Is character class an in-world concept in your campaigns?

cbwjm

I can add a custom title.
While I know some really like the idea that NPCs don't have to follow the same rules as PCs, I've never cared for it. The way I look at it, 5e strikes a balance by making NPC statblocks that represent simplified class members for quick use rather than ongoing development.

The alternative that everyone else in the world works one way, and whatever party of adventures you are playing in a particular campaign are each the sole representative of their organized skill set (despite the fact that the class write-ups tend to imply there are many people of each class and subclass), is inherently unsatisfying to me, as someone who runs a "persistent world" D&D campaign, where more than one group of players and characters can participate in the world's ongoing history.
I kind of feel the same way, sometimes I build NPCs like PCs with the same hit dice and abilities, etc. However, I also know I'm probably not going to use everything with an NPC that I would when running a PC so I don't always bother noting down every ability. An enemy wizard for instance likely isn't going to have arcane recovery because I'm not going to find it immediately useful. On the other hand, an NPC wizard travelling with the PCs might include it.
 

TheCosmicKid

Adventurer
While I know some really like the idea that NPCs don't have to follow the same rules as PCs, I've never cared for it. The way I look at it, 5e strikes a balance by making NPC statblocks that represent simplified class members for quick use rather than ongoing development.

The alternative that everyone else in the world works one way, and whatever party of adventures you are playing in a particular campaign are each the sole representative of their organized skill set (despite the fact that the class write-ups tend to imply there are many people of each class and subclass), is inherently unsatisfying to me, as someone who runs a "persistent world" D&D campaign, where more than one group of players and characters can participate in the world's ongoing history.
You seem to be conflating "NPCs don't have to follow the same rules as PCs" with "NPCs never follow the same rules as PCs". Those are not equivalent statements.

Of course that PC monk isn't the only monk in the world. She isn't even the only Empty Hand monk in the world. But neither is every single other person in the world a member of one of the twelve PHB classes: the PHB was written to describe people living a very unusual lifestyle of action and adventure, not peasants and merchants and town guards. And even among those NPCs who are members of one of the twelve classes, not all of them conform precisely to the PHB rules. The PHB write-up for the monk's features and subclasses should not be taken as an exhaustive description of every single monk in the world; it just's the kind of monk that the PC happens to be. To build a PC that's a different kind of monk, homebrew new rules or buy a splatbook. All those NPC monks that don't follow the PHB rules can be presumed to be where such expanded PC options come from.
 
Are character classes necessarily linked to social classes in the game world as part of the character's identity? No, not necessarily.

But if there are observable differences in how different kinds of magic work, the people whose lives and livelihoods depend on those differences are absolutely going to have names for those differences and terms for describing those differences and you can either make those terms up for your setting... or you can use the terms that the rulebooks have already thoughtfully provided for you.

Of course, people with neither education or experience will be ignorant of these terms. They won't understand the differences and they won't want to understand the differences. But nobles, soldiers, priests, scholars, and adventurers are going to have this stuff down pat.

edit: There's something really weird about this idea that player characters having functional knowledge of game mechanics is "metagaming" (and bad) when game mechanics are literally how their world works. I'm not a physicist or a physician by any means, but I can paraphrase most of the laws of thermodynamics and tell you when I need an ambulance without rolling a skill check.
 
Last edited:

Salthorae

Imperial Mountain Dew Taster
edit: There's something really weird about this idea that player characters having functional knowledge of game mechanics is "metagaming" (and bad) when game mechanics are literally how their world works. I'm not a physicist or a physician by any means, but I can paraphrase most of the laws of thermodynamics and tell you when I need an ambulance without rolling a skill check.
Both are through modern conveniences and education though I would point out.

A "normal" person in the Middle Ages/Renaissance wouldn't have a conception of thermodynamics or gravity or any of that. They know "things that go up, come down" and common sense things about how the world worked, but... I mean alchemy was a job back then, but we look down our noses at much of what they did. They would also bleed to death and die in an ambulance situation more often than not, but yeah.

