D&D General Weekly Wrecana - A New Division of Gish Classes

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
in memorum to Mark Monack (Wrecan)

A New Division of Gish Classes


My most current blog series is Long Division, a theoretical reorganization of power sources, classes, archetypes, and subclasses. In my previous articles on the topic, I suggested new division of magic and martial. In this article, I discuss the division of the blend of martial and magic, known as "gish".
A History of Gish

Etymology

The "gish" is a curious term unique to D&D.; The origin of the word comes from the original White Dwarf #12 article (1979) on the Githyanki. The gish are there described as a group of githyanki who try to balance their skill in the martial and magical fields. D&D; players adopted this term to describe any character who attempts to excel at both magic and weapons. However, although the term was not created until five years into the game, the concept was with us right from the start.

Original Dungeons and Dragons
The original gish is the elf. In early D&D;, elf was not just a race, it was a class (along with hobbit and dwarf). While the hobbit was sneaky and the dwarf was all about the axes and hammer, the elf was master of longsword, longbow, and magic. Before multiclassing and hybrids, the elf was the first (and at that time only) way one could master both sword and spell. While not as magical as the magic-user, and slightly less facile with the sword than the fighting-man, the elf was a popular choice for its versatility.
Truly, however, the original cleric was also a "gish". It used armor and decent (though limited) weapons, as well as a selection of spells. In general, the clerics' spells were weaker than the magic-user's, but the magic-user was far more fragile. (Whether this made the classes balanced is well beyond the scope of this article!)

Advanced Dungeons and Dragons
In AD&D;, the elf was relegated to a race, nut the concept of a magic-using warrior continued in four forms: dual-classing, multi-classing, subclassing, and psionics.
Humans could "dual-class", which meant choosing a class, pursuing it, and then abandoning that class for a new class and pursuing that. When the second class had a higher level than the first one, you could use the powers of both equally. Dual-classing came at some serious costs, which made it very unpopular, including nigh impossible ability requirements, wild swings of power imbalance, high mortality, and rules that discouraged teamwork.
Nonhumans could multi-class. What this meant was that you advanced in two or more classes simultaneously, dividing your XP evenly among the classes. Racial limits ensured that only elves and half-elves were likely to multi-class a spellcastign and martial class (except for gnomes who could multiclass with illusionists). Multiclassing was considered so powerful that elves, half-elves and gnomes used this option.
Two subclasses of fighter, and one of rogue, offered some spellcasting: the paladin, the ranger, and the 2e bard. And, of course, the cleric, with its better selection of armor and weapons, should also be considered a form of gish. These classes got decent armor and weapon choices as well as a thematic selection of spells, mostly of the divine variety. For humans, this was the only practical choice for gish.
Finally, one could go psionic, if you had rolled exceptional Abilities and you hen rolled very lucky on the check for psionics. However, if you succeeded, you were almost immediately in a separate power class form your fellows and were effectively playign a parellel game.
In short, of the four options, dual-classing and psionics were wither too restrictive or too difficult to get by the rules. Only three gish classes were available (cleric, ranger, paladin), which left multi-classing, usually for elves and NPCs (like the actual githyanki gish). Multiclassing was thus an oddity, considered appropriate for experienced players, and, in thir hands, fairly overpowering (particularly psionics).

Third Edition
Third edition expanded the possibilities for gish considerably. First, multiclassing and dual-classing were merged and given to all races. Now you could pick and choose classes level by level, allowing people to "dip" into fighter for armor and weapon proficiency and a few feats before picking up some spellcasting levels. Because the multiclassing options were so fluid and dynamic, many characters ended up being some form of gish.
In addition, third edition introduced an explosion of gish classes. In addition to the bard, cleric, ranger and paladin, supplements added the duskblade, factotum, lurk, psychic warrior, soulknife, spellthief, swordsage, warblade, and warmage. Unearthered Arcana also introduced gestalt characters, which allowed you to merge two base classes in one. It was arcane, however, complicated, and rarely used. In Third Edition, playing one class all the way through becomes the exception and gish becomes the norm.

