Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition – Classes, Roles and Professions

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.

However, if your Fighter really wanted to take Two-Weapon Fighting and have it matter (and was taking it for character reasons and not twink reasons which is what most of the complainers claim), you could easily alter the way the Fighter Powers look to make them more duel wield-ish.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.


    Keith Baker touches on some smiler material as this over at his blog. He sort of takes it a different way but he too is discussing “professions” in 4th Ed.

    Feeling stiffed Says:

    I would like to point out that none of the classes can effectively fight two-handed. Two-handed fighting is non-existant in 4E. You may get a bonus while carrying a weapon in the off hand, but every class gets one attack with their main hand once per round. Period. Powers may expand on the bonus granted by the feat and allow for multiple hits/opponents, but I have not seen anything in any of the powers, outside of the Ranger, that allow for main hand and off hand attacks in the same round.

    Next, who says a Paladin cannot be an assassin? Because they are named a defender-class, they cannot be something other than a defender? That seems rather close-minded to me.

    Many defenders of 4E fall back on DM house-ruling. Your example of a paladin actually being a Warlock or some other class following a non-defender type deity proves it. That is a DM house-rule that another DM may not allow and so your character would be unplayable or have to be changed in order to play. And you can have all the creativity in the world, but still be unable to change the facts:
    * Every class is mechanically the same (same advancement in powers, attack bonus, defenses, intiative, etc.).

    * The choices available to players at character creation are much fewer (fewer classes, fewer paragon/ prestige-like classes, fewer spells/ powers, etc.) than was previously advertised (pre-release statements).

    * The differences in characters are strictly role-playing differences. A PC Ranger isn’t really different from a PC Warlock or a PC Warlord. And there is no difference at all between PC’s of the same class. Your example of the Warlock class “paladin” proves my point here. They have essentially made a “cookie-cutter” class system.

    Obviously I’m not a fan (though I have DM’ed and played the game a few times), so please don’t take my remarks as being hostile in any way. I really wanted 4E to be a good game, but the more I see of it, the more I realise that instead of correcting old problems from previous editions they have created all new problems. I also believe that by changing the base of the game an entire generation of D&D players will be alienated.


    Well for me, 3rd edition was alienating simply because I thought it was a very poor game with a lot of game balance and world balance issues but I accept that some people liked it.

    More to your point however, I still think my ideas are valid and while one DM may allow something and another may not that is in fact ALWAYS the case. One DM might not allow Fighters to be played at all (or as was the case in one game I ran, Halflings to be played) if they so chose which says nothing about the game but simply shows that the DM can do whatever they wish.

    Granted the advancement system is the same for all players, but I simply don’t see this as a problem. Personally having characters of different levels and power levels only seeks to cause issues between players and create imbalance. I just don’t see this as a positive. I don’t really understand how every class could be “mechanically” different since that would imply that they make up different rules that only effect certain classes and this just seems… wacky to me. As for a PC Warlock being the same as a PC Ranger… this has not held true at all in my game as the Warlock and the Ranger characters end up doing rather different things. Maybe it’s just their builds but each seems to fulfill different functions even in that they are both Strikers.

    The point of my point of my post is that a “Paladin” in 4.0 is specifically a DEFENDER that follows a god and little more. If you want a STRIKER that follows a god you need to be something else. It’s certainly different than how things were approached in 3.5 but I like it.

    Obviously there are more powers, classes, feats etc coming out for 4.0 but honestly the classes in the base book come across to me as being more interesting than the sum total of classes from 3.5 simply because the powers actually do something in combat that results in combat being more than ganging up on the one big monster that gets three attacks that do 1d10 + 25 damage if they hit.

    I also still don’t see why people that DO like 3.5 can’t just stick with it and appreciate that some people like 4.0. As I said in my review post, the games are in fact DIFFERENT GAMES and it’s actually hard to make real comparisons between them other than to say “I like this game more than that game” in the same sense that I can say “I like History of the World more than Monopoly”.


