As I noted before, it’s great that the Barbarian is the simplest class in the game, since it makes for the easiest on ramp into a pretty complicated chapter. Basically, all barbarian’s get Rage – the ability to go berserk and kick ass for a while – as a class feature. It’s an interesting power because it reveals some structural elements of the design, specifically:
- It’s roll 2d20, keep the best one, something which I think has become more common, especially with late 4e and D&DNext designs, but is a nice departure from vanilla d20. Putting a “weird” mechanic up front suggests broad changes to come.
- It uses a “recharge” mechanic – after a fight you roll d20 and on 16+ it remains usable. This is not a weird mechanic in the same way that 2d20 is, but it does reveal a different sort of bookkeeping priority. It would be entirely possible to make rage something usable N times per day, but they opt for a more fluid system. On its own, I’d question the choice, but it’s nicely supplemented by the feats
- We finally see the feats which got previewed in the introduction, and it reveals something very interesting – outside of the handful of “core” feats we saw earlier, all the feats are tied to specifics class features and talents and are also tiered. For example, Rage has an Adventurer tier feat, a Champion tier feat and an Epic feat.
- The feats are pretty cool and unexpected. Rather than decreasing the difficulty of the recharge roll (which would be the obvious path) they make Rage work automatically if the escalation die is high enough. However, I think the reader still has no idea what the escalation die is, so that’s a little rough.
- The feats for Rage are also sufficiently awesome that they feel like they might be mandatory. That may not be correct – maybe the other stunts are awesome, or that this is simply part of the streamlining of the Barbarian, but it’s now something I’m going to keep my eyes on.
Talents are like class features in that they are permanent rules that affect the character, either in some passive way or by granting a special action. For example, one Barbarian talent gives bigger recovery dice, meaning the character heals more effectively, and the feats tied to that talent make your recovery more efficient. A few of the talents are really pseudo-powers (once per battle you can do something special) but I’m ok with them being set up as talents for simplicity sake.
A starting character gets to pick 3 talents, then gains new ones ate 5th and 8th level. At 5th level, the player has the option to taking a Champion tier talent, and at 8th they may take an Epic tier talent. Again, for the Barbarian, these are pretty straightforward, and largely revolve around hitting things really, really hard. A few of the talents seem only middlingly effective, depending upon feats to being them to maturation, but that may just be my read.
Amusingly, the next class – The Bard is probably the most complicated one, so there’s a bit of whiplash when you turn the page from the barbarian. I don’t normally worry about Primary stats, but I checked the bard’s out of curiosity as to whether this was a bard rooted in 1e D&D or later version. Answer: Charisma & Dexterity says to me that it’s definitely in the mould of the modern Bard.
What really intrigued me, however, is that the image given of the bard does not look like a bard. There’s nary a musical instrument in sight, and the gear (sword, shield and non-trivial armor) looks distinctly martial. It absolutely made me very curious regarding the style of this particular bard. Enough so that I cheated and skipped to the gear section and determined that Bards
- Get to be badass with 1H melee weapons, and ok with everything else, which suggests things be a little swashbuckler (which I’m always good with)
- Get to use Dex OR Str for their basic melee attack
- Favor light armor and, curiously, are mildly discouraged (–1 to attacks) from using shields despite the image
So there’s definitely a bit of an ass kicker vibe there, so with that in mind I took a look at the class features for a bit more of a hint. The two class features are bardic songs (which have effects that continue, and sometimes improve, as you sing) and Battle Cries, which seem to be responsive one shot effects that can be triggered by certain attacks. On top of this bards also gets spells. I was not looking forward to getting my head around this.
The class talents do not ease my mind. They’re not bad, and they do some interesting things (like muddle with the icons system) but they also include a couple of mutually exclusive choices (so you can be Battle Skald or a Spellsinger, but not both). And more, two of the mutually exclusive talents (Loremaster and Mythkenner) are themselves talents with multiple abilities that you pick a subset of.
All of which is to say, I really hope the bard is the most complicated class. This is a lot of choices, and I haven’t even hit the powers yet. Which is good, because they did not simplify things..
The battle cries are pretty straightforward – make a roll and if it fulfills some criteria (like an even die result) then you might trigger an effect (like allowing an ally to make a free move). Excepting the occasional sour note (like some which have an additional limitation like the number of times they can be used per battle) they are largely pretty cool, and very reminiscent of the things I liked about the Warlord in 4e. It also suffers a little bit from the Warlord’s problem of it being hard to connect the mechanics to the fiction, but the bard at least has “magic!” as an excuse.
Spells and Songs took a bit more thinking, in large part because they’re grouped together in a way that seems puzzling until you realize that they’re really meant to be interchangeable. You don’t get X songs and Y spells – you get X songs or spells. It’s a little weird, but I suspect the intent is to give a little bit more flexibility to the way the Bard is played. Really, most of the Bard’s decisions have been made based on flexibility, which is (I suspect) also the reason for its complexity. It looks like playing a bard will be perfectly straightforward, but chargen definitely requires more thought.
Oy, ok, so that’s the first class and the most complicated class. Hopefully we’ll rip through the rest of them in the next post.
I know this is basically mandated by d20 familiarity, but it actually makes me kind of sad. Setting aside all of the problematic elements of who is or is not a barbarian, the reality is that my mental image of a Barbarian is almost never norse (I’m partial to desert & steppe nomads) and has a big chunk of Conan. It’s probably easy to swap out Rage in favor of something else, but I wish that were supported in setting. ↩
For those playing at home, Adventurer is levels 1–4, Champion = 5–7, Epic = 8–10. A lot of mechanics in the game trigger off their tiers, explicitly or implicitly. Also, kudos to the Glossary/Index – I was trying to remember if Adventurer was 1–4 or 1–5, and the answer was under the “Tiers” entry, the first place I looked. ↩
When I realized that the basic attack writeups supported more than the default stats (STR for melee, DEX for range), I was curious if this really allowed every class to get cool basic attacks. The answer is “no” – basically, the Dex based classes (bard, rogue & Ranger) have the option of using Dex for melee attacks. This may seem unfair, but I actually like it a lot. Previously, these are the classes that were basically obliged to buy a weapon finesse feat to be effective. Anytime an optional thing liek a feat becomes mandatory in practice, I am happy to see it moved to being the default. ↩
This references another undiscussed concept – flexible attacks – which has not yet been discussed yet. However, no points deducted for it since it’s called out with a page reference to the rules. Short form, a flexible attack is one which can be triggers after you roll, not before. ↩