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Author Topic: Classes Vs. Reality  (Read 18925 times)
Eric J.
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« on: May 20, 2002, 06:00:58 AM »

In my experience, classes only serve to steriotype characters and limit abilites, in creativity and realism. Their intrensic function in many RPGs is simply based off of their use in D&D (original).  My belief is that RPGs only use should be to simplify effects of reality to game mechanics.  In which case, I don't belive that classes have virtually any practical use.  Abilites granted by classes don't need training.  No one, in reality, neatly fits into the classes. Class descriptions are usually a reflexion of a sterotyped character. D20 sucks (I can't help but mention this). Any comments? I'm creating an RPG right now, and I'm using levels but not classes which goes against my original idea to use classes but not levels! I, however, feel justified in my desision. Comments?
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Jack Spencer Jr
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« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2002, 06:21:37 AM »

Quote from: Pyron
Their intrensic function in many RPGs is simply based off of their use in D&D (original).

I can argee with you here in that classes were in D&D and thus, many RPGs that followed use classes or something very much like classes regardless of what they are called.
Quote
My belief is that RPGs only use should be to simplify effects of reality to game mechanics.  In which case, I don't belive that classes have virtually any practical use.  Abilites granted by classes don't need training.  No one, in reality, neatly fits into the classes. Class descriptions are usually a reflexion of a sterotyped character.

Now you're not making sense. If an RPG is supposed to simplify the effects of reality into game mechanics, what could be more simple than a stereotyped character?

You appear to be of two minds on this. You seem to thing that an RPG should be a simplification of reality but that classes are too simple. So just go in the middle for yourself and let those who enjoy classes have their fun.
 
Quote
D20 sucks (I can't help but mention this). Any comments?

Yes. Comments like these are the opposite of useful discussion. Here we try to cultivate only useful discussion. Please refrain from any "(BLANK) sucks" comments unless you are prepared to back them up and, more importantly, they are appropriate to the thread you're posting in.

Quote
I'm creating an RPG right now, and I'm using levels but not classes which goes against my original idea to use classes but not levels! I, however, feel justified in my desision. Comments?

This is something more for the RPG design board here, and should probably be continued in a new thread.

I must say that your position and design decisions confuse me to no end, though. How a project that started as classes but no levels became levels but no classes beats the heck out of me. After you comments on the value of classes, I'm surprised that you do support levels which are just as much a simplification on the order of classes.

In short, I have no idea what you're getting at unless it's just d20 sucks and therefore classes suck. If not, please clarify. If so, we've heard this before. Thank you.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2002, 07:01:54 AM »

I find myself agreeing with Jack (how strange).

Quote from: Pyron
My belief is that RPGs only use should be to simplify effects of reality to game mechanics.  


That's quite an assumption. Lot's of people believe that RPGs are all about other things. Which may make classes useful. If you are saying that for your tastes of for this project that simulation of "reality" is your only goal, then great. Just realize that other peole have other very legitamate goals for their RPGs.

Quote
No one, in reality, neatly fits into the classes.
No one in reality is an Elf. Perhaps in a particular fantasy world classes would make sense. Game reality is not our reality. Now, I agree that classes seem so arbitrary and selected for Metagame reasons, that they might be hard to be believeable as fitting in any setting, but it's not impossible.

Quote
I'm creating an RPG right now, and I'm using levels but not classes which goes against my original idea to use classes but not levels! I, however, feel justified in my desision. Comments?


Um, what's "Realistic" about levels? Or rather what makes them acceptable if levels are not? If comparing to our reality, levels are so far from how people in the RW learn, that I have a much harder time accpeting them than I do classes. People do not experience things on and on, and then just suddenly get a bunch better at a whole bunch of things. They learn gradually, sometimes about a number of things, and sometimes about just a single thing at a time.

What's the rationale for your decisions?

BTW, D20, while being far from my favorite system, accoplished it's design goals rather admirably. You and I may not like those goals, but then the game probably wasn't designed for us.

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2002, 09:16:00 AM »

Ok, this seems like a good place to inject a little actual discussion into classes.

What are classes trying to accomplish and what effect does that have in game design?

