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Hybrid Class Month—Week Two (February 2016)
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Hybrid Class Month—Week Two (February 2016)

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Four Horsemen Blog (February 2016)

Hybrid Class Month Week 2 –  Hybrid Class Mechanic

I think Hybrid Class Month has been my favorite theme on the Four Horsemen Blog so far. I loved reading Death’s advice about fear and horror, and I’m in awe of the ease with which Pestilence approaches new ideas. But this month War offers my favorite product in the Four Horsemen presents line, and I love love love new character classes. Over the years, there’s really never been a class I didn’t want to play, and every class allows us to tell a set of unique stories.

Since this month we’re discussing hybrid classes, I want to talk for a minute about creating hybrid classes, specifically about what I think is the single best tool for creating the new class. Cleverly enough, I call this tool the ‘hybrid class mechanic’.

Creating a Hybrid Class

I believe you could randomly pair any two classes by title and unique mechanic and develop a hybrid class with fascinating potential. In Paizo Publishing’s Advanced Class Guide, ten interesting pairings give us iconic classes that serve fun mechanical and storytelling roles without duplicating the effects of another class. I said recently I think you could even combine two classes and develop multiple classes with a unique approach. Consider a class I’ll be writing soon that combines the alchemist and druid class: the venom lord. A venom lord uses alchemy and wild shape to assume poisonous forms (that’s right, poisonous dire bears). By putting that concept on the shelf we could easily produce a bomb throwing shapeshifter that uses a mutagen to adopt a plant or elemental form. A third option might be a medicine man that uses herbology to augment himself or his party. Maybe cure diseases and conditions, throw exploding bombs based on fire seeds, and remove or cause disease. All this from only one combination of two fun classes. Simply throwing out two classes and building a story from their commonality is a great way to produce brand new classes with their own mechanical foci.

Hybrid Class Mechanics

It would be easy enough to simply add the features that serve a class concept, ignore the other ones, and try to balance what the class has gained. However, I’ve found this creates guess work and the tactical applications of some abilities are worth more than their math might indicate in clever hands. For this and other reasons, I prefer classes with what I call a “hybrid class mechanic”—a specific feature that defines much of a class’s ability while producing an effective combined class. A quick look through the Advanced Class Guide shows us several new classes have such a mechanic: arcanists have arcane exploits, shamans have spirits, skalds have raging song, and warpriests have blessings.

One could argue that inspiration is the key combat mechanic for investigators, so that defines the class. Other classes combine mechanics like teamwork feats and animal companions, or flexible feats to compliment close fighting. But my favorite approach is the new mechanic that sets the class apart from neighboring class features. There are several reasons to pursue this sort of mechanical distinction in the classes you want to purchase from publishers (or make for yourself!).

More Than An Archetype

There are archetypes and prestige classes that essentially combine two sets of class features to produce a hybrid class of sorts. Maybe a nonspellcasting class gets a few spells and other thematic abilities. A new class should be more than an amalgam of class abilities to fit a theme, though. The class is unique and other design options (spells, feats, even magical items) open up when a class introduces a completely different mechanic. In fact, the class should inspire its own more narrowly focused archetypes. Take a cleric/rogue hybrid class that empowers a character to act as healer, divine inspirer, and temple defender. Archetypes of that class might focus on one of the three areas: a healer who also removes negative conditions from competing divine sources, a soldier that casts buffing spells and grants her diverse skillset to her allies, or a skulker that rescues forgotten divine relics from abandoned centers of faith. All these concepts fit into the combine themed, making the hybrid class fertile ground for additional options rather than simply combining or modifying features to change existing classes.

Combining Themes into One Rule

This week’s product in the Four Horsemen Present line, Hybrid Class: Fury, combines the barbarian and monk into a tempest-like pugilist who is stronger and faster when pressed beyond control. She combines fast strikes and an adrenaline surge into her defining class feature (called focused rage). Simply having rage AND flurry of blows from her parent classes probably isn’t balanced without throwing away most of the remaining class features. Next week’s product, Hybrid Class: Blasphemer combines some antipaladin auras and bardic performances, but does so in a new mechanic that pursues a theme of dark speech and words of evil. In each case, the specific abilities from the base classes may not be exactly the same, but the concepts that serve the hybrid class are present in the class’s core mechanic. The actual class features (focused rage and wicked words, respectively) provide additional abilities and are more than just applying desirable features from multiple classes. A hybrid class mechanic might modify contributing class features (like focused rage or the skald’s raging song), or it might modify an existing mechanic to suit themes and offer new abilities (like a swashbuckler or renegade’s panache instead of grit). Like this month’s blasphemer and shifu, the mechanic might be a brand new feature that demonstrates mastery of both themes or gives the hybrid class a larger scale.

With these principles in mind, it should be an easy thing to experiment with your own hybrid class combinations, but be careful of balance issues. Be sure to look at the Advanced Class Guide and this month’s Four Horsemen Present classes as guides. Please join us next week! Four Horsemen Present the blasphemer class so you can be truly evil, and Death (Dan Dillon) discusses combining class features in 5th Edition!

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