Character Class Design Guidelines (DnD Guideline)

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When designing a character class, you need to keep many things in mind. This page is here to help you design a better class. These guidelines are not binding. Some of the guidelines may be vague or contradictory, and there are official prestige classes in Wizards of the Coast D&D products that violate one or more of the guidelines. Making a good class is one part science, one part alchemy, and one part playtesting.

Universal Guidelines

Use the Preloads

Content and Grammar

Your class writeup should:

  • Follow the guidelines for standards and formatting.
  • Present as much information as possible for the player. Help reduce page flipping.
  • Avoid abbreviations in descriptive text (e.g. BAB, AC, Fort save, etc...). Exception: "DC" is allowed.
  • Avoid trademarks and copyrighted material. However, references to said material are allowed.
  • Worship clarity.
  • Avoid using "he/she", "his/her", and "him/her" to refer a character with levels in the class. Pick a gender (or the absence of one; "it" is acceptable) for the pronouns and stay with that gender. Traditionally, the gender used coincides with the gender of the sample character.

Basic Questions

Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • What is the class's niche? What does the class excel at?
  • What is the closest comparable class type?
  • Does the class gain appropriate abilities at appropriate levels, compared to monsters?
  • Does your class have any offensive perks?
  • Does your class have any defensive perks? Do they come at a point where they matter?
  • Does your class have any mobility/battlefield control abilities? Do they come at a point where they matter?
  • Does your class have any logistical support abilities?
  • Do the abilities of your class synergize as the class advances in level?
  • Do you name the bonuses that you grant your character?
  • Do you properly identify Extraordinary (Ex), Supernatural (Su), Spell-like (Sp), and Psi-like (Ps) abilities?
  • How does your class fit into society?
  • How does a non-adventuring member of your class make a living?
  • What does society think of your class?

Game Breakdown

Here are some basic activities in the game. Think about how you character class interacts with each of these areas.

  • Ability Allotment/Race
  • Leveling Up
  • Equipment Purchase and Allocation
  • Resting and Healing
  • Exploring
  • Fighting
  • Social

Generic Guidelines

Here are some general guidelines for class design:

  • The class should be attractive from Level 1 to Level 20
  • The abilities of the class at higher levels should be compelling enough to keep the class for twenty levels.
  • Your class should be adventure oriented. This may mean writing abilities in such a way that they can be used on the road, or in small time increments.
  • Your class should have powers that are adventure oriented.
  • A class should not trade combat utility for non-combat utility, or vice-versa.

Guidelines by Class Category

Martial Classes

Points of note for martial classes:

  • Martial classes usually gain martial weapons, light armor, medium armor, and shields.
  • Tower Shield should probably not be gained at first level. Only the fighter gains this feat at first level by default. Consider well before giving your class this proficiency.
  • Martial classes should usually gain a 1:1 BAB progression.
  • Unarmored/lightly armored martial classes usually gain named AC bonuses.
  • Martial classes have hit die in the d8, d10, d12 range.
  • Martial classes usually have good Fortitude saves, sometimes good Reflex or good Will saves, and rarely all three good saves.
  • Martial classes should rely on the ability scores that that open up feats appropriate to their class or have those feats written into the class.
  • Martial classes usually should be able to tank against monsters. They must be able to withstand the attack of the monsters, do damage to the monsters, and keep the monsters away from the weaker party members. (Note that the core Fighter cannot do this, so keep that in mind when you make your class.)
  • Martial classes gain lower skill points, usually +2 per level, but sometimes +4 if their overall AC is lower or their HD is lower.
  • Martial classes are more than BAB and damage dealt. If you focus too strongly on these two aspects of the class, the class will play flat.

