Rangers are the Symptom


I think that the multitude of discussions surrounding the D&D Ranger class act as an indication of an underlying problem or dissatisfaction with Class systems. Just like how a blister on your foot tells you there's something wrong with your footwear or gait.

This is exactly the sort of thing that irks me about D&D in particular, but also about class based systems in general. I've been playing for 14 years now, and although Classes, as a game construct, offer instant familiarity and understanding, they confound things together. And I think the Ranger has always been the greatest point of contention for this, except maybe 2nd edition Fighter/Mages, which are an excellent example of a disturbing use of game features. I know that one possible benefit of a class and level system is engineered game balance, but how often is that actually a problem for each of us (real question, not rhetorical)? Another benefit is ease of character generation and the creation of in-game conventions that lead to better ease of use for players (better able to make assumptions, for good or bad). Can this be just as well achieved by the use of things such as templates in a non-class and level system? Or am I missing out on something particularly special?

A discussion in gamegrene about Rangers (http://www.gamegrene.com/node/197) involves a lot of different views as to what a ranger is, could be or should be. Many of us have probably followed other threads elsewhere discussing the ranger in 3rd edition, 3.5, and seen Monte Cook's solution. My point is that there is no particular instantiation of the ranger that is broken, but rather that a class based system, even augmented with prestige classes or kits, is bound to inflexibility and a high potential for dissatisfaction with design freedoms.

It seems like when people plan out a concept for a ranger progression including multiclassing, prestige classes, feat selection and skill selection, that they're trying to build a particular sort of character. I know when I do this I often look at certain aspects, and think something like "I don't want spells. And I don't think he should be able to fight melee at all, because I don't envision that for him." And I can do things like just not carry a melee weapon, or not use one I do carry, but that's...dissatisfactory. And I also think things like "If this person trained so much at stalking and hunting, with a bow or crossbow, and not ever with weapons of war, why would he have the rest of these incongruent feats or abilities or statistics?". And then I weep tiny sad roleplayer tears. ;(

Ok, so I'm being overdramatic, but who else can agree with me, that the discussions around the ranger in particular indicate an underlying issue? Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere, but it's my first post, and this has been on my mind for more than a few years.

P.S. Scott Free: Found you! It's Eric, from Edmonton. We still have your Witches of Eastwick, The Pledge, and...and...and...The Brotherhood of the Wolf! You moved before we remembered we had them and had to give them back to you! It's been a while, but how have things been?

Games that have classes make you adhere to a particular pattern. It is a balancing mechanism that is simple and easy to understand. I have many problems with it. As a game of imagination it is unfortunate that at the outset you are presented with "packages" to buy rather than choices to make. There is an artificial uniformity to members of the same class. Although skill selection and races vary, many of the core functions and abilities remain. Classes exist because WOTC will make more money for having them. Doesn't anyone find it strange that there are no rules as to how to build a balanced class? Players are expected to mindlessly wait for the next rulebook, adventure, or supplement to allow them access to imagination.

In my mind the DM should be picking and choosing skills and abilities that belong in her game and connecting them to societies, guilds, orders, and factions in the game world. There should be adventure and mystery in the very process of improving your character. It is tragic that D&D players already know the abilities that they will acquire on the "level up." The disconnect between the game world and the rules is exacerbated in D&D. The predictable progression and lack of rules for the growth of skills with context has a generation of gamers oblivious to any alternative. I am afraid though, that most of the gaming community actually engages the game at the level of the rules. More and more I am coming to understand the mindset of the rules light perspective. By stripping away the rules that can so interfere with the perception of game, they hope to engage the players with the narrative and interact with the world not the rules.

Here is an excerpt from something I wrote elsewhere:

Games that rely on identifying characters with a specific "Class" limit the scope of the game. They make the game more predictable; they reduce the choices of the player; and they are driven by the marketing avarice of the game designer by fostering a need for players to constantly buy new sourcebooks to encounter originality.

Once you have determined what class someone belongs to, and how far advanced they are, you have gone a long way to determining all the skills and talents that they will possess. Further, these generic classes are separated from any specific institutions within the game world. Providing beginner players with a number of well-defined schools, orders, knighthoods, and professions gives them the direction that a newcomer gets from a system with Classes without artificially imposing rules on the game world.

Originality of the players in a fantasy game is paramount. A class-based system forces a player to build their character out of a pre-designed, pre-balanced (usually poorly), and pre-interpreted mould. They are able to window dress and make surface changes, but nothing more. Imagine if you were asked to design a concept for a new motorized vehicle. In a class based system you would be given the options of starting with a pre-designed Truck, Sedan, Sports Car, or Motorcycle. You would then choose colour, window tint, air-conditioning, etc. What you would quickly realize is that you weren't making a new motorized vehicle but buying a vehicle from a dealership. A class based system forces you to buy (or buy into) their product.

