Friday, May 22, 2009

A little theory on races and classes (lore)

It's time to think a little about theory, and since I'm already on it, I'll just share some thoughts and file this under rambling and brainstorming. 
As the first cities and villages soon need to be filled with life, it's about time to decide how this life should look like. That means, I'm considering the different races, classes and how they fit into this world. I already pointed out that going with the standards and stereotypes is no option, however, I'm reconsidering the amount of changes I really want to make. On the server I play on, a lot of classes have very specific lore and places in the world, which first appealed to me and made me want to do the same. However, a very specific place in the world can also be very restrictive, like for example, a lot of prestige classes require the player to join a specific organization or guild, which again comes with a set of rules that might limit the character too much. But that alone isn't the problem, I also figured that some things that sound awesome in theory just don't work in reality. There are a lot of caveats, some caused by the amount of work for the player (requiring an incredible amount of RP time that can't be catered by DMs, feeling of being stuck), some caused by the amount of work for DMs, some caused by game mechanics. Also, I always thought it's not the build and choice of classes that makes a character, the game mechanics should just be a tool to form a character, and what counts is how it's played out. I want classes to blur into each other, in some cases it's even fun when you play for months with someone and never have an idea what his actual class is. 
I thought I'd start loosely rambling about classes and races in between other things from now on, filling you in with some lore and ideas how certain things fit into Middleforest. 
Why not start with races and my favourite race, the utterly adorable elves? A good start because they give me the least problems, I already know pretty well how they fit into the world. So here we go.


Races - Elves:

Elves and Halflings are the most commonly seen non-human races in the civilised lands around the forest. As we know, the game mechanics give us a few options on elves, the most commonly used is probably the Moon Elf, while the special case is the Drow. 
Even though the elven subraces blur into each other and one can use pretty much any base but drow to jump in right away, I might rename the most commonly used Moon Elf to City Elf.

These City - or civilised elves live in human cities, but often as second-class citizens. They might live as gypsies and travel the roads, might live in an elven quarter of a human city and work in human professions which may range from tailor to beggar. Female elves have a certain natural beauty that appeals to humans, so elven performers or, in the worst case, prostitutes, are well received by 
human males, although rare due to the moral standards most elves still share. The male elf has it worse in a human society, as they can't even play the slight advantage of female beauty they are often simply seen as second class citizens or even picked on for their "lack of masculinity". However, elves with a strong will and a talent to impress occasionally gain respect and a good standing in human surroundings.  
City elves still share a certain bond to nature like their wild relatives, however, they are far away from the usual cliché of tree-hugging ethereal beauties. Forget the Disneyland stereotype, they should more be treated as, say, an asian in Europe, different, but not astounding.  
The only exception to this is the dark or "Mountain Elf" (Drow) who is so rarely seen many believe they just exist in tales. 
Game mechanical note: I consider changing the City Elf's favoured class to something more down-to-earth than
 Wizard, this is not decided yet but would make sense if it's not causing too many problems. 


Classes - Barbarian

I chose the Barbarian as my first example not only because he shows up first in the class list, but also to give an example for avoiding stereotypes in Middleforest.
The first thing we think about a Barbarian is of course the uncivilised rude Neanderthal who's barely able to speak but quick in bashing things out of his way. Maybe the nicest thing that comes to the mind is that of a proud, honorable tribesman, maybe a Native American, which already comes closer, but doesn't quite hit the nail. The name Barbarian goes back to the Greek who used the name for everyone who wasn't able to speak proper, which originally even included the Roman Empire, and the Romans adopted the word and used it for anyone not sharing their culture and education. 
For Middleforest this means, Barbarians are Outsiders of all colours. They can be Nomads, they may be tribesmen, but they might also be of a certain education or civilisation "outside the ordinary". Think of Vikings, think of Goths, Saxons, Franks, or simply propaganda about a nearby land. We will not be historical accurate in a fantasy world, so while the "more civilised" lands might have reached the modern age already (cities might resemble a 16th, 17th century atmosphere), the atmosphere further in the wilds or a few hundred miles over the sea might easily drop you a few centuries back in time, and the warriors you meet there would simply be called barbarians even though being a knight in their society. Take this as an example for the freedom of choice you still have with this single class. Or, the other way around, the freedom of class choices you have if you want to be a barbarian in roleplay.


