D&D General What Should Today's Archetypes Be


It's almost easier to suggest what D&D tropes would NOT be inserted in the first fantasy TTRPG if it were invented today, now that the fantasy literature of the 50's-70's has faded into the background, and literature of the 2000's is more prominent. Of course, it isn't really feasible to tease out the D&D threads from all the other influences among authors, but here's my take on it:

OUT (we wouldn't see these invented today)
  • Bard as a spellcaster. Like druid this class is almost unrecognizable compared its orginal inspirations. They might have some magic but certainly not as much as D&D gives them. A modern game might invent a Bard (if medival), Face, or Diplomat class that specializes in the social pillar.
  • Druid as a shapeshifting nature priest. The concept has diverged enormously from its historical/mythological inspiration and I don't think it would be invented today.
  • Ranger as a magic-using warrior. I think a modern game would probably invent some kind of warrior/rogue hybrid, say "Hunter" that might branch out into either guardians or exploiters of the wilderness but I don't think it would occur to anyone to give them spells.
  • WIzard as a Vancian spellcaster. A modern game would probably create some kind of hermetic, analytic, or ritual-based magic user, but it would probably look more like the world of Ars Magica than the Dying Earth.
IN (common modern tropes)
  • Barbarian, Fighter, Rogue are the minimum to model non-magical adventurers
  • Cleric because mythology-inspired settings need gods and religion
  • Monk because of Asian influences on modern fantasy, especially shonen manga
  • Paladin is probably close to what a modern game would design for a holy/blessed knight, witcher, or exorcist although the specific powers might be different
  • Sorcerer because most fictional magic-users have specialized, personal magic, not "learn and cast anything" magic. If better designed this class could subsume numerous tropes like psychic, witch, elementalist, healer, etc.
  • Warlock because bargaining with outsiders for magic is a very widespread concept.
NEW (modern trope not in D&D)
  • Summoner as a kind of magician who relies more on outsider allies than their own magic
  • Artificer/Alchemist could be a modern version of the hermetic magic-user
  • Shapechanger could be a modern version of the druid without the spellcasting
  • Assassin/Ninja/Spy could be a completely separate class from the ki-powered Monk or self-serving, opportunistic Rogue
  • Stalwart could be a fighter variant that specializes in armor, resistance, and defending allies--an alternative way to model the knight archetype
  • Gunslinger is completely feasible for a modern game
Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed book has a completely different but thematically complete selection of fantasy classes for 3e/3.5e that makes for very interesting reading.

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I think we need to start by locking down what fantasy media would be out there, influencing the game in this alternate timeline.

I'm going to disregard any influence from video games. There is no Skyrim, there is no Final Fantasy, there is no World of WarCraft (but there may still be a WarCraft RTS series). Without D&D to inspire them, those games don't get made.

You can throw out most of Appendix N, as well. Howard, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and maybe Moorcock have staying power, but IMO D&D is the reason that the rest of those authors have not faded completely into obscurity. Some of them were out of print already when D&D came out. Consequently, I think we're looking at a game that is much more "high fantasy" than "swords and sorcery."

The Lord of the Rings is still going to be around as the foundation of the modern fantasy genre, and it's still going to be important. As a consequence, we still have the core nonhuman races - elves, dwarves, and halflings. Half-elves and half-orcs may also be there. But, I think there's an off-chance that you can just play as a straight-up orc. Modern culture is much less in favor of the idea that there might be a race of people who are just inherently bad, and the orcs are a significant part of Tolkien's universe.

Elsewhere in fantasy literature, we'll have A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Wheel of Time, Discworld, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. I don't have sales data or anything for these books, but they just feel like they're the most mainstream expressions of fantasy literature at the moment. Two of them got TV shows recently. Wait, so did the Shannara Chronicles, so throw that in, too (now we definitely still have half-elves).

Then there's manga/anime. If D&D were first coming out today, this would absolutely be a huge influence, because it is a huge portion of fantasy media.

The animanga franchises that seem most relevant, and which also have large audiences in the west, and which are not themselves descended directly from D&D, by my reckoning are: DragonBall Z, Naruto, Berserk, Bleach, Demon Slayer....and a lot more but that's what I have off the top of my head. Notably, all of these except DragonBall have human protagonists, and I don't think game balance could withstand Saiyan PC's.

With all that in mind, what changes do we see to D&D in this universe?

Vancian casting is right out. If any person on this forum tells me they heard of Jack Vance before they got into D&D, I'm inclined to call that person a liar. We'll still have spellcasting PC's, but they'll play much differently, mechanically.

I feel like the more recent fantasy series tend to focus a lot more on characters who are important not just to their own stories, but to their settings. The heroes of modern fantasy fiction are often either chosen ones, or they are involved in courtly politics and major wars, or both. We might actually see a lot more domain-level play because of this.

