Thursday, January 6, 2011

Class Action

More thoughts on Classes for Aliens & Astrobases...

To me, the concept of a Class in an RPG falls into three main areas:

Class as Iconic Profession
This is the default D&D/D20/Palladium, etc. idea of classes. These are basically jobs that are easily and often boldly defined by looking to our favorite characters in the fiction of the genre. Conan is a Fighter or a Barbarian, Gandalf is a Wizard, Aragon is a Ranger, etc.

This is my least favorite interpretation as these Classes are often (though not always) given less customization options and don't define some of the genre's more unusual characters. Elric is not exactly a Wizard and he can fight with a bad ass sword. Gray Mouser is a Thief who also know some magic. You get what I'm saying.

Class as Templated Skill Set
This is sort of the 'Class-that-isn't-a-Class' system used by D6 Star Wars, ICON and FASA Star Trek (Decipher's CODA feels like a cross between this and the Iconic Profession which is why I'm not as keen on that game*), numerous modern and military themed RPGs and even to some degree point based systems like Mutants & Masterminds and Champions.

Now that wouldn't be standard for the latter two but both give you the option of using a template or purchasing a package of abilities where the math is already done for you. For Champions/HERO System, this is much more popular in its spin offs like Fantasy Hero and Star Hero so everyone who wants to play an Elf or a particular alien species can simply purchase the same package.

Class as Classification
Now this one is something I've been thinking about for years and years. The word Class in this context always makes me think of a classification or a type. So the job or profession of Fighter, Paladin, Cavalier or Barbarian would all fall under the 'Class' of Fighting Man for example. Wizard, Cleric, Druid and Sorceror would called be considered Magic Users.

I can't think of any RPGs that do it quite this way off the top of my head but I'm certain I remember encountering this idea before. If you guys can think of any let me know.

What am I getting at with this? Well how about the following Classes for Aliens & Astrobases:


In addition to two 'special' Classes


What you have here is the character that thinks (Academic - Int - Mental character), the character that fights ( Combatant - Con - Physical character), the character that interacts (Contact - Cha - Social character), the character the does (Tech - Wis - 'Skill' or Capable character) and the wild card (Enigma - Dex? - More about abilities than stats - this is the Psionic/Cyborg character).

To this Class you get to add a Profession or job that gives you one special ability or skill like ability and gives you some variation. Professions might include Pilot, Explorer, Medic, etc. There for you could play a Combatant Medic, a Combatant Pilot, an Enigma Soldier, a Contact Explorer or what-have-you. Its a bit like Stars Without Number but simplified, paired down and yet I may expand the use of the base Classes to make them more distinct.

Any thoughts? Back to Star Trek...

Barking Alien

*I must say that while Decipher's Star Trek game isn't my forte', I think their Lord of the Rings RPG is somewhat underrated. The CODA system works much better for that game and it was pretty cool to run. If only Decipher as a company had had some clear idea of what the heck it was doing with its RPG lines....


  1. I like your class as classification. It's pretty much along the lines of what I'm going for with my OSR Project. I've pretty much laid it bare and gone down to two classes (Fighter and Magic User) with everything else being an add on to one of those. I could even be persuaded to strip it down to one adventurer class and have everything else be a discipline that would be purchased. Hm...

  2. The classification approach what I think they were going for in D20 Modern, with Strong Hero, Fast Hero, Charismatic Hero etc.

    It's a logical and clean approach to the source material that is D&D attributes. Yet I think it has yet to be fully exploited.

  3. I like Johnathan's idea of stripping down to one class and building out from there. It's much less OSR, but more analogue. For me, classes are too absolute to be true, especially in a sci-fi setting. After all, why couldn't a particular individual be augmented over time in terms of physique, processing power and knowledge, enough to become something completely new?

  4. Have you ever looked at Ye Olde Gaming Companye's Wayfarers RPG? It's classless, with customized chargen perfect for those in-between types you mention, while also able to handle standard D&D types. Also, it's pretty.

  5. Oh: I like the Class + Profession idea... but on the other hand, don't you then have the same problem you see standard D&D classes as having? Once you have a standard list of classes & professions, you're once again leaving out all the potential character types that don't happen to fit into those categories. (I don't have a problem with it; it's just that it seems to still end up with the "class problem" you see in D&D, just one step removed.)

  6. I've decided to go with a system based on OE D&D and the the 1975 Empire of the Petal Throne for my Tekumel Space Opera game. the character classes are variations on the Fighting Man, Priest (Cleric) and M-U.

    The Warrior represents a range of combat oriented types ranging from barbarian gladiators from low tech worlds to Flash Gordon and Starship Troopers.

    The Astronaut class will pilot and crew the starships and, due to their exposure to interplanar energies during space travel, those with innate psychic potential will be able to tap these forces to change reality with the power of their minds. Astronauts, in this setting, tend to be very mystical or religious; many become devotees of ancient weird religions. Jedi, Lensmen, Basil Wolverton's Spacehawk, ancient astronauts and the Guild Navigators from Dune all figured into this class conception.

    The Scientist class represents those whom have devoted their lives to scholarly pursuits, experimentation, research, and invention. Like Astronauts, Scientists with psychic potential are capable of manipulating interplanar energies with their minds; however, unlike the Astronauts, they typically require technological devices to focus and direct these powers.

    I will be using the 1975 EPT skills rules as the model for a loose framework of Background and Specific Professional Skills that will allow for more detailed and individual characters.

  7. @Fred and others - With Aliens & Astrobases I am trying to stay as true to Old School D&D thinking as I can.

    Indeed the Class + Profession model is 'one step removed' from the issue I have with classic Classes. That is sort of my goal however. 'No step removed' results in a game that I don't feel reflects Sci-Fi easily, while 'two steps removed' is too far from the source material.

    Were I doing "A Sci-Fi Role Playing Game By Barking Alien" there would be no classes, skills, special talents or abilities and some nifty relationship and genre mechanics. This project is not that. This project is, "What if the guys at TSR weren't so dense about Sci-Fi and made a game based on their successful D&D format back in the late 70's".

    After all, Science Fiction is all about "What if?"

  8. @The Dune - I like where you're going with that. Its very close to what I have in mind. My goal is to produce something a bit more generic obviously so in A&A not all Star Pilots/Astronauts would be Psychic for example. All Psychics would be psychic of course. Psychic are an Enigma (hence the Enigma Class).

    I look forward to reading more about your design. It sounds fun and intriguing.

  9. Thanks.

    Actually, most Astronauts in Humanspace Empires will not be psychics. Minimum ability scores to use such powers in a 3d6 in order character generation system will result in many Astronauts without psionic powers. Some of the lesser mind powers that would be available to Astronaut characters with low psychic potential will be more like extraordinary luck or insight rather than Jedi mind tricks.

  10. Neat. I'm definitely interested in following your progress.