Lets assume for the sake of discussion that we are talking about a game where classes were used for a percieved reason, not a game which has classes simply because D&D had classes.  We are interested in discussing the pros and cons of classes, not the pros and cons of derivative design.

Now it has been said that classes aren't realistic.  This statement has no meaning, because only reality itself is real.  The very word realistic indicates something that's "similar to but not quite real".  Therefor "realistic" needs a qualifier to have any meaning.  In other words: classes aren't realistic compared to what?

The fundamental truth of all RPGs is that they are a model of reality (ours or a fictional one).  The very definition of being a model is something that is simplified from reality in order to make analysis feasible.  What is simplified more and what is simplified less depends on what aspect the modeler is attempting to analyse.  In other words every set of RPG rules is nothing more than a model, the real question is then what is the purpose of a given model and does it meet that purpose.

So, the issue that becomes not "are classes a realistic portrayal of reality", but rather "are classes an effective means of modeling reality for a specific purpose".

Lets start with how they model reality.  Classes are an excellent means of modeling reality from a certain perspective.  The idea that "there are no classes in the real world" is a nice bit of wishful thinking but the fact of the matter is yes there are.  Go to any book store, pick up any of the zillion books on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.  Those aspects that you'll see repeated time and again are characteristics of being an entrepreneur.  If we label someone as an entrepreneur we'd expect them to have all or most of those characteristics.  Voila, a real world class called "Entrepreneur".

We could repeat this excersize ad naseum "Career Soldier", "Computer Programmer", "Professional Athlete", etc.  In each case we can come up with a list of features that we would expect each such individual to have in order to qualify for the label.

Is it possible that every single individual in the world could be fit into a "class"...I think so.  It may be a fairly small class, but you'd be hard put to find anyone who doesn't have a dozen or so similiarities with someone else who could be combined in the same class.

Conversely is it possibly that a class would define EVERY single feature or trait of all of its members.  Absolutely not, not any more than every feature of an animal is defined by knowing its species.  

What a class does is codify the central features of an individual into a "standard" form.  Most games that employ classes then provide some mechanism for differentiating one member from another (D&D 3E to a far greater extent than its ancestors).  Even then is it possible to create every single possible combination of individual features within a "Class + differentiators" model.  No, it isn't.  No one would reasonably claim that you can.

Now we are reaching some actual analysis.

So here then is the distinguishing feature of a class based character model.  As we know all models are simplifications and what the modeler chooses to simplify depends on what he wants to use the model for.  The class based model chooses to simplify individuality.  If your goal as a player is to create the most individualized character you can concieve of, than that goal is not going to be met by a class model which abstracts individuality.

So what is a class model good for.  Simple, it can be shown (although I won't attempt it here) that the more "average" or "typical" an individual is the better they will "fit" within the standards of a class.  The more "unique" or "fringe" an individual is, the less well that the standard class will fit.  We have a word to describe these "typical" or "standard" individuals.  We call them archetypes.

So what a Class model does is say simply "In this game we are not concerned (as much) with you playing individuals.  We are more concerned with you playing archetypes.  We have determined the selection of archetypes that we think this game is designed for best and have included them as "classes".

Is there an inherent superiority over characters as individuals to characters as archetypes.  Well, YMMV, but I say absolutely not.  Much work has been done to show the "archetypical" hero as repeated time and again throughout history and across cultures, so the idea of there being "archetypes" and that those archetypes are "valid" and "worthy" as heroes I think is proven (to my satisfaction at least).

So to say "Classes are Stupid" is simply to demonstrate a complete and total lack of understanding; and to committ that most heinous of fallacies...assuming that personal preference equates to some fundamental truth.

So the final question would then be to evaluate the various class models on their own merits.  Is the game one for which the archetype approach is appropriate?  What categorization rules are to be used; are classes based on profession, social standing, race or ethnicity, literary role?  Does the particular set of class based rules succeed at achieving the design goal or does it fail?  Note that showing how a particular class based implementation fails is no more prove that classes are bad than showing how a particular combat system fails is prove that to-hit rolls are bad.  Any set of rules can be designed poorly.

