Sep 4, 2009

Skills vs. Classes

The first RPG I was exposed to that used a skill system was GURPS. We played quite a bit of it while I was in the military. Because of the circumstance of being stationed at a base with a bunch of other guys and a LOT of free time a lot of gaming gets done. This was during the long dark period of 2nd edition - which had caused me to virtually abandon D&D.

On the surface a generic RPG that does everything sounds like a great idea. Well, so does a spork, which is neither a good spoon or a good fork. I thought at the time that a skill based RPG was superior to a class based RPG, it modeled real life better after all, right? And it allowed more specific customization of your character so it must be better. The skill system in GURPS turns out to be quite granular, and it has a complicated web of if your proficient at this then you'll be kinda proficient at that.

If I have skills in battle axing then I should also be able to use a mace or swing a sword to some degree, right? So I have battle axe level 3, and mace and sword around level 2.

In a class based game I'm a level 3 warrior. I can use any melee weapon as a level 3 warrior.

On a d20 this means using a mace my skill based character misses 1 in 20 times more often. This is a negligable 5% difference that in practical gameplay has little meaning for considerably more complication.

The only benefit I see is for those who like the post and pre game noodling of their character. Fiddling with all the possible choices. But, if like me, the fun for you is in the actual playing of the game a class based system is arguably superior in addition to being less complicated.

I can see the fun in endless customization choices for your character. I enjoyed 3rd edition's various prestige classes and feats quite a bit, until after the 30th supplement when the combination of choices became astronomical, and stat blocks practically became one-pagers (the OSR crowd can describe an entire dungeon in that space!). And to some degree the balance of class and skill was ok, though the skills were unnecessarily numerous. Bluff, climb, listen, move silently, search and spot covered 90% of skill use (YMMV).

I've come full circle on the issue. With my first RPG experience playing D&D, then migrating to GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Champions, Deadlands, L5R, several "indy" games, and so on. I can say D&D was the most fun to be had in general. (the one exception is a Pendragon game I played once that was probably the best gaming session ever experienced)

Skills are not superior to classes. Where the rubber meets the road: actual gameplay. Classes do the job admirably well.