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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

D&DNext continuing playtest review: classes pt 2

This one won't be quite as long-winded as yesterday's, so let's jump right in.


Remember how I was going over backgrounds last time and I talked about how they seemed to serve as "lenses"that allowed you to interpret the very basic classes in new ways? Well the rogue doesn't seem to want to have any of that. If you're a rogue then you're some kind of unlawful scoundrel and you'll damn well like it. Which is an odd step considering 3rd edition steered them away from that (switching from "thief" to the more generic "rogue" and providing lots of prestige classes and options to try and make the distinction) and 4e basically turned rogues into agility-based front line fighters with a couple of skills thrown in.

You see rogue's get a "Scheme" which basically means that you've got two backgrounds, one of which must be Thief or Thug. Now, I'm sure there are alternate schemes planned (Charlatan and Spy would seem obvious) but at the moment the rogue is very limited in terms of theme. The fact that they've brought back Thieves Cant from 2e and earlier doesn't help the situation.

Now, I know why they're doing this...the Rogue is meant to be a skill-focused classes and your skills come from your background, but your background only gives you 3 skills. That's not much for a skill-monkey to work with, and the two backgrounds double this while also ensuring that the rogue has skills from the appropriate "theme" (i.e. breaking and entering, sneaking around, etc).

However, this still makes the rogue's interaction with the Backgrounds very unusual compared to the other classes and comes off as an inelegant solution to the issue. It's exacerbated by the fact that Rogues seem to have a very different relationship with the Backgrounds than other classes, notably a Rogue Thief is far more "thiefy" than any other Thief and the thug is far more thuggish. They get a collection of progressive bonuses related to the background, which makes you wonder why a Soldier Fighter isn't somehow more Soldiery than others, or a Priest Cleric. Etc.

It seems like if they want to avoid this thematic confusion rogue schemes could easily be divorced from Backgrounds. Each scheme allows you to pick 3 extra skills from an appropriate set and gives you extra bonuses as you level up. Give them names unrelated to the backgrounds like Sneak or Brute. Sure, the difference is almost entirely cosmetic but it doesn't screw with the way the reader perceives things like Backgrounds and Specialties. In fact, this whole thing makes me wonder how things are meant to work if your GM isn't using backgrounds, they're listed as optional after all. Would a rogue be required to get a background while no one else does? Would they just lose their background-related abilities?

Well, issues of theme and coherency aside the Rogue has some potential. They're clearly returning to their roots as the premiere skill-using class and damn are they good at skills. Right from level 1 they are guaranteed to never roll lower than a 10 on a skill check and they have a minimum ability modifier of +3. That means that they're rolling at least 13 for any skill rolls at all and the minimum roll increases as they level up.

That's before you even get to their Knack which allows them to arbitrarily give themselves Advantage on a roll, which will probably be mostly used to take advantage of their impressive Sneak Attack damage. While Fighters are unmatched in general damage output and absorption the rogue's sneak attack packs a buttload of dice into their damage whenever they can take advantage of it.


Oddly, I've got very little to say about the Wizards at the moment. That's mostly because I have yet to get to the spells and frankly there is absolutely nothing else here. Not even familiars or bonus "feats". They get a bonus knowledge skill, they get low hp and no armor and a spell list and that's about it.

The only thing worth mentioning at this time is that wizards are very squarely back in the camp of Vancian magic, good old "fire and forget" (literally) spells. I'm not much of a fan of that style of magic, but it does do a decent job of supporting the wizard's "crazy prepared" focus so it has its place in the game.

I'm assuming that the final version of D&D will include other classes, because frankly having only Vancian magic would be a little bit unbearable. So I'm betting at some point Sorcerers will make a reappearance but for now it's just that guy with robes and a spellbook. I'll return to these guys once the spells come around.

Final Thoughts

So, so far I'd say the classes are certainly more encouraging than the backgrounds. I'm a fan of what they're doing with fighters and the cleric and rogues are at least so far fairly inoffensive. Nothing shooting flames or leaking odd fluids.

The one thing this all makes me curious about is multi-classing. I'm a big fan of the ability to multiclass characters to create your own unique set of abilities. Specialties provide some small taste of it...but a couple of spells tacked onto a Fighter doesn't make a sword-mage. It looks like it'll be harder to multiclass effectively as well...each class has features that scale heavily with levels so coming in on a class at the ground floor is a great way to be worthless while also crippling your progression in your previous class.

But for now the whole thing looks fairly serviceable. We'll see where it goes from here.

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