Fourth Edition
In Fourth Edition, the use of power sources makes it easy to identify the gish. The gish is a class that accesses a power source other than martial, and uses weapons to channel its powers. The game has given us a number of gish classes, including the ardent, assassin, avenger, barbarian, bard, battlemind, cleric, monk, paladin, runepriest, seeker, swordmage, vampire, and warden. In fact, of the 28 classes, 14, or half, are gish classes.
In contrast, multiclassing has gone by the wayside. Multiclassing onlu allows one to dabble. Hybrids are another way to make a gish, but that is considered somewhat difficult to accomplish well, and competing ability requirements make it unlikely. For this reason, most 4e gish is centered on gish classes, which also likely explains why there are so many gish classes.

A New Division
So how should hybrids be divided? Well, given that, traditionally, all the gish classes involve a martial base with spellcastign added on, we can discard schema that involves the merger of two magical power sources. Instead, I propose there be a gish class specifically for each non-martial power source.
However, for subclasses or builds, the classes should be organized like the martial classes. I divided martial classes into offensive, defensive, and exotic subclasses or builds. Since the gish classes will be invoking powers through their weapons, designing the builds akin to the martial classes makes a great deal of sense. While magic classes can be given builds based on specilaization in magic because magic is all they have and the only real way to distinguish magical classes, any class that uses weapons (including gish) can be distinguished by fighting style. Fighting style generally more evocative and intuitive than distinguishing magical warriors on magical specialization.
Thus, I have given each gish class an offensive build, a defensive build, and one build whose concept is to delve more deeply into the melding of martial prowess and that class' unique power source. More builds can of course be introduced as the edition is developed. My proposed division of the gish classes is as follows:


Here is a more detailed description of each class and their subclasses:

Assassin (Shadow): The assassin channels the dark magic of shadow to assist him in attacking his enemies with his swift and silent weapons. The ninja uses the fatally erosive power of shadow to accentuate his attacks, making them deadlier and more accurate. The shadowguard uses the deceptive, concealing shadows as a shroud to protect him and his allies. The shadowdancer delves into the combination of shadow and movement, dwelling in the shadows and making them an extension of the assassin's own persona.

Barbarian (Primal): The barbarian channels primal magic through his blood to become a more potent predator. The hunter channels primal energy through his weapons and into his enemies with deadly prowess. The warden summons the power of nature to protect himself and his allies from harm. The skinwalker uses primal magic to wild shape into the form of animals that allow him a variety of abilities, and a deeper more intuitive knowledge of the primal element. The skinwalker is not merely a shapeshifter, but an "enurgemens", a mortal vessel through which primal spirits can exert their will.

Mystic (Psionic): The mystic harnesses the power of the mind to enhance her own martial prowess. The monk uses meditative techniques to become a living weapon, centering her breath and focus into powerful flurries of attacks. The yogi uses meditation and fluid forms to redirect her own enemies' strengths away from herself and her allies, with serene prescience. Finally, the ardent delves deep into the power of the mind to unlock martial potential that produces truly astounding abilities.
Paladin (Divine): The paladin is a divine warrior, anointed by the faith to confront the enemies of her gods. As an avenger, the paladin is quick and light, striking hard and true, imbued with divine zeal to smite infidels. As a templar, the paladin is a defender of the faithful, shielding the virtuous from the depredations of the sinful. And as a favored soul, the paladin is a chosen one of the faith, delving into the mysteries of the divine as they alter and augment her own physical exemplar. The favored soul thus becomes a physical manifestation of an aspect of the deity on the material plane.

Stormlord (Elemental): The stormlord channels raw elemental energies through her armor and weapons. The fury is like a thunderbolt striking at her enemies with weapons enshrouded in ice, flame, or other elements. The archon radiates auras and of elemental power that inhibit the enemy and protect her allies. The tempest becomes like a living storm of elemental power, imbuing herself with the essence of any or all the elements and energies, becoming one with the power source, and manifesting a variety of effects, and warping physical reality around her.

