Creating a Monster: Class Design Basics

5E is ripe for custom, homebrew add-ons. New material is coming out so rarely, it stands to reason that players themselves would feel a need to add the things they want into the system. The DMs Guild gives those players a chance to spread their materials out into the world at large with a bigger platform than any single website or blog could manage. Wizards has practically asked players to make the system their own, and that’s great. It means there’s room for me to add a new class. If there wasn’t room, that probably wouldn’t stop me, but it’s a nice allowance.

I do want to make the best class I can, and that means it has to follow good class design principles. I don’t want something I’ve slapped together on my lunch break; I want something that’s viable, that’s fun to play, that fits within the system but challenges some of its assumptions and provides an experience I can’t get from existing classes. There are plenty of materials out there for guiding a person through class design, and I’ve spent a lot of time in them, and a lot of time working on custom classes, over many years. I’ve found that the most important pieces of a class tend to be the following, in order: Continue reading

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Creating a Monster: Points of Divergence

I intended to have this post closer to the original one on the Warlock Problem, but I really wanted to get that post uploaded on the correct day. Such are the hazards of linear time.

It’s not a secret that I prefer having freedom in my character design possibilities. I’m of the opinion that a system should allow a player to design and run a character of their choice (within the limitations of the system and the narrative—if you’re trying to play a space smuggler in D&D, that might be interesting but you can’t be surprised when it doesn’t work). This role-playing game should allow players to decide their own role, not begrudgingly adopt one of the very few roles the game’s authors wanted the players to want. That means players should have some sort of options, so they can select the traits or skills or powers closest to their own vision of their character.

D&D doesn’t have a freeform character creation system where you can slap on any combination of traits as long as the math checks out. It uses classes. That’s not an issue, as long as the classes still allow some freedom of choice. If I’m going to be a fighter, I don’t just want to be the same fighter everybody else is. I want to put my own spin on it. It’s fine if all fighters get certain core abilities, even if they don’t fit the exact character I have in mind, but the fighter needs to gives me some sort of wiggle room so I can make it work for me instead of the other way around. Continue reading

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Session 13.5

I’m not saying I invented the term “Session Zero”. I don’t have the data to support that statement. I can say that I referred to sessions by number early in my career, and that my post about Session Zero predates, often by several years, almost everything you can find about it with an online search, and I leave it to my readers to draw any conclusions.

And while Session Zero is great at putting everybody on the same page before a campaign begins, its relevance fades as the campaign progresses. Over time, things change. Characters evolve. The plot makes unexpected swerves. Some people leave and others join, both in-game and out. The players’ impression of the campaign halfway through is not (and should not be) the same as it was before they made their first initiative roll. For long-running games, Session Zero and its decisions disappear ever more into the background, and sometimes it serves the table to take a step back, look at what’s happening, and make any necessary course corrections.

That’s where Session 13.5 comes in. Continue reading

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The Warlock Problem

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of one of my favorite video games of all time, Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy 3 if you’re the type who hasn’t played a video game since 1998). I spent a while thinking about whether I could do a post about it here. Could I talk about adapting Final Fantasy’s magic system to D&D? Could I make alternate rules for changing job classes mid-campaign? Should I come up with custom monsters or races? As I thought about the confluence between FF and D&D, I realized something about 5E that’s been bothering me for a while, though I haven’t had occasion to put it into words.

I’m calling it the Warlock Problem. It’s a pithy term but a bit of a misnomer. The warlock isn’t a problem. It’s a sole solution, and that in itself is a problem. Continue reading

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March of Madness: Honorable Mentions

Several demon lords didn’t make it into 5E, and now that I’ve looked into them I see why. 5E’s demon lords aren’t necessarily fun or interesting, but they’re all at least somewhat active. They have goals, usually some form of domination or omnicide, and they actively work toward them. The lords who didn’t make the cut were much quieter, content to sit back and enact small-scale plans unless a group of heroes stumbled into their path. It’s logical, and it increases the verisimilitude of the setting, but that’s not what the designers wanted. They wanted monsters PCs could punch, and somebody who avoids being punched has no place here.

Here are brief treatments of some demon lords we lost. You can use them in your campaign as background noise or targets of lore. If you want a more nuanced enemy than the standard demon lords, you can use one or more of these instead with only a few changes. There’s a lot of material about them if you look for it, enough to make any one of them a proper campaign villain. Continue reading

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