A couple of weeks ago, I went back through the various sourcebooks to revisit my character’s subclass. I was frustrated with the ranger subclass I’d picked, the Horizon Walker from Xanathar’s.
I chose it early on in our game as our home campaign’s narrative revolves around problems between the planes. It seemed perfectly fitting!
However, I wasn’t seeing very much functionality in the game itself, and I felt like I should switch to something I could use more often.
But Jonathan had a much easier solution: what if we simply included the subclass more?
Perhaps this is overly obvious, but it can be difficult to cater a campaign to a character’s personality, backstory, background, class, and subclass.
Plus, campaigns change over time, so the subclass you picked for a particular setting or narrative may work better for one story arc than another.
Switching subclasses mid-game, unless you’ve just started, is far from ideal. For players, this post aims to help you think of alternatives to changing your character’s subclass. For DMs, this post suggests ways of incorporating the subclass more often and some benefits to doing so.
Ideally, the two of you can collaborate on ways to accentuate the subclass during RP, combat, and in the larger story.
There are two primary ways to incorporate the character’s subclass: in RP/narration and in mechanics.
RP and Narration
This method created an immediate shift for me in our game, and it’s likely also the easiest to incorporate.
Example from Our Game
For a Horizon Walker ranger, one of your primary abilities is to sense portals to other planes of existence. The only problem for us was that, until recently, the planes were closed off.
This created a doubly-fruitful opportunity, however. Jonathan narrated the boundaries between the planes growing thinner and crossover points cropping up in more places with a tingling feeling at the back of my character’s neck as she traveled.
Then, he amplified the situation by including a combat with a dark being from the Feywild who hadn’t been seen in the Elven Realms for hundreds of years.
This shift not only provided character growth and a personalization of my subclass, it also moved the overarching storyline forward and illustrated our characters’ impact on their world!
Each subclass comes with special abilities that add unique mechanics to gameplay. In combat, we want to create situations where the PC can shine and use their special abilities while also presenting them with unique challenges.
Just as you might change an NPC’s spells or hp to adapt them for a particular combat situation, consider adjusting a creature’s abilities to make them a unique challenge or a fitting enemy for your character.
On the flip side, does something about this creature or NPC strike a chord with your character where they’ll react to them differently than the rest of their party? Internal conflict for the character and inside the party are role-play gold!
The player picked this subclass for their character for a reason. And, especially in a duet, the PC shapes the world around them just as much as it shapes them. (Here’s another related post to help you think through that balance in greater detail.)
In addition to shaping NPCs in reaction to the PC’s background or skewing combats for their particular character class, what are some ways you can bring in their subclass?
Questions to Consider
Could the PC encounter “evil” or rival NPCs of their same class? A Circle of Dreams druid meeting a Circle of Spores faction in Ravnica, which exaggerates the differences not only in the druidic class, but also in their subclass.
Can you find an interesting way to incorporate subclass spells or special abilities? Which creatures seem especially cut out for them? Many subclasses will have abilities around undead or fey, for instance.
Do they have a magic item that’s complimentary to their subclass? Could you create something small that might help them take better advantage of their abilities? (Check out some of our magic items in this post!)
What are some of your strategies for incorporating characters’ subclasses in-game? Let us know in the comments below!
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