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Classes Vs. Reality

Started by Eric J., May 20, 2002, 02:00:58 PM

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Andrew Martin

Quote from: Blake Hutchins
There's my nickel.  Anyone got change?

I prefer game systems where character archetype arises as an emergent property of the game system rules. Then the players have maximum freedom of choice, and don't feel restrained by the rules. After that, the players and their character actions will create archetypes for their characters.

"Class", as implemented in AD&D, is a complex design that struggles to achieve the elegance of emergent behaviour generated from simple, but not simplistic rules.
Andrew Martin

Eric J.

That's exactly what I've been saying. However:

QuoteFor instance, I could post a list of all of my beliefs about RPGs...but no one would care. For effective dialog to take place I have to be able to state my case about why I believe X, Y & Z; giving others the opportunity to comment, challenge, or agree.

Theoretically, because that is your opinion, it shouldn't be posted. I'm sorry, but he's agrivating me.

Seth L. Blumberg

Fabrice had an interesting point earlier, to which I'd like to return.

Quote from: little nickyMy problem with the use of classes has more to do with the uses that had been made of classes, and the consequances of the attached improvement system. Then classes become something too rigid and dictate too much of the evolution of the characters.
Thinking about my own reaction to the development of "classless" games, I have to agree.  Many of the problems I have with class-based character creation stem, not from classes per se, but from the extreme channelization that "old-school" class-based systems such as the first two editions of AD&D impose on character improvement.

It's hard for me to imagine what design goal is best served by such a narrow restriction of possible directions of character development; it might be a form of "niche protection," but if so, it's far too strong for its own good.
the gamer formerly known as Metal Fatigue

Mike Holmes

Let's keep in mind that the solution to the "too narrow" class problem was Rolemaster. Funny, but eventually, through the course of seven Rolemaster Companion supplements you can see Rolemaster then evolve into GURPS. Fascinating.

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Pyron, give ME a break.  No one here, least of all me, is trying to aggravate you.

You brought up a topic about which you voiced a strong opinion.  Since this is a discussion forum, it generated discussion.  You need to learn to separate people who disagree with you because they think you are wrong from hostile attacks.  

Let me be very clear.  Attacking you would be a waste of my time.  If I thought discussion with you had no value, I would simply ignore you.  Instead I wrote a reply to your post which has got to be close to 1000 words long.  That involved a commitment by me to respond to an issue you raised.  Get used to it.  That's how the Forge works.  If you bring up a topic, expect it to be debated.  If you don't want it to be debated, if you don't want people who disagree with you to explain why they think you are wrong, than don't post it.  

If you can handle discussion; if you can handle having your assumptions challenged if you can handle the realization that your entire life's experience with RPGs is just the tip of the ice berg; if you can handle having people who see things in ways that may seem down right radical to you shake up your role playing paradigm; then welcome to the Forge, because this place will do just that.

Just keep in mind that many of us have been doing this since before you were born, Many folks here have successful games published both on the internet and in print.  Most of us have been discussing these topics in great detail for a long time and know what we're talking about.

Ron Edwards


I think it's time to say, "Bloody noses? Good. All done," and return to topic discussion.


Ian O'Rourke

Quote from: PyronLOOK. Give me a break. You can go floating around justifying things because "they meet the designer's goal in mind" but what I'm saying is that classes as a general princible don't help the designer's goals unless they are to make a simplistic game designed for the players to take on limited tasks using limited creativity.

Mmmmm, this does not overly ring true for me. If we continue using D&D as an example, as I think most people would agree it is one of the most widely known class-based games (of course) and it is arguable one of the most strongly typed. I have found repeatedly with D&D, even though all the characters are off the same class; they are certainly not the same character. The majority of things that make 'the character' are not even on the character sheet. The character is his relationships his upbringing and his beliefs - these are rarely components of character creation in the majority of systems character creation or otherwise.

I tend to find gamers feel the need to design the character they want in terms of physical stats, skills, and whatever else - but in reality they are doing little do define the actual character. What defines the character is, the majority of the time, external to the system because the system does not codify those facets. A few games do try and do this, some better than others. As an example, Hero Wars is probably a good example of this in action, while the advantages and disadvantages of games such as GURPS are bad examples.

So, in short, I don't have a problem with the limiting aspect of classes, because the majority of the time the essentials of my character are not overly represented by the system anyway.

Also in some games the classes are a good thing, take the game Fengshui - the game about Chinese Action Movies. There is no point at all having a totally, create anything you want, character creation system for that (note I don't say that would be a complicated character creation system) because at the end of the day the game is about action movies. This does not mean you have to have a simplistic character (both Die Hard and Face Off have characters that are strong enough to meet 90% of most role-players needs) but you can make a number of assumptions about the types of characters in those movies and that they can all kick-ass to some degree.

Limiting - or just a focus on the games whole reason for being?

Not all games need you to be able to create every sort of character, and even games that do allow it, I would argue codify a lot of pointless crap - the essentials of the character actually come from the player and his concepts which are rarely codified in rules.

