D&D 5E Fluff & Rule, Lore & Crunch. The Interplay of Class, System, and Color in D&D

Classes, what do you think?

  • 1. Classes are designed to reflect both a certain set of rules as well as lore.

    Votes: 63 63.6%
  • 2. Classes are designed to reflect a certain set of rules, but all lore is optional.

    Votes: 26 26.3%
  • 3. I have some opinion not adequately portrayed in the two options and I will put in the comments.

    Votes: 7 7.1%
  • 4. I have no idea what this poll is about, even after reading the initial post.

    Votes: 3 3.0%

Remathilis

Legend
I think its also fair to say that the fluff::lore ratio for classes is... inconsistent. Some classes have nearly no lore, others are inseparable. Which is why we get into the argument of what is/isn't a class.

On the one side, you have fighter, rogue, sorcerer, and wizard as classes that themselves have almost no lore but are defined by the lore of their subclasses. Wizard squeaks in by the thinnest of lines since its still bound (heh) by the concept of the spellbook, but otherwise has no great thematic link by itself. On the complete opposite are the classes that they themselves have tight lore and the subs are merely flavor: artificer, paladin, warlock, and monk. In the middle are the "connected to the lore, but subs can modify that to a great deal" classes of ranger, bard, barbarian, druid, and cleric.

The issue of course is that since each classes connection to the lore is different, you can't apply any overarching rule to them. For example, a fighter, a barbarian, and a paladin are all "dudes with hp and swords" but the fighter is painfully generic (enough so they can represent a bunch of different archetypes like knights, archers, and samurai) the barbarian is focused on a type of warrior (strong and primal warrior) with some wiggle room to include thewy pulp barbarians, Viking berserkers, gladiators, and religious fanatics) while the paladin is wedded to the "holy knight" lore that all you get to pick is the type of knight you are (white knight, green knight, black knight, Dark Knight, etc). It's hard to argue why, for example, Samurai gets a single subclass to represent all manner of (fictional) samurais while paladin gets a full class to do holy knight and given a variety of different types to play.

At this point, I think its tradition that carries the core class identities forward. Ranger is a class because people expect it to be. Monk is there because it existed in most editions (all if you count eventual supplements). Were D&D given a clean slate to unbind from tradition, I wonder if some (if not many) of the classic classes would be rolled into meatier subclasses or if the more generic classes would be brought up to at least match the middle-group in terms of "relative backstory" to give fighters or sorcerers more inherent personality without reliance on subclass. Its idle speculation, barring a radical shift in WotC's MO, I doubt the paladin will stop being a class anytime in my lifetime.
 

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steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
The ratio of fluff and lore to class power and complexity [a.k.a. mechanics or "crunch"] should be a direct 45 degree angle, imho.

As the class' niche becomes more specific and the mechanics/features of the class more specific and specialized, the fluff/lore of the class should be increasing.

A Fighter is the baseline. I hit well. I do good damage. I have a refurbishing hit point bucket. Use a sword? Sure. A bow? A spear? Yuppers. Leather, Plate, uber super chainmail? Shields, no shields, more shields? Any and all of the above. Pick/make the kind of warrior you wanna be.

A Cavalier/Knight type fighter is more specific in their mechanical features. I hit well, too. Very well. I do good damage. I have a refurbishing bucket of hit points. [completely non-canon off the top of my head for a knightly fighter] I'm a [let's call it] "commanding presence," too. Do I know how to ride a horse, you ask? Are you serious? I'm the best at riding horses...especially if I have a long pointy in my hand. Heavy armor? You mean the best there is, much like myself? Know shields? Better than you at that, too. Virtue mechanic? Inspiration? Save bonus of some kind? Sure, why not? Excellent. Now, in exchange for all of that, you MUST follow a particular ethos for your disciplined upbringing and training: Lawful. You have to adhere to some learned and idealized code of conduct: "chivalry," "honor," virtues/oaths, however you want it fluffed, but it needs to be there. You have a mounted combat mechanic, so you need a fluff/lore bit about learning/knowing about horses [mounts in general]. Maybe that requires you be of noble or aristocratic lineage...maybe it demands you being a part of a particular culture or trained by a particular order of knights/knightly warriors...

