Tuesday, July 14, 2015

D&D: 13 Things I’d like to see from 5e (Part 2)

Part 1 of this article was wildly popular, with 100% of respondents saying that they wanted to see a revisitation of the Spelljammer universe.  I confess that I was expectingPlanescape to be the big winner, but the old adage really is true.  “There’s always enough fantasy but never enough good sci fi.”
For what it’s worth, I think the odds of new Spelljammer content approach zero, which is why I went back to the guys at En5ider and pitched them a new sci fi / fantasy adventure based loosely on last week’s feedback.  We’ll see how that goes, but privately I’m not overly optimistic.  I also think there’s room for homebrewing on the blog, but right now that’s just a set of ideas sitting in my notebook.  I haven’t even started putting together the Wanderhaven Campaign Guide, and here we are talking about a new would-be setting.  Honestly, it makes me tired just thinking about it.  
This post is the second half of our list, “13 Things I’d Like to See from 5e”.  Hopefully the feedback from this half will be as interesting as it was for the first half.  Regardless, thanks for coming by!

Previous Articles in this Series
 -- “Thirteen Things I’d Like to See from D&D Next” (Part 1Part 2Part 3).
 -- “13 Things I’d Like to See from 5e” (Part 1)
7. A Warden-build for the Fighter (or Druid)
This seems like an obvious choice considering current content.  It’s also one that ought to be easy to implement.  Using the basic concepts associated with the Eldritch Knight, one could easily bolt on some Druid spells and/or class features to build a working version of the Warden, or we could go in the opposite direction and create a more martial Druid, which shapechanges in less astonishing ways but which has access to some of the Fighter’s maneuver-based powers.  Granted, you could do some of this through the use of feats and/or multiclassing as well, but as with the Fighter/Wizard, the issue isn’t that you can’t bolt on class features, it’s that you want to create synergy in ways that don’t currently exist.  
It is perhaps worth noting that the game already has a nature-based Paladin.  There’s a lot of daylight, though, between Sir Gawain the Green Knight and the archetype of a shapeshifting Warden who fights with a combination of martial prowess and nature-based supernatural ability.  
8. A Combat Engineer class
This is an idea that I’ve talked about before.  The most successful implementation that I personally put together was a version of the Fighter that exchanged maneuvers for mobility and counter-mobility concepts, and truthfully, I’m not at all sure whether it would have been compelling in play.  Still, that one idea hardly speaks to the full range of potential implementations of an Engineer class, nor to all the types of engineers which might have utility in a D&D setting.
Sappers clearing a roadway with explosives.
Maybe you’re wondering why we need a combat engineer archetype in fantasy roleplaying, and if you’re picturing a Forgotten Realms-style setting, I tend to agree that the class is not absolutely mandatory.  I mean, yeah, I could certainly make the case that Tolkeinesque fantasy fiction has a spot for dwarven civil engineers, that a lot of what those engineers do could be termed mobility or counter-mobility operations.  But this is hardly the heart of what makes a dwarf.  Still, the Realms are far from the only viable setting for D&D.  Folks were clamoring for Spelljammer just last week, and I think Eberron is probably the second most popular setting after the Realms.  If we add in steampunk concepts, we quickly come to the realization that anything is possible, and that’s half the point of the game.
Eberron in particular needs combat engineers.  It’s a setting that’s all about the aftermath of large-scale combat, and more to the point, there is serious technology in Eberron, albeit technology that’s derived from fantasy-based sources.  In such a world, the lack of mobility, counter-mobility, and survivability operations is a giant gaping hole.  Granted, you could argue that the Artificer is a kind of engineer, but it’s only one kind of engineer, and it’s not like we see them stringing concertina wire to shape the battlefield or fighting as infantry when the need arises.
9. A Cavalier option for the Fighter
This is another concept that I’ve written about previously.  In fact, I think D&D’s approach to mounted combat in general needs work, which is surprising given the importance of the horse to pre-industrial warfare.  D&D has at times gone to great lengths to give mounts to various classes, but the game shies away from making mounted combat the basis of a class, presumably because there are so many times when PCs won’t be able to take their mounts down into the dungeons that make up half the game.  
