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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

D&D Next, continuing playtest review: Classes part 1


As I mentioned last time, I'm kind of reviewing each piece of the D&D Next packet separately as I come to them. So for all I know they could come together in some kind of glorious whole or some retching mass for all I know...I won't find out for sure until I finish reading. But for now here are my impressions of the classes, organized individually.

Clerics

This will sound weird, but reading through the cleric abilities made me realize exactly what I don't like about the standard D&D cleric...that sounds way more negative than I actually feel because the D&DNext cleric is perfectly serviceable so far and is strongly reminiscent of the 3.5 version.

The cleric is perhaps the class that suffers the most from being "generic". It's basically a class with a few abilities that reverse, or rotate 90 degrees, depending on the cleric's alignment. Their channel divinity ability is the perfect expression of this in many ways. The good cleric can channel divinity to heal his allies and harm undead...an evil cleric has the mirror image of that power. They can harm the living or heal undead. Now, there's a lot of problems with that if you think about, but first and foremost is why do evil clerics automatically have to hate being healthy and love undead? Why wouldn't an evil cleric want to heal his minions or allies from time to time and who says just because they're evil they have anything to do with undead. Sure clerics of necromantic or death-based gods might be all about having a bunch of skeletal friends...but what about all the other evil gods who could take or leave shambling corpses for all they care.

And why must good and evil be perfect mirror images of one another anyway? So a good cleric can heal his allies and cause unclean zombies to burst into flame. Fair enough. Why can't have the evil cleric do something along the same lines rather than just reversing. Clerics are classic support classes and making an evil cleric into a half-assed magical damage dealer just because they're wicked isn't very "support" and not every evil cleric has a bunch of undead minions around to keep alive. They should both be support classes but with different themes. Good can be about healing and protection and granting the tools to smite evil...the evil cleric should be about making their allies nastier and deadlier. Instead of healing them, give them damage boosters or berserk fury or something. 

I'm spending way too much mental energy ranting about why evil clerics (a class very few PCs ever pursue) are lame, but my point is that it helps to illustrate how clerics feel like the same guy in different colored robes shooting differently colored bolts of god-power around. Cleric X feels far too much like Cleric Y when in fact they should be the most unique, considering the massive diversity of gods in D&D. As it is they feel like a fairly generic support-based spellcaster with a few thematic tricks. Clerics shouldn't cast spells, clerics should call on miracles

And despite this rant I think so far D&D Next is actually the version of clerics that get closest to this ideal. At least based on what small amount of info we have from the Domains. The sun domain is a good example, They get a powerful set of static bonuses (fire and radiant resistance) and at second level they can call upon an impressive (for 2nd level) sunburst ability with their Channel Divinity. In fact, they make the War domain clerics look positively lame in comparison.

So if I had my way that's more what clerics would focus on. Powerful, dramatic abilities fueled by their Channel Divinity power and themed around their god's domain. Ditch spells and focus on these powers and give them some good inspiration/defensive abilities say a non-magical ability to grant bonuses to allies similar to a bard. Or perhaps they get impressive bonuses to saves sort of like a 3.5 Paladin.

EDIT: I just noticed that the cleric is actually quite terrible at fighting. They've still got decent hp and okay armor (based on domain)...but their attack bonus is just as bad as the wizard's...in fact it's bad for both their weapon and magic attacks. It makes one wonder what the War Domain cleric is supposed to do with himself...especially considering his subpar domain abilities. 

Fighter

I don't know about the rest of you but more information on the Fighter is something I've definitely been curious about. The fighter's had kind of a rough history with D&D. In early editions they were incredibly dull classes. A big sack of hp with a few extra attacks, hardly impressive. 3rd edition gave them sackloads of feats which certainly made them more useful but their utility was based on the feats (most of which were available to anyone), not the class itself and unfortunately 3.5 made the barbarian, ranger and paladin much more interesting warrior alternatives. 4th edition certainly gave them loads and loads of tricks, some of which were very cool, but they did that for everyone and everyone's tricks basically worked the same way. Fighters still didn't feel very unique. Even worse, they were loaded down with many abilities that I personally found the most repulsive (namely the ability to move enemies around the battlefield through some kind of martial mind control). Still the 4th edition fighter was by far the best and they finally managed to make it cool and effective to swing a sword. 

So, how does D&DNext handle this most generic of classes? They're obviously moving back towards third edition's design philosophy but does that mean that fighters become just another sack of feats? 

Thankfully if this playtest document is anything to go by then the answer is no. The fighter is actually the most unique and mechanically intriguing of all the four playtestable classes. It's hard to say too much for sure until I see what options fighters get at higher level and how quickly their powers advance but even with the abilities they get in the first couple of levels they get terrifying pretty quick. Even their most basic abilities "Parry" and "Deadly Blow" are very impressive and look to make the fighter the undisputed king of the battlefield. No one is going to be able to dish out or absorb as much damage as the fighter. In fact, it would be impressively hard for anything other than a fighter (or a sneak attacking rogue) to even seriously harm a high level fighter. Fighters seem like they'll also make very effective defenders. They may not be able to protect every single party member at once, but there's going to be plenty of characters who will be very grateful for their fighter bodyguard. Fans of 3.5's Book of Nine Swords will be pleased to see some of that influence in the new edition's fighters.

Rather than getting a sack of feats to do with as they wish each fighter is given a fighting style which grants them new ways to use their special "expertise dice" as they level up. While this means you have less choice in your progression I feel like it's a good compromise. After all, fighters in earlier editions were only really effective if they focused on a specific style anyway...so why provide players the opportunity to accidentally screw over their character with poor feat synergy or lack of focus? Just give them a list of fighter archetypes and say "pick the one you like. He'll do fine!" 

The biggest concern I have for fighters is that at the moment they may actually be the class with the most choices and I see a lot of opportunity for bloat from splatbooks and the like. I'm hoping the designers resist the desire to create tons of minor variations "this guy is a defender, but at level 3 and 9 he gets slightly different abilities!" 

So, while clerics make me a bit exasperated with how generic they are, fighters on the other hand are an impressive breath of creativity and unique design. I look forward to see what they'll do with them.


So far, 1 out of 2 for classes. The Rogue and the Wizard will follow tomorrow.

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