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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 16, 2002, 04:39:30 PM



Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 16, 2002, 04:39:30 PM
Okay, trying to get the ball rolling from a comment made by Herr Edwards in the colorfully named Erm...Hello.

Character classes.

There's been some talk on RPG.net lately about character classes (well, there's ALWAYS talk on RPG.net about that...but I digress). People were discussing classes as they relate to "reality" -- like, why is every NPC thief a Xth-level Rogue and why are all priest NPC Xth-level Clerics?

Aside from misconceptions about NPCs and PCs and how they relate to one another (ie: they're the same, just played by different people), this got me to thinking about class systems in games and what they REALLY are.

In D&D, classes are roles. The game is set up to throw specific obstacles at the players who in turn, act through their characters. These obstacles are keyed to the various roles filled by the characters (which is where the party paradigm comes from). The thief's role is to deal with traps and locks. The cleric is there to provide healing and undead-killin'. The wizard is the heavy artillery and the fighter...? Well, he hits real good and hard.

Roles in the game. Not job descriptions or professions. Roles.

Compare and contrast with the class in say...Sorcerer.

Uh, Sorcerer. That's it. The role of the player is to portray this one character type (an intense dude who summons and binds demons at the risk of his humanity). The game revolves around obstacles tailored to that role. One class.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I posted without pissing off one of you simmers. ;) So take a sim game like Blue Planet. It has "infinite classes"...or rather, a total void of classes. There are no roles to fill because nothing in the game requires a specific way of dealing with obstacles that the game presents to the players. This isn't a good or bad thing, it just is.

So there. I've wasted at least a few minutes of your life. The ball passes to...


Title: How About 'Have Lots of Little Classes?'
Post by: Le Joueur on May 16, 2002, 05:25:18 PM
Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Character classes.

In D&D, classes are roles. The game is set up to throw specific obstacles at the players who in turn, act through their characters. These obstacles are keyed to the various roles filled by the characters (which is where the party paradigm comes from). The thief's role is to deal with traps and locks. The cleric is there to provide healing and undead-killin'. The wizard is the heavy artillery and the fighter...? Well, he hits real good and hard.

Roles in the game. Not job descriptions or professions. Roles.

Compare and contrast with the class in say...Sorcerer.

Uh, Sorcerer. That's it. The role of the player is to portray this one character type (an intense dude who summons and binds demons at the risk of his humanity). The game revolves around obstacles tailored to that role. One class.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I posted without pissing off one of you simmers. ;) So take a sim game like Blue Planet. It has "infinite classes"...or rather, a total void of classes. There are no roles to fill because nothing in the game requires a specific way of dealing with obstacles that the game presents to the players. This isn't a good or bad thing, it just is.

I covered some of this in an article down in the Scattershot forum called Fundamental Particles of Character Class (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1385).  In it I compared point-based games and how they tend to have 'unofficial' archetypes where other games have classes and where some class-based games had 'customizable' features like point-based games.  I put Scattershot in the middle, with its 'big' character points, calling them 'particles of character class.'  Each point nearly an infra-class by itself.

My idea was that single point expenditures result in micro-classes and that when they aggregate, people diverge them into archetypes.  I think classes and archetypes are just another form of abstraction as is practiced in virtually every role-playing game.  They are comfortable and familiar 'places in the world' or "roles" as you put it.  The make up in familiarity what they lack in flexibility.  I put Exemplars into Scattershot for those days when you just can't think of a character, even though it has a full point-based system.  Is it the 'best of both worlds?'

Probably not.

Fang Langford


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 16, 2002, 05:33:52 PM
Fang. Use smaller words, man. You're making my head spin.

I don't think point-based, random, whatever generation has much to do with anything (other than personal taste and min-maxing issues). What I'm interested in is how the concept of a "character class" relates to the focus of the game, the role of the players and the way they intertwine.

Por ejemplo, in octaNe, you gots your Roles. But what I recently discovered (like, today recent) is that Roles aren't templates/archetypes in the traditional sense (a cookie-cutter character that's used as a quickie "base" to grow upon).

It popped into my head. Your Role is what you Do.

Makes too much sense, I know...but it took me awhile to figure this out.

In octaNe, I plan on straight-out saying: look, you want to make a character and play the game. Cool. But before you think of a name or a personality or a history or even a "type" of character, do this:

Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

THAT'S your character.