Warmage (Arcane): The warmage uses magic to enhance his martial technique. The hexblade channels magic into the enemy, enhancing the physical damage of his weapon with a variety of hexes and curses. The runeguard protects his gear, allies, and himself in magical runes to ward off attacks and danger. The swordmage invokes magic directly, using his weapon as a superpowered magic wand, that alters magic in its most raw shape, allowing the swordmage to teleport himself or others around the battlefield, to split the earth with mighty blows, and to create gaps in space and time with a deft flash of the blade.
Despite the use of the "blade" suffix and "sword" prefix", the hexblade and swordmage, respectively, should not be limited to bladed weapons. I see no reason a swordmage should not be able to wield a hammer, and a hexblade could not curse his foes with an axe.
Culture Shock

Most of the gish classes should be perfectly familiar to D&D; players, or at least the archetypes are not too unfamiliar. The runeguard, of course, resembles the current runepriest, though I've now made him arcane and not divine. Runes always seemed to me to be quintessentially arcane magic, and with arcane and elemental being separated, arcane could use runes to achieve more definition and clarity.
The "yogi" is a new class, and I am concerned that actual practitioners of yoga might take offense. I hope, however, that it is clear I am using "yogi" with a fantastical twist, and that no resemblance to real-life yogic practices are intended. The archetype of a passive meditative martial artist whose mental powers aloow him to use an enemy's strength against him, is sufficiently part of the fantasy realm to be accessible and acceptable.
The biggest change, however, may be the introduction of the skinwalker as a gish class, rather than as an option for druids. Wild shaping was intended to give the druid a melee option, and a melee caster is a gish class. So the skinwalker is, in fact, the melee druid, but concentrating on wild shape. The druid class, as we will see, is to be limited to the spellcasting variety. While some may not be happy with this divide, the entire point of Long Division is to analyze where historical class divisions were muddied and to try to clarify them in a meaningful way. I feel that separating the druid and skinwalker is a meaningful division that will make both classes ultimately all the richer.
 
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I was always a bit less equivocal about this particular one. Mark's gishes mostly just seem to work. Honestly they rather mirror the 4e ones pretty closely anyway, though 4e kinda messed up the Paladin/cleric distinction.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
i think the Cleric as the original Gish is significant ie there was the Fighting Man, Magic User and Cleric as the very first trinity of character archetypes, making the most basic flavor division. Warrior, Wizard and Hybrid. HOWEVER the battlefield role component was already happening.... so there were already conceptual Defender, Controller and Leader... if we pretend the game was balanced (and they did want it to be) with any of those potentially being the striker (see this is lance pretending slap dash situational and spread over levels balancing works).

Regardless what I am saying is those flavor archetypes were NOT the real thing going on and sure we could build a simple game with two character "types" and hybrid rules, but the battlefield roles that 4e pointed out were class fundamental features (even if not always so well implemented - ok I tried)
 

Igwilly

First Post
The idea sounds cool, although it has the same “flaw” as the previous one: making every class fill every role. I get that’s kind of the idea, and it’s actually a feature but which classes fulfill which roles is part of the class game for me.
Some comments about the classes:
1) Assassin: I’m not so sure because Assassins are very martial to me. I liked more of the AD&D 1e assassin than 3.X or 4e assassin. I may change my mind on future but I do not know.
2) Mystic: I dislike the way people use the term for basically everything that suits them. Mysticism for me is all about religion: not so much with psionics or whatever.
3) Warmage: Ha, I actually created my own Warmage class but it’s a little different from this one. Still, this version is interesting.
 

i think the Cleric as the original Gish is significant ie there was the Fighting Man, Magic User and Cleric as the very first trinity of character archetypes, making the most basic flavor division. Warrior, Wizard and Hybrid. HOWEVER the battlefield role component was already happening.... so there were already conceptual Defender, Controller and Leader... if we pretend the game was balanced (and they did want it to be) with any of those potentially being the striker (see this is lance pretending slap dash situational and spread over levels balancing works).

