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Author Topic: Have a little class, people.  (Read 11665 times)
Jared A. Sorensen
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« on: May 16, 2002, 04:39:30 PM »

Okay, trying to get the ball rolling from a comment made by Herr Edwards in the colorfully named http://209.68.22.156/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2132&start=0&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=">Erm...Hello.

Character classes.

There's been some talk on RPG.net lately about character classes (well, there's ALWAYS talk on RPG.net about that...but I digress). People were discussing classes as they relate to "reality" -- like, why is every NPC thief a Xth-level Rogue and why are all priest NPC Xth-level Clerics?

Aside from misconceptions about NPCs and PCs and how they relate to one another (ie: they're the same, just played by different people), this got me to thinking about class systems in games and what they REALLY are.

In D&D, classes are roles. The game is set up to throw specific obstacles at the players who in turn, act through their characters. These obstacles are keyed to the various roles filled by the characters (which is where the party paradigm comes from). The thief's role is to deal with traps and locks. The cleric is there to provide healing and undead-killin'. The wizard is the heavy artillery and the fighter...? Well, he hits real good and hard.

Roles in the game. Not job descriptions or professions. Roles.

Compare and contrast with the class in say...Sorcerer.

Uh, Sorcerer. That's it. The role of the player is to portray this one character type (an intense dude who summons and binds demons at the risk of his humanity). The game revolves around obstacles tailored to that role. One class.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I posted without pissing off one of you simmers. ;) So take a sim game like Blue Planet. It has "infinite classes"...or rather, a total void of classes. There are no roles to fill because nothing in the game requires a specific way of dealing with obstacles that the game presents to the players. This isn't a good or bad thing, it just is.

So there. I've wasted at least a few minutes of your life. The ball passes to...
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
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« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2002, 05:25:18 PM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Character classes.

In D&D, classes are roles. The game is set up to throw specific obstacles at the players who in turn, act through their characters. These obstacles are keyed to the various roles filled by the characters (which is where the party paradigm comes from). The thief's role is to deal with traps and locks. The cleric is there to provide healing and undead-killin'. The wizard is the heavy artillery and the fighter...? Well, he hits real good and hard.

Roles in the game. Not job descriptions or professions. Roles.

Compare and contrast with the class in say...Sorcerer.

Uh, Sorcerer. That's it. The role of the player is to portray this one character type (an intense dude who summons and binds demons at the risk of his humanity). The game revolves around obstacles tailored to that role. One class.

Of course, I'd be remiss if I posted without pissing off one of you simmers. ;) So take a sim game like Blue Planet. It has "infinite classes"...or rather, a total void of classes. There are no roles to fill because nothing in the game requires a specific way of dealing with obstacles that the game presents to the players. This isn't a good or bad thing, it just is.

I covered some of this in an article down in the Scattershot forum called Fundamental Particles of Character Class.  In it I compared point-based games and how they tend to have 'unofficial' archetypes where other games have classes and where some class-based games had 'customizable' features like point-based games.  I put Scattershot in the middle, with its 'big' character points, calling them 'particles of character class.'  Each point nearly an infra-class by itself.

My idea was that single point expenditures result in micro-classes and that when they aggregate, people diverge them into archetypes.  I think classes and archetypes are just another form of abstraction as is practiced in virtually every role-playing game.  They are comfortable and familiar 'places in the world' or "roles" as you put it.  The make up in familiarity what they lack in flexibility.  I put Exemplars into Scattershot for those days when you just can't think of a character, even though it has a full point-based system.  Is it the 'best of both worlds?'

Probably not.

Fang Langford
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2002, 05:33:52 PM »

Fang. Use smaller words, man. You're making my head spin.

I don't think point-based, random, whatever generation has much to do with anything (other than personal taste and min-maxing issues). What I'm interested in is how the concept of a "character class" relates to the focus of the game, the role of the players and the way they intertwine.

Por ejemplo, in octaNe, you gots your Roles. But what I recently discovered (like, today recent) is that Roles aren't templates/archetypes in the traditional sense (a cookie-cutter character that's used as a quickie "base" to grow upon).

It popped into my head. Your Role is what you Do.

