Too Many Pillars: Background and Specialties in D&D Next

I was reminded of this when playing the newest version of the playtest packet for D&D Next at Gen Con, and also clicked even more when thinking about themes with how they work in 4e and also how 13th Age tackles it. Here’s my conclusion: I’m not a fan of the Race/Class/Background/Specialty system as implemented in D&D Next.

For those who don’t know how the current D&D Next system works, during character creation, you select:

  • Race (with possible subrace)
  • Class (with a possible build option, including Domains, Styles, Schemes, and Schools)
  • Background (which is your primary source for skills, and provides a singular trait)
  • Specialty (which is described as your approach to adventuring, which is a bundle of mechanical benefits. Examples include Archer, Dual-Wielder, Magic-User and Necromancer.)

So you could have a Mountain Dwarf Fighter (Protector) Soldier Guardian, a High Elf Wizard Sage Magic User, or something like a Stout Halfling Cleric (War) Thief Dual Wielder. I have some issues with this on a number of levels. I’ll break down why.

Weird Combinations Means Inferior

Let’s look at that last example of our Halfling. Sounds a bit strange, right? Well, I’ll say up front that I have no issue with quirky characters, ones that skew the traditional options for characters and make something out of the ordinary. Having one standout quirk is often character-defining, and interesting.

However, in this case there are big issues as a result of this. For one, you have to sacrifice in order to have that quirk. Specialties are the worst offender here. In order to be a dual-wielding cleric, you’re giving up the Healer theme. At 3rd level, you automatically give the maximum amount of healing. Now, in most D&D campaigns, the cleric is the primary healer. That means taking a more interesting option is trading off from an extremely effective ability and combination with your class. Most other classes taking the Healer talent (a Healer Fighter for instance) receive almost no benefit. Some specialties are “trap” choices, others are super-effective. I also don’t think this is just a matter of balancing the abilities. If you create some specialties that are extra effective with certain classes and others that are markedly inferior, you run into this same thing.

By detaching those mechanics from the class itself, you’re always going to run into these issues. Having “Necromancer” as a theme and being able to combine that with any class sounds cool. But if you are a wizard who has to give up having at-will spells in order to have it? Suddenly, not so fun. (Correction: I misread the rules, and Wizards and Clerics do get at-will spells as part of the class. While it does take away this concern, it makes things even muddier for me when taking Magic User plus Wizard.) 

Compare this all to the 4e implementations of themes. By and large, they aren’t no brainers that define your class. They add an extra layer that provides more rounded abilities. Some are definitely skewed towards being more effective towards certain character types, and there are totally minmaxed/broken combinations that involve themes, but ultimately, they add to your character and provide an interesting spin. They’re not asking you to give up what should be a core option for your class.

World-Building Implications

Necromancer is on the list of specialties. It is a core option, so it has the expectation of being played more than most options. Thus, necromancers are relatively common in your game world. Sure, you could ban them in your campaign, but why not ban Archers? Or Jack-of-All-Trades? There are specialties that have much greater implications on a game world, but all on the same playing field mechanically. There’s an extra step the DM will have to consider.

Let’s also look at a very common option. The “Magic User” specialty, as already discussed, gives at-will wizard spells, while the “Acolyte” specialty gives at-will cleric spells. Many Wizards will be Magic Users, and many Clerics will be Acolytes. What does that really SAY about those characters? A Wizard Magic-User is somehow more into magic than other Wizards? He spends more time studying magic than a Lurker Wizard? Let’s fold in backgrounds into the equation, which is much more about the character’s backstory. If my Wizard Magic-User takes a different background, like bounty hunter, does he really care about magic all that much? (It means he doesn’t have Lore skills.) Is a Wizard Magic-User Sage the most magic dude ever, and all others don’t stand a chance?

The real problem with specialties in my mind is how many of them seem like purely mechanical expressions with no real ties to the world, with one or two exceptions. I don’t know if characters in the D&D world are supposed to refer to Magic-Users, but game terms like those have a way of seeping into our language of play, whether we mean to or not. Being a Dual Wielder or an Acolyte don’t say much to me about the character, while Necromancer or Survivor say A LOT, and it’s all very blurry to me.