Hopefully, Pyron, this post begins to address your topic "Classes vs Realty" which is a good and worthwhile topic, as distinct from your actual post, which was not.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2002, 09:42:43 AM »

Hey,

Well, let's back up a little now and see whether you guys have left any meat on the bone. In Pyron's favor, he (or whatever) did bring up a valid topic and did start it on the right forum, which isn't exactly common. And although I agree with all the comments Jack, Mike, and Ralph made on the topic, it also couldn't hurt to say "Welcome to the Forge" and raise one objection at a time, in a discussion-encouraging way.

So, Pyron, welcome to the Forge, and (apparently) to some of our more ... motivated members.

The rest of this post is intended to accompany the thread Have a little class, people which has a bunch of amazing stuff in it.

"Realism" really isn't the issue. It might an issue, depending on how it's defined, but it's not the issue. I think the real problem is that many people have been burned by games whose class-categories have channelled play far more than the players wanted to be channelled. I don't think it's hard to recognize that class-based character creation may, in some forms, be a form of railroading.

(Especially for games with the Chinese-menu method: Vampire, L5R, UnderWorld, and many others. These lookhighly customizable but in many ways are not.)

Only some of us remember the early days when customized-characters were not possible at the outset of play. You had D&D, in which classic cases were the way to go; early RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu, in which characters were defined largely through play (later CofC changed this radically); and the exception, TFT, which hardly anyone knew about. When Champions came out, bam - the world turned upside down. All of a sudden concept was everything, or so it seemed. When GURPS purported to do the same (almost simultaneously with Fantasy Hero, from Hero Games), it seemed to us at the time as if we'd shed horrible shackles called "character class" and Universal Role-playing was at last ours.

[Side note: Interestingly, fantasy role-playing never got there. In application, GURPS Fantasy, Fantasy Hero, Rolemaster, and many others ended up with overt or covert character classes. Arguably, such play didn't appear until people used The Window or later, The Pool, for fantasy role-playing.]

So I'm reasonably sympathetic to the situation which prompts enraged cries of "Classes suck!" The cry itself isn't very useful or fair. The situation, though, is worth investigating.

Best,
Ron
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2002, 09:53:08 AM »

Pyron, in this earlier thread you objected to the concept of completely free-form character creation systems because, you pointed out, some people need guidelines. One purpose classes can serve is to provide such guidelines.

Now clearly, you don't feel that classes are a good choice for this purpose, and you've mentioned a few reasons why. My question is, what alternative means do you prefer for providing character creation guidelines for players who need them? (Or have you changed your mind about players' need for guidelines? If so, what changed your mind?)

- Walt
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Fabrice G.
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Posts: 206


« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2002, 10:32:09 AM »

Hi Valamir,

just a note:
Quote
What a class does is codify the central features of an individual into a "standard" form


That's really the definition of archetypes (or prototypes in cognitive psychology). Perfect models.
So a class would barely indicate the social group/profession of the character, the archetype being the idealised representation of that social group/profession.
But then, what's the difference between a class trait and an occupation/social group one ?

So I guess in this reguard you can use either of the terms.

My problem with the use of classes has more to do with the uses that had been made of classes, and the consequances of the attacjed improvement system. Then classes become something too rigid and dictate too much of the evolution of the characters.

Fabrice.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2002, 10:39:55 AM »

Hi Fabrice,

I think the issue here partly concerns what "class" means anyway. Jared rightly pointed out in the other thread that it usually ends up meaning Role, in player terms. That's largely due to the reward-system consequences that you mention, I think.

"Class" in the sense of a role does not necessarily correspond to "character's job in the game-world." That's a serious issue and has been confounded for decades. It's why playing D&D is so aggravating when characters say "magic-user" in-character, as if that were an in-game-world term. It's why people get confused in Hero Wars and think that Occupation as a goat-herder means that your character will herd goats for the rest of the game.

It seems to me that the faster we pull the metagame concept of Role away, mechanically, from the in-game concept of the character's job, the better off we'll be. Or rather, we should choose whether, for a given game, they are the same thing (e.g. "Spy").

