I read (or at least glance through) the ENWorld 5e forums every morning. Often there are neat ideas being kicked around, and I can either contribute or let them germinate in my own imagination, see if I can’t come up with a different approach to an interesting idea.
Sometimes, however, the noise-to-signal ratio is too goddamn high.
This morning, for example, there were about seventeen threads on the Warlord, and others talking about prestige classes, and others talking about new classes and archetypes and character “builds.” I swear to god, since D&D Next, there has been a strong contingent of people who basically want 5e to be 3.5e Second Edition, or 4e Second Edition, or Pathfinder Second Edition. They wanted the game they’re already playing, but with…what? Damned if I know.
It makes me want to scream. I can’t rant there, because I’ll get shouted down for causing an edition war or something, so I’ll do it here, in my own living room:
There are any number of games which have prestige classes and Warlords and intricate mechanical character builds all of that shit built right in. GO PLAY THOSE GAMES. Play Pathfinder, or 3e, or 4e, or whatever already has the mechanics to let you do what you want to do. Stop trying to turn one game into another. You clearly prefer that other game, so GO PLAY THAT GAME, FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
Now you’re well and truly pissed off, let me explain why.
The trouble with new classes, new archetypes, new powers, new feats, prestige classes, all of that, is balance. The game as it exists is pretty well fair and balanced; while there are some glaring exceptions, pretty much every class at like level is as powerful as every other. That’s a really difficult thing to pull off, and it took years of playtesting by literally tens of thousands of people to get to that point.
This predilection toward bloat is often justified by character concept. Character concepts are awesome. Thing is, you don’t need to start twisting and bloating the game to give you the character you want. In 5e, if you have a really hip character concept, just play the fucking thing. You don’t need splat. You need the core rulebooks, a tiny amount of creativity, and a DM with same. All the crunch you need is in there already. You don’t need feats. You don’t need prestige classes. You don’t need special powers. You sure as hell don’t need your own special class or archetype. Hell, you don’t even need to have the creativity to re-flavor the existing crunch to make the numbers look like what you want them to, even though the books give explicit instructions on how to do it. It’s not in the crunch; it’s in how you play the character.
Let’s say you want to play a Samurai. You’re a Fighter in plate armor with a longsword. Boom. Mechanically, that’s it. You can call the sword and armor by their Japanese names if you want. You take the Noble background, take the Calligrapher’s Supplies Artisan’s Kit instead of the gaming set, maybe the Retainer variant. Then you play him like a goddamn samurai. Maybe you want him to have some cool mystical powers like a film you’ve seen. Okay, make him a Vengeance Paladin and flavor/skin the Oath and Smites and Channel Divinity powers in different ways. Work with your DM and play the goddamn game as it is. Mechanically, you’re playing the tested, balanced game. There’s no chance you’re going to break it, because you’re playing it by the book.
Look, I know why these threads happen. Doing that stuff is hard. Some want someone to hand them what they want on a plate. Others want official recognition that what they want is important. All I can say is “Tough.” Maybe the designers don’t want there to be Warlords anymore. Maybe they think that Battlemaster Fighters are to Warlords what Eldritch Knights are to Swordmages. Who knows? What is painfully apparent is that the scope already exists for you to do what you want in the game as it sits. If that doesn’t satisfy you, go play the game which does.