Similarly, a "normal commoner" in the game world is going to have no idea the differences between a sorcerer or a wizard or a warlock. They all use gestures and words and bits of guano to do the same effect. To them they're "wizards" or whatever generic terms the common folk have to classify people like that. Either way "they are not to be trifled with" ;)

Fighters/Rangers/Paladins would probably just be associated with whatever group they were associated with. So there could be all three in the "Knights of XYZ". Similarly, you could have Fighters/Rangers/Rogues that are just sellswords and that's what they'd be called. Rogues would be foot soldiers of an army or a Shadow Thief. You could also have a Shadow Sorcerer who is a Shadow Thief too though because he uses subtle spell so many/most people don't even know he casts spells.

That is how I see it for my games anyway.

I can also see a game where there is a nation that has education at a high level and a codified mages guild where the different types of casters have different sashes so that you can identify them on sight (for some/whatever reason). Where Druid circles only allow initiates/members who adopt their ways and eschew anything else and if you can't take the shape of a beast you're not a Druid and to call yourself such is to invite the wrath of the Circle. Etc, Etc.

I.e. a world where the classes have self-organized to the point that common people everywhere in that world DO have a concept of them because of the way they organize.
 

clearstream

Explorer
Similarly, a "normal commoner" in the game world is going to have no idea the differences between a sorcerer or a wizard or a warlock. They all use gestures and words and bits of guano to do the same effect. To them they're "wizards" or whatever generic terms the common folk have to classify people like that.
This chimes for me. I think the D&D class structure can be used to suggest the hierarchy of knowledge.

Most people can differ between martial, arcane and divine
Some can differ between a wizard and a sorcerer
A few can differ between an abjurer and a diviner

And that might be patchy and inconsistent e.g. knowledgeable about paladins, but ignorant about barbarians, or right on some details and wrong on others.
 

Giltonio_Santos

Adventurer
The alternative that everyone else in the world works one way, and whatever party of adventures you are playing in a particular campaign are each the sole representative of their organized skill set (despite the fact that the class write-ups tend to imply there are many people of each class and subclass), is inherently unsatisfying to me, as someone who runs a "persistent world" D&D campaign, where more than one group of players and characters can participate in the world's ongoing history.
I believe once we factor in the different feats, skills, ability scores, and even the possibility of multiclass characters, it becomes possible to regard each character as the sole representative of a given skill set without losing the consistency of a persistent world.

But we'd probably end up asking: is John, the Fighter, able to understand that the talents granted by his Great Weapon Master feat are not part of a fighter training package?
 

Arnwolf666

Adventurer
Depends what kind of game you are playing. Are the players exploring a setting or are they helping create a setting. Or something in between. If you are exploring a setting The choice is not the players.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Out of character, we refer to each other by class. In character, depends. What is the flavor? To the barbarian, he refers to all casters as wizards. My abjurer refers to himself as a mage. Many of my other PCs still use level titles from ADnD. “Shade the footpad” for example.

I miss level titles...
 
Eh, not exactly. In my game world, the NPCs have their own classes mostly borrowed from 3E and Pathfinder (warrior, adept, commoner, expert, and the occasional new class of my own design, like "soothsayer" and "priest of Nerull.") Only the PCs have levels of Fighter, Barbarian, Wizard, and so on.

It makes the player characters unique and "special" in the world, and lets me be a little more creative with world building. It also keeps the players guessing as they try to figure out if the halfling with the pet wolf is a Ranger, a Druid, a Paladin with a special mount, something else entirely, or just a halfling with a pet wolf.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
If I make a Fighter with the Uthgardt Tribe Member Background guess what other cultures are going to call him? An Uthgardt Barbarian.

Likewise if I make a Barbarian with the Noble or Knight background no one is going to think of him as a Barbarian.

So that's a no from me dawg.
 

Aaron L

Adventurer
Absolutely. I do 1st Edition style, where each Character Classes represented an established tradition and training methodology (achieving 1st level in a character class would be like earning a basic degree as, say, a Ranger, with continuing training to reach higher levels of education after that.) That's why Character Classes had level titles, which were meant to be actual in-universe rankings, and I am heavily considering reintroducing them. A Fighter fights using a different style than that of a Monk with the same THAC0, and both fight in a different style than a Cleric of the same THAC0. There would probably be varying schools of methodology descended through varying lineages of Fighter mentors, such as various Oeridian Fighter traditions vs. several different Suloise styles, each descended from different Masters of the Fighter Class. ("My Kung-Fu is stronger than yours.") But the basic stances and techniques would be the same for all members of the Fighter Class. Likewise the Ranger Class, as a subclass of the Fighter, would use a similar fighting technique with additions for combating Giant-Class creatures.

