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Monday, June 10, 2013

Class Trouble

A while back, on a forum thread about balancing character classes, I made a claim that the point of a character class is to cause trouble for the character. I didn't explain the comment back then, but I've been meaning to. Now seems like a good time.

We're in a habit of thinking of a class as being "stuff you can do". Some designers tend to pile on extra stuff you can do, and maybe (if we're lucky) some limitations on the class to balance it out. But not the kind of limitation that makes things happen. For example, ability score minimums, alignment restrictions. Or, worse, class grinding, like the 1e bard.

What I'd rather see are limitations that cause potential trouble for the character, or at least cause things to happen in the character's presence that might have to be dealt with. Consider first the basic four classes:
  • Fighter abilities tend to put them directly in the path of risk. Mostly, they are as good as their weapons and armor.
  • Magic-User spells can enable them to avoid risk a couple times, but they also embroil M-Us in the spell economy, forcing them to look for more spells or magic items and protect the stuff they have.
  • Clerics have some of the same issues as Fighters and Magic-Users, but also thy are expected to confront the undead, which isn't guaranteed to work.
  • Thieves can disarm traps -- or accidentally trigger them; they can pick pockets or sneak around -- or get caught doing so; they can decipher treasure maps -- or get them completely wrong.
Any new class, especially one with more abilities than normal, ought to have just as many opportunities for trouble.


  1. Yeah, and MU and Th armor limitations are biggies too. How do you see XP required for level advancement fitting in? Or is that more "gamey" than what you're thinking about? The limitations you mention are more in immediate play. Not sure what I think, I'm just throwing it out, but "create X, a tougher class than Y, and have it harder for X to advance" is sorta D&D standard operating procedure, isn't it? Even back to, say, elves (F+MU) in Holmes, right? Regards.

    1. XP limitations are not the kind of thing I'm talking about, although I'm OK with the differences between the four base classes. Not so OK with the method of making new classes by adding an XP modifier to compensate for extra powers, because (a) it's bland and adds nothing to the fictional world, and (b) it's basically a relative of point-buy character building, which I loathe.