If you picture this faceless dude jumping up onto a car hood and sliding across it on his belly, blazing away with a pair of handguns, then THAT is the character you want to play. Play 'em! Worry about the details later. Give him a name when someone asks you for one. Give him a background story when you think of something cool. Just keep in mind that one THING your character is doing all the time, no matter what.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Zak Arntson on May 16, 2002, 07:40:14 PM
Damn straight. d20 CoC: You play an Investigator. That's your class. Here's a thought: For Narr. play, your Class list supports Premise and keeps you focused on it. Gamist, your Class list provides for strategy towards your goal. Sim, a Class allows you to keep Character constant while Exploring the other avenues; OR to Explore your Character (i.e., with a Class, you've suddenly got these great guidelines to keep plausibility in the System).

In any case, it's a great tool if you want to focus your PCs. And if you _really_ want to focus 'em, everyone plays the same class (Investigators in CoC, for example)

There's my contribution.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Andrew Martin on May 16, 2002, 09:17:25 PM
Rather than muddy the waters, wouldn't it be better to use "Archetype" rather than "Class" or "Role"?


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Lance D. Allen on May 16, 2002, 09:31:39 PM
I detest character classes in the traditional sense because they, in almost every game, stratify what your character does/is capable of. The only way to break that mold is to "multi-class" which still stratifies, it just stratifies it into those two areas.

"Archetype" is a word with much more flexible connotations. It doesn't, in any game which uses it that I've run across, attribute a certain set of abilities, so much as it gives direction to how you use the standard set of abilities. You can also take an archetype and build on it in a way which totally differs from the "standard".

Note: I refer to common usage of these terms, not what they actually mean.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Andrew Martin on May 16, 2002, 09:34:39 PM
And here's an example from the Fudge list of Space Opera "Character Dimensions". It offers an interesting alternative to the conventional Fighter, Thief, Mage, Cleric classes from D&D. I quote Scott Barrie:

This is an excerpt from my Space Opera rule set (now renamed Fudge
Skiffy). It's mostly stand-alone, so I thought I'd post it here for
comments.

Character Dimensions
A character's role in the game is defined by their Dimensions. Most characters in "Fudge Skiffy" will only have one Dimension, but characters with two or more Dimensions are possible. Characters gain fudge points for acting according to their Dimensions. Every player character starts an episode with one fudge point, and can hold a maximum of two fudge points at any time. Some points to consider before awarding fudge points:

1) Did the action help define the character?
2) Was the action appropriate? A Big Guy going to his quarters to pump iron to earn a fudge point before sealing a hull breech probably isn't appropriate. Similarly, a Mystic could give obscure quotes at any time, but some circumstances make it more appropriate than others.
3) Was the action original? Just because an action earned a fudge point last time, does not mean it will earn another fudge point this time.
4) Was it fun?

[Sidebox] The GM should be selective when awarding the use of Dimensions, in order to give all the players a fair opportunity to earn fudge points.

Sample Dimensions

Dimension Method of Gaining Fudge Points

1) The Lead Seducing or flirting
2) Egghead Deducing (accurate or not) from small pieces of
evidence. Spending time in a lab or library
3) Big Guy Demonstrating strength
4) Alien Outsider Making observations about human nature
5) Crotchety Geezer Starting or participating in arguments
6) Daredevil Taking unnecessary risks, taunting gravity
7) Expendable Planning for the future
Gives every other player character a fudge point if the Expendable character dies while exposing an unknown danger or protecting another character. The Expendable character's player may then bring another, pre-made, character into play when circumstances permit. The new character starts with two fudge points
8) Narrator Explaining or summarizing events while in character. Exposition
9) Chief Encouraging cooperation and coordinating
10) Hothead Starting or being drawn into a fight
11) Decoration Attracting another character's attentions
12) Student Taking advice from or imitating another character
13) Mystic Volunteering pieces of esoteric wisdom
14) Tactician Winning conflicts (physical or otherwise) with sensible decisions
15) Nanny Convincing other characters to make safe choices.
16) Veteran Telling stories about the past.
17) Tough Guy Not showing fear when other characters do. Intimidation
18) Rookie Making mistakes, as judged by the other players. This may or may not have be intentional on the part of the player
19) Duellist One-on-one, fair conflicts (physical or otherwise).
20) Protector Directly or indirectly preventing harm to one specific character


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Andrew Martin on May 16, 2002, 09:39:07 PM
And then there's Panels here: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Quasar/9229/supes/stature.html which has "Statures", or common Superhero archetypes.


Title: What About OtE?
Post by: Le Joueur on May 16, 2002, 09:56:26 PM
Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Fang. Use smaller words, man. You're making my head spin.

Again?  Think of it as a panaramic view and wait for the nausea to subside.

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
It popped into my head. Your Role is what you DO.

Now that you've caught up.  Let me suggest that clearly marked Roles aid in Niche Protection; "You, the Thief, listen at the door.  Fighter, prepare your weapons for what lay on the other side.  I will ready a fireball...oh wait, it seems the Fighter/Thief/Magic-user hath already slain the dragon."  With this protection, class-based systems avoid that problem implicitly.

