Friday, November 13, 2015

Get Off My Lawn: Too Many Damn Classes

So, this blog post is going to be a bit hypocritical - and you know what? I'm OK with that. I'll preface this by saying I recognize that I have written somewhere around 70 variant classes for Labyrinth Lord to combat the exact thing I'm about to discuss, but I think part of the reason I wrote them was to address the issue in a way that was satisfactory to everyone involved. What is this issue, you ask?

Character classes. I'm pretty minimalist when it comes to character class. I really enjoy games that keep the number of player character classes down. It just makes life easier.
So, why is it that the more modern gamers and more modern incarnations of fantasy role playing games feel the need to include what seems to be a damn-near infinite number of classes for use by the players? Why is there an inherent lack of satisfaction with a the simple selection of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief? Add non-humans (in either their Race-as-Class or Race-with-Class incarnations) and I feel like you've got a solid foundation from which you can create a fun character for a D&D game.

That being said, I recognize why classes like Assassins, Druids, Illusionists, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers were added. They add flavorful versions of the "core four" classes to help give the game a little spice - along with some mechanical variation. But are extra classes necessary? Do they genuinely add much to the game? Each of these classes can be mimicked simply by saying "I'm a Cleric who worships nature," or "I'm a Fighter raised in a holy order," and the like. A standard class can be role played in a fashion that mimics any of these classes. Granted, the abilities provided by these classes aren't granted - but for me it's not about the abilities.

It's not that I'm against multiple character classes or diverse options in a game - I'm simply saying that role diversity is in the hands of the player and how they choose to role-play their character. With that in mind, I feel that in modern games and with more modern gamers there has been (in my experience) a sense of entitlement when it comes to classes. Players somehow feel like things are "less fun" if they can't play a "Savant," or a "Fist of Raziel," or whatever else can be found that is published in some official supplement somewhere. I think the rise of D&D 3E's prestige class mechanics helped solidify this sense of entitlement.

Now, I admit this is a personal preference. The prestige class mechanic is not inherently bad, nor is any class introduced beyond the "core" classes bad simply for not being core. It's simply the idea that this overwhelmingly specialized method of providing character options prevents players from thinking for themselves when presented with only a few basic options. Instead of seeing a wizard as a "jumping off" point and developing a unique witch-doctor spellcaster who talks to skulls and casts spells through ritual dance and speaking with spirits (which mechanically is no different from how a magic-user memorizes spells for purposes of the game's rules), the player sees a magic-user as "just another magic-user." Everything becomes nothing more than what is written on the tin. This stifles creativity, in my opinion - but, then again, maybe I'm just being a grumpy old man. 

In any case, this has been Get Off My Lawn: An OSR Gamer Complains About Gamers These Days - now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go sit on the front porch, smoke my pipe and worry for the future of the world.


  1. I agree that simple is better, and that roleplaying can go a long way to differentiating Fighter 1 from Fighter 2, but I also think like the idea of options that encourage players to explore different choices. Too often all Fighters fight with the longsword and wear plate mail because it is the way the rules push you mechanically. It always bothered me I couldn’t play a stealthy fighter, without also being a stealthy fighter who could pick locks and disarm traps, by being a Fighter-Thief.

    I wrote my house rules for my version of D&D to combat the need for 70 classes but still provide simple options. Each Character is built from two primary components and a secondary component from the choices: Melee, Ranged, Defense, Skills (can be taken twice), Piety, or Arcane (counts as both primary). 
    A Fighter could be represented as either Melee/Ranged with secondary defense, or Melee/Defense with secondary ranged. A cleric might be Piety/Defense secondary melee, a Paladin= Melee/Defense with secondary piety.
    I am not a fan of skills, but using just the type of skills found in AD&D you are able to emulate the core classes. For Example a Ranger would be Melee/Ranged with secondary skills (fieldcraft-stealth-athletics) a Thief would be Skills/Skills (stealth-athletics-sleight of hand-mechanics-perception-languages) with secondary ranged.
    This allows characters to build unique classes without a lot of extra rules, maybe they want a Dwarven Dungeon Scout= Ranged/Skills (stealth-perception-mechanic) with secondary defense. Or a cleric of Artemis= Piety/Ranged secondary skills (fieldcraft-athletics-herbalism). 
    For me this solved the too many classes problem but allowed my players to embrace some creativity.

  2. I had this exact conversation with my wife earlier today. Must be something in the air.

  3. How about a return to races as classes? Humans Halfling will have bard ability, elves druid ability, dwarves thief ability, humans fighter ability, goblins cleric, and ogres wizard ability.

  4. I don't really think this is unique to modern iterations of D&D. Players always want more. Players always want to be different. Players always want to be special. And so new classes have always been added to the game. It's just that in OD&D, it's much simpler to add a class than it is in, say, Pathfinder or 4E (or 5E, for that matter).

    And I don't think it is so much that players have been spoiled by too many classes. Rather, I think it is modern game companies have conned players into thinking they need all those classes to make unique and special characters. "My life isn't complete without Ultimate Fighter Guide #6!!!"

    Modern RPGs have very much embraced the "character build" mindset (similar to many computer games), because many new players are coming from computer games, and also because it helps to sell more books. I'm in a couple of Pathfinder games where some of the players really get into the whole character build thing (not just classes, but also with optimizing feats and skills), and they never seem to realize that, mechanically speaking, their special snowflake build is little different from a traditional wizard or fighter. All those build options simply create the illusion of character differentiation.


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