Regardless what I am saying is those flavor archetypes were NOT the real thing going on and sure we could build a simple game with two character "types" and hybrid rules, but the battlefield roles that 4e pointed out were class fundamental features (even if not always so well implemented - ok I tried)

Roles are more fundamental than classes, they exist IN THE REAL WORLD in military science (though obviously they have different names and slightly different functional expression). So there were defender, Controller, and Leader, with wizards kind of also being 'striker', but a fighter could certainly also fill that role, and possible a cleric could too, though they were far less equipped for that.

As for balance, I think that OD&D's 3 classes actually ARE pretty well balanced. Some details depend on exactly how you interpret some rules, but consider how it might have been played in a fairly strict sense. M.U.s have to return to town to get new spells, they can't carry their books. They can't cast, at all, unless they can stand steady and undisturbed with hands free and able to speak (and casting spells makes noise, you have to talk to do it). Each spell has to be either discovered or randomly learned when you gain a new level of spells, or researched. You also have to actually understand the spell. In addition some of the more potent magics require material ingredients, which can be pretty costly and have to be available, limiting the opportunities for casting them. Finally there's a VERY short list of spells at each level. An M.U. can do a bunch of stuff, but a HUGE amount less than in later versions of the game. Finally he's still weak in hit points, has a crap AC, and can't use a lot of really potent items. He also doesn't get followers and its at least implied that he isn't that good at holding onto hirelings, as they are often creeped out.

Contrast this to the fighter, who can get to AC2 (M.U. is stuck at AC9, there's no DEX bonus to AC). Fighters easily hire and command henchmen and hirelings, and even get free ones at high level if they build a castle. They also require a lot less XP than a wizard, about 20% less.

The cleric is in some senses the weakest, he's got NO spells at level 1, and never gets as many or as powerful spells as the M.U. (though some of them are exceedingly useful, granted). He can get any AC, but he uses a fairly limited weapon and can't be an archer or even use pole arms. He can hire people, and perhaps may even do better here than the fighter potentially. He can get some followers too, but they're not quite as good as the fighter's. His turning ability and fast advancement at low levels however do make him a really good class. Most of his problem is just being kinda boring, since he pretty much wants nothing but CLW and maybe Protection From Evil. He also doesn't get bonus spells in OD&D.

While wizards and clerics do gain in power at high levels, they are never exactly as dominating as in 3.x where most of their restrictions are lost. In fact even AD&D, if you are really strict about following all the rules, can be kind of harsh on casters, though they do eventually get too strong at high level. A lot of this is because of the large and super flexible spell lists, and easier means to actually get new spells.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Roles are more fundamental than classes, they exist IN THE REAL WORLD in military science (though obviously they have different names and slightly different functional expression).

nods and in Team endeavors of most any kind.

So there were defender, Controller, and Leader, with wizards kind of also being 'striker', but a fighter could certainly also fill that role, and possible a cleric could too, though they were far less equipped for that.

I give em it situationally if the DM provided enough undead/demons anyway ;)

As for balance, I think that OD&D's 3 classes actually ARE pretty well balanced. Some details depend on exactly how you interpret some rules, but consider how it might have been played in a fairly strict sense.

Lightning and Fireballs by the way look to have been basically the first at-willl ;) powers for the wizards of the screachingly earliest game... ok it was after they stopped using the rock paper scissors. But only the convenience and utility powers were on the chart for dailies...

