I have noticed that there are vocal proponents of classes in RPGs. This is something I have never really understood. I know that for a large group of them they feel they are necessary because DnD has done this since the beginning and the majority of RPGs have them. Indeed, I had, for the longest time, believed that many people that are proponents of classes were only so because they felt that game without classes did something wrong that ultimately unbalanced them. Not long ago I cam to a very sobering realization that many of these proponents simply prefer classes in there games. For them, it is a choice of preference, like playing a game with dice or no dice, GM or no GM. For them, there games are just not good enough if they don’t have classes. But still…why?
I HATE classes in RPG. For me, they represent a laziness in gaming. They show one of two things: the designer couldn’t balance their game without them so they will design a system by which you are constrained by whatever the GM has decided is the correct representation of the class. Or worse still, players that don’t really want to role-play a character they build and just want to crunch through a game. These players welcome the hand holding that a class provides because it allows them to not be concerned with their character. There is another group of players that like classes, but they also exist within non-class based games, and those are meta gamers that just want a class system because it can be easier to break the system for their benefit.
Here’s the problem with classes. A character class represents a predefined archetype in a game world. However, they often are restrictive. For instance, you can be a rogue and get a cool back-stab, or can use magic items, but not one class can do the same, at all. A fighter, no matter how good he works on it, can never, for some reason, figure out that while being unnoticed, cannot hit a vital artery on an opponent for their own sneak attack. He can, at his next level up, multi-class, but even that has some kind of fence around it. Your classes are based on what the developer believes is the correct way for that archetype to behave. Therefore, unless you take a special ability like a feat or perk, your mage can never use a large sword. He could have, in life, sacrificed any training in staff or club to instead learn a sword, but this is not allowed. Why not? It is perfectly reasonable to assume that if I had an opportunity to learn clubs and maces and forgo that to learn a sword that it is possible.
It is not allowed because of balance. In other words, my system cannot work because if you actually want to build your own type of unique character you will break the game. I will, as a developer, castrate you and make your character a RP eunuch by making sure he can never realize the potential you would want of him. It must be played in the way I, as a developer, believe it works, no matter how screwed up my rational is.
Furthermore, you should consider that most developers have no real idea how any of this stuff actually works in a real world. Their tropes are based on whatever fiction they like most. How many actually referenced this stuff historically, sought people out with experience in this stuff, and got some real information? With some exceptions, none. They aren’t building anything even remotely realistic anyways right? I mean, we are playing games with elves and gnomes and wizards. Why should anything be remotely realistic? So why bother actually understanding that a wizard could have trained with a sword instead of maces and clubs, or a fighter has learned a back-stab attack to enhance is fighting prowess? Why can’t a literate knight read a scroll and try to cast a spell (yes he will likely get it wrong but what if gets it right)?
The answer to all of these is that developers, and even players, would rather not deal with any actual creative liberty. Sure you can work the game mechanics, take the right feats, multi-class in clever ways, but this isn’t being creative. What this is called is working the system. You actually have to manipulate the rules in order to do something you want, when you could do this without classes at any point. You could, without classes, concentrate on your character development instead of worrying about how you are going to work the skill trees to get what you want out of your character. It is like having a toddler leash on you with the developer holding the leash. You are the bumbling toddler that has a false sense of freedom, but you will never be able to stray too far from Mother because of the leash. So while you see the shiny object, and you feel like you will be able to get to it, chances are you are going to run out of leash and not actually put your hands on that shiny thing you want so much.
I know that there is a disturbingly large number of people that would rather be hand fed there path in life. They love rules and structures, and feel perfectly comfortable with being stifled and love submission. I know that there are people that are more like drone bees than free thinking humans, and they are happy in this. They are similar to a Brave New World Epsilon in that they are happy doing what they are told or expected, but abhor any real free thinking.
But RPGs are creative games. By their nature one would think that creative, free thinking, minds would be the majority, not a minority. So why then, with such open creative minds playing these games do you deliberately choose to be bound to another person’s interpretation of your character?
I mean, to each their own, but thank God I play Sagas. I don’t think I could ever go back to playing a DnD like character class again. I enjoy my creative freedom.