D&D 5E Prestige Classes in 5e: What do you want to see?

QuietBrowser

First Post
Wasn't entirely sure what prefix to give this, so apologies for that in advance.

The Prestige Class; one of 3rd edition's most iconic inventions, which was so admired that 4e co-opted it as the basis for its Paragon Path and Epic Destiny mechanics. But, in 5th edition, they have yet to officially resurface. We had one early Unearthed Arcana issue talking about them, which introduced the Runesmith, but beyond that, there's been nothing.

Now, it's almost certain that eventually WoTC will bring them back - it's one possible way to start inching into epic level gaming, something 5e is rather lacking. But, I was curious; what prestige classes would you like to see, and why? What specialized fields can you envision that'd take an adventurer into an entirely new set of abilities?

For me... the one PrC that I can really see with some clarity is the Undead Master. Back in AD&D, this was a Necromancer kit, which sacrificed its physical fighting capabilities (only 1 weapon proficiency point at 1st level, and none thereafter) and access to the Alteration, Illusion and Divination schools for the Necromancer's generic bonuses, the ability to cast Enchantment spells (normally barred to necromancers), the ability to Command Undead as if they were a Cleric of equivalent level, and the ability to Command Outsiders as if they were Undead of equivalent Hit Dice.

This was an awesome class form, but, alas, despite my own considerations on the matter, it's not something you can properly replicate as a subclass - it's too much of a tripartite hybrid of Conjurer, Enchanter, and Necromancer. But, as a Prestige Class, focusing on the mind-control and summoning aspects, it might just work, and I'd love to pull it off.

So, what about you? What PrCs do you dearly want to see come to life?
 

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I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
I'm doing a bit of a long-term conversion project for old PrC's and kits and builds (I've got devoted defenders and knight protectors already in there, with a 4e-inspired guardian, to boot), and I'm finding that most of the time, the existing 5e mechanics can get dang close, if not right in line, with what an old PrC could do, maybe with a little push from a new element or two.

I might have to angle an eyeball at your Undead Master next! :)

If WotC can figure out how to implement PrC's in a way that doesn't steal thunder from the original classes and archetypes, that'd be a real coup, I think. But, there's a lot of concepts from PrC's that I'd like to see as some mechanic - a feat, an archetype, an organization, a magic item...whatever works !
 

thanson02

Explorer
I am not sure 5E really needs it. The archetypes with the backgrounds are doing a good job filling the role.

At the most if they were to introduce PrC, I think it would work best as a story themed specialization of the archetypes already in place, like how feats add elements of diversity to the core class builds. The features would have to replace features the archetypes already get though to help keep balance.

And it would have to be an optional rule set like feats and multiclassing.

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Yeah, count me as one who doesn't think the game needs it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the game's better off without them.

I think we could stand to see more "conceptual feats"--like the hypothetical arcane archer feat that didn't make it into the final version of the game--that, when combined with the right background and subclass, could accommodate most prior PrC concepts. But I don't want to see PrCs themselves.
 


Tony Vargas

Legend
Wasn't entirely sure what prefix to give this, so apologies for that in advance.

The Prestige Class; one of 3rd edition's most iconic inventions, which was so admired that 4e co-opted it as the basis for its Paragon Path and Epic Destiny mechanics.
To be fair, the 1e PH appendix Bard was quite the proto-PrC.

But, in 5th edition, they have yet to officially resurface. We had one early Unearthed Arcana issue talking about them, which introduced the Runesmith, but beyond that, there's been nothing.
I got the impression that they floated the idea with that article and it sank. I still hold out hope, though, as the concept has definite potential in 3e, with it's optional MCing, Backgrounds that are relatively static from 1st level (which makes sense, BTW, they're /backgrounds/) and emphasis on sub-classes rather than new classes.

Now, it's almost certain that eventually WoTC will bring them back
Ah, optimism.

I was curious; what prestige classes would you like to see, and why? What specialized fields can you envision that'd take an adventurer into an entirely new set of abilities?
I think the real opportunity is using PrCs for campaign and setting-specific tie-ins. The Purple Dragon Knight, for instance, specific to Cormyr, a character who earns that PrC forges a connection to the setting - would have been much better as a PrC that a member of any class (with some martial skill, Paladin and Fighter being the obvious prime candidates) might achieve, if they were interested in serving that way.