They also try to keep you buying into it. If they don't give you the ability to be creative, they know that you will keep coming back to them for the newest pre-digested template for your character. These sub-classes, prestige classes, and other inventions are nothing more than a marketing strategy designed to exploit a deficiency in the game system. They are designed to have more advantages than the classes presented in the standard rules to appeal to the desire of players to have the "best" character possible.

Any merits of a class based system, specifically ease-of-use for beginners, are entirely nullified by presenting some well considered schools in a skill-based system.

I'd agree that Rangers (or any class based woe) is a symptom and not the problem itself.

For some other contrasting reason though, I really like Class based systems. I don't however let character creation stem from Race>Class>Etc progressions. I try to get people to step outside of that and discuss exactly what it is they want to play, and then make some class combo suggestions that suit what they are seeking. This generally amounts in higher than usual average party level...but I'm okay with that. The Prior History rules from traveller are some of my favorite PC building rules out there, and the fact that tehre's a d20 version of those rules makes it even better. I've since applied those mechanics to all character creation so that the average starting level is 6 or 7 instead of 1 or 2.

Class based characters certainly have their drawbacks though, and it's one place where GURPS players and myself do *not* disagree.

As an evil Dm/anti-metagamer, I fidn classes crete a large nubmer of false assumptins that I often use to describe myself in game. I've called my sorcerors, wizards, shamans, sages, mages, and my personal favorite, priests (I doubt most followers of a church would look upon a sorcerror born to a cleric as any different than a cleric, despite soem slight varaition in abilities.)

Frankly, If' you're finding/feeling the class assumption is making things mroe tactically weak against the party, just wing it. Second, honestly, Id' have ot say the feat system allwos for a lot of customization. Also, I've allowed palayers to "sub" class abilities for feats taht I think are fair and balanced enough. But then, I've also allowed nerfed Illithids with huge disguise skills pose as human rogues to screw with people. I'm the msot rules-lax DM I know. I jsut warn players in advance that I will allow my npcs many of the same bizarre boons and customizations I allwo my players.

I'd like to point out I'm only talking about third edition. $ ed. doesn't interest me, and I really dont' feel like lurking in a cave to hutn down lost 2nd edition materials that I cna't even afford to hunt down and buy.

Customarily yours,

"Doesn't anyone find it strange that there are no rules as to how to build a balanced class?"

Actually, what I find even more strange is that I personally didn't notice that omission until just now, when I read your post. It's not as if I never thought of building my own classes - I've even taken a half-hearted stab at it myself before concluding that it would be too hard to balance it without knowing more about the way that WotC balanced things. Somehow, it never occurred to me that they really ought to tell us.

There's clearly a blind spot here, and it makes me wonder what else there is that I haven't realized I'm not being told. There aren't any rules for building skills and feats, either, or spells, or any of the various parts that make up a character. Monsters go the same way, though I think most DMs take a crack at that one anyway, despite the lack of guidelines. Aside from that, though? What other categories ought they enlighten us in?

Anyway, the issue of classes in D&D and the way they force you into archetypes is one that has been a pet peeve of mine for a while now. There are certainly ways to kludge around it, but they all involve fighting the system, bending it into positions it was never meant to be in. The closest thing there is to an official solution is the generic character classes in Unearthed Arcana. Generic character classes are more flexible than regular character classes, and they sort of start to approach a set of guidelines for building your own classes, but they still lack an essential element of variety.

Speaking of prestige classes, there's the same problem again only even more so. They look like they give you an escape from the standard set of classes, but only if you're willing to play THEIR character, not yours. Plus, they're something to fill up supplements with. This is one of the ways you know you've got a good supplement - no prestige classes.

"The closest thing there is to an official solution is the generic character classes in Unearthed Arcana. Generic character classes are more flexible than regular character classes, and they sort of start to approach a set of guidelines for building your own classes, but they still lack an essential element of variety. "

That starts down the slippery slope to a class-less system.

Well, maybe a class-less system is the best way to go.

Also, I've just realized that they DO have a whole chapter in the Monster Manual for making your own monsters. Oops.

Class-less system? Self taught? That means every skill is a cross-class skill. Yeah, have fun with that. You also get no free feats, and your probably going to want to have really high int and cha. Probably sacrifice wisdom because, "hey, if you were wise you would have chose a class, right?" I would multi-class soon too, because you're going to want some class's free feats. Just my thoughts.

