... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How Many Classes?

Before I do any more stuff linked to Clerics Without Spells or any other variant classes, I should probably make this comment: I don't think you should use more than four main classes.

You're probably saying, "Wait, what? Why did you do all those classes, then?"

Consider this for a moment: if the PCs decide to hire some henchmen, or seek out a high-level NPC for assistance, which classes are available? Those are your main classes, and I don't think you should use more than four of them. It keeps things simple, and sharply defines what kind of fantasy setting you're expecting to deliver.

It doesn't mean you can't swap out one of the main classes for a variant when you detail a special new adventure region. In fact, having only four main classes makes that swap more meaningful, because it stands out. "Woah! What kind of magic is that guy using?" And if someone gets a hankering to do the same thing, it gives them a reason to adventure.

It also doesn't mean you can't tweak a class on a one-time basis, or let a player use a non-standard class, as long as the player realizes nobody else is like that. In fact, telling players "you can be one of these four classes" will help the confused, because they have fewer options to worry about. It will also help the indecisive, because if they unknowingly deep down want to play some weird character type, not mentioning their favorite will suddenly prompt them to make a decision.

So pair down your classes. Use alternate classes to prompt adventure ideas around one-of-a-kind NPCs.


  1. Sounds like a very sensible way of doing things. I really like the idea of making player characters more unique and distinct from npc classes and vice versa. Good stuff.

  2. This is a really, really well-put principle of world-building: if you want the game to be about exploration and all the amazing things you can find in special places, then the list of what you can find everywhere has to be short. The thing is, not everywhere can be special/exceptional either. The Odyssey is more satisfying than Star Trek because we know that Odysseus' world is mostly normal, there are just some few islands that are exceptional, while in Star Trek they cheapen that by running into another one every week. In the end it's about restraint.

    I have a real problem with knowing how to pitch this, myself: my Flash Gordon setting suffers from a massive surfeit of what I think might be cool, so it's more like Trek teetering on the brink of becoming Talislanta - the polar opposite of your Only 4 Classes situation. I find AD&D 1e as presented in the rulebooks to be dreadfully overheated, over-inclusive, redundant, and yet I tend in that direction myself. How to dial it back?

  3. T S Eliot made a comment (that I groused against for many years) that wnet something like: a story can have an alien character in a normal world or a normal character in an alien world, but not both. He was thinking about Alice in Wonderland for the latter, although I've forgotten what his example for the former was.

    Anyways, my point is that, if your world seems a bit too excessive and you don't know how to dial it back (and haven't actually started playing in it,) take a tip from Flash Gordon itself and pitch the campaign as "Earth-normal humans transported to a fantastic world." Once the players have explored a certain area so that it feels "normal", you can allow new characters from that area and switch the alien stuff to outside the region.