As a final note, I think you might be missing the point of the discussion to some degree. First, no one is being confrontational; they are just being honest in their approach to the debate at hand. The Forge is not like a lot of other discussion sites, people can say some pretty frank stuff to each other about their views and theories - this is the nature of discussion - but they put it in such a way not to offend and also assume that the guy on the receiving end is of strong enough character to pause, think and reply in kind. Second, this is not so much debate about making people believe classes are a good thing or bad thing, but through discussion one might learn to alter ones opinion slightly in either direction (radical shifts rarely occur).

Edited: I wrote this post before I realised there was a whole other page of posts. I decided to leave it intact though.
Ian O'Rourke
The e-zine of SciFi media and Fandom Culture.


I have to be in support of classes if they fufill niche protection or provide a necessary guidance for the players in terms of the intended gameplay.  

For example, there are no "classes" per se in Sorcerer, but everyone is a sorcerer, period.  Likewise with Inspectres, there are no classes, but everyone has the same profession(bustin' ghosts).  These games unify characters under a single qualification and leaves it open for players from there.  Everyone knows what they're supposed to do, and what the point of the game is.

In games such as D&D, classes effectively limit the choices of characters, they provide the structure that will result in D&D style gameplay.  I have found games without any structure often lead to fuzzy concepts, or else, everyone's characters slowly drift closer into style and skills rather than retain individuality.  These open systems in reality often have only one "effective" means of play, and the reward system encourages folks towards this singular archtype.  

For example, in any campaign filled with combat, it won't be long until the non-combat types have to get combat skills just to have an effect in game.  In a political intrigue game, it would be political skills.  In a class based game, you can rule out certain classes and overtly let the players know what this is going to be about.  Likewise, when a player chooses a certain class, they're letting you know what they want to play.  A fighter is an obvious choice.  Period.

Classes are also a great way to encourage conflict between the players and characters by use of political division, which has been Whitewolf's preferred gimmick.  Again, since much of their games are about political strife, this helps encourage the type of gameplay that they desire.

On the other hand, you have games which are "classless" but make you decide on your character's foundation.  Over the Edge and Donjon are two that come to mind.  You can create any character you imagine, but your traits or skills are fairly locked from creation.  This makes you have to stay within your concept, which I approve of.  No matter what incarnation you're dealing with Conan as; barbarian, pirate, or king, you never lose his personality or his character.  He's still gruff and a pragmatist.  

In total, classes are only as useful as their function as fufilling the game design needs.  Do they reflect reality?  Hardly.  Unless each of us gets a new level every six months :P(along with that shifting alignment...)


Eric J.

My view, is that classes should only be used, if the gameplay makes it a neccecity.  This would be an RPG where your options are very limitid (which isn't always a bad thing) as you role in society.  In systems where your duty is to explore a chosen world and fill a role of society, be that adventuring, treasure hunting, or stealing, your class options should be unlimited. However, if a game is strictly about Wizards, you could make every one a specialist mage, to simbolise the diversity in training and make each party more unique.  When you have the options to explore entire societies and do whatever you want, classes seem irrational.

Walt Freitag

Now that Chris has brought up the issue of character classes "providing a necessary guidance" for players, I want to try the question I asked earlier one more time.

Pyron, in a previous thread (see my previous post for a link to that thread), you pointed out that some people need guidelines, as an argument against character creation systems that are too open-ended.

Classes are one way, but of course not the only way, to provide character creation guidelines for players who need them. Let's say you have a game such as you describe, where players have the options to explore entire societies and do whatever they want. Without character classes, what mechanisms do you think should be in place for providing that guidance?

- Walt
Wandering in the diasporosphere

Eric J.

A very good point. I know that I'm contradicting my earlier posts. Truley, I'm suprised any one remembered anything I said. Anyway, for instance, in my system skills work differently.  Skills require proficiancy before they can be used.  In most systems, skills are simply modification of an Attribute (ability score). I find that this is flawed, and that you maintain much controll by making the purchase of the skill originally, high.  This will decrease the versatility of characters to a desent level. For example:

Bob the diplomat is a Lv. 1 equivelant and has 7D in Diplomacy (in my system diplomacy is a skill category). He has 0D in Starship combat. In most systems, improving 7D to 8D costs like, 7 points and to improve from 0D to 1D costs almost nothing.  I make skills harder to improve at higher ammounts but I also make you pay an amount to get the skill originally.  This will force characters to be versitile and concentrate on matching skills with the character's personality.  Other guidelines include making the GM the final judge if the skill is appropriate.  This is obvious, but you would be supprised how many GMs don't stop maximization before it's too late.

Mike Holmes

I don't know Pyron,

While you suggested system will make players focus on particular things, how will that get them to actually create a role that goes with the game? How will it be a guideline for what the player should take? It says, pick carefully, but pick anything you want.

In addition it also does not provide for niche protection. What's to stop two different players from creating characters that cover the exact same skills. With classes, you can say, "OK, Bob is a fighter, I'll be a wizard." and the problem is solved. With your system, won't players occcasionally make characters that eclipse each other? There's nothing worse than taking 6D Starship Piloting skill only to find that Bob took 7D Starship Piloting Skill. Many times a character's coolness (what we often call protagonism around here) is based on his highest stat or skill, and having someone with a higher stat makes the character seem ancillary.

