A friend and I are embarking on a little project for fun: creating a new class for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. We have already referred to the DMG section about modifying classes and races etc.

Background info that may or may not be relevant:

Class concept: Alchemist. Brews Potions that mimic spell slots of casters (for this part we created a spell list like those for the other classes using spells from the PHB and official supplements.)

Unique cantrip system: The Alchemist is unique in that he can mix and match elemental regents in the heat of battle to create "cantrips" with various effects. These scale from 1d4 damage at level 1 to 4d6 damage at level 20.

I am just looking for a way or method of checking to make sure our class isn't too strong or weak when compared to other Spellcasting classes.

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    Similar questions for for 3.5e and for Pathfinder. In particular, I strongly doubt there are any real “metrics” so a lot of it is going to be the same kind of comparison with existing material, playtesting, and so on. – KRyan May 14 '15 at 0:00
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    Extremely useful. – Miniman May 14 '15 at 0:02
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    I'm not sure if this can be answered objectively – ohmusama May 14 '15 at 2:19
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    It would be helpful when crafting my own answer if you could clarify specifically why the existing information provided by the DMG is insufficient to answer your question. – Dyndrilliac May 14 '15 at 7:19
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    @Dyndrilliac I was looking for something along the lines of Avg Hp, Dmg output etc for all levels. things like that. the DMG has good info and we used it, but I'm bad at math and wondering if there is an easy way to check the numbers – MC_Hambone May 15 '15 at 3:35
up vote 14 down vote accepted

'Balance' covers more than just 'balance', if you see what I mean

It's a good thing to ask whether your creation balanced, as in whether it is more or less powerful than existing options.

But there's also the question of balance as in 'is a good addition?', 'is it out of place?' 'is it useful?', 'could it even have been published in 5e in the first place?' and wider questions. I'll address the latter first.

Why are you adding it?

If the answer is as simple as "because it's fun to try and make stuff", fair enough, by all means homebrew it, and if you're with a bunch of mates rolling around casually, then often no-one's going to mind. Homebrewing new content can be enormous fun for the brewer. I make new classes all the time.

However, for a more serious campaign where balance is being considered carefully, as it sounds you are, then a lot of fellow players [or your own players, if you're DM], might want more justification than that. And to do that, you need to answer 'yes' to the following questions:

  • Does it let my play a character (as in mechanically) I otherwise couldn't?
  • Does it let me play a character (as in person) I otherwise couldn't?
  • DM: Does it add to the story of, or the story happening in, the world?

I've found most players and DMs are as concerned with 'why' than the nuances of power balance. The more detailed and difficult questions you need to think about for the latter are as follows:

(Please note I discuss these aspects of balance checking generally, using hypothetical examples and those from my own homebrew, before discussing the Alchemist specifically each time.)

"Does my class step on another class's (story) toes?"

This depends on how specialist you want classes to be. Are you aware of the 3.5 'Basic' variant where there were 3 classes? (Warrior, Expert, and Spell caster?). The 5E basic rules divide spellcaster into Arcane and Divine. The 5E full rules split arcane into two, divine in two, and warrior into three (fighter, barbarian and monk) before adding magic.

In my high-magic, high-tech, gods-at-war setting, I have added two new divine classes, a Favoured (Soul) and an Invoker (or 'Siphon', TBC). These are just making new specialisms of 'Divine Caster'. The Favoured is a servant of a deity, just as a Cleric is. Oh! I'm stepping on story toes. Or am I?

In my setting, Clerics are trained, organised servants of the pantheon, whereas Favoured characters are untrained, devoted to one master above all. So am I interfering with the Cleric's role? Certainly some PCs and NPCs who would have been Clerics might now be Favoureds. I'm stealing some of the Cleric's player base, perhaps. Is that a problem?

If your class is stealing a player-base (even just for story purposes), it is something to be aware of and that many could be uncomfortable with. But then, introducing Bard, Sorceror and Warlock into the basic rules is stealing the Wizard's players. The Nature Cleric and Ranger steal Druid players. Where do you draw the line?

