A Touch More Class: How to Make a D&D 5E Class

When I became the editor for EN5ider my first objective (aside from keeping the high level of quality D&D 5E articles coming!) was a new suite of classes to follow up on the original A Touch of Class. In this series of posts I’ve explored the 9 new entries in A Touch More Class, revealed some of the development process behind them, and considered the obstacles in getting these from ideas to fully finished concepts. A fast summary of each is located here but

THE PROJECT HAS FUNDED $82,000/£65,000,
UNLOCKED all 29 (TWENTY NINE!) STRETCH GOALS, and we’re now thinking up new
ones because there are still
EIGHT DAYS TO GO

→ THE KICKSTARTER PAGE ←

(also you can download the Geomancer for free over here –> https://www.patreon.com/posts/geomancer-basic-22358642 and the Savant for free over here –> https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/276167/5E-A-Touch-More-Class-Exclusive-Preview-The-Savant)

Today instead of focusing on one particular class, I’m going to consider a much broader topic that will interest the designers out there in particular: making entirely new character classes.

(Dear inevitable naysayers: I am a full-time game designer that wrote 25% of the 16 classes in this massive Kickstarter and commissioned/edited/developed 50% of them–I’m not sure if I’m an expert, but I definitely have some expertise here)

#1 – “THAT SHOULD BE A SUBCLASS”

This is far and away the most common remark on new classes but before addressing it I want to clarify something that I constantly see people get wrong: Wizards of the Coast did not invent archetypes/subclasses, the golems at Paizo Publishing did that in the first edition of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (or arguably, TSR did that with kits). Please give credit where it is due.

So why isn’t everything in ATMC a subclass or series of archetypes? As a handy rule if you’ve only got one or two original mechanics and central aspects to the class you’re building, you probably are building an archetype. There are other considerations (see below) but that should be in the fore of your mind.

That’s not a hard and fast rule however, and if you’re only introducing one unique and central mechanical concept–like bloodweavers manipulating their hit points to eke out more magic use or the tempo of lodestars in combat–that might fit the bill.

Consider this: almost every core class has at least one main mechanic that influences how it is played which is shared across all of its subclasses. Fluid spell resources Sorcerer Points and Metamagic, Sneak Attack and Uncanny Dodge, Divine Smite, Rage, and so on. These are so focused so that in subclasses players can choose to keep the simplicity and main essence of the class (see Champion or Thief), or they can dip their toes into something more complex (like spellcasting with Arcane Tricksters or Eldritch Knight). If you’re building a new class its shtick needs to complement the existing central mechanics of the core classes and work with them, not copy or interfere with them.

youre a loony.gif

#2 – That’s gonna be about 4,000

Go ahead and count for yourself but by my count even the simplest classes (fighter, rogue) get more than 4,000 words in the D&D 5E Player’s Handbook. While you may have solid features worked out and confidence in your math skills, if there’s not enough to be said about your class it’s probably an archetype. Conversely if you are spending a ton of words introducing something that might mean you’re looking at a suite of subclasses instead, although that depends heavily on how much definition the class’s central mechanics require (looking at you, bloodweaver and mystic). At the end of the day you want something more than 4,000 words (including subclasses, short fiction bits at the start, the whole shebang) and less than 6,000 words.

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#3 – What the class can do is just as
important as what the class IS

Just like the mechanics behind them each core class in D&D 5E is firmly rooted in two different kinds of roles: one in the regular sense of the word and another that’s all about game design. For example, on one hand fighters and barbarians are intended to be able to participate in melee combat and soak up attacks, but on the other they both represent two different methods to approaching combat (one methodical, one naturalistic). In those divisions there are aspects that players can embrace for roleplaying–whether they’re talking about their fighter training new martial techniques, their barbarian indulging in life and their vitality, or if they choose to shirk both. The point is that each class serves a mechanical function (dealing damage, taking damage, avoiding damage, offering utility, etc.) and a social function (which runs the gamut).

Of the new classes in A Touch More Class I think the gemini is probably the best example of this concept at work, incorporating personality traits and dispositions into its subclasses (see #1 above about sneaking extra core mechanics into archetypes!)

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#4 – No D&D 5E class exists in a vacuum

It’s easy to forget that people may not want to take 20 levels in the class you’re making and it’s dangerous not to carefully consider all the ways the batch of features in your class might be used by clever players. In addition to setting prerequisites and gained proficiencies for multiclassing (things often overlooked by designers), any new class needs to be made with the power-gamer in mind. Are the abilities gained within the first three levels particularly juicy? Could they be exploited with a quick two levels of paladin for that sweet, sweet smiting action?

While crucial that’s not the only tenet to be wary of and your new class needs to stay engaging. This is something I think the ranger class really hurts from, although it’s not all by itself here–it’s just a downer to get a level and find that there’s nothing new for you other than a reinforced spell slot or one more spell known. Don’t go buckwild and throw the balance off, but do your best to make sure players won’t be disappointed or have to grind through lackluster character advancement levels to get to the good stuff. Spread it around!

 

What do you think? Did I miss something? Do you disagree with one of my main points? Say so in the comments!

Also if you missed it above there’s a free geomancer class here, free savant class here, and the amazingly successful Kickstarter page over yonder. Thanks for checking out my blog!

 

 

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