elcome to the final Legends & Lore for 2012. As a holiday gift to you, December 17th marks the release of the final playtest packet of the year. The packet will be available at some point during the day, and if you're signed up for the playtest, you should receive an email. This column won't be back until January 7th, but hopefully the latest iteration of the game will be enough to keep you occupied until then.
In addition, we also have a quick survey that we'd like you to fill out. As I've mentioned earlier in the year, we're planning on making prestige classes part of D&D Next. They were a popular feature of 3E, and 4E essentially duplicated them with the concept of the paragon path. In this survey, we've listed the most popular 3E prestige classes and would like you to pick out your favorites.
When it comes to prestige class, we have some pretty simple design goals. We want them to represent interesting elements of the world, rather than just new mechanical options or a source of power. Prestige classes should be something that you earn membership in through your actions in the campaign world, rather than just a new set of feats or special abilities that come with prerequisites. They're another reward for a character to strive toward. Obviously, since a prestige class offers new mechanics, you can always look at it just like a list of new abilities, but that doesn't mean we have to start our design work with that approach.
In my mind, a prestige class works best when it feels like something that is part of your character's story. Sturm Brightblade's aspiration to become a knight of Solamnia stands out in my mind as a good model. The knights were a key part of the world, and Sturm sought to prove himself worthy of joining their ranks. Even better, the events of the Dragonlance saga made it clear that perhaps the knights were not worthy of Sturm, rather than the other way around. I like the potential that has for storylines in the campaign, with characters pulled deeper into the setting and the action focusing on things beyond combat, loot, and leveling up.
I know that many players resented how prestige classes encouraged players to plan out every feat and skill rank from level 1. I'd be much happier if prestige classes instead spoke to how your character acted in the world and the goals you pursued. To join the Order of the Wyvern, you might need to survive a night among the dream wraiths of the Slumbering Barrows. The knights of the Black Axe accept only those who have slain a direct descendent of Queen Mazzar Elfslayer, the orc warlord whose invasion sparked the knights' creation. That adventure and the work your character puts into preparing for it, a process that might take several levels of adventuring and months or years of work, are part of your characters' plans and goals, not just another quest that the DM cooks up to fill out the next session. If we build prestige classes correctly, we can provide players and DMs with a ton of adventure ideas and campaign goals to work toward from level 1, rather than just a checklist of feats and skills to pick at each level. Essentially, prestige classes give DMs another reward to use in the campaign. They provide a character option earned in much the same way as a character would earn a magic item or a treasure chest of gems and gold.
The interesting thing about this approach is that it casts prestige classes as a DM tool that helps bring a world to life by giving starting characters goals in the campaign. You can expect that we'll take a more modular approach to their design, building them from a comprehensive list of mechanical options and showing you how to break them down and rebuild them anew. If we do things right, we can give DMs a robust tool for building their own prestige classes to flesh out their campaigns.
Take our survey and let us know what your favorite prestige classes are.
Mike Mearls is the senior manager for the D&D research and design team. He led the design for 5th Edition D&D. His other credits include the Castle Ravenloft board game, Monster Manual 3 for 4th Edition, and Player’s Handbook 2 for 3rd Edition.