M.U.s have to return to town to get new spells, they can't carry their books. They can't cast, at all, unless they can stand steady and undisturbed with hands free and able to speak (and casting spells makes noise, you have to talk to do it). Each spell has to be either discovered or randomly learned when you gain a new level of spells, or researched. You also have to actually understand the spell. In addition some of the more potent magics require material ingredients, which can be pretty costly and have to be available, limiting the opportunities for casting them. Finally there's a VERY short list of spells at each level. An M.U. can do a bunch of stuff, but a HUGE amount less than in later versions of the game. Finally he's still weak in hit points, has a crap AC, and can't use a lot of really potent items. He also doesn't get followers and its at least implied that he isn't that good at holding onto hirelings, as they are often creeped out.

some of that I called the spell lottery it was entirely possible to be worthless... and worthless characters are just as imbalanced as over powered ones.

Some of all that was in AD&D by implication but honestly I seen DMs hand out a book with the 5th level spell set as a treasure and similar things

AND in practice other of the implied limie were shuffled away, they also didnt interrupt the caster as making a caster at low levels waste what might be one of his only opportunities to feel like a wizard was seen as a bit rude I think
 

Lightning and Fireballs by the way look to have been basically the first at-willl ;) powers for the wizards of the screachingly earliest game... ok it was after they stopped using the rock paper scissors. But only the convenience and utility powers were on the chart for dailies...

Sure, in Chainmail they're just basically a powerful artillery piece, they can keep firing all day, IIRC. If there was a point at which that was in D&D it was pre-publication. The original 3 LBBs pretty much have the M.U. born fully fledged, his rules changed only in relatively minor ways up through the end of 2e. The big ones were traveling spell books and much bigger spell lists, and the ability to (depending on exact interpretations and which book you went with) pick and choose spells to some extent.

I don't think the balance ever TOTALLY worked, but IME of playing OD&D wizards were more like high risk and high reward, you might flame out totally and be worthless, or you might completely do something amazing. Fighters pretty much always did fairly cool stuff, but might hit a gap now and then, and clerics were super reliable and always chipped in everywhere.

Also, the game really didn't extend past level 10 at that point. Technically you could play above that, but beyond level 12 you were pretty much beyond the rules as written. The game seemed to basically call for getting up to level 9 and then only playing your 'big guns' in special situations, mostly pulling them back to their strongholds and having them send out minions. They'd eventually level up beyond name level into the low teens and kind of top out. At that point the wizard was perhaps boss man, maybe, but there's a good chance most of what he's doing at those levels is outside the main party adventuring anyway, and fighters have their 'running the kingdom' shtick as well.
 


Igwilly

First Post
As a side note: I read this entire series of Wrecan’s articles. Did any other already appear here? It would be nice to discuss this series in context instead of separating everything.
I also think he’s too negative about the Ki Focus, but that’s another topic.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
As a side note: I read this entire series of Wrecan’s articles. Did any other already appear here? It would be nice to discuss this series in context instead of separating everything.
I also think he’s too negative about the Ki Focus, but that’s another topic.

They originally appeared on WOTC forums I have been rescuing and re-presenting quite a few on here, largely via the wayback machine

I am also putting up links to them when I remember up on

http://www.dyasdesigns.com/dragon_phoenix/

but it needs some tlc and me remembering.
 

Igwilly

First Post
Oh, I knew about Wrecan's articles at WotC community. I was talking about this specific series of articles appearing here as threads. I think these articles should be discussed together.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Oh, I knew about Wrecan's articles at WotC community. I was talking about this specific series of articles appearing here as threads. I think these articles should be discussed together.

Ah I have in the past sometimes posted all of other series under one banner I was considering posting this one with the Martial Classes one but the images seem to post better when done as a new thread, but I do see how they might relate to one another strong enough having them as one post / and replies to it would be good
 

As a side note: I read this entire series of Wrecan’s articles. Did any other already appear here? It would be nice to discuss this series in context instead of separating everything.
I also think he’s too negative about the Ki Focus, but that’s another topic.

Well, the Ki Focus IS kind of a 'kludge' implement. Its entire purpose is to give Monks enhancement bonuses when they don't attack with a weapon. Its not hideous, but things get pretty klunky when a monk DOES decide to use a weapon (and as it stands all of them will). Effectively they're a weapon+implement class that needs to maintain two offensive big 3 items (though you can certainly make builds that never need a Ki Focus at all).

