Rampant Games - Class- and Skill-Based Systems
Jay Barnson has continued his series on class-based and skill-based character systems with posts on each. From Staying Classy:
Enforces Specialization / Role Cohesion: Class-based games can make sure characters are really good at a few things rather than mediocre in a lot of areas. This is desirable in party-based games, especially in multiplayer games where it’s good to have each player feel like they are unique in some way, or at least “the best” at one or two things. It encourages cooperation and keeps any one player from hogging the limelight.
Restricted Content: This is both an advantage and limitation. If characters are missing certain classes and the key skills associated with the class, as a designer you may be forced to choose between denying access to the content, or watering down the specialization. A classic example of this is the rogue / thief class. In old-school D&D, at early levels, if you needed someone to climb a sheer wall, sneakily spy on the enemy, or unlock a door, the thief was your guy. If you had no thief in the party, you might be out of luck entirely (in a CRPG, this would mean being locked out of some content). However, at later levels in D&D, spellcasters had access to spells (levitate and fly, scrying, and door-opening spells) that rendered the thief’s specialization almost useless. This was partially rectified in 1st edition Advanced D&D by giving the high-level thief the oft-forgotten ability to cast spells from scrolls, further watering down specialization but at least giving the thief something useful to do now that his specializations had been trumped.
...and from Skill-Based Systems (what, no headline pun, Jay?):
Skill Combination Imbalance: It’s a lot harder to balance skill-based games, and one of the challenges comes from the difficulty of testing all possible skill combinations. If the game system is “interesting,” meaning that there are several skills that can interact with each other in a course of action, there’s a chance that some “combos” of skills are far more effective than others. If it’s extreme enough, this can cause game balance issues. One example of this is in Dungeons & Dragons 3.0, where the reworked “Haste” spell – which was intended to make higher-level melee characters moderately more deadly in combat - could be used to allow spellcasters to double-cast spells every round, which was an extremely powerful side-effect (and corrected in 3.5). And speaking from personal experience, the challenges of balancing feats like Dual Wield, Speedy, Auto-Fade and the various special attacks in Frayed Knights felt like it was constantly fraught with peril. I still don’t know if I got ‘em all right, but at least they don’t seem terribly broken.