Q: How many types of human fighter can you be in 5e? 13 backgrounds x 2 Archetypes= 26!
Wow! That is a lot of choices, an outsider might say. I say not. I say the backgrounds idea is neat, but it is incredibly limiting. I say the two archetypes are even more limiting.
When you very clearly define what choices someone has, on a very granular level, you are inherently limiting their choices. When you say what someone can do, you are also saying what someone can’t do.
This is my thesis.
In Part I, the Fighter and Ranger were rebuilt, allowing for some combat choices, a great degree of individual customization, and more significantly, making them each, IMHO, cool again, and providing niche protection.
Now, we move onto the most specialized of fighter-types, the Paladin and the Barbarian.
Originally, Part I was going to cover all martial characters, but the word-count started getting unwieldy, and full disclosure, I was struggling with the Paladin and Barbarian.
But I have them figured out now, and I will explain why I was struggling and my solution.
Returning to the introductory discussion about limiting player choices, this was my undoing. In trying to secure niche protection, I want each class to be able to do cool things that no other class can do, but also want to discourage the willy-nilly amount of nonsensical (non story-driven) multi-classing that happens.
Scott and I were having yet another discussion about the Ultimate Dungeon Fantasy experience, and agreed that many player choices are mechanically driven and not at all story related. And many class features are the same. And, ultimately, where is their corollary in the literature and other inspirational materials? The spiked chain fighter build? Please. That is a child solely of the game mechanics.
So, that brings me, finally to the Paladin and Barbarian. These are what I will call Elite Classes.
What are Elite Classes? Elite Classes are classes that do limit choices. Classes with such a degree of dedication required that committing to them is committing to a lifestyle. A character does not just decide “oh, I want to pick up a level or two of Paladin.” Paladins spend years training, they are vessels for their gods, they are beyond reproach. And Barbarians, it’s not a class it’s a lifestyle. That seems like an ad-campaign, and if I ever decided to publish this, I just realized how fun it would be for each class to have a full page spread ad promoting the class, showing off what it can do, what makes it unique, describing the classes niche protection. One does not simply become a Barbarian, it is what one is born into.
End. Of. Story.
So, these Elite Classes will have special rules, as will other Elite Classes.
But given this article is about the Paladin and Barbarian, both of these Elite Classes have the same rule applied to them:
Paladins and Barbarians are classes that are decided on at first level, and characters cannot multi-class. If a character decides to abandon either class, they lose all the class benefits, and may not get them back.
Call me draconian if you like, but as I dissect these classes, you will see it is a choice, and with that choice comes many benefits.
Sometimes freedom is about what you cannot do.
What were the traits of a 1e Paladin?
Very high Charisma was needed.
Protection from Evil.
Lay on Hands.
Limited amount of treasure.
Bonus to saves.
Immunity to disease.
Able to cure disease.
Clerical spells at higher levels.
There is a lot here. A lot of very cool stuff. The difficult requirements made being a Paladin something very, very cool. The alignment restrictions made being a Paladin very difficult. Truly, if there was a paladin in your party, everyone showed respect.
I will flat out say this: I am ignoring the war horse. It is cool flavor, but the mechanics of armored combat never really seemed to click with any edition. Keep the flavor, it is awesome, but I am not going to worry about the rules of it.
Lawful Good is a must. There is no room in D&D for the “every kid gets a medal for participating” attitude. LG or go home. Except for the anti-paladins, of course! But, those are NPCs. None of this namby-pamby other aligned paladins.
Detect Evil: At will, as per the spell of whatever edition you are playing.
Protection from Evil: “evil” creatures are at disadvantage against the paladin, and the additional effects as outlined in a Protection From Evil spell. Additionally, those within melee range of a Paladin are also subject to this effect.
Limited amount of treasure. This one is a keeper. Deal with it.
Immune to disease seems pretty easy to keep as is.
