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What Could Have Been / Dungeons & Dragons

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     4th Edition 
  • When designing 4th edition D&D, the designers decided they wanted to do a Shout-Out to Narnia and the intelligent animal fantasy concept. So originally, the Dragonborn race from 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons was originally supposed to be a race of non-anthropomorphic talking lions based on Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia. The idea was dropped because of questions of how they would handle equipment and they were at first altered into dragons (since they believed Dungeons & Dragons should actually have dragons as a playable race) and then later into humanoid dragons called Dragonborn. (Of course, they weren't called the Dragonborn in the original concept.)
  • Wizards of the Coast's Fantasy Setting Search was a contest that eventually went with Eberron, but quite a few settings were submitted; like Dawnforge, The Sunset Kingdoms, and Morningstar. One of the two runner-ups was developed by Rich Burlew - imagine what might have happened if he had won instead.

     5th Edition 
  • 5th Edition characters were supposed to start off slightly stronger overall, as indicated by the difficulty of early modules like Lost Mine of Phandelver and the Tyranny of Dragons campaigns. For reasons unknown, 1st level characters were made weaker later into development, which resulted in both modules being hit with Obvious Beta issues like overtuned encounters.
  • During 5th edition, new content under the title Unearthed Arcana (UA) is released for playtesting and feedback from players, giving an unusual amount of insight into the design process. Much of it was later released in official books, but some never made it to official release for various reasons, as detailed below.
    • The Mystic class was an attempt to create a 5th edition version of a class that specializes in Psychic Powers such as 3rd edition's Psionic. The class was officially abandoned in favor of instead creating subclasses of existing classes with elements of the Mystic, as backlash towards the class was intense, being criticized for being far too complex (its playtest document was the largest ever UA file by a wide margin, and was the equivalent of trying to fit the entire spellcasting system into a single class) and too powerful (its wide array of powers allowed Mystics to heal better than Clerics and deal more burst damage than Paladins, and be able to fluidly swap between builds instead of needing to specialize in one or the other the way other classes must).
    • College of Satire Bard was a rework of the 'Jester' Bard class kit from 2nd Edition. It was classic court jester, telling jokes to make others laugh while criticizing the powerful. They were very nimble, very lucky, and very likely to troll their enemies. While the theme and flavor of the subclass were well-received, its actual abilities were considered underpowered compared to the rest of the bards.
    • Scout Fighter was a rework of the 'Scout' Fighter class kit from 2nd Edition. They were ranger-like pathfinders, minus the ability to cast spells, but were criticized for using a narrower version of the Battlemaster Fighter's maneuvers. They were eventually reworked into a rogue subclass that was released in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
    • Monster Hunter Fighters were dedicated to slaying monsters such as the undead, lycanthropes, and vampires and were released in a UA based around Gothic heroes. Many found its theme of hunting down and destroying specific monsters to be more fitting for a Ranger subclass, and it later was reworked into the Monster Slayer Ranger that was released in Xanathar's Guide to Everything. The ideas behind it were also later made into the Blood Hunter as well.
    • Primeval Guardian Rangers were rangers who protected the oldest of druidic conclaves and forests and could transform themselves into tree-like people. Some of these design elements were reworked into the Druid and Ranger exclusive spell Guardian of Nature, which allows the caster to transform themselves into either a Beast Man or a Plant Person, with different powers for each form.
    • Protection Domain Clerics worshiped deities concerned with preservation and the defense of the weak. While its mechanics were discarded, its themes eventually became the Unity Domain Cleric, which in turn became Peace Domain and was released in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.
    • Love Domain Clerics worshiped deities of family, friendship, and strong bonds between people. They were able to bolster allies through these deep bonds and induce emotions of infatuation in enemies to distract and weaken them. The subclass was roundly criticized for its strong focus on Mind Manipulation spells and its Channel Divinity ability that allowed the user to induce the Charmed condition on everyone around them. Though the UA itself was careful to refer to any induced feelings as only admiration and infatuation, many felt its abilities were too close to Date Rape for comfort. Its protective abilities were focused on and the thematic from the earlier Protection Domain was brought back to create the rework, Unity Domain. This in turn became Peace Domain and saw offical release in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.
    • Circle of Twilight Druids were dedicated to the cycle of life and death, granting several abilities that allowed them to commune with the dead, fight against the undead, and save and restore life. During playtesting however, it was discovered that due to a quirk of how the low-level spell Magic Missile deals damage, Twilight Druid's level 2 ability "Harvest’s Scythe" can be exploited to deal game-breaking amounts of damage with a single spell that is guaranteed to hit. This build was commonly called the Nuclear Druid (because it could nuke anything it wanted into oblivion), and was likely the reason Circle of Twilight never saw offical release. note 
    • Brute Fighters were Fighters who banked on their own might and durability to make it through a battle. While some enjoyed being able to get through every battle by just beating the ever-loving hell out of everything, its gameplay was criticized as being too similar to the existing Champion Fighter and it was discarded.
    • Way of Tranquility Monks focused on peaceful mediation and see violence as a last resort. Their ability to heal people in bursts without spells was eventually given to the Celestial Warlock, while the flavor of a pacifist who only fought if necessary was combined with Redemption Paladin. A healing Monk (with smaller but more sustainable heals rather than large bursts) would eventually be returned to with the Way of Mercy Monk.
