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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why "Hybrid Classes" in #dndnext need to die and be reborn unique, not hybrid.

I appreciated most of the latest Legends & Lore article, aside from crinching a bit on seeing Scout as an archetype belonging to Fighter and not Rogue, and wondering if the "simple Wizard" will end up killing the Sorcerer's niche.

See these two examples actually introduce my argument very well. With sub-classes and the means to have entirely different mechanics dwell in the same class, distributed among sub-classes, have you wondered what happens to Rangers and Paladins? I think Mearls kind of wondered too, and tried to calm the masses by citing these classes casually in the article. Just in case someone thought they could become sub-classes too.

Actually, I wasn't and I am not worrying about them being in danger of being "demoted".

My quarrel is this: we'll now have at least two or three different Fighters with entirely different base mechanics (Hurray!). Now look at the Ranger and Paladin. They practically share their base mechanic entirely. And they're different classes.

Now, really, the whole "their having different spells is what differentiates them" must end.
Just like the two cited Fighter sub-classes are not differentiated by different maneuvers, but by the lack of maneuvers of one of them, the Ranger and Paladin which are even entirely different classes must be differentiated in much deeper ways.

Now, I don't just mean different between them. That should just be the start of the change, but the change should be deeper, because the whole sub-classes thing calls for classes with clear and broad identities.
But what if I ask "What's the identity of the Ranger or Paladin?" - You'll answer in roughly just two possible ways:

  1. They're a mix of this class and that class, plus some unique features on top.
  2. They're actually a specialized version of a class, but they need to stay separate to keep players happy.
I consider both of these broad answers correct in their description of reality.
And I consider both of these answers wrong if the question is asked within a game design context.
And since D&D Next is still being made, these answers are really, intrinsically, painfully wrong.

What to do with these "second class"-classes?

Yes, as of now they're "second class". We can take Cleric, Wizard, Rogue and Fighter and divide them into countless sub-classes, but we can't do the same for Ranger and Paladin. And this fact hopelessly makes them "second class"-classes.

What to do? Simple: we make them as "first class" as Fighter and Rogue. 

Many of you will make a call here and say it's impossible. Say that these classes are specialists by definition, so they can't be made as broad and full as Rogue and Fighter. Well, I agree: they're specialists by definition.
That's why I want to change their definition.

Rangers and Paladins need to be re-defined ASAP.

Who knows me knows that I'm advocating this since forever. These classes as they're defined now are simply not enough. Giving them spells since first level helps them be different, but it's like having a problem of lack of personality and trying to solve it by giving more clothes to the person. As in "you are what you wear", and in this case "you are whatever spell you prepare". No. The problem lies deep within the rooted concept of the class. The concept, if you don't remember, is one of these:
  1. They're a mix of this class and that class, plus some unique features on top.
  2. They're actually a specialized version of a class
And it's WRONG. It must be thrown away and be remade. Nothing good will stem out of those. Especially with spells as a solution. Come on, picture a Ranger casting a spell and try not to think Swordmage, Magus or whatever "Gish" class. Try not to think multiclass. Same for Paladin. It's just like giving the class the tools of another class, to make it more unique. Which is an utter paradox!

The new, unique, non-hybrid Ranger

So the Ranger. What does it need to be truly unique. First of all, I'm not against spells, or better yet, not against the effects of those spells. What I'm against is traditional casting methods.

Let's talk Book Of The Nine Swords for a minute. Mearls' baby, who he even cited on Twitter saying it might inspire some new (actually old) things for Next. There were at least two methods for recovering maneuvers there. And the disciplines covered themes broad enough to represent the Ranger's spells in even just one discipline, maximum two.

So first of all, the Ranger's "spells" could (and should IMO) be put in the class in the "Sublime Way", if you catch the reference... But it's not just that and it's not the only route. I put an accent before on the recovering mechanic. Well, that's something that truly defines a class, and can even help defining its identity, which is what we're trying to do. And I say that situational power-recovery and power-granting or even the ability to only situationally use those powers (as in, can "cast" only on certain conditions) is what classes need in order to be well-defined. The Fighter needs a "refocus" action to recover the Expertise Dice. The Rogue needs to get Advantage in a chosen tactical way to be able to reliably use Sneak Attack. Well the Ranger needs something like this.

