Building the Perfect Class

Zero-level NPCs

Creating new and balanced classes for any campaign

Play D&D long enough, and it’s inevitable that you’ll want (or need) to tweak an existing character class or create one of your own. There are many approaches to doing so, but if you’re like me (i.e., you have OCD and believe that everything can be represented by numbers), you want a process that’s consistent, that meshes with the existing rules, and that doesn’t take a lot of time (because maybe you want to add many classes to your campaign). Luckily (and largely because I have OCD), this article provides just that process, which allows you to create or customise any class you want, using any race and a variety of abilties, all without unbalancing your campaign.

Getting Started

For brevity, the class creation instructions are located in the PDF attached to this article, Building the Perfect Class. I suggest you download the article, read it thoroughly, and follow the instructions given. But since no one actually reads manuals, here’s the short version:

How it Works

Building the Perfect Class assumes that each class is, in dry terms, a collection of abilities and that every ability can be represented by an XP value. If you total the XP for each ability, you can figure out how many experience points are needed for each level. The trick to achieving game balance with the canonical classes is making sure each ability’s XP value is consistent. To do this, I reverse-engineered each class by breaking out component abilities and assigning XP values until my results matched the level advancement tables. While this probably isn’t how the classes were built, the results (with one notable exception) were sufficiently precise to form a solid foundation.

With consistent XP values known, one could then mix and match abilities to create new classes, or simply customize classes that already existed. The PDF article explains how to do this, but it’s a very simple process: because I bothered to “show my work,” it actually takes more time to read the material than to simply crank out a few examples.

Quick and Dirty

To speed things along, you can use the attached Excel spreadsheet (class_xp.xls), which contains all the abilities, XP values, and experience point tables from the article. Just open the spreadsheet and start creating your own classes in the section titled, “Enter Your Classes Below.”

Final Note

I’m always interested in the classes people create, mostly because we all have different interpretations of what a “ranger” is, or what weapons a halfling thief is allowed to use. There are certainly no wrong answers, and the system here is infinitely scalable. So when you’re done building your perfect class, follow our posting guidelines to share it on this site. I’d love to see what you come up with!

UPDATE – Dec 24, 2013

I’ve added a revised XP Calculator to remove zero-XP values (this prevents munchkins from gaming the system with 0XP requirements). To make the numbers work, I combined the “Special I” and “Special II” categories, and broke out “bundled” skills, like thief and mystic abilities. As a result, the categories and values don’t precisely match those described in the PDF. On the plus side, this approach provides greater parity for the Magic-User class. Enjoy!

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6 thoughts on “Building the Perfect Class

  1. Interesting work. However that’s not really how classes were built by Gary, Dave and Co. . They were eyeballed and built with a theme in mind, then gradually adjusted in abilities, mechanics and XP requirements until they all seemed viable (at least as far as how Gary played). Even with his higher XP the MU is the most ‘powerful’ core class, and the Thief is mediocre, but they’re both playable and archetypal, which was the point. The XP tables for the Elf in the Rules Cyclopedia are also way too high.
    There’s nothing more subjective than balance and fairness. I hardly even use Dungeons in my game, play with small parties who don’t bother/needn’t be have one of every class and encourage combat avoidance, which makes Charm Person about the most powerful ability there is. I think getting to create mechanical/numerical equivalence ignores a very simple fact: there is no a priori situation or goal in an RPG. Trying to find equivalence in inequality is the brain damage of liberalism, heh, every equality creates an inequality in another dimension. It’s literally meaningless.

    1. Hi Urizen,

      I hear you – early editions of D&D really didn’t bother much with balance. And, as the article states, I’m confident that the game authors used no such system to assign XP requirements.

      That said, I challenge your assertion that it’s “literally meaningless.” Just because a style of play eschews enforced balance doesn’t invalidate the exercise’s findings. There is a pattern behind the XP numbers – albeit unintended – and if one is so inclined, one might make use of that pattern to provide a level of balance found lacking (should it be desired).

      My goal in “reverse engineering” the classes is to provide a consistent set of values for those who want it, perhaps because they’re not comfortable eyeballing new classes, or because they lean toward the OCD side of things (like me). Plus it was a fun effort in Being A Nerd. But by all means, it’s not an apologist stance on the need for game balance, particularly where balance is not a priority.

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