D&D 5E What if everyone in the setting had a [Class]?

Voadam

Legend
Ah, this is a meaty post I meant to respond to.

I love reskinning, I do it all the time. But, don't the idea of "reskinning" and the idea of "classes as fictional element" exist in opposition to each other? I feel like the approach you're describing is actually a super common one, but I'm not sure if people always explore the inherent tension between the two approaches.

Wizards, as you described above, are the poster child for "class in fiction", because spells, spellbooks, and scrolls are both a primary source for their metagame progression AND explicitly fictional elements. More so than any other core class, wizards have to engage with the fiction to increase their powers.
I think it is a spectrum depending on the specifics and lore of the classes.

Fighters and rogues are mostly class abilities narratively connected to mundane fighting styles, so it is easy to not call the classes out in the fiction, little reason to call out the classes as distinct things in the fiction, and decently easy to reskin. In 3e adding a fighter class onto a panther was easy for the mechanical bonus combat feats or rogue for sneak attack and not sweat the weapon and armor proficiencies they don't use. In 3e the difference between a warrior and fighter class is not really something that will be called out in the fiction.

Wizards, warlocks, and sorcerers are fairly specific lore that exists in the fiction. You can reskin to go outside the fiction though, so a warlock's eldritch blast can be reskinned to be a gunslinger type of concept fairly easily without narrative patrons and such depending on class ability choices and exist in a D&D world with explicit normal lore warlocks.

Mostly I don't feel a tension in most reskins next to the narrative normal stuff in the same world or alongside the different NPC/monster stuff. NPC wizard statblocks often have magical abilities that PC wizards cannot do and vice versa in 5e for example, which is fine for me. Magic is broad and I metagame what PCs can access of wizard stuff in the world.

For me the tension comes in on reskinning whether or not you modify the mechanics to fit the reskin narrative. A narratively non magical mechanist (say super tech) using the artificer class as the mechanical base has a couple of decision points on interactions with magic where it can make more narrative sense to modify some of the mechanics. Saying the normally magical artificer stuff is non magical can mean it does not pierce resistances to normal weapon damage but also that it cannot be dispelled or detected as magical effects or create tensions as you try to justify them being dispelled or detected.
 

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I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
But, don't the idea of "reskinning" and the idea of "classes as fictional element" exist in opposition to each other?
I do think that out of the book, it varies with the class, as pointed out above.

I also think that part of the "martial problem" is the lack of specificity for the fighter especially.

If I imagine a class that is a [Mercenary], I can envision a bunch of specific mechanics that get that vibe working. Okay, so you make money with your fighting, so you're going to be reasonably good at social skills (Persuasion, Intimidation, maybe Performance for demonstrations of martial prowess), you can make good contacts in town. You're also going to be good at repairing your gear and adapting on the fly. Maybe some knowledge of the kinds of D&D humanoids that the D&D civilizations are always at war with - you know orcs and kobolds, you've seen an ogre on the battlefield.

If I imagine a class that is a [Knight], it's the same way. Okay, you get a mount, you get the best , most expensive armor. Your courtly knowledge is good, you have a patron, maybe you know art and music and other refined qualities. You are brave and bold (advantage vs. fear?) and you know how to slay a dragon and court a princess.

If I imagine a class that is a [Duelist], we've got a different vibe. Dex-based, rapier, witty repartee. Courtly knowledge, but you're a scamp, so maybe some mechanics about luck, deceit, and striking at advantage (not literally sneak attack, but maybe evoke the vibes of sneak attack a bit)

But a [Fighter] is...what, exactly? There's not an archetype there. The class is a useful tool for realizing a variety of archetypes, but there's not many markers in fiction of being a fighter. Barbarian, paladin, ranger, sure, but Fighter? Hmm..

The rogue suffers from this problem to a lesser degree. It's chassis is "Martial and uses light armor and Dex instead of heavy armor and Str," but of course there's the Brutal Rogue or the Dexterous Fighter that messes with that divide. The rogue itself isn't much of an archetype. It's a tool for realizing a variety of archetypes.

Clerics also have a bit of this problem, given how dependent they are on their god for getting their core mechanics. But even a cleric of a death god is a healer.

I imagine the diegetics of classes in D&D like this:

The PC's are exceptional. They are unique in the world. But their uniqueness is a matter of scale, not of kind. The Fighter is special, but she exists in a world of warriors of various degrees of skill. The Rogue is special, but he exists in a world of scofflaws and assassins. The Cleric is special, but they exist in a world of magical priests. The Bard is special, but the idea of making magic out of music isn't unique to them. The Wizard is special, but there's lots of people who study books and cast spells from them.
 

TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
But a [Fighter] is...what, exactly? There's not an archetype there. The class is a useful tool for realizing a variety of archetypes, but there's not many markers in fiction of being a fighter. Barbarian, paladin, ranger, sure, but Fighter? Hmm..

The rogue suffers from this problem to a lesser degree. It's chassis is "Martial and uses light armor and Dex instead of heavy armor and Str," but of course there's the Brutal Rogue or the Dexterous Fighter that messes with that divide. The rogue itself isn't much of an archetype. It's a tool for realizing a variety of archetypes.

Clerics also have a bit of this problem, given how dependent they are on their god for getting their core mechanics. But even a cleric of a death god is a healer.
You summed up most of my problems with the diegetics of D&D classes in like 3 paragraphs. Kudos. :)

I imagine the diegetics of classes in D&D like this:

The PC's are exceptional. They are unique in the world. But their uniqueness is a matter of scale, not of kind. The Fighter is special, but she exists in a world of warriors of various degrees of skill. The Rogue is special, but he exists in a world of scofflaws and assassins. The Cleric is special, but they exist in a world of magical priests. The Bard is special, but the idea of making magic out of music isn't unique to them. The Wizard is special, but there's lots of people who study books and cast spells from them.
That's pretty close to the way I run my games normally. Gods exist, and they give boons to certain gifted followers. Spellbooks and arcane rituals exist, and they can be studied. Magical music exists, and people who can contract with powerful beings.

The mindset I'm trying to understand is "There are thousands of people in the world who are clerics. All of them can turn undead, and cast 2 1st level spells. If you see someone cast spirit guardians, you know they must be a 5th level cleric, and your character knows that, not just you. If that person who cast spirit guardians in only actually 3rd level and has 7 HP, you're cheating, because everyone who can cast spirit guardians is a cleric." (I know feats, backgrounds, etc., let you make a non-cleric with spirit guardians. This is a vague, basic example of the mindset I'm questioning.)
 

Voadam

Legend
The mindset I'm trying to understand is "There are thousands of people in the world who are clerics. All of them can turn undead, and cast 2 1st level spells. If you see someone cast spirit guardians, you know they must be a 5th level cleric, and your character knows that, not just you. If that person who cast spirit guardians in only actually 3rd level and has 7 HP, you're cheating, because everyone who can cast spirit guardians is a cleric." (I know feats, backgrounds, etc., let you make a non-cleric with spirit guardians. This is a vague, basic example of the mindset I'm questioning.)
Well D&D has usually had pretty specific in game stuff like spell levels and specific spells instead of using them as just mechanical expressions of freeform magic

I tend to think of spell levels (mostly from prior editions) a bit like electron shells that get filled out the more spell power/electrons that you have. Not a perfect analogy as you fully fill the lower shells before moving on to the outer shells instead of continuing to fill up multiple spell levels for a while, but the concept is a bit similar. They are a part of nature in the fiction. So knowing that Chain lightning is a certain level spell and requires a certain level of power is something that can be known in the fiction.

I generally see the cleric and druid classes as different traditions of divine spellcasting, so even if a druid could be narratively a witch or a nature cultist or a nature deity henotheistic priest or a nature magician in my game, they use the same common magical tradition of tapping nature based divine magic for different purposes and so have the same powers. Clerics use a tradition that includes turning/controlling undead and specific divine magical spells are in that common tradition. Tying in Mage the Ascension concepts of paradigm and pattern that all feeds into it as well as traditions and past magic have shaped the magical reality that casters can tap into.
 

Pedantic

Legend
You summed up most of my problems with the diegetics of D&D classes in like 3 paragraphs. Kudos. :)
Fighter and Rogue probably just shouldn't be classes in the paradigm you're discussing. The whole thing a class does is give you a set of codified, exceptional (relative to whatever the baseline is) abilities, and the martials are generally defined by not having a power source and not doing specific exceptional techniques. They don't fit, because unlike your spellcasters, they don't have a notable exceptional metaphysics to draw on.

I've seen some litRPGs do things to square that problem. The Hedge Wizard by Alex Maher has three categories: Chosen, who are basically Paladins built like Warlocks, with a set of very specific blessings from a specific god, Wizards, who learn to use their own internal essence to channel spells by reverse engineering the divine language those blessings come in, and Martials, who do the same thing as Wizards, but channeled through their own bodies and weaponry, instead of externally.

A Martial isn't "good with a spear" they're moving at super speeds and channeling lightning through their spear and leaving illusory after images with their techniques.

