Is More Really Better: A Look At Character Classes

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on March 10, 2010

I’m all about options, I love to have a multitude of choices, doing the research and then selecting the best fit for the vision of my character. These choices don’t just include the feats and powers I select for my PC, in fact the decisions start the moment I open up the Character Builder. I’m first confronted with the choice of what class to play, followed by race and so on. While these two early choices may seem simple, they are anything but. They will serve to represent your character as much or more than any other choice you make.

In his article Playing Against Type, Ameron talks about making the less obvious choice to see what type of an outcome you get. At the time that he wrote that article there were 770 race and class combinations. This didn’t consider Paragon Paths or Epic Destinies. With the release of the Player’s Handbook 3 (read our review Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) the possible combinations have increased even further. What does this mean for you as a player?

When the PHB 2 was released last year I wrote the article How Many Classes Are Too Many, where I essentially ripped into WotC saying that 16 character classes was more than the game needed. I wondered how was it possible for the average player to even play the majority of the classes available. With the passing of a year and the release of the next Player’s Handbook I wanted to revisit the issue to see if my opinions had changed significantly.

With the release of the PHB 3 the total class count is now at 25. Is this too many? Are there too many choices available to players? Perhaps, but the choice is good. I’m no longer concerned about the amount of classes, the selection makes the game more interesting. I’ve found over the past year that I have played just under half the classes available in one way or another. I’ll admit to not having played each of the classes fully and perhaps not even for longer than a single session, but I’ve played them and done so at various power levels.

However, I recognize that not every player is like me. On a recent poll that asked how many classes people have played 78% of respondents indicated they had played five classes or less. Breaking that down further 18% had played one class, 36% had played two to three classes and 24% had played between four and five classes. Only 10% of respondents had played nine classes or more.

Clearly players have made a choice and for whatever reason they are sticking with the original choices they made regarding class selection when 4e was released. For a variety of reasons these decisions make sense. The most obvious two are long term home campaigns and Living Forgotten Realms adventures. Most people playing D&D are playing for one of these two reasons. By the very nature of these games players usually to stick with one character.

So how do you experience other character classes. Well here are a few simple suggestions. Take a break from your normal game and play a Dungeon Delve. Every time you play a delve, use a different character. You can also play vicariously through your other party members and experience a class through them. I’ve never played a Wizard and have no desire to start now, but I love the way the Wizard in our regular group is played.

My real concern is for the health of the game. Now, I’m not trying to say more classes are unhealthy. Rather if most players are sticking with their original characters, then they are less likely to purchase the PHB 3. This dries up WotC revenue stream. Granted with the DDI they have taken care of revenue to an extent. But what if the PHB 3 has poor sales, what will be the response be from WotC? How will it effect the game in the long term?

I also worry that if there is a PHB 4, what will it contain? Are more classes really needed? Will they be played? If they won’t then is the book worth releasing? What other new rules can they release to entice us? The same could be argued about the PHB 3, with most of the new classes being Psionic in nature only a select player base will be interested. Now granted Ameron has indicated that he recommends the PHB 3 highly and Ameron has some very strong opinions about Psionics. Which means the content in the rest of the book must be as valuable as a Dragons horde.

So perhaps I shouldn’t be worried. Maybe I’ll put some faith in the designers of D&D and trust that they know what they are doing and that they won’t over saturate the game with too many more classes. But even if they do, it just gives me a new option to try the next time I’m playing a Dungeon Delve.

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1 Neuroglyph March 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

I am of mixed minds on the subject of too many Classes. On one hand, it does feel like the game is becoming overly muddled – we saw what happened in 3.5ED with all their classes and then Prestige Classes. Character generation overload!

On the other hand, they say that variety is the spice of life, and as long as WotC can continue to offer distinctions between the Classes – which they have done by using power sources very nicely – then let them keep creating classes. Can a Player be satisfied playing a Rogue, when they really wanted an Assassin. Or will a Ranger suffice if they really wanted a Barbarian?

I’m all for more classes, so long as they remain distinct, fresh, and interesting.
.-= Neuroglyph´s last blog ..Gearing up for PAX East =-.

2 Toldain March 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

I’m not too worried about revenue stream considerations. The books that are out, that I have, let me play a game that is enjoyable. I’m not dependent on new books every month to have fun. It’s not that I don’t like the new material, it’s just that I don’t see it as necessary for having fun.

I’m in the first category, playing/running long-term campaigns with a stable character base. We will probably buy PH3 at some point, because we can =), not because we are so eager to see the new classes.

I’m an old-timer. As much as I like 4e, (and I do like it) I like 3.5 and even 2nd edition quite a bit as well. If WOTC were to go out of business tomorrow, that would be a shame, but I can still do the same things I’ve always been doing, and have fun doing them.
.-= Toldain´s last blog ..Innovation in EQ2 =-.

3 Kameron March 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I do think there is a point where the classes start to loose their distinctness. I think there is a similar concern with races. Eventually, players will just fall back on the old standards because there are only minor differences.

