D&D and the Bardic Afterlife

D&D 4th Edition - Dungeon Master ScreenI haven’t paid that much attention to 4th Edition so far, either I’ve been too busy or I’m really looking forward to having some surprises when it finally comes out.  Back when Dave posted his first impressions of it I became really excited because it seemed, against all odds, that the designers at WotC were actually paying attention to game design and making decisions which could enrich play experience and enjoyment.  I was quite surprised to see reactions to what players consider the “sweet spots” of D&D, and potential solutions for a lot of things that have bugged me in 3rd Edition.  You would think hearing all of these good things would have caused me to pay more attention for more news, but apparently I’ve missed a lot!

After Dave’s post today with some of the new book covers released, I started checking out EN World’s superb 4th Edition page and was quite surprised at how much had been discoverd, investigated, overheard, and deduced about the coming changes to our favorite activity.  What caught my eye the most was a preliminary and very speculative list of possible classes included in the 4th Ed. PHB:

-Fighter      -Ranger       -Paladin        -Cleric         -Wizard        -Warlock       -Rogue       -Warlord

My immediate reaction was anger, obviously, because some things I’ve really come to love are missing.  *cough*monk*cough*     However, there is a lot of discussion and debate about whether or not they are sticking to 8 core classes or if there will be more / less.  With the elimination of Druids, Monks, Bards, Sorcerers, and Barbarians I would say they are trying to trim down the classes which are ‘similar’ to some of the core classes – Sorcerer to Wizard, Barbarian to Fighter – but arguably the Bard, Monk, and Druid are pretty distinguished on their own from any of the other classes.  A lot of people lump Bards into the Rogue/Thief category, I did until just a few months ago when I started playing one for the first time in years, but really they stand on their own.

I began to think that they might insert new rules that allowed you to essentially play these missing classes, such as being a Warlord with the ability to inspire through singing or a Cleric of Nature essnetially being a Druid in every way.  Having played lots of table top systems, I obviously like to see the ability to costumize a class and not be pigeonholed from the beginning just by one simple decision.  This lingered in my mind as I kept reading, then I found this list at EN World’s site that talks about supposed four main roles that every class will be able to fit into one of:

  • Defender: fighter & paladin classes
  • Leader: cleric & warlord classes
  • Controller: wizard class
  • Striker: rogue & ranger classes [later info confirms the warlock is also a striker]

I like these distinctions, as it lends a more structured view and really encourages the players (throws it in their faces) to focus on how the party functions as an entity.  I’m a bit skeptical about Clerics being lumped into the leader role, but I suppose faith and purpose can justify that, and I’m also noticing a lack of options as far as being a “Controller” with the only choice being wizardry.  Either this is an attempt at making Wizards more common / desirable, or they’re waiting to fill in the gap with something new or revised.

Then my previous contemplations came full circle and I questioned, “Why aren’t they just using these as four classes?”  There is definitely a view that more classes equals more class, but there is little difference to me between a Fighter and a Paladin when you consider the variation between a Rogue and a Bard, or a Cleric and a Druid.  Even a class called “Warlord” seems in essence a far cry from what your typical Bard might be.  If they incorporate any of this route of thinking, they are essentially building on what 3rd Edition fighters became as a typical class that encompasses a varied range of characters and abilities. 

One of the advantages to not doing this kind of organization is you reduce the player’s options and essentially make the game system easier on itself – you reduce the player’s ability to combine different abilities and therefore break the game or accomplish things that were not intended to be done.  If there were only four base classes, and the rest of your character were customized via skills, feats, proficiencies (or what have you) then I could easily see a munchkin’d out Defender with spells out the wazoo, party buffing musical talent, and one killer sneak attack.  The information presented does say that these four classifications are mostly (if not entirely) combat oriented and that OOC your character may not fall into any one of those roles, but I find it quite interesting where WotC is drawing the lines at how much distinguishment is enough and how open they want their classes to be.  I’m most anxious to see where the classic Bards and Druids fall into the puzzle, or if they’re being left out in the cold for good.


  1. That’s a very speculative list- the “preview” book released this month lists barbarians, bards, druids, monks and sorcerers in addition to all the ones you list. My guess is that they really haven’t figured out what classes are going to be in the PHB, and how many are going to be released in PHB2 a year later. But all the ones listed will make an appearance at some point.

  2. Then they very well may be on the verge of including too many base Classes. I’ve always felt that 3.5 introduced too many with the PHB2, and all of the base classes in the ‘Complete’ books. Then again, if I consider it for a while, things like Knight and Ninja it might not make a lot of sense (and not be fun) to have to wait 6-7 levels until you can finally be what you want to be.

    What do you guys think, can they / do they have too many base classes? Should prestige classes be far more specialized then they are, and core classes be varied and extravagant?

  3. Sounds like a poll question to me…

    I like the idea of fewer core classes with greater variation in direction the character can be taken…

  4. So, there will always be many base classes, and optional classes, and epic classes, etc. cause they want to sell lots of supplements.

    From what I’ve read warlord is taking some of the Bard’s role. Having abilities that boost the whole party.

    You are right I think the Talent Trees(or whatever they call the SW SAGA mechanic) will let one class focus on different aspects depending on what the player picks.

    Personally I really hate the defined roles. One of the main reasons 4ed is compared to MMORPGs. Without much stretching they can be renamed Tank, Buffer, Nuker, and Mob control. Reading about the abilities many sound like the duplicate aggro management, dots, and other MMORGP concepts.

    Sounds like they aren’t designing a new game as much as copying EQ/WoW.

    But whatever, the reason I don’t like roles is cause I think the are intellectually insulting and limiting. I don’t need or want a game designer to tell me how to play my character. If I want to play a wizard who is the “nuker” or a rogue that is all about subterfuge, diplomacy/bluff, getting the girls and cares funk all about doing uber damage then let me.

    And as a DM, what if I want to run a campaign of all thieves, or all soldiers in an army, or a bunch of wizards in a coven? It’s crap to have mechanics that effectively force a certain character mix.

  5. Good game designers borrow. Great game designers steal. It’s also not like they’re lifting those concepts whole-hog, they’re using the general concepts (most of which MMOs did not invent) to work with the game.

    I’d also argue those role divisions exist now, and you can’t effectively have a party of all thieves or fighters. I highly doubt there will be a rule that says you MUST have one of each, and if anything, I’d expect 4e to make it easier to go without certain classes.

  6. TheMainEvent says:

    ‘Stealing’ from MMORPGs that stole from tabletop RPGs that stole from Tolkien that stole from Beowulf is not such a dramatic turn of events to concern me. Now, if they were lifting ‘great concepts’ from Games Workshop or ‘original character drama’ from Padme/Anakin romance in episode II… then I’d be worried.

  7. OriginalSultan says:

    I only wish that there was more than one option for ‘controller’, especially if it is recommended that a party have at least one from each of the 4 ‘types’ of class. It would be lame if only one class adequately filled this role.

  8. Considering that there are likely more classes than are listed above, we’ll probably have more than one option per category…

    And just so long as we do have a physical DM and not an MMO we’re talking about, it’s completely possible for there to be a party of all warriors or thieves…I’m in the middle of playing a campaign with a party made up entirely of spellcasters (wizard, sorcerer, druid, bard) and our DM adjusts the campaign so that while we do face some of the challenges of not having a fighter in the party, it’s not enough of a problem that we can’t go on without one…


  1. […] Bardic options for 4e. Speaking of which, I was amused to find an article Bartoneus wrote last year talking about the missing Bard, which speculated on the four roles and the eight classes in the core book (all correctly.) Always […]