Level Up (A5E) Motif Classes: An alternative to Synergy Feats and Prestige Classes

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
Motif Classes
Magical archers, shadow stepping thieves, and swift running spear masters all share a central conceit at the gaming table: They require the combination of multiple class concepts to flesh out in their entirety. In the past this has been handled by creating new whole classes devoted to the concept, or creating prestige classes that present the concept as a special reward you earn by following a strict leveling path through the first two tiers of play, and even by making a series or chain of feats which grant unique class-like abilities.
But sometimes your campaign won’t last that long and you know it going in. Most adventure paths start at level 1 and end around level 10-13. By the time you get your prestige class you’re already almost done playing that character, and you’ve had to split your effectiveness at the table across two separate concepts to qualify for the one you’ve been planning to play the entire time.
Meanwhile, making dozens of individual classes not only increases bloat, it also vastly increases the potential complexity of multiclassing into each of the different identities. This can result in wildly unintended consequences and interactions between class abilities.
This is where Motif Classes come in. Each motif class is designed to fulfill a specific narrative identity with certain mechanical support, much like a Prestige class. The difference is that you may start play as a motif class and eventually multiclass out of it later on. You may also treat a motif class as you might a prestige class, multiclassing into it at or before level 8.

Creating a Motif Class Character
There are only two rules to playing a motif class character.
  1. You can only choose one motif class per character.
  2. Motif classes have no multiclass requirements of their own.
Motifs
Below is an example Motif Class. The Lancer. The Lancer's purpose is to blend some mechanics from Adept (Off-hand attacks, increased movement rate) with some aspects of Fighters (Weapon mastery, armor and shields) to create a character that uses spears and versatile weapons in a way that hearkens to grand charges and graceful leaps with social recognition appropriate to your talents and activities.

Lancer (Adept/Fighter)
With spear and shield, long hafted axe, or even just a single sword lancers rush across the field of battle, striking down foes with nearby allies in eager formation. When away from other lancers, they’re often seen as loners on the battlefield as they rush and strike and feign and retreat. So renowned are they, that their name describes a role in tales of the protagonist who seeks to lead and bucks authority.

Creating a Lancer
Lancer characters are more than just running around a battlefield with a polearm, even if that’s viewed as their primary mechanical distinction. They’re also focused, devoted, and curious. The reason they often buck against authority in literature and media is definitely something to explore.

Table: The Lancer

Level
Proficiency
Bonus
FeaturesManeuvers
Known
Maneuver DegreeTechnical KnacksHaft Strike
1st+2Haft Strike, One With the Spear, Sanguine Knot21st1d4
2nd+2Martial Traditions, Technical Knacks21st11d4
3rd+2Fighting Style, Freelancer32nd21d4
4th+2Ability Score Increase, Field Studies32nd31d6
5th+3Extra Attack42nd31d6
6th+3Flashing Steel, Lancer’s Leap42nd41d6
7th+3Wind’s Ally53rd41d6
8th+3Ability Score Increase, Legendary Lancer53rd51d8

Lancer Class Features
As a Lancer you gain the following class features.

Hit Points
Hit Dice:
1d8 per Lancer level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 8 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d8 (or 5) + your Constitution modifier per Lancer level after 1st

Proficiencies
Armor:
Light Armor, Medium Armor, Shields
Weapons: Simple Weapons, Martial Weapons, Lance, Net
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Strength, Wisdom
Skills: Choose three from Animal Handling, Athletics, Insight, Investigation, Perception, and Stealth

One With the Spear
You are at one with spears, polearms, axes, and versatile weapons of all kinds. You may treat any glaive, halberd, pike, scythe, spear, trident, or weapon with the Versatile property as though it also has the Parrying property in addition to any other property it possesses.
In addition, your movement rate increases by 10ft so long as you are not wearing heavy armor, encumbered by weight, or carrying a bulky item.

Haft Strike
While wielding a weapon which benefits from one with the spear and using no other weapons you may make off-hand attacks with the haft or pommel of your weapon. Doing so follows all the normal rules of dual-wielding, but allows you to apply any magical bonuses from the weapon to your haft strike.
This damage begins at 1d4, but increases as you gain levels in the Lancer motif, growing to 1d6 at level 4 and 1d8 at level 8. The damage of your haft strike is bludgeoning.

