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Author Topic: Lets talk character classes  (Read 2255 times)

Slipshot762

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Lets talk character classes
« on: February 16, 2021, 07:53:34 AM »
I've had roughly the same group of players for any tabletop game for like 20 or more years. Two constant, the others cycle in and out as life permits. Started with the little red box with elmore art that covered levels 1-3. Played through 1e and 2e, the bulk being 2e (everyone loved the skills & powers, combat & tactics, and spells & magic splats back then), before we finally got our hands on 3e, which was well liked equally by both the munchkin and the perpetual elven wizardess role player over other editions.

We did plenty of marvel super heroes FASERIP version with the ultimate powers book and randomly generated characters, tried some ars magicka, some top secret, and they really liked weg D6 star wars. Everyone loved the RIFTS setting but the rules were just too much. Played plenty of magic the gathering up until the release that contained slivers (ice age was my favorite set). We still do axis & allies when we can on a custom blowed up and laminated version of the revised historical edition when schedules align, though most just play it online now with programs like tripleA. (had it blown up and laminated to be mountain dew proof as one guys fat fingers on the default board would regularly scatter stacks of infantry across europe and piss me off.)

After we started getting people in 3e who had not played in prior editions where there were not rules for everything (and DM adjudication was thus built in to the understanding for veteran players but alien to these newcomers) was when the gaming frequency waned as no one wanted to deal with the cheese and the whining that the game was broken because you must let them break it or you are a bad DM and we should play vidya instead. This hiatus was interrupted by the release of 4e, which we did not buy but thoroughly researched and retched and bitched about w/o ever having played.

It was at this point I discovered that weg D6 system had been released as space/adventure/fantasy, and I bought these and never looked back. But my two forever players, while they liked it for fantasy well enough, seemed to have trouble w/o class and level to restrict them, feeling aimless and timid. I developed some advantages/disadvantages (a native D6 system mechanic) that emulated abilities and restrictions of D&D classes, and they rejoiced that yes D6 could "do" D&D.  Then they pushed me further to come up with a formula or process by which D&D characters/monsters/magic items could be ported over, and I did, so completely in fact that one could essentially play D&D as written but upon the D6 rather than D20 chasis.

It came to pass in all this with the playtesting and one shots that their comfort level and understanding of default D6 fantasy grew enough that now D&D emulation is too confining. They have presently tasked me with retaining a very loose notion of class and level, portability of D&D items, spells, etc, but to walk it back to the more fluid and versatile concepts of native D6 (which is skill based). They want now something less confining than the strict D&D classes where you get x abilitiy at x level if you are y class, and for the concept of class to be walked back to "thematic guidance" rather than the traditional hardline concepts where a ranger is always a ranger and clerics almost always turn undead, etc..

They cite 2e skills and powers, where you purchased abilities and custom built your character in ways that could sometimes transcend traditional class tropes. Functionally this is already buit into D6 via the advantage/disadvantage/special ability section of the rules, and just needs some D&D'esque customization.
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Which brings us to this point where we ponder the very concept of class itself, and where I pick your brains for thoughts on the matter.

For example, I always disliked that cleric was its own class, that there existed a line between divine and arcane magic. Or that ranger was a distinct class, I never felt it different enough from fighter or rogue to justify being it's own class. I always felt that barbarian suffered this same flaw and should rightly have been termed berserker. Wizard, sorcerer, druid, witch/warlock, shaman, priest, cleric...these I felt were essentially the same class separated only by the particulars of how they fuel their magics, all but the first two being servants of supernatural or divine entities who are rewarded with magic for their service. The restrictions on armor for casters never really made mechanical sense until 3e where you could wear the armor but it reduced your casting effectiveness.

My present rough draft utilizes only 3 rough "classes" that I've termed archetypes or focuses, a martial/magical/mundane focus, each of which gives access to a short list of skill increases (and skill increase caps) and advantages/disadvantages particular to each which are free at level up or which cost if you go outside your focus. This leaves you with something like martial archetype and occupation knight, or magical archetype warlock occupation.

So, what is your take on classes, hard or soft?
Do you like classes at all?
Only soft class concepts or harcoded D&D style?
Are there classes you feel should not exist? or which should but do not?

I've heard many who favor OSR complain for example that thief/rogue should not be a class because it steps on the toes of fighters or mages who wish to disable a lock or trap.

Chris24601

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2021, 08:34:47 AM »
Check out the 3.5e Unearthed Arcana section on Generic Classes (its also in the online d20 SRD under classes in the variant rules section).