The truth is that 3e has SO much freedom with the class system, and the DMG gives great inspiration on ways the DM can accomidate class modification and racial modification to make his/her game truely unique and give the players a unique experience. Two skills that are all too often overlooked are Craft and Profession. If the skill isn't in the PHB then it falls under that category. You want your character to do something that isn't there? Chose one of those... hell, chose it a couple times if your character is a gold mining weaponsmith, or a miller who crafts baked goods that double as edible suits of magic armor. See what I mean?

You can't multiclass in a classless system. In a classless system, by definition, there are no class skills hence no cross-class skills. There's just skills.

And, in a classless system, that freedom you said 3e has so much of? Yeah, now you get to have all of it, instead of a lot of it.

I dunno. If I could have a million dollars or a lot of a million dollars, like, say, $900,000, I'm really not sure which one I'd pick...

See the point?

This brings to mind Plato and the allegory of the Cave.

> This brings to mind Plato and the allegory of the Cave.

Which others can get a sample of from my:

Ahhhh, consensus reality. What better drug could there be?

Gilgamesh wrote: "Once you have determined what class someone belongs to, and how far advanced they are, you have gone a long way to determining all the skills and talents that they will possess."

This is the main problem that I have with class based systems.

"I can't fight him, he's three levels higher than I am!"


All fighters in a class based system have the same basic skill set. It doesn't matter if they are archers, swordsmen, knights, mercs, bar brawlers, or whatever. They all have the same basic "programming". In D20 class based video games like Knights of the Old Republic, this problem is blatantly obvious. In tabletop games it's not quite as obvious, because of the confusion of prestige classes and multiclassing.

Several years ago I made a character in Dnd 2nd ed who was an assassin, highly trained in martial arts, climbing and gymnastics, who had a small repertoire of fire spells. He was literate and somewhat of a scholar, owned a night club, a dojo, and a small library, and had a net work of prostitutes and low level merchants and other street trash who spied for him and gathered information.

What is he? A Fighter? A Merchant? A Thief? A Scholar? A Mage? A Fighter/Mage/Thief? Some weird prestige class?

This character was an npc, the Bad Guy. I had his whole life written out and a reason for everything. But he was impossible to make in DnD without being multiclassed which meant that he advanced VERY slowly. And the campaign involved the PCs first discovering this NPC, hunting him, and then being forced to work with him.

I wanted him to remain a challenge to them despite their advancement through levels as the game progressed. When they started on this campaign, they ranged between 1-3 levels. He was about 6th level. I wanted him to remain 2 to 4 levels ahead of them as they progressed.

I made the same character in GURPS a few years later. It was MUCH easier. All I had to do is pick skills that suited him. Of course, he was a LOT of points (something around 400), but he made a LOT more sense. And it was much easier to keep him paced with the PCs.

Imagine a Legionnaire who takes up fencing. Is he still a Fighter? Or would it be the same as him becoming a thief? What about a bard who is a sword master? Someone who spent years studying different styles of swordplay and martial arts in every country that he visited. Is he a fighter or a bard?

I hate things that restrict a good story. And that’s what classes do.

I liken classes to training wheels for people new to gaming to help them learn how to play. And that’s the nicest thing that I can say about them.

So tell me, did you guys miss me or what? ;-)

I ramble a lot in my old age...

In your old age? ;-)

Good to see you back, Cal.

Always good to see Calamar back.

I'm young, and I still ramble a lot, so maybe it's just natural with gamegreners.

Totally agree on the class systems, though I did have a thought for those more D&D minded than us. You can use the class system to your advantage as DM to hide aspects of an NPC. This wouldn't work in 4th but in 3rd or earlier editions it could be interesting. Basically make it plain to the characters that the enemy is a "x" but build x with all kinds of feats that they wouldn't expect to see. Don't multiclass and no prestige classing, but feats that wouldn't be expected would be great for pulling a fast one on your players. Of course, this is really limited, because this enemy would have to be high level.

So really, while that could work, it's not nearly as good as just tossing out classes.

The other issue with that is that the feats that certain classes meet the prerequisites for aren't as lengthy of a list as I always hoped as a GM. In theory I always saw the Feats as a really cool toolkit to customize classes, but in practice they only augment the things that any given class is already good at anyways.

I haven't found that to be too much of a problem, Scott. Most feats tend to have pre-requisites that are not tied to a specific class - though having particular classes does help you qualify more rapidly in some instances.

