One of the biggest complaints I see these days in regards to D&D 4th Edition is the limitations put on a character because of Class and Role. While some people seem to understand what the creators were trying to do, others either don’t get the idea or deliberately avoid understanding it. Because this is a bit of a hot topic and one that interests me I thought I would spend a moment talking about how I perceive it and how I feel it should be perceived.
First Some Definitions
These are not taken from the books but rather are my general understanding of the words:
Class – Your class determines your suite of powers and your power source. It also indicates the role you should expect to play in the party.
Role – Role is a general idea of how you will contribute to combat situations. It doesn’t indicate anything beyond this. There are, of course, four roles: Leader, Striker, Defender, and Controller. The Leader does not actually have to be the group’s leader and the Defender can be a total prick who hates the rest of the group. These terms tell nothing of the personality, skills, or out of combat abilities of the character in question.
Profession – Not a game term but instead a general idea of what your character does for a living. For these purposes, most or all characters we are concerned with will be “Adventurers,” and we are more likely to be looking at what the character did before the game began or perhaps simply looking at profession more as a tool to determine how or where they received their training.
What Does All of This Mean?
Many players seem to confuse Class and Profession. For example one of the big complaints is that Ranger is the only class than can effectively duel wield in 4th Edition. While any class can take the Two-Weapon Fighting Feat, all it does is enhance the damage you do with your primary weapon when you are “duel wielding” rather than give you additional attacks. Obviously this a game balance decision as duel wield had the potential to be rather broken in 3.5 but that’s beside the point. The complaint is that a Fighter cannot be a duel wielder.
Let’s go back to our definitions and I think we can see where they are making their mistake. What is a Fighter? A Fighter is a Martial Defender. Does duel wielding sound like something a Martial Defender needs to have or even should have? I don’t think so. While the class does allow for wielding a two handed weapon instead of a shield the class is still based around taking damage so that your allies don’t have to.
For example, for your character Cleave is not a Cleave at all but rather a big attack with your main hand and then a quick jab with your off hand against a target adjacent to your primary target. This doesn’t change the way the power works at all but it does alter the description of it and allows you to make the character you want to make.
So what is the mistake that is being made? Generally the mistake is that they are confusing Class with Profession. A character in 4th Edition is not trained to be a “Fighter,” they are trained to be a soldier or a warrior or mercenary or whatever other word you feel like using. Heck, call him a fighter if you want but it’s not a Class: Fighter, it’s simply a fighter.
What does this mean? It means if you feel your character grew up being trained to fight and joined the local militia and learned how to kill stuff really well and uses two weapons while doing it, he or she is a Ranger and not a Fighter.
But I Don’t Want to Track Things and Hunt!
I hear this complaint as well. Rangers no longer even need to take the Nature skill if they don’t want to, so I’m not sure if these people have simply not read the book or are again deliberately misreading things. In the new rules the Ranger is a template (like all the classes) and not a specialized profession (there’s that word again). More specifically it is a template for a duel wielding martial Striker or a ranged Striker. Nothing more.
Okay, But What About the Other Classes?
The non-martial classes run into a bit more pigeon-holing than the martial classes do. While their Class does not define their profession, it does push toward a profession. A Paladin serves a god and has chosen or been chosen to champion that god. This sort of makes their profession a bit limited. While you are a bit more limited there are still options. Wizards could have learned their arcane teachings from anywhere and their choice of spells can help reflect this. It’s also fairly easy to change the descriptions of their spells to make them feel more to your liking. Interestingly, these are not the Classes that are complained about when in fact there is actually more to complain about here.
Speaking of Paladins and pigeon holing, what if you wanted to play a champion of a god that wasn’t a defender? Are you simply screwed?
I think not. One solution is to simply play it out through role playing. Make a Ranger, Rogue or Warlord that follows a certain god and role play out their devotion. However, as D&D is very game-mechanic-based this may not be enough for some people. This is where you need to get creative and need to work with your DM.
Under the descriptions of powers within the Player’s Handbook it discusses how the description of using a power is basically up to the player. So, a player could alter the way it looks as long as the effect stays the same. It goes on to say that the power source for a power can be changed with the DM’s approval. This is where the doors come flying open and the limitations fall away.
Mixing Things Up: An Example
So a player comes to you and says that they want to play an Assassin of the Raven Queen. Hmmm, tough one since an assassin (their profession) is not a defender so the Paladin (Class) will not work. First you ask if they are okay with just role playing it, they work for the church but don’t really have any powers that come from the Raven Queen. The player kind of mutters a bit and says “sure” but doesn’t seem too happy about it. So instead you sit down and modify the Rogue Class to better suit their idea. There are actually a number of options for this but the easiest way is to change their power source to divine and give them some powers that do radiant damage. Obviously balance will need to be considered, but with some give and take and just a tiny bit of work you’re all set.
Being Open to New Ideas
I really don’t see the new D&D system as being as closed as some people say. Sure, there are restrictions, but when my player playing a Paladin took a Warlock ability because he is a Half-Elf I just changed the damage to radiant and the attack to divine and moved on. In my opinion it made perfect sense and, if anything, was better for the player.
It seems to me that the new Dungeons and Dragons has much the same openness as the old system, it simply takes a bit more creativity to make it happen. Let’s pretend we’re baking a cake. In 3.5 we just added a new layer to the cake and thus every new layer changed the way the cake tastes. In 4.0 we actually have to study the recipe and decide which ingredients need to be altered for us to end up with the kind of cake we want.
The basic game is far simpler than before but the advanced ideas seem to be causing some players a bit of trouble. In a lot of ways this seems to be exactly the way it should be. Anyone can get started but it takes time and thought to play beyond the basics.
As new material comes out we will have new options for building character types. One thing I didn’t even get into that much was multi classing but with it we are able to further modify our characters and form a specific “profession”. Obviously I’m a fan, so perhaps my opinion cannot be fully trusted but personally I think that if people allow their minds to be opened they will see just how expansive the new system can actually be.