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

THAT'S your character.

I seem to remember OtE having something like this instead of attributes and skills; you took 'Hitman' and whenever anything could be solved by a hitman, you got a roll.

I still say that classes are a simpler way of looking at character differences.  When you just use the 'role' system you suggest, you run into all sorts of niche invasion problems (that could be dealt with prior to play - something I tried to do with Scattershot's Sine Qua Non Technique (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2009)).

Fang Langford


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on May 16, 2002, 10:02:59 PM
Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen

It popped into my head. Your Role is what you Do.

Makes too much sense, I know...but it took me awhile to figure this out.

In octaNe, I plan on straight-out saying: look, you want to make a character and play the game. Cool. But before you think of a name or a personality or a history or even a "type" of character, do this:

Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

Man, I gotta get organized and get my game up somewhere . . .

First, decide what kind of scenes the game is going to have.  Action?  Romance?  Seduction?  Negotiation?  Army-scale combat?  Personal scale combat?  Poltical discussions?  etc. etc.

Then, each player describes 3-7 "special" things that they can do in each kind of scene (or in general - the scene thing is kinda to provide more structure for those that want it, but it's not required).   That's the character's "skill list" and "attributes" - just about everything about "what they do" (helps in colorful narration of the scene, too).  

There's another category - "who they are"  - that's the sorta-metagame Currency to let 'em influence the FitM system to get one of their better "specials" . . . but really, I should just finish the damn thing and get it on-line somewhere.

My point here is mostly: I agree, "what you do" is a GREAT thing to focus character creation on.  And Class (in most places I've seen it) is powerful because it does get at "what you do", if indirectly.  Going DIRECTLY to the issue works for me . . .

Gordon


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on May 17, 2002, 05:44:35 AM
It seems to me that the role of class, and whether it should be a part of your game or not, depends on the answer to this question: do you wish to set up the challenges for the players yourself as the game designer or do you wish to give them the tools to set up their own challenges?


Title: Class failings
Post by: wyrdlyng on May 17, 2002, 06:28:53 AM
The main failing of class systems that I've seen is that there is more than a simple "role" involved. Let's use D&D as our example (it's the most blatant about it anyways).

In D&D, and many clones, a class comes with inherent abilities and limitations which both exceed and limit role choices. Example, I want to play an investigator who assists the local city watch in solving crimes. The only D&D class which comes close to approximating this is Rogue. Okay, you take Rogue and get lots of skills which support your role. But you also get the ability to do extra damage to an unawares target (aka backstab damage bonus). This doesn't fit the role at all.

Okay, I choose to be a warrior dedicated to serving the goals of my patron diety. Okay, in D&D you're a Paladin. But my patron isn't Lawful Good. So I can't qualify for a Paladin anymore. I could take Fighter but then what about abilities granted to the character by his patron?

Many class systems come with classes tied down to too many preconceptions rather than keeping with general broad ideas. Instead of

"Fighter: someone who is good at combat"

you get "Fighter: someone who is good with combat, has minimal skill choices or training outside of combat, and has the ability to learn more tricks related to combat."

I personally prefer more open classes such as those used in Alternity wherein you would take a class (my memory of the exact names is foggy) like "Combat Specialist" and what you would get is a discount to learn combat related skills (including weapon skills). Or even suggestions/templates as used in Chaosium's BRP ("okay, Soldier's usually have these skills").

If class served the same function as role then I'd be less growly when playing D&D. And all it would really take is to stop over-defining the functions of classes to be more in line with roles rather than specific profession types.

For a modern day example of what I'm talking about, compare the class of Computer Guy vs. Web Database Programmer. Which class would grant you more space to customize your character into what you envision?


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 17, 2002, 06:40:10 AM
Quote
Okay, I choose to be a warrior dedicated to serving the goals of my patron diety.


Don't forget that in D&D, this kind of characterization is entirely player-driven and must be layered on top of the game's focus (kicking ass in dungeons). Not to say your comment isn't valid...I think the whole "multi-class" thing (and later, point-based character generation ala Champions) is a cry out from the folks who want to play a "person" rather than just a role in the game.

Because in D&D, you don't even have to give your character a name or an identity to still play a successful game.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 17, 2002, 08:23:23 AM
Archetypes miss the point. They speak to how the character looks before play. Jared's right, it's all about what the character's do in play. Selection of a Role (Via Class, or the subconcious versions that Fang mentions, or whatever method) are intended to partition off your portion of game effectiveness, so that other players have an are that they can affect primarily. In other words, the aforementioned Niche Protection.