Along those lines- if I’m a Fighter who takes the Magic-User theme, how is that conceptually different than a Fighter with some Wizard levels? Probably very different mechanically, but really blurry to translate from character concept to mechanics.

Option Overload

I like that the current draft of D&D Next has a “building block” approach- it lets you customize a unique character very quickly based on your character concept and produce a decent build, without having to do things like assign feats from a big list.

However, it’s a lot to assign, and leads to the weird compound lists like I show above. Race and Class are the classics. Options within a class are pretty well trod. Backgrounds- some become obvious, some get blurry if not done right (If I’m a Rogue, do I need to be a Thief too?) By the time you get to Specialties, you’ve already made a lot of choices, and you have to make another one that either will likely boil down to “the effective one for your class” or “a weird one.”

Describing your character becomes a mouthful. Options and customization are a good thing, but there seems to be a point of diminishing return where it starts to eat itself.

Missing Out On Cool Tech

This is my biggest complaint of the whole thing. Simply put, I miss earlier implementations of these ideas (particularly in 4e) because I think they worked better. When themes were introduced for the Dark Sun campaign setting, they filled a gap that I thought worked very well. You could be any kind of race or class and be a gladiator. Same for a merchant or a noble. They provided skills and abilities, while also providing another dimension to the character in the story that worked well with many (though not all) of the potential combinations. Simply put, they made the concepts gel.

When we got the Neverwinter book, I feel like they executed the concept perfectly. For one, each theme was unique in the world: you were the ONLY lost heir of Neverwinter, and so on. Each one provided immediate story hooks that the DM could work with, and really showed how your character fit into the game world. And again, they were designed to really work with nearly any class.

And in the shameless plug department, themes are ideal for Planescape factions. As a blend of skills, background, and mechanics, they work perfectly in a way that neither the current versions of backgrounds or specialties could. Between Dark Sun, Neverwinter (Forgotten Realms), and Planescape, that’s three of the classic D&D settings that it works very well with. I’m sure other D&D settings would be the same way (Greyhawk themes, anyone?)

Solutions

Let’s go back to Race/Class/Theme for D&D Next. Let each piece give skills: your race gives some skills, your class some more, and your theme some more. (Or an easy choice of skills at each step.) Put some of the more mechanical options back into the classes themselves. (Seriously, if the surveys are showing such strong support for wizards having at-will spells, why make them sacrifice other cooler options for it?) Make some awesome themes that overlap with most race/class options in ways that suggest some easy connections but aren’t mechanically either traps or too strong.

Alternatively, you could make a system that better flows from one step to the next- you select Race, which lets you pick from a list of Backgrounds that make sense for that Race, then you pick a Class from a list from that Background, and you end up with a Theme from those choices. A flowchart approach, from “birth” to adventuring career. You could also overlay that kind of approach or the previous one with the 13th Age approach to skills and just make that be background.

When recently playtesting, the inclusion of the specialty soured how I felt about my character. I was making a Sorcerer quickly at the table and used the suggested specialty, which was Magic-User. I was playing a class whose main hook was that they could cast spells all the time, taking an option that literally any other class could take to let them cast spells any time. Suddenly, my class didn’t feel so special. And that bugged me.

Plus I need D&D Next to support Planescape, or no dice.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.

Comments

  1. I think you’re incredibly off-base here.

    A Wizard who takes Necromancer vs Magic-User does not really “give up at-will spells”. They have three from their class. Taking Necromancer means giving up two that they could gain from a feat, in exchange for other powerful abilities. I really don’t think a player who wants to be a Necromancer is going to see it and say, “Wait, you mean I have to give up Ghost Sound and Ray of Frost? Nevermind!”

