Design Diary 3

Classes

While I was working on skills, I decided to take a look at the sorcerer, that sadly underpowered and oft-neglected redheaded stepchild of the class pantheon. Now, don't get me wrong – sorcerers are one of my favorite classes, but they suck. Hard. They have no class abilities, are hampered with a delayed spell progression, have to spend a full round casting metamagic spells, and have a limited spell selection (even moreso since they can only swap one – one! – spell every other level).

And the sad thing is, they received no love in the revisions between 3E and 3.5. The bard and ranger, two other classes who were in dire need of beefing up, got some fixes, but the sorcerer, the class most in need of a power-up, got nothing. Apparently the designers thought the ability to use metamagic on the fly was enough to balance out everything else. Sure, it's a strong ability – pre-epic, a sorcerer who can spontaneously metamagic spells without increased casting time will wipe the floor with a wizard of equal level – but the increased casting time takes care of that quite neatly. There's no need for delayed spells or the severely restricted swapping rule they have now (though there should still be a limit; see below).

So I decided to give them a power up. I took a couple ideas that I previously didn't really like - the warlock and bloodlines – and mined them for ideas to apply to the sorcerer. I took the warlock's eldritch blast, mixed in a hefty portion of bloodline abilities, added a pinch of popular house rules, and stirred vigorously.

I had to redefine the sorcerer. They can tap directly into the source of magic (the Weave, the Source, the Power, whatever you want to call it), and I've always seen them as being able to wield raw magical energy. Sadly, despite this really cool ability, they were relegated to being "spontaneous arcane casters" with no real archetype and no distinct identity.

I decided to use bloodlines (modified and renamed as heritages) to define them – their power is inborn, drawn from one of several sources: celestial, chaos, draconic, elemental, fey, fiendish, or (as suggested by someone) shadow.

Each heritage gained a suite of abilities thematically tied to that archetype – for instance, fey sorcerers can charm and cast illusions; shadow sorcerers gain stealth abilities and can travel using the shadows, etc. Each heritage also gained an offensive ability (a variation on the warlock's eldritch blast with more limited uses) and a defense ability (which varies by heritage) for a total of four each. After some fiddling around, I also gave the sorcerer the ability to tap into his heritage, gaining additional minor abilities and power-ups in exchange for physical changes.

My point? Yeah, I did have one. See, the revised sorcerer (which turned out very well, thank you very much) gave me the idea of doing something similar to the other classes, as far as focusing on archetypes and scaling abilities. I've always been a proponent of scaling/related abilities, and I use them heavily in my prestige class design. I try to group simliar abilities together, so that as the character gains levels, he gains more powerful or different versions of the same ability (the Hunter is a good example of this) instead of just additional uses.

The sorcerer is the newest evolution of that design philosophy. It gains three sets of abilities: innate powers (the main heritage abilities), gained at 1st, 6th, 11th, and 16th; heritage abilities (the minor power-ups), gained at 3rd, 8th, 13th, and 18th levels; and general sorcerer powers that all sorcerers get at 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th. What you end up with is a class that not only has no more than one "dead level" in a row, but has a series of class abilities that are thematically tied to the class' archetype and scale with level. Now, not only does the sorcerer get a nice power-up to put it nearly on a par with the wizard, but it's fun and interesting on its own, while not being overpowered.

I applied the same process to the fighter. Fighters fight, so I gave them a choice of different combat styles – Dex fighter, Strength fighter (two-handed weapon), sword-and-board, and grappler/close quarters – along with the ability to take Weapon Focus in groups of weapons (from Unearthed Arcana) and the usual bonus combat feats.

I think you see what I'm getting at here – I could make four different fighters and have them all be different, not clones of each other with a different feat selection. Sure, I could've easily done that before, but the differences are more obvious now. The trick is to identify the class' "shtick" – what it's designed to do, or its archetype – and expand on that to emphasize the class' strengths without giving it too much of a power-up. To use an analogy, it's kind of like weightlifting – you do fewer reps with higher weight to build muscle mass, or more reps with lower weight to build definition. What I'm doing here is building definition - refining what's already there without making it a whole lot stronger.

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