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D&D 5E Different classes, same theme

Samurai

Explorer
One of the things I've liked about 5e is the ability to have the same theme over multiple classes. This is done in 2 ways: backgrounds and archetypes.

For example, let's say you wanted to play a sneaky, Thieves Guild type of game. Not everyone has to play a Rogue, you could have characters take the Criminal background, and/or choose sneaky/trickster type archetypes. You could have an Illusionist Wizard, a Way of Shadow Monk, a Fey or Great Old One Warlock, and a Cleric with the Trickster domain.

Do you want everyone to be students at a magical school? Many classes have a magical option now, like Arcane Trickster and Eldritch Knight.

Most any theme now has multiple choices to it, such that there's no need to ask "Is it viable to have an all-Rogues party?" The answer is yes because your roguish party can now have a tricky wizard, cleric, and other classes just like any other party, and they'll all be able to contribute to the theme in their own ways.
 

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Been an option for prettymuch the whole 'modern' D&D era, really. In 3e you could multi-class, use PrCs, feats, cross-class skills, and class choices like specializations or domains to do prettymuch exactly the same sort of thing. In 4e, backgrounds (/and/ Themes) could be used that way, as well as feats, MCing, etc - and some of the 'all X' parties were neatly handled by just all picking the same source. In Essentials, you still had backgrounds, themes, &c, plus sub-classes as well as old 4e 'builds.' Really, even 2e with it's Kits could pull this sort of thing.

It's nice - but if it's to deliver on it's promises, almost inevitable - that 5e has retained those sorts of options. Certainly a very positive sign for those who like character customization.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
I absolutely agree that sharing a theme is extremely cool. It's definitely been possible to a limited extent as far back as 1E AD&D, though it didn't really take off until 3E.

5E offers new and smoother ways to do it, and for this reason I particularly like what WotC has done with backgrounds. Want a whole party of thieves? No matter what they are, give 'em all the criminal background. Religious party? They're acolytes. Examples abound. The breadth of subclasses available sweetens the deal immensely, to say nothing of multiclassing! Heck, I've almost considered excluding multiclassing from my 5E game, because 5E offers so many other options for reaching a character concept--multiclassing seems clumsy by comparison.
 

5E offers new and smoother ways to do it
To be fair, neither backgrounds nor sub-classes are new. 4e had backgrounds, 2e had kits, and even 1e had an obscure table of 'secondary skills' that reflected your pre-adventuring pursuits. Likewise, sub-classes were present in Essentials, are comparable to 4e builds, and were found in 1e and even 0D&D. And, of course, 5e lifts it's MCing directly from 3e.

All fair, and a clear attempt to deliver on the promise of taking the 'best' from prior editions.
But not 'new.'

While I'm quite pleased with Backgrounds, I'd also question whether sub-classes are all that 'smooth.' Different classes pick sub-classes at different levels, for instance, and you can't mix/match between sub-classes of the same class (while you could between different classes via MCing), meaning some features are cut of from eachother in a 'hard' sense (possibly for the good, if they'd be 'broken' in combination).

Heck, I've almost considered excluding multiclassing from my 5E game, because 5E offers so many other options for reaching a character concept--multiclassing seems clumsy by comparison.
It is a very powerful option, though. It allows you to build a character that partakes of two or more classes in a desired proportion, something backgrounds of feats (if used) can't deliver. And, of course, there is the option of feats, which offer further customizeability.

It's really got the potential to be a very rich edition from that PoV.
 

doctorhook

Adventurer
To be fair, neither backgrounds nor sub-classes are new. 4e had backgrounds, 2e had kits, and even 1e had an obscure table of 'secondary skills' that reflected your pre-adventuring pursuits. Likewise, sub-classes were present in Essentials, are comparable to 4e builds, and were found in 1e and even 0D&D. And, of course, 5e lifts it's MCing directly from 3e.

All fair, and a clear attempt to deliver on the promise of taking the 'best' from prior editions.
But not 'new.'

While I'm quite pleased with Backgrounds, I'd also question whether sub-classes are all that 'smooth.' Different classes pick sub-classes at different levels, for instance, and you can't mix/match between sub-classes of the same class (while you could between different classes via MCing), meaning some features are cut of from eachother in a 'hard' sense (possibly for the good, if they'd be 'broken' in combination).
You're right, maybe "new" wasn't the best word. Still:

  • 4E backgrounds were nothing like 5E's--4E's were tacked on, arguably imbalancing, and didn't provide the type of built-in customization that 5E's backgrounds do.
  • 5E subclasses are definitely direct-line successors to 2E's kits and 4E's builds, but they also appear (at pre-release) to be more carefully considered than their predecessors.
  • Essentials "sub-classes" were mostly just new classes that shared a basic thematic similarity with older ones. 1E AD&D subclasses weren't subclasses in the modern sense at all; these days nobody even tries to lump the paladin and ranger as subclasses of fighter.
  • 5E multiclassing takes the "per level" framework of 3E and (as far as we can tell) tempers it with ability score requirements à la AD&D.