    • Oath of Treachery Paladins were those who had either forsworn other oaths or only cared for their own power and survival, and were a reworking of the classic Blackguard anti-paladin class. The closest to an 'evil' Paladin class that was officially released were Oathbreakers (who are explicitly Paladins who break their oaths and turn to serving evil) in The Dungeon Master's Guide and Oath of Conquest in Xanathar's Guide to Everything.
    • The Ranger class as a whole was much-maligned upon release for its dependence on the spell Hunter's Mark and overly narrow and specific abilities that rarely if ever came up in most campaigns led it to lag behind the other classes in power. Over the years several official reworks were proposed and discarded. The most polished of these was the Revised Ranger, which though seen as a much-needed improvement, was criticized by some for pushing things too far in the other direction without fixing the Ranger's issues of being too situational. The optional class features in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything were generally considered the superior options... except for its replacement of Favored Enemy.
    • A set of three elemental Sorcerer subclasses were released together: Sea (water), Phoenix (fire) and Stone (earth). Despite favorable feedback none ever saw official release; it is speculated that as Draconic Sorcerers often specialized in fire damage Phoenix was considered redundant with it, and that Sea Sorcerers were seen as redundant with Storm Sorcerers, but no reason was ever given for why they were never released, leaving them all underpowered compared to later releases.
    • Giant Soul Sorcerers were Sorcerers whose ancestors were blessed by the giants. They were an attempt to make Sorcerers able to survive in melee, and had different abilities based off of what type of giant had blessed them. This concept was eventually expanded and became the Rune Knight Fighter subclass.
    • The Seeker patron for Warlocks was a pact with a powerful being who blessed them with power in exchange for helping their patron discover lost knowledge. It came with a unique pact boon exclusive to that subclass, the Star Chain, that was was considered interesting but mechanically inferior to the existing options.
    • Theurgist Wizards were those melded the scholarly pursuits of wizardry and religion as a sort of counter-part to the Arcana Domain Cleric. As Wizards were already considered to one of if not the most powerful classes in 5th edition, giving them access to Cleric spells and abilities in addition to their own made them far too powerful and the class was scrapped for overshadowing actual Clerics.
    • School of Invention Wizards were wizards who sought to push arcane magic to its limits and were regarded as savants or lunatics. Fittingly, their core ability Reckless Casting was prone to wild and unpredictable effects, which many didn't want from a class based on being a Badass Bookworm.
    • Artificer Wizards were the first attempt to create Artificers in 5th edition. However the concepts desired in Artificer were too broad to fit into a single subclass and it was expanded into its own full class, with most of Artificer Wizard's abilities being absorbed into the main class and its potion-making going into the Alchemist subclass.
    • Onomancy Wizards were those who gained power over others through use of their true name. Unfortunately, 5th edition doesn't have any established mechanics for learning a creature's true name, leaving Dungeon Masters scrambling to figure out how to make Onomancers work without either making learning a true name trivially easy and overpowered, or else leave many of their subclass abilities totally useless.
    • Lore Master Wizards were wizards who focused learning about and manipulating the theoretical aspects of magic. They were widely complained of as being better Sorcerers than Sorcerers were, as their abilities to alter their own spells were extremely similar to Sorcerer's Metamagic class ability but didn't cost them resources the way Metamagic did Sorcerers. Additionally, their ability to change what ability score their spells targeted allowed them to exploit spells such as Hold Person and make them game-breakingly powerful. A more limited amount of their abilities were later adapted into the Order of Scribes subclass.
    • Originally, the "Gothic Lineages" UA originally had each of the three options (Dhampir, Reborn, and Hexblood) classified as two creature types. While all were listed as Humanoid, Dhampir's also had Undead, Reborn could choose between Undead or Construct, and Hexblood had Fey. When all three were released as part of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft sourcebook, all three were changed to one creature type, with Hexblood being the only one to keep a unique typing (Fey over Humanoid). Why these was changed has not been stated, but it is believed to be because of the balancing issues that resulted from the option to having two unique creature types, since spells or effects could conflict with them (such as Turn Undead potentially having a negative creation to a Reborn character).
    • The "Mages of Strixhaven" UA was designed around introducing unique subclasses that, instead of being limited to a single class, were available to certain classes and had the same abilities regardless of the class you picked originally save the specific class features. For example: a Mage of Lorehold was available to Bard, Warlock, and Wizards while Mage of Prismari was available to Druid, Sorcerer, and Wizard, with each one giving unique abilities per subclass. The reaction to them was almost universally negative due to awkward balancingnote , gimmicky abilities, and not truly offering enough to justify using them over normal subclasses. They were announced as being discontinued with some of the ideas being repurposed as Feats when the Strixhaven module would come out.
  • Oath of Redemption Paladins originally had Unarmored Defense, and their illustration in Xanathar's Guide to Everything still shows them wearing no armor despite that ability being removed when they were published.
  • The "Modern Magic" supplement was an attempt to make a modern Urban Fantasy setting, including unique 'technomagic' spells and modern or futuristic subclasses. City Domain Clerics worshiped gods of community and civilization, Ghost in the Machine Warlocks made deals with powerful digital beings, and Technomancy Wizards interwove their magic with technology.
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