On Class and Creativity and Character Archtype

There is something I like very much about 4th edition players that has to do with one of the system's biggest flaws.

The distance between the complex mechanics and what the players call the 'fluff', i.e. what is actually happening in the game world, has created a player base that is creative in a way that is unconnected to the underlying mechanical complexity.

This is something that is very difficult for most players I've encountered to be comfortable with. Even from people I consider very intelligent and creative, I've noticed that if there isn't a package or kit or class for what they want to do, then they never consider re-skinning something basic as that creative thing that they wish. I think this was a big problem that was created from third edition. Why, if there wasn't 5 class levels of royal guard, then you just couldn't guard the king!

Lacking skills, without complex background systems or complex mechanics a basic class allows you to do anything. This is one of it's greatest advantages over more complex 'story/die pool' games (such as world of darkness and shadowrun) and mechanically complex 'hack & slash/target number' games (such as, well, hackmaster and pathfinder).

So for the same reason someone might like FUDGE (rules light, create your own list of skills and talents) they explicitly won't like classic D&D or Dungeonslayers (rules light, no list of skills and talents) when in reality, they are the same thing.

Give abstract skill light characters a chance. Pick fighter and model him as a swashbuckling rogue. Pick cleric and model him after an undead slayer. Pick wizard and create a dimensional researcher. Pick rogue and make him a gypsy. Don't just say, "oh look a generic fighter, that's all I'll ever be." These systems and your DM provide the tools you need to reinforce your role-play with stats. "Mechanics backing up the fluff" as the young folk say. It seems to me that rules and skill light, limited definition class systems offer much more actual unlimited role-playing opportunity then other kinds of mechanical systems, with their boxes and rules.

There's an axiom in comics. The less visually well defined the main character, the more the reader will identify with him. These classes are simple and abstract so that you have the freedom to make them who you want, instead of being trapped in some books predefined roles. Take advantage of that and make them the type of person you want to play.


  1. That's something I tried to say implicitly with my Character Generation Shortcuts table: The cleric table lists everything from paladin to monk, for example; the fighter table lists everything from bandit to knight; the same is true for the remaining background tables. It's like a single-roll lifepath system. ;)

  2. I agree with your view on a plethora of classes can make people think that if it isn't included it must be excluded (or not doable). However a few caveats. I htink 3e D&D had about 10 times more classes than most skill systems have skills.

    From my days of yore, ('77 or so) there were plenty of DMs who were of the nay sayer type. No one could attempt to climb or sneak except theives, questions were raised about an andventurer being able to do things that even a 12 year old boy (at least this one) could do. In part I think the Dm's had no idea how to handle or adjudicate such situations so they took the path of least resistance, saying no. Your DM's word was law TSR told folks. With that in mind you can see how the attraction of a skill system arose in the hooby; and not just from people who needed detail.

    Now I love broad class make them your own. Still it doesn't address the mechanics reinforcement argument. I can call my fighter a stealthy fighter and yours a lumbering tank but if when all is said and done if there is no tradeoff for that choice it is primarily only how I determine what my character does but has no effect on the outcome. And that mechnical tradeoff (if done right) can make the distinction meaningful, that is, you suffer mechnically in one area (thus are more likley to die!) to gain a focus in another.

    Yet isn't the OSR going down the raod of adding more and more classes? Like from OD&D to AD&D to UA? At some point your number of classes & subclasses equals the number of skills in a skill based system. That is the danger of the classic D&D class system, people always want to add in a few special abilities to make a new class. I'd rather see 20 skills than anything more than 4 classes.

  3. In the AD&D game I started this week I noticed just what you're talking about. One of the new group is a good friend, the guy who got me back into roleplaying eight years ago via 3rd edition, an excellent player but very much a lawyerly munchkin in our 3.5 and Pathfinder campaigns- though not in a particularly negative way. It is in his nature really- he is bright, pragmatic and disciplined in terms of research- he's actually a doctor.

    Anyway, I was quite surprised that he was interested in joining my new group, as I've always seen him as a player quite devoted to the crunchy feat-based min-maxing methodology he had perfected over the years. Perhaps that's an unfair assumption on my part, but then my continual ramblings about old-school games had got little response from him in recent years. Maybe he liked the fact it was going to be a regular weekly game...

    Yet he said he was looking forwards to just "relaxing" with a 1st edition PC, to just going with the bare rolled up stats and making a character based on those numbers and the party's needs. He ended up playing a slightly erratic Magic-User, an obese Olmen tribal guy far from home, and amused the group catching frogs in the reeds on the banks of the Nyr Dyv. Yet he would have been forgiven for just slipping into the bog-standard L1 Magic-User suit that is so often seen.

    I was proud of my friend, and reminded of the fact that, yes, he is actually, beneath all that crunchy min-maxing, a great, intuitive, fun role-player. It's just that, being a practical guy, he tends to get drawn into the logistics of stat-blocking in Pathfinder or 3.5, hence his statement that 1st edition would be a relaxing break from all that. He had a blast...

  4. Question: What do you think about things like this(http://lunchingonlamias.blogspot.com/2011/03/witch-class-alliances.html)? Do they contribute to the problem?

  5. Some replies:
    A) I agree that the rules heavy nature of the game comes as a response to the 'dick DM' issue. I wrote a post about it in the history somewhere.

    B) I fully believe you *should* reinforce the creativity with mechanical bonuses. I just don't think they should be codified in 'official material'.

    C) and as for the witch class stuff, I can summarize my views like this. Statistic free idea lists are wonderful. Specific gaming system paths concerned with crunchy bits and balance are terrible. :-)


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