Thursday, September 1, 2011

7K - Class warfare

I am a bit conflicted on how exactly to handle races, classes, skills, and other character elements in the rebooted Seven Kingdoms game.  On the one hand, given that characters will already be sorted into broad categories based on the type of super power they have, I also want to be able to sort them based on the type of swashbuckler they are.  On the other, I want the game system to steer light, so that my natural tendencies will keep it rules-medium.

Should I have classes?  And, if so, what kind of structure should they have?

What If I Have No Class?

There are several elements that I already know I want.  Races/origins is a big one, to avoid having to create a complex system for creating super powers.  Stats and skills are key to the core mechanic I want to use.  I love FATE's Aspects, and want to bring them in, though probably in a more limited form.  As a parallel to the skill system, I want a wealth system instead of a flat cash system.  That's already five points of differentiation between characters.

The other two typical system elements are classes (aka templates, professions) and advantages (aka feats, merits, stunts).  Adding both of them seems to create a system that is very complex.  Probably too complex.  If I drop classes, that has two major effects on the feel of the game.  First, it ends up being a lot like most other point-buy systems.  World of Darkness, 7th Sea, Deadlands, and several other games of that vintage did that.  It's very workable (obviously), but I'm not sure it's the kind of game I want to make.  Second, by having the origin being simply defined and everything else in more complex terms, it will tend to cause players to categorize the characters by the type of super.  This may end up undermining the mash-up quality that I am going for.

The Classes of Classes

So, let's assume that I am going to do some kind of classes.  There are several ways to do this.  I can do a highly structured class, like in d20.  Each class will give bonuses to certain checks (e.g., attack bonus), have class skills, and give per-level abilities.  I have a very good feel for how this kind of class works.  I know several different ways that I make it do what I want.  But, if I go this route, I think I need to completely drop advantages as being redundant with class abilities.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this.

I could have the classes have no real internal structure.  They would, instead, be a simple pointer to a certain collection of advantages and skills.  This is more or less how Deadlands worked.  Being a huckster or mad scientist gave you a unique way to use one of your skills, and access to a set of related advantages.  There wasn't much else to it from a system point of view.  This is already largely how the races/origins are going to work, since they are all keyed off of a common Power skill.  This gives me the benefit of a shorthand descriptor, which solves my latter issue with dropping classes above.  But, I can leverage the benefits of a variety of advantages, and avoid the appearance of too much math in the system.  It would also drop levels as a mechanic, which helps simplify things.

There is a middle path.  I could keep levels to the classes, and possibly class skills, but make them less complex than d20 or Rolemaster style classes.  Essentially, they would end up being tiered advantages with a collective name that gives me the shorthand I want out of a class.  My problem is that this is still just a bit too complex to combine with standard advantages.  If I didn't have the separate origins mechanic, I might strongly consider this.  As is, I don't think it's a good option.

There are, of course, radically different options that still serve the same basic functions as classes.  None of the ones I can think of even come close to serving my needs.  If you can think of a mechanic that you think I've overlooked, I'd be happy to hear it.

Final Round, Fight!

I have three workable options: no classes, pseudo-classes, and highly structured classes.  I suddenly feel like I'm on an RPG version of House Hunters.  Let's see if we can eliminate one.  Eliminating classes altogether feels like it is breaking down the structure of the character without really making anything simpler at all.  It brings to mind all the issues I have with point-buy systems in general, and doesn't bring me significant benefits.  Let's take that one off the table.

The primary advantage to a highly structured class, typically, is that a player can accomplish 80% of character creation just by picking a race and class.  However, given the way I want to structure skills, and given the addition of Aspects, I'm not sure that I'll get that benefit in this system.  Also, I really do fear that going for a few tight classes instead of a bucket of advantages is going to come off as a straitjacket to a lot of players.

The pseudo-class option, in which it mostly serves as a pointer and prerequisite for a collection of related mechanics, seems like the best choice.  First, it is simple.  Second, it is what I am already doing with origins, so it feels consistent.  Third, it leaves a lot of room for customization.  Most importantly, though, I feel like it will serve its purpose during character creation (rapid prototyping), then get the hell out of the way.


Classes in the Seven Kingdoms game will be broad descriptions of the typical approach of the character to problem-solving.  Sample classes include gallant (duelist), pirate, courtier, and scholar.  Each class will give access to a particular set of advantages, and may have some kind of "class skill" benefit.

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