Even if the concepts aren't new per-se, 5E's implementation of these things promises to be better integrated and better balanced than ever.
It is a very powerful option, though. It allows you to build a character that partakes of two or more classes in a desired proportion, something backgrounds of feats (if used) can't deliver. And, of course, there is the option of feats, which offer further customizeability.

It's really got the potential to be a very rich edition from that PoV.
No disagreement here! I just want to minimize the 3E-style dipping for optimization.
 
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Edit: dont' want you to think I'm arguing just to argue, or doing so with an agenda other than examining the history of the game and giving 5e credit for carrying through and trying to pull the best ideas from prior editions.


4E backgrounds were nothing like 5E's--4E's were tacked on, arguably imbalancing, and didn't provide the type of built-in customization that 5E's backgrounds do.
'Tacked on' only in the sense that they weren't in the PH1, imbalanced in the case of a few of the FR backgrounds, sure, though they were errata'd. And, they do represent the same kind of things, in the same way (expanding skills). 5e Backgrounds are a worthy successor that built on and improved the idea (including incorporating some aspect of 4e Themes, as well), particularly by moving skills out of classes and into backgrounds.

5E subclasses are definitely direct-line successors to 2E's kits and 4E's builds, but they also appear (at pre-release) to be more carefully considered than their predecessors.
2e Kits were a lot more like backgrounds or Themes, and 4e builds were certainly more 'carefully-considered' (4e just plain put more emphasis on such things, while 5e goes more for broad strokes and 'rulings not rules,' by design).

Essentials "sub-classes" were mostly just new classes that shared a basic thematic similarity with older ones.
More than just theme, they shared basic stats like hps, saves, class skills and the like, and were all of the same over-class for prerequisite purposes, could (generally, there were carefully-engineered exceptions) take spells &c from the parent class and so forth - which, apart from not starting at 1st level (consistently) is prettymuch what 5e sub-classes are.
They are the same concept, by the same name, done under the same lead designer, afterall.

1E AD&D subclasses weren't subclasses in the modern sense at all; these days nobody even tries to lump the paladin and ranger as subclasses of fighter.
There were functional ways in which, say, a Paladin or Ranger was also a fighter, but it wasn't that consistent. Everything was rougher back then.

No disagreement here! I just want to minimize the 3E-style dipping for optimization.
Nod. Optimization and customization go hand-in-hand, but the game can always strive to limit the rewards for/disruption cause by optimization.
 
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doctorhook

Adventurer
Edit: dont' want you to think I'm arguing just to argue, or doing so with an agenda other than examining the history of the game and giving 5e credit for carrying through and trying to pull the best ideas from prior editions.
Word, broseph! We're just exploring the history of the system!


'Tacked on' only in the sense that they weren't in the PH1, imbalanced in the case of a few of the FR backgrounds, sure, though they were errata'd. And, they do represent the same kind of things, in the same way (expanding skills). 5e Backgrounds are a worthy successor that built on and improved the idea (including incorporating some aspect of 4e Themes, as well), particularly by moving skills out of classes and into backgrounds.
One of my favorite things about the 5E backgrounds is the randomized traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. These are built right into the Player's Handbook, and can even give two uncertain players with the same race/class/background combo two distinct character concepts. That rocks. I didn't 4E backgrounds closely enough to ever see if they included things like this.

2e Kits were a lot more like backgrounds or Themes, and 4e builds were certainly more 'carefully-considered' (4e just plain put more emphasis on such things, while 5e goes more for broad strokes and 'rulings not rules,' by design).
4E builds were well balanced, but I'm not convinced that each one was very well considered in the context of the whole system. By the end there were builds that were only distinct by virtue of their power selection, and the system balance was too vulnerable to exploitative powers. What little we've seen of 5E seems to skirt that problem. (My opinion is that the Essentials classes were much better crafted than most of the early classes, for what it's worth.)