Think of martial arts traditions and the various Dan rankings, with each different school descending from different Masters, but each using the same basic techniques that define the skill as Karate, or Tae Kwan Do, or Jujitsu. Being 1st level in the Fighter Class wouldn't just mean you were good at fighting, it would mean you were trained in the specific skillset of the Fighter tradition, using established combat techniques passed down through various mentord and trainers. Likewise for the Ranger, Paladin, etc. That is why all Rangers were taught Druid magic when they achieved the rank of Pathfinder (reached the 8th level of training) and were taught Magic-User spells when they achieved the rank of full Ranger at the 9th level of training. Just like the Alignments, the Character Classes weren't meant to be simply abstract game mechanics, but rather living, breathing elements of the game world, such that an 8th level Paladin PC knew full well that he was a member of the Paladin Class of the Justiciar rank, and likewise a 10th level Ranger PC understood that he was a member of the Ranger class with the rank of Ranger Lord. Magic-Users all knew that achieving the rank of Thaumaturgist was an important milestone because it meant that you were then capable of casting the Fireball spell. And the spells of the Magic-User Class would be just one possible way of utilizing magic, with the spells of Clerics being another, and still other possibilities, the Disintegrate effect of a Beholder's eye-stalk doesn't happen because the eye-stalk cast the Disintegrate spell, it just naturally creates the same magical effect that the Disintegrate spell utilizes.

So in short, yeah, Character Classes are an in-world concept in my campaigns, just like the Alignments are as well.
 

Sword of Spirit

Adventurer
This seems to be saying that envisioning flexibility in collections of features forces us to believe that PCs are sole representatives of their class as presented in the PHB. I think one could decide that, but it is not forced. Rather one can envision flexibility and that the PHB classes are well populated.

So in my world I envision that there could be a "wizard" who lacks arcane recovery, yet still casts as a wizard and draws spells from the wizard spell list, and might even have a wizard school. They would be identified as a wizard.
That could work too. I'm more addressing a philosophy of classes that seems to go hand in hand with PCs being the center of the universe--and a tendency I see of some people who prefer that playstyle to assume that is how everyone is playing. Style has a huge impact over these decisions.

I assume there are a limited number of subclasses existing in my worlds. There might occasionally be some that are more limited or not well known, and that's how I can explain some of the monster statblocks that seem to be simplified classes with odd features. But in general, I don't like to assume their are an unlimited variety of these things. I'm also not a huge fan of prohibiting PCs from taking NPC options (if an NPC can do it, it is possible for a PC to do it), so I like to have a least a hint of an idea of how it all fits together should it happen to come up. For instance, I would create a Hobgoblin racial feat to grant a version of Martial Advantage to hobgoblin PCs or NPCs built with classes, and an Improved Drow Magic feat to grant some of the additional drow common spells to a drow with classes (including PCs).

One thing that is getting a bit harder to work with is the newer subclasses WotC is putting out. I like a lot of them, but every time there is a new cleric domain I have to determine which clergies have it and if it displaces other domains. (Generally, I only have one, or at most two, domains per deity.) The same applies with other subclasses. Each new one potentially splits a previous group of characters. New druid or bard subclasses doesn't mean there are now more druids or bards in the world, it means that some druids which would have been Circle of the Land or Circle of the Moon are now Circle of Dreams or Circle of the Shepherd. With just SCAG and XGtE, I could pretty much allow all of them, at least as rarer options. But with all of the more unusual options they are playtesting now (and still no Wu Jen, Shukenja/Shaman, or Sha'ir!) I'm possibly going to have to decide that not every published subclass exists in my multiverse, and go through them one by one deciding which ones are and aren't an actual thing.
 

clearstream

Explorer
I'm also not a huge fan of prohibiting PCs from taking NPC options (if an NPC can do it, it is possible for a PC to do it), so I like to have a least a hint of an idea of how it all fits together should it happen to come up. For instance, I would create a Hobgoblin racial feat to grant a version of Martial Advantage to hobgoblin PCs or NPCs built with classes, and an Improved Drow Magic feat to grant some of the additional drow common spells to a drow with classes (including PCs).
And the converse, right? By implication, if a PC can do it then an NPC can do it. Generally, I mean. There could be an exception - something really unique about a PC - but that probably wouldn't be a listed class feature.
 