Three classes; warrior, expert and spellcaster with pretty much all the core 3.5e class features available via special feats and multiclassing.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2021, 09:08:12 AM »
The purposes of classes are, roughly:

  • Make it easy and fast to put a character together
  • Niche protection
  • Enforce archetypes (some overlap with niche protection, but not exactly the same)

Skills, mutli-classing, etc. tend to reduce the effects of classes.  There are, of course, other ways to get some of the class effects, such as pre-packaged "templates" that more loosely mimic classes on top of a skills-based or similarly more complicated system.

So how far you want to push classes or back away from them, and where you want to do it, affects the answers to your questions.  Me, I'm kind of mixed minds.  I generally prefer my skills-based games to be separate from my class-based games, because both styles have distinct good points that I don't necessarily want to water down by always mixing them.  That's the main approach.  However, I also want a little customization in my classes and a little niche protection built into my skills-based games.  (At least for a particular campaign, with setting rules if nothing else.)

I'm also generally much more interested in the niche protection aspect than the archetypes.  I want my archetypes to seem more organic, with the overall effect of the rules encouraging certain concepts rather than enforcing them.  So soft boundaries on most options, with some overlap in the class mechanics.

For magic, one thing I did in my current game was largely divorce magic mechanics from class mechanics.  I've got 4 different caster classes, largely distinguished by how focused they are on magic versus other things, with some minor differences in their special uses of magic.  Then I've got 3 different types of magic, which a player can mix and match with the casters to get the effect they want.  So "holy wizard" is different than"primeval wizard" is different than "sorcery wizard", but all powerful casters, heavily focused on magic.  Then you could have shaman versions of holy, primeval, or sorcery, with a different slant, not quite as powerful in magic but more capable otherwise.  With other decisions, that let me simplify the game elsewhere by having no multi-classing and no mixing of magic types--at all.  It's a technique that is not better or worse than the D&D approach--just better for my particular game and relative emphasis on what a class means.


Cave Bear

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2021, 09:15:34 AM »
I think there was a round table discussion on youtube between Seth Skorkowsky, the Dungeon Professor, and Questing Beast where somebody said something I found interesting. In Call of Cthulhu, a player could have a brainy librarian for a character, but they'll still try to shoot guns or punch people when they can, but a wizard in D&D won't hit a kobold with his staff when its standing right in front of him, because the player is attached to this idea of "I'm a spell caster. I don't attack with weapons. I cast spells." They were remarking that character classes tend to lend themselves to a "look at your character sheet" style of play. I've noticed this myself, and I've been getting more interested in classless systems, like Runequest. Have you seen the video I'm talking about?

Charon's Little Helper

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2021, 09:33:52 AM »
The purposes of classes are, roughly:

  • Make it easy and fast to put a character together
  • Niche protection
  • Enforce archetypes (some overlap with niche protection, but not exactly the same)

Skills, mutli-classing, etc. tend to reduce the effects of classes.  There are, of course, other ways to get some of the class effects, such as pre-packaged "templates" that more loosely mimic classes on top of a skills-based or similarly more complicated system.

While I agree with you on your three points, your first one doesn't really go far enough. It isn't just that classes make it easier to build a character, it's that classes (especially combined with levels) can gate off most of a system's complexity.

A player who is playing a warrior type character doesn't really need to learn anything about the spellcasting system of a game to be able to play the game or build an effective character. A caster only needs to understand the few spells that they have available etc.

In contrast to this, in a wide-open point-buy system, you really need to get the gist of ALL of the rules before you can be sure that you're not gimping your character by how you are building/playing them.

This is why I greatly prefer class/level systems in games with much crunch. In a lighter system, a classless system can work fine as it's not that difficult to understand all of the mechanics.

And a 5th lesser point (though arguably a sub-point of niche protection). Balancing a system with classes is FAR easier than one with point-buy. And frankly, when you have wide-open point-buy, if the players are reasonably competent & competitive, there aren't actually THAT many viable builds.

It's like in a TCG. Theoretically you can put together any mix of cards, but with any knowledge of the game, obviously certain combos aren't viable. And then at the high-levels of competitive play there are usually only a dozen or so viable core decks (some mild variation in there), and there are usually only that many if there's some sort of color/class system, where each starting place has 1-3 top tier builds.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2021, 09:41:20 AM by Charon's Little Helper »

Slipshot762

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2021, 09:36:53 AM »
Have you seen the video I'm talking about?
I have not, will go looking for it though.

My group seems to want to strike a balance between completely free form skill based and hard coded class. By default in D6 fantasy the use of magic or casting spells for example is not limited to class, its a skill anyone can acquire, but you only have so much to spend on advancement so focusing on magic alone by default limits what you can spend on combat or stealth skills.

