RPG Evolution: 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.

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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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?
 

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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca

talien

Community Supporter
If I were to split the ranger I think I would do it into three classes: the hunter, the explorer and the beastmaster, and let them all get more fleshed out individually.

The hunter is the nonmagic combat ranger I’ve seen people calling out for, it’s the ‘monster hunter’ but also the archer, gets the ranger’s favoured foes feature and hunter’s mark reworked as an ability rather than a spell, bonuses to ranged and thrown weapons and can use them in melee without disadvantage, very good in combat in general but stacks various specialisation bonuses to deal the real big hits

The explorer is the one who gets favoured terrains(Now with added practical functionalities!), tracking or finding things, stealth, nature, survival, and both magical healing and medicine skill, herbalism kit, some of the nature-y druid type spells too, The Explorer is a skillmonkey, as well as getting bonuses to things like climbing and swimming and all things exploration.

And finally the Beastmaster, emphasis on actual beasts rather than the underwhelming familiars it currently gets, special manoeuvres between beastmaster and creature rather than each attacking individually, the control beast/monster spell, animal friendship, animal messenger, a few summoning spells, find familiar, planar binding, until you’ve got your own little army at your beck and call.
All of this 100%. The first one is basically the Witcher class (although more arcane than druid-y focus), the second is a survivalist class (good for post-apocalyptic games, for example), and the third addresses a major gap in all of the classes around dealing with summoned creatures/pets, which D&D seems to have unique rules for each class (ravens! shadow wolves! a magical dog!).
 

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A martial buffing class (Marshall) and an exclusively summoner class are mt two largest desires that can't be effectively simulated currently to my satisfaction.
 


Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
In honor of Wrestlemania being last weekend, D&D is missing the fantasy wrestler/gladiator that fights with exotic weapons, improvised weapons, archaic weapons, and grapples while building up hype and heat to fuel his or her showy signature moves and finishers.
 



jasper

Rotten DM
The class which combines two of my favorite fantasy movies and shows but would be OP at first level and be gawd like at 10th.
 

Stalker0

Legend
generally light armour dex-fighter still isnt well supported
I feel that the Swashbuckler rogue or the Battlemaster fighter can both do dex fighters very well. I mean dex is so powerful in 5e, just take any fighter, give them a rapier and maybe a shortsword, throw in some high dex....and go to work. They have dex skills like acrobatics, high initiative, dueling bonus for damage, what more do you need?
 



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