Backgrounds, Themes and Specialties

To say I'm disappointed by the current iteration of Backgrounds and Specialties is an understatement.  To understand why I want to explain a bit:

Originally there was quite a bit of speculation about the extent to which Backgrounds and Themes would define a character.  It fueled some of the arguments presented on why Less classes would be needed; Because you would be able to take a base class and drastically change it's look and feel based off the choice of Background and Theme.  I myself argued the point that classes like Barbarian, Ranger, Paladin and Sorcerer weren't needed as long as we could choose an appropriate Background and Theme.  I looked forward to the release of the character creation information, hoping that this was indeed how the developers saw things.  That even if they didn't share my views concerning less classes, that they did indeed intend Backgrounds and Themes to be significant choices for character creation.

Playtest 2's release has made it clear that's not the direction they're taking.  Their backgrounds are nothing more than skill choices and a situational fluff trait that a DM may allow or not,  depending on their whim.  Skills are limited to three by background, yet the actual skill list includes several skills that belong together.  At least 4ed did skills justice.  Specialties are even worse, and are a single feat gained every few levels.  

Where's the 'Meat', the stuff I can and want to sink my teeth into.  I'd rather pick my skills and feats than use any of the choices presented, for backgrounds or specialties.  I want to see backgrounds that add actual Depth to a character, with relevant skills and traits that have meaning.  I'd like to see Themes reinstated and put to use as I thought they'd be; Defining abilities that took a base class and truly made it the Iconic Character that each Player wanted.  Specialties could even remain as they are, as feat choices to further define a character. 
See, I don't know where you got this idea. From the beginning, they talked about Backgrounds just being "Skill Delivery System" and Themes (now Specialities) being a "Feat Delivery System". Of course, half the point of collecting these skills and feats into Backgrounds and Specialities is to give them in-universe flavour and resonance, but they've also talked about players being able to take them apart and build custom Backgrounds and Specialities from the beginning.

Quickly browsing playtest packet one and comparing the Themes and Backgrounds on the pregens to the Specialities and Backgrounds we have now, it seems that very little has changed. The Slayer theme was absorbed into the Fighter's Fighting Styles, and the traits of the Commoner and Soldier backgrounds have changed, but all the other Specialities and Backgrounds appear to be just about identical between playtest packets one and two.
D&D Experience Level: Relatively new First Edition: 4th Known Editions: 4th, 3.5 --- Magic Experience Level: Fairly skilled First Expansion: 7th Edition Play Style: Very Casual
I had the opposite initial thought. I believed Backgrounds and Themes/Specializations would be weak and thus no substitute for class.

And I was right.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Totally Agree Orzel.  I'm so tired of people saying we only need four classes and then the Background and specialty can be the meat of the class.  Thats way too limiting for class design.  People act like we can just let all the class levels go as dead levels because, Hey!! we already covered that with a skill and a feat at char creation.  It just confuses me.  The same people that want choices and options then turn around and say wait wait take all that away and just give me a couple skills.  Yeah!!

Something I'd like to see is that Backgrounds are expanded a bit.  Allow a bit of choice like Select three out of the five skills.  Choose this fluff or that fluff.

Where is the "MEAT" I think more classes should have something like the Rogue Scheme that allows for the "Meat" inside the class design.
First off to Nivek- I like the idea of giving Backgrounds 5 skills to choose the three out of, that will help customization a lot.

I like the idea of Backgrounds and Specialties so far. Backgrounds give you some nice skills but also give you a quirky extra ability that has more effect in RP than combat which has been a TON of fun as I've playtested. Specialties, as I see them, will help player have their precious options. I'd like to see them evolve towards that peak. If you want your Paladin to have spellcasting give her Initiative of the Faith, if you want your Fighter to be GISH let him take Magic-User, I imagine they'll do a similar Specialty for Druids Spells. They also took Two-Weapon Fighting and Archery as combat styles and moved them here which I like. These things leave room open in the Classes for better, more specialized, features that will hopefully make each class a little more unique.