Sanguine Knot
Also at level 1, you gain access to a pool of exertion equal to twice your proficiency bonus and the Sanguine Knot combat tradition. You gain two maneuvers at level 1 and additional maneuvers at levels 3, 5, and 7. Whenever you gain a level you may choose to replace a maneuver you know with a maneuver of a degree equal to or lower than the degree you are replacing.

Martial Tradition
At 2nd level, and again at 4th and 8th level, you learn a martial tradition of your choice.

Technical Knacks
Also at 2nd level you gain access to your first Technical Knack. This feature allows you to take Techniques from the Adept class or Soldiering Knacks from the Fighter Class. You gain additional technical knacks at 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th level.

Fighting Style
At 3rd level you gain access to a fighting style chosen from the following list:
  • Dueling: When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.
  • Great Weapon Fighting: When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for you to gain this benefit.
  • Mounted Combatant: While mounted you gain an expertise die on attack rolls against creatures that are Medium-sized or smaller and not mounted. In addition, you gain an expertise die on saving throws made to resist being unmounted.
  • Two-Weapon Fighting: When you engage in two-weapon fighting you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the off-hand attack.
  • Versatile Strength: When wielding a versatile weapon, increase the damage die by one step.
Freelancer
Also at 3rd level you begin tapping into the reputations that lancers have in a given region. As a result, choose one of the following options to represent your social impact.
  • Dashing Rake: Many a lancer plays the part of the dashing rake, a suave and graceful sort occasionally mistaken for a fop. Whenever you attempt to make a Persuasion or Deception check you may always use your Strength modifier, and gain expertise when you do so.
  • Rebellious Streak: Like most lancers you have a reputation for bucking authority and getting the job done, no matter what it takes. You gain expertise on Intimidation checks and may always use your Strength or Constitution when making them.
  • Stone Soldier: Some lancers hold to traditions one might find in a palace guard or a monastery, and hold their cards close to their chest. Creatures have disadvantage on Insight checks made against you. In addition, you gain an expertise die on saving throws against being charmed or frightened.
Field Studies
At 4th level your knowledge increases based on topics you’ve learned in your adventures. Choose from the following options:
  • Adventuring Knowledge: You gain proficiency in the Arcana, Culture, History, Nature, or Religion skill.
  • Linguistic Experimentation: You gain proficiency in two languages you have been exposed to.
  • Martial Training: You gain proficiency in the Acrobatics or Athletics skill, or in a cultural or rare weapon you have been exposed to.
Extra Attack
Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Flashing Steel
At 6th level your reputation has begun to flourish for its own sake, and you may choose one of the following options to represent how it has grown. In addition, your maneuver DC increases by 1.
  • Heroic Flair: Tales of your heroism spread before you. When you enter into a settlement you are treated by the populace as a wandering hero. People of modest means are eager to see you accommodated. You and your party no longer need to pay for Lifestyle Expenses and benefit from a moderate lifestyle. Additionally, you are likely to be approached by townsfolk with information relevant to your current goals, so long as you are open about your presence in the settlement. Sneaking or going Incognito negates these benefits.
  • Military Garb: Your history of working with caravaneers, guards, sailors, and soldiers sees you welcomed in such social circles and circumstances. You gain a warm welcome from such characters in any situation except for antagonistic, and gain advantage on Deception and Persuasion checks against any caravaneer, guard, sailor, or soldier you meet.
  • Villain’s Affront: Rumors of your villainy and violence abound, and people are justly terrified of it. When you enter a settlement, guards and soldiers go on alert as word of your presence spreads, people clear streets rather than risk offending you, and the underworld ripples in your wake. You gain advantage on Intimidation checks against any person in town with a CR lower than your level, and are likely to be approached by cultists and members of thieves guilds who may be willing to pay for your assistance.
Lancer’s Leap
Also at 6th level you may perform the Lancer’s Leap, a special combat maneuver that only lancers gain. This maneuver does not count against your maneuvers known, and can be used with any other maneuver. Once you have used the Lancer’s Leap you must complete a short or long rest before using it, again. If you spend 3 exertion points before a short or long rest, the use of this ability recharges.

Lancer’s Leap (1 point)
Lancer action
With the force of a thunderbolt you strike your target from above. When you glide, ride, leap, fall, or fly during your turn, you deal additional damage to the target of this attack equal to one haft die per 10ft of movement you take before making the attack. While you can use extra attack and off-hand attacks in the same round, the increased damage applies only to the first attack after moving.

Wind’s Ally
At 7th level your movement when jumping is no longer limited by your movement rate.

