Class-Less vs. Class-Based RPGs And The Eternity RPG Solution
This post is primarily for people who either love game design or who love learning about in-depth aspects of games – particularly roleplay games. This post isn’t so much a post about Eternity RPG (although we will talk about Eternity RPG quite a bit), but about RPGs in general. The topic is class-less vs. class-based RPGs. It’s a topic that is always circulating in the game design world, and we’ve been answering a lot of questions lately about this topic on various forums. So, here’s our “official response” to which type of game we think is better.
Our answer: we have no definite answer.
It depends on the type of player and what they’re after, for which is “better.” If you are a game designer or you’re thinking about making a game, you will never please everyone. It’s good that you realize that now and never forget it. If you make the best game ever that is a class-less game, and you present it to people who love class-using RPGs, they will not like your game. And vice versa.
So, instead of giving a definite answer on which is better, we will simply give you the facts and let you decide.
Class-Based RPG Pros
Many, many roleplay games feature “classes” to define what characters can do, make players feel special, and give them roles within their gaming group. The idea is to let players choose a thematically-specific set of “powers” or abilities that is preset. As the player levels up or advances their character they gain all the abilities available to their class. At high levels, a character even comes to define that class as its paragon.
The reason why classes are so common in games is because, if designed well, classes are incredibly fun. The idea of becoming a master wizard, the world’s best thief, or a raging bro-dozer-like berserker certainly has its appeal. You get to look at a list of options, pick the class that sounds like the most fun/ exciting/ enjoyable, and become that class.
Class-Based Games Are Simple
Plus, classes make the game very simple. There’s no demand for players to learn the entire game all at once. They can simply start off by picking their class’ first ability, then go from there. As they get better at the game, they are slowly introduced to new abilities, often one at a time.
On the other side, people who have been playing RPGs for a long time and already know every ability that every class offers in the game might eventually get bored. Classes can be confining if you already know what’s coming (if I play a berserker, I know what I’m going to get at Lv.1, 2, 3, and so on). After multiple times playing new characters, classes can lose their sense of wonder.
Depending on the game system, there’s often less opportunity to creativity build characters in a class-based game. That is, if your character idea can’t be represented by one of the game’s classes.
Class-Based Games Provide A Framework For Creativity
But for the new players, classes can provide the framework with which to get creativity flowing (your character can do x, y, and z. What do you want to do?). Newer players may not have grand ideas of what they want their character to be, first time playing a game. Classes make it easier for them. “Pick a class, roleplay how you imagine that class to be.”
Even many advanced players still love playing classes because of the themes they represent. There are many gamers who only ever play paladins, or druids, or whatever – because they love what that class “is”, “does,” or represents. My favorite class, for example, is the fallen paladin, because I love doing whatever I want with my character. Little to no thoughts of morality and consequence, basically ever. Gaming is a fun way for me to explore other sides of my psyche, and fallen paladin lets me do that while laughing about it, with friends.
Class-Less RPG Pros
On the other side of the game design spectrum is class-less RPGs. If you’re playing a roleplaying game, you should be able to create any kind of character you’d like. There are no limits to the mind, and if you can think of a character you want to play, you should be able to. Right? That is the mindset that defines these types of games.
The idea is that instead of letting the game and its rules define a character for you (such as a class would do), you create a character in your mind, then pick powers, specials, and abilities that conform to your own mental image. Having a class, in this sense, can be limiting. What if I want to be a fallen paladin who also has some access to the light? Maybe he’s currently in transition from his former life of a paladin to that of darkness, but he’s not quite there. Shouldn’t I be able to have light and dark powers during that time?
More Options And Combinations
“Well, that would be great, but there is no class in the game we’re playing that’s both a paladin and fallen paladin…”
To be clear, any good games allow for players to take the existing rules set and adjust it based on what makes sense for the character. Games should never hinder players’ creativity because of rules. That’s not very fun. Most people play roleplay games so they can roleplay. And they want to roleplay the characters they have in mind, not be boxed in by rules.
“Ok, so there’s no paladin-fallen paladin hybrid in the game, but it’s just a game, so let’s work the rules a bit. How about you take one level in paladin, then one level in fallen paladin, and so on?”
That kind of solution can work, in class-based games. But some people like the freedom to just pick any abilities or powers they want. Instead of taking an existing rule set and changing it, like in the above example, why not just list out all powers in the game then let people choose what they like?
More Gaming Depth From The Very Start
The level of entry is much higher. To make really “good” characters, players need to thoroughly understand the game system. But, the depth of character creation, even from level 1, is much greater than a class-based system can allow. And players can always start out with a simple ability they think is fun, then as they get more comfortable with the game, add individual abilities as they go.
