Character as Class

The merits and flaws of Race as Class have been debated elsewhere.  The focus of the discussion is wrong.

This is no-one's fault: From the outset of our hobby, every PC and every NPC was depicted through the same lens. So it should come as no surprise that, 20 years later, every bartender is a retired fighter with the HP of a dragon, every village elder is secretly a powerful wizard, and every PC need a special hook to stand apart / above the crowd.

This is a consequence of our wargaming history. Our first PCs were Heroes advanced from Fighting Men. But per Appendix N, we should be looking at Character as Class.

Conan is not simply a level 6 Warrior. He's The Warrior. When he enters the tavern, people notice. When he fights, people die. There are other mercenaries, reavers and barbarians in the world, and many of these NPCs might threaten him in a fight, but there's only one Conan. Translated to the tabletop, only PCs have the capacity to become a Warrior. One hundred NPCs might train their entire lives, but no matter how deadly they become, they will never have the suite of abilities of the Warrior. It's not a job title, it's a destiny.

Other classes should be no different. PC Clerics aren't simply priests; they are holy men with the ability to work miracles. Fantasy Popes shouldn't be able to cast spells or heal, but the party Cleric can. You are the sole living instrument of a god. Followers flock wherever you wander, lords tremble in your presence, kings have you assassinated. You're not playing Friar Tuck, you're playing Jesus.

As a Wizard, you aren't the village elder. You're Merlin. Sure, per Appendix N, evil sorcerers exist to blast your PCs with a spell (or three), but just one Wizard has traded his soul to a devil in exchange for the ability to twist reality to his whim. Even if you wanted to retired to village elder-dom, devils and demons will be beating down your tower door with contracts in hand.

And even the Thief. Whereas cutpurses work the bazars, catburglers prowl the nights, safe crackers do their magic, and assassins stew their poisons, you alone have mastery of each discipline. There is no treasure that can't be stolen, no secret that can't be revealed, no regent safe from your blade.

Extrapolated to world design it becomes clear that PCs are an explicit threat to the social order. An avalanche of plot hooks follow, simply in response to characters being Appendix N PCs. Overlords despise you; exiled kings and queens are desperate to hire you. Like Beowulf, you are the only one capable of slaying monsters. Like Merlin, you decide who sits on the throne.

Blah, blah, blah. You get the idea. Character as Class.


At 4:24 PM, Blogger Jon Hershberger said...

Interesting idea, but at the same time it also seems a little contradictory to the DCC approach to the tabletop, where play starts out at 0-level: as untrained, uneducated, peasants. And the progression from 0-level, untrained, uneducated, peasant, to Merlin or Conan is more a life-time of 'working at it' than progressing to 1st level. Methinks I'm missing the crucial point here. ;)

At 4:31 PM, Blogger Todd Bradley said...

That's a great point, Jon. In the Conan stories, and really any famous hero story, the hero's origin as what we'd call a zero is told only in flashback. Nobody cares about Conan's first fight as a young untrained boy, except in the context of his 1000th fight as THE Cimmerian.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger Harley Stroh said...

Jon, for me there's no contradiction. There is a PC; even since he was a boy, he has been different. Other boys were stronger, bigger, quicker, smarter. But little Taco persevered – first when they killed his family, then when they made him a slave. And now he is Taco the Reaver, riding from the North at the head of a horde ... blah blah blah.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger bygrinstow said...

Even without the back story -- Taco's got that chart about Heroes from the rulebook on his side. Once he hits 1st Level, he's a 1 in 50 kind of guy. That's nothing to sneeze at, and it only gets better from there...

At 5:20 PM, Blogger ravencrowking said...

But 1 in 50 is very different than THE warrior or THE cleric. That is 1 in all there is.

Clerics are rare, and the judge should damn well remember that not every village has someone able to heal wounds or cure diseases. But if you want to be THE cleric, you have to earn it.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger bygrinstow said...

Well, my comment was in the context of riffing off the 'contradictory' notion, and meant to say the contradiction is mild at best and quickly muted entirely as a character levels up.

Plus, the 1-in-50 is certainly better than the standard effect of "we're all 8th-level fighters here" that so much D&D play seems to revel in.

I'd always expect the player characters are rare, "and now let's see what they do to prove that..."

At 6:33 PM, Blogger Eric Daum said...

I like the change in the framing of the question. I agree with the others above that your idea in the context of DCC doesn't work well. Often in my games the best of a person's four 0 lvl characters, the ones that should live don't. I agree with the sentiment that once they go up a level or two they are well on their way to becoming a heroic archtype or paragon. I have never had a group get past 4th level but even in DCC that is really very badass.
I also feel that not all appendix N leans toward the heroic paragon as the prime protagonist.
I think that there is a way to work your ideas this into the DCC rules but I have given no thought to it yet. Eating dinner now maybe I'll have some suggestions later.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Robocoastie said...

Exactly! That's why I've always had a problem with the splat "campaign" books. If a fantasy world had as much magic and awesomeness walking around as dictated in any of the Forgotten Realms campaign books then there would be no more monsters to fight, no necromancers sending legions of skeletons to war, no one would be sick, no plagues, etc.. etc.. In a small way D&D 4e actually fixed some of that with their Points of Light basic setting. The world is DARK, broken up, trying to rebuild struggling to. And the PC's are hero's even at level 1 you kick arse. It's the DM that mucks that up by having just too much powerful evil running around in the world.

At 2:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It just doesn't sit well with me that only one person is The Warrior. I'm happier to say "You have a Warrior's destiny." It's an archetype There are other people with such a destiny. Clashes between them are the stuff of legend. Conan often runs into or partners up with others similarly endowed and destined; is not Valeria so?

This isn't so much about class or race as it is protagonist and challenge. Characters are the center of the story the game tells. Not just another pile of stats.

At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Yomar said...

Not so in Three Hearts and Three Lions. The Mars series had other protagonists besides John Carter. Vance's wizards and thieves regularly met more powerful characters than themselves. The Hobbit and LOTR are included in Appendix N. Lovecraft's protagonists are certainly ordinary. More to the point, we're playing an RPG, not reading pulp fiction. Just because a trope exists in the former doesn't automatically mean it's a good idea to import it. I don't enjoy playing superheroes very much, and a team of supermen is an entirely different dynamic than a lone fantasy hero.

At 3:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who was the inventor of death calculator?


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