Point being, for all of those mechanical "extra" bits, some fluff/lore must be present which the baseline/default "Fighter" does not require.

So, to my mind/class creation philosophy, the fluff/lore to crunch/feature benefits should be directly proportional.
 

Edwidget

Villager
... If you break down the mechanics modularly too much more, you end up with GURPS, which tends towards optimization and a lack of theme...
That's more of a "buy-in" problem than a system problem. GURPS is a toolset. It may not force your hand, but it expects you buy into the fantasy. Or not, it leaves it up to the players. One player in particular is expected to curate the experience: the GM. GURPS just puts more responsibility on the GM to herd his cats. It definitely favors more experienced players.

To answer the OP, D&D tries to marry the fluff and crunch. It does so in a way that promotes popular archetypes. You are effectively punished for playing, say, a dwarven wizard. You will be behind in the primary stat/asi department. You're taking a -5% hit to the effectiveness of your primary class identity just because you want to play something a little different. Whether and how that matters depends wholly on your group, but it's not nothing.

That approach can feel restrictive, especially for people who have been playing since 1992, or people who have experienced other systems like HERO or GURPS. If you can in good faith refluff a class such that your fluff matches the mechanics of a particular class, and it doesn't violate the setting, I see no reason to disallow it. It's kind of the idea behind changing "thief" to "rogue"- it reduces the feeling of being pigeonholed.
I'm inclined to allow players to move their +1 to a different stat in a lot of cases. In most cases it doesn't break anything and it lets people feel like their character is unique or new in some way. Simple things can go a long way; humans have judgement- use it.

I'm not saying it should be a free for all. That mentality is what causes many people's issue with GURPS. I'm saying a little freedom, used responsibly, is fine. Some players can handle it, while others will take a mile if given an inch.

The beauty of these games is that everything is okay, subject to the approval of your table, with the GM acting as the referee.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
I don't want subclasses at all!

My ideal class would be a broad outline with a lot of customizable addons to flesh out that outline, often with feat trees being how you pursue a theme or lore.

So I'd have a build for a Backstabber Rogue, a Skill Specialist Rogue, a Face Rogue, etc, but nothing locking you into any of them.
Actually, now that I think of it, just Rogues. Core One, baby!
Personally I would really like subclasses done sorta the way warlock has pacts and patrons, plus then add on having prestige class choices to that too, two different character choices at low level and then the prestige one later on, some sub/prestige classes are class exclusive, other more generic ones are shared between multiple classes, like, and I’m just spitballing here real quick, paladin gets an advanced holy knight prestige class, clerics get a chosen disciple of [god] prestige class but they both can access the generic healing magic prestige class along with the druid and the ranger

Or, and this might be a little too modular for DnD, instead of distinct subclasses there are say 10 class feature bundles of which you get to pick 3 or 4 of to build your character with, you could’ve dropped the standard extra proficiencies for your rogue and taken both the spellthief(?) and assassin magic and assassinate features
 
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Yaarel

Mind Mage
Option 3 is somewhere between options 1 and 2.

Unlike D&D 4e that was designed to easily reflavor (option 2), D&D 5e bakes the flavor into the mechanics (option 1), and the narrative descriptions are just as important for adjudicating outcomes as the mechanics.

However, because flavor is rules, 5e often does - and must strive to - create narratives that are flexible and adaptable to many different settings and character concepts. Whence option 3.

For example, storying the Cleric class as only the priest of a polytheistic god is a highly specific character concept in a specific kind of setting, and is inflexibly baked in, regardless of player sensitivities or comfort, or of DM worldbuilding prerogatives (Option 1).

However, Xanathars stories the Cleric as the adherent of a sacred tradition revering a "cosmic power", which might be a god, but might also be an element that all things are made of, the philosophy of freedom, the power of love, the veneration of ancestors, or so on. So the flavor of a sacred adherent is baked in, but the flavor itself is flexible and adaptable to represent many different kinds of cultures, helping players choose different character concepts and helping DMs create different settings for different worlds (option 3).
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I don't want subclasses at all!
I'm pretty much the opposite. I want only 4 core classes: Warrior (a martial class), Mage (a full-caster class), Priest (a half-caster), and Sneak (skill class). And then I want everything else to be a subclass...dozens, maybe hundreds, of subclass options for everything from a Circle of Moon Druid to an Illusionist.