I'd be less enthused to see PrCs brought back to serve as MC kludges or special-ability delivery-systems, again.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
In fact....
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Building an Undead Master
This build uses only the rules in the Player's Handbook to create a character that evokes the Undead Master kit from the 2e Complete Necromancer's Handbook
Lord_Pizentios.png

Class. Wizard. Undead Masters are necromancers first and foremost. Their ideal spell list culls from Necromancy, Enchantment, and Conjuration, though they are Necromancers in origin (though you can also consider Enchanter or Conjurer, if that route fits your ideal more closely). Despite this, you might want to consider Enchantment as your arcane tradition, as the effects of that tradition allow you to control and manipulate undead and fiends with more variety than a necromancer can. For your initial cantrips, consider Chill Touch and Friends to be among the most iconic. To evoke the fiendish angle, consider for your third cantrip a spell like Acid Splash, Fire Bolt, or Poison Spray - all things the wicked outsiders adore. For your first six spells, the front-runners should include Charm Person, False Lifeand Ray of Sickness. Find Familiar can also be important, as it gives you your first fiendish minion (minor though it is). You might also consider Unseen Servant, which can easily be conceived of as conjuring an undead or fiendish spirit to do your bidding. Given that you'll be cavorting with creatures of the netherworld quite frequently, protection from evil and good can also reflect your command over those beings. Arguably, your most iconic spells won't really come on-line until you reach higher tiers of power - consider spells such as detect thoughts (2nd level), suggestion (2nd level), animate dead (3rd level), magic circle (3rd level), banishment (4th level), phantasmal killer (4th level), planar binding (5th level), create undead (6th level), mass suggestion (6th level), finger of death (7th level), dominate monster (7th level), trap the soul (8th level), and gate (9th level).

As an interesting alternative, consider Warlock. Though the iconic Undead Master is a wizard, there is a lot of thematic overlap with a 5e warlock sworn to the Undying (from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide). The Pact of the Chain can give you an imp or quasit familiar even as you serve the undying, and you have a spell selection that covers most of the spells you'd be interested in as an Undead Master, including, at low levels, essentially the same spell list as our low-level wizard has. A Warlock - being unable to learn many Wizard spells - may also reinforce the idea of Undead Masters being very specialized and unable to tap certain schools of magic. As you gain levels, keep an eye out for spells that reinforce your theme, such as suggestion (2nd level), hypnotic pattern (3rd level), magic circle (3rd level), banishment (4th level), contact other plane (5th level), create undead (6th level), plane shift (7th level), dominate monster (8th level), and astral projection (9th level). Invocations you may want to keep an eye on include dreadful word, fiendish vigor, gaze of two minds, minion of chaos, voice of the chain master, and whispers of the grave.

Ability Scores. As a wizard, your suggested starting ability scores as an Undead Master using the standard array are: Str 8, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 15, Wis 10, Cha 14. Undead Masters prefer to let their minions do their heavy lifting for them, and few would accuse them of being truly wise or restrained, but they are exceptionally clever, and have a wealth of personal confidence (sometimes, a bit too much). As a warlock, consider the following instead: Str 8, Dex 12, Con 13, Int 14, Wis 10, Cha 15. These Undead Masters are truly powerful personalities, though they still prefer to let their minions do their fighting.

Background and Skills. The iconic Undead Master has a great degree of expertise on undead and fiends, with no small amount of research going into magic in general or the ancient history often carried along with their corpses. The Religion skill can cover a knowledge of undead, fiends, and the netherworlds. History can cover much of the ancient history, ancient languages, and heraldic lore an Undead Master may acquire. Finally, Arcana covers spellcraft, knowledge of psirits, and the fundamentals of astrology. Fortunately, all of these skills appear on both the Wizard and Warlock skill lists, so your background choice is mostly a matter of which one of those you'd prefer to get from that source rather than your class. Acolyte can represent an Undead Master schooled in religious lore, which fits nicely for their knowledge of the netherworld (an Acolyte of a demon cult or a death god would be quite understandable). Noble can be an interesting twist: it certainly fits with the Undead Master's opulent tastes, and it rewards that high Charisma with Persuasion proficiency. Sage, of course, is a clear choice for anyone delving into ancient knowledge.