There are also plenty of ways of qualifying for feats by taking levels in the right prestige classes. You might think that it's simply easier to have the flexibility of a classless system like GURPS, but actually I found that when I played a character in GURPS 4.0 who wanted to develop his magical abilities he was forced to take all sorts of spells that he didn't really want in order to qualify for the ones he did want. So I didn't feel that GURPS was substantially more flexible in that respect.

"...who wanted to develop his magical abilities he was forced to take all sorts of spells that he didn't really want in order to qualify for the ones he did want. So I didn't feel that GURPS was substantially more flexible in that respect."

That isn't that much different than taking levels in a class or prestige class that you don't want just to qualify for a Feat, and ending up with a bunch of Class abilities that you had no desire or use for in the first place.

Learning about controlling fire before you are knowledgeable enough to create fire makes certian kind of logical sense to me. Learning how to Sneak Attack so I can get access to the skill points and Class Skill list necessary to be a good charlatan does not.

That's the problem though, Scott. Any assumption about "what is required to learn what" is a function of the concept of magic. Skills are part of the setting. Most games try to make them part of the rules and thus create a disconnect between the immersive world and the characters.

Powers and skills should grow. If a player picks a narrow skill/power for their character it should grow either quickly or easily. If a player picks a broad skill/power for their character it should grow either slowly or expensively. When I talk about Easy versus Expensive I refer to how many other skills a character might increase over the same timeframe. Players shouldn't pick their powers from the book, but go and find them in the world.

Why should a rule set dictate what skills come first. That is a function of the world. Sure, learning a new skill is easier if you already know a skill that is similar. In my games that means a skill cascade for several skills/powers/abilities: Skills are interlinked so that I can't increase any one skill to be vastly different from the ones related to it. It forces me to broaden my skill choices just slightly to move my desired skill up (making extremely high skill harder to attain). A character can start at any or multiple points in the cascade. The only restriction is that an illogical situation is not created where a character is great at riding a horse, but absolutely useless at controlling animals.

Flame Wyrding and Invoking combustion have a relationship in the Fire Magic skill cascade, but a player isn't forced to take one before the other. To be a great fire shaper you need to be able to occassionally enhance one part of the fire (creating combustion), but the same is true of creating combustion -- you need to be able to focus and shape the energy. Mr. Chicken meet Mr. Egg.

While I have (finally) moved on from GURPS, I do have to state that the way they handle skills, including magic, is by far the most logical and realistic of any other game that I know of short of TimeLords.

Take the Fire college for example: Ignite Fire (igniting flameable material), Create Fire (creating fire without a source or flameable material), Shape Fire (obvious, I always liked making belly dancers of flame...), and Fireball... Each step leads logically to the next. You can't skip steps, because you don't have the knowledge and control needed.

Class based systems have requirements that aren't logical and make no sense no matter how hard you try to argue the case. Why does someone who lives in the forest (or desert, or some other wilderness) have a sword? Why would they be defaulted as ambidextrous? Why would they have followers? Or magic?

If I remember right, those are all things that a DnD ranger gets.

That's the real difference between Class based and non-Class based systems. That and being able to "know" what someone is capable of as soon as you know their class and level.

And don't get me started on Class System Hit Points. Just completely absurd! 'Nuff said.

I think class systems are good and dead around here.

I do wanna address Gilgamesh's contention against GURPS, though. I don't do this because I'm a rabid fan of it (I have yet to read it...) but because I simply have a point against yours. You stated that the world, not the ruleset, should dictate what comes first in a skill set. I think the idea behind these rules is that they reflect the given assumptions and "laws" of the world - they are a mathematical, concrete realization of that on paper. So, GURPS assumes that your world is a logical one and patterns its systems accordingly, whether they be for magic or gun fights. Of course, altering the rules is altering the world. If, in your world, magic follows a different pattern or skillset, then you change it, as you should, to represent the change.

Tzuriel is right. GURPS is designed from the ground up with a "take it or don't" approach. At no point does it say "this is the way it's gotta be". it encourqages GMs, right from the word Go, to d what they want. D&D does that too, but at the same time it is set up so that what it encourages you to do is almost impossible without also buying a few other books.

I'm becoming more and more fond of Burning Wheel, myself. It has skill growth based almost entirely on skill use, so the skills your character ends up being good at using are the skills your character uses the most.
The other part of that is Artha... but that's a whole different, complicated and wonderful subject.

I think we could all use a deep, long thorough discussion about skill systems in RPGs.
Who wants to start? Does anyone have thoughts on the skill system in FATE?

BTW, hi Calamar!

Hey Zipdrive! I started a thread on Skill Systems for RPGs just for you. Ask and ye shall receive, right?

BTW Never heard of Fate.

Have fun!