Paths Not Taken: Initial Thoughts on Class

Living Document: Classes

There are so many ways for me to implement classes. I’m sure I’ll still have classes, I’m not prepared to diverge that far from the base game, but I can see many ways to go about it.

  • Pathfinder first edition model, where a character can freely take levels in whatever class they want, as long as they meet the prerequisites for first level. The favored class mechanisms encourage a character to stick to a single class, but some of the synergies can greatly outweigh the favored class benefits. Archetypes allow substitution of some class features for other features, but the class levels still count as the base class and a character can apply more than one archetype to a class as long as the archetypes don’t alter or replace the same features. A character may later take levels in a prestige class they meet the prerequisites for.
  • Pathfinder second edition model, where a character has only a single class but can use an archetype (class or multiclass) to modify the base class features. Unlike first edition, a character may have only a single archetype. There are no prestige classes.
  • d20 Modern model, where a character starts with a basic class, then at a slightly higher level switch to an advanced class (which will have prerequisites) and possibly later to a prestige class. Like Pathfinder first edition a character can switch between classes freely.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 4e model, where a character starts in a class, later gains a paragon path (mid-level class), and then an epic destiny (high-level class). A character may take multiclass feats to count as a member of two classes and to gain certain abilities from the second class.
  • AGE model, where a character has a single class that has some core abilities and then gains new abilities (common and class-specific) from ‘talents’ gained at each level.
  • Legend model, from Rule of Cool, where a character has a single class but each class is made of three paths of abilities. You can ‘multiclass’ by simply swapping out one of the paths for one from another class. I like the class design strategy and I think I want to keep this in my pocket regardless of what approach I take.
  • Shadow of the Demon Lord model, where a character starts with a basic path and gains mostly levels in that path (four levels), later gains an expert path and gains levels in that path (three levels), and near the end of their career gains a master path and gains levels in that path (two levels). Unlike the other models, the path levels are not gained sequentially but are intertwined: basic path levels at levels 1, 2, 5, 7; expert path levels at levels 3, 6, 9; and master path levels at levels 8, 10.

The single-class models are probably the simplest to design because the relative lack of flexibility means the designer has the most control over what the character gains at each level, even when the player can choose options. The free multiclass models are the most flexible, but also the hardest to design for because the interactions are unconstrainted. The mixed models are somewhere in the middle because the player can (in fact must) switch between classes, but the switches are constrained.

Of all the models above, the Shadow of the Demon Lord diverges the most from the base game… but it’s the one I like best. The character changes paths over their career but has the option of staying within similar themes (as with the D&D 4e model), but because the levels are intertwined rather than sequential the abilities can be gained over a great period of the character’s career, and the character can gain higher-level abilities for the path. With the D&D 4e model the character gains ‘paragon tier’ abilities from their paragon path, not before or after. With the Shadow of the Demon Lord model, expanded to twenty levels, a single four-level range can have up to three paths apply. For instance, from levels 9..12 the character gains one basic path level, two expert path levels, and one master path level… and all four could provide level-appropriate abilities. If you like, this means there is a ‘basic capstone’ gained at level 11, two expert abilities at levels 9 and 12, and a master cornerstone at level 10.

This would be a greater departure from the base game, but I think I’d like to give it a try. I can always fall back on another plan if I find this doesn’t work for me.

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