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?