Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Class functionality vs. theme

In my initial builds of SkyRPG (Now officially named Heroes By Trade) I built classes around functional lines.  Each class could be melee or range oriented, use magical or physical attacks, and either focus on pure damage or a mix of damage, disruption, and buffs.  After finishing my eight classes though I looked at them and they didn't have a huge amount of pizzazz and pop.  They had all kinds of interesting abilities and mechanics but the flavour sections didn't do much to leap off of the page.

Example 1:  Marauders focus on high damage attacks using melee weapons.  They rush in and smash their opponents in close range; although Marauders have limited defensive options they hit harder than any other class.

Example 2:  Marauders are melee fighters that employ techniques from various animals to decimate their enemies.  They use weapons but their powers allow them to pounce like a cheetah, gore like a bull, or poison their opponents like a snake.  All of their abilities are based around emulating the powers and abilities of various creatures and because Marauders can employ the strengths of any animal at any given time they can accomplish unthinkable feats in combat.  When a Marauder charges their targets recoil in fear for they know that the mightiest predator in the jungle is coming and will not be stopped.

The second entry is obviously more interesting and can act as a springboard for stories and interesting roleplaying.  The trick is that if people want to play a melee brawler but aren't interested in the animal kit they really have no other option.  In DnD the base classes have very little in the way of lore but the extra classes and especially the classes added in extra books are loaded down with fluff and bizarre themes.  What I am wondering is whether or not that is a sensible formula.  I could easily build a few generic classes and a few colourful ones but I could also go full on either way; all lore filled or all generic.

What I wonder is what people like the best.  Constraining people's choices to some extent is good because it forces them to be a bit creative to make the system reflect their imagination but going too far means the system feels too constrained and might be unusable in a given campaign setting.  I don't know where the best balance lies; if you have an opinion on it do drop a comment and let me know.

1 comment:

  1. My 2 cents, but keep in mind I am fairly fond of 'fluff' :)

    Simple fighter, wizard, bard, rogue... these might do with a smaller blurb. Still I think it is important that it is a bit evocative (ie: not just functional) and mentions which of the common tropes are at play. For example, a wizard is a dude in a dress that casts spells pretty much everywhere, so that might not require mentioning... but a reference must be made to whether it is the academy-type wizard or some sort of prodigy/genetic ability. To whether he has to carry an spell book with spells descriptions or summons the power out of his pure will and whim. That kind of thing.

    You can probably safely relay in the shared perception of what a wizard is for most of the rest. Hopefully you can underline which tropes/mechanics you chose for your wizard and a bit of how does a wizard become/is an adventurer in a couple of paragraphs.

    For classes that either have a lot of tropes that you need to deconstruct (eg: 4e Warlock, by name looks like a pure NPC class with few redeeming qualities), a completely new spin for your game/setting, or not part of the 'common' set of adventuring classes then more fluff would be needed to set it in the context of the world and game.

    I was fairly fond of older D&D class descriptions. They are very dated of course but they had two things that have disappeared from the mainstream and were very useful to newbies: a relation of novel/movie characters that fit the archetype of the class, and a 'why would a Fighter become an adventure' paragraph. They are useless to me now, but I think there is a lot of value in telling a newbie that if they want to be more Aragorn-like (in D&D) a ranger might be a better fit than a straight up warrior. It taps directly into the genre tropes to give a veritable ton of context in just a few words.