I would draw the line here:

  • The class does not replace an existing one, even if it takes some players (unless, for example, gods and Clerics don't exist in your world, so you make a Runepriest as an arcane gish/buffer/healer)
  • The class does add a mechanical way of playing the alternative character type (this could be a mechanical combination, rather than a unique feature. See the example of my Adept class below.)

Does your Alchemist step on another class's (story) toes?

Are you stepping on any story toes with an Alchemist? I would say no. Casting a spell (examples: fireball, teleport) is not the same as alchemy (which goes wider than just potions - we could be talking self-augmentations, poisons, skin grafts, who knows?).

When people say "Just play a Wizard and call it alchemy"...

Opening asker, if you think, like me, that a character should be able to say "I'm a Dwarf Alchemist, behold my concoction!" instead of "I'm a Dwarf Wizard and this Fireball is actually me throwing a bomb really far", then your Alchemist isn't stepping on story toes.

"Does my class step on another class's (mechanical) toes?"

Ah, now we have to express our class's unique place in our story with a unique place in the mechanics. Probably: but on the condition you're not performing another class's mechanical role better, you may not have to be that unique to still have an acceptable class.

Let's take a setting which is relatively peaceful... why the heck should all clergy automatically have armour and weapons? Let's make a 'Priest' or 'Adept' class. Take the Cleric, strip out all armour and weapon abilities (including in the domains, maybe adding Divine Strike to cantrips), and give them Divine Recovery.

Yes, a lot of the time we're playing one of a Cleric's mechanical roles (buffer/healer), but then so do the Bard and Druid. Do we have a mechanical difference which reflects their story role?

Giving them Divine Recovery means their key mechanical difference is ingrained in the story difference. A Cleric is great at being in battle. Our Priest/Adept needs rest - needs peace and quiet. As the whole point is that we're making a peace-time, no-trained-for-battle sort of divine agent, the mechanic fits the story perfectly, even if it's not that unique.

Even when stepping on toes a bit, if your mechanic is at least a bit different, and mechanically expresses a story difference, then it's probably alright.

"Does your Alchemist step on another class's (mechanical) toes?"

Hmm. Are we stepping on the Wizard's mechanical toes? It depends on what mechanic you use.

As you're using spell slots, you need to ask yourself how that mechanic is actually reflecting a story difference between alchemy and wizardry. Personally my thought would be to only duplicate low level spells (2nd attacks, 3rd buffs, or something), but have it almost at will. Why, if I can make and carry one fireball-potion today, can't I make one a day for a week and then go nova with 7 when the fight comes? If I'm going adventuring, why can't I have a backpack full or kit?

Perhaps the alchemical components spoil, AND require the brewer's own blood, or something along those lines. I'm toying with an alchemist myself, and one possible idea is to make the proficiency or constitution bonus worth of potions etc. on a short rest, which last 8 hours before spoiling. (This is in addition to duplicating cantrips as long as they have a standard toolkit on them).

Is it too powerful? Is it too weak, or partially too weak?

Honestly that all depends on what you do with duplicating spells. If you're duplicating up to Fireball (which would be really nice), maybe you should only be able to get that at-will at level 18-20, because that's when a Wizard gets level 3 spells at-will. However, level 1 and 2 spells, the Warlock gets at earlier levels.

Your cantrip system up to 4d6 is less damage than other classes. Even if he can whip out literally any elemental type, bear in mind other get 4-6 cantrips so could have most elemental types available whenever they want. Just make it elegant. (going from 1d4 to multiple d6s is a bit odd: keep the 4 or 6 consistent)

It is hard to give you feedback without seeing more - but then it's probably hard for you to make more without getting feedback, I know.

Note, I've compared mostly to the Wizard, but if you brew stuff on a short rest or something, you will need to compare to the Warlock or Cleric Domains too.

