Playbooks & Classes

April 16, 2021

The Playbook in PbtA Games is a streamlined version of Class and Subclass in D&D. I know there's a lot of arguing back and forth on this—often passionately and sometimes dogmatically, but I don't see any difference other than Class elements well-edited and focused down to fit on a couple pages of a Playbook. And don't get me wrong, Playbooks are brilliant game components. A brand new player can sit down, pick one just by an evocative name ("The Savvyhead"), read through the options, special moves, flip it over, read a little more, and be able to play tolerably well. I would argue it's the inviting format along with the design wisdom applied to what goes or stays on the page that makes Playbooks special. It's all there in D&D, but a new player will have to read through the Class information, pick a Subclass, background, proficiencies, and then sort out cantrips and spells for first level from a different part of the Player's Handbook. Playbooks and D&D Classes both represent the rules, constraints, special abilities, roleplaying direction, and fictional bearing for a particular kind of character. A 5e Warlock has a patron—that's built into the Class. They do not have powers of their own, but have negotiated or given themselves to something that provides that power—magic, immunities to conditions, along with a deep fictional base, like how the hell did you come to the attention of one of the most powerful demons in Solgrallen, and what did you trade for a piece of that power? A good DM like a good MC will make sure that comes up in gameplay. Count on it.

One more thing: it's popular in D&D to provide pre-gen characters with a range of classes and everything but the name, maybe background, a few abilities pre-selected. With this approach, a new D&D player doesn't have any more to do than a new PbtA player. There are some great pre-gens on DMsGuild built specifically for new players. The other side of this is an entire session--hours of "play" spent creating the exact character you want to bring to the story, a process many D&D players thoroughly enjoy and prefer. 


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