More than just theme, they shared basic stats like hps, saves, class skills and the like, and were all of the same over-class for prerequisite purposes, could (generally, there were carefully-engineered exceptions) take spells &c from the parent class and so forth - which, apart from not starting at 1st level (consistently) is prettymuch what 5e sub-classes are.
They are the same concept, by the same name, done under the same lead designer, afterall.
The weren't particularly consistent though, neither with each other nor with the previous builds for each class. Ultimately they seemed like mulligans of the PH1 and PH2 classes. In 5E, everything we've seen suggests that all fighters will share most of the same features, with the subclass features only deriving from the martial archetype they select at 3rd level; I believe this is more commonality than Essentials builds shared with their pre-Essentials siblings.

There were functional ways in which, say, a Paladin or Ranger was also a fighter, but it wasn't that consistent. Everything was rougher back then.
No doubt about it!

Nod. Optimization and customization go hand-in-hand, but the game can always strive to limit the rewards for/disruption cause by optimization.
Agreed. I'd actually argue that the high degree of balance and structure in 4E made optimization so much worse. At least in 3.5E, if you sucked, you probably sucked in a unique way; 4E were effective by default, but when they were outclassed, they tended to be outclasses absolutely.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
I'd just like to chime in and say that I feel d20 Modern paved the way for these archetypes. I loved being able to play a Solider-type (for example) that had access to Science-y skills because he had the Student archetype, or a Tough 'Beat Cop' who also dabbled in magic thanks to the Hedge Wizard archetype.

I am a massive fan of these themes and am anxious to see the whole list.
 

One of my favorite things about the 5E backgrounds is the randomized traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.
Those are new to the final release, so I haven't gotten to see them in action. They looked like the kind of basic 'spark an RP idea' things you see in a lot of systems, at a glance, though. I'll have to give them another look and see if there's actually something to them.

4E builds were well balanced, but I'm not convinced that each one was very well considered in the context of the whole system. By the end there were builds that were only distinct by virtue of their power selection, and the system balance was too vulnerable to exploitative powers. What little we've seen of 5E seems to skirt that problem. (My opinion is that the Essentials classes were much better crafted than most of the early classes, for what it's worth.)
Balance is relative, of course. There were a couple of classes that were lost in the shuffle of the Essentials release and remained under-supported and thus a sub-par, though still viable. And, there were Essentials sub-classes that had marked balance issues. By the standards of the system as a whole, those classes and sub-classes weren't up to snuff - but not to the point of being non-viable.

More to the point (that 'builds' aren't really in the genealogy of sub-classes), as you point out, builds weren't single-point choices that constrained all further choices (which sub-classes are), most builds had a single choice of feature that was defining and synergized more with some subsequent choices than others, but a lot of choice and customizeability remained. You could stick to the emphasis of a build, or diversify it a little with power choice. In that sense, they're just like informal 3e builds - just less prone to wild variations in effectivenss.

The idea that 5e skirts any sort of balance problems relative to 4e, though, is laughable. Even in it's basic form 5e's balance is poor - it seems clear that balance simply isn't a priority. Rather than spend effort balancing the system in way some potential customers might object to, 5e leaves balance concerns to the DM, who can address them with 'Rulings, not Rules.'

The weren't particularly consistent though, neither with each other nor with the previous builds for each class. Ultimately they seemed like mulligans of the PH1 and PH2 classes.
Essentials sub-classes were inconsistent with the 4e parent classes because it was essentially (pi) a half-ed re-boot, pretending not to be a half-ed re-boot. Essentials abandoned a little of the balance emphasis, and a lot of the design discipline evident in 4e, and the result was, indeed, inconsistent.

5e continues that trend, with a much more traditional approach to class design.

Agreed. I'd actually argue that the high degree of balance and structure in 4E made optimization so much worse.
The 'rewards for system mastery' were, indeed, a lot lower than in 3e. An optimized character was noticeably more effective than a typical 'non-powergamed' one, but rarely to the point of disrupting the game. And class barely figured into it, there was no tier 1 / tier 6 gulf among classes (if you were to sort 4e/E classes into tiers, there'd probably be a tier 2 holding the Seeker, RunePriest, Esssentials martial classes, Binder, and Vampire, and a tier 1 holding everything else - and they'd be about equivalent to tiers 3 and 4 in 3e).

5e doesn't look to have intentional 'rewards' build into it, but, if all the options like MCing and feats are used, it certainly has a lot of potential for optimization, and, even if they aren't, DM decisions, like placing magic items, campaign pacing, types of challenges and so forth could easily lead to some pronounced imbalances within a party.

5e is just going for a much looser, through it out there & see what sticks, style of design; and, congruently, encouraging a much more empowered style of DMing to sort through and pick the best bits for a given group/campaign/style.
 

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