5e SRD: Interlude and where are we going?

In the PHB-vs-SRD series.

I’m not super happy with the witch article. Oh, don’t get me wrong, that’s the shape of what I want to propose, but I was running low on energy and I don’t think it’s my best work.

I had a few ideas that I thought I should be explicit about. It’s all about theme: classes should have them, and a few classes today are a bit grab-bag-ish.

So: here’s how I see the classes and what we have to start with.

Barbarian:
I don’t think about the barbarian very much. As it is, its ties to nature and state-dependent combat system would make it a good fit for wildshape (and more exotic forms: skin of stone, eyes like flashing lightning), if I felt like writing that up. I’d call that the Spirit Warrior, Skinwalker, something of that kidney. If I use Skinwalker straight, I get a bunch of linguistic and cultural baggage; if I alter it, I get different baggage. Naming is hard, y’all.

I think we could also use a barbarian that’s more “whirling dervish”-y, but there’s so much that changes there that we’ll have to come back to it when we get to paladin, I think.

Bard:
The bard becoming a full caster in 5e is a boon to the structure of magic. They also would work as Temple Dancer (or Sacred Prostitute, or perhaps Companion) for powers like Bast or Ishtar, as well as perhaps a launching-base for the 1e-style Illusionist.

So: College of Lore (per SRD), College of Ecstasy (enhance your allies and access to clerical spells), and College of Shadows (use your inspiration to grant semi-real nature to enchantments, illusions and shadow spells: the 1e illusionist).

Cleric:
I already wrote this article 🙂

The short version: I think the cleric shouldn’t be defined by the power they serve, but instead by how they serve that power. If the way that they serve that power goes too far afield from mucking with the creatures of good & evil, healing, protection, divination, or blessing, then the character isn’t a cleric.

The kinds of cleric I’ve imagined so far are the Templar (SRD-cleric, emphasis on healing), the Exorcist (emphasis on turning and extraplanars), the Prophet (emphasis on divination) and the Monastic (emphasis on protection/blessing).

Druid:
See witch at the bottom.

Fighter:
While I’m sad we got the less-intricate Champion Fighter instead of the more extensible Battle Master fighter, it’s not the end of the world. While this class needs more subclasses, I’m not in the right headspace to provide them.

That said, I recently had a rambling conversation with a friend of mine, and realized part of the problem with the fighter is the standard “if it’s a real world skill, then anyone should be able to attempt it”. Fighters are the action heroes nonpareil of the D&D world. Action heroes are supremely competent at feats of movement so that they can get to where the action is. They should be acquiring jump speeds, swim speeds, climb speeds, icewalking, endure elements, and so forth. These thoughts are still too incoherent to propose specific changes.

Monk:
My favorite way to fit the monk into the D&D rubric has been to give them the name “Assassin”. There’s a few advantages to this: you can make them intelligence based (instead of wisdom), based on their roguish associations. You can let them keep fighting open-handed or give them dirks and suchlike with equanimity. Way of Shadow really does become ninjas, and that’s fine. This is not a new subclass so much as a new lens through which to view the class; I do recommend trying it but if I were publishing a product I’d restrict it to a sidebar or less.

Once you’ve decided “Assassin”, the schools get called Strategy; Open Hand is the Hollow Strategy; some more sneaky-shadowy-illusiony-stealthy school might be called the Phantom’s Strategy; something more poison-y status-effect-y might be the Viper’s Strategy.

I might also try to fit an inquisitor under here — All-seeing strategy? — but I don’t really know what it would look like. I think I also want a sort of battledancer (armor! emphasis on, like, polearms!) for sohei and elves to fit under here, but again, I’m not really sure how far I’d go with that.

Paladin:
This one is actually fine as is. I like the base class, and I like the PHB-style oaths. But since I have to fill in the SRD gaps… 🙂

I mentioned upthread the dervish didn’t feel like it fit into the barbarian and I stand by that. They’re inspired holy warriors who frenzy, but the holy is the more important part IMO. Paladin gets us the inspired holy part — and the turn undead comes from the oath of devotion, so there’s a slot for rage to fit right in.

So: Oath of Devotion (the SRD-paladin), Oath of Enlightenment (this putative frenzy-ing paladin), Oath of Menace (aura debuffs and vengeancing), and Oath of Strength (personal improvements, storm powers: here’s your priest of Thor!).

Ranger:
I like the ranger, but I have no idea what to do with it (and I get the feeling that I am not alone). I think the name of ranger is useful, as are the set of characters you might be able to squeeze into its skin. The specific rules are very slanted towards being a survivalist, which is no bad thing, but is definitely a bit less than could be done with the chassis in the right hands (compare with the fighter or the wizard…).

