close opportunities.
 

A scholar tosses a specially distilled vial of a alchemical fire from his specialty crafted crossbow that shoots vials after bombarding you in psychological insults in your mother tongue while slipping in True Speak to lower your Dex saves all while his trained falcon harassed you from above.
The first thing that came to mind was "Witcher!"
 

Adventurer, Conqueror, King (an OSR game) actually had a 'white mage' class in the Players' Companion. The Priestess had clerical spells but poor combat ability--they made up for it by having more clerical spells than a cleric.
 


Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
The third is a warrior that utilities knowledge, intuition, and personality to bolster allies and manipulate enemies through trickery, tactics, and example. They alter statistics, unlock unseen elements, and open and close opportunities.
Odysseus also had the portent of Divine Strength (and superhuman Intellect)-- and used a bow only he (and maybe his son) could string.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
A scholar tosses a specially distilled vial of a alchemical fire from his specialty crafted crossbow that shoots vials after bombarding you in psychological insults in your mother tongue while slipping in True Speak to lower your Dex saves all while his trained falcon harassed you from above.


Alchemical, Beast training, Weapon and Armor modification, Fear and Charm, True Naming, Battlefield Tactics, and maybe a pinch of magic.
So, an Artificer?
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
So, an Artificer?
The Artificer is a specialized version of it.

The Scholar class if it existed earlier would include the Beastmaster, the Alchemist, the Plague Doctor, the Warlord, the Artificer, and the Truenamer.

Basically, if 5 abiliy scores have skills, why does only Dex skills get a skills class?
 

How about a non-Cleric Priest class? Be it the Cloistered Cleric or Healer?

This.

I mean, you can achieve it by multiclassing, or through Divine Soul Sorcerer, or playing a cleric and simply refusing to use some class features.

But I'm not sure that "Wizard with Cleric spells" or "Cleric without armor" sufficiently justifies a new class or even sub-class. I'd like to see some sort of nifty core mechanic that makes it different in play.

Also Witch. Yeah, I know you can already make a perfectly good Witch several different ways (Warlock is my favorite.). But it's such a strong archetype that I'd love to see something official, simply to add even more flavor.
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Adventurer, Conqueror, King (an OSR game) actually had a 'white mage' class in the Players' Companion. The Priestess had clerical spells but poor combat ability--they made up for it by having more clerical spells than a cleric.
The 3.5 Miniatures handbook had the Healer class that was very similar. At some point in writing it, they realized that the class was woefully underpowered, so they gave it the option to attract a unicorn follower, which is simply amazing, but alas, I never saw anyone attempt to play one.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
Really the Cleric should have come down to 2 choices.

  1. Level of Heavyness
    1. No Armor Spells Cleric
    2. Light Armor Skills Cleric
    3. Medium Armor Support Cleric
    4. Heavy Armor Smasher Cleric
  2. Choice of Domain
    1. Arcane
    2. Chaos
    3. Civilization*
    4. Darkness*
    5. Death
    6. Earth*
    7. Fire"
    8. Forge
    9. Frost*
    10. Grave
    11. Hunt*
    12. Knowledge
    13. Life
    14. Light
    15. Love*
    16. Nature
    17. Order
    18. Peace
    19. Sky*
    20. Strength*
    21. Trickery
    22. Tempest
    23. Twilight
    24. War
    25. Wealth*
5e combined the two
 



Related Articles

Visit Our Sponsor

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top