"Your Class is Not Your Character": Is this a real problem?

Fauchard1520

Explorer
You guys have heard the phrase "your class is not your character," right? the idea is that you don’t have to be an baby-eating psychopath just because your sorcerer has the Abyssal bloodline. You don’t have to be a purehearted hero just because you know your way around a smite evil.

I'm curious if this is a real problem that people have encountered, or if it's just a good soundbite. Have you ever encountered a GM or another player who told you that you were "playing your class wrong?" I may just be lucky in my groups, but I haven't ever encountered that mess out in the wild.

Comic for illustrative purposes.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
You guys have heard the phrase "your class is not your character," right? the idea is that you don’t have to be an baby-eating psychopath just because your sorcerer has the Abyssal bloodline. You don’t have to be a purehearted hero just because you know your way around a smite evil.

I'm curious if this is a real problem that people have encountered, or if it's just a good soundbite. Have you ever encountered a GM or another player who told you that you were "playing your class wrong?" I may just be lucky in my groups, but I haven't ever encountered that mess out in the wild.

Comic for illustrative purposes.
I've been told that about Paladin once or twice, but not since 1e.
 
Not really. Playing the class as character is a good RP handhold for newer players, and I've found most players pretty naturally branch out and separate the two ideas. Personally the phrase "playing your class" doesn't make any sense in 99% of the cases where it might be applied. I'm sure there are people who would and do say it a lot though, just not anyone I'd play with.
 

GlassJaw

Adventurer
Not sure what you mean by "problem". It's actually a great concept to keep in mind.

I 100% subscribe to it, especially with regards to multiclassing. My "character" isn't X levels of class A and Y levels of class B. "Class" is just a way to describe the in-game abilities of the character I envision.

That's always my biggest issue with people who complain about multiclassing. What if my character is a combination of abilities across multiple classes? Choosing a class at each level is just a clunky game mechanic. I can play my fighter from level 1 as a sneaky bounty hunter and maybe I add some rogue levels along the way. That doesn't change my character.
 
It really depends on the player. Most new players fall into class stereotypes because they don't know otherwise. A lot of gamers move past this, but a few do not. I know one guy who always plays a sneaky ninja-like character, because that's his ideal image of himself. Another guy never roleplays; his character is just numbers on paper that he uses to try and "win" the game.

Of course some of us go too far the other way. I've twice had a character move in a direction I didn't intend. One I played out as an object lesson to the other players, who should have put me down like a rabid dog, but didn't because I wasn't an NPC. The second I retired (he left for his own reasons) because he was becoming a disruptive influence on the game.
 

Celebrim

Legend
Depends on your aesthetics of play.

For some tables, your class is your character because the aesthetics of play don't really encourage your role in the play to be more than what your character can contribute to group success. And importantly, thespian and pseudo-intellectual snobbery aside, this is perfectly OK.

For others, because they want to engage in more diverse or different aesthetics of play, your class can't be your character because a class doesn't define the attributes of your character that are important to that aesthetic of play. Importantly, thespian and pseudo-intellectual snobbery aside, a system doesn't have to explicitly define your class in terms of thespian attributes and maneuvers to support melodramatic, narrative, introspective, or expressive play. Doing so may or may not help a group get in a mindset where they prize those aesthetics of play, but a group can evolve those aesthetics of play independently of the system.

In particular, I remember reading Gary Fine's 'Shared Fantasy' a few years after it came out, and he documented that many of the very crunch heavy systems of the 1980's were in practice supporting very different processes of play than you'd imagine. The insanely high levels of crunch meant that engaging with the rules was extremely expensive. As a result, many tables that enjoyed the games did so by evolving processes of play that engaged with the rules only rarely, and instead spent most of their time engaged in low melodrama that barely engaged with the rules. When combat takes hours to resolve, one viable procedure of play is to avoid combat on all but the most important occasions.
 

Coroc

Hero
It does depend. Especially for paladins, and if you, like me as a dm, require a paladin player to play a paladin. Thankfully my Paladin player even some times does more than I require, and instantly notices any moral dilemmas.

Other game systems are much harder: DSAs Rondra Cleric is required to never turn down a challenge and never retreat even if clearly against all odds and always fight fair, e.g. if the opponent fumbles and loses his weapon the Rondra Cleric would insist on him picking it up.
We lately had a session where one NPC (much stronger than our Rondra cleric player and probably the whole group but that does not matter because the Rondra cleric would not accept help from the others in this case, as it would be unfair) did slit the throat of a bound helpless prisoner.
This NPC was shady, but principally on our side and as such one of the major forces of "good".
The Rondra cleric PC tried to challenge him for duel for that and just survived because the NPC simply ignored him and pushed him aside and escaped.
That's a lawful good paladin like character turned up to eleven, most of them die soon, because of their code of honor being so strict.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
I think it's more accurate to say that your class doesn't have to define your character if you don't want it to, and that it's also okay to have your class define your character if you want it to, and not everything about your character has to come from your class. But that's a mouthful.
 

