01 October 2011

Advanced Classes

As the more astute of you has probably guessed already, this is going to be about, essentially, prestige classes. Oh, don't roll your eyes at me like that, I'm not going there. I promise. The last thing anybody wants is to bring back the insane flurry of acronyms and slashes that marked 3e- because holy fucking god, please, no. Just say no to multiclassing.

If you ask me, multiclassing has no place whatsoever in class-based games. All it does is point out the inherent inflexibility in the system, and makes classes more of a "pick-and-choose-abilities" affair instead of a simultaneous role-restriction and role-definition. And that's just wrong. It doesn't feel right. It feels blatantly artificial... but it's the only way we can customize our characters, right?

Well, no. It's the only way you can customize your characters in generic D&D, but it doesn't have to be that way. Like I said, all it does it point out the inherent inflexibility in the system. But what if the system was more flexible?

I'm currently thinking about RuneQuest or OpenQuest. I don't have the PDF with me, but if I remember correctly, the game totally eschewed the idea of "class", instead preferring to let you learn whatever it was that your little heart desired. The problem with RuneQuest/OpenQuest is, of course, that character generation takes a while. What you gain in flexibility, you lose in creation time, simplicity, and roles. Every character can do a little bit of everything, and while it's certainly pretty cool, you quickly lose that "special feeling" you get. There's nothing like being the best in your group at something, when you're the toughest and strongest or the smartest and most magical.

It's one of the things that 4e got right (which I'm aware is a bit of a naughty phrase round these parts.) The "protection" of class roles is a fantastic feature, even if they really messed up by making it sound as goofy and strictly combat-related as they did. The idea is solid, but the execution left a lot to be desired.

So what am I getting at? Well, I've been percolating for quite a while on the idea of "Advanced Classes" that takes a little bit of everything from everywhere and melds it into something that isn't terrible. As a quick rundown:
  • From basic D&D it takes attribute generation (3d6 in order), it takes the "feel" of the classes, and it takes the starting point of strength.
  • From AD&D it takes the "character kit" idea, where you pick a kit and that's what your character can do. Expanded out, but still somewhat recognizable.
  • From 3e, it takes the idea that you have to "qualify for" these advanced classes, but in ways that are not in the least related to your skill points or whatever. I'm thinking in-game feats, because all prestige classes would be (or are) in-game organizations. Think The Order of the Burning Brand instead of "Crusader" for example.
  • From 4e, the idea that character roles are as much as part of a character as the starting class. When you pick up a prestige class, you don't fundamentally change your role. Instead, you become better at one specific role, paralleling the way humans work- you start as a generalist, and continue to specialize down the line until you are a master at your chosen field. 
And that's the idea. As a quick example, let's take this guy and see where he ends up, under the Advanced Classes scheme:

Let's say he started out as a 1st level Figher. Realizing that he revels in bloodshed, let's say that at 5th level he joins a cult to the God of Massacre and becomes a Reaver. Now he gains a bonus to damage with two-handed weapons, and he gains a little bit of health back when he kills somebody in melee combat. Becoming a true Reaver means defeating a powerful warrior in one-on-one combat and then feasting on his eyes. Our Fighter does so, and he is accepted into the Reavers.

But maybe that's not enough. At 9th level, he becomes more dedicated to bloodshed and massacre, and petitions to join the upper ranks of the Reavers. This is about as easy as it sounds- to climb higher, to become a Blood-Letter, he must accomplish an unparalleled feat of carnage. Our fighter decides to destroy a small village, slay all the inhabitants, build a sacrificial pyre to his god of Carnage out of the wood of the buildings, and leave the bodies for the wolves. He has accomplished his goal, and is accepted into the Blood-Letters with open arms. He gains a contingent of Reavers of his own, and learns some of the darker secrets of the Blood-Letters; he learns charms to make a man burn with fury from a single word, a spell to make the freshly dead rise up and fight for him, and he gains a charm such that he will not feel pain until after the battle.

You know, just as an example off the top of my head. Basically, the point is that as you level, you get a nifty trick or two that nobody else probably has. These tricks are tied to belonging in an organization much of the time, although there's usually a way to get nifty tricks without applying to an organization, depending on your class, the game world, and how much your DM is willing to believe that you can totally figure out how to run like the wind/shoot a bulls-eye at 300 yards/track dragons/shapeshift/summon demons without somebody to help you out in exchange for your loyalty.

I don't know if I'll ever write an actual document about it, but it's certainly worth thinking about.


  1. This is an intriguing idea, tying prestige classes directly to orders. If you provided a bare framework, it would be something that each GM could flesh out to his campaign.

  2. That's the idea, actually.

    I'm not here to tell you how to tie your classes together, just give a basic sort of "here's how it works, here's some classes, here's how I fit them together, here's how you could do it," and then go from there.

    Frameworks are generally the most interesting reading nayways.

  3. That's a nice idea: IMHO you can handle it asking players for a specific requirement: an achievement, not an Ability Score or a Feat.

    Just make a list, maybe giving the achievement a tasty name (like "Mark of the Death Touched" for someone who survived an energy drain), so that anybody fullfilling that requirement may access to particular Order.

  4. I like the idea of names, I honestly didn't even think of it.

    It gives a good slot for Achievements on the character sheet, which is always fun. It's way cooler to have a running tally of how awesome you are on your page. =)