Makes too much sense, I know...but it took me awhile to figure this out.

In octaNe, I plan on straight-out saying: look, you want to make a character and play the game. Cool. But before you think of a name or a personality or a history or even a "type" of character, do this:

Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

THAT'S your character.

If you picture this faceless dude jumping up onto a car hood and sliding across it on his belly, blazing away with a pair of handguns, then THAT is the character you want to play. Play 'em! Worry about the details later. Give him a name when someone asks you for one. Give him a background story when you think of something cool. Just keep in mind that one THING your character is doing all the time, no matter what.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2002, 07:40:14 PM »

Damn straight. d20 CoC: You play an Investigator. That's your class. Here's a thought: For Narr. play, your Class list supports Premise and keeps you focused on it. Gamist, your Class list provides for strategy towards your goal. Sim, a Class allows you to keep Character constant while Exploring the other avenues; OR to Explore your Character (i.e., with a Class, you've suddenly got these great guidelines to keep plausibility in the System).

In any case, it's a great tool if you want to focus your PCs. And if you _really_ want to focus 'em, everyone plays the same class (Investigators in CoC, for example)

There's my contribution.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2002, 09:17:25 PM »

Rather than muddy the waters, wouldn't it be better to use "Archetype" rather than "Class" or "Role"?
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Andrew Martin
Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2002, 09:31:39 PM »

I detest character classes in the traditional sense because they, in almost every game, stratify what your character does/is capable of. The only way to break that mold is to "multi-class" which still stratifies, it just stratifies it into those two areas.

"Archetype" is a word with much more flexible connotations. It doesn't, in any game which uses it that I've run across, attribute a certain set of abilities, so much as it gives direction to how you use the standard set of abilities. You can also take an archetype and build on it in a way which totally differs from the "standard".

Note: I refer to common usage of these terms, not what they actually mean.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #6 on: May 16, 2002, 09:34:39 PM »

And here's an example from the Fudge list of Space Opera "Character Dimensions". It offers an interesting alternative to the conventional Fighter, Thief, Mage, Cleric classes from D&D. I quote Scott Barrie:

This is an excerpt from my Space Opera rule set (now renamed Fudge
Skiffy). It's mostly stand-alone, so I thought I'd post it here for
comments.

Character Dimensions
A character's role in the game is defined by their Dimensions. Most characters in "Fudge Skiffy" will only have one Dimension, but characters with two or more Dimensions are possible. Characters gain fudge points for acting according to their Dimensions. Every player character starts an episode with one fudge point, and can hold a maximum of two fudge points at any time. Some points to consider before awarding fudge points:

1) Did the action help define the character?
2) Was the action appropriate? A Big Guy going to his quarters to pump iron to earn a fudge point before sealing a hull breech probably isn't appropriate. Similarly, a Mystic could give obscure quotes at any time, but some circumstances make it more appropriate than others.
3) Was the action original? Just because an action earned a fudge point last time, does not mean it will earn another fudge point this time.
4) Was it fun?

[Sidebox] The GM should be selective when awarding the use of Dimensions, in order to give all the players a fair opportunity to earn fudge points.

Sample Dimensions

Dimension Method of Gaining Fudge Points

1) The Lead Seducing or flirting
2) Egghead Deducing (accurate or not) from small pieces of
evidence. Spending time in a lab or library
3) Big Guy Demonstrating strength
4) Alien Outsider Making observations about human nature
5) Crotchety Geezer Starting or participating in arguments
6) Daredevil Taking unnecessary risks, taunting gravity
7) Expendable Planning for the future
Gives every other player character a fudge point if the Expendable character dies while exposing an unknown danger or protecting another character. The Expendable character's player may then bring another, pre-made, character into play when circumstances permit. The new character starts with two fudge points
8) Narrator Explaining or summarizing events while in character. Exposition
9) Chief Encouraging cooperation and coordinating
10) Hothead Starting or being drawn into a fight
11) Decoration Attracting another character's attentions
12) Student Taking advice from or imitating another character
13) Mystic Volunteering pieces of esoteric wisdom
14) Tactician Winning conflicts (physical or otherwise) with sensible decisions
15) Nanny Convincing other characters to make safe choices.
16) Veteran Telling stories about the past.
17) Tough Guy Not showing fear when other characters do. Intimidation
18) Rookie Making mistakes, as judged by the other players. This may or may not have be intentional on the part of the player
19) Duellist One-on-one, fair conflicts (physical or otherwise).
20) Protector Directly or indirectly preventing harm to one specific character
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Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
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« Reply #7 on: May 16, 2002, 09:39:07 PM »