Support Classes

Points of note for support classes:

  • Support classes are usually skill oriented.
  • Support classes excel in the logistics role.
  • Support classes excel in the "face man" role; the person who interacts with NPCs.
  • Support classes make others strong in combat by:
    • Getting the party to the combat (moving safely through dangerous territory, avoiding traps, uncovering obscure knowlege)
    • Preparing the party for combat (scouting ahead, identifying threats, gathering information on targets)
    • Supporting the party in combat (giving flanking, buffing everyone with courage, easily switch roles when surprises show up)
    • Preferably all 3 of the above.
  • Support classes usually get 3/4 BAB.
  • Support classes are usually proficient with simple weapons, along with select martial weapons.
  • Support classes are usually proficient with light and medium armor, and shields, but not tower shields.
  • Support classes can have spells (rangers, bards). The spell list is small and advances to 4th-6th level.
  • Support classes can have sneak attacks (rogues and scouts).

Spellcasting/Manifesting Classes

Points of note for spellcasting classes:

  • How easily can your spellcaster "go nova" (use all his spellcasting abilities in a short time)? Is this intended?
  • Primary spellcasters have long spell lists and advance to 9th level spells.
  • Secondary spellcasters have focused spell lists and can also advance all the way to 9th.
  • Best save is usually Will.
  • Classes that increase the spellcasting/manifesting abilities of other classes should have a "Spells per Day/Spells Known" or "Power Points/Powers Known" section that explains in detail when and how the increase applies:
    • At what class levels does the character increase her manifesting?
    • Can the increase apply to either arcane or divine spellcasting or only divine spellcasting?
    • Can the increase apply to manifesting progressions that don't meet the requirements or only the ones that do?
    • What happens if the character doesn't have any pre-existing spellcasting abilities?
    • Does the character get the a choice to which manifesting class the increase is applied, or is the character locked into the progression he chose at the first increase?
    • Does the character get more spells per day and spells known, or does she just get a caster level increase?

Arcane Spellcasting Classes

Full arcane spellcasters typically gain:

  • d4 hp.
  • 1/2 BAB
  • No armor proficiencies.
  • Select simple weapons.
  • Wizard/Sorcerer spell list
  • 2 skill points per level
  • Access to familiars

Divine Spellcasting Classes

Full divine spellcasters usually gain:

  • d8 HP
  • 3/4 BAB
  • Light and Medium armor, and shields. Possibly Heavy Armor.
  • Simple weapons
  • Channel positive/negative energy (turn undead, turn elementals, etc)
  • Alignment restrictions or codes of conduct

Manifesting Classes

Full manifesters usually gain:

  • d4 or d6 Hit Dice
  • 1/2 or 3/4 base attack bonus
  • no or light armor proficiencies and sometime shields (except tower)
  • Simple weapons

Guidelines by Class Type

Base Classes

Points of note for base classes:

  • Base classes should be available to any race. Race restrictions imply a level specialization or a specific role normally reserved for prestige classes.

Prestige Classes

Points of note for prestige classes:

  • Prestige classes should be campaign/setting/race/occupation/role/organization specific, and designed around a clear theme. (Example: Sherwood Bowman, Dutch Trader, Damascus Smith, Naval Officer)
  • Prestige classes should be more narrowly tailored than base classes.
  • Prestige classes should not just do what a base class does, only better.
  • Prestige classes should have requirements that synergize with the abilities given in the prestige class. Example: Weapon Focus (longbow) and Sneak Attack +2d6 are good requirements for a Sherwood Bowman.
  • Prestige classes should give abilities appropriate to their level.
  • Prestige classes should bring together feats and abilities, and help them synergize with each other.
  • Prestige classes should give abilities that make taking all levels in that prestige class attractive.
  • Prestige classes should go for somewhere between 3 and 10 levels. Making 3-, 5- or 10-level prestige classes is the norm.
  • Prestige classes should usually not give proficiencies in armor or weapons. These should be inherited from the base classes, and/or be entry requirements.
  • Prestige classes should not have ability score requirements (not directly anyway). Instead, require feats with ability score prerequisites or the ability to cast spells of a specific level.
  • Prestige classes should, in detail, explain the consequences (if any) of losing a requirement after taking levels in the class.
  • A feat common to all members of the class should be a requirement for the class rather than a benefit.
  • Prestige classes should not give bonus feats at first level (corollary to the previous guideline).
  • Prestige classes should provide unique or specialized abilities not attainable through other means.
  • Prestige classes should be balanced with other prestige and base classes. The easiest way to ensure this is to ask, "Would I choose this class over the X class or continuing with Y base class?" If you can clearly choose one over the other two, it's probably imbalanced. Prestige classes tend to be more powerful than base classes to supplement what's being given up for the base class's later abilities.
  • Prestige classes should also be balanced with the monsters, just like base classes.
  • Unless the prestige class in question is an epic class or designed for a specific creature of a non-standard race, it should be possible to take all levels of a prestige class by 20th character level by using a 1-or-less-HD race.

