Another Case for Class

It is amazing how much time I spend thinking about designing classes in MMOs when I really don’t care for them.  Or maybe I do.  Coming from a table top gaming background, many of those games had classes.  Sure, there were dalliances with systems like GURPS, but we always came back to D&D or some variant thereof.  Reading Tesh’s Quest for Glory post this morning (read it, it’s worth it – I’ll wait), I made the following comment:

I loved the Quest for Glory games, and I want that kind of differentiation between classes… however, every time I spend any serious effort thinking up a design for it, it always fails in an MMO sense. Yes, I want the rogue to advance by sneaking around and stealing things, planning jail breaks, cheating at games of chance, etc… but how do I fit those skills into a group dynamic?

Ultimately, I always end up at the idea of every character having two lives. The first if your traditional MMO style play, and the second is solo or specific group tailored quests that can cater to the class of the individual or the class set of a group (a rogue goes to the quest giver and is told “this is a two man job. you’ll need someone tough and good with a blade to pull this off.” meaning you need to duo the quest with a warrior, each of you having parts of the event tailored to your class’s strengths.

In the past, I’ve always tried to avoid this because it leads to heavy instancing… but I’ve gotten to the point where I think a better game design is giant city hubs of social activity with the majority of all adventures/quests in instances.

And it got me to thinking.  And while I worked the ideas rolled around in my head until I realized something… That second paragraph where I mention characters having two lives, that is exactly how the best table top games played out.

Four or five or six of us would gather and one of us would be the Dungeon Master.  We’d roll up our characters and play.  Our play would consist of two parts.  In the Adventure play, the group would head out on a quest, part of the major arc of the world we were in, and we’d investigate and fight, and mostly we’d play as a group, taking on roles in that group, occasionally a player would do something that only their class could do, but mostly this part of the game was rolling dice and reducing enemy hit points to zero.  Sound familiar?  The other half would be Development play.  Invariably, after an Adventure, we’d have learned some information that would point us into several possible directions.  The group would split up and handle tracking down leads.  The reality for this was because the full group could get together less often than subsets of our group could.  The result was that the rogue would head off to see if he could gather some more info from a bar down by the docks, the priest and paladin would head to the church library to do some research, and the mage would head to dinner with the town elders.  Each sub group would then have the DM play out for them a tailored mission in which they’d use their specific skills.  The rogue would use a disguise and then get in on a back room card game, manipulating the game and getting the other players drunk while easing information out of them.  The paladin and priest would discover a dark presence corrupting the church librarian and have to perform an exorcism.  The mage would use his knowledge of politics to get a better picture of who might be behind the dark days that are coming.  If the paladin had gone to the docks, the mage and rogue to the library, and the priest to the elders, each part would have played out completely differently, but possibly yielded the same results of finding the things the group as a whole needed to continue.

MMOs need this.  MMOs need two games.  One that encompasses the whole world and all the players with big dungeons and raids and guilds and… well, what we have now.   And they need to intersperse it with a class specific solo or small group game that caters to the class, the way single player RPGs can.  Many times in MMOs, I’m left feeling like a cog in a wheel, a box to be checked off on someone else’s spreadsheet.  Holy Spec Priest, check!  What it is missing are the elements that make me feel “Priest” or “Druid” instead of “Healing of an adequate level”, “Rogue” or “Hunter” instead of “DPS machine”.

One comment

  1. Tesh says:

    Hmm… well said. Seems to me the trick is to make those two games work well together, especially with a playerbase addicted to “progress”.

    Still, I think you’re right at a very fundamental level; these are different playstyles, so design should follow suit.

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