And then there's Panels here: http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Quasar/9229/supes/stature.html which has "Statures", or common Superhero archetypes.
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Andrew Martin
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2002, 09:56:26 PM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Fang. Use smaller words, man. You're making my head spin.

Again?  Think of it as a panaramic view and wait for the nausea to subside.

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
It popped into my head. Your Role is what you DO.

Now that you've caught up.  Let me suggest that clearly marked Roles aid in Niche Protection; "You, the Thief, listen at the door.  Fighter, prepare your weapons for what lay on the other side.  I will ready a fireball...oh wait, it seems the Fighter/Thief/Magic-user hath already slain the dragon."  With this protection, class-based systems avoid that problem implicitly.

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen
Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

THAT'S your character.

I seem to remember OtE having something like this instead of attributes and skills; you took 'Hitman' and whenever anything could be solved by a hitman, you got a roll.

I still say that classes are a simpler way of looking at character differences.  When you just use the 'role' system you suggest, you run into all sorts of niche invasion problems (that could be dealt with prior to play - something I tried to do with Scattershot's Sine Qua Non Technique).

Fang Langford
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2002, 10:02:59 PM »

Quote from: Jared A. Sorensen

It popped into my head. Your Role is what you Do.

Makes too much sense, I know...but it took me awhile to figure this out.

In octaNe, I plan on straight-out saying: look, you want to make a character and play the game. Cool. But before you think of a name or a personality or a history or even a "type" of character, do this:

Imagine your character DOING something. Got that image in mind? Well, what's he doing?

Man, I gotta get organized and get my game up somewhere . . .

First, decide what kind of scenes the game is going to have.  Action?  Romance?  Seduction?  Negotiation?  Army-scale combat?  Personal scale combat?  Poltical discussions?  etc. etc.

Then, each player describes 3-7 "special" things that they can do in each kind of scene (or in general - the scene thing is kinda to provide more structure for those that want it, but it's not required).   That's the character's "skill list" and "attributes" - just about everything about "what they do" (helps in colorful narration of the scene, too).  

There's another category - "who they are"  - that's the sorta-metagame Currency to let 'em influence the FitM system to get one of their better "specials" . . . but really, I should just finish the damn thing and get it on-line somewhere.

My point here is mostly: I agree, "what you do" is a GREAT thing to focus character creation on.  And Class (in most places I've seen it) is powerful because it does get at "what you do", if indirectly.  Going DIRECTLY to the issue works for me . . .

Gordon
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #10 on: May 17, 2002, 05:44:35 AM »

It seems to me that the role of class, and whether it should be a part of your game or not, depends on the answer to this question: do you wish to set up the challenges for the players yourself as the game designer or do you wish to give them the tools to set up their own challenges?
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wyrdlyng
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« Reply #11 on: May 17, 2002, 06:28:53 AM »

The main failing of class systems that I've seen is that there is more than a simple "role" involved. Let's use D&D as our example (it's the most blatant about it anyways).

In D&D, and many clones, a class comes with inherent abilities and limitations which both exceed and limit role choices. Example, I want to play an investigator who assists the local city watch in solving crimes. The only D&D class which comes close to approximating this is Rogue. Okay, you take Rogue and get lots of skills which support your role. But you also get the ability to do extra damage to an unawares target (aka backstab damage bonus). This doesn't fit the role at all.

Okay, I choose to be a warrior dedicated to serving the goals of my patron diety. Okay, in D&D you're a Paladin. But my patron isn't Lawful Good. So I can't qualify for a Paladin anymore. I could take Fighter but then what about abilities granted to the character by his patron?