But why Nich Protection? Why is that a desired thing? Because it is a method of protecting protagonism. It goes back to what I refer to as Thunderbird Syndrome. This refers to the X-Men character of the same name. Now you're saying "what, I don't remember an x-man named Thunderbird". To which I reply, right, that's the point. Thunderbird was so underwhelming when compared to the rest of the characters that he was totally unnoticable, and was written out in short order. Not to say he didn't have awesome powers, he could fly and had super strength, etc. Just that whatevver he did, one of the other X-men did it better. He had no area in which he was the expert.

In other words, this is a protagonism problem. Thus, roles are intended to protect protagonism in games where there is no other way to do so. That having been said, Narativist games provide a lot of other avenues for protagonism and as such, specific Role selection is not nearly as important. Characters can overlap quite a bit more and be interesting. For a Sim game you may not even need protgonism per se. This is why Role selection in chargen is most limited (and therefore, "unrealistic") in Gamist games.

Make sense? Pretty simple, really.

Mike


Title: True... True...
Post by: wyrdlyng on May 17, 2002, 08:33:22 AM
Yes, D&D at its core is little more than moving metal figures around a grid and rolling to kill things. I've never been able to take too much of that literal translation in an actual game though. I might was well put in a video game and play Gauntlet or Diablo with my friends.

Back to roles and class, I think that if a game is explicit regarding its range of available roles and their preconceptions then I can understand and allow overdefined limitations and inclusions. If a game says you can be a fighter, a healer, a wizard, a thief, etc. and states that you will wander through mazes and kill creatures then I, after reading this, have no right to gripe. My problem comes from empty claims of flexiblity in regards to classes facilitating roles which cannot possibly be pigeon-holed into their preconceptions without altering the rules as stated.

Classes are not inherently a problem. The problem is false statements regarding what their specific classes can do. If you're basing your response to "What do you see yourself doing?" on false information then you will be dissatisfied when you can't do that in the game.

I do agree with the statement that Role is what you Do but I think that the "Person" element determines how you Do what you Do.

Back to a modern example, your Role is Computer Guy. If you decide to retrieve some data off of a machine you have multiple ways to do it. Do you sneak into the place, break into the machine and yank the harddrive? Or do you connect remotely and hack through their security? A valid class system would allow you to do either as part of fulfilling your Role through the game's Classes.


Much rambling and some 2 cents thrown in for good measure.


Title: Re: True... True...
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 17, 2002, 09:01:29 AM
Quote from: wyrdlyng
Back to a modern example, your Role is Computer Guy. If you decide to retrieve some data off of a machine you have multiple ways to do it. Do you sneak into the place, break into the machine and yank the harddrive? Or do you connect remotely and hack through their security? A valid class system would allow you to do either as part of fulfilling your Role through the game's Classes.


In my game, this ain't an acceptable character. The point is not to pin down the character to generic role with many possible variations depending on the circumstances. Computer Guy" is someone who does computer stuff, right? But my question would be, "Great -- but what is he DOING?"

One answer could be, "He's giggling, a half-smoked cigarette hanging from his lip, as he wrecks some dude's credit rating." So he's not just Computer Guy -- he's the unshaven guy who fucks with people via his cable modem. He's the...oh, I dunno..."Malevolent Hacker."

I think part of the "multi-class" character (ie: Computer Guy who could hack remotely, drop in Ninja style from the air ducts, charm the pants off some executive, etc. etc.) is fear of not being able to do stuff in the game. Like taking a "skiing" skill during character creation and then finding yourself in the jungle. It's frusterating...and many games feature a "feel free to alter your character concept during the game to fit the scenario" kinda rule to fix this.


Title: Re: True... True...
Post by: Clinton R. Nixon on May 17, 2002, 09:22:47 AM
Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
I think part of the "multi-class" character (ie: Computer Guy who could hack remotely, drop in Ninja style from the air ducts, charm the pants off some executive, etc. etc.) is fear of not being able to do stuff in the game. Like taking a "skiing" skill during character creation and then finding yourself in the jungle. It's frusterating...and many games feature a "feel free to alter your character concept during the game to fit the scenario" kinda rule to fix this.


This right here just gave me an idea, somewhat combined with the "metagame" thread going on right now, too. A high action game like octaNe or a spy game or whatever could easily be made where your abilities weren't things like a "skiing" skill, but instead abilities based off very broad categories like Movement, Destruction, Stealth, and Thinking. The point would be to never have your character de-protagonized because of, say, having that ski skill and being in the jungle. With Movement, you ski like a madman on the mountains, and in the jungle, well, you can climb trees or drive one of those Everglades hover-fan-boats or whatever. Point being - you can move.