In particular, the Ranger should find its identity on a handful of things: use of terrain, favored enemies, movement.

That's right, every Ranger IMO should be focused on movement. I'm not saying each Ranger should be highly mobile, although mostly. I'm saying the way it moves should influence its attacks and special abilities. Combining movement, knowing the terrain, and its favored enemy tactics, the Ranger should be a type of Warrior that Fighter and Rogue (each sub-class of them) shouldn't be able to be. Sure, the Ranger would become a bit more situational, but thanks to the powers/maneuvers/spells available to the class, the player will have ways to actually create the favored situations. BUT... If the players plays a Ranger like a Fighter or Rogue, the tricks won't work. Ranger strategies will reward the Ranger with more ways to actually enforce those strategies.

I know I'm talking a bit in an abstract way, but I'm not an actual game designer... If I were actually paid to design the class, you can bet I'd transform these notions into actual working mechanics, but for now I just hope the designers read this and understand what I'm talking about.

The new, unique, non-hybrid Paladin

Crusader. Really: just the damn Book Of The Nine Swords Crusader. It's the best Paladin ever made. The randomness in the "granted" maneuvers (the "granted" term also is in line with the theme...) represents perfectly a character that is actually divinely inspired. Or even chosen by the divine and infused with power. I always said that Paladins should be to Clerics what Sorcerer should be to Wizards. Clerics and Wizards study their art and anyone with the right talents can become one. Paladins and Sorcerers no. They're either innately so, or they had a calling, or a destiny or whatever. But they have less control on their magic compared to their scholarly counterparts. And in exchange for less control, they gain something else.

In particular, the Paladin shouldn't (only) have randomness in their available powers. They should also have rewards based on their Oaths. If a Paladin of Valor charges the strongest enemy, it will gain some power, or be stronger. If a Paladin of Sacrifice takes a hit to protect an ally, it gets a reward. And so on.

Conclusion: strategies to define classes

There was a small discussion on the D&D Next Facebook group about the aforementioned Scout being Fighter or Rogue. Conclusion? It can be both. But a Rogue Scout will be different compared to a Fighter Scout. That's because at heart, Rogue and Fighter have a clear strategical identity that defines them. A Fighter is more effective in the thick of melee, where it can multi-attack and absorb hits. A Rogue is more effective staying a bit out of melee and then focusing on single enemies, fighting dirty and avoiding danger.
Sub-classes change the way this strategy is played, like right now we can have Rogues that are good team players with Backstab, and others that are actually the contrary with Isolated Strike.

The very same can be done on Rangers and Paladins, and go to a little higher level of complexity. 

The Ranger can be very effective in certain terrain/enemy combinations, but just as Favored Enemy right now offers advantages that are better against some enemies but also very good with other similar ones, the new Ranger should also have this kind of flexibility, perhaps using spell-like effects and/or maneuvers to actually create a situation in which it's good. 
Think about the classic Indian attack of the movies: a bunch of fast guys encircling the white people, who stick together and then are picked out one by one. That's something a Ranger would do! And that's something that spell-effects and maneuvers could accomplish. 

In particular, I'd let the Rangers use spells only as Rituals outside of combat, so that recon work becomes their true niche: they approach the enemy unseen, before the party, and with a Ritual they conjure the right conditions or buffs for that battle. Then they use maneuvers that play well with those effects, recovering them when they move in certain ways around the battlefield, covering the right Range, since they're Rangers...

Note that I don't want to extend this to tactics. I say Strategies, because they're broader. Tactically speaking, I can see Rangers being Defenders, Strikers, Controllers, and even Leaders. That would depend on the sub-class, for example. But the strategies of all of them would all be "ranger-y".

Paladins, I see them more magical, with ability to actually cast in combat. But what they cast is not up to them completely. They can't enter combat and decide they cast a spell. Their spells are granted to them based on their actions and conduct. And their strategies are dictated by their oaths.

Now you have Rangers and Paladins that are not defined by the classes they try to mix, and that are not specialized Rogues or Fighters. Now you can think of a good number of sub-classes existing within them.