Hussar

Legend
Just a thought - cleric's would be pretty hard to ignore as an in world concept. I mean, you're a priest of X Gawd. That's going to go a LONG way towards defining what you are and how the world reacts to you. It's not like I'm going to think that your cleric is anything else.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Just a thought - cleric's would be pretty hard to ignore as an in world concept. I mean, you're a priest of X Gawd. That's going to go a LONG way towards defining what you are and how the world reacts to you. It's not like I'm going to think that your cleric is anything else.
But what about a Bard, Celestial Pact Warlock, Circle of Wildfire Druid, or Artificer who can heal and return the dead to living. Would your average person be able to distinguish one of them from an actual Cleric?
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Just a thought - cleric's would be pretty hard to ignore as an in world concept. I mean, you're a priest of X Gawd. That's going to go a LONG way towards defining what you are and how the world reacts to you. It's not like I'm going to think that your cleric is anything else.
Sure, but at least in my campaign settings, there are clerics/priests without magical powers. I believe this is true of at least some of the official settings as well.

As such, just because someone tells you about a cleric/priest, doesn't mean it's safe to assume that they can cast Cure Wounds or swing a mace effectively.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To answer the OP: yes, except some warrior types - it's usually obvious to other adventurers that someone's an adventurer, and what class(es) he-she is. Commoners might not know, or might err in their assessment of someone.

Arcane casters - split themselves into guilds that deal with just that one type of casting.
Clerics - well, it's pretty obvious what a Cleric is, and the sub-types are easy to spot as well.
Thieves, Monks, Assassins, Bards - again, all members of guilds (a.k.a. monasteries for Monks; colleges for Bards) that cater only to that class.

So for all the above, all you need to know is what guild-or-equivalent someone belongs to and you know that person's class.

It's not always quite so clear with the Warrior types. Paladins are obvious to all, largely because they make themselves obvious. But there's a very big gray area covering Rangers, Fighters, Cavaliers, Knights, and so forth; many adventurers have to ask (a character always knows its own class) or spend some time observing in order to tell these apart.

With multi-classers it's usually easy to tell one class but not always so easy to pull any others, particularly if the character is intentionally trying to hide one or more classes (which happens now and then).
 

Hussar

Legend
But what about a Bard, Celestial Pact Warlock, Circle of Wildfire Druid, or Artificer who can heal and return the dead to living. Would your average person be able to distinguish one of them from an actual Cleric?
Well, let's look at those examples. Bards have no lore ties to any sort of faith, so, the lack of things like holy symbols and well, faith, would differentiate bards from clerics pretty hard.

Celestial Pact Warlock is pretty close to a cleric, true, although, again, most clerics aren't sprouting wings. I'd say that a CPW is pretty strongly tied to its own lore.

Wildfire druid and druids in general should be strongly tied to their own setting lore as well. These are servants, generally, of very specific gods.

And an artificer kinda lacks all the religious trappings just like a bard.

So, no, I don't think a couple of shared spells is enough to make clerics indistinguishable from these examples.
 

Krachek

Explorer
I think some npc may share some features from phb. Especially wizards who have a spell book.

But a subject I think about lately is classes level or simply hit dice for npc,
The common setup is the number of npc with level decrease as level increase.
But I think a bell curve distribution would be more interesting.
For example, the guard npc is perfect for cheap, rookie, light soldier.
The veteran is a solid warrior with a lot of experience.
What is the standard soldier? Somewhere between 5 or 6 hit dice, and thus composing the majority of an organized and trained army.

The same thing go in real life. We have more doctor than student in medicine,
So we should find more doctor with an interesting level, rather than level 1 or 2.
 
Last edited:

Advertisement

Top