Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 21, 2011
Brian “Psychochild” Green has a post today defending skill-based RPG systems versus class-based ones.
He’s responding to a post at Elder Game:
This is an old argument that has been going around since at least the early 1980s. And both authors here outline issues with both systems.
For those who don’t know what they are talking about here:
Class-based systems are those in which your character has a particular class, role, or profession that structures how you can increase your abilities. For example, if your character is a fighter, you may be given limited or no access to spellcasting abilities, whereas a wizard will be a poor fighter. In a “pure” class-based system (like the original D&D game), your class and “level” pretty much dictated everything there was to know about your character’s abilities. Otherwise, it was equipment and starting attributes that provided variation.
Purely skill-based games allow you to build your character’s abilities piecemeal, rather than as a “package” of benefits that comes with class-based increases. Want to hit better? Buy a better attack. Want to cast better spells? Upgrade your spellcasting and buy new spells. Something like that.
Skill-based systems grant much greater flexibility in customizing characters. That seems a clear advantage with veteran game-players. But it comes at a cost. And it’s much harder to balance, as a game designer. Can you make sure that your game plays just as well for the player who put all his points into Basket Weaving and Joke-Telling as the player who put them all into Handgun Accuracy and Physical Fitness?
Then there are the hybrid systems, which most games tend to be these days – though that’s a pretty wide spectrum. These games may dictate some primary progression by class, but then leave the player with freedom to buy additional skills or abilities. That helps keep all players on a more even playing field, making sure characters always have their core bases covered, but still gives them the chance to be a fighting-mage or a rogue specializing in social skills.
Which is best? While it’s easy to note the clear advantage (and success) of systems that trend more towards the “class based” camp, I’m going to agree with Brian and say it really depends on what you are trying to achieve with your game. My general rule-of-thumb is that if the game has you playing a solo character, more skill-based systems that allow the greatest flexibility work best. But where groups of characters need to work together in a team, it’s generally better for a system to lean more in the class-based camp with enforced complimentary abilities.
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