    And yes, a Cleric who takes Dual-Wielder instead of Healer won’t heal quite so many HP. They will, however, be better at dual-wielding. That might not be an interesting trade-off for you, but it might be for many Cleric players (like the Cleric in my game, who has Archer, and is really great at archery). Does the Cleric strictly need Healer to function as a healer? They have several other healing options, and characters have their own Hit Dice. The level 3 Healer feat makes them more efficient healers, but the game should support players who want to trade the ability to heal HP super-efficiently for something potentially more interesting.

    I think you would be well-served looking at the names of feats, rather than just the specialties, when thinking about their world-building applications. The name of the level 1 Magic-User feat is Arcane Dabbler. Does this mean a Wizard with Arcane Dabbler spends more time studying magic than a Wizard with Lurker? Yes – it means they have spent more time developing minor spells, while the Lurker Wizard has spent more time developing stealthy abilities. They both have the same base investment in magic from their class and can decide how to further spend their time, whether on two more minor spells that may or may not be useful to them, or different abilities they would rather have.

    A Fighter with this feat also says something differently story-wise than a Fighter with a level of Wizard. A Fighter with Arcane Dabbler is exactly that – someone who has dabbled in arcane magic and has a fraction of the spells available to a true Wizard. A class level in D&D represents a lot of abilities, and a lot of time spent on the part of the character and player to get there. Sometimes a Fighter might want to be able to cast Magic Missile without enrolling at Arcane University for a year. That is not at all a blurry translation from concept to mechanics.

    As for backgrounds, it is simply inaccurate to say that a Wizard who doesn’t take Sage (which I assume you are talking about) doesn’t have Lore skills and simply doesn’t care about magic that much. Well, for one, the character is a Wizard, so I think the game and the players can understand that he cares about magic. Two, the Wizard gets a free Lore skill from the class. If your Wizard takes Bounty Hunter instead of Sage, what it means for his story is that – he spent his prior life being a Bounty Hunter instead of a Sage! A Sage isn’t “the most magic dude ever”; a Sage is a guy who knows a lot about a lot of Lore specialties, and not even necessarily magic.

    Not to denigrate your own experience, but I think your Sorcerer example is very silly as well. The fact that another class could learn to use two at-wills made your Sorcerer feel less special? What about the fact that your Sorcerer has all kind of unique dragon shit? Do you define a Sorcerer as “the class who can cast magic all the time”? Would a Wizard or a Warlock or a Bard or a Cleric or a Druid make your Sorcerer feel lame?

    A class has many unique components beyond the extremely small amount granted by a single feat. Classes have plenty of mechanical options, and the options within Specialties and Backgrounds are outside of or cross-class. When the solution boils down to ‘Give players fewer options’, that would be a huge step backward for D&D Next.

  2. Michael Tree says:

    A quick correction: Clerics, Wizards, and Sorcerers all get at-will spells even without a specialty. Look at the Orisons and Cantrips class features. The specialties just give you more.

    Otherwise I completely agree with everything you wrote. It’s strange though, since in the most recent playtest Backgrounds are just packages of 3 prechosen skills with a minor flavor benefit, and Specialties are just packages of prechosen feats. That is, they’re not like 4e’s Themes, they’re like 4e’s “Builds.”

  3. @EricMPaq also informed me that I had missed the section where Wizards receive at-will spells as part of their class. Playtesting across 3-4 different versions can lead to missing sections, so that part is clearly in error that wizards have to give up at-will spells. However, I still think that’s awkward to say you’re a Magic-User Wizard and that means you get lots of at-will cantrips instead of not quite as many.

    Jason, I have the feeling we’re just going to disagree here, especially on some of the conceptual levels. I’ve already seen enough players get mixed up about the option overload, and by the time they’re at specialties, it’s already feeling like too much. Mix in multiclassing when we have full rules for it, and I’m confident it’ll be too much. Maybe not for you, but for other players.

    There are so many other games where it’s much easier to be able to say “I’m a tough warrior who has a few magical talents” then having to muddle through pairing up classes, taking the right build option for those classes, choosing backgrounds, and choosing specialties to match up. Themes are able to deliver on that much more efficiently by themselves by being a package.