Classes - Red Dragon Disciple 

Unless someone can come up with a very good reason why I shouldn't - this class is easiest to deal with. Out. Disabled. It's a cheesy high fantasy munchkin class that doesn't really fit the setting at all. Winged characters would be considered demons, poked with pitchforks and end up on the pyre anyway. I *might* consider making them a totally evil, outsider demon thing that can hang around with dragons somewhere in a volcano, or somewhere where I store the tieflings, but it wouldn't be fun to play such a thing I assume. No really, sorry, but it doesn't make sense. 


Ben Harrison said...

If I was of a more sensitive disposition I might be offended by your section on RDDs, being a long-time player of dragon disciples in high fantasy settings. I'd probably be categorised as a cheesy munchkin(?) by many, as well, but I'd be happy to make a common-born magic-less human male in one of their ultra-gritty unfantastical settings and roleplay them into the ground to prove my point. Whatever that is.

Otherwise, very interesting post. At some point I think you've got to fall back onto your playerbase of roleplayers to maintain a world's integrity -- if your players don't "get it" or have a different playing style or understanding of the world, no amount of rules and lore posts are likely to mould them into the players you want -- but the attitude you show will go a long way to attracting the right sort of players from the start. I also agree with the idea that classes are just tools to best represent a roleplayer's character, rather than a set of arbitrary "life rules" that somehow influence everything a character is and does beyond who they actually are. I prefer a process of a character's, er, character resulting in his or her classes, rather than the other way around.

So you could stress "if your character is like this, choose this class!" rather than "if you chose this class, your character must be this!", as the latter can be a bit offputting.

Enough incoherent ranting from me. Good work!

Casa said...

Heh, I'm sorry Ben... I can be a little harsh when it comes to my personal (frankly a little biased) view on classes. In most cases, I usually say the class doesn't matter, only the way it is roleplayed, but there are exceptions and the RDD is probably the most exceptional one, partly for it's "lore" that is not easy to change and mostly for it's unrealistic powers and, last but not least, appearance. Winged chars that breath fire are simply something I totally can't imagine running through my civilized areas, the devil himself couldn't have a greater impact on the folks who live there. The very unrealistic stat increases and other class features just add to it.
As I said, I'm very biased here, Most RDDs I've seen were simply heavily overpowered H&S tanks with ridiculous backstories to justify the growth of wings and power, and it's the only class I absolutely can't imagine any lore for that would fit my setting, unless they really live far far away from any civilization and never meet common people.

However, back to the rest you said - I'm going into a slightly more fantastic direction again than I initially planned, and the reason for this is because of my experience on an ultra-gritty, unfantastical server. I like the approach, but there are too many classes in NWN that need a little more than a truly medieval experience, and last but not least, after a few months many players are longing for at least a little more fantasy, after all real life is gritty enough. I don't want to change classes as much as I originally planned anymore, I also think about the plateau being more in the mid-levels and, last but not least, I want to cater every class as good as I can, even if it's a little unrealistic. Certain classes will have to live with the fact that they have to travel a little further than others to find an environment that accepts their profession, but maybe that'll make playing them a little more interesting.

Ben Harrison said...

Me too, Casa (about being harsh when it comes to views on classes and settings), but I've found that if you give a skilled, fair roleplayer an "unrealistic," ultra-powerful PC, he or she will still contribute a lot more to your world than would a poor, greedy, and/or unscrupulous roleplayer, even if he's playing John McJohn the fieldhand.

I realise your opinion of the RDD class is (mostly?) based on how it fits (or doesn't fit) into your own setting, though, and that I can understand (and likely agree with) completely.

And yeah -- you could create a very low-magic/low-fantasy environment, but it'd probably mean heavily editing almost all of the classes (and races). Even a human Fighter with average stats is pretty "unrealistic" when he's 16th level. Quasi-realism ("if this COULD happen, this is HOW it would happen" realism) is what I'd aim for, personally.