Race, Class, Theme

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I am so far behind the curve I just noticed how Marxist it is to always be talking about D&D characters as products of race and class.

BUT that is not what I am here to talk about.  I am here to talk about THEME, the new pillar of D&D character creation introduced in the new Dark Sun campaign guide.  If you haven’t picked that up yet, then I will explain.  You pick a theme along with a race and a class; the theme is what your character did before they became a PC, a sort of super-background.  The Dark Sun book has ten themes, including Elemental Priest, Gladiator, Desert Nomad, and others.

What the theme actually consists of is a single encounter power you get for free, plus a bundle of additional power selection options.  For example, the Gladiator gets a weapon-based encounter exploit that hits vs. AC, does 2[W]+mod on a hit, and pushes the target two squares, plus the target and all enemies adjacent to it at the end of the push are slowed until the end of your next turn.  The Veiled Alliance theme (the Veiled Alliance is a secret conspiracy of wizards) gets an encounter spell, implement keyword, hits vs. will for 1d10+mod damage and you become invisible to the target until the end of your next turn, useful for escaping, which is just what a wizardly conspirator might want.

So: additional encounter power, generally an okay power but not insane.  This by itself is merely okay, but the theme also provides a menu of power choices for higher levels: for every power selection between 2 and 10, there’s an option.  So the Veiled Alliance theme has a level 2 utility spell, a level 3 encounter spell, and so on up to the level 10 utility spell, all of which offer some abilities based around the Veiled Alliance theme of using magic to hide.  All the themes have an associated role; the Veiled Alliance is controller, the Gladiator is a defender (Gladiator exploits mostly cause the foe to grant combat advantage, take penalties to hit, et cetera), and so on.

But there’s more!  First, there are feats that improve the theme’s powers, just like class feats, and there are paragon paths that build on (and require) the themes.  Way more substantially in terms of innovation, the themes’ attack powers are all keyed off of “primary ability.”  So a wizard gladiator uses Intelligence for that disrupting advance, the fighter veiled alliance member uses Strength for the temporary-invisibility spell, and so on — you aren’t locked into a subselection of themes based on your class.

There’s a bunch of different mechanics WotC has tried out over the 4e lifespan for a third leg to character creation: dragonmark feats, spellscars, “dhampir heritage,” the ‘poisoner,’ ‘bravo,’ ‘cutthroat’ semi-hemi-demi-multiclasses from that one Dragon article, and so on.  The theme mechanic is the best implementation of that concept I’ve seen so far (and it doesn’t consume feat slots).  I’m hoping to see a Big Book of Themes, or at least a series of Dragon articles.  Everything from the Factions in Planescape to the social organizations in Krynn to the dragonmarked houses in Eberron.  Not to mention more generic social roles, professions, education, military background… the list goes on and on.

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6 Responses to “Race, Class, Theme”

  1. grinnock Says:

    You might have sold me on the book.

  2. Christopher Tatro Says:

    That sounds pretty neat. Except for the fact that I’ll now have MORE feats I really want to take and the decision making will keep getting harder the more options like this they throw on the pile.

    I think I recall that Essentials will have generic themes for non-Dark Sun characters but that might be the meth talking.

  3. Bryant Says:

    I think the key thing here is that themes are bonus options that do not cost you anything, which is a substantial difference from (say) the whip “multi-class.”

    • jeffwik Says:

      The lack of feat cost definitely makes this a thing. That and the bit where you get to choose what ability you use, so you could play a wizard with a bunch of weapon attacks without having to buy up your strength to match, or the converse.

      That’s a rule that goes hand-in-glove with DMG2-style inherent bonuses, so you don’t need to worry about keeping up the enhancement bonus on your orb and your spear and your holy symbol all — which is something the book calls out. It’s something I’m really interested in.

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