Monday, October 11, 2010

Class Multiplication

I’ve often seen old schoolers talk about stat inflation when it comes to successive versions of D&D. Those with experience with later editions will no doubt find that things really do develop rather quickly. As soon as one jumps from D&D to AD&D the average number for ability scores goes up by 2 (according to the Rules Cyclopedia). Hit points likewise tend to increase. Then, in 2nd edition, a whole host of alternate rolling methods were introduced, bringing with it more stat inflation. Now, it’s not uncommon for players not to roll stats at all, but rather to assign them using point buys or stat arrays, bringing with it yet more stat inflation.

While these things are bothersome to me, something that’s been getting under my skin lately is class multiplication. It seems that with each successive version of D&D we see more and more classes. While I personally think the addition of thieves was a good idea in order to capture a popular trope which was missing in the game (although, it wasn’t difficult to get by without them), I can’t say I much like what many newer RPGs are doing (and forget about keeping track with the addition of “prestige classes”!).

For example, just before I quit playing Pathfinder (I apologize for always using Pathfinder as an example, but it’s the only modern fantasy RPG I’ve played in the last year or two), Paizo announced the addition of several new classes with the advent of their Advanced Player’s Guide: Alchemists, Cavaliers, Inquisitors, Oracles, Summoners, and Witches. The next book Paizo will be releasing is Ultimate Magic, which will see yet another new class in the form of the Magus (a wizard/warrior hybrid). This officially brings the number of classes you can play up to 18! I can’t help but wonder when (if) the number of classes will top out.

One of the things I appreciated about 2nd edition was that it sought to put an end to class multiplication. Yes, I know that people enjoy classes like the barbarian or the cavalier from 1st edition, but 2nd edition ditched them. Why? Because, properly speaking, barbarians and cavaliers are really little more than specialized warriors. So why not play a warrior from the frozen plains as a barbarian? Why not play a warrior who excels in mounted combat as a cavalier? Why the need for new classes? That is, of course, how 2nd edition handled these classes. True, the addition of specialized kits from TSRs line of “The Complete * Handbook” of splat books probably isn’t very popular today (among old schoolers and new schoolers alike) but I at least appreciated the fact that TSR saw a potential problem and tried to handle it (even if their “solution” was just as complicated as the problem they sought to avoid).

One of the things I’m enjoying about getting back to our roots is ditching so many of the extraneous classes. Not because I don’t like tropes such as witches or oracles but because I think those tropes can be attained using the core classes, with a little imagination and roleplaying. I’m quite certain that there are inventive DMs and creative players who enjoy the new classes. However, the more I dig into our history, the more convinced I’ve become that the multiplication of rules/classes was little more than an accommodation to inept DMs and unimaginative players.


  1. I definitely agree. I spent a good couple of years coming up with versions of the AD&D classes that I liked for Classic D&D, and now that I've got them the way I like them, I'm ready to ditch them and go back to the basic 4 human classes and 3 demi-human classes.

    2E kits were a good idea in theory, but were poorly executed. They were all over the place, with some providing nothing but flavor text, others large mechanical benefits with few hindrances, others with questionable benefits and noticible hindrances, etc.

    I'd much rather just have a player declare his Magic-User to be an 'Enchanter' and take certain spells to match, or have the Fighter player say, "My character is a cavalier, a member of the Order of the Blade" and roleplay them out without the need for special mechanical benefits.

  2. I agree completely. While I'm sympathetic to the AD&D classes (even the Unearthed Arcana ones) I still think most can be achieved using the core classes. One of my favorite 2nd edition characters was a bow warrior...I had more fun with him than any ranger I've ever played.

  3. You know, it took me a while to learn to love D&D again, but one of the things that really helped was this notion of sticking to a small number of core classes and customizing from there with what isn't in the class description.

    Fighters fight. Swashbucklers fight by jumping around in fancy clothes; barbarians fight with bigass swords. THAT'S the real diff.

  4. Dr Rot,

    Precisely! I think adding flavor and some clever roleplaying can accomplish the various fantasy tropes, no need to add all sorts of needless complexity/crunch.

  5. Interesting thoughts. In terms of gaming roots though, I'm reminded of Arduin with its 24+ classes and bajillion races which allowed for all kinds of crazy stuff. Or WHFRP with its interesting career paths. I think the issue that contemporary games like pathfinder raise for me is the possibility of endless multi-classing. While it allows for the creation of more unique characters, it also seems to encourage players to become walking swiss army knives.