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D&D General The "Jack Of All Trades" is a cursed archetype in tabletop RPGs

A jack of all trades character class has never been good design in a team RPG, and this is due to the fact that you can only do one thing at once so the definition of the concept is that you are always doing something you aren't the best at.

It works in a solo/team cRPG because the PCs in most CRPGs are Special and surrounded by NPCs who are, ultimately, not as good at things as they are. If you take, for example, a reasonably skilled player playing as Commander Shepherd your guns are probably doing more damage than those of your squadmates no matter which class you pick assuming you care enough about shooting to use them at all. Because, being a PC surrounded by NPCs you are awesome - your choice is how to be awesome and "I'm awesome because I'm as good as anyone at anything" works.

But in a team based RPG your team mates are masters of things. A Jack Of All Trades Master of None can only do one thing at once so they are never ever doing anything they are a master at. They are always second rate compared to other party members. And they can't even do everything at once, stacking synergies, due to the action economy and due to that being something they would be a master at.

In D&D 5e it is worse than that because there are a number of hybrid characters with secondary areas. A paladin, for example, is a primary brawler and secondary healer and secondary face. By contrast a melee cleric is a primary healer and secondary brawler. A "jack of all trades" brawls like a cleric and heals like a paladin. And stealths at best like a non-Shadow monk, but not like a rogue, ranger, or shadow monk.

So given that most characters are flexible and should be able to contribute in all three pillars (meaning they should have at least three areas of reasonable expertise of which a non-JOAT class should be a master of at least one) you're down to at least the fourth and probably the fifth or sixth area a class contributes in before a Jack of All Trades nature means that its area of all trades is better than the mediocrity of another class unless they are actually a master of something, exploiting synergies.
 

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Fanaelialae

Legend
That entirely depends on how the JOAT class is designed. Bards have traditionally been the JOAT of D&D, but in 5e (at the very minimum) they are healers on par with all but the most specialized (life cleric). And I would argue that they can be very good in other areas as well.

I do agree, however, that a generalist can't be too far behind a specialist. Plenty of people, IME, will look at a well balanced JOAT and scream that it can't possibly be balanced. But, as you said, they don't consider that the class can only do one thing at a time. What seems unbalanced on paper is balanced in play.
 

It seems like that's really going to depend on whether the roles this character has competency but not mastery in are all successfully filled on the team, whether they benefit from an additional teammate having some competency in them, whether their competency but not mastery is enough to get by, and whether the jack of all trades character's player shows up often on occasions when the folks playing masters of those various trades do not.

Personally I place a high premium on being able to participate meaningfully in all parts of play, so these archtypes appeal to me, even if they are not particularly optimal.
 



One workaround that seems popular enough is for the class to be JOAT, but individual characters are able to specialize a bit - they can master one thing at least.

So a bard, under this method, could still be a top-tier healer or controller or stabber or buffer, but they have to pick one. Similar to ideas for swordmage and warlock and such.
 
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payn

Hero
One workaround that seems popular enough is for the class to be JOAT, but individual characters are able to specialize a bit - they can master one thing at least.

So a bard, under this method, could still be a top-tier healer or controller or stabber or buffer, but they have to pick one. Similar to ideas for swordmage and warlock and such.
Sounds like the Pathfinder 1 ranger. You had a combat style you could choose, two weapon, two handed, range, etc... On top of that, you had favored enemy, favored terrain, and spells to round out the character's abilities. The PF1 ranger allowed you to specialize in a number of ways that made playing the class over and over interesting while also hitting all three pillars. It wasn't a perfect spread across the pillars of the game but its a great concept to use an archetype for future design.
 

Minigiant

Legend
It depends.
Successful JOAT or dual-type classes in gaming combine the "multiple trades" into one action.

These are your magic smites, teleport strikes, tech bullets, drain and heals, feint and stabs, magic eyes, mark and track, etc
 

Northern Phoenix

Adventurer
I generally find that in D&D, it is often a bigger problem that you can be too good at too many things than the opposite. The infamous "do everything Wizard" being just the most famous, but probably not the most egregious example.
 

