I have been working on a Custom Class for D&D 4th edition recently.
After reading over the piece by piece evolution of a custom class by Robert J. Schwalb starting with this article, that has continued up to become the Sohei, I wanted to take the time to go through the elements of the design of my new class.
I decided to take a shot at making a custom class to get a deeper grasp of the mechanics involved in classes in this edition. Classes in 4th edition have continued the trend of increasingly complex character mechanics over the life span of Dungeons and Dragons. Fighters no longer merely roll a d20 and swing their sword round after round. Even the pared-down and simplified 4th edition essentials Slayer has stances and limited use abilities putting it for beyond the complexity of a 1st edition fighter.
The differences between the classes mechanically in 4th edition are largely a culmination of subtle differences. Once the classes are divided into roles it becomes apparent that the differences between classes of the same role are very minute. Amongst defenders, the warden has a few more hit points at each level (7 hit points per level ,9 surges), the paladin has slightly more surges (6 hit points per level, 10 surges) and the fighter is squarely in the middle (6 hit points per level, 9 surges). The warden has more hit points to balance lighter armor (hide) which gives them slightly increased mobility. The paladin and fighter wear heavy armor reducing their mobility but reducing how often they will be hit. The paladin has slightly more surges to counteract using their surges to heal allies with Lay on Hands as part of their secondary leader role. Even stepping outside of roles, on the far end of the spectrum, the wizard (4 hit points per level, 6 surges) represents the lowest end of the scale for hit points and surges, but the difference between the high end and the low of the scale is only a few points (though it is worth noting that hit points will vary dramatically at epics levels regardless of the narrow deviation of hit points per level).
I digress, but the mechanics are tuned to a point that major deviations are highly noticeable.
I am working on a gun-mage class as a striker with a deviant mechanic. Guns in general aren’t significantly more devastating or damaging than crossbows, bows or swords, especially the early black powder weapons. What guns do have is significant penetration power. I think this is better represented by a greater chance of a critical hit than with an increased damage range. However, 4th Edition severely limits the availability critical hit chance enhancements for players.
The striker mechanic for the Gun-mage does not give a direct bonus to damage. Instead, it grants an expanded critical threat range with a small accuracy boost under specified conditions. The striker mechanic class feature is outlined below.
As a minor action, the Gunmage sets his sights on a target magically marking it. The gunmage may only have 1 target in his sights at any given time. When that target is defeated, a new target may be set in your sights.When wielding their magelock weapon the gunmage gains a power bonus to hit against his arcane sights target equal to his [secondary statistic] modifier. If the arcane sights target is within your short range and not adjacent to another creature (except the gunmage themselves), your attacks have a critical hit range of 19-20. This does not stack with other abilities that increase your critical range.This expands to 18-20 at lvl 11 and 17-20 at lvl 21.
The challenge going forward will be in making a class that breaks a conscious choice of 4E design without making a broken class.