More choices can also be a barrier to new players, which is why WotC is limiting classes and races available in their Essentials line. Hmm, all of a sudden I got the feeling we’re seeing history repeat itself with the separation of AD&D and D&D B/X from 20 years ago.
.-= Kameron´s last blog ..Promoting racial diversity in RPGs =-.

4 Swordgleam March 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

What makes you think people want to play every class? I’ve always assumed having more options is to give people more classes they’re excited about. Party needs a healer? You don’t just have to be a cleric, you can be a warlord, a bard, etc, etc. You like sneaky characters? You don’t just have to be a rogue, you can be a ranger, an assassin, an avenger, etc.

Most people care more about playing the thing they find fun than playing everything available. Adding more classes isn’t overwhelming them with options, it’s giving them just enough. There’s 25 classes, but only half a dozen of each power source and of each role.

5 Rook March 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

I understand the apprehension of having too many character classes, or races for that matter. But, as you pointed out, I think most players tend to stick with a handful of character ‘concepts’ that they enjoy playing. If you love to play a character based off a specific Character (i.e. Conan, Legolas, Dumbledore, ObiWan Kenobi, etc.) then the more _varied_ class choices you have to pull from, the more likely you will find a ‘perfect’ fit for your own character concept.

BTW, I’ve been salivating ever since I heard PHB 3 has psionics, and specifically the psion. So you know where I stand on that discussion.
.-= Rook´s last blog ..Where do you game at? =-.

6 Wimwick March 10, 2010 at 9:17 pm

@ Neuroglyph
I’m with you, variety is the spice of life. At this point I’m good with the amount of classes available and I’m looking forward to trying some of the new one’s out.

@ Toldain
You’ve hit on a very important point, no matter what happens to the D&D game we always have previous editions, great games in their own right, that we can fall back on.

@ Kameron
One thing I worry about is that when we start seeing duplicate power source and class roles that we will have duplication. I was very worried about this with the Runepriest, now I haven’t seen the class yet but Ameron’s review of it has rest my fears. The same with the Seeker which is a Primal Controller like the Druid, however the Seeker completes the functions of the role in a very different way.

@ Swordgleam
I don’t assume that everyone wants to play each class and clearly they don’t. In terms of being overwhelmed, that’s something that I think would happen to new players. Though I suppose WotC is looking to combat that with the Core line up.

@ Rook
I’ve seen the Psion in action and it is an interesting class. I personally want to explore the Battlemind a little bit further. I find the Ardent an interesting concept but not sure if I’ll actually enjoy it. Let me know how you enjoy the Psion.

7 DanTracker March 10, 2010 at 11:12 pm

i love psionics for a concept of, “i make an attack; i make a slightly more powerful attack, but i do mostly the same as before; i make a largely more powerful attack, very heavily based on the previous attack.” That exists with the augmentation.

However, I hate psionics for that very reason. it makes me jealous. it makes me very very jealous. I’m green with envy. Why can’t my arcane classes give a small boost to their at-wills and still do basically the same attack with a bit more powerful effect at the cost of an intangible power point? what about martial, divine, and primal classes? why can’t they put a bit of extra umph into an attack and have that attack be a little bit more effective and still retain the ability to to that attack at-will.

still, i’m going to have PHB3 soon. I knew right away that i want to see the more races and the more classes. I see this as a way to avoid the bloated mess which existed in 3.5 of prestige classes, multiclassing, gestalt, endless supplements from third parties. The official and original game development company is publishign increased options for players looking for a specific niche. They are declaring how to create the fusion of two classes. They have already given [weak] rules of dabbling into another class.

The adjustment made by creating a paragon path, with a very simple pre-requisite pattern for entry, is a fantastic new perspective on what was prestige classes. you retain your previous class and gain additional benefits from an elite sub-group within that class. later, the epic destiny leads you onward in legend and lore. truly, fantastic shift from the mess of prestige classes.

knowing that races in PHB3 offer shifting ability score bonuses I am further filled with envy. what about all the other races that came before? why couldn’t they show more dynamic stereotypes in their ability score bonuses?

I really don’t argue that there should be a limit to the number of classes. In fact, even under the guise of four roles, and unique power sources, there is room for multiple classes to represent power sources and roles in new ways. The seeker is a fantastic and interesting primal controller that in no way detracts from the druid. A rogue and a ranger could hardly stand one above another as a best martial striker. I would love to see more classes represented in additional power sources and by showing new themes within each power source by introducing alternate role-fulfilling classes for existing classes. Could you imagine a ranged, implement using divine striker? wouldn’t that be neat? what if there were a melee style controller?

I’d like to see a PHB4 and possibly more. I’m not so much afraid of recurring themes or redundancy. I do feel some concern about power creep. Often I consider that it would be a very good idea to develop all the classes and races simultaneously in order to best ensure that the best ideas (like shifting ability scores) is presented early on and that it can be offered right from the start, that the role is well defined and that a class which is meant to fulfill a role can do so appropriately, that a pattern for creating classes is easy and allows for homebrew support more easily.

anyway, that’s just some thoughts.

8 Planet_Bob March 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm

A Classless system is the way to go !
DnD 5.0 !

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