I think they appreciate the more free form notion of skill based but still require some type of focus, guide, or archetype to steer them along a trajectory and feel uncomfortable w/o such; they become paralyzed by options w/o some minor sort of guiderail.

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2021, 10:33:18 AM »

While I agree with you on your three points, your first one doesn't really go far enough. It isn't just that classes make it easier to build a character, it's that classes (especially combined with levels) can gate off most of a system's complexity.

A player who is playing a warrior type character doesn't really need to learn anything about the spellcasting system of a game to be able to play the game or build an effective character. A caster only needs to understand the few spells that they have available etc.

In contrast to this, in a wide-open point-buy system, you really need to get the gist of ALL of the rules before you can be sure that you're not gimping your character by how you are building/playing them.

Yes.  Part of the gating and other simplicity aspects of that, however, are due not to classes themselves but to the specificity and relatively coarse granularity of classes. 

We tend to use "class" as short-hand for specific, coarse widgets and "skills" to indicate a finer grain and often a more general approach.  However, nothing says that it necessarily has to be that way.   Sure, at some point when a class becomes fine enough, it is effectively a skill, and vice versa. 

As an example of what I mean, consider something like weapon proficiency slots. You could have a very coarse D&D fighter with all the slots.  You could have a similar D&D fighter with slot picks.  You can have alternate "warrior" class options, such as barbarian and ranger with different defaults and/or slot picks.  On the other end, you can have a skill system where everyone buys whatever proficiency they want.  On the class side, the classes are coarse and the slots are fine.  On the skill side, everything is fine.

You can also have weapon packages distinct from classes, with the classes picking a group of weapons at a time. "Heavy Melee" lets you wear heavier armor, carry big axes and swords and polearms and shield."  And so on.  Then a fighter maybe gets two of those packages for free.  That's just a little less coarse than the straight classes as far as overall options, but it is more coarse than straight weapon proficiency slot picks by weapon type or even specific weapon (as in BEMCI/RC optional rules).  Likewise, if you make your weapon "skills" coarse enough, you get a similar effect. 

Coarse-grained mechanics lead to niche protection and gating.  Whether or not they have other class effects and contribute to overall simplicity depends a lot on the game designer's decisions on where to set the boundaries of those coarse mechanics. 

Chris24601

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2021, 11:12:51 AM »
Another element that classes have over classless systems is, properly employed, they can really cut down on option paralysis.

This is one area where 2e really shined as they collapsed the starting options to four; warrior, rogue, cleric and wizard. Then beneath that layer you had a finer grade of options; ex. fighter, paladin or ranger. “Choose one of four, then one of three” is much easier for most people than, say “Choose one of twelve.”

This is also one of the areas I’ll give 5e credit on too with their use of subclasses instead of 3e’s tendency to add completely separate base classes for even slight variations.*

By contrast, EVERY time we’ve ever played Mutants & Masterminds I’ve had to build the characters for everyone off their general descriptions of what powers they want because the whole thing is a free form point buy system and they don’t even know where to start.

It’s also something I’ve come to appreciate about WoD chargen. While advancement is entirely skill-based (i.e. you spend xp to improve specific traits), their chargen process has you assign groups of points to pre-assigned areas, greatly reducing option paralysis (i.e. prioritize physical, mental and social, then split X dots between the three attributes in that category. Repeat for abilities, etc.).

So, a big question to ask is, what is the preferred complexity level for your audience? For general audiences, the level is generally a LOT lower than for a specialized table with 5e and WoD seemingly being about at the sweet spot for casual player chargen.

* 4E added classes too, but it’s grid of power source and role served to reduce the paralysis because, in my experience, players tended to pick a role (one of four) then look through classes in that role or pick a power source (one of four main, plus a couple edge cases) then look through the classes in that power source.

Omega

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2021, 11:14:07 AM »
On the flip side you have people here and elsewhere endlessly bitching about how 5e allows more and more classes to cross pollinate into others.

Want a Sorcerer or wizard who uses divine magic? Got that
Want a Fighter or Rogue who can cast spells? Got that
Want a Cleric who can cast arcane magic? Got that

and so on. The core and especially the expansions have broadened the options for several classes. More if you want to tinker with the UA playtest stuff.

BX had a Dragon article and 2e had in the DMG book a freeform class creation system.

Chris24601

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2021, 12:49:34 PM »
Another class option I always thought might be interesting as an overlay to a skill-based system would be in the form of discounts to certain skills.