Title: Re: True... True...
Post by: Jared A. Sorensen on May 17, 2002, 09:29:43 AM
Quote from: Clinton R Nixon
This right here just gave me an idea, somewhat combined with the "metagame" thread going on right now, too. A high action game like octaNe or a spy game or whatever could easily be made where your abilities weren't things like a "skiing" skill, but instead abilities based off very broad categories like Movement, Destruction, Stealth, and Thinking. The point would be to never have your character de-protagonized because of, say, having that ski skill and being in the jungle. With Movement, you ski like a madman on the mountains, and in the jungle, well, you can climb trees or drive one of those Everglades hover-fan-boats or whatever. Point being - you can move.


Dude. That's so right on -- look at James Bond! Speedboats, horses, skis, planes, helis, motorbikes, race cars...he can do it all. The trick is his intention: he's not a chase guy, he's an escape guy.

Hmmm...really good idea. I'd love to be able to use that in octaNe but hmm...how to do it? I think the idea needs its own system and unfortunately, I dunno octaNe is compatible with it. Very cool, though.


Title: Re: True... True...
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 17, 2002, 09:33:43 AM
Quote from: Clinton R Nixon
A high action game like octaNe or a spy game or whatever could easily be made where your abilities weren't things like a "skiing" skill, but instead abilities based off very broad categories like Movement, Destruction, Stealth, and Thinking. The point would be to never have your character de-protagonized because of, say, having that ski skill and being in the jungle. With Movement, you ski like a madman on the mountains, and in the jungle, well, you can climb trees or drive one of those Everglades hover-fan-boats or whatever. Point being - you can move.


See Sean Wipfli's Two Page Action Movie (2PAM).

Mike


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 17, 2002, 10:51:09 AM
Hiya,

What a great discussion.

First thing for me is to acknowledge Fang's writings about all of this, as his "Particles of character class" makes a lot of sense to me. Second thing is to acknowledge that Jared is spot on with his shift of focus to "role," in the active, in-play sense of the word - and to say that Fang and Jared are saying very similar things.

Looking at my own games, I've noted that they are stupendously "narrow" in terms of role. Yes, your Sorcerer character may have all manner of interesting descriptors for (say) Will or (especially) Cover, but every character is, god damn it, a sorcerer. Same goes for Elfs - you may play a genital-stage, anal-state, or oral-stage Elf, but it's pretty much just coloring around the edges in minor system-affecting ways. And soon, you will all see perhaps the acme of focused RPG design in Trollbabe, in which nothing is distinctive between characters, in terms of system - plus, they are all one "race" (trollbabes) and (gasp!) one sex.

InSpectres and Little Fears both demonstrate the same approach. So does Zero, if you'll believe it - what appears to be brutally-defined "character class" at the outset of play is exactly what actual play, over time, deconstructs. So does the original Pendragon (although with a different GNS orientation).

This design preference on my part is related to my intense interest in Narrativist Premise, and I can't say that such a focus would be appropriate for other design aesthetics. I do think, though, that offering a whole smorgasbord of Roles (rather than multiple nuances on one Role) has proven, in my experience, to be a poor default.

For instance, some discussion after fairly intensive L5R play revealed, to us anyway, that the game would vastly improved by removing shugenja as player-characters.

Now, does that mean that I think only single-focus games work? Not at all. The distinction between thraka and tala in Orkworld is a wonderful part of the game; the panoply of possible Roles (and I don't mean "occupation" or "race") is one of the great strengths of Hero Wars. I count both games as tremendously successful. The two classes in The Riddle of Steel seem all right to me, pending some play to learn more. (My apologies to Jake, but sorcerers vs. non-sorcerers are character classes in TROS. Squirm if you like, but they're there.)

So I conclude that the topic needs yet more workout. Why are "classes" unsatisfying in many cases? After all, a game isn't automatically better because it has only one role - or because it has many roles.

Let's break it down. Let's say we have a game which does work well with multiple roles - not Little Fears, not Sorcerer, etc. Why does the traditional approach to character class turn out - in many cases - not to work well for it? By contrast, does it ever work well, and why?

I strongly suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the parsing of in-game vs. out-of-game roles. I also have a sneaky suspicion that protagonism is going to be involved here as well, as was implied above.

Best,
Ron


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on May 17, 2002, 11:40:09 AM
Why do classes break down?  One observation I have is that classes are supposed to tell you what you do (often, what you do WELL), but in practice, it doesn't always work out that way.  The classic "but the thief can do more damage than my fighter" or "the magician can sneak better than my thief" kind of thing.  Classes set up an expectation of what things are going to be like, and rarely (at least over time) does play live up to those expectations.

"At least over time."  Maybe that parenthetical is important . . . maybe "classes", as often constructed and used, become a form of "playing before you play," of resolving things ahead of time that would be better resolved as the play evolves.  And when play evolves (as it especially does in Nar games), the inappropriateness of that "play before play" just becomes more and more glaring . . .

