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I Want More Uniqueness From My TTRPG Classes

I saw a post on Tumblr about multiclassing in D&D, and it reminded me of something. A little while ago I got high and it popped into my head that every class in D&D ( at least in 5e which is the only one I’ve GM-ed ) can be described through the lens of another class but with a bit of story sprinkled on top.

Initially I thought that fighters was the starting point, and everything branched out from there:

  • Wizards are fighters who wanted to go learn magic, did so, but didn’t realize how long it’d take and how intensive it’d be – so they lost their fighting skills because it took several decades of intense study.
  • Sorcerors are fighters who learned they had an inate magical ability.
  • Warlocks are fighters who met an incredibly powerful creature and was granted magic.
  • Druids are fighters who decided to protect some natural place and got so in-tune with nature they gained magical abilities.
  • Monks are fighters who went off to a monestary and spent years meditating to hone their fighting skills to the point they don’t need weapons any more.
  • Barbarians are fighters that learned to tap into some primal force to become rage-fulled bezerkers.
  • Rogues are fighters who learned they’re better with dexterity than strength, and while honing that ability discovered some other useful talents.
  • Rangers are fighters who learned to fight out in the wilderness rathern than as part of a gang or army.
  • Bards are fighters who had some basic magical talent, and developed that so much they learned to tap into the primal forces of music and storytelling ( or had a natural sorceror-like talent they developed ).
  • Clerics are fighters who devoted their life to a god, who granted them power due to their faith.
  • Paladins are fighters who devoted their life to a cause – and gained power from that, either through a boon ( aka warlock or druid ), natural talent ( aka sorceror ), or honing some natural talent ( aka wizard, druid, monk ).

What gets me, is that you can do this for pretty much any class.

For example, start with a wizard:

  • Add innate spellcasting and you get a sorceror
  • Add a patron and you get a warlock
  • Say they were called to fight, you get a cleric or a paladin ( depending on how much they train to be good at fighting )
  • Maybe they were called to protect something in the wilderness, you get a druid, or a ranger if they let their magical skills wither a bit
  • If they goofed off and got kicked out of wizarding school, then went to learn how to play the lute but retained their knowledge of magic you get a bard
  • They go to research something in some remote village and learn of an ancient ceremony that grants them power, you can get a sorceror or a barbarian
  • They get tired of the politics of wizarding or city life and go to live in a monestary, they become an asthetic and decide to hone their body to the point their magical talents turn their hands into lethal weapons and suddenly you have a monk
  • They decide to just go wander the wilderness and live off the land – boom, ranger
  • They discover they have a talent for trickery, and have a natural talent for stealth that’s been augmented by their magical training – hey hey, it’s a rogue

And you can do this with pretty much any class as the starting point, although some are a bit harder to transition than others. Barbarian to monk is pretty easy, but barbarian to wizard takes a bit more streching.

But to me, this kind of highlights a problem with D&D that I’ve seen other folks talking about – specifically Jim Davis from Web DM and what he’s been talking about with the upcoming changes for “One D&D”. More specifically, he’s been talking about how the classes in D&D have been slowly shifting to focus on spells, to the detriment of the game as a whole. The biggest example of this is how the wizard has been suffering due to the fact that pretty much all they can do is cast spells. With nearly every class getting access to parts of the wizard spell list, the reasons for choosing a wizard have more to do with levels 15-20 and getting access to those 9th level spells than anything else.

Basically, the classes have all started to coalesce around one of two archetypes: fighters and wizards. Think of a Venn diagram, where each class is it’s own circle. The circles for Fighters and Wizards are the biggest, and overlap a tiny bit ( mostly thanks to subclasses ). Every other class overlaps Fighters & Wizards to some degree, to the point that playing a Fighter or a Wizard can seem boring.

To some people, this isn’t that much of a problem; it’s simplifying the hobby so that more people can get into it.

Which is fine! Getting more folks into TTRPGs is a good thing, and a worthy design goal.

But I don’t think that’s really WotC’s goal. Personally, I think they’re trying to shave edges off the “personality” of each class so that there’s less work required to design new supplements or adventures – or even new editions. WotC doesn’t want to spend lots of time designing things. Or rather: Hasbro doesn’t want WotC to spend lots of time and money designing things. Hasbro is a publicly traded company, so their goal is to create products cheaply that they can sell to as many people as possible. I could get into a rant about all the reasons that’s bad, but I’ll try to focus on one.

I think that pursuing this “homogenization of D&D to simplify it for mass consumption” is going to kill D&D. Maybe not in the way that D&D almost died with TSR (because they flooded the market with supplements and adventures in an attempt to get more money out of a hobby that doesn’t really work that way).

Rather, I think continuing down this path will lead to a version of D&D that’s so milquetoast that nobody is really enthused to play it. Or one that folks will buy, and then stop playing after a few sessions because nobody’s character really stands out from anybody elses in any meaningful way. Yeah, your character sheets says “druid” and theirs says “cleric” and mine says “sorceror”, but when we’re all drawing from pretty much the same spell list how different will our characters really feel on a mechanical level?

This is something that Jim Davis has been talking about in each of the live streams he’s done when reviewing the upcoming changes for One D&D. It’s something I agree with, too.

For example, let’s take wizards. Wizards are supposed to be people who’ve spent their entire lives learning magic – they weren’t born with a talent, weren’t granted magical abilities by nature, ceremony, boon, or god. They learned there were these strings underlying reality and they’ve learned how to grasp them and weave them into spells to make reality do what they want. So why not give wizards the ability to build spells? Maybe they start with some basic components and templates.