So, while any class could improve fighting skill, Fighters could do it for less. Any class could similarly learn magic, but the cost for wizards would be less.

If you had a normal cost of say Rank x 4 to improve, you could then have say a Rank x 3 and a Rank x 2 option so you could have a mix of specialists (mostly x2 in a tight area) and generalists (mostly x3 in a broad category).

So, for example; the Fighter would get x2 to weapon and armor use, but x4 to everything else. The Rogue would get x3 to everything except magic (which is x4). The Wizard gets x2 to magic-related skills, x4 to everything else. The Cleric gets x3 to weapons/armor and magic, but x4 to everything else.

This definitely creates paths of easiest advancement, but doesn’t 100% close off any path to anyone. “Multi-classing” would just be picking skills that don’t get the discounts for your chosen class.

Armchair Gamer

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2021, 12:56:28 PM »
Another class option I always thought might be interesting as an overlay to a skill-based system would be in the form of discounts to certain skills.

So, while any class could improve fighting skill, Fighters could do it for less. Any class could similarly learn magic, but the cost for wizards would be less.

If you had a normal cost of say Rank x 4 to improve, you could then have say a Rank x 3 and a Rank x 2 option so you could have a mix of specialists (mostly x2 in a tight area) and generalists (mostly x3 in a broad category).

So, for example; the Fighter would get x2 to weapon and armor use, but x4 to everything else. The Rogue would get x3 to everything except magic (which is x4). The Wizard gets x2 to magic-related skills, x4 to everything else. The Cleric gets x3 to weapons/armor and magic, but x4 to everything else.

This definitely creates paths of easiest advancement, but doesn’t 100% close off any path to anyone. “Multi-classing” would just be picking skills that don’t get the discounts for your chosen class.

  This is the way Rolemaster handles things.

Cave Bear

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2021, 01:09:46 PM »

My group seems to want to strike a balance between completely free form skill based and hard coded class. By default in D6 fantasy the use of magic or casting spells for example is not limited to class, its a skill anyone can acquire, but you only have so much to spend on advancement so focusing on magic alone by default limits what you can spend on combat or stealth skills.

Have you played any Japanese roleplaying games? Like Sword World, or Night Wizard? A lot of those let players select three character classes at level 1 from a really long list of really specific classes, like 'grappler' or 'faerie tamer'. It feels kind of half-way between skill-based and class-based to me.

Slipshot762

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2021, 01:37:06 PM »

Have you played any Japanese roleplaying games?

No, I have not tried japanese rpgs, the kids gave me allergic reaction to all things oriental with their anime obsession, so likely never will.

Anyone familiar with shadow of the demonlord? going to check out how classes are done in that in the near future.

Cave Bear

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2021, 01:41:43 PM »
No, I have not tried japanese rpgs, the kids gave me allergic reaction to all things oriental with their anime obsession, so likely never will.

Anyone familiar with shadow of the demonlord? going to check out how classes are done in that in the near future.

I've played that. It's one of my favorites, actually. You start at level 0 with no class, then you get promoted up to one of the four basic ones. At higher levels you freely pick from what are basically prestige classes with no prerequisites except for level.
There isn't a skill system, exactly. You do get free-form professions that give you boons on rolls when they are relevant, but you don't have things like 'Use Rope' or 'Sense Motive' or whatever.


jhkim

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Re: Lets talk character classes
« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2021, 01:47:50 PM »
I think it's worth noting different sorts of character groupings:

1) Strict D&D classes, which have starting packages and fixed advancement.

2) D&D with unlimited multiclassing in advancement. This particularly shows in 3rd edition, where multiclassing became much easier mechanically, which adds a lot of flexibility and also complicates how advancement works. This lets characters impinge more on each others' niches.

3) Templates or archetypes, like used in Shadowrun or D6. These are close to pregenerated characters, often with a few spots in which they can be adjusted. This can be even faster to start with than classes. However, they don't define how experience is spent - so they don't provide continued niche protection from the start of play, but conversely, they allow characters to easily grow in different directions.

4) Unique abilities - like Roles in Cyberpunk. These provide some permanent niche protection, but don't speed up character generation, or specify skills and other abilities.

5) Playbooks in Apocalypse World and derived games. These provide quick chargen by limited choices, and niche protection. They can provide a number of choices in advancement, which could mean only limited niche protection (especially with "take a move from another playbook" as one of the options).

6) Rolemaster style classes that modify skill buying. This provides limited and permanent niche protection, but no speed up in character generation. Actually, it can make it more complicated than pure skill-based chargen.