Most of the time, B/X D&D’s implementation of race-as-class (“My hero is the one who fights!” versus “Mine is the one who dwarfs!”) comes out of left field.
The dwarf and halfling races, in particular, don’t feel outside of human experience enough to fit as a description of what you do.
The elf does. The implementation of the elf has always been “you get everything”, and as the scions of an elder race, it makes sense that they get some kind of kitbashed together progression where even their soldiers have access to charm person.
What it needs is a built-in class kind of like the cleric, but for arcane magic: a fighter-and-caster balanced against fighters and casters. You can multiclass for that, in fact, I suspect the rules support multiclassing purely to fulfill this need, but it kind of sucks that you have to do it by hand. After all, we don’t say that the paladin is a kitbash between fighter and cleric (… anymore…) so what gives?
Originally I was going to write this whole thing about how it annoyed me I couldn’t slot the druid into that role: how their shapechanging and specifically religious tones prevented me from just filing off the serial numbers, changing their casting stat and moving on.
Sidebar: Druid-as-elf: You can only take this option with the circle of the land. You lose wildshape. At 2nd level you can wear metallic armors and wield any martial weapon or shield. At 4th level you get a fighting style (per fighter). At 8th level your weapon attacks deal an extra d8 damage of the same type once per round.
In my opinion druids should cast of of intelligence anyway, so I don’t provide any stat-swap options here. Apply to taste.
Then I was going to mention the annoyance that D&D had two perfectly good models on which to build the martial-magical character, the Sorcerer and the Warlock. Both, in 5e, are fair dripping with flavor; both of those flavors kind of weird me out.
Sorcerers are all about bloodline, but since they’re a class, that bloodline is assumed super attenuated (after all, my character is a dwarf sorcerer). I don’t like modeling a magical bloodline with a whole class, and if I did, I don’t think I’d jump to 3e’s dragons for it. They were a mechanic in search of a class that got popular, and the term was forever lost to good use. Consider: Now it’s a “natural virtuoso” whose in-dwelling of magic, like almost a living thing, is responsive to the sorcerer’s style. So then why do they have slots per day? Why do they have a weird tacked-on point system at the same scale as the slots per day? Why do dragons not share this mechanic?
Warlocks are all about an external oath of service, usually to something morally repugnant or at least morally grey. For the nonce, we’ll pass over that that’s just a not-nice cleric (why completely different mechanics) and that there’s incredible pressure to project Doctor Strange style force bolts from how good Eldritch Blast is for them. Instead, we’ll focus on why an oath of service lets them have these weird powers.
I think it’s because the story-that-is-written down isn’t actually the story they wanted! The warlock isn’t an oath-sworn. They’re a monster. Gradually, slowly, a level of monster you lay on top of your character, but that’s why spells per encounter and a focus on at wills — it matches the way a monster is written up but with the slight flexibility a PC needs to stay interesting. At least, so says I.
So, the sorcerer should have the warlock’s mechanics. That way, they can be a wellspring of magic, continuing their theme of being wizards-who-cast-funny. And in my opinion they shouldn’t tie to dragons at all, but if they absolutely had to, the breath still gives us a way for that to work, and the extremely limited spell selection, and so forth. The “invocations” are less of a great fit for the sorcerer, but frankly they’re not so hot for the warlock either: half of them are just giving you access to a spell they didn’t want you casting all the time.
The warlock-as-monster should have the monk’s mechanics. No, really! Their unarmed strike is a eldritch blast (… if they insist), a bunch of cantrips, ki points which refill each short encounter, and specialized mechanics to fit their patron, with the abyssal patron giving access to a huge randomized list. Sure, then they’re not really full casters, but to my mind that’s all to the good: it lets more of the fun live in the invocations; the monk has a bunch of weird one-off powers so the warlock-as-monster could too.
I’d probably call this class the Cambion, and resurrect my previous attempt to write one.
I’d call the warlock-as-oathsworn just “the warlock” (I don’t owe 3e any continuity!). It could just be a sort of cleric but with a wizard’s spell list. You know, an armored arcane(-ish) caster.
Like the B/X Elf.
But that’s not the article I ended up writing! While covering my bases, I discovered that 5e snuck what I wanted into the game after all.
They called it the bard.
They can fight, they can cast, their spells are arcane enough for me, and the college of lore gives them the armor side of being an elf.
If they need anything at all to feel more like a B/X elf with access to all the wizard’s gewgaws, we could figure out how to give them the rogue(thief)’s magical item use, probably as a racial feature (!).
So there you have it. An article which obviated itself.