Sorry for the delay in updates lately! Unearthed and Yavmir are still in motion, but I haven’t had time to post proper project updates up on the blog. To tide you all over until the next bulletin, here is a bit of a game design post that I’ve had in the works for a while. Enjoy!
Classes. The backbone of many a role-playing game. Whether you are a brave warrior or an ingenious spellcaster, your class is what defines the things you can or cannot due throughout the course of the game.
I’ve always been fascinated with class systems – probably due to my obsessions with Pathfinder, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Baldur’s Gate – and as a result I often toy with the game design aspects of class design. One of my favourite exercises is to imagine how game classes relate to each other, and what factors dictate a player character’s lot in life.
For part one of my sure-to-be-sporadically-updated series Outclassed, I have designed a simple class tree based around the idea of alignment. My inspiration for this particular design came from the casual disregard that many players have for their alignment in the d20 roleplaying system. This chart aims to tie alignment and class more closely together, and to give players another way to think about the type of character they are building. The classes are roughly approximated from the Pathfinder RPG.
Classes are divided in two ways: function and alignment. Function is a pretty straight-forward way of sorting classes by what they do. Two martial roles (heavy and light) and two magical roles (divine and arcane) cover the basis of most fantasy archetypes, and are represented on the horizontal and vertical axis. The white, gray, and black circles represent alignment – think OSR alignment, with no good or evil – which is what we’re more interested in at the moment.
Lawful Classes (the white circle) are perhaps the easiest to understand and parse through. They all follow a set of rules to increase their skill and power, and often work within the framework of a well-regulated institution. Paladins and Clerics are the most obvious example of this, being extensions of an organized religion. Wizards follow the somewhat more ambiguous rules of magic, learning from tomes and trying to bend reality through the use of carefully designed spells. Monks are law incarnate, abiding by stringent physical training to perfect their bodies and obtain mastery over the martial arts. Some core values of lawful classes are: honour, obedience, and reliability.
Chaotic Classes (the black circle) are not necessarily outsiders, but seem to work outside the normal rules of society. Oracles and Sorcerers are the antithesis of Clerics and Wizards, obtaining their powers through chance or heritage, free of the normal restrictions of institutionalized training. Rogues are free spirits, picking up skills and techniques as they travel, and pretty much acting on whatever whims that strike their fancy. Barbarians are the epitome of chaos, using an intense physical rage to boost their abilities regardless of the possibility of recklessness and self-harm. Some core values of chaotic classes are: freedom, adaptability, and flexibility.
Neutral Classes (the grey circle) can be a bit harder to peg down than the other classes. They strike a balance between law and chaos, and often push in either direction depending on their personal aims. Druids and Rangers may ally themselves with various causes in order to further their own goals of protecting nature and preserving a natural balance. Fighters – mercenary by nature – may find themselves traveling across the world and working for different factions in search of wealth and fame. Summoners are perhaps the most eccentric of the lot, consorting with creatures from various planes of existence to increase their knowledge and power. Some core values of neutral classes are: balance, self-worth, and impartiality.
That’s all for this edition of Outclassed! I have another post in the vault, so I’ll bust it out next time I’m short on content.
On one hand, I’m not a fan of the diagram. Having the chaotic classes in the outer ring like that makes it look like sorcerers/oracles and barbarians/rogues are polar opposites, instead of sorcerers/clerics, barbarians/monks, rogues/paladins, etc. On the other hand, I’m also not sure how a two-dimensional diagram could do better without being a complete mess.
More subjectively, I think Magic (arcane) should be opposed to Martial (heavy) and Magic (divine) to Martial (light). That just feels more…right to me, though I can’t quite explain why. Part of it is probably that I feel like the paladin ideologically fits more in the divine group, standing for the dominant religious institutions, while Martial (light) ranges from cloistered groups apart of the wider world to people actively opposing the dominant institutions (e.g. by robbing them).
Thanks for the comments! I actually hadn’t thought about this post in a long while.
I think my game design sensibilities have shifted way from alignment altogether in recent years, but I like your thoughts on the diagram. I agree – it likely would make more sense to oppose martial and magic classes a bit more.