September 16, 2012 by Jeff
Are classes becoming less and less important the longer D&D goes on? Is that good or bad? I’ve had this on my list of possible topics to discuss for some time and it’s sort of become a thing around the interwebs these days, so I figured what better time to openly contemplate some things here on THP.
Class is iconic to D&D. Without the concept of class there is no D&D, it would be a completely different game. It’s that important.
Which is strange, because class has become less important/iconic with every iteration of D&D released. At the rate we’ve moving within a decade or two D&D will become a strange classless mutant that has little to nothing to do with the original game. Or not, it seems reasonable that the trend will just stop.
In the beginning class was all. There wasn’t even race, it was all class.
Then race was separated out, and with good reason, and took some of it’s coolness with it, and so D&D characters became all about race and class.
Then the game evolved again and we had class and race, but we also had other defining characteristics. Like prestige classes (Class 2: Electric Bugaloo) and feats. These things also started to define who the character is and why they are unique. It also had the effect that two fighters could both be distinctly fighters and also not play the same, feel the same, or have the same background.
Next we had more things pulled out of class. Epic destinies, paragon paths, themes, backgrounds, etc. They all took just a tiny bit of the emphasis on class away. The way that class defined itself in 4e was with class features and powers. But feats could simulate many class feature style abilities, as good themes. Powers are gained in half a dozen places beyond class as well, and what’s more the powers of one class often feel very similar to another class. And yet, due to some careful design work, for the most part I knew if I was playing a rogue or a wizard. They were different enough, things were now balanced, and I could do these cool things to mechanically tie my character to story/setting.
Now we’re starting to look at the D&D Next playtest and it seems that class is losing a bit more of it’s mojo. Specialties and backgrounds are eating the classes lunch. No class pre-requisites for fetas, class has little impact on skills. Slowly but surely class is losing it’s emphasis.
I’m not sure this is a bad thing. Class has become less and less important because the game has evolved to allow players enough flexibility to use the rules to build a wider and wider variety of characters. I went through a long phase of always wanting to play the odd character that had combinations that shouldn’t work but do, so this increased flexibility is something I can appreciate.
Combinations like the fighter magic-user was always something you could imagine, but could seldom pull off in a way that was supported mechanically.
I feel like it’s a move that may very well be making a better game. If I have any concern it’s that now it’s harder and harder to make a character that fit the iconic archetypes and I hope that’s something that the designers keep in mind. All classes may be able to become acolytes of a temple…but clerics should still be able to be the holiest holy men around.
I do wonder, as the game emphasizes the role of class more and more does the game become D&D less and less? It’s a question that interests me because Next feels like it de-emphasizes the class more than any evolution since dwarf became a race. Which is ironic when the common design goal seems to be to capture the core of what D&D has been and is over the ages.
What do you think? Am I making mountains out of mole hills? Is class actually becoming less important or can we add to the game in one area without taking away from it in another area? If class is becoming less important is that a bad thing? What do you think?