Gordon


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: wyrdlyng on May 17, 2002, 11:49:21 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Why are "classes" unsatisfying in many cases? After all, a game isn't automatically better because it has only one role - or because it has many roles.


True. From my experience I have found that the instance where "classes" fail is when a game tries to give focus the classes in on the point of the game but doesn't finish the job. For example, going back to D&D, the point of play is to kill things and level up. Now let's take the role of Fighter. If the role of the Fighter is to kill things with weapons then why dilute that with 4 different classes? You have a generic warrior and 3 specialized forms (Ranger, Paladin, Barbarian). Either create 1 generic Fighter class (a la the original D&D game) or create a class that be customized to fit variable concepts (Fighter with wilderness skills, fighter with holy powers, fighter with berzerk, etc.).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Let's break it down. Let's say we have a game which does work well with multiple roles - not Little Fears, not Sorcerer, etc. Why does the traditional approach to character class turn out - in many cases - not to work well for it? By contrast, does it ever work well, and why?


Let's throw Shadowrun around for a bit. You can say the the role of the characters is Shadowrunner but I argue that that's too broad of a role to apply to the entire game. That's like saying that Feng Shui characters have the single role of "Ass Kicker."

Shadowrun has no character classes but has optional archetypes. There are obvious roles in Shadowrun: Killing Guy, Driver Guy, Computer Guy, Magic Guy, etc. If two people chose the role of Killing Guy they are allowed to customize their characters enough so that there would be no real problem with deprotagonization (is that a word?).  The reason being that there are no hard classes to limit you. If each archetype listed in the book was turned into a hard class then you'd have pointless variations for variation's sake.

Yes, there is a big difference between the two. Shadowrun's roles are, to me, Out-of-Game roles and D&D's are In-Game roles. Shadowrun's roles are roles derived from Action films and TV (like the A-Team) and which are not explicitly stated in Shadowrun but are usually obvious to players familiar with Action films and TV. D&D's roles are created by the game and its point of play (HTH guy, trap guy, ranged guy, healer guy).

An example of a game with multiple roles which works well with classes is Alternity. The classes are broad enough to allow great customization and variation within a class.

A single role game with classes that works well is... crap, I can't think of any off the top of my head. Let's take L5R stripped of the Shugenja. The role would be you are a Samurai. The classes would be the different Clans. Each player's role would be the same but how they did that role would be differentiated by how each one would try to achieve their goals according to their Clan (Crab would beat you with a stick, Scorpion would blackmail you, Crane would get your daimyo to tell you to back off, etc.).

Did anything I just say make sense?


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Walt Freitag on May 17, 2002, 12:12:01 PM
Classes as "playing before you play"

Yes, I think that's very true. This also goes back to Wyrdlyng's point that classes can easily be overloaded. That is to say, class rules tend to go beyond what's needed to define the role (or the niche, nice terminology Fang) and also attempt to encode effectiveness in that role.

Even when playing with primarily Gamist goals I found this annoying about AD&D. When my fighter character would go up a level, someone had already decided how his increased effectiveness would come about: more hit points, more weapon proficiencies, higher chance to hit, more attacks per round and so forth. Maybe I'd prefer to have greater attack range, increased ability to dodge, improved tactical perception, and quicker healing instead. Sorry. Those decisions have already been made.

Champions was a big improvement in that regard. Okay, sure, the Champions/Hero system has effectiveness attractors that all but force your character into certain optimal configurations. But at least you have the gamist pleasure of figuring out what those attractors are for yourself.

There's something else about classes that I have a problem with, something extremely basic that hasn't been mentioned yet. It's the timing. This is something I've been shouting (to no avail, of course) in the computer game design community for years about CRPGs: "I start up (or log onto) your game, and the very first question it asks me is what class I want to be. This decision is by far the most complex, the most interesting, and the most important decision I'll ever make playing your game. And when do you have me making it? At the very beginning, before I know anything about the setting, the situation, or the community. Does anyone else see a problem here?"

I think the same problem is common in RPGs. Classes exacerbate the problem because they always force more to be decided earlier.

- Walt


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Zak Arntson on May 17, 2002, 01:11:11 PM
Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
but instead abilities based off very broad categories like Movement, Destruction, Stealth, and Thinking.


I've took a "things you DO" approach to my half-baked Metal Opera. http://www.livejournal.com/talkread.bml?journal=zaka&itemid=46839 In it, you have three stats that work fine for something like James Bond (granted, you'd have to change the stats from Rock 'n Roll, Kicking Ass and Jury-Rigging ... to, I don't know, Suave 'n Debonaire, Stunts 'n Fighting and maybe something else).

