Friday, January 27, 2012

5e Discussion on the Classes

I am now beginning to hear things that I don't like, after being relatively impressed up to now. Not all of this is bad by any means, but I'm starting to see things in the implementation that will be turn-offs for me unless the way they are presented is really, really good.

Here's the Transcript:

Seminar Transcript - Class Design: From Assassins to Wizards
This transcript is paraphrased, with some responses shortened. It is compiled from various tweets (thanks especially to Critical Hits, E. Foley, and Rolling20s for their live tweeting - I suggest you check out their Twitter feeds) plus WotC's live chat feed, and other sources. In attendence: Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell, and Robert J. Schwalb.

Greg: Today we're going to be talking about Class Design, from Assassins to Wizards. To start things off, let's hear what your favorite class is and why.

Bruce: I would say the warlock in 4th edition. I really liked all the flavor and options that go into the class. I had a star pact warlock recently that was really fun to play.

Monte: The wizard. Historically it was the one that needed planning and forethought. It rewards good play above the others in my opinion.

Rob: My favorite class is the assassin. Even in first edition I could pretend to be a fighter, and then kill people. In 3rd and 4th I liked the versatility
and options that I could have with the assassin.

Greg: How complex or simple do you think classes should be?

Bruce: I think, we think that different classes should have different levels of complexity. If you want something easier to pick up, there should be a class for that, if you want something that's a bit more challenging or has a bit more going on, you should be able to do that out the gate as well.

Monte: I would also add that we want different levels of complexity for classes. For example, if a guy wants to pick up a fighter and have an easy time of it, there should be options for that. But also, if another person wants to pick up a fighter and have lots of options and/or complexity, we want to provide that too. The base game is the foundation. If you opt in to character development options, you can get complexity.

Rob: There was discussion of complexity parity in the classes. There's a baseline complexity, but can add as needed.

Greg: Do you want to talk about some of the ways that this could be accomplished?

Monte: Sure. So for example, if your fighter goes up a level and would normally get some bonus damage or a bonus to hit, or something simple, then maybe instead you could choose to replace that with an option or options that allow you to do some cool moves that allow you to push people around, or protect your allies a bit more, or control the battlefield a little more.

Rob: Even in the core you varying levels of complexity within each class. Even the wizard has a base starting point that is less complex than what you can get into if you opt into some of the options.

Greg: This conversation leads into the talk of balance. Is it important that classes are equally balanced? And how does that look - would that focus on damage output and number crunching?

Monte: (Joking) The assassin, the wizard, and the warlock should all just be better than everything else.

Bruce: If all classes are putting out the same damage, there's no difference. We definitely want the classes to be balanced, though having things exactly mathematically balanced isn't always the goal. Different classes or different play styles will shine at different moments, though of course we want everyone to be able to contribute in the common situations like combat.

Greg: When you're talking about non-numerical class stuff, how do you figure out balance?

Bruce: If the fighter is 100% damage for example, then maybe this other class is 80% damage/combat and 20% exploration, or some other mix of game elements. Each class has its time in the spotlight, and not all classes are built expressly for combat.

Rob: You may look at a class and see that it's damage output isn't as high as another class, for example maybe the bard doesn't do as much as raw damage as the fighter. That other class will have other options, like charm person or something that fits into that class's niche and will give that class different options, but still equally useful in combat, exploration, or roleplaying. If the Fighter's damage is the baseline, and Bard is 70%, the Bard has extra stuff (spells, etc) to give variety. We find damage equivalence between offensive and other types of spells. Charm Person roughly 105 points of damage.

Greg: Where do you start with your design when approaching the next edition. Are you looking at all of the classes, or a specific edition version?

Monte: To start with we kind of shot at the moon, and said everything that's been in a Player's Handbook 1, we want to potentially have in our new player's book. That includes things like the warlock and the warlord from 4th edition, but also includes the classes from other editions like the ranger, the wizard, the cleric. Going along those lines we separated things along the lines of what's common or uncommon. So for example fighters, clerics, wizards and clerics might be commmon while warlocks, bards, and paladins fall into uncommon and something like the assassin might be rare. This helps DMs determine what options they want to run in their games as well.