    I think that the only thing wrong with 4.0 is that it is just to simple. The only class that I could find that I truly wanted is a wizard, when in 3.5 I was a sorcerer. They changed the concepts a little to drastically since sorcerers and wizards shared the same spells list. Also the concept of removing metamagic feats is going to be quite a fatal blow to many casters in 4.0.

    As for martial classes, why did they remove so many feats for them? I agree that they probably will add more feats, but half of the feats in the 4.0 is a little weak. Why have the ability to equip a dual weapon, if you can’t use that second weapon? I know that in 3.5 it can be extremely broken(I did find an infinite attack combo with samurai with a friend). Fighters are almost abolished in 4.0 because (in my opinion) barbarians are far more superior with their epic paragon.

    I think what they tried to do was try to balance the classes. However, after going through all the classes the wizard still seemed superior in almost every circumstance.

    I tried to keep an open mind for a long time for this, and I tried so many times. It could be because I am simply unimaginative, or my DM is very restrictive (he plays by the book). I just can’t find any way to get that thrill I had in 3.5 into 4.0

    Akuma Says:

    While it too has problems, I much prefer Pathfinder over both 3.5 and 4.0.

    I cannot get into 4.0, and I have tried. It is basicially a video-game for the tabletop. Really, I don’t want to play a superhero with epic powers among a world of other superheros. I want D&D.

    Pathfinder is what 4.0 should have been…

    Kelly Says:

    I find this fascinating. I’ve been gaming with both role-playing and strategy games since junior high (1978) and that’s a long, long time. I played the original “basic” D&D out of the red and blue boxes with my friends. And we were in heaven when the “Advanced” D&D books came out and when we discovered Avalon Hill bookcase strategy games. Everywhere I’ve been in life, college, the Army, law school, and now practicing as a lawyer, I’ve found people who enjoy gaming and have managed to keep playing consistently (at least once a month, sometimes several times a month). I’ve even managed to infect my children with the gaming bug (I have a very patient and tolerant wife). I have 3 gaming groups I play with now and all three have ongoing D&D adventures, with 2 of them also alternating with strategy games.

    Because of my history (the timing of when I came to gaming), the original “Advanced” D&D has always been my favorite (with tweaks that I and my friends installed as we played – many of which were revised when 2nd edition came out to utilize those rules – sort of a cross-pollination that fleshed out many of the things we were already doing with non-weapon proficiencies – but also including our own, specially designed sub-classes, our own spells, etc. – and one that many of you would like, Thieves and their sub-classes always started with 2 proficiencies in dual-wielding, like Rangers, and could place a third in it). 3rd Edition quite literally passed me by. I didn’t even notice it’s existence except for the fact that its rules were utilized in some PC games I played (Icewind Dale II and Neverwinter Nights). But I never really got into it. We all just kept going with the system we had developed over the previous 20+ years.

    That’s all background. Recently, one of my groups began a 4.0 D&D adventure. The DM is an excellent gamer and planner and enjoys spending obscene amounts of money on bling for his games. I entered the game with the resolution to simply play and enjoy myself. And I’ll say that I really, really enjoy this new system. BUT, to echo Josh’s point, it’s not the same game as the D&D I’m used to. That doesn’t make it less enjoyable, just a different role-playing game. I think it is highly flexible (but then I was always a fan of limits to role-playing games – that’s why they’re called “role” playing), but flexibility exists best at the point at which you decide the role you will fill. Decide that, design your character, then play the role. The various classes and races provide extreme flexibility in filling a role, and the “story” of your character is limited only by your, and your DM’s, imaginations.

    And, in the end, you are always free to play a different game which you enjoy more. I still play in a different adventure using our old system, and I DM in a third, also using our old system. But I am finding this game, with this group of players, a wonderful and exciting game with a great deal of texture and pleasure.

    Here’s to good gaming for all!