There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Class

A familiar refrain occupied the commentary of MCDM’s Illrigger release:

“Is this different enough from ‘X’?”

Many folks look at the Illrigger and think the Knight of Hell trope is “covered” by other Paladin Oaths (such as the Oath of Conquest or the Oath of Vengeance) or the villainous anti-Paladin Oathbreaker, or even by Warlocks who bargain for fiendish power. And maybe this theme has been explored.

So what?

Just because one version of a theme has been written, doesn’t mean you can’t explore that same space in a new way.

New Setting

Perhaps your theme is rooted in a different world.

This was the case with MCDM’s Illrigger, which draws heavily on Matt Colville’s world, Orden.

It was also the case when I wrote the Psychopomp for Mythic Classes of the Odyssey to coincide with the release of Mythic Odysseys of Theros. Similarly, when I released the Psychopomp, folks in the comments suggested that the theme of death had already been covered for Clerics. Of course it has. It’s an obvious theme to pair with the class. But, it’s being explored in a new thematic space.

Let’s indulge that notion, though. How have Cleric subclasses explored the theme of death? And what can we learn from it?

New Mechanics

The Player’s Handbook Cleric class didn’t have any domains that dealt with the theme of death. But, you could find the Death Domain alongside the Oathbreaker in the Dungeon Master’s Guide‘s Villianous Class Options.

Nonetheless, when Xanathar’s Guide to Everything was released, WotC published a Grave Domain subclass for the cleric.

The Grave Domain doesn’t even use a new setting as an excuse! It’s modeled for use in the exact same generic fantasy world (or Forgotten Realms, if you prefer). What we learn from the Grave Domain is that a new mechanical approach can be enough to justify revisiting an explored theme.

The Grave Domain changes the Death Domain subclass with more interesting mechanics. Whereas the Death Domain boils down to “more necrotic damage”, the themes of the Grave Domain are more expansive; it employs mechanics that actually feel like they’re keeping allies from the brink of death and drawing the life force from their targets, instead of necrotizing everything.

The Lesson

Don’t be afraid to explore an occupied theme! New settings and new mechanics are great justifications for revisiting an explored space. There’s more than one way to skin a class.

You can find more design lessons and support the blog on the ThinkDM Patreon.

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