Phazonfish

Explorer
Honestly I've seen the opposite problem. Whenever the topic of multiclassing comes up around here, I see a lot of "I allow multiclassing, but only if they have a story reason to." Why? If I'm a paladin, and I wanna take levels in Warlock, why can't I just take the mechanical benefits of the Warlock class, but in-story attribute the new powers to where ever my Paladin powers come from?
 

ad_hoc

Hero
Honestly I've seen the opposite problem. Whenever the topic of multiclassing comes up around here, I see a lot of "I allow multiclassing, but only if they have a story reason to." Why? If I'm a paladin, and I wanna take levels in Warlock, why can't I just take the mechanical benefits of the Warlock class, but in-story attribute the new powers to where ever my Paladin powers come from?
If the game is just a bunch of mechanical effects then it loses what makes it special.

I don't want to play such a game.

I am very glad that multiclassing is an optional rule. I will never use it.
 

Phazonfish

Explorer
If the game is just a bunch of mechanical effects then it loses what makes it special.

I don't want to play such a game.

I am very glad that multiclassing is an optional rule. I will never use it.
Who said anything about the game just being mechanical effects? What I want is to write my character in whatever way makes the best story, as opposed being presented the dilemma of "Take an entirely unnecessary mechanical penalty or insert contrivances into your story so that you fit the stereotype your new class is supposed to."
 
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jmartkdr2

Explorer
I've only seen it as a problem when someone else (especially the dm) enforces it on a player, rather than the player enforcing it on themselves.

If you're playing a paladin and want to play him as a big blue boy scout, that's fine. If you want to play him as an old soldier who knows the little things don't always matter but your dm punishes you for playing that way because paladins must be lawful stupid, that's bad.

It's also something I haven't seen in the wild since 3rd edition.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
Who said anything about the game just being mechanical effects? What I want is to write my character in whatever way makes the best story, as opposed being presented the dilemma of "Take an entirely unnecessary mechanical penalty or insert contrivances into your story so that you fit the stereotype your class is supposed to."
Why even have races or classes? Why have any abilities tied to anything?

Let's just have a bunch of powers to pick and choose from and then write stories from there.

There are games that actually do that.

D&D is a class based game. Throwing out the strengths of a classed base game while playing it is rather silly.
 

Saelorn

Hero
I've mostly seen the opposite problem, with players choosing a class for mechanical reasons, and then jumping through hurdles to justify why they can get away with not acting like the class that they chose.

Classes exist for many reasons. One of them is to tell us more about how the world works, by invoking shared lore. If a paladin isn't even really a paladin, then the class fails at upholding that purpose.
 

Phazonfish

Explorer
Why even have races or classes? Why have any abilities tied to anything?

Let's just have a bunch of powers to pick and choose from and then write stories from there.

There are games that actually do that.

D&D is a class based game. Throwing out the strengths of a classed base game while playing it is rather silly.
I would totally allow my players to refluff races/classes as each other if it helps them make the character concept they want to make. You tout the strengths of a class based game, but don't list any; I wish you would have, as none are apparent to me.

Classes exist for many reasons. One of them is to tell us more about how the world works, by invoking shared lore. If a paladin isn't even really a paladin, then the class fails at upholding that purpose.
I disagree. The lore tells us what Paladins are usually like, we don't need the PC's as an example to know how the world works.
 

Saelorn

Hero
I disagree. The lore tells us what Paladins are usually like, we don't need the PC's as an example to know how the world works.
I strongly disagree. If PCs don't reflect the setting at large, then you aren't really playing in that setting.

If I tell you that I'm playing a Paladin, and that doesn't tell you anything about who my character is or how they act, then you've just squandered the rich history of fantasy tropes. We might as well be playing a sci fi game, at that point.
 

Panda-s1

Scruffy and Determined
I strongly disagree. If PCs don't reflect the setting at large, then you aren't really playing in that setting.

If I tell you that I'm playing a Paladin, and that doesn't tell you anything about who my character is or how they act, then you've just squandered the rich history of fantasy tropes. We might as well be playing a sci fi game, at that point.
uh, considering your avatar I find that just a little ironic for you to say.

I agree that class does inform abilities and possibly behavior of your character, but I don't see how that means you need to pigeonhole yourself either. especially in this day and age where class based rpg's are no longer the norm, and mutliclassing and archetypes are part of 5e. and really if paladins always acted in line we wouldn't have blackguards.
 

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