Many class systems come with classes tied down to too many preconceptions rather than keeping with general broad ideas. Instead of

"Fighter: someone who is good at combat"

you get "Fighter: someone who is good with combat, has minimal skill choices or training outside of combat, and has the ability to learn more tricks related to combat."

I personally prefer more open classes such as those used in Alternity wherein you would take a class (my memory of the exact names is foggy) like "Combat Specialist" and what you would get is a discount to learn combat related skills (including weapon skills). Or even suggestions/templates as used in Chaosium's BRP ("okay, Soldier's usually have these skills").

If class served the same function as role then I'd be less growly when playing D&D. And all it would really take is to stop over-defining the functions of classes to be more in line with roles rather than specific profession types.

For a modern day example of what I'm talking about, compare the class of Computer Guy vs. Web Database Programmer. Which class would grant you more space to customize your character into what you envision?
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Alex Hunter
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #12 on: May 17, 2002, 06:40:10 AM »

Quote
Okay, I choose to be a warrior dedicated to serving the goals of my patron diety.


Don't forget that in D&D, this kind of characterization is entirely player-driven and must be layered on top of the game's focus (kicking ass in dungeons). Not to say your comment isn't valid...I think the whole "multi-class" thing (and later, point-based character generation ala Champions) is a cry out from the folks who want to play a "person" rather than just a role in the game.

Because in D&D, you don't even have to give your character a name or an identity to still play a successful game.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #13 on: May 17, 2002, 08:23:23 AM »

Archetypes miss the point. They speak to how the character looks before play. Jared's right, it's all about what the character's do in play. Selection of a Role (Via Class, or the subconcious versions that Fang mentions, or whatever method) are intended to partition off your portion of game effectiveness, so that other players have an are that they can affect primarily. In other words, the aforementioned Niche Protection.

But why Nich Protection? Why is that a desired thing? Because it is a method of protecting protagonism. It goes back to what I refer to as Thunderbird Syndrome. This refers to the X-Men character of the same name. Now you're saying "what, I don't remember an x-man named Thunderbird". To which I reply, right, that's the point. Thunderbird was so underwhelming when compared to the rest of the characters that he was totally unnoticable, and was written out in short order. Not to say he didn't have awesome powers, he could fly and had super strength, etc. Just that whatevver he did, one of the other X-men did it better. He had no area in which he was the expert.

In other words, this is a protagonism problem. Thus, roles are intended to protect protagonism in games where there is no other way to do so. That having been said, Narativist games provide a lot of other avenues for protagonism and as such, specific Role selection is not nearly as important. Characters can overlap quite a bit more and be interesting. For a Sim game you may not even need protgonism per se. This is why Role selection in chargen is most limited (and therefore, "unrealistic") in Gamist games.

Make sense? Pretty simple, really.

Mike
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wyrdlyng
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« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2002, 08:33:22 AM »

Yes, D&D at its core is little more than moving metal figures around a grid and rolling to kill things. I've never been able to take too much of that literal translation in an actual game though. I might was well put in a video game and play Gauntlet or Diablo with my friends.

Back to roles and class, I think that if a game is explicit regarding its range of available roles and their preconceptions then I can understand and allow overdefined limitations and inclusions. If a game says you can be a fighter, a healer, a wizard, a thief, etc. and states that you will wander through mazes and kill creatures then I, after reading this, have no right to gripe. My problem comes from empty claims of flexiblity in regards to classes facilitating roles which cannot possibly be pigeon-holed into their preconceptions without altering the rules as stated.

Classes are not inherently a problem. The problem is false statements regarding what their specific classes can do. If you're basing your response to "What do you see yourself doing?" on false information then you will be dissatisfied when you can't do that in the game.

I do agree with the statement that Role is what you Do but I think that the "Person" element determines how you Do what you Do.

Back to a modern example, your Role is Computer Guy. If you decide to retrieve some data off of a machine you have multiple ways to do it. Do you sneak into the place, break into the machine and yank the harddrive? Or do you connect remotely and hack through their security? A valid class system would allow you to do either as part of fulfilling your Role through the game's Classes.


Much rambling and some 2 cents thrown in for good measure.
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Alex Hunter
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