Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

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anthroslug
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Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby anthroslug » Thu Sep 06, 2018 1:43 pm

Like many people, I began my RPG career with AD&D, where what your character could do was heavily impacted by your character class.

I would them move to classless systems (starting with GURPS) in the late 80s and early 90s.

I enjoyed both - the classless systems allowed an enjoyable amount of customization, while the class systems allowed for heroic archetypes that provided shortcuts for playing.

When D&D 3rd edition (and later Pathfinder) came along, I played them a fair amount, but always found myself dissatisfied. Part of it was that the games tended to favor a style of play where obsession with character builds often got in the way of the types of role playing that I enjoyed (and yes, there are many people who really enjoy this element of the game), but a bigger thing was that the classes seemed to not mean much - the pinnacle of this for me was playing with someone who had created a rogue that, through a combination of feats and splatbook rules, was a competent “shadow mage” type, but had no classic rogue skills (other than stealth, which was achieved by magic rather than skills).

For me, it felt like there was little point to having classes if they were so formless. And having played and greatly enjoyed classless games, that seemed preferable.

But, given the success of 3rd edition and Pathfinder, I know that my views are not universal by any means. So, what are your preferences regarding class in RPGs? How much or little do you like class to constrain a character? Or do you want to do away with classes?
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Lord Foul » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:05 pm

The thing I like most about classes is that they generally prevent you from being able to do everything.

Each class has its "thing" that it does really well, and usually another thingette or two that it does less well, but still serves to add a bit a flexibility. Then it also has things that it can't do. At all.

A party of such characters then has a diverse cast where each person has their own distinct place in the group, and there is little conflict over who is the "expert" in any given situation.

...............

I find that classless games tend to lack that degree of distinctiveness between individual characters. You'll often have people trying to be at least adequate at everything, and thereby lose the sense of specialism that comes with classes.

That doesn't have to be the case, of course. You can choose to specialise and design a group where each character has their own distinct specialism and there's no conflict. But that requires a level of cooperation that is often lacking.

I think it also takes a bit more thought and careful design to build a classless character that has a really distinct "character" about it. I've seen too many where they really all just look like shades of the same thing.

...............

So, in summary, both ways can work, but classes can help when the people need a little extra encouragement to avoid all playing the same competing character concept.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Leoff » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:22 pm

I like having character classes more than I like having great straggling skill trees and lists of abilities contingent upon other abilities.
I think the classes have to be well-defined, with some overlap but clear distinctions between the classes (I never got used to distinguishing between mage, wizard, sorcerer, and druid; they're all magicians who went to different tech colleges as far as I'm concerned).
I've seen some pretty silly characters based upon manipulation of class rules, especially in multiclassing. But I think that's just another case of a player mashing rules together to do whatever they want, and a GM not reining them in fast enough.

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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby VaMinion » Thu Sep 06, 2018 2:43 pm

I like both. Whether I pick a class based or classless game mostly depends on my mood. I've played characters in both types of systems that don't exactly work if you tried to migrate them to the other. But if you absolutely made me pick one or the other I'd pick class based. It's up front about character archetypes. Almost every classless game I've played either forces the PCs to be good at everything* or to divide themselves into de facto classes.


* Usually by skill caps, target numbers that are too low, that kind of thing.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Ikoma » Thu Sep 06, 2018 4:16 pm

I get the pull of the flexibility of classless systems. Tried more than a few of them myself. Even a few classless variants of various D&D editions. Here's what I find.

First, it's very hard to create capstone kinds of abilities and make them available to lower level characters. If ability X is clearly awesome, it's going to be taken by lots of players. If ability Y blows chunks it won't get taken at all. BUT... if you've got a classed system, you can bundle abilities together and maybe people get ability Y because it also comes with ability X.

Second, related to the first, I find that effective characters tend to take certain groupings of abilities that work well off each other and have good synergies anyway. If enough of that is going on, you might as well just have classes. I've seen classless systems that even go so far as to suggest bundles of abilities that are trying to be the best of both worlds.

Third, classless systems are the most ripe for abuse by unscrupulous min-maxers. I speak from personal experience. If I have the entire list of abilities to choose from, I stand a much better chance of finding a really broken combination of three or so abilities that have unintended mechanical consequence. Of course, the same thing CAN happen to class systems but the restrictions make it less likely and easier to address if it does come up.

Fourth, classless system lend themselves to choice overload. I've seen players NOT spend XP they have have because they just cannot choose from the hundreds of options available to them. In most class systems, you can just make a selected number of choices based on your next level (or consider multi-classing if you wanna go crazy). I've also seen newer players just throw their hands up in the air.

Ultimately, classes add structure. And I find structure to be a better framework than anarchy for telling a story. That said, you absolutely can mitigate all of my issues with classless systems. And a good enough set of players might not even have the described problems. I am sure I will play classless again. But my clear preference is for classed systems.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Bai Shen » Thu Sep 06, 2018 4:41 pm

I prefer classless. You can have archetypes or templates but give me the option to choose my own.

However, I do agree that the GM has to be more vigilant over the PCs in order to have a good game.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby clintmemo » Fri Sep 07, 2018 7:02 am

I like both, but not for the same type of game.
In my experience, class systems work better in D&D and things that in that type of medieval fantasy setting.
Classless systems work better for everything else, at least every other type of setting I've ever played in.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby anthroslug » Fri Sep 07, 2018 5:39 pm

It’s interesting that people cite a homogenization of characters as a reason they don’t prefer classless systems. I don’t doubt that this has happened to the people who cite it, but I have never come across it when I have played classless systems. I have seen it to a small degree in 3rd edition D&D/Pathfinder (mostly when someone is using one class to create something that arguably plays more like a different class) though not in other editions of D&D.

I wonder if it has to do with the classless systems that I play (while I have played many, I prefer BRP, GURPS, and Savage Worlds, for all of which the abilities/skills/etc. that are best depend on what specifically you are trying to do) or if I have just been lucky.
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Bai Shen » Fri Sep 07, 2018 6:56 pm

clintmemo wrote:I like both, but not for the same type of game.
In my experience, class systems work better in D&D and things that in that type of medieval fantasy setting.
Classless systems work better for everything else, at least every other type of setting I've ever played in.


What makes fantasy different that you prefer class systems? Is it just the inertia from D&D?
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Re: Pondering classes as an element of rpgs

Postby Knaight » Sun Sep 09, 2018 4:14 am

I tend to favor classless systems, particularly fairly straightforward stat-skill systems, and haven't run into character homogeneity issues at all. That said, I can generally respect classes as a tool and have seen them used well for that. For getting a lot of setting across in the mechanics quickly there are few better tools, and even in classless games I do tend to like to see deliberate archetype premades presented for a similar role.

Where systems lose me is a la carte multiclassing. At that point it's basically just a classless system where you have to jump through a bunch of bizarre hoops to make your character, and as someone who physically shudders every time they hear the term "character creation minigame" that's a hard pass. I can see the appeal for people who like the idea of a character creation minigame where the opacity and indirectness makes it harder to master and thus more interesting, but only from a distance.
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