Thursday, February 25, 2010

Too Many Classes

One thing I've always had a gripe about in D&D is the Class System. I can understand the theory behind them and the history of where they came from in war gaming, however as D&D continued to grow and evolve it seemed like character classes became just a "Flavor of the Month" addition to the rules.
 What I mean is, is a Cavalier really anything other than a fighter with shiny armor and a horse? And if so, wouldn't it have been easier to expand the fighters basic capabilities and options to allow a player to create a cavalier on his own out of a basic class?

There are many, many examples of this. In fact, if you looked closely enough, you would probably find that most character classes could be broken down into a basic character class with some extended rules and options added on. How many new character classes have a truly unique game play style?

I can see a justification for a Wizard class and a Sorcerer class as they are played differently. One has a large repertoire of spells at his disposal but must choose just a few each day while the other has just a few to choose from but can cast a great deal more on the fly. Those two make sense.

Now lets look at the fighting classes. Are the barbarian and ranger really that much different than a fighter? Sure the barbarian gets Rage and the Ranger gets a favored enemy, but is that worth giving them their own classes? It would seem more efficient to call them both fighters and have the fighter class with options to customize into a wide variety of fighters. After all, the wizard class has specialist schools, why not fighter specialists?

Is the assassin really anything more than just a thief that uses poison?

Is the paladin much more than a priest that uses a fancy sword?

I feel that the more character classes that are released, the further away people tend to drift from the core classes and the more fluff and confusion is added to the game. I think everyone remembers 3rd and 3.5 edition with the complete mess of classes, prestige classes, feats etc etc etc. Most times a DM would have to do a ton of research just to find out what his players were actually playing. I eventually got so lost with all the supplements and add on rulebooks that I implemented a "Core Rulebook Only" policy, and then stopped playing D&D all together for quite some time while I wrote a game system of my own.

I can see the players need and desire to mix it up a little and play something fresh and new, but maybe the basic classes should have the option to create those fresh new ideas rather than have 1000 different classes and prestige classes that eventually overlap and start to look similar.

Was it all to justify selling new books? Probably

Did it contribute anything to the game? Not Really. The game was already well established and the rules fairly well known to anyone playing (even I got confused by grappling). All it seemed to do is add layer upon layer of fluff. It became about which book the player got his character class from so the DM would have to shell out another $20 just to see what the hell the player was doing.

This is how I break down some of the character classes available, with optional abilities of course :
Barbarian = Fighter w/ Rage
Ranger = Fighter w/ Favored Enemy
Duelist = Fighter w/ Light Armor and Specialty Attacks
Paladin = Cleric w/ Swords
Monk = Fighter w/ Open Hand and Dodge abilities
Bard = Rogue w/ Minor Spell casting tricks
Assassin = Rogue w/ Poison
Etc Etc Etc

The only truly unique character classes to me are: Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Druid, Sorcerer and Wizard. And even then I think Sorcerer could be an optional way of playing a Wizard and Druid could be an optional way of playing Cleric (except for the Shape Change ability).


  1. I agree that you can customize a few base classes to suit many different needs.

    However, having special non-base classes already designed means you don't have to do that work of customizing a class, then play-testing, balancing, etc.

  2. Too continue the thought, I would be all for a system where you only had the base classes, then selected options to customize them.

    Kind of like Star Wars:Saga Edition, but for D&D I guess...

  3. Actually this is one of the reasons why I like 4e. The classes have been redesigned to minimize the overlap between one another.

    That means the Ranger isn't a fighter with a favored enemy, the Wizard doesn't possess the kind of dominate effects that the psionic classes have now and there are no 'prestige classes' (which are essentially a way of giving players mechanical rewards for rolling high score, as if to widen the gap between them and their 'mundane' party-mates)

    A lot of people can quibble over the salient aspects of the new rules such as 'roles' and 'power sources' or how quickly they're releasing new classes, but my point is that they aren't just cobbling these classes together randomly.

  4. Speaking as someone who burnt Unearthed Arcana with the withering fire of scorn, Cavalier and Barbarian have no meaning for me.

    Likewise, I can always spot someone who's moved past 1e because they called the Thief/Assassin a Rogue.