Bruce: It also might be the case that some of the classes labeled rare might be a bit more complex or difficult to pick up, so players could also have a gauge with how they want to pick their classes.

Greg: What's been the most challenging class to build?

Monte: Actually the fighter has been the most difficult. You have the basic idea of the figher, but you also have the wide range of option to make them more unique and complex. Also something like the D&D wizard and we have a clear view or set of examples for what that wizard could look like. With the fighther, there's not that clear example. So we've got like eight or nine different versions of the figher we've gone through while trying to nail that down.

Rob: The fighter is definitely one of the more challenging ones. Another would be the psion, who's currently over crying in the corner. I also think the current incarnations of the druid have been real challenging. Including all the different iterations of the druid from previous editions has been difficult while also trying to keep it from being overwhelming.

Bruce: To reiterate, the fighter has been hard. In comparison the monk has been relatively easy because he's focused and his path is relatively clear. For me, the sorcerer has also been fairly difficult - finding the balance between the story and mechanics of the previous editions and it's space when compared to other casters.

Greg: How long should character creation take and how much should be involved in those more complex options?

Bruce: If you're picking up one of those common classes and you're building a character, it shouldn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes to create a character if experienced; a new player might take 30 minutes.

Rob: Yeah, it was really quick in one of my playtests. it was pretty sexy and awesome to be able to create the character and jump into the game. My group, 7th level, core characters, 15 minutes to make them.

Monte: What we're really getting at is that character creation should take as long as you want. If you want to jump into a game quickly, you can put together an easy character and not worry about too many of those options. But if you want to build the more complex character and go through the options and tweak it to be exactly what you want, then you have the time and options for that.

Greg: I like planning my feat chain over 20 levels. So let's talk about spell casters and the spell casting mechanics. What are your opinions on how that should be? Current playtest has a Vancian system of magic. Thoughts on using that system?

Monte: It's my firm belief that Vancian magic, for the core classes, is D&D. There are other options for other classes, but for Wizard, Cleric
(core), Vancian is the way to go. There's something to be said for picking spells that match what you think is coming. Rewarding. I know it's a bit
contreversial, but I think Vancian magic is a core element of D&D. Maybe it's not the only option for magic, but it's definitely an iconic and flavorful one that I would like to retain. It's also an interesting way to handle game balance. For example wizards have magical feats that are basically at will
abilities. Balancing them with vancian magic which are essentially daily abilities is an interesting way to go, especially when comparing to the fighter and rogue who have more of an at-will style play. It offers a very different playstyle than those other classes, but those different playstyles are something we want to embrace.

Greg: Those at-will type of attacks are things that have come to D&D with 4th. How are you guys integrating that in the next iteration.

Bruce: As Monte mentioned, you have those feats that give you at-will style attacks, and some spell or class options will give you at will kind of attacks.

Rob: And there's nothing stopping us from looking at all those green attacks from 4th and seeing how those fit into this new iteration. Some for combat, some for not combat. The spell feats fit for that and other class options or feats could offer similar things.

Bruce: I feel we're brining Vancian magic back to the place it began, keeping the story intact and making it important to the story of the world.
Greg: How about the 15 minute workday problem?

Bruce: Wizards have magical feats (at-will, always available). Hold on to higher spells until needed.

Rob: We could bring back a whole raft of at-wills from 4e, and make those type of things Wizard feats. There are also magical feats that are non-combat oriented. Different frequency rates, as well (encounter).
Bruce: 4e took Vancian magic and gave it to all classes. We're bringing it back to the part of D&D where it belongs. Fighters have their version of abilities and options as well, but it will have a different feel than the vancian magic for arcane stuff.

Greg: How is the idea of rituals progressing in the next iteration of D&D?

Rob: Monte started running with the ball and wanted to make rituals there for the really big spells that are super awesome, but might take a bit longer to cast. I ran with that and really wanted to make them all very interesting and complex, and really invest the player/character in what they're doing. We could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions, and rituals can be the spells that do that.

Monte: Magic is taking a broader turn than just spells. In the past we got to the point where everything you encountered in the game had some kind of spell attached to it or that replecated the effect. I really want to go back to the idea that magic is mysterious and wierd and not always entirely definable. I think it's good for the story of the game when the DM can use it to help to define and area or maybe a unique magic item. Things like rituals help us accomplish that - makes things more open ended and more interesting and also takes away some of the focus from the wizard and puts it on other things in the world.

