Good morning all you game fans, how are you? Today’s versus challenge will see two giants of gaming face off against other in a battle that could change the very world we live in. We’ll settle once and for all the question on everyone’s lips, where do flies go in the winter? No, sorry, not that one, the other one; which is best, classes or classless? By that I mean those game systems which either force your character down a certain path, or allow them to do pretty much whatever they want. People often tell me I’m classless, which is nice of them, and I must admit to a preference for classless systems. But I will remain objective, and set out the arguments for both cases with equal vigour.
Classless systems are often accused of lacking focus, of creating a character who is a jack (or Jill) of all trades and therefore a master (or mistress) of none. (People also say this about me, which is kind of them.) This doesn’t have to be the case of course. With free choice the classless system allows the player to build the character they want, and if that’s an armoured warrior with a huge weapon, but very little else, that’s their choice.
Too much focus, on the other hand, can lead to characters being unable to participate in large parts of the scenario. Imagine the party heading down a tunnel when they get attacked by a giant cave lobster. The fighters go to the front to fend it off, the cleric starts buffing and healing, and the wizard casts a light spell… They obviously can’t shoot off fireballs or lightning bolts because the tunnel is too narrow, so they just stand at the back with the ranger as the combat unfolds.
A classless system allows all the PCs to be involved most of the time, whether the party are negotiating passage across a toll bridge, deciphering the runes on an ancient tomb, or killing giant cave lobsters. Classed systems tend to force players into taking turns. Tank, you’re on in 3,2,1...
The classless system takes the first point with ease.
Most people would agree this is the single most important step in any RPG, whichever type of game it is. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gamer, the system must allow you to create the character you want to play, or you’ll quickly become disillusioned and probably stop playing. A system with classes is probably easier for a beginner, but it quickly becomes restrictive to those who have played before. I prefer a system that suits all players, allowing beginners to create their character as they play, easing them into the game but still creating a well-rounded character. These systems also allow players with a definite idea of what type of character they want to create to do just that. Character creation in a classed system is more like choosing food from a menu, you can only have what’s on offer, and can’t mix and match. A classless system is more like a buffet, in which you can have any combination in the quantities you want, and not, for instance, have any of those vegetable things.
Another point for the classless system.
This is obviously influenced by luck and judgement as much as the system used, but by having a wide range of skills, your character is more likely to survive a wide range of threats. Being a mighty warrior is fine, but what if a tiny goblin shoots you in the face with a poisoned dart, can you neutralise it, or are you just so much scrap metal? The same for mages, you can bring down a dragon with an epic lightning bolt, but if you can’t heal yourself that same gobbo is going to have two adventurers to play with. Yes, I know other party members can heal, but what if they’re busy, or you’ve had a falling out and they don’t want to heal you? Being able to look after yourself in such situations is a definite advantage.
Classless takes the point again.
Right since the very first day I played a TRPG, (many, many years ago, and it was D&D of course. I played a gnome-illusionist.) I have asked the question, “why can’t casters wear armour?” There are various answers of course, too heavy, too restrictive, the metal interferes with the magic, etc. None of these answers are very satisfactory, and what it comes down to is the first system designers trying to make each class unique, which has created a legacy which survives to this day. I don’t agree with such restrictions. If a mage wants to wear full plate armour they can. Sure, they might get a small penalty on casting because they can’t make the necessary gestures as easily, but there are certain techniques that will negate this. Similar questions also arise, like why can’t fighters cast spells? Why can only clerics heal? etc. If the answer is “because” then something is wrong, and that needs to be addressed.
A point for classless.
Playing the same character for months or even years could get a bit boring, particularly if they are restricted to class, and you know what’s in their future. “Oh good, I Ievelled up, I can learn another spell!” There’s probably also a list of spells from which you can choose, although everyone “knows” you have to pick a certain one, because it’s the most useful. This railroading can be particularly frustrating if your character wants to change direction because of something that happened to them during the adventure. For instance, what if a fighter accidently killed a child and didn’t want to fight anymore but be a cleric? Most systems couldn’t handle this, or would have the character start again at level one, and good luck surviving a level 16 dungeon the other characters are entering.
With a classless system this isn’t such a problem, because the character will already have a wide range of skills that aren’t linked to combat, using the above example. The character will be able to track, negotiate, read ancient runes, heal, etc, and so won’t get left behind. A character that can change and flow with the unfolding story of their life is one that will stay fresh, and one you will look forward to playing for as many years as the campaign lasts.
A definite point for classless systems.
Player satisfaction comes from a number of different things. First, the character must be who the player wants them to be. They must also stay alive, make a contribution to the party’s goals, have some personal success, probably involving obscene amounts of gold, and generally be fun to play. I know what you’re saying, every game system allows this, (except CoC, where alive, sane and rich are mutually exclusive.) but all of those things are reduced to roles within the party, and are thus less satisfying, almost as if those things are pre-ordained and not done by the player’s choices.
Another problem occurs with subsequent campaigns. Although you might choose a different class, the person who fills the fighter slot (steady!) will be an almost identical fighter to the one you played in the last campaign, and the same with the other roles. Ok, they might hate kumquats and be scared of wardrobes, but the skills they have will all be pretty much the same.
Only a classless system can give players the long-term satisfaction they crave.
One more point for classless.
In conclusion, if we add all this together, and admit the fact we play games to have fun, a classless system wins hands down on every count. They are more flexible, create unique characters which are fun to play, are easy to learn but still have depth, and are overall far superior to every class-based system, and they make you more attractive to potential partners. (this last one might be made up, although there’s no evidence it makes you less attractive either, so what have you got to lose?)