Gaming Thursday: RPG System 8: Layers Explored

I want to pull more from the previous post, digging into the idea of a multi-layered system and looking at the “prime power” sources part, and specifically looking at the various classes in D&D through that lens.   What might I see in dissecting the familiar?

As it turns out, some pretty interesting things.

Setting aside for a moment that the D&D classes are constructed such that some classes rely on their utility abilities (forex a skill monkey) as part of their “balance”, there’s an interesting matrix that can be drawn. Let’s just look at primarily weapon users…

In the newer editions, every class can wield certain weapons equally effective (no BAB/THAC0 differences). What therefore separates a “weapon user” from a “spellcaster using a weapon” is a) access to “better” (more damaging) weapons, and b) access to being able to “boost” that damage in various ways.

(There is also a distinction made in heavy armour wearers, and light armour (or no armour) wearers – though the latter nearly always has some ways to make their AC nearly as high as the heavy armour wearers.)

In amongst the weapon users, the prime differences between them is part B – what is the conceit of the class that allow it to “boost” damage?

  • A Fighter has access to various techniques, tricks, and special weapon uses (superiority die, maneuvers/powers, etc). The fighter in 4e was also given “stickyness”.
  • A Paladin/Avenger has access to divine magic, either in the form of smites (actual smite uses, or powers), and sometimes a small gaggle of spells, some of which boost damage, and others utility.
  • A Ranger gets multi attacks, either with two weapons or with fast archery. Can also be boosted by a small panoply of spells, or powers/maneuvers.
  • A Rogue uses their sneak attack: if they can get into an advantaged position, they hit harder.
  • A Barbarian uses their rage, essentially a few times a day getting more “powerful”.
  • The Eldritch Knight (as 5e calls them, but also could be a Swordmage in 4e) has a small selection of spells to aid them.

Until I looked at it this way, I don’t think I had become cognisant how many classes were either “weapons, plus magic” or “weapons plus bonus”. And that’s kinda cool. In many ways it makes it quite orderly, and easy to design to. And it is ripe for some consolidation, especially of the Fighter/Ranger/Rogue/Barbarian angle.

As my system design right now is a skill-based system, not every character will be equally well versed in weapons, which immediately brings a distinction to things (but every character can, and likely will, invest in some weapon use). Looking at the list above, then, the profession entries could be:

  • Divine magic, specialised for melee (with a minor in utility spellcasting)
  • Druidic magic, specialized for melee (with a minor in utility spellcasting)
  • Arcane magic, specialized for melee (with a minor utility in spellcasting)
  • “Rage”, a “swingy” damage booster
  • Advanced Weapon User, with maneuvers, stances, and more (this one would cover the multi-attack, advantaged hitting, tripping, shield bashing, and more Fighter/Rogue/Ranger)

And perhaps the minor utility spellcasting could be part of a different layer, thus allowing the “traditional” ranger to have the fight-y abilities and their minor spellcasting.

Some stuff to think about.