    As for the Sorcerer example- the Sorcerer and Warlock were both pitched in the D&D keynote as being alternate magic systems. I’m not alone in wanting alternatives to spellcasting from Vancian. The Sorcerer’s schtick from 3e forward has been more freeflowing command of magic. I’m more interested in that idea than “unique dragon shit” and how any other class can get that same schtick. Your mileage may vary.

    This however, is what I’m going to take exception to: “When the solution boils down to ‘Give players fewer options’ (which, when praising the 4e Theme system, with its mounds of options laid on top of the mounds of options of 4e, is pretty rich), that would be a huge step backward for D&D Next.”

    More options is not always a good thing. As you point out, 4e proved that, with feat bloat, class option bloat, and so on. However, Next has the chance to encompass _all it needs to_ encompass with three pillars. Instead, there’s this extra option that I lay out why I don’t like it here.

  4. The wizard has a class feature which gives it 3 at-will spells. It is not a trade which is good.

    I do agree with you that specialties are an issue. They need to be either removed or reworked. Currently they are very inconsistent in providing stories to the character. A necromancer and healer says something about the character. A magic-user and a dual wielder doesn’t say much other than I use magic and I wield two weapons. If a wizard came to me and said “I’m a wizard magic-user”, I’d wonder why they are repeating themselves.

  5. I see what you’re saying, but Jason is right – you don’t give up (all) at-will spells by taking any combination of theme/specialty. My 4E group plays almost entirely with the core rulebooks, so I’m really glad to see these options built into the game.

    Also, I ruled that my players could take any feat out of any specialty they want, so a Cleric could take the 1st level lurker feat, and the 3rd level healer feat. I think what the playtest is missing is a table that organizes all the feats at the end of the PDF, so you can pick and choose directly if you’re a power gamer, or use the flavor text if you’re a storyteller.

  6. Jason, I would love it if D&D Next would focus the options available for character creation.

    At GenCon 2012, I participated at the D&D Next Playtest, there were many folks that that we taking all of the 30 minute of character creation to create their character. It wasn’t an aspect of figuring out what stuff does, it was debating which options to take. Some didn’t finish their character in that time. Personally, I had finished in 15 minutes. I had even noted my abilities. I made a stout halfling wizard charlatan magic-user (now that’s a mouthful!). He was a travelling magic circus ringmaster. I wrote all my abilities except for spells. I find 15 minutes to be reasonable time for character creation, especially for a one-shot.
    D&D Next needs to focus the options for quicker character creation. Provide a rules option/module later that gives folks options and can let folks get down and dirty in character creation.

  7. superduper, I do think it was a mistake for them not to state in the current draft that you can’t mix and match feats. Mearls has been very clear on that every time he’s talked about Specialties, but the current document makes it seem like you’re locked into a Specialty selection.

    Dave, if what you really want out of the Sorcerer is free-flowing command of magic, I still don’t understand what that has to do with the Arcane Dabbler feat. The core mechanic of the Sorcerer is Willpower, which is a free-er-flowing alternative to Vancian. I haven’t played a Sorcerer but I would think that Willpower (and the sorcerer’s Heritage, which confers a lot of unique abilities!) would play a much larger role in your experience than a Fighter possibly having two minor spells. A Sorcerer isn’t special because they can cast at-will spells. A Sorcerer is special because they have a unique spellcasting mechanic and a class feature that gives them, yes, unique dragon shit (or unique other abilities to come in the future).

    I would rephrase ‘less options’ to ‘less freedom’ – I think it’s a big step for D&D to embrace more freedom in character creation, and I think the four pillars are one of Next’s strongest features. Every class has a core identity and unique mechanic that isn’t transferable, and outside of that the player has a lot of freedom to customize. 4e has tremendously more options, and tremendously less freedom, than Next does right now. I’m extremely happy to see Next go in the other direction – even if the options seem bloated to you, it’s nothing compared to the bloat in 4e, especially with Themes added.

