Variant Class

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A Variant Class is a mechanic that is applied in RPGs with a distinct class-structure approach; more freeform games, such as Unknown Armies, GURPS, Deadlands, World of Darkness, etc, would have no use for it.

As the name suggests, a variant class is an alternative set of traits and features applied to an existing class for a different interpretation of the class's core concept whilst still retaining greater cohesion. Variant classes are simpler and easier to use than full-fledged alternate classes, because they "piggyback" most of their traits on the existing class. Dungeons & Dragons has long made extensive use of this practice, from the Kits of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons to the openly named variant classes and (closely related but not quite the same) alternate class features of 3rd Edition to the "Archetypes" mechanics of Pathfinder and 5th Edition.

Examples of variant classes in D&D include the Sidhe Scholar (a Druid who learns its lore from fae tutors, giving it unique traits like learning Evil Domain spells) and the Paladins of Freedom, Tyranny and Slaughter (Paladins who must be Chaotic Good, Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil, respectively). Similarly, 4th Edition has the oft-maligned Essentials classes from the latter parts of the edition's lifespan (Usually from the Heroes of X classes) which attempted to simplify the progressions of classes by making overarching features that progressed as the character advanced, but often stripped the character of any choice from the parent class' powers and sticking them with leftovers.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Classes
Player's Handbook: Barbarian - Bard - Cleric - Druid - Fighter - Monk
Paladin - Ranger - Rogue - Sorcerer - Wizard
Player's Handbook II: Beguiler - Dragon Shaman - Duskblade - Knight
Complete Adventurer: Exemplar - Ninja - Scout - Spellthief
Complete Arcane: Warlock - Warmage - Wu jen
Complete Divine: Favored Soul - Shugenja - Spirit Shaman
Complete Psionic: Ardent - Divine Mind - Erudite - Lurk
Complete Warrior: Hexblade - Samurai - Swashbuckler
Dragon Compendium: Battle Dancer - Death Master - Jester
Mounteback - Savant - Sha'ir - Urban Druid
Dragon Magazine: Sha'ir - Deathwalker - Fleshcrafter - Soul Reaper
Dragon Magic: Dragonfire Adept
Dungeonscape: Factotum
Eberron Campaign Setting: Artificer
Heroes of Horror: Archivist - Dread Necromancer
Magic of Incarnum: Incarnate - Soulborn - Totemist
Miniatures Handbook: Favored Soul - Healer - Marshal - Warmage
Oriental Adventures: Samurai - Shaman - Shugenja - Sohei - Wu jen
Psionics Handbook: Psion - Psychic Warrior - Soulknife - Wilder
Tome of Battle: Crusader - Swordsage - Warblade
Tome of Magic: Binder - Shadowcaster - Truenamer
NPC Classes: Adept - Aristocrat - Commoner - Expert - Magewright - Warrior
Class-related things: Favored Class - Gestalt character - Multiclassing
Prestige classes - Variant Classes - Epic Levels