One cool way to create niche protection with a system like yours is through round-robin character generation. Lesse, for a system like yours it would look like this. Each player secretly bids a number of dice from the pool for character creation (or points or whaever you use), and adds one for free to the bid. Each player reveals his number of dice, and rolls them all. High roller goes first, then the next highest, and so on, re-roll all ties using all dice for each tying player. Dice bid are spent and cannot be used for character generation. Starting with the first player and going down the order, each player selects a stat or skill or whatever, and assigns a number of dice to it. After that, no other player can assign that stat to his character at a level higher than the level at which it has been assigned for a previous character (you can assign lower so as to get second or third place if you want). Go around for three rounds, and then just go off and finish the characters individually spending the rest of your dice/points.

This is inspired by the method from Amber Diceless. In this way, players can try to ensure that they get the character that is cool in the way they want it to be. There are other methods as well (the most obvious being group discussion), but I like this one, as it means that players are forced to think of their character in the context of the other characters being developed.

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Walt Freitag

Actually I don't see a contradiction. It's perfectly consistent to believe that some players need guidance, but character classes are a poor choice for providing such guidance. (And I certainly wasn't trying to pull a "gotcha!" by bringing it up.)

However, if you have changed your mind about the amount of guidance most players need, I'm curious about why. Was it something you observed in play-testing your new system (or earlier versions of it)? You also mentioned that you've switched from classes and no levels, to levels and no classes. Deciding to make such a change must have been an interesting process.

That's really what this whole business of challenging assumptions comes down to, learning from experience. Challenging assumptions is something people here are (as you've learned!) enthusiastic about. One reason for that is that everyone here started out making a lot of the same assumptions themselves. But what assumptions you make or don't make is not nearly as important as that you understand how the assumptions you make feed into and shape your game design. This is no less true of the latest tour de force from The Forge's all-stars than it is for the most basic D&D house rules homebrew. In other words, rather than challenge your assumptions, I'd rather encourage you to challenge your own assumptions. It sounds to me like you're already well begun on this process, despite your limited experience.

So, back to specifics... Your high initial skill cost mechanism appears to represent an intended balance between versatility and guidance. Besides forcing the focusing of a character concept, it also appears likely to generate some degree of "niche protection" -- that is, making sure each character has important things they can do better than other characters.

One possible pitfall you have to deal with is that if the initial skill cost is high, a player could be hosed if the skills he purchases turn out to be not useful in the game. Before I'd spend my 10 quatloos or whatever on Diplomacy 1D, for example, I'd want to be sure that diplomatic skills are going to be important in play. (I'd hate to be in the shoes of every diplomat who ever set foot on Kirk's Enterprise, who all quickly learned that Kirk's "phaser diplomacy" was the only effective type of diplomacy in this particular universe.) Do you discuss this with the players beforehand, or do you let them make the choices first and then, as GM, design situations around the character concepts and skills your group has chosen? Or perhaps a little of both?

- Walt

Edited-in footnote: Mike and I were apparently writing our posts at the same time. Interesting, isn't it, that where I saw niche protection, Mike saw lack of the same. How did that happen? Because I assumed that players would discuss their character concepts with one another during the creation process and deliberately avoid eclipsing each other.
Wandering in the diasporosphere


I personally don't see why niches should be protected. If a player values a certain skill, he will keep imroving it. I ran a highly modified Runequest campaign that lasted for about 2 years. I created an experience system like the D6 system's because my players hated the original, random roll experience in RQ. They all started out on a par, with minor variations in ability. By the end, one character was a master swordsman, another was a powerful mage; one was a jack of all trades, another a strongman.

Now, at times, a player's character got eclipsed by another's rapid growth. He simply put more experience into what he wanted to be good at. Occasionally, feathers got ruffled, but as I see it, that's life. It's part of any game. Sometimes, you think you're doing well, and some upstart steals your thunder. It takes a level of maturity to realize your character will someday meet someone better than himself, and not get bent out of shape. I worried about hurt feelings, but ultimately, it wasn't my responsibility to manage the player's characters. The flexibility did create opportunities for friction, but I think it was more worthwhile to allow the players the freedom to chart the characters' growth themselves.

Mike Holmes


While you may not be concerned with Niche protection, many people are. Niche Protection as I mentioned previously is a method of enabling character protagonism. Rare is the player tht doesn't mind their character being stripped of protagonism. There are other methods to enable protagonism as well (which I also mentioned), and perhaps you were using one of those. Niche protection seems best suited to Gamist games, though it has applications in others as well.

It's possible that with some sort of niche protection that your players in your game would have been happier. You point out that there were negative effects. Did the utility of the freedom in question really outweigh these negative effects? We'll take you on your word, but with other players the result may not have been the same. The balance between limiting players and freedom is always a point of contention. The "Freeform" crowd don't limit players at all; no rules for character generation, no rules for resolution, nothing. If freedom is that important wouldn't your players prefer to play Freeform?

If not, then where you place your limitations is a choice, and niche protection is not particularly heinous to most players I've played with. In fact most seem to prefer it over the possibility of having their character "deprotagonized".

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