    Would you be happier if Specialties were folded inside of class, or inside of class groupings? So only magic-using classes had access to the Magic-User theme? I would be disappointed to see that happen, but it wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me. I would be much more disappointed to see the choice between Magic-User and Necromancer disappear – the choice to substitute two at-will spells for other abilities. More freedom in character abilities is the main selling point for Next character creation for me, and I’m excited to see that develop more down the road – like what Mearls has talked about recently with the Rogue being able to take other class features instead of Sneak Attack.

  8. EvilGardenGnome says:

    I don’t think there is option overload. Really, this is no worse (and is in my opinion) a quicker selection path than 4e. I found in 4e all the characters ended up being types, rather than having nuance. Fighters always took the same, or very similar, feats and powers. The only time we had an interesting party was when a double death left us without a cleric for a few sessions.

    Second, so what if you give up power by taking a quirky character? The idea that every option, every choice makes you stronger is a problem D&D took on long ago, and I’m not a fan. Back in AD&D you picked human to avoid reduced abilities and level limits (thankfully level limits and class restrictions are gone). That was the benefit of being human. While they may have overloaded humans in Next, I do like the element of ‘giving something up’ in order to play other races. As an aside, putting set skills into races promotes a ‘normal’ build. Choosing from a list is a good idea, though.

    My last thought is this: We don’t know what’s core yet. All we’ve been given is what they want playtested. Specialities and Backgrounds may end up being add-ons. This element (not knowing what’s core) is my biggest worry thus far.

  9. Eric,

    This might just be a problem of what people want out of character creation time. 30 minutes doesn’t seem like too much for me, especially considering that was likely a lot of players’ first experience with Next, and definitely their first time making Next characters. Even if those players didn’t need 30 minutes to figure out what everything does, on your first time around you still need to understand what each pillar is, and decide what you want to do.

    Four pillars might seem like a lot, but I think it’s a great way to focus creation. Unless you’re going to play without feats – and here I think it’s very important to remember that, in the current rules, Background and Specialty are optional – players need time to choose feats at character creation. Having them grouped in a Specialty is more focused and organized than a big list, and saves time. Selecting a Background is much more focused and faster than distributing points, or selecting skills you want from a list. You can still order skills and feats ala carte if you want (though, like I said above, it was a mistake for them not to lay that out), and that is the option for players who want to get down into the details. But for the layman, I think the current pillars are nicely focused.

  10. TheMainEvent says:

    One thing with these options is to consider how they play into party roles and party synergy. With the way these options all are geared towards to reinforcing or breaking the archetypal role, it becomes more important than ever that a party collaborate on the overall make up of the party. If someone wants to be an Archer Dwarf Magic Using Cleric (and thus be less healing-oriented) it may be fine, but it may end up diluting their ability to perform in the role that other players expect (Cleric).

    In a five person party, that means each player and the DM are going to have to have a grasp on what approximately 20 things means to the party…

  11. The fact that skills are so pigeon holed did bug me. The idea of the specialties being a tweak on the ideas of roles or methods of playing your character is interesting and opens up ideas for more dynamic charcuterie, but for skill expressions the Backgrounds of 13th Age just click better for me. I’ve been saying this whole playtest that I’m probably goin to end up house ruling skills to be more like 13th Age in my D&D next experience. Remarrying a set list of skills to specific attributes was a big step back in my book.

    I do like the fact that some of the specialties have an expression that is more open. A Fighter with Magic User as a specialty is very interesting to me. A Rogue who sneak attacks magic missiles from the shadows is terrifying as well, but I agree with Dave that it does make multitasking seem superfluous. That’s a rule I’m anxious to see still.

  12. Jason- I think many of the specialties could be folded back in with classes. Fighters choose a fighting style: duelist, protector, sharpshooter, and slayer. Guardian, Dual Wielder, and other options are in specialties. I have no idea why those are in different spots in the rules, other than “they wanted more classes to be able to use them.” I think even if there are 4 pillars still, specialties need major reworking. I offer multiple suggestions on how to handle this in the article to achieve multiple goals at once, which don’t need to sacrifice having plenty of options.