    For me, the classes I need for a campaign are Fighter, Magic User, Thief, Cleric, possibly Druid, Ranger. Illusionist is so damn rare as to be an NPC option. The Assassin is also for me an NPC class because of its tendency to cause havoc in the party and also because who'd play a thief with 2 level drop?

    So that's six classes - hardly what I'd call too many. The Druid and Ranger really only come into their own when the wilderness is a campaign setting.

    And then there is the Paladin - well, the chances of ever rolling one are so small as to be infinitesimal. I'd still like to play one if I get the chance because the prospect of doing the 'Lawful Good till it hurts' act is just too good to miss.

    We got rid of the Monk a long time ago.

  5. I've dispensed with even the base classes and allowed the player to fully design each aspect of their character with just a few of the most recurring elements found in AD&D.
    --Accumulated Adventure Points are used to purchase these features and their 'level-ups' and the running total determines the Magnitude (character level).

    It has been working like a charm for well over a year of weekly gaming.

  6. I love classes. The more the better. As long as they are relatively balanced and well designed.

  7. I have 5 classes:

    Warrior: Anyone who's power comes from physical combat
    Rogue: Anyone who's power comes from stealth
    Wizard: Anyone who masters their own magical forces
    Priest: Anyone who gets their power from a deity or supernatural patron.
    Bard: Anyone who's power comes from speech and other people

    Players then build their characters by selecting 3 "pie pieces" from those 5 classes, each pie piece gives you more abilities of that class.

    So a ranger might be a 2 part warrior 1 part rogue. A Paladin a 2 part warrior 1 part priest. A D&D bard might be a 1 part wizard, 1 part bard and 1 part rogue.


  8. @Timeshadows - I did something similar back in the 2nd Ed days. Came up with a nice 2 page rule system that allowed players to increase whatever aspect of their character they wanted each level on a point system. Worked really well until 3rd edition came out and ruined all that.

    @ThomasDenmark - Don't you feel overwhelmed by TOO MANY options after a while? It makes things very difficult as a DM to remember what all the players can do.

  9. @Brian: I'd done the same, but oddly, it was in response to 3.x's ridiculous explosion of classes and prestige classes that I worked on it again.
    --Like minds. :D

    @Zzarchov: Essentially the same proposition, just with the Iconics still in place.
    --As an Iconoclast, I just cut out the middleman, as it were. 'sides, there's nothing so straightforwardly recognisable in Urutsk other than 'Gritty Human'. ;D

  10. I am pretty much with ThomasDenmark but for the same reason (I believe) that Timeshadows did her class builder. I want my players to be excited and happy with the character they are playing, if that mean they play an Akashic from Arcana Unearthed in a party that is otherwise standard D&D classes, that is fine with me. If the class is silly or unbalanced, I will work with the player to adjust it. More choice is, for me, better.

  11. Yeah. I’ve always been big on sticking to a few core classes.

    If I run a “d20 System” game again, it’ll probably be a variant using the three generic classes from the 3.5 UA. (And I’ve even considered paring that down to two!)

    My current thinking is more this, though: The basic classes are available to anyone at anytime. A more “specialized” class might be approved as a one-off. Just to add a bit of extra flavor on a limited basis.

  12. I just looked at some of the class options for 4E DnD and was really taken aback by all the 'options' that could easily have been boiled down to a few well-designed and simpler mechanics...but doing such an approach means that your players have to be inventive, creative and imaginative. Buying 10D4 hardcover books does not make you more imaginative, despite what the back covers tell you. For better or worse, whether there are too many classes/not enough, is going to come down to just how imaginative and creative your players are...not how many rules we draft, cobble or compile. We need to simulate imaginations and get people thinking in terms of how they could create something new, unique and cool...and not just crank out more repetitions of the accepted min-maxers stale fantasy franchise-of-choice. We need more fiction, less rules. We need more creativity, less corporate tyranny. We need more players who actually play the games we are creating, not rules-junkies looking for more over-produced simulations of falling damage, WWE wrestling moves, or 1001 varieties of firearms to trot out against the local populace. But where do we find creative players? Where are the imaginative kids that a lot of us remember being back in the day? Has our group gone the way of model rail-roading?

  13. Oops. I meant "stimulate imaginations..." above.

  14. wow NetherWerks...I wanna grab my torch and pitchfork and go overthrow some corporate tyranny now!! :)


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