Now, we have the bonus to saves, curing disease, turning undead, and cleric spell access to deal with. I will also add smite to this, because although is a newer addition to the Paladin trope, it seems to fit.
The high Charisma should factor in, and as I look at what is left to address as well as various paladin iterations through the years, and also factoring in the tendency to min/max, the picture perhaps becomes more clear.
The Channel Divinity approach to turning undead as well as resolving other cool abilities was really sharp. As editions progressed, turning undead became less of a thing, and was even wasted in many campaigns, so modifying it and allowing it to be used other ways was a clever reinterpretation.
If a Paladin veers from their alignment of religion, the DM has the right to strip away any and or all of their cool abilities.
That has be part of the Paladin. This discourages wanton disregard for the trope of the Paladin, and also discourages becoming a Paladin just for the cool powers and abilities.
Paladins get a bonus to all their saves equal to their Charisma modifier.
Paladins can turn undead as a cleric two levels lower. Turning undead is a thing again in 5e. Let’s keep it that way. Additionally, Paladins are at advantage when attacking undead. And, if you want to expand your definition of undead to include evil creatures from the outer plans, summoned creatures, etc, those are all very appropriate, both for turning and advantage.
Avatar: a Paladin is an Avatar of their Deity. They have a number of Avatar Points equal to their level, per day!
And what can a Paladin do with Avatar Points?
Lay on Hands: Each Point spent heals a number of HP equal to the Paladin’s Charisma modifier.
Smite: Each Point spent allows a Paladin a bonus to Hit or Damage equal to the Paladin’s Charisma modifier.
Spellcasting: Paladin’s can cast Cleric spells. As Avatars, they do not memorize spells, they are able to cast what they need depending on their level. Starting at 6th level, a Paladin may spend Avatar Points to cast 1st level Cleric spells, at a cost of 1 point/ spell level. At 9th level they may cast 2nd level spells. At 12th level they may cast 3rd level spells. And at 15th level they may cast 4th level spells.
Additionally, because Paladins are martyrs personified, they may call upon their inner reserves for Martyr Points. A Paladin may, once per day, take HP damage up to their Cha modifier X their level, to gain Marytr Points equal to their level. Martyr Points are used the same way as Avatar Points, but their effectiveness is equal to the modifier amount +1. For example, a 7th level Paladin with an 18 Charisma calls upon his Martyr Points, he doesn’t have a lot of HP left, so he only wants to take a modifier of +2, so he will take 2×7= 14 damage, and gains 7 Martyr Points, each with a modifier equal to 2+1= 3, and needing that awesome amazing attack, uses 1 point to increase his chance to hit (+3 to hit) and the other 6 points to add to damage (+18 damage).
The damage taken by the Paladin does not affect the Paladin until the end of the following round, and this damage may not be healed until the end of the following day.
Avatar Points can be spent singly, or all at once.
Thus, a 5th level Paladin with a Charisma modifier of +3, has 5 Avatar Points.
Fighting the Big Bad, the party is not doing so well, so the Paladin spends one Avatar Point as a +3 bonus to Hit, and after hitting spends the remaining points as 12 points of bonus damage.
And, finally, the Barbarian!
What did the 1e Barbarian look like:
Lots of HP
Detest/ distrust of Magic
Ability to overcome defenses that require magic to affect
Bonus to poison saves, and poor saves against magic
Climbing cliffs and trees
Hiding in natural surroundings
Leaping and springing
Long distance signaling
Small craft, paddled
Small craft, rowed
That is a lot of abilities. Now, keep in mind that 1e was skill-less, and they wanted to outline what a Barbarian could do, but the language in the text itself gave them several outs, so all of these abilities had to do with a barbarian in surroundings that were familiar to them, etc.
For the purposes of UD&D, we will also add Rage, and attempt to distill all this flavor down to rules that are simple, easy to understand, and allow for maximum flavor meets fun!
A Barbarian has to have a lot of HP. This is a must.
