Tactician Class (Part 1: Design Notes) | New Player Option for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition

Of all the things to create in Fifth Edition, classes are probably the most difficult. The reasons why is because 1) most of the classes in Fifth Edition already accomplish most of the flavors that are available, 2) they’re hard AF to balance right, and 3) I need to come up with a new mechanic.

Playtest Content

The material here is presented for playtesting and to spark your imagination. These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not refined by final game design and editing. They aren’t officially part of the game.

Constructive feedback is welcome and appreciated in either comments or social media. If you can give me a valid reason with examples why something is off, 9/10 I’m likely to make changes to the content and credit you for doing so. Otherwise, feedback without anything to back it up gets ignored (or at most a smile emoji like this 🙂 ) Thanks!

Design Notes

Here are my notes for this build.

Before the Build

One of my patrons recently asked for a Tactician class. Here’s what he asked for:

Basically, I want this class to be less of a one on one hand hitter and more of a damage boost for the whole team. I was hoping for tactician to find the weaknesses of the enemy and exploit it. If any enemy was immune to bludgeoning damage I would like to have ways to roll to find that out so that I could tell my party. If the enemy is particularly affected by fire damage I would love to be able to give the barbarians sword fire properties. Or say if it’s a troll, maybe there is a way for me to find out and tell my team it has a keen smell and [can’t be hurt] unless damage by acid or fire.

I’m not sure how this would work but if any enemy usually attacks in a specific way, e.g. goblins are probably going to just run straight at us with no tactical plan, I can roll to figure that out and tell the party.

I also thought maybe tactician could have fire, acid, cold, necrotic etc potions on hand to throw at enemies it would be particularly effective against.

I don’t imagine this class as having a lot of health, more of a squishy. However, you can give tactician tactics to buff the party and figure out the best angle of attack against a specific foe, I would love [that to be] added as that’s my whole idea for the class.

Okay, so kind of like a bard without all the charm! Haha!

Comparison shopping for balance.

There are a few different elements here. The top party buff classes in the game right now are:

  • Bards that focus on giving out inspiration to others.
  • Clerics of the casting variety (depending on the domain, of course).
  • Paladins and their damn auras.
  • Abjuration wizards.

Bards tend to be the most middle-of-the-road of the bunch. They’re not big damage dealers but are more for area control and, you know, annoying the shit out of DMs. 😉

Clerics are super versatile and can totally change depending on their domain.

Paladins are tanks that totally boost their party regardless of their oath.

And abjuration wizards are protection machines.

Of all these models, I like the abjuration wizard the most as the base of the class. But instead of giving it the full bucket of options that wizards normally have, instead, I’ll turn its powers into spell-like abilities and then give it some more martial options, probably in line with what a bard can do.

Developing the basic mechanic.

What I’ll need is a good mechanic, though. Josh says he’s interested in being able to help out others on the field. Bards have inspiration dice equal to its Charisma modifier and regains uses when it finishes a long rest. The creature gets to add the die to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes.

That means that once per long rest, a 1st level bard can hand out bonuses for ability checks, attack rolls, and saving throws totally roughly 10.5. These are some pretty potent bonuses, too. By 9th level, the same bard should probably have about 17.5 worth of bonuses.

Each bonus that the bard hands out is almost as good as having advantage on said roll.

Advantage, if you didn’t know, roughly equates to a 4.8 point jump in a roll. So adding a d6 is about 73% as good as having advantage.

Anyways, what I’m sort of imagining with this class is that it starts the day with a bunch of dice similar to the bard’s inspiration. However, the main difference is that it’s all reaction based instead of bonus action based like the bard. And the tactician chooses where the dice go, not the other players.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a skill tree either based roughly on the monk powers. You learn different ways to use your dice to protect your party.

For example, you could have the “flame on” ability like Josh described with the sword. It turns a weapon’s damage into fire. But as you gain levels, you can increase the type of damage die used for it, or you can take a new ability.

Video game people I’m sure will love this, haha!

From here, it’s just a matter of figuring out what normal features give dice to PCs (especially at early levels) and scaling up from there.

So what are those?

  • Bardic Inspiration – 3 d6’s at 1st level to a maximum of 5 d6’s by 9th.
  • Rangers – difficult terrain doesn’t slow group and your group can’t be lost except by magical means (not dice, but still important for balancing since it’s a semi-permanent effect).
  • Bane – three creatures subtract d4 from attack rolls and saving throws. You get to target additional creatures with more slots.
  • Bless – three creatures add d4 to attack rolls and saving throws. You get to target additional creatures with more slots.
  • Guidance – a creature you touch gains a d4 to add to its ability check.
  • Heroism – a creature you touch is immune to being frightened and gains temp hit points equal to your spellcasting ability modifier. You get to affect additional creatures for each spell slot above 1st.
  • Longstrider – a creature you touch gains +10 movement. Use higher spell slots to target more creatures
  • Protection from Evil and Good – a creature you touch has the following benefits: attack rolls against the target have disadvantage, can’t be charmed, frightened, or possessed, and the target has advantage on any new saving throw against the effect.
  • Sanctuary – a creature in range is warded; while warded, enemies have to make Wis saves to attack it.
  • Shield of Faith – give another creature a +2 bonus to AC for the duration.

Taking a look at this research, I’ve learned quite a bit from this. Some things that really stand out to me are bless and guidance. Guidance allows a 2.5ish bump in a single ability check. And it’s usable, well… forever. All it takes is an action to use it. Bless is limited in its usage, but it only costs one action to give three characters the same 2.5 bumps, but this time to attack rolls and saving throws.