All in all, even RPGs fall on a large spectrum. Games are often, at some level at least, mixed between class-less and class-using. Many games have some form of base class from where players start, but they can branch out in any direction. Maybe they start out as a “berserker” but they end up as a “wizard” because they keep selecting new spells instead of melee techniques. Or, games allow for multiclassing. Players start out with a very defined class but can quickly add traits or skills from any other class of their choosing, increasing the diversity and depth of gaming experience. Mixed games like these are a great way to allow for more free-form gaming, while keeping most of the benefits of class-based games.
Eternity RPG’s Solution
As you may have guessed, we struggled with this topic quite a bit when designing Eternity RPG. Some people love class-based games while others find them restricting. The first two editions of Eternity RPG (well before we self-published) were class-based. We had something like eight classes at the time that were all highly thematic and individualized. Then, in a third edition, one of our early players mentioned Skyrim and how much they loved creating a character entirely their own – no “class” restrictions. So, guess what? We tried that too. But, with some problems.
Here was the big problem with our class-less RPG experience and why we eventually switched back to a *primarily* class-based system. By the end of the campaign, everyone’s characters were exactly the same. Yes, they all started out completely different with totally unique character concepts, and they were substantially unique and different characters for the majority of the campaign. However, as the game progressed and players started seeing what worked with others’ characters, they started copying strategies.
Everyone’s A Super Swordsman-Wizard-Dragon
“That swordsman can heal himself? Maybe my chaos wizard could benefit from a heal as well.”
“I can leap fifty feet into the air, but you can fly? I’m going to start specializing towards flying too. That sounds way better.”
Since there’s no rules to prevent characters from building anything they want, given enough time and gaming sessions, they can (and eventually do) all build super swordsmen-wizard-dragons. Everyone’s characters typically end up being exactly the same by the end of the game. What we’ve found with class-based games, though, is that characters actually get more defined throughout the game, not less. Their characters get further into the classes they’ve chosen, thus providing even stronger role fulfillment (based on their classes) in their adventuring groups.
Eternity RPG’s Roots
It took us a while to come back around, but we eventually did settle on a primarily class-based game. It’s also true to our roots though, and we just decided that Eternity RPG, because of the type of game designers we are, works better as a class-based game. No doubt, other designers have made class-less games that really work a lot better than our short foray into the free-form world, and there’s certainly great class-less games out there. But that’s not us.
Some of our most-read posts for Eternity RPG have been about the Eternity RPG classes. As we’ve looked back over the last several months of just our web traffic alone, it’s obvious that people love the concept of RPG classes, and love to see what classes in any given RPG can “do.” At Eternity RPG, we love RPGs of all kinds. We grew up playing video game RPGs. It was always fun just to see the concept of classes for each game. We used to look up other games just to see what their “classes” could do – how each game defined classes, and what made those classes special.
Ultimately, we have fun with class-based games, so we had to make Eternity RPG class-based.
Epic Levels And Advancement in Eternity RPG
There’s been a lot of work going into the Eternity RPG main game. We update the game every 3 months and email that update for free to all game owners.
But lately we’ve been hard at work at the Eternity RPG Epic Expansion, which will allow players to play from Lv.10 – 100+. Yes, that’s right. Now that the main game has such a robust foundation, it’s possible to allow for essentially unlimited levels. The way we’re going to do it though? A form of class-less gaming similar to multiclassing.
Once you hit Lv.10 with a class, you can either start at Lv.1 in a new class or take an “epic level” in your existing Lv.10 class. My fallen paladin I mentioned earlier? He’s now Lv.21. Lv.10 fallen paladin. Lv.10 revenant. Lv.1 dragon knight. I’m getting to play multiple classes, taking my favorite portions from each. I still have structure when playing, but the game is allowing me to sort of “break the rules” a little bit and go outside of the box. It’s led to a lot of great roleplaying moments, adding new classes to my character, as well.
Epic Spells And Abilities
Starting at Lv.11 and every 10 levels thereafter, you can choose an “epic” spell or ability. Epic spells and abilities are twice as powerful as any critical and allow you to choose small areas in which your character becomes truly world-class. The Eternity RPG epic expansion merges the best parts of class-less and class-based gaming by “breaking the base game’s rules” at higher level play by allowing players to mix their favorite parts of various classes.
Do we anticipate everyone to eventually become super swordsmen-wizard-dragons? Yes. By perhaps Lv.100+. But Eternity has 24 classes, meaning that a player would have to reach Lv.240 to become even close to the same as everyone else (due to epic levels). That’s still possible. We’re sure someone will eventually play Eternity RPG enough hours to hit that level. But’s it’s not a big concern for us. If you hit Lv.240, you probably should be able to be anything you want in life.