Let’s say they start with two templates: a weak “bolt”, and a single-creature effect. In addition, they can choose a few modifiers, based on their school of magic – of which they get to choose two, their major and minor. Your major gives you something to slot into a template, and your minor can give you either something to tweak that spell or some minor spells.

Evocation majors get a flame or lightning damage type they can apply, minors get a small un-typed damage modifier. Abjuration majors get either a buff modifier ( ie, help your allies ) or a de-buff modifier ( hinder your enemies ). Enchantment minors get modifiers that help outside of combat, like aiding in lock-picking or repairing items.

Maybe we want to make a Wizard who’s an Evocation major specializing in fire, and an abjuration minor specalizing in buffing. They could take the bolt template, and combine it with their major to get a flame bolt type spell. Then they could take the single-creature template and their abjuration minor and be able to grant themselves a small number of temporary HP during combat.

Can you see how this starts to really lean into the fantasy of playing a character who understands ( or is learning ) the rules of magic in a way that lets them create and modify spells on the fly? Or can spend time learning & tweaking a spell before adding it to their spellbook so they can memorize it and cast it at will for a day or two? Maybe rather than spell slots that they use up, they have a smaller number of slots – but they don’t get used up. Each slot could have restrictions on how powerful a spell can be by limiting how many modifiers that slot can accept. A first level spell slot can maybe only accept a spell that’s just a template + modifier, but a 6th level spell slot can accept a spell with two major modifiers and a few minor ones.

However, all this ability to bend and weave the very fabric of reality would need to come with a downside. The most obvious one would be a crippling lack of martial ability. Sure, you can work magic in a way that lets you dominate the battlefield, but unless you major in something that gives you a lot of protection or temporary HP, you are a very squishy wizard – even at 20th level. You have to balance being close enough to do damage with how hazardous combat is; at early levels it should be a bit nail biting to get close enough to cast spells. One of the reasons to pursue leveling up could maybe be that you can get some range, so that you can stand further away from your enemies and still deal damage.

Now, how would this effect some of the other spell-casting classes; specifically sorcerors?

Maybe sorcerors become a bit more primal. Rather than having a list of spells they can cast, they instead are magic weidlers that have tuned into the primal forces of nature: fire, water, air, earth, spirit, death. They choose a track, and get spells based on that track. To move them a bit further away from the wizard “combine elements to create spells” idea, as well as the “list of spells from previous editions” idea, maybe each track has a limited number of spells. However, each track gets ways to modify and empower those spells as they level up. So yeah, maybe at first level both wizards and sorcerors could both potentially have a spell that look pretty similar – something like fire bolt. But where the wizard can learn to modify that spell in uncountable ways, the sorceror just gets to power that fire bolt up in ways the wizard just can’t.

For example, maybe wizards aren’t able to combine their templates and modifiers in a way that lets them cast the classic Fireball spell until they’re higher level – but sorcerors get a weaker version of Fireball at level 3?

To me, sorcerors could become something a bit more like benders from the Avatar TV show. People who are attuned to these natural forces in a way that lets them do very powerful things, but are so specialized they can’t step outside their “lane”, so to speak. An earth sorceror can cause an avalanche, trap enemies in sudden pits, or coat their hands in stone to boost unarmed attacks – but that comes with a near inability to do damage to magical creatures with certain resistances, or a huge weak spot to certain kinds of damage. On the other hand, a spirit sorceror has a link to the spiritual that gives them almost psyonic abilities, but leaves them intensly phsycially vulnerable.

As for Warlocks, they need to get tuned up as well now because we’ve kind of taken their “build a spell” bit for Eldritch Blast and given it to the Wizards.

Well, I think you could change Warlocks to be much more about their patron. Who is giving them their magical abilities? Making a pact with something from the outer planes could grant you abilities that are more like breaking the natural laws of magic than harnessing them. A pact with something from the feywilds could let you harness and mess with time. I think one thing for the Warlocks though, is that these abilities come with a cost. You had to give something up in order to seal the pact. Maybe you get less healing from any source because you’ve tied your life essence to something in the outer planes, or because your “soul clock” runs slower because part of it is tied to the feywilds now. Maybe your spells are a bit uncontrolable; turning a patch of ground into a black mass of tentacles has as much chance to hurt your allies as it does your enemies if you’re not careful. Maybe any healing spells you have require you to take the life force from something, and if the only creatures nearby are your allies then you have to rethink using the spell.

I could go on and on and on about this, how you could make each and every class in D&D unique and special.

But the point I want to make isn’t that it’s possible – it’s that WotC won’t do it. Because that takes research, and thinking, and playtesting, and re-designing. It takes time. WotC ( or rather, Hasbro ) wants a new version sooner rather than later, because then it’s a whole new edition that people have to buy. A whole new set of players guides they can sell to the entire player base, instead of another supplement that only a segment of them will buy.

Furthermore, it makes the game more technically challenging and harder for a complete newcomer to grok. WotC doesn’t want D&D to be a game that requires you know someone who can teach you; they need it to be a game anyone can pick up and start playing. They need the game to be something you can see on Strange Things ( or whatever show comes after that ) and you can go pick up at Walmart and start playing with your friends. They can’t rely on it being a game that’s only sold at hobby stores or spreads through word of mouth. If they do, Hasbro fires the staff at WotC and brings on people who will make it that kind of game.