The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Shove It Right Up Your Class


Some of you may remember, before Wizards came along and renamed the class rogue there was a degree of controversy over the class thief being called “thief”. There were those who got upset ostensibly because many characters who held that class did not steal things, while some members of other classes did. I think the real reason people got upset was because of the implied morality of the title thief – which some players didn’t want associated with their character who had a sense of honour or ethics. But whatever reason people had for making a fuss, it was absolutely a battle that needed to be fought; not because of the overt issue of good characters being called theives, but because of the underlying (and ironic) issue that the creators of D&D couldn’t understand one of the most fundamental truths of class based role playing games.

Class is Just Another Rule

TSR and later Wizards have a long history of interpreting character class as having actual meaning in the worlds that D&D takes place. Most famously was that they felt the need to explain, using world changing events no less, why classes came and went from Forgotten Realms in each new edition. This is complete meta-game BS, and is absolutely the wrong way to interpret a class based system.

Characters aren’t their class. Class is just a rule that helps us play them in game. There is no more need to explain changes to the available classes than there is a need to explain why certain weapons and spells have done different damage from one edition to the next.

A class based game system works because the designer makes broad character classes with enormous opportunity for interpretation. In the absence of this interpretation you are left with few choices for characters in the game; you basically have just one choice for every one character class. (this is, of course, exactly the criticism those who dislike class based systems frequently cite)

Jobs and Class are not the Same Thing

There is a huge leap in logic that is being made by those who want to pigeon hole characters into a certain, restrictive, classes – that people are their jobs. Your job in a fantasy world might be as con man, a robber, a freelance spelunker, or an adventurous locksmith; and all of these would be played under the class thief. Meanwhile virtually every class has skills that would make it very easy for them to obtain funds illegally (ie make their job be a thief); arguably the thief has the worst skill set for robbing people of any class.

Just think of the real world and how often people end up in jobs that you might not have imagined them in from their skill set. We don’t imagine it because we are applying our own biases to both the skills and the jobs; sometimes people choose jobs that don’t play to their strongest skills, and sometimes a person can really excel at a job using a skill set other than the one people normally think of (as being relevant to that job).

Ideally you should be imagining your character first, and then trying to find the best fit for him using the rules. I know it doesn’t always work that way, but even when we just throw together a character to be the class our group needs and think of a personality next week we need to recognize that the underlying product is the character that is produced – not the class.

And because it is the character that is most important, the class is secondary, whether we are talking about the character’s profession or the rules used to represent him. If your character changes jobs, going from say being a professional soldier to being a merchant, he can still have the same character class through both. If the rules change that doesn’t alter your vision, or how you play him, it just alters the underlying rules that make the character work inside of the context of the game session.

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October 4, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs |

1 Comment »

  1. some people have trouble seeing the forest through all the trees. I think I really benefited from playing other systems like runequest and champions which allowed you to essentially create your own class based on your vision, which I think really helped me see and be more flexible when I came back to D&D

    Comment by middleagedm | October 7, 2010 | Reply


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