This is where I'd like to see a few other class features. I've already mentioned this in a different thread but I'd like to see Animal companion moved here too. Too often have I heard my players, especially new players, ask me if hey can get a pet. Put Animal Companion in Specialties and now any class can have a pet. Fighters and Paladins can have Mounts, Rangers, Druids and Barbarians can have a fellow hunter, Clerics of Nature gods can have a Natural Bond, Heck even Bards can have a little Circus esque friend. Someone who can perform street tricks with for SP's in the town.

And there are more old class features that we can move to specialties so the Base Classes can focus on more flavorful features that should be the unique feel of That class. 

This is where I'd like to see a few other class features. I've already mentioned this in a different thread but I'd like to see Animal companion moved here too. Too often have I heard my players, especially new players, ask me if hey can get a pet. Put Animal Companion in Specialties and now any class can have a pet. Fighters and Paladins can have Mounts, Rangers, Druids and Barbarians can have a fellow hunter, Clerics of Nature gods can have a Natural Bond, Heck even Bards can have a little Circus esque friend. Someone who can perform street tricks with for SP's in the town.

And there are more old class features that we can move to specialties so the Base Classes can focus on more flavorful features that should be the unique feel of That class. 



The flaw of this is that Specialty is a limited resource.

If you move too much stuff to Specialty, you end up not able to build your class.

Lets say that they decide that the Ranger should a) have an animal companion, b) have a weapon style and c) have non-spell healing.  Great!  We already have a weapon style specialty, a healing speciality - now we just need an animal companion specialty and we're all set, right?

Oops - now a ranger has an animal companion OR a weapon style OR non-spell healing.

Putting stuff like this into specialities for other classes to take is great.  I'm all for animal companion as a speciality.  But that doesn't mean that they automatically get moved out of the class they are associated with unless it is truly optional for that class and we want the majority of the examples of that class to not have that ability.


Note:  That doesn't mean they can't write it as a specialty - and then give the relevant class (rangers, whomever) automatic access to that specialty - along with their normally chosen specialty (as they did for Thug/thief backgrounds).    Or even tell them to pick three from a short list of appropriate specialities.

Carl

This is where I'd like to see a few other class features. I've already mentioned this in a different thread but I'd like to see Animal companion moved here too. Too often have I heard my players, especially new players, ask me if hey can get a pet. Put Animal Companion in Specialties and now any class can have a pet. Fighters and Paladins can have Mounts, Rangers, Druids and Barbarians can have a fellow hunter, Clerics of Nature gods can have a Natural Bond, Heck even Bards can have a little Circus esque friend. Someone who can perform street tricks with for SP's in the town.

And there are more old class features that we can move to specialties so the Base Classes can focus on more flavorful features that should be the unique feel of That class. 



The flaw of this is that Specialty is a limited resource.

If you move too much stuff to Specialty, you end up not able to build your class.

Lets say that they decide that the Ranger should a) have an animal companion, b) have a weapon style and c) have non-spell healing.  Great!  We already have a weapon style specialty, a healing speciality - now we just need an animal companion specialty and we're all set, right?

Oops - now a ranger has an animal companion OR a weapon style OR non-spell healing.

Putting stuff like this into specialities for other classes to take is great.  I'm all for animal companion as a speciality.  But that doesn't mean that they automatically get moved out of the class they are associated with unless it is truly optional for that class and we want the majority of the examples of that class to not have that ability.


Note:  That doesn't mean they can't write it as a specialty - and then give the relevant class (rangers, whomever) automatic access to that specialty - along with their normally chosen specialty (as they did for Thug/thief backgrounds).    Or even tell them to pick three from a short list of appropriate specialities.

Carl



Yes, I can agree with you that moving too much to specialties limits some builds that players can have but even in 4e players had to choose between Two-Weapon, Archery or Beast. 