MGibster

Legend
I have generalist in my job title and when people ask me what I do I sometimes jokingly tell them, "I do a little bit of everything but I'm not really good at any of it." But while I'm expected to have a broad breadth of skills in my job role, I concentrate more on compliance and contracts than anything else.

Personally I place a high premium on being able to participate meaningfully in all parts of play, so these archtypes appeal to me, even if they are not particularly optimal.
That's where I am and a few months ago I started a thread stating that all PCs should be good at talking to NPCs. My idea wasn't that you couldn't have a Face in the group, only that we're playing an RPG and every player should be encouraged and incentivized to participate in social interactions even if that isn't their main forte because it's a big part of the game.

In the past I've found that D&D characters are so specialized that it discouraged players from participating in the game if they felt like the scene was outside of their lane. I can't count the number of times I've seen social encounters played out with one player doing all the talking because the other players didn't make "social" characters. I feel as though 5th edition with its Backgrounds afford players an opportunity to broaden their characters a bit more than in 3rd edition at least.

In most other games, I encourage players to find a niche for their character but I also encourage them to be good at other things as well. In Savage Worlds, I tell them they're going to get into a fight at some point during the campaign so it's a good idea to put some points into skills that'll help you with that. It's good to be cross trained in case you're not all together for a scene.

I've designed characters that were JOATs because they're fun to play for two reasons: I'm able to meaningfully participate in a wide variety of scenes. And even if I'm not the super star I am often able to provide a supporting role to another PC and that's fun too.
 

Slow_Travel

Explorer
In the last 15 years we've seen tremendous departure from what people consider a TTRPG. Our indie space is filled with creative people trying new mechanics, systems, approaches.

Dread, Fiasco, FATE, Lasers & Feelings, Ten Candles, Thousand Year Old Vampire, etc.
 

Honestly, its hard to see how its going to work out well unless you don't have enough players to cover the specialist roles or it frequently is a case where you need people to be in different places at the same time to make things work. That's just not a set of situations that come up to justify a character who is otherwise second-rate at everything.

As McGibster suggests, you can maybe have someone who's a specialist in one area and who the rest of their gig is being competent everywhere else, but it doesn't tend to be sexy.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
In 5e, the Bard is able to do most primary roles to some degree, and can support, heal, and control, better than most.

But even if they were second tier at everything, they’re still going to have a couple things that they’re the best in the party at doing. It doesn’t matter if a rogue would have been a better sneak and the Ranger better at group stealth, the Bard with expertise and inspiration can do both, and in a party with neither a rogue nor a ranger, they’re the best in the party at both.
 

Mordhau

Explorer
The trick with this kind of thing would be to have that feels like a Jack of all Trades but isn't really.

This is, of course, difficult design and may not be worth the effort. But the way it could potentially work is, if in the process of being able to do the same thing other classes can do, but less effectively, the combination of these factors adds up to something new.

The Arcane Trickster is a variation of this that comes somewhat close to working. The combination of low level magic and rogue skills opens up an area that allows the character to take advantage of low level spells in ways a wizard can't necessarily. (The problem here is that it has never really taken enough away from the straightforward non-magical rogue).
 

Mordhau

Explorer
In the last 15 years we've seen tremendous departure from what people consider a TTRPG. Our indie space is filled with creative people trying new mechanics, systems, approaches.

Dread, Fiasco, FATE, Lasers & Feelings, Ten Candles, Thousand Year Old Vampire, etc.
Once you get away from the standard D&D adventuring party model then the whole equation does become different.

If characters aren't tied to the hip and may be separated or even potentially acting in ways that are at odds with each then having areas of weakness may be more of a potential issue than not being specialised.

But in the hobby as a whole this is a pretty niche approach.
 

