D&D4E, Dark Sun

DS4e – Character Themes

It’s funny when I think about it, because I just realized that Glen should hate the concept of reducing the gladiator from its own character class to a character theme. There are reasons why he might be a little more cool with it this time around (not the least of which is that he’s now coming up on thirty, like myself – and not a prickish teenager, as all teenagers are), but I guess we’ll see.

Robert Schwalb explained it like this:

One way to look at [character themes] … imagine your D&D character right now as [having] two major legs: your class and your race define the fundamentals of your character. A theme is like a third leg you can add to your character … to define and push against what you’d normally be able to do.

From what I’ve seen and heard, character themes seem (to me) to be the love-child of 2nd Edition’s character kits and 3rd Edition’s prestige classes. Like prestige classes they’re open and accessible so long as you meet a few broad requirements, and like character kits they’re not a class replacement but are instead an optional add-on.

In 2nd Edition glatiatior was a Dark Sun character class – and also a fighter “kit,” an optional extra you could tack on to make a fighter a little more gladiatorial. When I told Glen about this (I had the Complete Book of Fighters that detailed the gladiator kit, and he didn’t), his response was something along the lines of “that’s bullshit, the gladiator class is awesome, the gladiator kit is shit, it’s stupid, and you like it so you’re stupid, fuck you and your stupid gladiator kit loving face.”

That’s a paraphrase, by the way.

Baker explained the concept behind character themes, instead of creating templar or gladiator classes, was that they were really more concepts than professions. Anyone who fights in the arena is, more or less, a gladiator – isn’t he? The old gladiator class was a modified fighter – but rangers, rogues or barbarians who fight in the arena are also gladiators. Why don’t they get their own modified classes to represent that? There was never really a good reason (it’s worth noting that, in our youth, we never thought to ask the question, but that doesn’t make it a bad question – it just makes us stupid teenagers).

Likewise with templars. A templar is, ultimately, a sorcerer-king’s bureaucrat whom the sorcerer-king can choose to channel his incredible power into. One of the weirder things was that sorcerer-kings could not cast divine spells, yet they could grant divine spells to templars. Which makes no fucking sense whatsoever. On top of which, the entire governmental bureaucracy was composed of templars. This was touched on in the Prism Pentad series, but was a central feature of the Chronicles of Athas novel series that followed was centered on a Urikite templar. If your generals are templars, wouldn’t it make sense to have martially-inclined templars (i.e. the warlord). Further there was always reference to defilers who practiced sorcery with their king’s blessing, in exchange for service – now, the character theme concept allows for all those character types to provide service to a sorcerer-king.

The basic manner in which themes work is like this: you pick one at 1st level, and you get an extra encounter power. Gladiators, for example, get a power called disrupting advance which dishes out double weapon damage, knocks the enemy back 2 squares, and hits him and any other enemies adjacent to the target with a slow effect. Pretty butch stuff. As you go up in level, when you’d normally get a new class power you will sometimes have the option of selecting a theme power instead. So someone who selects gladiator as his theme can focus heavily in gladiatorial combat, or only have the tiniest investment in it.

Presumably there will also be feats (and possibly paragon paths) that are only available to certain character themes.

So far the sample characters I’ve reference previously name five character themes: gladiator, templar, elemental priest, veiled alliance, and wilder (which is one of the “wild talent” themes, I believe). The details on what, specifically, themes offer beyond a 1st level encounter power isn’t provided.

Also, on the note of the templar, there’s one quick thing I should have mentioned last time. The warlock class, as 4e fans know, is predicted upon striking a bargain with otherworldly powers – demons, devils, powerful fey, or the alien beings that exist beyond the stars. A warlock needs to chose the nature of his pact at creation, which affects his power choices and the overall “flavor” of his character. The sorcerer-king templar pact will be introduced in DS4e as a warlock option.

I for one am excited for character themes. They open the game up, but avoid the limits of being class-specific like character kits (I think every character class had its own “pirate” kit, because everyone can engage in piracy – which was both redundant and kind of silly). It allows logic into the equation – effectively stating that there’s no reason why the scheming, power-hungry sorcerer kings would be so stupid as to put city bureaucrats in charge of their armies (instead of military men or women), or why a ranged fighting in the arena isn’t just as much a gladiator as the fighter. It address the complex issue of wild talents and game balance, and it gives a new range of choices to make your character cool and interesting.

One more month as DS4e hits shelves. I’m looking more and more forward to it with every post.

Honestly, I don’t know what I’ll talk about next time I look at DS4e. I’ve covered all the biggest topics. If there are any requests, toss them in the comments.


2 thoughts on “DS4e – Character Themes

  1. I concede. The Templar and Gladiator don’t work as classes anymore. The Gladiator was much better than the Fighter in DS2E but that really isn’t needed anymore. And in third edition it was very, very easy to make a Gladiator as a fighter with well chosen feats.

    They worked in 2nd edition because the cleric and fighter classes were broken and weak. So with a little bit of changing they made sense for a harsh world. But if we want balance and customization now then we don’t need these strict over-powered paths.

  2. I still think that the templar could have worked as a character class in 4e – but I think they just work better as themes. There’s also the fact that character themes are, in a lot of ways, character kits done right – because kits sucked.

    Even more than the gladiator, I love the idea of a warlord templar commanding a sorcerer-king’s armies. Not crazy about some of the fluff (e.g. the templar ritual is irreversible, thus allowing a templar to go rogue without losing his granted powers – which is for game balance, much as how paladins don’t lose abilities based on actions anymore), but that’s always house rule modifiable.

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