Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Elements of a Classy RPG: Introduction

My class is Wizard. Or Magic-User.
Or Illusionist. Or Enchanter.
Many role-playing games, both tabletop and electronic, have some concept of class to define a player's character.  It has become such an iconic concept that sometimes it appears even when it does not really matter.  However, despite the prevalence of class within the gaming context, the basic notion of class seems to have no definitive meaning.  Many games seem to use it different.  So, in the great adventure that is designing the optimal role-playing game, the question of class is an important one.  What is a class?  What encompasses a character’s class?  Should it be different than a career, or a job?  What about a background or personal history?  These are questions that need to be addressed.

I thought I would start considering how class is treated in different systems and write a thing or two about it.  From there, I hoped to think about what class could mean and, in the context of the new Dungeons & Dragons, what I think it should mean.  That being said, when I began this project, it was intended to be a single article.  Quickly, it grew into two.  From there, I realized that nobody really wants to read a 10,000 word treatise on class and felt it would best be broken up into individual articles.  To begin with, I have decided to examine various games, both tabletop, console, and computer, and look at how they handle the concept of class.  Specifically, I want to look at what the class encompasses, what it means within the context of the game, how much freedom a character has within that class, and what other features exist to further flesh out a character within that system.
Go ahead and guess what class this is...

Why look at all of these different systems?  The hope is to come to an idea of what the concept of class should entail.  A lot of game systems have abandoned the system of class because it is considered far too constraining.  Yet, many games continue to employ a class system because it provides a player with a pre-built archetype with which to interact with the game world.  On the other hand, some game systems try to make very broad, highly encompassing classes intending to capture every possible permutation that of character that could exist.    Although I admit that every rule system is different, the hope is that there is a sort of optimal place for class within a RPG system.  Thus, I go on this journey under the assumption that there are a few basic principles that every game should potentially apply to its class system.  Whether that is true remains to be seen.

Hopefully, this will be a useful adventure.  Although I have read and played a wide variety of game systems, my experience is limited and I hope I can reach all of the relevant different rulesets out there.  If there are particular systems worthy of consideration, I hope that readers will recommend them to me so I can consider them further before I conclude.  In the history of gaming, it is likely that every reasonable idea has been explored by some game at some point, so hopefully I can find them all with a careful examination of the genre.


  1. Hi Andrew! I got turned onto your site by my friend Eric Heitzman, and I'm really glad I did -- thousands of words of very thoughtful content here. I especially enjoyed your series on classes, your series on alignments, and your idea about letting players tell you if they've ever seen a dragon before. I've never played D&D 3e or 4e, so I'm a little unfamiliar with the at-will and daily-use powers on your glossy full-color character sheets, but I really enjoy your approach to RPG design, and I hope you'll keep blogging.


    1. Thanks! I appreciate the positive feedback!

      It's been more than a year since I started addressing class issues specifically, and it's funny because I see aspects of the discussion crop up in a lot of the new and upcoming RPGs out there. For example, D&D Next continues to struggle with what a class should or should not be to this day (consider the recent article about the Warlock as a good example).

      Funny how I spend so much time thinking about "class" and I haven't even really addressed game systems that don't use class at all...