Thursday, June 4, 2015

5e Mechanical Differentiation

To start with, and I will repeat this later, mechanical differentiation isn't important except to the people for whom it is important. Since the sources of enjoyment in the hobby are subjective, that means what is important is subjective as well. But, that said, on with the little analysis I spent time on when I could have been moaning about my current bout with writer's block.


Mechanical differentiation is points where a character can make themselves different from other characters who had taken the same previous choices. For example:

Race and class are significant points of mechanical differentiation, whichever one you start with. A dwarven bard will play differently from a dwarven cleric or a dwarven fighter. Likewise an elven fighter is somewhat different than a human fighter. As you move on, say with two human fighters, you have a differentiation point at first level when they can choose different Fighting Styles. A Fighter with Archery would be different from a Fighter specializing in Great Weapons. Then at 3rd Level, you might have the point where two human archery fighters have to choose between Champion, Eldritch Knight and Battle Master.

Before I go on, I should note that mechanical differentiation is not really important. It is entirely possible to take two mechanically identical characters and have them play entirely differently via purely fluff considerations. Take two human great weapon champions, even give them the same weapons and backgrounds, let's say greatsword and soldier with Athletics, Intimidation, Survival and History. One might be knight with a lot of official training and education by noble teachers while the other is a frontiersman with a lot of practical experience and anecdotal historical knowledge. These two characters might have identical characteristics but completely different personalities.

So, to repeat, mechanical differentiation is not important....that is, except to people for whom it is important. There are people for whom being differently mechanically is just as important as being different in terms of story and personality.

So with that in mind, I'm going to analyze the different classes and their archetypes for points where there are choices which can significantly differentiate the mechanics of one character of from another of the same type.

For this purpose, I'm skipping the races. Race is always going to a point where there is some significant differences between two characters of the same class. Likewise, two characters of the same race are easily differentiated by class.

For the same reason, I am skipping backgrounds.

Ability Score Improvements always represent a point of possible mechanical differentiation. However, in a lot of cases there is a limit to how much you can diverge from a standard advancement scheme and still be effective enough at your class's role. Allowing feats makes these points significantly more capable at differentiating a character's mechanical capabilities. That said, some classes have multiple viable Ability Score builds. Fighters, for example are equally viable focusing on Dexterity or Strength dependent on other choices.

This leaves the places where I am looking at points of differentiation within the classes and archetypes.

Barbarian
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 2 Primal Paths
    • Berserker
      • No further points of significant differentiation
    • Totem Warrior
      • Totem Spirit
      • Aspect of the Beast
      • Totemic Attunement

Bard
  • 3 Skills
  • 4 Cantrips
  • 22 Spells
  • 4 Expertise Choices
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 2 Colleges
    • Valor
      • No additional points of significant differentiation.
    • Lore
      • 3 Skill Proficiencies
      • 2 Spells

Cleric
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Cantrips
  • Spells do not present a chance for significant differentiation as all clerics get the same spells available save for what they get from domain which are presented below.
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 7 Domains
    • None of the Domains present further options for mechanical differentiation.

Druid
  • 2 Skills
  • 4 Cantrips
  • As with clerics, spells do not present a chance for significant differentiation due to having pretty much the same spells as any other druid save for Circle of the Land druids.
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 2 Circles
    • Circle of the Land
      • 8 Terrain Choices
      • 1 additional Cantrip
    • Circle of the Moon
      • No additional differentiation options.

Fighter
  • 2 Skills
  • 1 Fighting Style
  • 7 Ability Score Improvements
  • 3 Archetypes
    • Battle Master
      • 9 Maneuvers
    • Eldritch Knight
      • 3 Cantrips
      • 13 Spells
    • Champion
      • 2nd Fighting Style

Monk
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 3 Traditions
    • Way of the Open Hand
      • No additional points of differentiation
    • Way of the Shadow
      • No additional points of differentiation
    • Way of the Four Elements
      • 4 Elemental Disciplines

Paladin
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • Spellcasting suffers the same problem as with clerics and druids. Aside from Oath differences, all Paladins have the same spells.
  • 3 Oaths
    • Oath of Devotion
      • No further points of differentiation.
    • Oath of the Ancients
      • No further points of differentiation.
    • Oath of Vengeance
      • No further points of differentiation.

Ranger
  • 3 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 3 Favored Foes
  • 11 Spells
  • 1 Fighting Style
  • 3 Favored Terrains
  • 2 Archetypes
    • Hunter
      • Hunter's Prey
      • Defensive Tactics
      • Multiattack
      • Superior Hunter's Defense
    • Beast Master
      • Choice of Companion

Rogue
  • 4 Skills
  • 6 Ability Score Improvements
  • 4 Expertise choices
  • 3 Archetypes
    • Assassin
      • No additional differentiation options
    • Arcane Trickster
      • 3 Cantrips (Mage Hand is chosen for you making 4 total)
      • 13 Spells
    • Thief
      • No additional differentiation options.

Sorcerer
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 6 Cantrips
  • 15 Spells
  • 4 Metamagic Options
  • 2 Origins
    • Draconic Bloodline
      • 10 Draconic Ancestries
    • Wild Magic
      • No additional differentiation points.

Warlock
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 4 Cantrips
  • 15 Spells
  • 8 Invocations
  • 4 Mystic Arcanums
  • 3 Patrons
    • Archfey
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Fiend
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Great Old One
      • No additional differentiation points.
  • 3 Pacts
    • Pact of the Chain
      • Choice of Familiar
    • Pact of the Tome
      • 3 Cantrips
    • Pact of the Blade
      • Choice of Weapon

Wizard
  • 2 Skills
  • 5 Ability Score Improvements
  • 5 Cantrips
  • Spells lie somewhere between the issue with clerics and the classes that have to choose select spells. Potentially all Wizards have access to the same spells.
  • 2 Signature Spells
  • 8 Traditions
    • Abjuration
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Conjuration
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Divination
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Enchantment
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Evocation
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Illusion
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Necromancy
      • No additional differentiation points.
    • Transmutation
      • No additional differentiation points.

Also note that one can add additional differentiation by multiclassing if your campaign allows it (5e considers it an optional rule).

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