Think of the versatility and customization that such a system would create. A Warrior who takes the Circle of Moon subclass would be very different indeed from a Mage who took that same subclass, for example. Multiclassing would be smooth as butter, just select a second (or third, or fourth) subclass at certain levels. It would fix so many problems.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
I'm pretty much the opposite. I want only 4 core classes: Warrior (a martial class), Mage (a full-caster class), Priest (a half-caster), and Sneak (skill class). And then I want everything else to be a subclass...dozens, maybe hundreds, of subclass options for everything from a Circle of Moon Druid to an Illusionist.

Think of the versatility and customization that such a system would create. A Warrior who takes the Circle of Moon subclass would be very different indeed from a Mage who took that same subclass, for example. Multiclassing would be smooth as butter, just select a second (or third, or fourth) subclass at certain levels. It would fix so many problems.
This would be a good option too. But it needs to be LOTS of options for me to like that version.

What I ended up doing for the game I'm working on was doing feat trees instead of subclasses so you can dip in and out of multiple 'subclasses' for maximum customizability.
 

I'm pretty much the opposite. I want only 4 core classes: Warrior (a martial class), Mage (a full-caster class), Priest (a half-caster), and Sneak (skill class). And then I want everything else to be a subclass...dozens, maybe hundreds, of subclass options for everything from a Circle of Moon Druid to an Illusionist.

Think of the versatility and customization that such a system would create. A Warrior who takes the Circle of Moon subclass would be very different indeed from a Mage who took that same subclass, for example. Multiclassing would be smooth as butter, just select a second (or third, or fourth) subclass at certain levels. It would fix so many problems.
Unfortunately, (and I'm sure you know this) it wouldn't sell, at least not with name "Dungeons & Dragons" plastered on its cover. Sounds like an interesting independent fantasy RPG though.
 

CreamCloud0

Explorer
Speaking of classes, something i was wondering was out of the four basic class role archetypes (fighter-combat, rogue-skill+utility, wizard-[arcane] magic, priest-healing+support) which combinations are the most prevalent and which are unused, as I define them the classes would be defined as such:
Fighter: fighter
Rogue: rogue
Wizard: wizard
Priest: priest
Bard: exception: jack of all trades? (Rogue + priest if anything)
Barbarian: fighter
Paladin: priest + fighter
Monk: fighter
Sorcerer: wizard
Warlock: wizard
Ranger: fighter + rogue
Druid: priest + fighter
Artificer: wizard + rogue
That comes out at 5 fighter, 3/4 rogue, 4 wizard and 3/4 priests with fighter-wizard and priest-wizard not having dedicated classes, I’d guess the slight inclination to ‘fighters’ is from DnD’s desire to make all classes combat capable.

(Is this too tangential? Should i of made this it’s own thread?)
Edit: I managed to write that without really making a point or query with it, I feel like i had one at the start but I can’t quite identify what it was now.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I mean Warlock is 'wizard with good caster design' and Sorcerer is 'wizard with passable caster design', and wizard is 'wizard with traditional insufferable caster design'.
I'd put it like this:
Warlock is 'mage for high-combat games.'
Sorcerer is 'mage for high-social games.'
Wizard is 'mage for high-exploration' games.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
I'm pretty much the opposite. I want only 4 core classes: Warrior (a martial class), Mage (a full-caster class), Priest (a half-caster), and Sneak (skill class). And then I want everything else to be a subclass...dozens, maybe hundreds, of subclass options for everything from a Circle of Moon Druid to an Illusionist.

Think of the versatility and customization that such a system would create. A Warrior who takes the Circle of Moon subclass would be very different indeed from a Mage who took that same subclass, for example. Multiclassing would be smooth as butter, just select a second (or third, or fourth) subclass at certain levels. It would fix so many problems.
If you want a game in this direction (and I'll agree it sounds interesting) why have classes at all? It would be cool to just have modular "parts" you pick from to make exactly the character you want.