Epic Prestige Classes

Not to be confused with an epic class progression (i.e. the extended progression of a base class beyond 20th level or a ten-or-more-level prestige class beyond the its presented levels), an epic prestige class is a prestige class whose requirements dictate that a character must be epic before taking levels in it. Epic prestige follow the same guidelines as prestige classes with a few additions:

  • Epic prestige classes should have skill, base attack bonus, and/or epic feat entry requirements that dictate that character be at least 21st level.
  • Epic prestige classes should be indefinitely long or less than ten levels long.
  • Class features of indefinitely long epic prestige classes should increase or accumulate as part of a repeated pattern. Class features that neither increase nor accumulate, should be gained at first level.
  • Indefinitely long epic prestige classes should gain bonus feats as part of a repeated pattern.

Epic Class Progressions

Not to be confused with an epic class (i.e. a prestige class whose requirements dictate that a character must be epic before taking levels in it), an epic progression is the extended progression of a base class beyond 20th level or a ten-or-more-level prestige class beyond the its presented (ten-or-more) levels. Prestige classes under ten levels and NPC classes do not have epic class progressions.

  • Epic class progressions should adhere to the guidelines for class features of epic class progressions in the SRD.
  • Although class features that have a limited list of options do not improve in epic class progressions, the options should still be available by selecting one of them in lieu of a feat.

Racial Paragon Classes

Points of note for racial paragon classes:

  • Racial paragon classes enhance the strengths of your race.
  • Racial paragon classes should synergize with the race's preferred class.
  • Racial paragon classes sometimes dampen or negate one of the races stronger weaknesses.
  • Racial paragon classes should be 3 levels long.
  • Racial paragon classes for races with higher level adjustments tend to be a little better than paragon classes for races with a level adjustment of +0. In general, the benefits of a race with a level adjustment tend to decrease in value as the character gains levels, and an above-average paragon class can help that race maintain its edge.
  • Racial paragon classes should increase a single ability score by 2 at 3rd level.

NPC Classes

  • NPC classes are clearly weaker than PC classes.
  • Spellcasting should stop at 6th level spells.
  • Psionics should stop at 6th level powers.
  • Hit dice should be one die lower than the player class equivalent (minimum d4).
  • BAB should be 1/4 step worse than the player class equivalent.
  • One or no good saves.
  • Be somewhat generic in nature (i.e. commoner, noble, warrior).

Monster Classes

Monster classes are a breakdown of creatures' benefits into levels and presented as advancement tables. These are for creatures whose minimum ECL as presented in their creature description is above 1st, so that a player may be allowed to begin play at 1st level as her race of choice.

  • Monster classes should always start with a racial HD or—if the base creature is 1-HD creature—a class level.
  • Monster classes should start with all the race's ability score decreases.
  • Monster classes should start with the total ability score increases and decreases equal to +/−2 (if possible and reasonable).
  • Monster classes should spread out the rest of the ability score increases evenly throughout the advancement.
  • Adjustment levels and racial HD increases should be evenly spaced out throughout the advancement.
  • Monster classes should spread out the racial abilities throughout the advancement, giving the weaker abilities in the earlier levels and the stronger abilities in the later levels.
  • A character who advances through all monster class levels must be an exact match to a character who was built using the rules in the creature description's "As Characters" section, or for creature entries that lack an "As Characters" section, the rules for creatures as races.

Suggested Reading


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