Alternate Title: "Ragar's preparing to DM and has 4th Edition D&D on the brain"
Earlier this month, after its second beta weekend (the third one being this weekend - don't forget to grab your key!), I talked about Cryptic's new MMO Neverwinter. In the videos and the hands-on preview, I was pretty positive on the game as a whole, but one area I did have an issue with was the class selection available. Technically, we do have all of the important roles covered among the five launch classes: Guardian Fighter for tank, Devoted Cleric for heals, Trickster Rogue and Great Weapon Fighter for melee DPS and Control Wizard for ranged DPS.
However, this is Dungeons and Dragons we're talking about here! It's not about just having the holy trinity of MMOs available - it's about having YOUR character available and that may not be the case when you have only five choices. Most of the D&D books on my shelf are directly related to that desire for choice; additional base classes, prestige classes / paragon paths, feats, etc. Cryptic may have some additional classes already planned for post-launch but, in the meantime, I have a pile of 4th Edition sourcebooks and a text editor in front of me, so let's think about what's to come.
Now we can’t fit every character class from every sourcebook and all of their different builds into one article. For this post I’ve decided to focus on just three classes I’d like to see added to Neverwinter: the ranger, the bard and the warlock.
The Ranger: Ranged combat without the whole "magic" thing
Ranger is somewhat of an obvious choice since there’s currently no archer archetype among the five available classes and the only ranged option is a spellcaster. Adding the class would give all of the hunters/rangers from other MMOs a familiar class to play. In addition, they would have a distinctly different appearance from other characters, with a longbow slung across their backs, compared to all of the melee weapons and caster implements the current classes use. The question now is how to make this class unique and not just caster DPS with a bow.
Looking at the 4th Edition version of the ranger class, many of their powers were built around being highly mobile: there was the occasional bleed effect and multi-target attack, but the bulk of the abilities let the ranger move after attacking. We can carry over that concept to Neverwinter as well – perhaps Encounter Powers that gave a sprint boost after use or a right-click At-Will attack that did reduced damage but was a controllable speed increase. There could also be an Encounter Power that was like a disengage to get out of melee with your target. This is a start, but it’s not really different enough from the Control Wizard; we’ve basically traded slowing the mobs for speeding up the character. What we need is a class feature to make this guy stand out.
Typically a ranger-type class in MMOs is made unique through the addition of a pet to control. The problem with this idea is that everyone in Neverwinter gets access to pets through the Companion system. Doesn’t matter if you’re a ranger, fighter, cleric, etc. – if you have the Astral Diamonds/Zen/gold, you can have your own pet to level up, gear out, etc. Through leveling rangers could get their own unique companions that aren’t part of the normal stores, but then you run into the problem where you have one class that has no interest in part of your free-to-play game’s cash shop and that’s not really the best business plan. For the sake of argument, let’s say there are some ranger-only companions or perhaps some scaling that’s only done for ranger companions as a class feature. How do you make the pet a cool class feature like the Trickster Rogue’s Stealth or the Guardian Fighter’s Mark? My thought is to make that special power button for the ranger be tied to the pet’s family: birds could rake the target’s eye and apply a blinding debuff, wolves could hamstring a target for a snare, bears could get a taunt/mini-shield wall for soloing rangers, etc. To expand on the idea, rangers could even have a Paragon path or something similar reducing cooldowns on pet specials or allowing the ranger to swap pets mid-combat. The pet abilities can be treated like a fourth Encounter power, so nothing ridiculous but they would introduce that extra element of variety to make the class different from what’s currently available.