So a druid might be made from the following parts (made up names and numbers, not an actual design)....

Moderate Physical Build (6 pts)
Major Mental Build (9 pts)
Access to nature spell list (4 pts)
Access to healing spell list (7 pts)
No armor, Simple weapons (2 pts)
Animal Companion (6 pts)
5 trained skills (7 pts)
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
If you want a game in this direction (and I'll agree it sounds interesting) why have classes at all? It would be cool to just have modular "parts" you pick from to make exactly the character you want.

So a druid might be made from the following parts (made up names and numbers, not an actual design)....

Moderate Physical Build (6 pts)
Major Mental Build (9 pts)
Access to nature spell list (4 pts)
Access to healing spell list (7 pts)
No armor, Simple weapons (2 pts)
Animal Companion (6 pts)
5 trained skills (7 pts)
You're right, perhaps "class" isn't the right word to use...but it's the word that veteran D&D players are going to be expecting to see. The intent is to start with a foundation, and then build your own character from that. "Class" is the word that 5E uses for this foundation, but it could just as easily be called something else.

"So you want to play a character that uses nature magic and has access to healing. Do you want a martial character? Here's the Hunter subclass. Oh, sorry, you wanted to play a caster. Here's the Circle of the Land subclass for ya, or the Cleric of Nature, if you want a full caster. If you prefer a half-caster, try out the Oath of Ancients subclass." (Or whatever; I'm just spitballing here)

I think this system would let you create some pretty wild combinations, without making things too complicated.
 


Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
You're right, perhaps "class" isn't the right word to use...but it's the word that veteran D&D players are going to be expecting to see. The intent is to start with a foundation, and then build your own character from that. "Class" is the word that 5E uses for this foundation, but it could just as easily be called something else.

"So you want to play a character that uses nature magic and has access to healing. Do you want a martial character? Here's the Hunter subclass. Oh, sorry, you wanted to play a caster. Here's the Circle of the Land subclass for ya, or the Cleric of Nature, if you want a full caster. If you prefer a half-caster, try out the Oath of Ancients subclass." (Or whatever; I'm just spitballing here)

I think this system would let you create some pretty wild combinations, without making things too complicated.
This kind of reminds me of initial character creation in Skyrim and Oblivion. You can super custom build your character picking and choosing between lots of different items or you can choose a premade class (say Assassin) which is a set of prepicked options that lead toward making that type of character (Assassin being sneaky, probably using smaller weapons, light armor, etc...)

I know this is very out of DnD bounds though.
 

I do wish there were more options in the poll, as there is a best-fit option for me (#2) but it is only a partial fit.

See, the thing is, classes are designed with a default fluff. And that default fluff is usually something that informed how and why the class has the mechanics it has. That fluff is not absolutely inviolate though. Indeed, I would argue that there is and has always been a strong trend toward creative re-imagining of the fluff, just to varying degrees. Otherwise, you would not have all the different possible origin stories that Fighters can have, because they'd all have to be very similar in their descriptive elements.

But it's not as simple as "fluff can just be ignored" or "fluff is inherent." There's a complex, fluid relationship between thematics, mechanics, and actual play. Reskinning--by various names--has been with us since at the very least 2nd edition. And in very early D&D, where you could potentially recruit sapient opponents as new retainers (e.g. "convince the orc soldiers to fight for you instead of their awful boss who mistreats them"), as soon as those monsters became part of the party they would lose characteristics like darkvision or their knowledge of the dungeon's layout because that would be too much of an advantage. Meaning, neither fluff nor crunch could strictly determine how things would cash out in play, because higher considerations, things in some sense "above" the direct mechanics, would override.

So...I agree with both #1 and #2. I don't agree with the (implied) most strident version of #1, which is that fluff is just as important as rules and should only be changed in equally serious situations. I also don't agree with the most strident version of #2, where fluff is an unimportant side issue. Neither of those positions is correct. Both things are important, both can determine some things, both can yield to other considerations. #2 is the closest position as written for "all of these things matter yet none of them are absolute."
 