  13. Raise Dead, I was very disappointed that they rolled skills and ability scores back as well. I really liked how the ‘floating’ skill bonus worked in the first test. Everyone I played with at DDXP and at home loved the skills, so I don’t know why they changed it back to the 3e-4e method. It’s a little simpler, but I think you lose some freedom and re-introduce old problems (like Intimidate being tied to Charisma) that way.

  14. Dave, so what if someone who isn’t a Fighter wants to Dual Wield? Or what if a Dual Wielder Fighter wants to be a Protector or a Slayer or a Duelist? In my current game, I have a Fighter who Dual Wields and is a Protector, and a Cleric who is an Archer, which are great combinations tied to their character concepts that could be lost in a more restrictive system. Folding feats into classes (perhaps like 13th Age does) or adopting a flowchart system where you ‘pick from a list of backgrounds that make sense for that race’ necessarily entails sacrificing options, because it forces character decisions into a narrower scope.

  15. You pose some interesting questions and critiques. Some of your suggestions are problematic too. I’m not a fan of Race giving you skills. However I do think Class should give you a bit more. I wouldn’t get rid of the Backgrounds, and while specialties do need work, I think they need to be there.

  16. Jason,

    I still think that 30 minutes for character creation for new players is too long. The playtest was 1.5 hours long and it took a third of the time just for a character that we won’t play again since it’s a one-shot.
    I beleive that for a one-shot, a new player should take at most 15 minutes to create a character. More than that and it cuts into the play experience.

    At GenCon 2012, I managed to cut my character creation to 15 minutes as I had dowloaded the playtest and read it on the plane to Gencon. I was prepared and it still took me 15 minutes.

  17. Doesn’t that cut both ways, though? What if a Ranger wants to be a Slayer? What if my dual wielding wizard wants to have the sun domain? What if my Cleric wants to protect my friends, am I a Protector, a Guardian, both? This is what I mean my conceptual clash- some things are put into the class box, and some are totally detached, with no real rhyme or reason. As I said, I’m all about the unusual choices, I just think they should actually be supported and structured well, something that’s not being done yet.

  18. I have to agree with Dave, the whole theme/specialty thing in DDN is just not gelling for me. 4e’s layer-cake design for themes/PPs/EDs work better.

  19. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned so far is that both specialties and backgrounds are optional.
    Will you be suboptimal if you don’t choose them? Absolutely, as they all clearly provide MORE rather than DIFFERENT.

    I think the system is fine, but the balance needs a lot of work. Everybody goes on and on about how the healer background is required or expected of a cleric, but honestly that seems to come from the problem that its feats are just too good.

  20. wickedmurph says:

    I’m not even sure some of you are reading/playing the same ruleset that I am.

    All of these pillars are optional – that appears to be one of the design points of Next – I can play with or without any of them if I want to. Kinda makes the whole “What is Core” question moot. As the DM, I get to decide that.

    I also don’t understand the “They make you roll stats” comment. It clearly states there that you can take an array if you want to.

    As far as weird combinations being inferior, I’m not sure how you support that argument – all options provide character abilities, bonuses or benefits. Some mesh better than others, but compared to the basically ENFORCED min/maxing of 4e, I’m not sure how that’s a comparable issue.

    Furthermore, your section on world-building implications seems to also totally miss the basic concept of “take it or leave it” that permeates this whole design. Have you been paying attention at all here? I mean, I assume you have, but it sure doesn’t show up in this post.

  21. I really do agree with this Jason fellow.

    Specifically I would disagree that it is useless for a Fighter to take the Healer Theme. The Level 1 feat grants the ability to craft Healing Potions. Very useful! The Level 3 feat then makes it so your potions heal the maximum amount instead of rolling for them. The Healer Theme relates to herbalist and surgical healing, not magical healing, therefore making it useful for any class.

