I run a weekly D&D campaign that meets on Monday nights. Almost exactly one week ago, I prepared an encounter with four unique elite monsters that drew their powers from the marshal, paladin, weaponmaster, and runepriest classes. Admittedly, none of these are simple character classes by any stretch of the imagination.

However, I noticed something interesting while running stripped-down “monster” versions of the character classes, particularly with at least one of them (the paladin) represented on each side of the playing field. They had no identity. There was nothing special or significant about them. Not the player characters, the monsters.

Of course, each of them had meaning to me, as a game master, and as the one who built them, but none of the monsters had any identity. I mean, they had personality, they had character, … but on the battlefield, they had nothing. The paladin’s smite was trivial, kind of meaningless, and the others… never had anything.

I’ve been replaying Borderlands (the first one, obviously, not the second one), and though there are some of what I would call “identity” problems in that game, I think it does a better job than Fourth Edition. It made me go back and question, “what’s in a class?” What makes a class, a character class.

However far I thought I had gotten “ahead” of Wizards of the Coast in terms of design philosophy, I’ll have to give them this one: they’re probably right about Fifth Edition. Characters have gotten unnecessarily complicated and their core concepts diluted with too many options and powers. They get the tip of the hat.

Maybe I’m getting rusty, I don’t know. I think I should have figured it out before. Maybe I did figure it out before and now I’m stumbling over an old subject thinking it’s new.