Hullo, Gentle Readers. If you read this the day it’s released, then I will be far away from my usual haunts, exploring a certain Land Down Under. But your GGG would not desert you, and I’ve prepared some new articles for you to enjoy while I’m in Australia.
In this series of articles, we’ve been building the Beyond the Borderlands campaign for D&D Next. In our last two articles, we looked at the races that were contained in the playtest package and extrapolated details from these sections, using them to flesh out some details of the setting.
Now, we turn to the section on classes, seeing what gems we can glean from how the new system is handling classes. This article will look at the barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, and fighter, while next week’s article will look at the mage, monk, paladin, ranger, and rogue.
A Primal Fury
Barbarians are an important part of D&D. While an actual class around this archetype only came into existence with 1st Edition’s Unearthed Arcana, the game drew a lot of influence from the Conan the Barbarian stories of Robert E. Howard. These tales feature a freebooting adventurer who uses not just strength, but speed, cunning, and tenacity to win his battles. He is from a land far away from where most of his adventures take place – an exotic figure in a decadent civilization. I want to play up this idea in my new setting, so I already have some inspirations.
The Barbarian packet also suggests two paths that barbarians choose from when they hit 3rd level – the Berserker and the Totem Warrior. The Berserker doesn’t inspire any specific story elements, but the Totem Warrior offers some rich concepts in the form of four totems that might offer power to barbarians: Bear, Cougar, Hawk, and Wolf. Each has its own abilities and flavors, and they inspire my thoughts on how I’ll handle barbarians in my game.
Barbarians are clans of many races who live beyond the Borderlands, spurning the decadence and law of civilization. Although there are some who follow wild and noble totems, such as Bear, Cougar, Hawk, and Wolf, many of them have fallen to the powers of chaos. Devotion to a totem or a touch of chaos gives berserker barbarians a terrible rage that they can call upon at need. This will also explain the human barbarians that one can find in the bestiary.
Masters of Music
Although anyone can be a minstrel (thanks to the background of that name), only the most charismatic and clever can become bards. As someone with some musical skill, as well as a lover of Celtic stories, I’ve been a Bard fan from way back. Bards have been around in the game for a long time, but have often been difficult to play. The bards of 1st edition had to be fighters until about level 5, rogues for another 6+ levels, and then, finally, becoming bards. Who had time for all that? Bards become their own class as of 2nd edition, but their incarnations were often very underpowered. 4E finally made a very playable bard, so I’m excited to see where Next takes this often awkward class.
The main item I spot in the Bard section that suggests story elements to me are mentions of bardic colleges. This idea was there in 1st Edition, where the colleges had Celtic names, and there were specific magical instruments tied to each one. I want to branch out from this, and the flavor of the two colleges mentioned in the playtest – War and Wit – inspire some thoughts.
I think the College of War, which its mention of bards gathering in mead halls and being skalds, will be a college with a Norse feel to it, perhaps in a kingdom with a Norse theme. The College of Wit will specifically be more Celtic in feel, suggesting a Celtic kingdom of some kind. The playtest package refers to these as loose organizations, but I might make them more formal – perhaps passing word through the network of bards as to when they’re meeting together.
Servants of the Gods
Clerics are arguably one of the easiest classes to tie to a campaign setting. They must have a god, a philosophy, or some other principle that guides and inspires them. Looking at the cleric section of the playtest document, there are five domains mentioned (although only three are included in detail): Knowledge, Life, Light, Nature, and War. There is also a tantalizing idea of two clerics of the same god choosing different domains to reflect their devotion to specific aspects of their chosen deity (a goddess of the forest might be both Nature and Life, for example.)
In my 4E campaign, I created different pantheons for each race, but I’m thinking Beyond the Borderlands will have one cohesive pantheon worshiped by all the races, although each will have a god or goddess that they find the most appealing. If I create ten deities, then each deity could have a unique set of two domains.
I’m thinking of going with deities of Creation (Knowledge and Life), Wisdom (Knowledge and Light), the Earth (Knowledge and Nature), Battle (Knowledge and War), the Sun (Life and Light), the Forest (Life and Nature), Mercy (Life and War), Agriculture (Light and Nature), Chivalry (Light and War), and the Wilderness (Nature and War). Elves can venerate the Forest deity, dwarves the earth deity, halflings the agriculture deity, etc.
Getting Back to Nature
Druids have always held a definite fascination for me, and I love the idea of these nature priests that are so tightly tied to nature that they can assume the forms of beasts. I like the idea presented in the playtest that the druids are ancient priests tied to various spirits of the land as well as to gods of nature.
For me, one concept that pops up immediately is that druids are priests of the barbarian cultures we posited above. The idea that they could become the animals that those cultures venerate carries through with this idea. Perhaps the same totem animals we see in the barbarian sections are the very entities that empower the druids.
Druids in Next choose from two Circles, the Land and the Moon. Druids of the Land get special abilities based on the terrain they’re most closely tied to, such as tundra, coast, and so on. This will allow me to begin imagining what the terrain of the lands beyond the borders might be. I can also start thinking of other totems that might be venerated, such as Shark for coastal barbarians, Crocodile for swamp barbarians, and so on. Druids of the Moon become even less human, in a way, more like animals, less tied to a human form. I like this idea a lot, but it doesn’t suggest specific setting elements to me.
Fighting the Good Fight
Fighters are, arguably, the core class of D&D, since it evolved from a wargame. Fighters are pretty much the easiest class to set in any setting for D&D as there will always be battle in a setting like this. The problem with gleaning setting details from fighters is that they’re almost too generic for this unless things are added like swashbucklers, gladiators, and such…and while I’ve heard such things are planned for Next, the playtest package does not help with this.
A look over the fighter material does not offer anything specific for our purposes. The two fighter paths, Weaponmaster and Warrior, do not have flavor enough to hang setting details on. It’s okay, though, as we can simply know that fighters will fit into whatever setting we create.
The first part of the class section has yielded us valuable information about our setting. We can imagine heroes emerging from the Borderlands who’re tied to the wilderness…perhaps heroes who have seen firsthand what Chaos is doing and who wish to guide their cultures away from the madness of serving it. We’ve also gotten a sense of what the religions of our setting are like – a ten deity pantheon and primal totems that empower the people of the wilds.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the rest of the classes and see what else we can learn about the world we’re creating.