I get that, but I also know that the knight’s warhorse was more than half of what made him such a dominating piece of the medieval battlefield.  The same could be said of the samurai of ancient Japan or the Mongols of Genghis Khan.  These archetypes need a way of expressing themselves in multiple environments, not a lack of mounted advantages that makes them almost as effective regardless of whether or not they have their chief asset with them.
10. A Shadowfell Sourcebook or Campaign Guide
This boxed set is the closest we got to an actual
sourcebook.  It's got a 128-oage booklet, most
about Gloomwrought.
The cosmology of 4e was one of my favorite parts of it.  The idea of a “Bright Mirror” and a “Dark Mirror” of the Mortal World really worked for me, and I used both realms with some regularity in my games.  But we never got true Feywild or Shadowfell sourcebooks.  Wizards of the Coast (WotC) did eventually publish additional support for players--Heroes of the Feywild and Heroes of Shadow--but there was no Feywild Campaign Guide and there was certainly no campaign guide for the Shadowfell.  Instead, we got a handful of articles in Dungeon and Dragon magazines, and if you went through some of the higher-level published adventures, you would eventually get into one or the other plane, but it was usually just right at the end.  This struck me as both a storytelling shortfall and a missed commercial opportunity.
All things being equal, I prefer the storytelling of the Shadowfell.  I like the idea of returned Netheril in the Forgotten Realms, I like the way the Shadowfell influences the later work of Paul S. Kemp, and I think it’s a little easier for Players to understand the nature of the Shadowfell in a world where comic books have made a point of the impermanence of death.  There’s room for a whole supplement here—Hell, there’s probably room for an entire Monster Manual devoted just to creatures of shadow—and I think a lot of the storytelling possibilities are evocative of the kind of horror-fantasy style that my own experience tells me folks enjoy.
Not everybody likes to play the good guy.  Putting more emphasis on the darker side of D&D gives those players who like to explore the bad stuff a place to feel at home.  This is not a negative.
11. Shade as a PC race or feat tree
This goes along with the desire to see more Shadowfell.  3.5e treated shades as a separate race while 4e gave them a set of feats to express different ways a shade might gain power.  I personally prefer the later since it makes it so that anyone can become a shade, so long as they’re willing to invest themselves in the process of harnessing shadow magic, and it’s that process of growing the characters that makes D&D so addictive.
Shadowfell wallpaper!
While we’re at it, we could also bring back the Shadow Weave.  What ever happened to that thing, anyway?
12. A Chaos Domain for Clerics
Here’s another idea I’ve written about previously.  The crux of the issue is that drow use hand-crossbows as their weapons of choice, tipping their bolts with sleeping poison.  Meanwhile, drow priestesses of Lloth are supposed to be the arch-drow, and they’re supposed to worship spiders, but they can’t use hand-crossbows, and they have no particular affinity for poison.  Also, there’s not currently a Cleric build that allows the use of the whip or flail, which is another typical weapon of the drow priestess. All of which is weird.  
There’s an easy fix.  We just need a Chaos domain for Clerics that gives proficiency with the necessary weapons as well as some poison-based Channel Divinity powers and maybe some kind of affinity for demonic magic at higher levels.  There are several Cleric builds that give proficiency with heavier weapons and armor.  What I’m proposing here is proficiency with more wicked, more subversive weapons and tricks.  Granted, we get a bit of that with the Cleric’s Trickster domain, but that particular execution doesn’t fit the current canon for priests of chaos.
13. A Shadowdancer subclass for the Rogue
The Shadowdancer is such a cool idea.  Really, there’s a lot of the shadow power source stuff that’s really, really cool, but the Shadowdancer prestige class is literally my favorite thing ever—in storytelling terms, at least, if not in actual play.
Shadowdancer fanart from ENWorld.
I think you could make a Shadowdancer that’s a subclass of either the Rogue or the Warlock, but I’d like to see it as part of the Rogue.  Start by exchanging training in Acrobatics for Arcana, and then add a Hide/Teleport power in low light in lieu of the current bonus action structure, and voila!  I don’t think that’s game-breaking, but I could be wrong, which is why I’d like to see an official take on this concept from actual game designers.
Whew!  That’s thirteen things.  What did I miss?

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