Greg: 4e had advancement that was in lock-step for all classes. Essentials introduced variance. How do you think class progression should work going forward?

Bruce: I think there's room for idiosyncrating skill choices and progression for one class, but not have those same options, feel or look for another class. As Monte mentioned we want each class to look, feel and play differently. But there's also room for some options that spread across all classes.

Rob: For example we might say that all classes get a feat at third level. But then if you dip into the full customization options, you could trade that out for brute strike or something. So there will be some bits of progression that are shared from class to class, but each one will still feel like it's own class and have the ability to trade out it's own options.

Greg: Are there any classes that you're now interested in because of the design work you've been doing?

Rob: They're all awesome, but I think I would have to pick the Ranger. There's so much stuff going on that I'm excited for each version. You could make up a beast ranger, or an Aragorn stye ranger or a Drizzt style ranger and they all feel awesome and iconic.

Bruce: I don't think I could pick one really. I'm really excited about these iterations of the classes and every time I'm working on one I want to be playing that class. I haven't had a chance to play everything yet, but I hope I will.

Monte: I've seen a lot of cool classes. I've wanted to play every one I've seen. Every class has something in it that should make your (the players) excited about the class.

Greg: Once we get into the playtest feedback and start talking about things, what do you want to see feedback on?

Rob: I really want to see feedback on the wild talents. There's a lot of different and interesting things going on there and I think there's a lot of room for feedback there on if they work, how they work.

Monte: I'm really interested to see feedback on the spellcasting and how they support the three different pillars of the game. With the rituals, spell feats, classes, spells and other options, I'm really looking forward to see how this works in people's minds/games. Plus feedback on 8' tall halflings.


Q: What about the barbarian and cleric?

Monte: Well the barbarian fits with what some of us are familiar with, he rages and can take lots and lots of damage and deal out lots of damage.

Bruce: As some of you have seen the cleric has an interesting mix of healing and other options. We're working on some things that focus on different kinds of clerics like healing, or marshal, or ranged focus. Cleric is interesting, because the Cleric has a few different potential expressions. Domains, healing, how will they express their powers? Work is continuing. I like what we've got so far.

Rob: The last time we were in Seattle we were thinking about the cleric, and my big thing with the cleric was getting back to the cleric of 1E that fights with a mace and shield and gets his party back up. But 2nd edition introduced the other option that is very closely related to your god and had more spell casting. So we're looking at keeping the cleric as this guy who fights and is that classic cleric, but the priest is that guy that is closer to his god,
maybe doesn't wear that armor is laying down more divine effects and spells.

Q: How do you think magic items fit in this next iteration?

Bruce: Magic items have always been a part of the game, but with 4th it became part of a player's natural progression so that you would have to pick up items from stores or other places to keep up. One of the negative things that brought up was that it eliminted some of the exploration that was so integral in earlier editions. You no longer had to go questing or searching for that magic item. We want to decouple magic items from character progression so they're not needed, and return that exploration and excitement of finding magic items.

Greg: Monte you had a poll like this in your Legends & Lore column. Do you remember what the results were?

Monte: Yeah, it was surprising. A majority wanted magic items to be special and not to be able to buy them in shops and such. Of course that could be campaign specific. We're running with the idea that magic items are special and not bound to character progression, though things could change through playtesting. But we want it to be something that the DM plans, or something that a player/character wants to go on a quest to get that magic item they've heard of or need to accomplish there goals. We're going forward with the idea that magic items are possible, but difficult to create by PCs. We're not balancing the classes based on the expectation of magical items. It's about the player going to find the loot.

Q: What are you planning for multiclassing?

Rob: We're shooting for the 3E style of multiclassing that makes it easy to multiclass into any other class. It's been on the forefront of our minds when we're doing all this class work.

Q: You mentioned that fighters are necessarily focused or super iconic. Why don't you split all the different fighter ideas out into different classes, like a dervish or fencer?

Bruce: If something comes along that's really evocative and has it's own flavor and story, it's definitely not off the table that it could be it's own class. There will be multiple classes that can heal, for example.

