Topic: Character Classes - Useful Guidelines or Constraints on Creativity?

What do you folks think about having character classes in a game? What good class systems have you encountered? Bad ones? Why were they so? How about classless systems?

Personally, from experience in tabletop roleplaying, I don't like much anything that places limits on the character concepts you can device, or makes some concepts much weaker than others. In D&D it seems to me you're asked to pick a character concept from the huge amounts of sourcebooks and tweak a little, while I want to create the concept from scratch and then realize it within the game system. Generally, I find that the scope of human difference is so great that no amount of classes can cover all possible concepts, and thus, classes are a Bad Idea!

So... how about you?

Re: Character Classes - Useful Guidelines or Constraints on Creativity?

True, classes are a bad idea. Especially strict ones, like in D&D. On multiple occasions I failed to realize a character concept just because it didn't fit one of the classes available.
But they have one benefit: they save time for creation. That's not much of a benefit, actually, if all the players know the rules and can create their characters beforehand - but it comes in handy when there are newbies in hand.

In MMOG's, classes are definitely a bad idea, resulting in lots of secondary characters. Crafting classes are usually most affected, as are hard to level-up (Think Ragnarok's merchant and Lineage's Dwarves). And phrases like "Wait a sec, I'm gonna relog as my crafter" are seriously immersion-breaking.

RP in MMOG's looks like this when trying to base it on in-game activities:
"Let's go <activity>!"
"Yay, <activity>!"

Re: Character Classes - Useful Guidelines or Constraints on Creativity?

What can I say... Ive only tried SEED and Ryzom, both of which had open skill systems, and no classes as such.

As for PnP Ive had my best experience with the Ars Magica system. It reflects well on a medieval setting - no matter how much fantasy you choose to pour into it. There are not classes as such, but every character must have a ´social status´ virtue or flaw. Some skills and abilities are not generally available. A social class may enable these - for instance litteracy skills being enabled by high social status or belonging to clergy. But other virtues may enable these skill as well. So if your true desire is to play a washerwoman who happens to have some academic training it is possible from the point of rule mechanics... having to justify it storywise is another matter then... smile

Last edited by Frakel (2007-02-11 21:11:58)

Re: Character Classes - Useful Guidelines or Constraints on Creativity?

The usefullness of classes depends on the general gameplay.

Standard dungeon romps benefit from it in my opinion as it makes it easier to create an effective group.
The more freefrom you get the less usefull they become.

I prefere TES system the most as they allow you to create your own class and selected a few specific skills that upon improving makes you level, as opposed to the in my opinion very annoying and somewhat rediculous lvl-4-xp system applied my 90% of pc-rp's (yes even in my beloved WoW). The TES system feels also more "realistic". Being a better warrior because you can wield your sword more properly than before feels more natural than using your sword more properly because you became a better warrior after you saved the kings daughter by intoxicating her kidnappers and receiving a 4900 exp-stamp in on your note-book.

So in the end it's not so much as the class-system that usually annoys me, but more the lvling-system.

Re: Character Classes - Useful Guidelines or Constraints on Creativity?

Generally, I prefer Classless systems with skills rather than levelling. But I can live with both Class and Level if the system and setting are good enough, both PnP and online. Both can work well, but some setting go better with it than others.

I've found that levels work best in combat-intensive games, like D&D, but not in systems where varied skills and situations can arise. Because level is tied to combat ability, and in a levelling system you can't become good at anything without become a good fighter as well. This is fine in a setting where all players are, effectively, warriors with different non-combat hobbies. It's useless in portraying any sort of non-combatant who is good at something other than fighting.

For what this type of system was originally intended for- sword-and-sorcery fantasy games- classes/levels are fine. For anything else, I go classless and skill-based. I still find it impossible to comprehend how anyone could even think of playing D20-sytem Call of Cthulhu...