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2002, 10:42:25 AM »

Y'know, I have little objection to classes as starting concepts.  You could argue, for instance, that the Occupations in Hero Wars are classes in this wise.  It's an interesting topic.  At the risk of muddying the waters, the notion of Class has always seemed to me to be "horizontal" stratification (as opposed to Level, which I conceive of as vertical stratification), and its impact in play depends whether the limits imposed by the class are hard or soft.  DnD has, for example, hard, almost bright line limits whereby you're seriously hampered if you try to step outside the task focus of the class.  However, GURPS, Ars Magica, and (arguably) Pendragon have what I'd call softer classes, in which there's a great deal of customization possible within the original framework.  Finally, games like Sorcerer, The Pool, and The Window seem to take a sort of "null" class approach where there are no limits imposed by class or wherein the selection of horizontal constraints are so fuzzy/open as that the player really gets to select possibilities for the character rather than limits.

Practically speaking, I think classes evolve in response to player specialization when the focus of the game is on task resolution as a means of driving the story/action.  I've a friend who takes it a step further and argues that classes (hard or soft) evolve as players fill specialized roles necessary for a well-rounded team.  I disagree with his position because it comes from a perception that all "real" RP requires each player have a unique slot to fill in a team (viz. DnD or Shadowrun and the tendency for groups to consist of assemblies of specialists).

There's my nickel.  Anyone got change?

Best,

Blake
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2002, 10:54:37 AM »

Fabrice,

Quite true.  For RPG purposes, I make no distinction between whether something is a "Class", and "Archetype", a "Template", etc.  They are all different game terms for the exact same thing.  The specific rules as to how to implement them might differ (in ways that don't necessarily have anything to do with the designer's choice of terminology), but they all serve the same function.


To extend the discussion.

The primary distinguisher between different types of class IMO is how the categories are divied up.  Take, for instance a room full of 100 people.  There are many ways to sort them into "Classes".  One could seperate by eye color, or by gender, or by degree of edjucation, etc.  Each division would result in different groups of people.  The choice is really which features are "class features" and which are individual features that lie outside of the scope of class.

Identifying the types of features that are class features is a big indicator the model being pursued.  D&D's classes are designed around dividing people up based on their utility for a dungeon haul.  Brave New World's classes are devoted entirely to which super power is my character based on.  WEG's Star Wars classes are based on which movie character your character is most like.

Even in open design games you have classes.  As soon as you sit down with GURPs to design a character who is a "dirty harry style cop" you are allowing your perceptions of the characteristics such a role would have to color your character choices.  Give 100 players the task of making such a character in GURPs and you'll get a lot of similiar (not identicle) choices.  Those choices that are repeated over and over are simply the "Class features" for Dirty Harry.  

The only difference between a class based game and GURPs is that the class based game would have made those features explicit, ideally for a specific design reason.
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lehrbuch
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« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2002, 12:35:38 PM »

Hello,

Quote from: Ron Edwards
"Class" in the sense of a role does not necessarily correspond to "character's job in the game-world." That's a serious issue and has been confounded for decades. It's why playing D&D is so aggravating when characters say "magic-user" in-character, as if that were an in-game-world term.


I've played in several D&D-type campaigns where a character's class *was* an in-game term.  "Class" was used in these games as a synonym for caste.  Such usage began, I believe, as an attempt to justify why classes were restricted in certain ways, but evolved to become a significant factor in the game world.  A lot of game play revolved around politics between classes.  This was an important part of the process by which our game-play changed to become something other than Dungeon bashing.  Class was a mechanism by which our game play Drifted from Gamism to Simulationism (of a- not very plausible- caste based society)

Please don't be insulted by this, but I have often heard it said that some players dislike Class so much, because of their real-world national myths about the existence and desirability of "classless" societies.  Is real-world ideology significant in what we find acceptable and desirable in a roleplaying game?  A similar argument could be made about a player's preference for deterministic or random resolution systems, or for the sharing of narrative control amongst all players.
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* lehrbuch
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2002, 12:49:53 PM »

Hi lehrbuch,

That's a good description of how one group dealt with the problem I mentioned. I've seen a number of similar solutions in fantasy fiction and in later D&D-imitative games, all of which have that kind of uncomfortable, "well it's more realistic but it isn't very realistic" feel to them.