Q: With the Vancian magic system you could get to the point where wizards had a great number of spells per day. How are you balancing that and gauging encounter design with that in mind?

Monte: Addressing the idea that high level play you'll end up with lots of options and more abilities, we are definitely looking at the direction we're
taking high level play. The idea we're looking at is cashing in a lot of your low level abilities or spells and kind of trade them in for one interesting
higher level ability. And for managing how you those resources work throughout a day and looking at encounters, and keeping that trading-in mechanic in mind, we can look at average encounters a day, how long an average encounter will last, the resources an average character/player will go through and balance that that way.

Q: Are you looking at power sources?

Rob: Not explicitly. We're not going to be using the power sources as keywords or anything any more (probably). You'll still have psionic characters and primal characters for example, but we won't be using those words or jargon to separate things.

Bruce: We want to get away from jargon and catchphrases, and use natural language instead. "Arcane power source" breaks you out of the game. "I cast arcane spells" doesn't. We really want to get away from jargon that is just there for the sake of the game. For example you might use the word arcane, but a class wouldn't be labeled as an arcane class.

Q: How are you thinking about archtypes and iconic classes from previous editions and how that affects the classes in the next iteration of D&D?

Bruce: We want to have each class be the most iconic and archtypal it can be, based on what a D&D version of that archtype is or should be. The story of the character or class is really important when looking at this.

Q: How do you see advancement and experience acquisition and leveling?

Monte: I don't want any class to have to take longer than any other class to come into it's own. Story wise, I want all the classes to progress at the same rate. So that a third level assassin feels the same as a third level bard in as much as how assassiny or how bardy they feel. The story comes first, and character advancement should come as fast as the group wants it to. I think character advancement should go as fast as the group wants it to go. So I want information available so that you can control that entirely based on your gaming group. Yes, there will be a base progression, but I want there to be information on speeding that up or slowing that down as necessary. There will be a set pace in the player's book, but meaty rules in the DMs book to adjust that.

Q: What's the philosophy on status effect design?

Rob: So talking about things like stun, daze, and immobilzed right? Currently we're in the area that the effect should be relevant to the spell or power. For example there might be a power word stun spell that explains what stun is and goes from there. But we're probably not going to have too many abilities or spells that would do something like that. We've pared down and increased the list of status effects, back and forth.

Q: What's your focus on high magic or high fantasy and low magic or low fantasy?

Bruce: Right out the gate, since magic item acquisition isn't part of the level progression a DM can say that you're going to have to work really hard for your magic. Also, the thing that Monte was talking about with your xp progression being modifiable, you could really stretch out those levels to have a low fantasy or lower power kind of game.

Q: How are you handling campaigns that may not have any traps or any social settings? Are you going to have the strong bard for example?

Rob: The bard as example, you may be in a campaign that's going to do more dungon crawling and not have a lot of social. There will be options that you can opt into where you can pick those combat relevant options in place of those social ones.

Q: Will classes like the bladesinger and swordmage still exist and be distinct from each other?

Bruce: There is some place for story separation with those two classes and we're looking into it.

Q: I know you're trying to have a game where people can play what they want, and party balance works out and you don't need any particular class to play. How are you guys making this game so that something like three rogues could show up at a table and play?

Monte: A 3 rogue game sounds awesome. I don't want any class to be mandatory, but I do want options and events that make you really happy that X class is with you. For example, when fighting undead, you don't need a cleric, but you'll be happy if you have one. If you're out in the wilderness, you'll be happy that the druid is in your party.

Q: Will some of the non-traditional classes like the Ninja appear early in the next edition?

Bruce: The goal at the moment is to include all the classes that we're in the first PH style book for each edition. No word on other classes yet.

Q: What about a simple, tactical game?

Rob: With D&D Next, you should be able to play the same kind of 4e-type game that you're playing now.

Q: How are you addressing the linear fighter and quadratic wizard damage progression issue?

Bruce: The wizard has to choose when they deal the big damage, and that's the balancing portion. When a wizard gets fireball, he can do a lot of damage in the round, but he only has so many fireballs. The fighter doesn't have that limitation. We have a lot of math and play evidence that tells us how long average parties or play is going to last, so we feel like we've got a good grasp of how to make the fighter and wizard relevant throughout the day.

