One of the cardinal sins of fantasy game design is creating a playable clown- or jester-type character. It isn’t that I don’t like clowns, quite the opposite really. I’m not afraid of clowns, I find clowns and mimes entertaining. It’s just easy to get tired of slapstick — and I prefer it mixed in with situation comedy and verbal sparring anyway.

Perhaps my biggest pet peeve when it comes to jesters is the “bomb-throwing” thing they seem to have in fantasy games. I get juggling, even knife-throwing, and some of the wackier stunts, but bombs? Even a pie in the face would be annoying, but not as stupid. “Where does he get this stuff? Why does he even know how to use it?”

Here’s my Jester class for reference:
Essentials Dungeons & Dragons Jester Class (v0.1)

Part of the problem lies in the fact that writing comedy is hard. Writing a good joke character that’s both versatile enough to be funny in a variety of circumstances, and not obstructive so that it becomes repetitive or annoying, is a … not-insignificant undertaking of design. And I might be just a little full of myself.

When I approached the concept, it was at least partly because I was sick of seeing bad jester classes. Timing and effectiveness are important, and making a class not only fun to play, but funny, requires the ability to both perform reliably and to create funny situations. Usually involving movement, missed attacks, and falling down.

I removed the jester’s reliance on gimmicky items, and used magic to hand-wave his ability to create funny (and tactically interesting) situations.

The Shadow magic power source gets very little love in Fourth Edition, and after a good amount of thought, I figured on making the jester exclusively draw from Shadow for his powers. The flavor is that Shadow magic is associated with fate and death (and the Shadowfell), so it made sense to me to borrow ideas from the bard.

I don’t really know what compelled Wizards of the Coast to outfit the bard with so many powers based on misfortune. I prefer the flavor of the skald and the association with the Feywild for the bard, and consequently my jester class is rather cynical and morose by comparison. Which I find hilarious for some reason.

An evil jester could easily be just like Batman’s Joker. Think about that.

This class relies on a party for damage output, unlike most of what I say a controller should be about. I push for this idea that controllers spread lots of damage around, and this class in many ways borders on being a defender. Still, I think the status effects provided by the class more than make up for its lack of damage output.

One of the fun parts of designing the jester was imagining how it would interact with different races. A dragonborn jester might pull enemies in close to roast them with fire breath. An eladrin jester might cause enemies to become clustered and then teleport to safety. Hypothetically, the class should work quite well with other controllers.