But your right we don't want too many features moved to specialties, I would never suggest we put Sneak Attack or Rage as a specialty just so other classes can get them but personally I think Weapon Styles and animal companions aren't what Rangers should be focused on. NOTE That is my personal opinion and thus why I'd rather see them in Specialties. Herbalism for a Ranger is a cool concept but again I still like that it's an option for them.

But I agree we don't want too much placed as an option when you can only pick one. But I do like having specialties sort of let characters taste multiclassing. My first character in this recent packet was a Fighter with Magic-User which is sort of like Majoring in FIghter and Minoring in Wizard. I'd like to see that continue.
The Healerspeciality is a blessing for any group... no more healer dependance... very good job :D
The Healerspeciality is a blessing for any group... no more healer dependance... very good job :D



Actually - in my feedback I said it was too good.


It nearly doubles a parties healing - that is too much for a specialty and it makes it nearly mandatory for every party.  I think that makes it a bad specialty design.


The healer touch ability needs to be weakened (severly) and the cleric's own healing needs to be increased to compensate so that it is no longer a broken, nearly mandatory specialty.


Perhaps in its place some additional non-magical healing - just so long as it isn't having a such a huge effect on healing overall.  Maybe it maximizes the Hit Dice, but doesn't maximize all his potions and all his cure spells.  Maybe it allows the cleric to heal the equivalent of one Hit Die of damage each short rest without expending the players actual Hit Die.  Something - but not what it is.

Carl
I believe Specialties should allow you to emulate some of the cool features of other classes but the Specialty mechanics should never outshine the original class feature.

So yes, you can get an Animal companion but it is not going to be a rampaging Raptor. Instead, you get a Dog or a Hawk. Sure, you can have Combat Expertise but you only get the extra damage and it's a d3 that scales up at 1/4 of the rate of the Fighter's mechanic. Sure you can cast spells but only a few Cantrips.

Specialties are optional.

Specialties can be custom made.  Its something old schoolers do all the time.  (Ex.  Battle Rager crafted right at the table.)

Specialties and Backgrounds in 5E SHOULD be a bid deal.  Why sell us a partially inflated balloon?  I don't think half full looks good on a limp balloon.  Unless it is that way for the sole benefit of allowing us to learn how to fill the balloon the rest of the way.



"The Apollo moon landing is off topic for this thread and this forum. Let's get back on topic." Crazy Monkey

I believe Specialties should allow you to emulate some of the cool features of other classes but the Specialty mechanics should never outshine the original class feature.

So yes, you can get an Animal companion but it is not going to be a rampaging Raptor. Instead, you get a Dog or a Hawk. Sure, you can have Combat Expertise but you only get the extra damage and it's a d3 that scales up at 1/4 of the rate of the Fighter's mechanic. Sure you can cast spells but only a few Cantrips.




I mean, of course specialties will never be as good as the actual class features but they scale which I think is important.

For instance, right now Magic-User gets two cantrips at level 1 and a familiar at level 3 but I see no reason that by level 6 it won't give maybe a third cantrip and a 1st level spell once or twice a day. That way instead of only multiclassing to get different mechanics you can use specialties as almost a "Dip" and it won't take away from the actual class levels because of how small it scales. 

That said I don't think I would make Expertise Die into a specialty. It's far to unique to the fighter. A few low-level spells, or weapon style or skill training sure. I even like Animal Companion here because as long as they have Familiars and the Necromancers Animated Servant, the Animal Companion just seems to fit into that pretty well. I've thought it up as a separate Beast Master specialty but I can easily see it as the Druidic version of Magic-User (two druidic orisons at level 1 and the companion at level 3).
I had the opposite initial thought. I believed Backgrounds and Themes/Specializations would be weak and thus no substitute for class. And I was right.

Pretty much. It's what they said they would do, and it's what they're doing. (At least so far.) If someone is familiar with the ways in which and the extent to which skills and feats influenced characters in 3.5 and 4e, the scope and style of backgrounds and specialties should feel familiar.
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