Designing DL5e: Factions vs. Subclasses


The world of Dragonlance has several iconic elements to it, but perhaps none so much as its factions. You could be a heroic Knight of Solamnia, a villainous Knight of Neraka, or a Steel Legionnaire. Or perhaps you want to be a powerful Wizard of High Sorcery or a faithful member of one of the gods’ holy orders. The list goes on.

In prior editions, the way to handle this would be to create a prestige class (or similar mechanic) to represent the role. Dragonlance was, in my opinion, the poster child for a perfect world for prestige classes. We should just create subclasses to fill all these roles, right?

As I mentioned in the prior article in this series, we must look through the lens of the current system. We could do subclasses for all these roles, such as the Purple Dragon Knight fighter subclass in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. However, this isn’t as elegant of a solution for Dragonlance.

For example, let’s say you want to play a Knight of the Rose. You’re going to have to advance through the Orders of the Crown and Sword Knights first. How do you represent that with just one subclass per class? What about your Wizards of High Sorcery? Do you go with one wizard subclass, or one per order? What if you wanted to take on another arcane tradition?

It gets messy. There’s a better solution.

Let’s take a look at factions. With factions, you can have both typical and atypical members of an organization. Derek Crownguard didn’t have levels as a Knight of Solamnia in 3rd edition because he wasn’t LG in alignment, yet he definitely was a member of the Knighthood. Some prime examples are characters like Bram di Thonn or Galen Pathwarden. Factions accommodate them.

What I propose is that factions are used for broad groupings, then subclasses and/or feats can be used for more specialized roles. For example, any wizard can be a Wizard of High Sorcery (so long as they past the Test), but a wizard may take on the griffon wizard subclass to represent more specialized training.

There really is no one right path here. If you like using subclasses to fill these roles, then go ahead. For the reasons I list above, I would rather focus on factions first.

About Dragonhelm

Trampas “Dragonhelm” Whiteman is best known for co-creating and administering the Dragonlance Nexus fan site. He is co-author of three Dragonlance books – Holy Orders of the Stars, Knightly Orders of Ansalon, and Races of Ansalon. When not evangelizing Dragonlance and other settings, Trampas is a husband, father, podcaster, and web designer. Trampas also enjoys reading comics, reading fantasy and scifi novels, and playing D&D.
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  1. Great piece. I’ve been recently looking back at Saga and AD&D / 3.5 systems and you can see the effort to preserve the unique Dragonlance flavour through the ages based on that approach.

  2. Interesting, I admit that using factions did not cross my mind. The approach I took was to add classes that had pre-requisites. I found this to be a good solution. I do see what you are getting at with exceptions, such as the example you give with Derek Crownguard; however, I prefer to approach unique exceptions such as this one on a case-by-case base. As you so correctly point out, there is no one solid solution which, to me at least, is one reason why I have stayed with D&D since the early 90’s. In other words, the variety of approaches keeps things fresh in my opinion. At any rate, excellent article. I enjoyed the read.

  3. And why not multiclassing? (for knights and similar situations)
    Let’s say:
    – A class thar runs from level 1 to 20 for Knights of the Crown.
    – A class that runs from 10 to 20 for knights of the Sword.
    – A class that runs from 15 to 20 for Knights of the Rose
    (Numbers are made up as I write, take them as an example.)
    This way, you change class as you improve prestige (level), each “brach” has its own characteristics, and you can change from one to another by multiclassing.
    In fact, if I recall correctly, in AD&D it was something like that.

    Other subjects, as Wizards of the Order, I agree with you that it is not so much system-dependant, it could be enough to have factions that limit the access to schools (I cannot imagine a White Robe casting Necromancy spells).

  4. I think this is a great approach. I’ve taken a similar route in the homebrew adaptation of Tyranny of Dragons I’ve been running. It focuses a fair bit on factions of the Realms, which I’ve taken as a template for coming up with the appropriate Krynn based organizations.

  5. As depicted in the novels, membership in one of the three orders was always more of a political decision. I think the faction approach makes sense.

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