    If my memory serves correctly, hasn’t WOTC said many, MANY, times that Backgrounds and Specialties are optional? As in you do not need them for a functioning game. They only exist to further define your character and give more options for those who want them.

    It was my understanding that Specialties serve to enhance your character mechanically, as opposed to Backgrounds which give you more “story-based” options. The specialty Dual-Wielder doesn’t say anything specifically about your character’s lifestyle or story, but I see no reason why you, as a smart individual, can’t think of something for it to express about your character. Do they admire finesse over force? Do they enjoy skill and the challenge of fighting with two weapons? What does it say about your character to be a Dual-Wielder. I don’t need a block of flavor text to give me my character and neither do you.

    However, I do see where the system breaks down a little with Fighting Styles/Specialties and what constitutes what. I can fully expect that we will see a slight reworking of Specialties as the process goes forward.

    I really do enjoy the idea of a “feat-packet” as I think it speeds up character creation. As it stands you do not need to take a specialty to make a class effective which is what I like. A fighter is a good fighter without needing to take a certain list of feats. A Specialty serves only to give a class some extra (optional) options. I may choose to give my fighter the Jack-of-all-Trades Specialty. This choice does not make my fighter any less effective then another fighter it just makes him effective in different ways.

    In short, yes, Specialties are not perfect yet, but I defiantly support their inclusion as the 4th “pillar” (or something similar to them) in the game going forward.

  22. “Have you been paying attention at all here? I mean, I assume you have, but it sure doesn’t show up in this post.”

    Well, I’ve been playing Next since December and done multiple interviews with the designers, so I think you’re pretty off-base asking me that. You also seem to be accusing me of things I never said.

    That aside, what they’ve presented is the core game. It is the game we are asked to play an evaluate. They are presented specifically as play options. I am evaluating them as presented. Everything in the game is optional if I choose not to use it. That doesn’t mean I can’t evaluate its effectiveness, especially in comparison to other iterations of the game.

    As far as the dual wielding option, some specialties are packaged as story-based things, while others are not. “Acolyte” comes with story baked in already. “Dual Wielder” does not. Both are presented in the same section. Thus, some overlap with backgrounds, and some don’t. I’d rather them be recombined into one mechanic. You still get the effects you’re looking for in “feat packs” that make the character feel like a coherent whole.

  23. Philo Pharynx says:

    I have to say that I really liked the way that 4e has the trilogy of theme/paragon path/epic destiny. However, as someone into 4e, I can tell you that there are some inferior combinations of theme and class. And that’s okay.

    One of the hardest things is to figure out a way to balance somebody who makes a lot of options that synergize well and all work together against somebody that has options that give a wide selection of less powerful options. Sure a magic-user wizard has lots of spells. But a lurker wizard has the option of sneaking past the guards to read the runestones at the back of the cave. The tricky part is making a game where both people can enjoy playing their option.

  24. Upon reflection, I see the issue with things being under the same group but providing different functions. It is weird that some Specialties explicitly give story and others do not. I think this could easily be remedied by rewriting some of the accompanying text. I would totally be okay with Backgrounds being 100% story oriented and Specialties being 100% mechanically based. Maybe we take the story elements from the Acolyte Specialty and give it to the Priest Background or something. I think a lot of this confusion comes from the fact that this is not a finished product and invariably someone at WOTC won’t check for inconsistencies like this. Or maybe this is all a clever ploy to see if we mind the cross-over between the two systems!

  25. Arcane Springboard says:

    I have to agree 100% here. There’s just something that’s been bugging me about how Specialties and Backgrounds are being implemented. Part of that could be that they’re getting nearly as much heft as class and race.

    I think the Rule of Threes applies here (how’s that for Planescape support?) In 4e, the addition of Themes was awesome for me, even though ironically I never did use them before stopping playing 4e. But having a trifecta of Race, Class and Theme just fits for some reason, but add a fourth? Now you’re starting to get into the problem you mentioned.

    I’m not entirely sure why Specialties really need to be specified with such heft…but Backgrounds I think are worthy (but then again, I see Backgrounds as the offspring of Themes).