You can never have too many tools, and with the release of the Dungeon Master's Guide II, you will find many more DM tools at your disposal! This book builds upon existing materials in the Dungeon Master's Guide, and you'll find all kinds of things inside that should help facilitate play, especially when you have very limited preparation time. Chapters include discussion on running a game, designing adventures, building and using prestige classes, and creating campaign settings. Ready-made game elements include instant traps, pre-generated locations, treasures, and a fully realized and rendered town. For more excerpts from this book, check out the May 2005 Preview.
Designing Prestige Classes
Abilities granted by prestige classes are appropriate for mid- to high-level characters. Prestige classes are acquired only by meeting the requirements specific to each example, which almost always require -- in effect -- that a character be at leastmid-level (around 5th or 6th level). Additionally, there might be nonrules-related requirements that must be met in-game, such as group membership fees, special training exercises, quests, and so on.
Prestige classes are purely optional and always under the purview of the DM. It's good policy to tightly limit the prestige classes available in your campaign. The prestige classes in the Dungeon Master's Guideand other sources are certainly not all-encompassing or definitive. They might not even be appropriate for your campaign. The best prestige classes for your campaign are the ones you tailor-make yourself.
The DM's Role
Prestige classes allow a Dungeon Master to create exclusive, campaign-specific roles and positions. These special roles offer abilities and powers otherwise inaccessible to PCs and focus them in specific, interesting directions. A character with a prestige class will be more specialized yet perhaps slightly better than one without. These DM-created tools lend specifics and actual mechanics to the details of your world. In short, you come up with a particular group or role for your campaign, and create a prestige class based around that idea. The following material focuses on your needs as the DM.
The Player's Role
DMs who don't mind sharing the responsibility of campaign development with their players might allow them to design prestige classes. As long as the DM remains involved, such prestige classes are perfectly viable. The DM knows what organizations need prestige classes in the campaign, and has general ideas of what such a prestige class should do. Players wishing to develop prestige classes should work closely with their DM to do so.
Why Create a Prestige Class?
There are four basic reasons why you should create prestige classes for your campaign.
To Satisfy Players: A player with a ranger character wants to be an expert archer. He takes Point Blank Shot and the other appropriate feats, but he wants to be able to perform even greater deeds with his bow. He's willing to sacrifice other aspects of his character to do so, but there don't seem to be options for him. In response you create the Red Arrow Guild. From the guild, he learns of a number of different trick shots and special bow-related abilities he can learn if he joins the group and takes levels in the master of the red arrow prestige class.
Players have plans or desires for their characters that extend beyond the bounds of the rules found in the Player's Handbook. Prestige classes provide a way for you to develop rules within a balanced format to help meet your players' needs.
To Develop an Organization: You've already created the Red Arrow Guild, a group of fighters, rangers, and even rogues who help defend the capital city in times of great distress. They have a good reputation and a long history. To help further develop this organization, you create the master of the red arrow prestige class with abilities unique to the guild. Now, when people speak of their almost unnatural prowess, concrete facts describe exactly what they can and cannot actually do.
Prestige classes help you to define monastic orders, secret cabals, religious zealots, thieves' guilds, special military units, a group of people trained under a specific teacher, sorcerers from a particular area, or bards who studied at the same college. If you're not already creating organizations like this in your campaign, you should be. Prestige classes distinguish them from one another. If the wizards of the Arcane Order know different spells and have different abilities than the wizards of the Open Hand Guild, it makes both groups, and the campaign as a whole, more interesting. Using prestige classes with campaign organizations also encourages player characters to join or at least investigate these groups. Prestige classes offer you a way to use the rules to draw players into your campaign world and involve them in whatever sorts of politics, intrigues, and adventures you have in store.
To Develop a Race or Culture: As with organizations, races and cultures benefit from specific rules that showcase their abilities.
While it's fine to declare that "elves operate well in the woods," or "gnomes are tricky," such statements carry greater weight with rules to back them up. Prestige classes (the elven woodstalker and the gnome trickster, for example) provide those rules.
Cultures garner even greater benefit from prestige classes. Game rules don't provide distinctions for how the people from the Southern Kingdom in your campaign differ from the folk of the Direwood Forest. You could create an extensive description of how the spear-using warriors of the south have a completely different fighting style than the hardy, no-nonsense approach of the warriors of the Direwood. The southern speardancer and the Direwood ranger prestige classes directly speak for those differences. Culture-based prestige classes can tie into PC backgrounds; perhaps only characters from the Sunlost Desert can take the knife-fighter prestige class. It makes every culture and every populated place that you create for your campaign truly special.
To Make Otherwise Poor Options Acceptable: While this reason ties in with the first, it's worth mentioning on its own. A prestige class can take a poor choice, such as specializing in the whip, and make it worthwhile. Potentially, you could create prestige classes that grant interesting abilities for characters who spend a lot of skill points on Intimidate or a particular knowledge or craft. Characters who choose strange multiclass combinations, put their best score in Charisma (and who aren't bards or sorcerers), or come from less optimal races (goblin or kobold PCs, for example) could have access to prestige classes that make those choices worthwhile.
The Hidden Fifth Reason: Any number of organizations could oppose the PCs, along with races such as gnolls, goblins, and orcs. Some campaigns establish evil cultures as major opponents. DMs should strongly consider designing prestige classes only available to the opposition. Such classes should have a broader utility than merely taking advantage of PC weaknesses or nullifying PC strengths. They make the campaign unique, provide memorable encounters, and transform the opposition into real threats with which the PCs must reckon.