The mindset I'm trying to understand is "There are thousands of people in the world who are clerics. All of them can turn undead, and cast 2 1st level spells. If you see someone cast spirit guardians, you know they must be a 5th level cleric, and your character knows that, not just you. If that person who cast spirit guardians in only actually 3rd level and has 7 HP, you're cheating, because everyone who can cast spirit guardians is a cleric." (I know feats, backgrounds, etc., let you make a non-cleric with spirit guardians. This is a vague, basic example of the mindset I'm questioning.)
What's not to understand? Ideally the underlying system is complicated enough to allow diversity, you see a lot of litRPGs moving to technique/training based models to allow characters more incremental growth to power their core genre conceit, but the underlying "this is how the world works, this is the shared language we use to describe these phenomenon" seems pretty clear to me.

If you do science on how clerics work, you can figure out how many spell slots they have pretty quickly. A domain you didn't know about before is a reasonable change, a cleric that casts 5th level spells using 3rd level slots is as much a violation as a wingless, hovering rabbit would be to someone in our world.... But flying squirrels still exist.

I think it's a chicken/egg problem really. The whole attitude grows out of the understanding (maybe belief is more accurate) that a necessary and essential purpose of RPG rules is to explain the functioning of an alternative reality. That isn't understood as a design goal in this view, you don't necessarily create rules to do that specifically (they're probably serving gameplay purposes) but as an essential quality of being an RPG, and not a board game or an improv exercise. The rules must be extrapolated to a fictional reality as a requirement of the medium, and you can't say "that doesn't make sense" about the resulting reality, unless you're presenting a rules change to make it different.

Either you change the rules to reconstitute the setting, or you accept and extrapolate. A game rule can be an abstraction of something more complicated, but it can't be an abstraction of multiple different things at once.
 
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TwoSix

Dirty, realism-hating munchkin powergamer
I've seen some litRPGs do things to square that problem. The Hedge Wizard by Alex Maher has three categories: Chosen, who are basically Paladins built like Warlocks, with a set of very specific blessings from a specific god, Wizards, who learn to use their own internal essence to channel spells by reverse engineering the divine language those blessings come in, and Martials, who do the same thing as Wizards, but channeled through their own bodies and weaponry, instead of externally.
I feel like we definitely read a lot of the same books. :) I'm looking forward to Hedge Wizard 4 in April.

I think it's a chicken/egg problem really. The whole attitude grows out of the understanding (maybe belief is more accurate) that a necessary and essential purpose of RPG rules is to explain the functioning of an alternative reality. That isn't understood as a design goal in this view, you don't necessarily create rules to do that specifically (they're probably serving gameplay purposes) but as an essential quality of being an RPG, and not a board game or an improv exercise. The rules must be extrapolated to a fictional reality as a requirement of the medium, and you can't say "that doesn't make sense" about the resulting reality, unless you're presenting a rules change to make it different.

Either you change the rules to reconstitute the setting, or you accept and extrapolate. A game rule can be an abstraction of something more complicated, but it can't be an abstraction of multiple different things at once.
Thanks. That actually gave me a lot of insight into where some of my preconceptions lie, and what concepts I was having trouble understanding.
 

I'm A Banana

Potassium-Rich
The mindset I'm trying to understand is "There are thousands of people in the world who are clerics. All of them can turn undead, and cast 2 1st level spells. If you see someone cast spirit guardians, you know they must be a 5th level cleric, and your character knows that, not just you. If that person who cast spirit guardians in only actually 3rd level and has 7 HP, you're cheating, because everyone who can cast spirit guardians is a cleric." (I know feats, backgrounds, etc., let you make a non-cleric with spirit guardians. This is a vague, basic example of the mindset I'm questioning.)
Here's how I might imagine things.

First, in most versions of D&D, "everyone" is a "0-level NPC" or a "Commoner." The assumption is that any king or any knight or any merchant or any priest or any farmer you meet is this kind of mortal baseline. Whatever difference these people have in their skillsets doesn't really rise to the level of "needs to be differentiated with game mechanics."

"NPCs with Classes" are always exceptions to that rule. I think late AD&D and 3e probably had the most common exceptions, with 3e suggesting that most towns of significant size had some spellcasters and cities and the like had some pretty significant NPCs with levels. Still a world where 99% of people were not gifted in any particular way, but noting that even 1% could add up to a couple thousand people in a big enough city.

So, lots of NPC's had classes, but they were always exceptional, just like PC's.

