I want you to understand something important before we get started, I love the thing that I am about to criticize. I spent a hundred and fifty dollars in money I didn’t have last year on table top RPG materials I probably shouldn’t have bought and the reason is because I love this stuff.
Obviously I’m not trying to raise my opinion above criticism by claiming to be a friend of the thing I am needling, because nothing is more obnoxious than seeing someone say “I am a blank but I think blank sucks and that’s why my opinion carries more weight”. People do that all the time on the internet and it’s stupid. I merely mention my familiarity with Tabletop materials so you understand my criticism comes from a place of adoration. And because I love this stuff, the following sentence should be taken in context:
Almost all of your favorite table top RPGs are screwing with you and it’s probably your own damn fault.
Yeah, you heard me. I said that. I went there. Let’s do this.
I arrived at this rather awful conclusion when I downloaded the brand spanking new playtest for the Pathfinder’s upcoming Occult Adventures, the latest core rulebook in the Pathfinder line and Paizo’s attempt to bring the old 3.5 Psionics into their product line. There’s a little weasel wording in the book, Paizo’s writers call it “Psychic Magic” and at one point they pretend that this is wholly original idea, but I assure you that this playtest and the book that will follow it next year are another attempt by Paizo to mine 3.5’s old gold to please ex-Wizards of the Coasters who jumped ship after 4th ed. No matter what they call it, this is Pathfinder’s version of Psionics. The knowledge that this is another rehash is bitter sweet to me, because frankly the most fun I’ve ever had with Pathfinder has always been when they deliberately zigged away from Old D&D’s Zag. Remember Paizo is the game company that finally gave us real gun stats after 15 years of begging WoTC to flesh something out (and no, D20 Modern doesn’t count).
So I opened the PDF, already a little underwhelmed, and I confirmed my suspicion: six new character classes and they are pretty close to the D&D character classes that *cough* “inspired” them. At first I was a little furious, damn these mother @#$%^ for building a thirty dollar book around six old ass character classes. Damn them!
There was going to be nothing new in this book except six character classes in a game that already had a huge glut of new character classes. Advanced Class Guide had JUST come out and as much as I love the new Investigator class, that entire book was basically a multiclassing cul-de-sac. Hell, in the opening remarks for every new class they LITERALLY list what previously published classes could be combined to make one of their brand new classes in the ACG. Investigator had ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED under a different name in the alternate classes of another book, same with the Swashbuckler. ACG was a way to grab cash out of me and now Occult Adventures wasn’t going to be that different.
New character classes are an utterly pathetic way to grab a fan’s attention because they’re a way to offer something new with out needing to strain their brain cells that hard. This is because of a sad, basic fact most people who follow RPGs of all types fail to acknowledge: We already have all the Character Classes we’ll ever need. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created exactly three Character Classes for the 1st Ed D&D (Fighter, Magic Users, Cleric) and only added one more for the Grayhawk supplement (Thief) bringing the grand total to four. Those Four character classes more or less cover the entire Role playing gaming universe. You just change the names or the weapons or the story. Look, fundamentally, despite differences in fluff and gameplay this….
Is also this…
Well, maybe not that. Nothing will ever be like that.
But my point remains the same, there are so many fundamental similarities within the various systems and game settings (and thanks to the D20 and OGL, it might even be the SAME friggin system or setting) that I no longer think it’s fair for game companies to publish big, nasty hardcover books with slick production values that require me to fork over big bucks just so I can get another version of “This hero is sneaky, this hero is strong, this hero uses magic, etc”. Every new supplement for every game feels like they’re going to stick me with more character classes I don’t need so we can all put the same marks on graph paper. In fact, I’m starting to question the very POINT of a character class because, god damn it, every game has them. Some call them professions or careers or clans but they’re all character classes and they all piss me off. Vampire the Masquerade had 13 clans of vampires that were extremely important to the story of the game and guess what? They were really character classes. Thirteen of them plus a gazillion bloodlines. And if you didn’t like them, you could multiclass as a Caitiff. But WHY? It’s a vampire, who cares what my “class” is? Green Ronin published a DC Superhero RPG and guess what? It had Character classes. Why? It’s superheroes! Why not just build a character, give him super powers and then play, why do we even need to add another unneeded layer to the character creation process?
The third book in the Star Wars Role-playing Trilogy is coming out next year, it’s called Force and Destiny and it will finally introduce playable Jedi into the game and I guarantee you it will have some variation of “This is a Fast Jedi, this is Strong Jedi, this Jedi has lots of Force Powers but can’t wear heavy armor, etc”
And do you want to know the worst part about this? None of this is really the game company’s fault.
I logged into Paizo’s forums to complain a little about the addition of new classes and do you know what I saw? People were happy. They were happy that they were getting a product they had already been sold several times before in a different package! People were excited and a lot of the guys who weren’t excited were just upset that this book’s character classes weren’t more similar to the character classes they were “inspired” by. The Same Classes that these people ALREADY HAD THE STATS FOR FROM 3.5! Are you frigging kidding me?
But this illustrates my point. We as gamers love character classes, they represent this incredible short cut to our very specific dreams of being much cooler than we actually are. And we keep falling into the trap that more character classes are different, that they will get us closer to our individual character concepts, as if each character class lets us become a more specific kind of special snowflake. Have you ever gone to the World of Warcraft forums? That thing is filled with specific requests for a Bard class or a Demon Hunter class, because the people who spend thirty hours a week on that game want to be as unique and as specific as possible with their individuality and since every racial choice uses the same six hairdos, classes are the next step towards that goal.
And I am no different. That’s the part that truly stings, a part of me is excited as about the Arcane Adventures, I am looking forward to drawing up a twentieth character for Pathfinder Society, I already reserved the name in their database. All that bitching i did over the Advanced Class Guide? I still bought one. I will still buy a copy of Arcane Adventures. I am already imagining ways I can use this in private games and it frustrates the hell out of me.
Game companies have us going and coming by offering us something that costs very little to produce but that we will pay through the nose to get because it makes us feel special in a fictional universe that already gave us all the tools we needed to feel special in the first place. We are screwed, together, collectively, and me? I am double screwed because once I get done paying for Occult Adventures, Star Wars Force and Destiny comes out…and I will buy it. Do you know why? Do you REALLY want to know why? Because I really want to play a “Fast Jedi” because it will make me feel cool and unique. In fact I specifically held off buying the first two books until the third book came out and I saw their rules on playing a “Fast Jedi”. By even hinting at the potential to play a “Fast Jedi”, they sold three books.