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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Underpowered Classes

There seem to be a couple forum threads about druids being "nerfed" in this or that version of D&D. Something about not being able to shape-change as much, or the 0e/1e druid spell lists not having any attack spells... that sort of complaint. This ties into my recent posts about game balance. Presumably, the reason for the rage against a druid losing or never having certain expected powers is because of a desire for equal mechanical participation ("Waah! My druid is ineffective in the city!") or character-to-character game balance ("Waah! My druid doesn't have as many combat options as a Fighter!")

But I've never understood this kind of argument in a game where you are not being forced to play a druid. If you want as many combat options as a Fighter, why not choose a Fighter? If you like the druid's woodland theme, call your character a Woodland Warrior. Who cares if you chose a class that was weaker, if you had the option to choose something else?

So-called underpowered classes aren't underpowered because someone hated that class or didn't know enough math or whatever. They are underpowered because they are designed for more limited situations. They excel at one tiny thing, and really, in my opinion, the better they are at whatever thing they are good at, the tinier their domain of expertise should be.

The Fighter and the Magic-User, in my view, should be the most powerful classes. Period. Everything else should be more limited in general, but perhaps better in one small area. Clerics have healing spells. Raise Dead, and are better at support/defense magic than M-Us, but they don't have many other kinds of spells, or as many spells as the M-U. Thieves can do some nice damage in a surprise attack situation and can defeat traps and locks, but they are otherwise as bad as an M-U when it comes to fighting. And everything else ought to be no better than a Cleric or Thief.


  1. I liked the Ad&d druid. No attack spells? There are about a dozen druid spells with pretty obvious combat utility in the 1st to 3rd level spells...seems like they are fine spell casting in a fight.

  2. i had 2 druidic casters in my party - one keeps crying about crap spells - other one fully participating with magicians and doesn't get to melee anymore as he is busy casting - hard to believe same spell list they are talking about - as i equalized level gain i made theives better at fighting more like castles and crusades and i have them gain complete interesting new theif skills as they are masters of skill - all good thief books and gygax's own have thieves better at fighting

  3. I agree. I think that utility and specification should be its own reward. I think one of the problems of 3e was that everyone wanted awesome specialization and pretty good everything else too, leading to feature bloat and power creep.

  4. If it's with regards to the druid in 5e, I think it's understandable. 3.5 and 4e set up the druid's wild shaping as being a big part of their shtick.

  5. Well, it's interesting to note that in Swords and Wizardry Complete, the druid starts out with a 1st level spell at 1st and has 2-1st and 1-2nd at 2nd level. A 1st level cleric has no spells at 0-level.

  6. " If you like the druid's woodland theme, call your character a Woodland Warrior."

    But I can't find the Woodland Warrior class in my sourcebooks! THAT MEANS IT DOESN'T EXIST!!!!!111!!!! /sarcasm

    I couldn't agree more - if you think a class is underpowered, don't play it. No-one wants to hear about people whinging that this is nerfed or that's no good. Just play the game, all the classes are good for something.

    I think you've also amply demonstrated with your series on creating ad hoc classes that making up classes on the fly (more or less) is pretty simple for oldschool games, so if the class someone wants doesn't exist, they can just make it.