Hullo again, Gentle Readers. If you’re reading this on its day of release, I’m still running around Australia with my husband and my friend Jay. But fear not…I labored long and lovingly to leave you some reading materials.
In this series of articles, I’ve been developing a campaign setting for D&D Next, which I’ve come to call Beyond the Borderlands. Last time, we explored the playtest package section on classes, seeing how the barbarian, bard, cleric, druid, and fighter. We extrapolated some valuable data, and I feel that some of the details that came out of that article gave me a better handle on elements of my world such as religion, organizations, and what life is like in the wilderness areas that the Borderlands help guard against. In this article, we’ll look at the others classes in the playtest package: the mage, monk, paladin, ranger, and rogue.
It’s a Kind of Magic
Like fighters, magic-users have been part of D&D since the very beginning, although their names have changed several times. In D&D Next, it appears that they’ll be called Mages, and their modus operandi hasn’t changed all that much. It’s sort of an amalgam of 3E and 4E, because they have cantrips, lesser spells that act as their “At Wills”, but also a list of daily spells.
Reading through the mage section of the playtest package, we see that mages must specialize in one of the eight schools of magic, although we’re only offered Enchantment, Evocation, and Illusion in the packet. Nothing here specifically jumps out and inspires me to come up with details about my world, at first, but then I find myself pondering…who decided to organize them into these schools? A look at the spell list reveals that some old names are back in circulation – Melf, Otto, Mordenkainen, Evard. This starts the old gears turning…maybe these are the people responsible?
I decide on the spot that these illustrious names are people who lived about a century before the campaign begins. They came together in alliance (or at least truce) to codify magic, to make it possible for wizards to teach one another more easily. I will give them a name – the Esoteric Order of Illuminated Sages. This group will likely come to include other illustrious names like Tenser, Otiluke, and Bigby.
Art of the Empty Hand
Monks have always held a strange place in D&D. They’ve been around since the earliest editions, but they’ve always felt a little shoehorned in, like Gary Gygax had a friend who was really into martial arts or something. While 4E gave me a good direction to go (linking monks to psionics allowed me to work in the Far Realm, the Kalashtar, and more, explaining why monks felt so alien), I’m unconvinced I have an easy way to add them to Beyond the Borderlands.
In the Real World, the Martial Arts that Monks use developed because of tyrannical rulers who outlawed weapons. That doesn’t jibe with a society with weaponsmiths, fighters, and the like. So the next logical choice would be people who voluntarily eschew weapons. This fits with the idea of monasteries…perhaps the first Monks of this variety chose not to use weapons, and it’s only now, later in years, that those monks sometimes use weapons (to reflect that monks get quite a few weapons to be proficient with). This lends itself to an entertaining image, since these monks could resemble classic European monks, with the brown robes, sandals, and such.
The two traditions in the playtest package are the Way of the Four Elements and the Way of the Open Hand. They don’t particularly evoke details about the campaign setting, other than to show that, if these traditions were developed by western-style monasteries, there may have been a schism between the two.
Knights in Shining Armor
In some ways, the Paladin is the ultimate good-buy of the D&D world. They swear oaths to their gods, devoting their lives to a holy path. Once upon a time, they were all lawful good, but that has been slowly slipping away, and D&D Next continues this trend. The Paladins of Next can be any alignment, suggesting there can be paladins of the powers of Chaos that I’ve been setting up as the major antagonists of the campaign.
The section on Paladins doesn’t yield much beyond this. Most of the classics have several choices (such as the monastic traditions for monks), but the playtest paladin only offers the Oath of Devotion. It does suggest that paladins are specifically dedicated to knighthood and a code of chivalry. This is one of the reasons that I included a deity of chivalry in my section on clerics.
Warriors of the Wilderness
From the moment in Lord of the Rings when we meet Aragorn, we understand that he’s a ranger and that he’s protecting civilization from the enemies that would drag it down. This archetype slipped into D&D early on, and it remains a strong concept of the game.
The playtest package description of rangers is very evocative. It portrays them as wanderers at the edge of civilization, which fits perfectly with my concept of the Borderlands. It also suggests that they work closely with Druids, who, according to my earlier thoughts, often live over the border in the Wilderlands. This fits nicely, and it suggests that druids truly straddle the line of civilization and the wild. Rangers are just on the side of civilization, and barbarians are just over the side of the wild. They might all work together, but it may be a tenuous alliance to hold back chaos.
In many other editions of D&D, Rangers must choose a particular monster that they fight against. That makes it tricky for the DM to make sure the ranger’s enemies show up frequently enough for this choice to be relevant. Rangers in Next choose between being specialized in single big monsters or hordes of small monsters. I think this is a very smart move, since it means so many different monsters will give the ranger a chance to shine. It doesn’t suggest much in the way of story, but it’s a great decision.
It’s hard not to love the Rogue. Like the Barbarian, one can see their origins in fantasy literature characters like Conan, (who was often a thief), Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the denizens of the Thieves’ World stories, especially Shadowspawn. From their origins as the Thief back in the old days, they’ve evolved as the paragon of skill users, doing things that most characters can only dream of. They’ve always walked a thin line with the concepts of law, and they’ve stolen their way into the hearts of many players.
Two paths pop up with the Rogue – Assassination and Thievery. Thievery is fairly straight-forward – you are a criminal, or, at least, someone who has run afoul of the law. I love criminals who are now working for the forces of good. I think it’s a very evocative idea. Even more so, I love a note mentioned in the Assassination section that suggests that some who follow this path do so to rid the world of evil. I love this idea immensely. It makes me think of a dark avenger concept.
I love thief guild concepts, so I suspect there will be some of this in my setting, at least in the largest cities. More so, however, I like the idea of an organization of assassins dedicated to destroying evil. I jot down the name Shadow Angels and think that it might have an origin story similar to Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I think also of the Faceless Men from A Song of Ice and Fire and their philosophical attitude towards killing people. I think this could add a lot of flavor to my setting.
Again, we have elements of our setting coming from the classes of the game. Although we have hints of other classes in the offing, such as warlocks, sorcerers, warlords, and the like, we can’t yet speak to them. Perhaps when we can, we’ll be able to add more details to Beyond the Borderlands, but we’ve certainly added more to what we had thanks to the classes of the game.
Next time, I’ll be back from Australia, and we’ll start developing some of the history of our setting.