And in that world, you get a little bit of a different understanding. Most local priests are just people who know the rituals. But, maybe one priest a few towns over is reportedly able to heal wounds with a touch, or maybe the city has a church where the cardinals are able to break curses, and maybe you've even heard legends about a priest who could raise the dead.

In that way, it sounds a little bit like the real world - we've all heard legends about holy figures who can raise the dead. In an era before mass long-distance communication and good science, probably most communities heard about some holy figure out west or in the big city who could do remarkable things. In a world where magic was real and dragons could be seen and fey creatures actually do lurk in the wilderness, you could even imagine it makes sense that one shaman in a hundred actually can hear spirits and make plants move and befriend animals.

Not everyone has a class. Still only maybe one in a hundred. And you only know their powers based on the stories told about them or the things they've done. I don't imagine your average pig farmer understands that the bookish kid is a [Wizard], but they do understand that they can cast some spells and like their book, and maybe legends have spoken of others who can do that who the stories call wizards.

I do think a lot of people (and a significant number of adventure designers) forget that most people are not special in a D&D world and do things like say all the hunters in the village are 6th-level rangers or something. While it might not matter in a particular adventure, I don't think that's great worldbuilding. One level 20 rogue on the continent might be OK. A dozen level 1 rogues in the kingdom might also be fine. But most people are just...normal. The thieves' guild is not filled with 15th level rogues, and I think it'd be weird if it was!
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Classes are something "special", namely combat competency.

In my current settings, "not everyone would have a class". Not everyone is competent in combat.


I answer the question. Even if in my current settings not everyone is competent in combat, many are. Many cultures train for combat, including warriors of a clan, and militia of town. It is easy to imagine where everyone in a setting has at least some combat training, hence levels in a class.

This feels like you are missing the point of what I was saying.

Well, yes. A character without a class is "weaker" in combat.

But the noncombatant still has skills, toolsets, proficiency, and feats that they can point to with regard to noncombat areas of life.

Okay. How do they have those things? I'm just going to take the System from Primal Hunter. Jake Thayne has skills in tracking and Survival because of his class: Primal Hunter. Carmen has ritual skills for worshipping her pantheon and taking trophies from killed enemies because of her Class. So, where does Miranda get her skills for managing a city from?

Are you going to set up a world where skills and proficiencies are different than skills and proficiencies? Are we saying that classes are special and whatever this other thing is more common? Are we saying that everyone has the same thing, but only the ones that give combat abilities are called classes?

This is what I'm trying to get across with your answer being frustrating within the genre of the idea of everyone having a class. If that premise is true, you are now creating a distinction that needs to be addressed.

Even the Sorcerer class needs training and experience to advance from background to level 1 to higher levels.

Nothing assumes that innate magic must be for combat. Perhaps the sorcerous magic is strictly for noncombat and weaving clothing (Weavers Toolset, Performance Skill).

The weaponization of sorcerous magic is combat training and experience.

Why are you assuming any training is needed at all? If a level 5 Fighter gets the ability "Double Attack" then they get the ability Double Attack when they reach level 5, no training needed. Maybe training with the skill to use it to its fullest potential, but that is different.

Now, sure, there are stories within this genre where training is important, but that isn't what you are doing here. You are saying that the [Sorcerer] Class can exist, but you only get that class if you train your magic to combat, but if you use it for controlling cloth, you can never use it for combat? Stitch Witches are AMAZING in fiction, and you are dismissing it out of hand, because you are focused on this idea that classes can ONLY exist in the context of combat and ONLY exist in the context of DnD combat. But this is a world-building excersise.

There is such thing as a Farmer background whose Nature skill and so on eventually advance to proficiency +6 (and expertise +12).

However, I dislike the design concept of a "Farmer class". A high priority for the design of any D&D class is to be balanced compared to other classes thus equally effective in combat. Unless weirdly weaponizing the concept of a Farmer, the hypothetical Farmer class would be strictly inferior in combat, thus no longer be a viable player class, or even a "class" at all.

....

You just didn't understand the question, did you? Of course a [Farmer] class is weaker in combat and not viable for a player to have. That is a game mechanical concern. We aren't talking about that. We are talking about world building a world where everyone has classes. They don't need to be balanced. The world isn't a balanced place. Bears eat salmon and no matter how high level that salmon is a bear of lower level is likely eating that salmon (until you get into evolutions, but that's a whole different section of the genre). That has zero bearing on anything, because we aren't discussing making a class for everything FOR PEOPLE TO PLAY. We are discussing making a class for everything FOR STORY AND WORLD BUILDING REASONS

D&D evolved from a combat game, and a "class" represents a combat style, and doesnt represent the totality of reality.

