Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Classes: Creating Concepts

One of the interesting new ideas that came out of 4e (at least before we saw 4e), was the idea of power sources.  This had existed in some form in previous editions, but 4e codified them: Martial, Arcane, Divine, Primal, etc., etc.

Someone (sorry, it's been years) had the idea of intersecting power sources to get classes.  This was before the actual advent of 4e, so we had just rumors to go on as to the actual sources and how they would work.  I played around with the idea, eventually developing an Excel file to help me keep track of everything.

The initial group of sources was Arcane, Cunning, Devotion, Influence, Martial, Mundane, Nature, and Urban.  Laid out on a grid, the intersection of two sources was a class.
Arcane + Arcane = Wizard.
Arcane + Cunning = Illusionist.
Arcane + Devotion = Theurge.
Arcane + Influence = Magus.
Arcane + Martial = Spellsword
Arcane + Mundane = Dabbler
Arcane + Nature = Greenbond
Arcane + Urban = Magician

I've found this a useful tool for generating and evaluating class concepts.  Not every class maps perfectly into this, and some are downright esoteric and weird, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

OSR games typically don't have that number of sources, but it's interesting to map what they do have.  Personal interpretation plays a role, but this was my result:

Races can be mapped as a generic "Racial" concept.  Adding a Nature source would make space for the Ranger (Martial/Nature), Druid (Divine/Nature), and Gnome (Nature/Racial).  You can also insert the races straight into the generic sources above (Arcane/Martial=Elf, for instance), but there is overlap (Halflings & Assassins, Dwarfs & Fighters).  This table adds Racial, Nature, and an alternate Racial that includes Half-Orcs:

Obviously, the addition of new sources increases the diversity.  Power sources can be generic, as above, or campaign-specific. Cross the generic sources with "Indian", "Egyptian", or "Norse", and you've got cultural classes that cover the traditional D&D class roles.  Sources can also be more specific; my second set of sources is Artifacts, Bargaining, Feudal, Ki, Law, Lore, Primal, and Stealth. Cross these with the first set, and you get this:
Not every cross creates a great class, or even a basic concept.  What is the result of Bargaining (for magical power) and Mundane?  Or Bargaining and Cunning?  I think it's something like Coyote, or Prometheus - someone that tricks the supernatural creatures into giving away power, but the concept hasn't gelled for me yet.

My tertiary source list has gotten even more experimental.  To be honest, it's mostly blank space. Chaos, Genie, Light, Order, Runic, Psychic, Shadow, and Technological don't always play well, or at least easily (actually, Technological does - definitely a fertile concept).
Here are the Feudal and Technological sources and all their classes:

I worked this idea into my Random Fantasy Class Generator on Abulafia as Class Themes (other people have made additions, so it doesn't match up exactly).


  1. OMG! There's a difference between Wizard, Magician and Magus?

    I knew there was a reason I didn't like 4E . . . it's all the nonsense!

    Sorry, Nate!

    1. None of this is 4e. It's just ideas. I'm tired of seeing the same classes and the same ideas rehashed over and over and over, so this is one way of creating different ideas.

      As far as names, there are only so many words in the English language.

    2. "Only so many words in the English language?" That tired, old excuse? :O


      And here you thought I wasn't reading your work anymore. ;)

      It was the "One of the interesting new ideas that came out of 4e" opening that threw me. Now, knowing that this is your own creation, I shall give it the consideration it properly deserves!

      Thanks for sharing!

    3. Then you missed what came IMMEDIATELY after that phrase, to wit: "At least until we -saw- 4e..." ;)

      The -idea- of power sources was interesting; how they ended up being used, not so much.

      Basically, you have a class that uses arcane knowledge and, say, is specialized in an urban environment. What does that class look like? What does it do? What distinguishes it from every other class? And least importantly, what do you call it?

    4. The third question is, IMO, the most important. You could just say "Oh, it's a wizard, here are his "urban" spells." That's a copout, though, at least as a design challenge. It's more interesting to say you -can't- take that route, you have to make a new class, it has to stand on its own, it has to be interesting and have merit....

    5. Damn! You're a HARD "Task Master!"

      Err . . . DM! You're a hard DM!


  2. I like this. But then again I always enjoy it when someone comes up with a theory that explains something. And I like your theory of explaining classes out of "power sources" although I don't really like that expression at all. In any case, good stuff! Got me thinking about my own games some more, so thanks for sharing!

  3. I'm not wild about "power sources" either, but that's the terminology 4e adopted, so that was the easiest starting point. You could easily call them Themes, but I think that term is being used in 4e & 5e....

    Or you could just call them concepts, or sources. They are really broad concepts, so you've got to have a term that covers Egyptian, Primal, and Artifacts.

    Anyways. Thanks for the comment! I hope you get some mileage out of it.

  4. what about doing

    so you would have a specific class for each race/power intersection :)