I’ve been having a public discussion over at RPGnet with Mike Mearls. He has kindly revealed some of the inspirations for the new 4e classes. Here’s his note in full:
I can’t speak for the design team as a whole, but I definitely had a few specific influences in mind when I worked on 4e. It’s late, so these are a little all over the place. It’s easiest for me to break them down by class, since that was how I approached a lot of the work. Most of my contributions for the core rules centered on designed DM tools, like monster design, the treasure parcel system, stuff like that.
In most cases, D&D itself provided the core for the class. However, fictional characters served a useful role in making sure that the class fit in with what people would expect and want.
Rogue: The Gray Mouser is a 4e rogue. I did a fair amount of work on the class, and Leiber’s Lankhmar stories were my guide. Leiber is easily my favorite fantasy author, and I’ve wanted to play the Gray Mouser in D&D since 1984. IMNSHO, the rogue has been saddled with the status of “class that has to suck since it’s the only one that can deal with traps.” To me, that was always the least interesting and compelling part of the class. I’m fairly happy with how the class turned out.
Other inspirations include Danny Trejo’s character from Desperado (making daggers useful) and Luca Brasi from The Godfather (Strength-based rogue). Cugel the Clever from Vance’s Dying Earth was the inspiration for the Charisma-based rogue.
Fighter: Conan served as a model for a fighter. While he’s (obviously) the ur barbarian, he isn’t much like a *D&D* barbarian. IMO, he’s much more a fighter, multiclassed rogue, with high stats across the board. I wanted the fighter to feel a bit predatory, hence the marking mechanic and free attacks. Only a fool takes his eyes off a fighter.
Ranger: Surprise! Drizzt was a big inspiration for the design direction, as was Legolas from the LotR movies.
Warlock: Dr. Strange was something of an indirect inspiration, filtered through the 3e binder class and a dash of Lovecraft.
Avenger: Ripping aside the ethereal nature of Wolf’s Book of the New Sun and treating it as a comic book of sorts, Severian the torturer was a major influence on this class’s initial feel and direction. Obviously its divine roots steered in a different direction, but I can easily see playing an avenger based on fantasy’s most famous torturer.
Bard: Fflewddur Fflam from Alexander’s Prydain books provided a fair amount of inspiration.
Invoker: As this class shaped up, it became increasingly clear that Gandalf was our best model, both from Tolkien’s books and Jackson’s film version.
That’s off the top of my head. There are more I’m sure, but in a lot of ways D&D has become its own influence. Really, every player comes to the table with his or her own set of expectations, favorite characters, and preferences that pushing D&D too hard in any one fantasy lit direction is a recipe for disaster.
Rob Heinsoo created the warden concept, with Rob Schwalb doing a lot of the design. My one contribution was his “save at the start of your turn” class feature. Story-wise, I think it has its roots in thinking over the primal analog to a paladin, but I can’t say for sure.
Another non-book/media source of inspiration: miniatures. I have tons of metal figs and love painting them. Sometimes, I’d browse through catalogs and look through my collection for inspiration. If there was a figure I really liked it’d help give me ideas.
For instance, the middle tier figure from the Ral Partha 3 Stage Cleric pack has always been the classic representation of a D&D cleric to me.
I’m very grateful to Mike for putting his head above the parapet. Cheers!