The power level of melee characters is going to be much higher, because anime.

The implied setting is likely to be more anachronistic and less strictly medieval, because anime.

Psionics is gone, because that fad has faded. The Monk class is gone, because regular Fighters are going to eat his kung-fu-flavored lunch.

At this point, ASoIaF has overtaken even the Arthurian mythos in terms of shaping how people perceive knights. So, the Paladin class is out, replaced by nonmagical armored warriors who can lead troops.

Alignment may not be gone. But, the Good-Evil axis is going to be given much more weight than the Law-Chaos axis, if the latter is even present.

My tentative race and class list looks like this:

•Human (obviously)
•Elf (inspired mainly by Tolkien, but also by Maas)
•Dwarf (Tolkien)
•Halfling (Tolkien)
•Orc (Tolkien)
•Half-Elf (partly from Tolkien, but mainly from Terry Brooks)
•Dragonborn (these are D&D originals, and cool enough to fit into the current fantasy zeitgeist)
•Tiefling (see above)

•Warrior (who wields weapons and wears armor. Can have supernatural power)
•Martial Artist (who does not wear armor, may or may not wield weapons, and definitely has supernatural powers)
•Barbarian (because vikings are hot right now, rather than because of Conan)
•Wizard (who comes from a magical bloodline like a sorcerer, and who does not use Vancian-style magic at all. Magic is probably mostly elemental)
•Warlock (too cool and edgy to exclude!)
•Rogue (a universal archetype)

Clerics are gone, because there's a "white magic" style Wizard subclass that can perform magic healing.

The mood: you're all heroes and you're all badasses. Light-hearted campaigns are about saving the world (LotR); gritty campaigns are about conquering it (ASoIaF). Dungeon crawling is a sideshow that does not enter into many campaigns. You fight monsters because they're threatening the countryside, not because you want their stuff.
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Pretend, for a moment, that D&D was created today and was laying down the framework for the way we talk about fantasy in gaming. Yes, I know it's impossible given how influential D&D has been on fantasy, but go with me here.

In 1974, there was the Fighting Man, Magic User and Cleric (and later thief), informed by Appendix N and wargames.

What do you think the core archetypes would be if D&D were invented today? What inspirational media make you think those particular ones would be foundational?

For my part, I think "fantasy hero archetypes" that aren't just derivative of D&D archetypes, and are represented in media, might look more like the core classes from D20 Modern: Smart Hero, Strong Hero, etc... if you think about characters in ensemble heroic action media, they tend to be defined more by those traits than their "class."

What do you think the core archetypes of an invented now D&D would be, in an alternate universe where D&D did not define gaming fantasy?
Same ones we get in almost all the movies.
Wizard (competent, or incompetent seems to be all we get these days)
Druid or shapechanger of some sort.
Hero (shining model of society, antihero, idiot who has to grow up)
rogue (scoundrel, antihero,greedy guy)
cleric, (person with awesome powers, idiot who has to have thier faith fixed)
bard (master of social manipulation(usually bad guy), idiot campy hippy fun person)


I feel like the cleric and druid are both very D&D inspired whenever you see them in any media. Mace wielding healer and shapeshifting nature priest just aren't things divorced from D&D. There is lots of room for a shapeshifter, of course, but not tied to nature worship. And "priest" as an adventurer isn't really a strong archetype in modern media.

bedir than

Full Moon Storyteller
Basically something like the A-Team:

Intelligent Hero (Hannibal)
Charming Hero (Face)
"Tech-savvy" Hero (Murdock)
Strong Hero (B.A.)
An aside, I have an article banging around my head that uses the structure of SF and SpecOps as inspiration for what a D&D party should be.
Leader (buffing w/variability)
Close combat (paladin, barbarian, fighter, monk)
Far combat (ranger, fighter, rogue, some casters)
Demolitions (explodey magic)
Medic (healer)
Intel & communications (bard or rogue)

The article was going to be Dragonlance themed, but the OGL kerfuffle muted my interest


Are we talking combat archetypes, character archetypes, what?

I feel like if done today, you'd pick an archetype based on power course, combat style, and social positioning. So you've have a magic ranged intimidator, or a martial maneuvering charmer.

I feel like the cleric and druid are both very D&D inspired whenever you see them in any media. Mace wielding healer and shapeshifting nature priest just aren't things divorced from D&D. There is lots of room for a shapeshifter, of course, but not tied to nature worship. And "priest" as an adventurer isn't really a strong archetype in modern media.
Well, Pirates of Dark Water had a notable nature magic-user, but, you are correct, it wasn’t a Druid per se.

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