For a while now I’ve been nagged by the proliferation of classes in D&D and its various iterations and clones. I know that everybody likes to try new things, including new classes, but really some of these classes just shouldn’t be.
Please allow me to explain. The conceit of D&D, or at least early versions of D&D, is that the characters were money-grubbing murder-hobos…more or less. They weren’t Big Damned Heroes out to save the world (again, and again, and again). They were just looking to score a quick buck, or maybe they just didn’t have any better prospects in life (Son, you’re a lousy farmer. You should try your luck crawling into dark holes and murdering goblins for their coppers).
Of course, over time, that basic conceit has evolved. Now, modern iterations of ‘The Game,’ such as 4E and Pathfinder, assume that the PCs are indeed Big Damned Heroes out to save the world (again, and again, and again). As such, I’ll allow that the proliferation of certain classes for those games makes more sense. A Warlord isn’t out to rob a tomb, but to save the world from Evil…and then presumably carve out a kingdom where he (or she) can do Warlord-y stuff (I guess).
So, I’ll limit my critique to older versions of D&D:
The Assassin – Why in the hell would an assassin be crawling around in a dungeon in the first place? Don’t assassins make enough money, you know, assassinating people? I can see this class in an political/urban campaign, but even most of those games involve at least a few dungeon crawls. You could say they might need something special, like a magic item or some ingredient for a rare poison, but then can’t they just hire normal adventurers to find it for them? ‘Cause, you know, dungeon delving is insanely dangerous work (in old school, at least).
The Bard – I can see no valid reason for these fancy-pants to delve a dungeon. Sure, I can see why a bunch of dirty murder-hobos would love to have a bard around: motivational music, light thieving, some spellcasting, plus having a bard around lends a veneer of respectability. But what does the bard get out of it, aside from a quick, nasty death? These guys (and gals) should be rockin’ taverns, feast halls and royal courts, not getting dungeon ick all over their sweet silk threads.
The Druid – I suppose you could say that killing orcs and goblins somehow protects the wilderness, or something, but casting these nature hippies as treasure-hunters doesn’t really fit. Given their neutral and nature-lovin’ ways, druids could just as easily help the wilderness by walking into a city and murdering actual people at random (yes, I’m saying orcs and goblins aren’t ‘people’).
The Illusionist – I suppose an illusionist would have the same motivations for dungeoneering as a normal wizard, but why the necessity for an entirely separate sub-class of wizard? I mean, if a player were hell-bent on playing an “illusionist,” couldn’t they just make a normal wizard that only casts illusion spells? Just saying.
The Monk – Let’s see: noble scion of enlightenment seeks group of bloodthirsty cut-throats to murder/death/kill monsters and take their stuffs. Here’s a quote from Swords & Wizardry complete (because it’s what I have within easy reach): “As a monk, you are a seeker after enlightenment, a member of an ascetic religious order pursuing mental, spiritual and physical perfection.” Sure, the monk is cool for all his martial-arts bad-assery and all that. But, how exactly does that fit the tomb-robber mold of old D&D? I guess there are several paths to perfection…including beating the crap out of monsters.
The Ranger – The ranger class is a borderline case. They were added to the game because of the awesome that is Aragorn, and they’re nice to have in the wilderness, no doubt. I can even see them delving dungeons, if only to fight Evil. But their selflessness doesn’t really fit the classic D&D conceit of the treasure-hunting murder-hobo. I’m thinking if a ranger wanted to make a habit of going into dungeons, maybe he’d just change professions and become a regular fighter instead?
Which I guess leads, in a round-about way, to my larger point. Most of the above mentioned classes suggest viable vocations outside of the dungeon. Rangers and druids patrol the wilderness; bards entertain people; monks meditate in isolated temples, seeking enlightenment and ultimate truth; and assassins skulk through city streets, paid fat stacks to kill important people. None of them have a good reason to dungeon delve on a regular basis.
So maybe we need new classes? Classes that specialize in various aspects of dungeoneering…
After all, everyone loves new classes.