A class's name has a built in connotation, as does their subclass name. This automatically means they carry some lore. A wizard can be many different things. We can picture Merlin or Gandalf. We can also picture Harry Potter or Dr. Strange. But, there are thematic pieces, ie. lore, that are universal. They get their power from knowledge. They wiggle their hands or speak magic. They run out of magic or it drains them. This is part of lore.

The same can be said for any class. The connotation is there. Just because you can picture two different types, doesn't mean it excludes lore.
 

A class's name has a built in connotation, as does their subclass name. This automatically means they carry some lore. A wizard can be many different things. We can picture Merlin or Gandalf. We can also picture Harry Potter or Dr. Strange. But, there are thematic pieces, ie. lore, that are universal. They get their power from knowledge. They wiggle their hands or speak magic. They run out of magic or it drains them. This is part of lore.

The same can be said for any class. The connotation is there. Just because you can picture two different types, doesn't mean it excludes lore.
And yet we can argue the reverse as well: so many distinct things are "wizards" or "fighters" or "barbarians" (that last one often by some other name) in fiction that it would be impossible to force a single archetype on any of them.

Harry Potter characters are called "wizards" (or "witches"), yet the closest gameplay equivalent would need an innate ability to use magic and spells which can be used repeatedly, which are mechanics associated with sorcerers and warlocks. They do need training and practice to perform magic, sure, but they do not "get their power from knowledge," in HP you are either born with magic power or you aren't, there's no middle ground. "Fighter" is often used for characters who have legit actual magic powers (Aragorn), while "hunters" or "rangers" cover an enormous spectrum from completely ordinary trackers with no magic whatsoever to borderline druids.

It's not just "two different types," it's whole spectrums or even polydimensional spaces of characters, all of which fit under a single umbrella and many of which work by radically different rules within their local context. Gandalf is a completely different kind of being from Harry Potter or Dr. Strange, who are mutually radically different from one another, and not even one of them works the way D&D Wizards work.
 

Put me down for "fluff" and "crunch" are separate things.

There's just no need for a given game mechanic to always be tied to one particular piece of fluff. It's inhibiting to character creation and adds nothing. Okay, maybe not nothing. It can be helpful for new gamers, can give them an idea of what can be done. But it becomes inhibiting when it becomes what must be done.

I like classless and level-less systems. Just spend your points (or whatever the meta currency is called) and build the character you want. The exact why's of your character's abilities are unique to your character. Fluff any way you want that makes sense for your character and the game world.
 

And yet we can argue the reverse as well: so many distinct things are "wizards" or "fighters" or "barbarians" (that last one often by some other name) in fiction that it would be impossible to force a single archetype on any of them.

Harry Potter characters are called "wizards" (or "witches"), yet the closest gameplay equivalent would need an innate ability to use magic and spells which can be used repeatedly, which are mechanics associated with sorcerers and warlocks. They do need training and practice to perform magic, sure, but they do not "get their power from knowledge," in HP you are either born with magic power or you aren't, there's no middle ground. "Fighter" is often used for characters who have legit actual magic powers (Aragorn), while "hunters" or "rangers" cover an enormous spectrum from completely ordinary trackers with no magic whatsoever to borderline druids.

It's not just "two different types," it's whole spectrums or even polydimensional spaces of characters, all of which fit under a single umbrella and many of which work by radically different rules within their local context. Gandalf is a completely different kind of being from Harry Potter or Dr. Strange, who are mutually radically different from one another, and not even one of them works the way D&D Wizards work.
How about this. Run a simple test. Grab 20 people walking in a downtown area, and show them a picture of Conan, King Arthur, and Boromir. They don't even have to be labelled. Ask them which one is a barbarian? I bet you 20/20 get it right. Even if they have no idea who Conan is. Now ask them which one is a paladin. Provided they know the word's definition, I bet you 20/20 get it right, even if they do not know who King Arthur is. Now ask them which one is a fighter, and I bet 20/20 get it right. That is because words have connotation, and connotation is attached to tropes, and tropes are attached to lore. You could do the same thing with wizards and witches.

You are correct, Gandalf is different than Potter in a few instances. Most of the time they are the same.

Are you talking about characterization? If so, then I agree, you can have a spectrum. But that doesn't negate a class's connotated trope, which contains lore.
 

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