Multi-classing and social mobility

Here’s a thought to ponder. The rules for advancing and changing class within D&D reflect the social mobility opportunities from the time they were written.

Let me explain.

Back in the Classic D&D Age (late ’70s), social mobility was limited, but you had a job for life. If your father was a miner then it’s a good chance that you would also be a miner, just like his father before him. Likewise in D&D – once a Fighter, always a Fighter, with good odds that your father was a Fighter too. The ‘back sheep’ of the family became a Rogue (which is shorthand for “son of a Fighter who ran away to the big city and his folks never talked to him again”). Magic-Users represent the educated elite with their stereotypically poor physical skills and good qualifications.

Career paths were fixed. Work hard enough and you could become a leader of men from within your own Class, but social divisions meant you would never be fit to lead those from outside your profession, and societal constraints limit the advancement opportunities of minorities (sex or colour in the real world of the ’70s, Elves, Halflings and Dwarves in classic D&D).

Fast forward a few years into the glittering ’80s and along comes AD&D with the promise that Anyone can be Anything! Women could be stockbrokers and Halflings could be Wizards! The ceiling still existed, limiting career advancement (real world) and maximum level (AD&D), but your choice of career was no longer limited by cultural expectations. Some people even held down two jobs (Dual-classing) or switched employment (Multi-classing) and the future held much promise.

Moving into the new Millennium, and changing careers is an expected part of life. Gone are the days of having a job for life, and in Third Edition D&D multi-classing has become more common that just keeping a single class for the full 20 levels. Prestige Classes appear which are only accessible through prerequisites – these are jobs which demand experience as well as qualifications to enter. Holding down two jobs is possible, but switching careers to a better one is the preferred route to job satisfaction.

Then we’re at Fourth Edition, here and now. Your hero’s pension age has increased (30 levels rather than 20), and changing jobs is as ordinary as changing clothes. Whether you spend a week doing on the job training and just take one Multiclass Feat or cross between classes extensively, it’s up to you. It’s quite possible to take a Hybrid class, the D&D equivalent of having two part-time jobs. the prestige classes still exist as your hero gains experience, but now they can aspire to their Dream Job too – their Epic Destiny!

So what of the next edition?

The cynic inside me might suggest this means that the next edition of D&D will have no Classes at all as there’s no jobs to go around, but I would rather take an optimistic stance and hope it will have the best of all worlds: freedom to switch Classes should you decide, but no restrictions or limits to class mobility. Your destiny is truly in your own hands.

Is D&D a reflection of the real world, or merely one more product of it’s age?

What do you think?

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10 Responses

  1. Ameron says:

    Fantastic observations. When you spell it out like this it seems so obvious. Great post.

  2. callin says:

    Very good thoughts, insightful even.

  3. UHF says:

    Read my post here;
    http://greywulf.net/2012/01/what-third-edition-gets-right-part-three/

    PF\3.x lets the player advance by tossing a little here and there. What I’d like to see is lists of abilities. If you went back and forth between say Fighter and Ranger, you could keep advancing in your single weapon ‘list’ so you’d still get good at that.

    This is closer to reality. I write firmware, but I’ve hopped around between industries. I’m kick ass with a micro controller, but I haven’t exactly mastered any single industry. (I know a lot about many industries.)

  4. You make some good points there, and Ii do think there’s something in them, although I’d say it’s more of a subconscious than designed feature. Products of their time certainly. I guess that’s why all the WoD games came out when they did, and why post-apocalyptic games seem to be popping up.

  5. Elton says:

    Well, lets see, Class mobility. Hmmm . . . I think, and this is a big if, D&D can stay D&D if we treated the classes as Archetypes rather than just CLASSES as we know them in D&D.

    Pathfinder has paved the way for the Archetype, and oh mi gosh it’s clunky! But somehow it works. I liked the Warrior Group, the Wizard Group, the Rogue Group, and the Priest Group in AD&D 2nd Edition. However, if we had strong Archetypes in 5th edition, we can use one of the Archetypes to build our characters.

    Greywulf, you should do what Mutants and Masterminds got right, because I believe Mutants and Masterminds 3rd Edition is the true Fourth Edition of D&D. Let me stress, that after a couple of weeks running M&M 3rd Edition, M&M 3rd is what Fourth Edition D&D should have been in regards to creating a PC.

    Fourth Edition D&D doesn’t feel like D&D to me. But if it had M&M 3rd Edition styled character creation, I might be more happy to accept it as D&D. Take a look at your post a while ago about using M&M in a fantasy setting and compare creating characters in M&M 3rd with Fourth Edition D&D.

    Although it’s built for the Superhero Genre, M&M has more elegant PC creating mechanics than fourth and it uses powers. What more is there? Certainly with a Mystic and a Warrior, you can create most of all the characters you need for an adventuring party. With a Psionic and Martial Artist added for good measure. M&M 3rd should have been D&D 4th.

  6. Interesting reading of the classes, I love stuff like this. I don’t think the changing value of social mobility was at the forefront of the designers minds when they wrote the games, but I think you’ve found some pretty good evidence that the social climate of each decade had a big impact on how the rules were written. Remember when male and female characters had different ability score maximums? I doubt the desire for a mechanical distinction between the genders would even come up in a game written in this decade.

    • Geoff Smith says:

      Well, that was also 3d6 rolled in order. It was rare to get close to those maximums no matter what race they picked…

  7. Philo Pharynx says:

    Would the changing rules of skills reflect the changing attitude toward work/life balance? In the olden days you were your job and often mostly socialized with people from work. Nowadays people often think of their hobbies and interests as more defining of them than their career and have many circles of people.

    @Elton, M&M has a very different feel than D&D. A lot of this is progression. M&M at lower PL’s doesn’t play very differently from M&M at higher PL’s. In part because every ability is available to every character at character creation. Heroic D&D feels different from Paragon feels different from Epic (no matter what edition you play). A lot of this is because you get different kinds of abilities as you go up. It’s the same game, but gameplay evolves. Zak at D&D w/ p*** stars posted some stuff on it. (I can’t link because I’m at work), and a few others rolled with this.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like M&M, but it has a different feel.

  8. Bill says:

    When you put it like this, it all becomes so obvious. The only thing that didn’t get covered really is how when you’re a member of the elite (Wizard), multi-classing into the non-elite just comes back to bite you in the bottom.

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