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Let's say we have a game which does work well with multiple roles .... Why does the traditional approach to character class turn out - in many cases - not to work well for it? By contrast, does it ever work well, and why?


In traditional gaming, I think a lot of the reason it breaks down is the traditional pre-designed scenario format. The designer can't realistically predict the Classes presented, so the adventure inevitably leaves out a role or gives too much influence to another.

When does it work well? I would venture that it works well with loosely pre-determined scenarios. Ones where the GM and/or Players can change the situations (upcoming or current) during play in order to support the different roles. octaNe falls into this category.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: :: Declare :: on May 17, 2002, 07:24:30 PM
I haven't seen anyone mention this, so I'll throw it out as food for thought:

Seems to me in Narrativist games players can whip up a concept and then hit the ground running; in G/S games, the players might need some help wading through the crunchy bits, so as far as G/S-type rulsets are concerned, might not character class be a mechanic used primarily as a means for the players to quickly man-up and get in the game?


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: leomknight on May 18, 2002, 11:40:35 AM
Interesting topic. Kind of a flashback of all my roleplaying experiences.

It seems to me that, at the one end, you have the extremely rigid character classes like old D&D. You are a wizard, you can' t wear armor, etc. At the other end, there are the skill driven systems like Runequest, aparently without classes, but characters tend to have similar skills. Then there are general systems that tend to sacrafice detail for ease of play.

In old D&D, you were a character type, you played that role, and if you were say, a thief, and never picked pockets, but fought (badly) all the time, eventually you would be an umpty-ump level thief who can pick God's pocket, but still can't fight worth a damn. This is how my first long term D&D character went. Once a thief, always a thief. I think a lot of the early roleplaying games were created in frustration with the rigidity of the rules.

In D&D3 you now have the option of changing classes almost at will. The thief above could become a fighter or monk, and gain new, more useful abilities. The classes now remind me of the "package deals" in games like GURPS and Hero System. It's a start, a clear, easily described role, with clear abilities.

The biggest problem I see with classes, is that they must still be defined in terms of what that class can DO. If I'm a 15th level nerf-herder, what does that mean to me, as a player? It still has to be broken down. How well do I attack? Cast magic? Spot traps?

This is why I prefer skill based systems. I don't have to stop and define a role, just let the player choose his abilities. If he wants new or better abilities, most games allow this, at a price. This seems to produce happier players. They aren't shoehorned into a frustrating, over limited role. They may not be able to do everything yet, but they know they have a chance in time. I ran a long term Runequest campaign. True, all the characters had similar abilities, but there were differences in focus. One player really got into being the best swordsman. Another focussed heavily on magic. A third had lots of secondary skills for search and stealth. They did this by CHOICE, not by game designer's fiat. And if they wanted to change focus, they could, no muss, no fuss.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Mike Holmes on May 20, 2002, 05:20:57 AM
Quote from: :: Declare ::
...in G/S games, the players might need some help wading through the crunchy bits, so as far as G/S-type rulsets are concerned, might not character class be a mechanic used primarily as a means for the players to quickly man-up and get in the game?


This is a good point. I think it was Mearls who pointed out that the Chineese menu method of character generation (pick one class, pick one race, pick armor, pick weapon) was one of the easiest ways to get the sort of people into a game that would otherwise balk at complex Character Creation mechanics. That being said, this could been seen as enabling a player who does not want to care much about the game to participate. Which is only good if you don't mind such players.

Mike


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Ron Edwards on May 20, 2002, 06:59:01 AM
Hi Declare,

That is an excellent point. Let's see what I can make of it, with further breakdowns ... OK, spectrum time.

Far end: classic character classes. Class A does X, Y, and Z, and for all intents and purposes is a rules-set unto itself, including reward system and improvement details. Good ol' AD&D in those late 70s books does it this way.

Far-ish: Archetypes. Very similar to the above except with customizing modifications built in, and perhaps more across-class rules apply during play than within-class rules. Examples include Deadlands and Feng Shui.

Somewhere middle-ish: Chinese menu. The usual lists are "race/breed" and "occupation," with perhaps a few others like "magic," "personality," or "accessories" tossed in. Vampire, L5R, and about a bezillion others do it this way, or perhaps a little bit toward the next category. Hero Wars does it in an interesting way. D&D3E is mainly in this category although it pretends to be at the far end.

Near-ish: Build-your-own. Characters include intra-character categories like attributes, skills, etc, and some currency of character creation permits them to be built as desired (more or less). Champions, GURPS, Fudge, and a ton of others are in this category.

Near end: near free-form. Not only are there no uber-categories, but not even intra-character categories either. Make it up and spend whatever needs to be spent to describe it. The Window is about as tight against the end of the spectrum as possible.