Alignment & Goals. Don't be Good - your core identity revolves around creating undead and consorting with fiends, and you won't be welcome in any campaign with a bright line between the heroes and the villains. You're an anti-hero at best, one who maybe came to oppose the same nefarious forces your party faces through more personal and self-interested means. You don't need to be evil, but you certainly are comfortable warping souls, controlling minds, and getting power from fiends, all of which often produces an irresistible temptation to nefarious acts. Perhaps in your instance it does not, but don't be surprised if angry mobs and righteous paladins don't appreciate your nuance.

When considering your goals, you might consider the story of Orcus, the Demon Prince of Undead. Stepped in both death and demon-summoning, perhaps you found your initial training within that cult - or within a rival cult. Fighting against Orcus may be an important part of your character's history or a necessary goal for their future. You may even ally with that demon prince, using his power to fuel your own fight for something perhaps not quite as apocalyptic as his own designs.

Equipment. Undead Masters appoint themselves richly, and they appoint their minions with no less ostentation. Value may matter just as much as raw function for you, so be sure to splurge on fine robes, fine meals, and fine lodging. For this reason, the dagger is likely your preferred weapon, as it is more valuable than most simple wooden staves. But, a gold-leafed, jewel-encrusted staff would certainly be more appealing than a simple dagger as well!

Feats (Optional). You don't require much in the way of feats to get your concept off the ground, but there is one that is worth mentioning: Inspiring Leader can be useful to bestow your undead and fiendish minions a bit of additional resilience.

What You're Missing. The abilities of older-edition clerics to control undead and outsiders was significantly greater than your abilities. High-level spells like dominate monster, planar binding, and create undead might not be quite enough or early enough to exert the control you'd like, even with the Enchanter's enhancement. Abjurations like protection from good and evil and magic circle might not quite shore it up enough. Consider the following feat as an optional rule to add such an effect to the game:

Master of the Netherworld
Prerequisites Charisma 11
You've found an answer to the deepest of mortal questions: "Where do we go when we die?" You've found that the answer isn't always something pleasant - infinite screaming hells and the oblivion of negative energy await most souls. You've dealt with the creatures who live there, who draw their powers from these dead worlds, and you've even bound some to your service. You command the respect of the inhabitants of this life of suffering beyond life. You gain the following benefits:
  • You gain proficiency in one of the following skills of your choice: Arcana, Religion, or History
  • As an action, you can speak words of dark magic. Each undead and fiend that can see or hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw against a DC of 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. If a creature fails its saving throw, it is charmed by you for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. Once you use this action, you must finish a short or long rest to use it again.
  • You learn to speak Abyssal and Infernal.
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Dualazi

First Post
Aside from campaign specific options that Tony beat me to the punch on, I think PrCs still have a lot of potential for concepts that are somewhat niche or could broadly be used by a number of classes, which would otherwise necessitate a lot of very similar sub-classes being added.

I think one of the poster-children for my desired PrC would be something like the Kensei. It's something that really almost any martial character could be flavored for, and aside from the fact that the UA article on it sucked in my opinion, it's irritating on a fundamental level that this particular character option has to be hamfistedly married to the monk chassis. Similarly, Arcane Archer could be applied in similar fashion, since I could easily see fighters/rangers/rogues all wanting in on that, without needing 3 mostly identical subclasses.

A lesser benefit I mentioned in another thread is that by wizards' own admission, most campaigns don't go beyond 11th level, or thereabouts. Since in 3rd edition PrCs usually kicked off at level 5-6, if they proceed over 5 levels then their last stages become pseudo-capstones, which is something a lot of players never see or reach.

I'm not longing to return to the 3.5 days where PrCs were just straight-up better in many cases than base classes, nor do I want to go back to when people had 5 classes on their characters sheets for weird, incomprehensible builds. I do think that the idea itself is solid though, and with the right implementation could be a great addition to the game.
 

Cette

Villager
It was my understanding that archetypes were meant to replace Prestige Classes and they are largely very effective at it. Hell even the multiclassing rules seem designed to prevent 3,5's cheese fest atmosphere.

Mind you I say loved the hybrid classing rules from 4e but I can't say as I could see them coming the fifth ever and maybe that's for the best.
 

Rocksome

Explorer
I'd like to see Prestige Classes implemented as trans-class archetypes.

Either A) as a single archetype that is applicable across all class (i.e an Arcane Archer might get imbue spell arrow that is separate from spellcasting )

or B) an archetype that varies depending on the class. Arcane Archer Fighters gain limited spell casting and imbue spell arrow, while Arcane Archer Wizards gain Extra Attack and imbue spell Arrow.
 

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