Rob: As Monte mentioned earlier, some spells and options drop out and are replaced with higher ones, so that addresses some of the problem - you don't end up with all of those options. With that in mind, and the math backing it up, we can balance that figher damage to make sure that it stays relevant.

Monte: Fireball is a static 5d6. If you want more damage, you use a higher-level spell slot. Much more balancing. Monte: the play session that I envision with the fighter and wizard fighting together is that the figher is always better than the wizard. The fighter hits someone for 12 damage and then the wizard hits someone for 4, and the wizard wishes he was a fighter. Then that happens again on the second round, and the wizard feels the same way again. But then on the third round the wizard whips out his fireball and does 16 or 20 damage total and the fighter goes ahh, I wish I was a wizard. I want each class to shine and to have reasons to want to play that class.

Trevor: And that about wraps it up for the seminar and chat today folks. Thanks much for coming out and joining us. Tomorrow at 12:30 Eastern will be doing this again, focusing on the product release schedule and what you can expect to see this year.


  1. Bruce: The goal at the moment is to include all the classes that we're in the first PH style book for each edition.

    That sounds like one monster of a rule book.

  2. Each edition? So, to be flippant for a moment...

    Assassin, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Barbarian, Warlord, Warlock, Mystic/Monk, Sorcerer, Wizard, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue/Thief?

  3. I'll only play a '100% combat' fighter if the rules allow me to bolt on other options at higher levels so I'm not a one-trick pony.

    Spotlight balance can be a trap

  4. "if your fighter goes up a level and would normally get some bonus damage or a bonus to hit, or something simple, then maybe instead you could choose to replace that with an option or options that allow you to do some cool moves that allow you to push people around, or protect your allies a bit more, or control the battlefield a little more."

    This seems to me to be a key point of difficulty in reconciling old-school and new-school styles of play. People who are into old-style play enjoy the feeling of freedom of being able to attempt anything without the requirement of it being encoded in the rules and written on their character sheet. People who are into new-style play (presumably) enjoy this idea of designing and building up a set of specific special abilities as their characters progress.

    I just can't see how those two styles of play / expectations could work at the same table. So far it seems like they're proposing that old-school players will just be able to use simpler classes without all the "character build" options, but they've not addressed this basic philosophical difference.

  5. "The goal at the moment is to include all the classes that we're in the first PH style book for each edition."

    Finally the time has come for the glorious resurgence of the illusionist.

  6. Someone on Enworld asked What is an Aragorn Style Ranger?

    My response:

  7. I'm sorry, Matt for being a wet blanket here but may I ask an inappropriate question here? Basically, pointing out the elephant in the room?

    Why do you (or any of the other OSR) folks really give a damn about what WotC is doing here? From where I am sitting, all I see are a bunch of game designers trying to update the last edition of a game to pull in the rising generation of gamers. They appear to be trying to pull in the kids who play MMO's and Xbox and PS3 and such. They're trying to offer something those games and game systems cannot offer, an infinitely flexible game using terms and philosophies to which the young gamers are accustomed. Monte and this crew are just paying lip service to those of us who are older who have kids in the age range of the target audience. They appear to be trying to get us to support our kids in trying this "new game" by using references to the game we all played when we were our kids age. Because they know ultimately that we will be the ones paying for the books the kids will be using.

    Honestly, I don't understand the explosion of interest on the OSR blogs. We've got our games already: Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, B/X, BRP, etc. I just don't get it.

    1. You know when this was first announced I was interested, I thought "Man, I could get back into the fold and we could all be one happy family again." However, reading more and more of these posts floating around the blogs, I starting to see there is nothing new here. I think Balrog62 is on to something here, I think they are trying to pull us in using references to the old games and being respectful and mindful of the history of the game. More and more though, it sounds like you and Gavin are hitting this on the head. Much smoke and mirrors is going on, methinks.

  8. I thought at first this was going to be something that would use the B/X base and let you tack on complexity and rules as you see fit (ie. feats, combat options etc.). I can see now that this won't be the case at all.

    I am actually kind of relieved as it means the work I have done on my homebrew system hasn't been wasted to be replaced by 5e. Everything I just read confirms this will be another edition I want nothing to do with.

    Oh and I have that much more money to spend on old Judges Guild stuff and new OSR material.