Thursday, February 16, 2012

Class or Career?

Most of the discussions involving Classes in D&D revolve around arguments of legitimacy;  Should there be a Thief Class or a Witch class or an Amazon.  Proponents and detratctors argue on.
Many bring up the word “Archetypes”.  The Amazon is an archetype of fantasy and sci-fi etc., they will argue, and therefore it should be a class. 
The belief seems to be that there are a dozen or so archetypes out there that are suitable classes.  Defining those then gives the best choices for the game.  The debate then revolves around what is and is not the best examples of archetypes to use in play.  This is the path taken with the OD&D supplements, both the Greyhawk and Blackmoor campaigns and later with AD&D; not to mention countless other games. 

It's natural that gamers would likewise follow this trend, but the realization that many fail to make is that attempting  to restrict and define the classes on the basis of literary archetypes is an arbitrary and impossible task.  Evil stepmother, handsome prince, and wise old man are literary archytpes and could concievably be "classes".  There's hundreds, but that's typically not the sort of thing that gets made into a class. 
Lets be blunt; what is really being defined as classes are professions.  It doesn’t matter if these professions are attempts at copying literary “archetypes” or not.  Class write-ups – from at least the thief onward - are descriptions of particular, specific kinds of careers.
When character classes are professions, then there really is no logical cut off point.  Any kind of career path is potential grounds for a character class, provided you can find some way to get them out on an adventure.
Adventurer, Conqueror, King is possibly the first D&D game to acknowledge this up front, and, following in the footsteps of an inspired, but ultimately inadequate Dragon magazine article, has developed a much improved method of generating endless, custom character classes in a logical and game consistent fashion.
I’m not disparaging this approach.  It’s legitimate and fun, but it does open the door to endless rule generation, splat book creation and character type proliferation.  From a Game Masters perspective its a potentially a lot more to keep track of.
Proponents of classless skill based systems have a legitimate argument that its cleaner and simpler to do away with classes altogether.  I'm not disparaging that approach either.  Skill only systems are perfectly playable too, but they too are not without complexity issues.
However, there is another, different way to look at classes.  Not as archetypes or professions or anything of the sort, but rather as simply a broad classification. 
A rare few grognards  have pointed out that the original three classes – Fighter, Magic-user, Cleric – represent the three possible classifications adventuring people can fall into in a fantasy trope.  That is mudane only, magic only, and part magic/ part mundane.  In fact, the cleric magic/mundane mix, itself isn’t strictly necessary, but it’s useful if your world has – as is assumed in D&D – a different kind of divine magic.
Viewed this way, a class is a very basic and broad classification, not a profession.  Indeed, the original names of “Fighting Man” and “Magic User” and “Cleric” couldn’t possibly be more generic.  Using a class as classification approach de-emphasizes the meaning of “the classes”, which quickly became almost caste-like in D&D and keeps things much more manageable, familiar, and simple.  Characters could still be customized in all sorts of ways but the basic rules and class structure still apply without any question or confusion.     For me, that’s a big reason to like a two or three “class” only system.   

No comments:

Post a Comment