What Does the Class Do?
In game mechanics terms, a class is intended to be a collection of related system elements that enable rapid character creation and reinforce genre through strong archetypes. In Seven Kingdoms in particular, I want classes to bring the swashbuckling elements while origins bring the superhero elements.
However, given the radical changes I've made to the combat system, I'm not entirely sure what the class does any more. By making combat based on a skill, I've removed two key system elements that distinguish one class from another. First, there's no Base Attack Bonus. Second, every class now needs to have the same number of skill points, though with a different list of class skills. In addition, I'm not sure that I'm going to be keeping the vitality and stress mechanics, so there's another point of differentiation gone.
What we are left with are bonuses to saves, the list of class skills, and the class abilities. It wouldn't be hard to turn the class abilities into feat trees, and turn the saves into skill or ability checks. And, voila, the class is dismissed.
So What If I Have No Class?
Good question. Do I need classes? Am I just holding onto an artifact of outmoded play?
Well, with no classes, no saving throws, and such a radically different combat system, I can pretty definitively say that I am no longer using the d20 system. On the one hand, I lose the framework of rules I'd been counting on for both ease of design and familiarity. On the other, I am freed up to use whatever mechanics suit my whims.
We also come back to one of the purposes of classes. Without a class, players lose that easy template to both build and define their characters. Of course, they also lose the straitjacket that a class can be. They become free to build their characters to suit whatever concept is in their heads.
That, though, sums up the reason I want to keep classes. Without them, the character is mostly defined by her origin. There's a big difference in connotation between "I'm a Blaster with a lot of Knowledge skills and related feats" and "I'm a Blaster Scholar". The former starts with what kind of superhero you are and builds from there. I would have to trust to the feat selection and player intent to bring the swashbuckling. The latter statement, though, gives equal weight to both genres. In a mash-up, I think that's pretty important.
How Do I Make the Class Stick?
If I want to keep the class system, I need to give it some significant weight. First of all, let's definitely keep save bonuses and class abilities intact. We also will be adding a gear mechanic, so let's give class-based bonuses to that.
One significant way to restore some differentiation to the classes is to set the combat to use BAB again. As I was looking at "skill as attack bonus" I noticed that it wasn't really adding much. A Soldier is likely to max it out, and a Courtier is likely to ignore it. The one real advantage it had was supporting fencing schools and techniques as skill focuses. I think that will be pretty easy to replicate with class abilities and feats.
Of course, having BAB in the system calls out combat as being more important than other sorts of conflict. I really don't want that. To counter-balance it, and call out repartee as being important, I think I should add a class-based bonus for social combat. It would work the same way as BAB, but would also remove the awkward question of the differences between some of the social skills.
Yeah, I think I like that. It makes the classes unique, but doesn't overburden the system. It brings us back closer to the d20 paradigm, which I like. And, it should be relatively easy to give each class the right feel.