I’m a bit late to the party here, but recently Wizards of the Coast (creators of D&D 5e) posted a fairly well put-together outline for a new Prestige Class for 5th edition in their Unearthed Arcana series. This will open the floodgates for homebrewed Prestige Classes
For those of you that don’t know, Unearthed Arcana is a series of articles in which WotC talks about some content that they are testing out to add to the base 5th edition game as expansion content. Some examples of the content in UA are new races, new class archetypes, new monsters, etc. They’re a really great series of articles and I know I will be allowing my players to use a few of the additions in our upcoming campaign.
Opinion Piece Starts Here
Prestige Classes may be where I draw the line for my players, at least for this session. For reference, there has only been a single Prestige Class released in UA thus far and it is called the Rune Scribe. The Prestige Class itself, for the most part, is pretty cool and unique and fairly well balanced for the first run through of the class. I don’t have a problem with Rune Scribe being in the game. I have an issue with Prestige Classes being added to 5e.
Before 5e, I was an avid player of 3.5e which is where the skepticism comes from. Prestige Classes were a HUGE aspect of the game. You had to plan your character around the future Prestige Class you desired to become from the very first level. Feats, skills, and even Alignment had a factor in your Prestige. It worked very well with 3.5e at first just because of how great of edition 3.5 was for min/maxing a character out.
Then the game was out on the shelves for a few years. Countless supplementary books were added to the canon and a plethora of homebrews were thrown onto the internet. The home brews aren’t the problem. I won’t judge that. It’s the many Prestige Classes added and the subsequent power creep that ensued.
Power creep is when something newer in a game is it a monster or player is just completely better than older versions of this same thing. This happens in card games such as Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering because of the vast amount of cards being added to the game. The Prestige Classes in D&D had/have similar problems with power creep because each class should be more unique than what is currently in the game.
For 3.5 Prestige Classes work very well because the base classes are pretty basic in general. You essentially had to rely on Prestige Classes to increase your character’s overall power AND their overall flavor.
But 5e Has Archetypes
I absolutely LOVE Archetypes. They allow the player to flesh out their character from the get-go. Not just from a lore or background perspective, but from a gameplay perspective as well. You could have a party of all one class and none of them be the same.
Once you choose an Archetype your character development choices inside of that Archetype are minimal. You may have a choice between a handful of abilities depending on the archetype. Notable exceptions of this being things like Warlock Invocations or Way of the Four Elements abilities. Multiclassing is a great way to further change your character up a bit in 5e thus far.
I’d prefer if they just kept all of the new Prestige Classes as Archetypes or hell, new Classes and Archetypes. Rune Scribe would fit very well as a Bard Archetype in my opinion. In my opinion, I feel that this is just a better system to use rather than attempting to reintroduce Prestige Classes to the game when quite frankly, they don’t fit well.
What’s the difference between Prestige Classes and Archetypes?
That’s the thing, there is not much of a difference between the two at face value. The difference is that a Prestige Class has a lot more requirements. These include the player’s total level, minimum ability scores numbers, and special requirements like a quest.
Archetypes just require you to have a certain amount of levels (1-3 depending on the class) in a class. Honestly, there really is not much of a difference between Archetypes and Prestige Classes presently.
The quest/achievement idea is cool. Generally, my campaigns have guilds or factions that players can attempt to join, so incorporating this isn’t an issue. The total level requirement is not a huge deal either. It’s the ability score requirement that I dislike as it sets a poor standard.
Requiring specific feats or having a certain amount of skill points works in 3.5e where you get ample opportunities to improve these. In 5e you have to choose between an ability score increase or a Feat. At max level, a character can have between 4-6 ability score increases. You also get very few chances to allocate proficiency in a skill in 5e.
I fear that this requirement will force players to 100% plan their character based upon their Prestige Class. You sacrifice the freedom of playing an interesting character by planning out levels 1-20 in order to not miss out on your build. If this interests you, take a look at 3.5e as that is for sure the edition to play that way.
I could be completely wrong about all of this and everything will turn out to be fine. Presently, I will avoid using Prestige Classes at least until we know how they will work in 5e.