Overall I think the monk primarily reveals the weakness of 4e's 'weapliment' system in a fairly big way.
 

Oh, I knew about Wrecan's articles at WotC community. I was talking about this specific series of articles appearing here as threads. I think these articles should be discussed together.

Actually if you find any of them at the wayback machine they're all heavily crosslinked. I read through the whole series the other day.
 

Igwilly

First Post
Well, the Ki Focus IS kind of a 'kludge' implement. Its entire purpose is to give Monks enhancement bonuses when they don't attack with a weapon. Its not hideous, but things get pretty klunky when a monk DOES decide to use a weapon (and as it stands all of them will). Effectively they're a weapon+implement class that needs to maintain two offensive big 3 items (though you can certainly make builds that never need a Ki Focus at all).

Overall I think the monk primarily reveals the weakness of 4e's 'weapliment' system in a fairly big way.

Ok, I’m lost here. Are you talking about 4e’s Monk or this hypothetical Monk from Wrecan’s article? Because, as I remember, there was no need for both magic items for 4e’s monk.
But, if the problem is that it doesn’t seem to fit, I think it’s just a presentation problem. I’m sure someone can improve the fluff to something more defined.
However, ki focuses and holy symbols in 4e had something that Wrecan clearly didn’t like it: they don’t need to be wielded, only carried. This might upset the idea’s balance state.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Ok, I’m lost here. Are you talking about 4e’s Monk or this hypothetical Monk from Wrecan’s article? Because, as I remember, there was no need for both magic items for 4e’s monk.

Can use any weapon they are trained with as an implement... it's very like an ingredient I was considering for Warlords with controller powers. Heirloom items, including weapons being the most common.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Hmmm there seems some tricky bits I found this http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showsinglepost.php?p=14931255&postcount=2

(1) Ki focuses in general: Ki focuses are implements, first and foremost. If you are using an Implement power, you can use a Ki Focus for it so long as you're proficient in them.

They also "share" their enchantments with any weapon you're using. So if you have just a normal longsword and a +3 Ki Focus, you get to use the Ki Focus's +3 on your attacks with it. This is awesome for characters like Executioners who expect to swap weapons a lot. It's likewise awesome for unarmed guys and guys who use improvised weapons, like Arena Fighters and some Brawler Fighters, because it affects anything they pick up. (Interestingly, Ki Focus Expertise gives its feat bonuses to any Implement attacks made with a Ki Focus and any Weapon attacks made which are enhanced by the Ki Focus.

(2) Monks: Okay, so monks are proficient in Ki Focuses. They can do all that stuff I just mentioned. Critically, however, Monks can also use any weapon they are proficient in as an Implement. So they don't even need a Ki Focus, if they don't want one. If they're proficient in a Spear and pick up a Magic Spear +2, the Spear's properties and bonuses work towards the Monk's implement attacks. It's really pretty sweet.

Finally, there's a case where you have both a magic weapon and a magic ki focus. Simply put, they don't stack. If I have a Ghost Touch Ki Focus and an Alfsair Spear, it's one or the other when I make a weapon attack with the spear. (And if I have Ki Focus Expertise but not Spear Expertise, it's best if I use the former to get my Expertise bonuses.)
 

Igwilly

First Post
… That’s my point: no need to have two magic items just for attacks.

Anyway, I think Wrecan’s Gishes are good, too. Except for some names, their concepts sound interesting and flavorful.
However, there is one quibble I have with Wrecan’s design: psionics being treated as magic.
They are not! Why they were brought together, anyway?
 


… That’s my point: no need to have two magic items just for attacks.

Anyway, I think Wrecan’s Gishes are good, too. Except for some names, their concepts sound interesting and flavorful.
However, there is one quibble I have with Wrecan’s design: psionics being treated as magic.
They are not! Why they were brought together, anyway?

What else are they? They operate by supra-mundane contrafactual processes. This is the very definition of magic.
 

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