So, 5e has wizards, sorcerers, warlocks, druids, clerics, not to mention paladins, rangers, arcane knights, and so on. It seems everyone has some access to spells. Which is okay I guess - D&D is a game about magic after all (one day I'll write a post about that, but, consider: there are less than 30 types of melee weapons in the game, and half a dozen fighting styles, but more than 300 spells and as many magic weapons).
However, I the distinction between sorcerers and wizards and warlocks and clerics and druids etc... doesn't really convince me. This is not about 5e, but D&D as a whole; I'm using 5e to illustrate.
The sources of power are different. One studies books to get spells, the other one has spells given by a patron, other by a deity (what if the patron is a deity?), other has magic running in their blood (why can't THEY have any advantages when finding a patron or studying spells), etc.
Each class is tied to one ability: Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma (you can do a muscle-mage or something, but lest stick to the basics here). Ok, the "smart"mage must have Intelligence, but why does the guy that makes deals with obscure deities be so charismatic? Sure, you could say he sweet-talked the ancient demon in giving him powers... but using ancient books to find a demos's true name and binding it is a viable alternative, right? Or at least a cool idea. Of course, Wisdom is usually better than Intelligence or Charisma for reasons discussed here.
There are also spell slots/spell lists. Some classes get more, some classes recover faster, and some can even create new slots on the fly... But there is no reason for the "smart" wizard to be unable to trade some additional spell slots for the ability to recover them faster, for example. Likewise, there are spell lists: some are huge, some are reasonably small, and some are very thematically defined - but it's all quite arbitrary nonetheless.
There are also taboos. Druids cannot wear metal armor. Wizards cannot cast spells in armor (unless proficient). And so on.
Of course, 5e has usually no consequences for spell-casting (except for the Wild Magic table but... those are really bad... which is a whole different subject). My Dark Fantasy Basic has some: you can enrage a deity, cause a spell mishap, forget spells, etc. But, again, this choice doesn't need to be tied to past choices: you could forget a spell that was given by your deity, for example.
In short: there are endless combinations to create with those distinct pieces.
|3.||Spirits||Limited weapons/armor||Enraged Deity|
|d3||Spell list||Ability||Spell slots|
We have more than ONE THOUSAND combinations right there, even if you forbid the most powerful ones (say, for example that Wisdom casters must have few spell slots or a small spell list, or disallow a huge spell list with many spell slots, etc).
- An Int-based Cultist who gets his spells from Chthonic deities, has limited weapons and armor and is subject to insanity.
- A Wis-based Reality Bender who can shape reality through sheer willpower, but cannot used all weapons and get exhausted if his powers are pushed.
- A Cha-based Shaman who communicates with the spirits of the wild, with limited armor, and prone to calling the attention of angry spirits by accident.
- An Int-based White Mage who uses his arcane knowledge of ancient texts to cure the wounded.
And let's try one that I've just generate randomly: 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 3. So, she gets her spells from spirits, must be pacifist, will forget spells when thing go wrong, has a medium-sized spell list, casts with Charisma, and has some spell slots. Obviously some kind of Spirit-courtier, an Old, benevolent Witch, or a Shugenja from older editions.
Change a single roll - say, if her taboo was that she must perform sacrifice - and you've got an evil priest, possibly clad in heavy armor and using a two-handed weapon.
Of course, you don't need to create entirely new classes to play with this - just tweak the existing ones.
Cultist = Intelligence-based Warlock.
Reality Bender = Wisdom-based Sorcerer.
Shaman = Charisma-based druid.
White Mage = Intelligence-based Cleric.
(Just remember my thoughts on Wisdom, as mentioned above).
And so on. But abilities aren't the only thing you have to change - the source of power (which is mostly fluff anyway) can be changed at will. A cleric without a deity, for example, is not difficult to do.
Here is one example from a real campaign I run a while ago:
Mad scientist Iron-man Kobold. This character created himself a magi-tech armor that was pretty much part of his body; he didn't "learn" new spells, but improved his armor to be more powerful and versatile. Unfortunately, the amor would "malfunction" from time to time, with odd consequences. In practice, this was just a Intelligence-based Wild Sorcerer, remade to fit the player's ideas.
What's the point?
More options are usually nice, specially when you do not have to increase complexity to get it - you are not adding any new pieces to the mix, just playing with the ones you already have.