You wrote,
"Please don't be insulted by this, but I have often heard it said that some players dislike Class so much, because of their real-world national myths about the existence and desirability of "classless" societies. Is real-world ideology significant in what we find acceptable and desirable in a roleplaying game? A similar argument could be made about a player's preference for deterministic or random resolution systems, or for the sharing of narrative control amongst all players."

I guess I'm puzzled by this, for a couple of reasons. First, I don't see a possible implied insult at all, and your basic question is a very good one. Second, I'm not familiar with the trend or profile you describe (regarding character class); it's totally foreign to me. Third, the topic has a lot of thread-derailing potential, so I suggest you start a new thread with it.

Best,
Ron
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Eric J.
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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2002, 01:56:55 PM »

All right,
I posted in my Information Tech. class this morning in the U.S. at about 9:00 Am. So; let me express the awe and suprise with the entheusiasm you all have displayed. Thank you for letting me know that there are other people, like me, out there. Anyway:

Quote
My belief is that RPGs only use should be to simplify effects of reality to game mechanics.
- It is unfair to say that I assume too much, when I started the statement with "My belief is."

Classes serve as an archetype, as you said. And yes, you COULD stereotype every character in history or present into classes. The problem is that when you start, when do you stop? Entrepeneur class could work, but what factors would that govern? In many RPGs that would be: Combat, skills, abilites, ability scores. Because this person starts a buisness he could suddenly gain: Learning adaptation to buisness-like skills, combat detriment or ability, or even a detriment on his other skills (be them martial arts, writing, or whatever). STOP. You could now argue that that only happens in a few systems, and mabee you would be correct. However, these are some of the basic conceps that classes use.

One other point is that I think that unless you go soft and very liberal on the classes, that all classes would only work with one to 10 people without mulit-classing.

Multiclassing: Another argument untouched upon. I believe that this was a way for designers to feel justified with using a class system and generate an illusion of flexability, that isn't really there.

Ah. Vilimer, who ripped apert my argument so nicelley:
Now it has been said that classes aren't realistic. This statement has no meaning, because only reality itself is real. The very word realistic indicates something that's "similar to but not quite real". Therefor "realistic" needs a qualifier to have any meaning. In other words: classes aren't realistic compared to what?

The fundamental truth of all RPGs is that they are a model of reality (ours or a fictional one). The very definition of being a model is something that is simplified from reality in order to make analysis feasible. What is simplified more and what is simplified less depends on what aspect the modeler is attempting to analyse. In other words every set of RPG rules is nothing more than a model, the real question is then what is the purpose of a given model and does it meet that purpose.

Quote
So, the issue that becomes not "are classes a realistic portrayal of reality", but rather "are classes an effective means of modeling reality for a specific purpose".


You are correct in that. However, I took great care to say that they don't qualify for MY objective. I take care when I speak to clearly state when I am voicing my opinion. I care to think that to conitnue the class philosophy, is to continue a philosophy that was created to steriotype characters for dungeon crawls. You can change it to steriotype something else, but doing so can REALLY limity the sytem.

Now for levels: I use levels with skill allocation. Skills dominate my RPG becasuse that is the main way objectives can be creativelley achieved. I also consider Levels a "Metagame design concept neccesity." This means that, like you guys are talking about, they are neccisary for the games objective to be carried out (mid-evil fantasy [like that hasn't been done enough]). HP must have use. Humans need an advantige. Because mid-evil fantasy games will be combat prioratised, and everyone would complain if I didn't, I added levels to increase combat skills. Instead purchasing HP with character points, they now increase with level. For the argument that characters should gradually increase skills: I agree completelley. A main objective of my system is to make creating a superhuman, after any amount of time, impossible (unless you aren't a human). Level advancement is gradual and is there only to controll the factors of a person that increase sub-contiously over time, and to simulate the wisdom that levels, to me, are supposed to represent.

