Input requested on sub-classes.

I’m to the point where I’m fine-tuning the class descriptions in my fantasy game. The classes are templates that show where characters begin in play and development. A class description, then, is a collection of skillsets–a principal skillset for the general class, a pertinent skillset that establishes sub-class, then an adjutant skillset and miscellaneous skills. Add in a background skillset (urban, rural, etc.) and you’ve got the skills.

An example of a fighting character, a footsoldier:

Principal Skill Package: martial combat (6 skills/abilities)

Pertinent Skill Package: close order combat (4 skills)

Adjutant Skill Package: gambler (3 skills)

Miscellaneous Skills: cooking and brewing

Background Skill Package: Urban – (which will provide language(s), etiquette, etc.)

So, we have a mercenary who grew up in a port city who spends much of his time gambling. He learned to cook and brew from helping his family run an inn, and still hangs out in the old family inn when he’s back in the city.

The players won’t be choosing principal or pertinent skill packages; I’m up in the air about them choosing adjutant packages, and they will pick the miscellaneous skills. I’m using the packages as a way to build the classes. I’m looking at offering descriptions ala Talislanta from which the players would choose, so a player wouldn’t even be choosing a generic mercenary soldier, instead opting for an Atlantean Centurion or a Westfolk Spearman or whatever.

Now, I just need to lock down the initial mix of subclasses. I keep writing lists that can end up quite different just by thinking of different types of campaigns that I want to system to support. Combat isn’t a major focus of the game, for example, so I don’t really need eight subclasses of fighter, I reckon; on the other hand, it would be good to have the flexibility available for players who really want to play a trooper or nomadic outrider instead of a footsoldier.

The classes include martial characters (soldiers and warriors and guards), guide characters (hunters and wardens and rangers), raconteur characters (performers and envoys), agent characters (snoops and spies and retrievers), magic-using characters (witches and wizards), scholarly characters, and vagabonds (those without a primary focus of abilities).

This is a generally low-fantasy game, without superpower feats and the like. As noted before, combat is not a primary focus–it’s no more important than many other aspects of play, and best avoided (strongly OSR). Travel, exploration, social interaction, intrigue, and investigation are all as important as action, of which combat is only a part.

How many sub-classes would be a good working number under each? (I’m thinking of cutting back to three.)

What sorts of sub-classes seem most versatile in each class, with general description of abilities?

I feel like 3-5 subclasses is a good range. More than 5 and people’s eyes start to cross. Less than 3 and you start to wonder why there’s a choice at all.

I’m not sure I can comment on subclasses without seeing some examples. But I always love seeing very thematic subclasses, to help stimulate my imagination. That’s one thing I don’t love about a lot of the D&D subclasses is that they aren’t given enough depth to really make that subclass unique and different from the rest. I wish the subclasses had a higher percentage of the abilities of the total character’s abilities so that, for example, the druid subclasses would stand out from each other. But as it is, they’re so minor, people generally choose them based on the mechanics alone, not on how they’ll affect the feel of the character.

I’m very much leaning to 3 - 4 subclasses. More than that, yeah, eyes begin to cross and there seems to be decreasing differences. Looking at what I’ve sketched out for fighters, for example, the difference between soldiers and troopers may be lost on a lot of folks (foot vs mounted); I suspect offering just the soldier subclass and letting players choose soldier or trooper would work better.

I suspect the greatest contrast comes among the magician sub-classes. The witch is quite different in feel than the wizard, for example, even if the mechanical processes for magic use are much the same. I think I’m going to work on making the feel of the different subs as varied in all of the classes to match the magicians variety.