It depends on how the edition sets things up. In OD&D and 1E, everyone was basically a JOAT since you were pretty much only limited by the judgement of the DM. In 2E and 3E, characters focused much more on a single role, but in a 5 person party, having someone able to back up everyone else is pretty useful (although it's better to split this up among everyone, rather than one person). I really don't think the 4E powers system allowed for anything resembling a JOAT. 5E has gone the opposite route, as someone else pointed out, where everyone has a specialty and 1-2 secondaries, so a JOAT is irrelevant.

If you wanted to make a class that was a true JOAT-MON, you'd have to balance them higher. Most people think of a secondary being about half as good as a specialist. A JOAT would have to be at 3/4 instead, but for everything. They could shore up any area better than any non-specialist, but cannot be better than a specialist. This would not be appealing to every player, but I believe there are some who would like it. Personally I like 5E's specialty/secondary setup, but YMMV.
 

Argyle King

Legend
A jack of all trades character class has never been good design in a team RPG, and this is due to the fact that you can only do one thing at once so the definition of the concept is that you are always doing something you aren't the best at.

It works in a solo/team cRPG because the PCs in most CRPGs are Special and surrounded by NPCs who are, ultimately, not as good at things as they are. If you take, for example, a reasonably skilled player playing as Commander Shepherd your guns are probably doing more damage than those of your squadmates no matter which class you pick assuming you care enough about shooting to use them at all. Because, being a PC surrounded by NPCs you are awesome - your choice is how to be awesome and "I'm awesome because I'm as good as anyone at anything" works.

But in a team based RPG your team mates are masters of things. A Jack Of All Trades Master of None can only do one thing at once so they are never ever doing anything they are a master at. They are always second rate compared to other party members. And they can't even do everything at once, stacking synergies, due to the action economy and due to that being something they would be a master at.

In D&D 5e it is worse than that because there are a number of hybrid characters with secondary areas. A paladin, for example, is a primary brawler and secondary healer and secondary face. By contrast a melee cleric is a primary healer and secondary brawler. A "jack of all trades" brawls like a cleric and heals like a paladin. And stealths at best like a non-Shadow monk, but not like a rogue, ranger, or shadow monk.

So given that most characters are flexible and should be able to contribute in all three pillars (meaning they should have at least three areas of reasonable expertise of which a non-JOAT class should be a master of at least one) you're down to at least the fourth and probably the fifth or sixth area a class contributes in before a Jack of All Trades nature means that its area of all trades is better than the mediocrity of another class unless they are actually a master of something, exploiting synergies.

I think that's somewhat true of D&D but not necessarily true of ttRPGs as a whole.

In games where it's feasible to split up, having someone on the other end who is at least partially capable at approaching a task is far better than someone who is incapable ruining the mission despite the expert's presence at one location.

Also, it is good strategic planning to have a secondary option for a task when serving in a unit which regularly sees combat. Having a medic is great. When the medic gets shot, having someone else who can patch a wound is good planning.
 

I think that's somewhat true of D&D but not necessarily true of ttRPGs as a whole.

In games where it's feasible to split up, having someone on the other end who is at least partially capable at approaching a task is far better than someone who is incapable ruining the mission despite the expert's presence at one location.

Also, it is good strategic planning to have a secondary option for a task when serving in a unit which regularly sees combat. Having a medic is great. When the medic gets shot, having someone else who can patch a wound is good planning.


There's often some benefits for having a backup character for some skills (medic is, in fact a good case), but there's rarely enough skills that's true of to justify a true JOAT; it just means you need a couple critical backup skills spread around a group.
 

Argyle King

Legend
There's often some benefits for having a backup character for some skills (medic is, in fact a good case), but there's rarely enough skills that's true of to justify a true JOAT; it just means you need a couple critical backup skills spread around a group.

I wouldn't say "rarely," but even saying "rarely" would indicate that there is not an absence of time(s) when a JOAT is valuable.

I believe that the level of rarity changes when looking at other rpgs and when looking at a wider variety of tactical situations.

I would tend to agree that breadth-of-skill loses utility in rpgs (such as most built on the d20 system) which have a more vertical model of advancement.
 

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