I also feel that classes have a psycological impact in the way that the system is carried out. If there are 8 different potential classes, then about 1/8 characters will be every class. Another problem is that designers struggle to make all classes equal in power. I laugh at this. With the existance of Mages, Jedi, Paladins, ect. this is a joke. I do believe in making characters equal overall.  The classes should each emphasize in different things. Characters should start out as a theif, but could eventually, through character development, grow out of it.

Anyway, to sumerize: I once heard a quote from Dragon Magazine, "Tolkeins work is very hard to transelate into game mechanics." - When the emphasis is on character beliefs and development, instead of combat skills, it certainly would be.
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Valamir
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« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2002, 03:16:29 PM »

Quote from: Pyron
You are correct in that. However, I took great care to say that they don't qualify for MY objective. I take care when I speak to clearly state when I am voicing my opinion.


True.
But let me point out that there is a difference between a discussion/debate, and a manifesto/declaration of opinion.  Opinion stated without evidence to back it up cannot be effectively debated.  Opinion that cannot be effectively debated, that is essentially a statement of "this is what I believe" is a manifesto.  Manifestos have limited value.

For instance, I could post a list of all of my beliefs about RPGs...but no one would care.  For effective dialog to take place I have to be able to state my case about why I believe X, Y & Z; giving others the opportunity to comment, challenge, or agree.  

If someone disagrees with me, I can 1) attempt to change their mind, 2) have my mind changed by them, 3) work together to achieve some common accord, or 4) when necessary agree to disagree.  However, citing "my opinion" is not a valid tactic.


Quote
I care to think that to conitnue the class philosophy, is to continue a philosophy that was created to steriotype characters for dungeon crawls. You can change it to steriotype something else, but doing so can REALLY limity the sytem.


Much of the rest of your post includes alot of assumptions about "standard medieval" fantasy tropes and player expectations that illustrate a very limited experience in what RPGs are, have been, and can be.  I suggest searching through some older threads (Pale Fire's Ygg threads in particular) to see how we've discussed this issue here just recently.

Given that, I have to say that your experience with "class" as a design concept is limited solely to D&D and its derivatives.  Even so, I think you are missing the meat of my arguement.  We could discuss whether D&D was an effective *implementation* of classes (in that we would probably agree, there were alot of ideas in D&D that were not implemented effectively) but that would serve little purpose.  My point was that however horrible you think D&D is, that says absolutely nothing about whether classes are good, bad, or otherwise.  For some purposes they will be horrible, for others they are ideal.  

This is partially effected by what your preferences as a player are and what you'd like to take out of the gaming experience, and it is partially effected by what the game designers purpose in the game was.  The designer very well may have had a specific goal in mind which classes met perfectly well.  That you don't like the game speaks to your personal preference, but says nothing about the quality of the game design.

You'll find that this issue is at the core of the Forge.  Search around, read some of the articles on GNS.  The entire purpose of GNS is to match player goals with games designed to meet those goals, and to recognize that a good game is one that successfully acheives its goals...even if those goals aren't your own.
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Eric J.
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« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2002, 07:23:42 PM »

LOOK. Give me a break. You can go floating around justifying things because "they meet the designer's goal in mind" but what I'm saying is that classes as a general princible don't help the designer's goals unless they are to make a simplistic game designed for the players to take on limited tasks using limited creativity.  I respect your view, and can give an example of a game that pulls it off. Quest for Glory I-V. It illistrates several quests and objectives that can be taken at different approches based upon your class or perspective.  This happens to be a computer RPG. The reason it has multiple classes is becasue of the need for replayabilty.  I made an allusion to a computer RPG because computer games can have only 4 types of characters and be fine. For a game that I could play for several months (in real time without sleeping) where the potenial exists to have more choices and individuality, I believe that classes are a bad idea for most systems and engines.

-And give me a break. Being inherintly hostile towards some one is irational.  My RPG ignorance comes from the fact that I didn't start playing untill I was fairly old and have only played for about a year.  I, however, have had time to develop a little wisdom even if it has been mostly personal experience. Being a "Stupid ass", as some would call it, has no impact on the logic of my argument.
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