I want to emphasize that all of these are potentially functional. Furthermore, lots of other independent variables can be factored in as well, such as the role of Fortune in character creation, and all sorts of Currency issues.

Best,
Ron


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: unodiablo on May 20, 2002, 11:54:00 AM
Hey Mike,
Thanks for mentioning 2PAM. :) I was about halfway through when I thought of it, then you were pretty much next post!

I don't have much to add to this conversation, but I have a question... Back in the day when we were still playing D&D, we used to use this old Dragon article that let you make your own unique 'class' by picking from the list of what any D&D char could do, and then you added up your total from those you chose and got a exp point modifier.

So you could dump the things you didn't want, and add other little desired tricks from other classes... (i.e. a wizard with pick pockets and cleric spells) Was this us trying to drift towards Narrativism, or at least away from Simulationism, or do you think it was just a way of giving more 'protagonization' ability to the characters?

Sean


Title: Re: True... True...
Post by: xiombarg on May 20, 2002, 12:06:05 PM
Quote
This right here just gave me an idea, somewhat combined with the "metagame" thread going on right now, too. A high action game like octaNe or a spy game or whatever could easily be made where your abilities weren't things like a "skiing" skill, but instead abilities based off very broad categories like Movement, Destruction, Stealth, and Thinking. The point would be to never have your character de-protagonized because of, say, having that ski skill and being in the jungle. With Movement, you ski like a madman on the mountains, and in the jungle, well, you can climb trees or drive one of those Everglades hover-fan-boats or whatever. Point being - you can move.


Would it be bad for me to mention that this sounds like an alternate version of the ability break-up for Amber Diceless? You've got Warfare, which covers everything from using a sword to commanding a clone army, and you've got Psyche, which covers everything from mental combat to lighting a cigarette with magic, and the less-broad Strength (ability to take damage, raw physical strength, and weaponless combat) and Endurance (ability to heal, tie-breaker for all the other attributes).

And I'll note that the most common change made by GMs to Amber is to change the attributes. By changing the attributes, you chance the different niches that characters can aspire to. For example, in a very Oberon-centered game (Oberon is the father of all the Elder Amberites), I added "Favor" as an attribute, which represented how much Dad liked you, how much responsibility for Amber you were given, and how well-liked you were in court -- opening up the possiblity for the "courtier" niche, while someone like Benedict is off specializing in Warfare.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: unodiablo on May 20, 2002, 12:19:50 PM
For anyone that hasn't played 2PAM, it's also very much like this (I don't have Amber Diceless tho) as well. The 'Stats' of the game are functions of Action Movie characters boiled down to their most basic elements; Shoot, Fight, Stunt, Luck, Mojo and Skill... Shoot can mean you haul a BFG around with you ala' Rambo, or you're just really good with a 'lil pea-shooter ala' James Bond. Fight might make you a Kung Fu master, a boxer, pit-fighter. You just assign the dice amount and an Aspect (descrition) of the stat.

We used 2PAM to run a D&D-like game once too...


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Valamir on May 20, 2002, 01:13:00 PM
Quote from: unodiablo

I don't have much to add to this conversation, but I have a question... Back in the day when we were still playing D&D, we used to use this old Dragon article that let you make your own unique 'class' by picking from the list of what any D&D char could do, and then you added up your total from those you chose and got a exp point modifier.

So you could dump the things you didn't want, and add other little desired tricks from other classes... (i.e. a wizard with pick pockets and cleric spells) Was this us trying to drift towards Narrativism, or at least away from Simulationism, or do you think it was just a way of giving more 'protagonization' ability to the characters?


I wouldn't read too much into that Sean.  It certainly had nothing to do with Narrativism, and arguably little to do with protagonizing.  In fact, going with my comments on the Classes vs Realty thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2205), most classes involve Standard + Differentiators.  

D&D has been adding more Differentiators since its origins.  Original D&D had Elves as a Class.  AD&D allowed Elves to be further differentiated as a race with a seperate class.  Later supplements added Non Weapon Proficencies and AD&D2E built on those to a whole slew of kits.  D&D3E goes even further with select-a-skill and dial-a-feat.

I'd say the article in question was nothing more than an attempt to dial up the level of Differentiator while clinging to a class structure.  At which time the class structure loses all meaning and one might as well go with Chinese Menu from the ground up.


Title: Have a little class, people.
Post by: Seth L. Blumberg on May 21, 2002, 08:37:26 AM
Really, I think the brief appearance of the "customizable classes" concept in AD&D (especially in the "Player's Option" books) was a drift towards Simulationism, and away from Gamism.  Certainly that's how I applied it in my one abortive attempt to run an AD&D2e campaign.