Welcome to Monday, the day when we turn notionally turn couch change into beer money! This week I’m going to give a brief review of A Touch of Class, which is a new 5e supplement pushed out by EN World over Kickstarter. I want to preface what I’m about to say with this: any criticisms are in offered in a good, constructive spirit. EN can crush us beneath their giant boot at any moment, so I don’t want to piss them off yet. Maybe if we grow to be super awesome, I can get to be ballsier. However, our best day had 135 views, so I don’t think we’re quite there yet.
Anyways, here we go!
A Touch of Class is, succinctly, a small supplement of seven new classes to spice up a 5e campaign. These first appeared in EN’s magazine, but are more fleshed out and complete in this volume. It’s important to note that this thing raised roughly $88k, which is a nice chunk of change for what basically amounts to a heavy editing job on existing content. One of the biggest selling factors for me was that they gave you the PDF of it the same day their Kickstarter campaign finished. Awesome, that.
The Alchemist is supposed to be a sort of “scientific” magic caster. The theory is that, in a medieval fantasy setting, alchemy is as close to science as we get (precursor to chemistry and all that), so here’s a character that gains supernatural power from alchemical processes. This class takes the Clarke quote, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and goes apeshit with it.
Alchemy classes are a staple of supplemental game materials. Without doing any research whatsoever, I can say with confidence that an “alchemist” or similar has existed in every fantasy gaming system providing that it grew large enough. To adapt Clarke’s famous quote, I’ll say that any sufficiently popular fantasy gaming system is guaranteed to have an alchemist.
The Good The class’s core concept is…well, not “good” per se, but okay. Basically, we have a character that throws bombs, casts spells, and kind of influences what potions do. One great thing about the class is that in the core features and in all of the archetypes, there are several choices to make which can have a big influence on gameplay. Basically, not only are no two ALchemists guaranteed to be the same, but not even two Creation Alchemists or two Destruction Alchemists.
The Bad The Alchemist is plagued by a systemic lack of identity. In what will be a theme with all of these classes, many of the special features are clones of features which exist for other classes. However, the true existential crisis of the Alchemist lies in not knowing if she’s supposed to be a bomb hurtling, chemical guzzling Bard, or just a Bard who likes to throw things when she’s angry. Why a Bard? Well, the Alchemist gains a slew of healing and other divine spells in her list. Arcane caster healing? That’s a Bard.
The Ugly There is, sadly, a real missed opportunity here. A much better iteration of the class would have been a strict focus on the chemistry without all the spellcasting nonsense. Drop the spells; they’re unnecessary. In this way, you have the four Advanced Studies: Destruction for bomb focusing, Mutation for Jekyll/Hyde-ing, Regeneration for doctoring, Creation for Frankenstein-ing (although these latter two could likely be combined into a single Study of Life). The core features can allow the Alchemist to make magic potions without actually knowing the magical spells involved, a feat which is currently not allowed by the rules. Yeah, seemingly “magical” effects through alchemy, duh.
The Cardcaster is a spellcasting class that uses a Tarot deck. The core concept seems to be that random access to higher-level spells is fun. I tend to agree, randomness is always fun. Who doesn’t love rolling on that Wild Surge table for the Sorcerer? Oh my gosh, last night, I had it go off in the first round of combat and it turned my entire party invisible! It was awesome, so then…you know what? I digress.
The fact that the player who plays this character has to bring an actual deck of cards with her is pretty neat. It’s a fun element.
The Good The Cardcaster is actually a pretty tidy little class. It introduces a couple new mechanics while staying firmly within the scope of 5e spellcasters. The interpretations of the Tarot cards into D&D spells is pretty fun, and it makes for a flexible caster as they get to choose what to do from a randomly assigned subset of spells. The thematic approach to the flavor of the archetypes is a nice touch.
The Bad Once again, though, we have a lot of copy/paste from existing class features from elsewhere in the PHB. Why is there a Cardcaster Focus that turns you into a crappy Fighter? That’s what multiclassing is for. Also, and most importantly, how is there not a feature which has the Cardcaster flip a card randomly and cast a spell from it? That seems like the obvious design choice when you create a class designed to involve the randomness of card drawing. Instead, the Spellcaster has the options of a handful of cards, which just leaves them thinking too hard and long about what to do.
The Ugly The card-drawing thing is a great mechanic…for an entire magic system. When one player is the only one doing it, it feels like that one player brought her dominoes to a game of checkers. She’s operating on a totally different, albeit cool, system of magic. This is not just a different list of spells, this is a fundamental rewrite to the underlying mechanics of casting spells. It’s neat, it’s awesome, but it can’t just be one player at the table doing it. This tarot-casting would be an amazing alternative magic system if everyone was doing it, bad guys included. Although, really, you’d be pretty close to just playing Magic: The Gathering at that point.
The Diabolist is what normal fantasy systems would call a Necromancer. However, because D&D loads the Necromancy term into magic in an odd way (and always has), we can’t call a class focused on summoning undead a Necromancer. Instead, we’ve got the Diabolist.
When the introduction to a class starts with Diabolists are not Warlocks, you know we’ve already got a problem. A class should stand on its own without you having to tell me it’s different. And really, the DIabolist could be pretty damn different from a Warlock, if done properly. Let’s see…
The Good The core mechanics of the Diabolist’s summoning and ritual spells are pretty cool, and there is actually some good use of two primary stats (WIS and CHA). I like the fact that they don’t have a traditional spell slot system, although this feels awfully Warlocky. I also really like the idea that there are two paths (devils and demons), though I’m curious why they didn’t enforce alignment for this decision. It’s also nice having a class that is unquestionably evil, rather than some sort of vague bull which allows for the hero to be a “good” Diabolist. No, you summon evil shit to kill for you. You’re evil.
The Bad I feel like an odd parallel is being drawn between holy shit evil demons/devils and undead stuff. I get that the class is trying to fill a void wherein a character could be focused on raising undead, but I feel like this has nothing to do with pacts with evil fiends (from a mechanics viewpoint). If it were I creating this, I would have a third path which was just undead stuff. This could be the “Neutral Evil” alignment path.
The Ugly Ok, here it goes, I’m going to say this: Despite the introductory sentence’s declaration, this is a warlock. Sure, an evil-as-shit one, but a warlock all the same. You just assign your Otherworldy Patron to some super evil entity, and that, in turn, changes your spell list around and gives you the Necrotic Touch cantrip. Otherwise, there are no mechanics here that don’t either A) have a perfect mirror as a Warlock feature, or B) can’t be good-enoughed by one.
I was originally intending to knock this review out in one article, but I’m already at 1400 words, and I’ve only finished three of the seven classes. The last four are smaller, so hopefully I can cram them all into a part 2.
Tune in next week!