Legendary Lancer
At 8th level your reputation as a lancer has reached its pinnacle but your reputation can only grow from here. You gain a +1 bonus to your renown, 2 additional exertion, and you may choose one of the following options.
  • Adept Lancer: Weapons which qualify for one with the spear become adept weapons in your hands, and brutal defense allows you to use your strength modifier to AC while wearing light or medium armor.
  • Fighter Lancer: You immediately learn a new tradition and maneuver of your choice, neither of which count against your limit of maneuvers or traditions known.
What do you think? Am I on to something, here, or just reinventing the wheel of Prestige Classes and Synergy Feats?
 
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Heraldofi

Explorer
I definitely understand the use case for a campaign that's expected to end at lower levels, but I'm not totally clear on what the thinking is on where you'd go next, after getting into one of these classes.

You're not really going to want to grab the early features from Fighter/Adept, because you presumably already have the ones you wanted, so multiclassing is going to see you moving into Ranger or Barbarian or something, which feels like you're just moving the issues you talked about to the end of your class progression instead of the beginning.

Fundamentally, I'm not sure this is doing anything special by being short. Couldn't you just design a hybrid between two classes that delivers on the fantasy and goes up to 20? It feels like this is just a variant on "let's not doing multi-classing, and just create a class to cover each fantasy."
 

TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
I think it's a great idea. But I've always been partial to design that chops up "one class from 1st to max level" into smaller chunks to allow for customization through combination. Much like picking theme, paragon path, and epic destiny worked in 4e, or how Novice/Expert/Master paths work in Shadow of the Demon Lord.
 

Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
I definitely understand the use case for a campaign that's expected to end at lower levels, but I'm not totally clear on what the thinking is on where you'd go next, after getting into one of these classes.

You're not really going to want to grab the early features from Fighter/Adept, because you presumably already have the ones you wanted, so multiclassing is going to see you moving into Ranger or Barbarian or something, which feels like you're just moving the issues you talked about to the end of your class progression instead of the beginning.

Fundamentally, I'm not sure this is doing anything special by being short. Couldn't you just design a hybrid between two classes that delivers on the fantasy and goes up to 20? It feels like this is just a variant on "let's not doing multi-classing, and just create a class to cover each fantasy."
The problems with creating new classes for all kinds of concepts are many and deep. To touch on the big ones:

1) No further support for previous classes. No new archetypes or spell lists or anything 'cause all your work is focused on cranking out new whole-cloth classes.
2) Multiclassing bloat. In 3e you could multiclass into 20 different non-base classes, one for every level.
3) Unintentional Interactions. By making a bunch of classes each with unique abilities and the ability to multiclass some of them get broken when they interact.

By limiting it to 8 levels (Or 7, 10, 5, whatever) and making sure you can't take more than one, they basically wind up occupying the same design space as Prestige Classes, but without the narrative delay that sees characters unsupported in what they want to do. Prestige Class at level 1, rather than level 6.

Because even after you hit 9th level and take that level of Berserker or Ranger you don't lose the Arcane Archeryness that you've got and the concept you wanted to play. And adding more bonuses to it, or a different direction, doesn't erase your already taken class abilities. Much better, in my opinion, than being a fighter2/wizard3 before becoming that Arcane Archer.
 

Heraldofi

Explorer
Because even after you hit 9th level and take that level of Berserker or Ranger you don't lose the Arcane Archeryness that you've got and the concept you wanted to play. And adding more bonuses to it, or a different direction, doesn't erase your already taken class abilities. Much better, in my opinion, than being a fighter2/wizard3 before becoming that Arcane Archer.
You know, it almost feels like you'd want to fill out both ends of the scale, and lean in to a tiered class structure. Go with your precise lower-level archetype class, and then provide a higher level Prestige class to fill out high end abilities to finish off your character's journey. Sort of 4e style Paragon Paths/Epic Destinies, but expressed as a whole set of classes you take instead of a base class at those levels, instead of as add on to a standard class.

Then you could have 1-20 classes that stick within 1 archetype the whole time alongside 2 part characters.
 





An idea I like that is ridiculously complicated to implement is a hybrid class system, something like what 4e did. Pick two classes, and you get about half of what they each get at each level. You could also make feats specifically designed to enhance certain combinations. So much potential in that method of implementing multiclassing.

Unfortunately, as I said, it's ridiculously complicated to implement, or I would have done it already.
 

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