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Class Design Concepts

Posted in Indies & More

With expertise dice firmly ensconced, it’s time to look at class design (again).

It’s interesting how much though we’re seeing on classes at the moment. A quick scan over the last few Legends & Lore articles has nearly half of them focusing on class design. It appears to be where the design team is focused right now. That seems indicative of how set the core system is: if something’s not feeling right at this point it’ll be fixed via class more likely than via change to the core rules.

The core insight here is that maneuvers, skills, and spells are the building blocks of a D&D Next class. Each class will be some combination of these three factors plus class-specific abilities to round it out (like the monk’s ki). That’s both totally workable and utterly unsurprising.

A number of systems have trod this path before, defining three or four basic classes or ability trees or whatever modeled on the classic Fighting Man, Thief, Magic-User triumvirate and then mixing and matching to make everything else. True20 is the first to come to mind, but various early versions of D&D fit the mold as well, plus a myriad of retroclones.

It’s a way of looking at fantasy adventure and seeing three archetypes: the person who fights, the person who uses magic, and the person who does everything else. It’s a fine breakdown that plays to lots of fantasy literature and film.

The only downside is that it is so well-trod a path. It’s another point where D&D Next doesn’t seem to be so much about being what’s next as just cleaning up bits and pieces from what was previous. It’s a safe option that doesn’t make Next stand out from what’s come before.

And, really, that’s probably alright. D&D Next’s goal is to make a D&D with broad appeal, and this is certainly a way to get broad appeal. It’s just not very next.

With the core mechanics becoming more and more set, and with the building blocks of classes laid down, D&D Next is becoming more and more familiar. It’s a clean polished take on familiar ideas, which is a great way to hit Next’s goals of a large audience, but it’s not a particularly interesting design. Ultimately, though, for what D&D Next is trying to be, it’s probably the right choice.

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and engineering manager at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.

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