Many of the Barbarian abilities can be simplified, but because we are trying to make something system independent, we will not address specific skills, rather, we will try to codify everything and make it somewhat universal:
Survival: Barbarians have advantage when in the wild, whether it is attempting to secure dinner for the party, climb a cliff, jump across a chasm, or set up an ambush.
Heightened Senses: Barbarians have advantage for rolls involving their innate senses, be it for surprise, finding something out of the ordinary, examining a corpse. These are all their senses, sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell. Barbarians are almost feral in their ways, sniffing, making quick small movements, touching, even tasting.
Heightened Physical Prowess: Because they come from a culture not as dependent on the comforts of magic, Barbarians have learned to make do. Any check involving Str or Con is treated as if the character’s modifier is one point higher, and all of these checks are made with advantage. Additionally, their carrying capacity is as if their Strength was 4 points higher.
Movement: Barbarians are faster than other characters. Because we are trying to make this system independent, instead of arbitrarily assigning them an increased rate of speed, Barbarians get two movement actions, and may use their full rate of speed with both.
Savage Points: A Barbarian gets one Savage Point per level per day. A Savage Point can be spent for Rage and First Aid.
Rage: Barbarians can enter a Rage. This lasts for an entire combat or scene. When Raging, a Barbarians is at disadvantage when being attacked, advantage against magic effects, and each Savage Point spent gives the Barbarian an extra attack or a temporary +2 to Str and Con. Additionally, while Raging, a Barbarian can overcome any magical defenses that require +X magic items to hit.
First Aid: A Savage Point can be spent for First Aid. First Aid gives a character advantage on a Save, or allows the barbarian to heal one HD. So, if a Barbarian is using First Aid on a character with d4 HD, they would heal d4 HP. If a Barbarian used it on a character with d10 HD, they would heal d10 HP.
Magic: This one is difficult, as I appreciate the idea behind Barbarians being removed from magic, at the same time, it is very hard to make this a fun reality in an RPG without limiting the player enjoyment, or having a player manipulate their way out of the restrictions. A Barbarian should be limited in what they keep in terms of magic equipment. What exactly does this mean? They should have less magical stuff than other party members, their magical inventory should be sparse. I don’t know what your campaign is like, so I will not give a number. This is up to the DM. How do you enforce it? You are the DM, you can make anything you want happen. Maybe take away their stuff. Describe it narratively “oh, that sword, you threw it away, it had bad mojo.”
Uncivilized Ways: Barbarians should be restricted to how much they embrace “modern” technology. But, instead of offering a list of what they can and cannot do, how about we say that their uncivilized ways should always be apparent. So, can they wear heavy armor, or metal armor? Sure, but they might throw away the sleeves to the armor, and use just the chest plate. Barbarians are not dumb, they are just more in touch with where they come from. Do they have to be illiterate, no? Should a DM restrict the amount of modern items they have? Perhaps. But more to the point, if you, the DM feel that the player is abusing the loosey-goosey nature of this “rule” put them at a disadvantage. “yes, you can wear the elaborate magical plate armor, but you will be at disadvantage when doing so, and enemies will be at advantage attacking you.” And, because you are the DM you can decide that these Uncivilized disadvantage dice trump all (meaning determine advantage and disadvantage as normal, and then apply disadvantage, so that no matter what a Barbarian does, they are at disadvantage).. Additionally, you can take away their Heightened Senses to some degree, or their increased movement. Do so subtly, or overtly. You have my permission to screw with your players. And maybe you don’t tell them until a most crucial moment.
Are the Paladin and Barbarian overpowered? Yes, the Barbarian could rage at 20th level and get an extra 20 attacks, that is pretty bad-ass, right? Yes, but that is some serious front loading, so, who cares. What can a wizard at that level do? Well, we will find out when we get to the spellcasting classes. Next up will be the roguish classes: The Thief, Assassin, and possibly the Bard and Monk, though the latter two are in some ways even more elite than the Paladin or Barbarian.