As an exercise to try out balance, put your class in a hypothetical story situation and compare her to how a Wizard/Warlock/Trickery Cleric or whoever would do.

  • Level 5: A mob of bandits descend on your caravan. Defend yourself! (Compare: Wizard's Fireball, Cleric's Haste on the caravan guards). How do your Alchemist's class features compare in a straight up mob fight?
  • Level 10: The enemy are executing a flank attack. A company of hobgoblins will be crossing the long, fragile stone bridge leading to the village in one hour's time. (Compare: Illusionist making the bridge look out, Druid summomning creatures to re-flank their column) Maybe your Alchemist can cast Fireball but as a ritual, and take out the bridge or something. How does your class handle a large choke-point defence with some time to prepare?
  • Level 15: The cult of the stonelord have taken up position in an old dwarf fortress. We can either assault the battlements or try and infiltrate an abandoned mineshaft under the water supply. (Compare: Wizard puts greater invisibility on a strike team, Bard makes a mass suggestion for one sub-faction to fight another, Sorceror sends Careful Spelled cloudkill, incendiary cloud, chain lightning, etc., as mob clearance) Can your class take on one of these roles and do it as well? Could they do several of these but not as efficiently each? Can they add something new? (Poison the water supply? Transform the overhanging cliff into a tsunami of acid?)

Maybe you can't come up with a specific plan, but thinking over those scenarios should help you decide what your class should and shouldn't be able to do, so you can think "Actually, if I give her delayed blast fireball, that just makes me a Wizard with Con instead of Wis, so maybe I'll make all her spectacular effects require preparation and slow application"

I hope that gives you some ideas to think about for balancing homebrew classes generally and some specific feedback on your Alchemist ideas.

There aren't really hard rules for balance. The main question you want to ask yourself is, "Does this class make another obsolete?" If the new class fills a particular role better than an existing class, it is probably overpowered.

That said, I'm not a fan of adding new classes. If someone wants to play an Alchemist, I'd just as soon let them play a Wizard or Sorcerer and call their spells potions. Between the existing classes, backgrounds, and feats, there are plenty of options for just about any character concept.

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    This is an excellent answer because it makes a subtle but crucial point: if you want to make a new class easily from an old class but must, at any cost, balance it with pre-existing options then copying one verbatim and changing the names of things is best way to start. – Dyndrilliac May 14 '15 at 7:39

Compare your homebrew content with the official content. Without any clarification regarding why the existing information provided by the DMG is insufficient to answer your question, I have to base this answer purely on the background information that you've given (including a brief description of the class concept you are looking to fulfill) and compare that concept to existing official content.

Based on that concept-content comparison, I have to conclude that it is almost identical in nature (although significantly different enough in implementation that it might give you pause) to the Artificer, which has recently been given a preview update for the latest 5E rules set along with other iconic pieces of the Eberron setting.

So, compare your Alchemist class to the Artificer class. Keep in mind that this is merely a preview/play-test of future content that will be finalized if/when Wizards of the Coast releases an Eberron setting book. It still may have design and balance issues, but at least the game's designers have given it their seal of approval.

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    The artificer was acknowledged as not being a good conversion, and they are working on a new one. – GMNoob May 15 '15 at 8:48
  • Also, there is no indication that they will be releasing an eberron settings book. More likely they will release an adventure that takes place in ebberon, but not for a few years. – GMNoob May 15 '15 at 9:03

I have the solution to your problem. I found an article on reddit that helped me create my 5e hombrew class. I'll send you it so it can help you later on.

https://www.reddit.com/r/UnearthedArcana/comments/73sfp1/class_design_101_a_fundamental_guide_to_5th/

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    Welcome to RPG.SE! It would be very nice if you could edit this answer to include the most important points from the linked source. Links can get out-dated which would leave this answer pretty much meaningless. The idea is to find an answer to a question directly, not to be directed to other places where you might find additional tips. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Secespitus Dec 8 '17 at 9:09

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