Since the ranger explicitly casts per druid, and since my druid moved to the warlock model via the witch, so goes my ranger. Poof, you’re a half-caster, Harry! In some ways, this is easier than it looks: lose the normal spellcasting granted to the class, gain the per-short-rest slots and invocations of a warlock of 1/2 your level. But this is gonna be tough, since warlocks get so few slots, there’s much less internal individuation between levels; they rely on invocations and features to make up the difference. And I don’t have druidic features yet (it’s a lot of work!), so that’s lagging behind, too. So I’ll have to do something to slip just a very little extra into the ranger’s casting. Most likely I’ll artificially lag their slots, so they have one slot of the highest level they can cast and one of the second highest, and use that internal boost when I need to give them a feature. But that’s annoying, so not really sure.

In terms of subclasses, I like the Hunter as is just fine. We’ll add the Valkyrie (a hunter-servant of a wild or stormy power — here’s your priest of Odin or Thor from the other side!), and something with access to the left hand path of magic (for the warlock list, y’all), for now I’m calling our black practitioner the Witch-hunter. I’m cheating, of course — this is a hunter-who-is-a-witch not a hunter-of-witches. C’est la vie.

We don’t have a beastmaster type. The ranger isn’t 100% the best fit for that anyway, of course; they’re insufficiently pet-based to make it work IMO. I think the best way to go with the beastmaster type is with a feat on top of something else that matters more, or a Find Steed-like spell.

Rogue:
Rogues are hard to design, y’all. I’m tempted to leave this alone for now. The rogue works without subclasses.

Sorcerer:
From the SRD, all we have to work with is the dragonblooded. I think I like the sorcerer’s focus on a small set of powers is powerful. I think the spell modifications are interesting, but would work better for the wizard. I remember the playtest sorcerer, and I liked that better. At the end of the day, I’m just not super inspired by the sorcerer, so I’ll have to come back and look at the Sorcerer with clear eyes. It works well with its tight theming, but unfortunately, other classes fit any given expression of that theme better: would I make a master of illusions under the sorcerer? Probably not. Would I make a necromancer king? Doubtful. And so forth.

They probably do make a good “servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor”: I like the idea of them as a valve set over a deep well of magic. Of course, that describes the witch-like caster even better!

Warlock:
Per druid, see also: Witch.

Wizard:
I don’t like D&D’s schools, and I never have. For now, suffice to say that the wizard I want is not the evoker, which is better served by the sorcerer.

I’d prefer to see the Alchemist (acids! explosions! potions! scrolls!), the Astrologer (magical toolkit: divinations and abjurations), the Enchanter (debuffs: long-lasting effects, transformations, curses), and the Summoner (extraplanars: Conjuration and summoning, necromancy, aberrations).

Witch:
I added this one in my previous article and, as I alluded upthread, I’m still not 100% on its implementation. The SRD warlock is missing a bunch of bits and bobs that make it stand out; it feels like the slot it fills in the world could be done as easily or more easily with a sorcerer. The druid, on the other hand, has always struck me as good-but-too-cleric-like, and therefore too-D&D-fixated, not enough material in myth to draw upon. And I squeezed a bunch of the filling out of the cleric, so it had to find somewhere to go, so its cousin budged over and made room 🙂

I’m reasonably happy of my divisions into Druid, Cultist and Runecaster. I’m also a little happy with it giving more grist under which to reevaluate the ranger. I’m not sure my specific implementation of it was the best, though.

Late in the day, I realized there’s one more thing I might try: strike the invocations entirely, and give it a half-caster progression (like the paladin and/or ranger) in addition to its font of renewable per-encounter spells. I think giving spike capabilities to the warlock’s casting table helps make up for my misdeeds in restricting them to the druid list. And makes them multiclass a bit better (since it makes their renew-spell-slot thing kind-of fit as a class feature, as an extension of arcane recovery).

Now, the downside with literally doing that is that they grow way too slowly to be used as a primary caster, but I don’t particularly want to downgrade them to a secondary caster. However, the upside to the downside is that the current warlock playstyle is a little above-and-beyond.

One other attack would be to make them primary casters, with natural renewal, with a way to (ahem) renew the natural renewal; something like: you can regain natural renewal at any time by spending a spell slot. You are then capped at distributing your natural renewal to the level of the expended slot.

That takes the inspiration from the warlock, but is (at least notionally) balanced against it, since it bleeds out eventually.

… I should write that up.

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About lackhand

I was born in 1984 and am still playing games, programming computers, and living in New York City. View all posts by lackhand

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