At the same time, there is no need to translate everything into some kind class. There are other design spaces to describe noncombat things, especially background, proficiency, and feats. Where each class level is worth about a feat, it is hypothetically possible to build a character without combat features, without a class, who only selects noncombat feats. However, at this point, the character would be unsuitable for D&D adventures that require combat. Also, it becomes more straightforward to use a statblock instead of a character sheet to represent the character.

And there is no need to faerie realms or ocean monsters either. This isn't about need or writing a statblock. This is about thematic storytelling in a specific genre.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Fighter and Rogue probably just shouldn't be classes in the paradigm you're discussing. The whole thing a class does is give you a set of codified, exceptional (relative to whatever the baseline is) abilities, and the martials are generally defined by not having a power source and not doing specific exceptional techniques. They don't fit, because unlike your spellcasters, they don't have a notable exceptional metaphysics to draw on.

I've seen some litRPGs do things to square that problem. The Hedge Wizard by Alex Maher has three categories: Chosen, who are basically Paladins built like Warlocks, with a set of very specific blessings from a specific god, Wizards, who learn to use their own internal essence to channel spells by reverse engineering the divine language those blessings come in, and Martials, who do the same thing as Wizards, but channeled through their own bodies and weaponry, instead of externally.

A Martial isn't "good with a spear" they're moving at super speeds and channeling lightning through their spear and leaving illusory after images with their techniques.

One argument that can be made, depending on how you want the setting to work, is the idea of being more of a generalist.

Taking the Threadbare series for a moment, the end up fighting a high-level mercenary who has an ability called "Blood is Gold", which activates when they would take damage, and instead they lose money from on their person. Just gets sucked into non-existence. This is a powerful ability for someone like a mercenary, but they may not have something like "Weapons Master" which allows them to use any possible weapon they pick up. Or maybe they lack something like "Toughness" which just makes you generally hardier.

So, I can see [Fighters] and [Rogues] as the generalists. Or even as the Baseline. You need to be a [Fighter] before having the option to evolve in a [Mercenary] or an [Arcane Knight] or a [Blade of the Flower Court]. And these common classes do kind of need to exist, because common soldiers exist.

What's not to understand? Ideally the underlying system is complicated enough to allow diversity, you see a lot of litRPGs moving to technique/training based models to allow characters more incremental growth to power their core genre conceit, but the underlying "this is how the world works, this is the shared language we use to describe these phenomenon" seems pretty clear to me.

If you do science on how clerics work, you can figure out how many spell slots they have pretty quickly. A domain you didn't know about before is a reasonable change, a cleric that casts 5th level spells using 3rd level slots is as much a violation as a wingless, hovering rabbit would be to someone in our world.... But flying squirrels still exist.

I think it's a chicken/egg problem really. The whole attitude grows out of the understanding (maybe belief is more accurate) that a necessary and essential purpose of RPG rules is to explain the functioning of an alternative reality. That isn't understood as a design goal in this view, you don't necessarily create rules to do that specifically (they're probably serving gameplay purposes) but as an essential quality of being an RPG, and not a board game or an improv exercise. The rules must be extrapolated to a fictional reality as a requirement of the medium, and you can't say "that doesn't make sense" about the resulting reality, unless you're presenting a rules change to make it different.

Either you change the rules to reconstitute the setting, or you accept and extrapolate. A game rule can be an abstraction of something more complicated, but it can't be an abstraction of multiple different things at once.

Yep, that it the premise behind the genre. A "what-if".
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I do think a lot of people (and a significant number of adventure designers) forget that most people are not special in a D&D world and do things like say all the hunters in the village are 6th-level rangers or something. While it might not matter in a particular adventure, I don't think that's great worldbuilding. One level 20 rogue on the continent might be OK. A dozen level 1 rogues in the kingdom might also be fine. But most people are just...normal. The thieves' guild is not filled with 15th level rogues, and I think it'd be weird if it was!

Of course the Theive's Guild wouldn't be filled with 15th level rogues, because in DnD terms that is crazy strong. But why can't it be filled with level 2 rogues, fighters, rangers, and two artificers?

Generally, when I take on this sort of challenge, If they are doing something on the level of a guardsmen or a soldier, they are between levels 2 and 3. Level 5 is for notable people. The Captain of the Town Watch, the Bishop of the City. Level 11 is for people who are IMPORTANT on a geo-political level. The King's Champion, the Sage of the Northern Winds, The Kingpin. Beyond that, you are dealing with multi-generational legends.
 

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