What’s interesting is that the bard, who comes with the built-in “give the dice” powers of Bardic Inspiration, can’t hand out dice to its allies with any of its cantrips or 1st-level spells unless you count its healing spells.

A cleric can actually take guidance and three castings of bless at 1st level, so in the realm of “handing out dice,” they’re a little better. This effectively gives them a total of 6 1d4s to boost attack rolls and saving throws. After that, they’ve got an infinite number of 1d4s to hand out for ability checks.

The wizard really doesn’t any of those goodies, though. However, their spells tend to be much stronger than both the bard or the cleric.

Okay, so the first level is shaping up a little here.

Second tier strengths.

Instead of going through each level following 1st, I want to jump straight to level 5 and the second tier. This will give me an idea of where the character needs to go.

At 5th level, a bard is able to hand out 4 of those nifty dice. Its inspiration die increases to 1d8 and it gets them all back at the end of long rest. None of the bard’s 2nd or 3rd level spells really help that much more, though, so it’s still “limited” by its inspiration, which, it, in theory, has access up to 12 times before a long rest (assuming two short rests before a long rest).

The cleric, too, has a lot of other goodies coming its way, especially in the spells department. So we already know about the cleric’s guidance and bless. Now it picks up a few more spells to buff its party such as:

  • Aid – gives extra hit points for 8 hours.
  • Beacon of Hope – gives advantage on Wis throws and death saving throws and regains the max number of hit points offered from healing.
  • Enhance ability – gives cool effects depending on the selected ability (mostly in the form of advantage which is effectively a +1d8 to a roll).
  • Protection from energy – a creature you touch gains resistance to an energy type for one hour.
  • Warding bond – gives a creature a +1 to AC, saving throws, and resistance to all damage (whoa) for 1 hour, and any time the creature takes damage you take the same amount of damage.

It’s also important to note that the cleric picks up one of its most powerful enhancements to its action economy at 3rd level: spiritual weapon. An ability that effectively gives it 1d8 + 3 bonus damage (4.5 virtual damage) when it picks it up at that level.

6th level is the real party buff level.

Of all the levels, 6th is the one that really gives players the power to assist other players.

The most obvious exemplar of this is in the Paladin’s Aura of Protection power that lets it give all friendly creatures with 10 feet of it a bonus to its saving throw equal to its Charisma bonus (by 6th level, that should, in theory, be around +4). A +4 bonus is almost like having advantage on the roll or allowing a player to add a 1d6 or 1d8 to their roll (or 2d4 – 1 if you want to get really picky with it).

Clerics get to share their warding flare (light) and guided strike (war) at 6th level. Abjuration wizards can extend their arcane ward to their buddies. Ancestral guardian barbarians get their spirit shield.

The basic mechanic and how the rest of the class could work.

Okay, so I have roughly an idea of what sort of dice a character can out and how many times at early levels. What I don’t want to do, however, is build out a whole new list of spells or spell-like effects. So I think I’ll keep the powers limited.

I think that it should have only three things that it can affect:

  • Ability checks. So this gives it some groove outside of combat.
  • Attack rolls. Obviously, to juice up the team.
  • Saving throws. To act as defense.

Or, to retheme those a little: Utility, Offense, and Defense.

How it affects those elements depends on the flavor of the tactician itself (ie, its subclass). So an “elementalist” tactician will have the base powers, but also have some additional powers related to the elements.

I see the tactician’s skill tree following roughly the same path as a caster. It gets “ranks” in its powers every other level, topping out at 9 total ranks. Each rank for the powers starts at 1st level. The character gets a total of 8 points to spread around after that. I think, at most, I’ll allow for its max rank to top out at 5th rank (which would be the equivalent of a 5th level spell). That would mean that the possible combinations for the powers would be 3/3/3, 2/4/4, or 2/3/5.

Meanwhile, usages of the powers grow along with the class. I can base that on usages of the spells which will help me figure out the best way to do that.

What does each of the powers do?

I’m seeing a pool of d6s that the class can hand out as a reaction. The number of d6’s it can hand out at one time is probably limited by the number of ranks the character has in that ability. For example, let’s say that the character has a number of d6’s equal to its level and it has five ranks in Offense. That means it can dish out five d6’s in an attack using its reaction. The dice are added to an attack roll, sort of the same way a rogue adds sneak attack dice.

Here’s how I’m seeing the basic powers:

  • Offense: give a chunk of d6’s to damage rolls (a la sneak attack).
  • Defense: reduce an attack by a number of d6’s (reverse sneak attack).
  • Utility: improve an ability roll by a number of d6’s (this one might need some work).

What else can this class do?

Next up, the class needs a little more to it.

The trouble with the five ranks is that its “big guns” cap at 9th level. So I can either extend rank points to every 3rd level (blech), beef up the ranks (that might get too out of control), add in different trees (naah), or come up with some cool backend powers.

I think I’ll go with the latter.

One of the things that Josh requested was a “scope out the bad guy” power.

There are two classes in the game that have powers similar to what he’s asking for. The first is fighter battle master that has the know your enemy power that lets it study a creature (if it studies it for at least one minute); mostly its physical abilities. The other is the rogue mastermind that gets a similar power at 9th level, insightful manipulator, this time focused more on the mental abilities.

So that is probably something I’ll introduce at later levels.

I’m going to press pause on the work for now. But I think I’m getting places with this. To be continued.

 

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