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A class as weird as its setting?

CitizenKeen

Rules Lawyer
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Jumping in to echo Spire, with the weirdest and best classes I've ever encountered.

The midwife who takes care of children and also slowly turns into a giant spider?

The voice of the Resistance who eventually becomes immortal as long as hope lives on?

The librarian/train engineer who can teleport into dimensions adjacent and forgotten hypotheticals?

The merchant priest who literally buys friendship, whether the target wants to be friends or not?

I've never seen anything even approach the Spire.
 

D13

Luckily Unlucky
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Not as weird as Spire, but I enjoy the thematic elements that the Mutant Crawl Classics classes have, like "Plantient" sentient plant adventurers.
 

FamousWerewolf

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7th edition Gamma World (the one based on D&D4e rules) deserves a shout-out here I think. As weird post-apocalyptic mutants, you had to roll for two classes (which were sort of class and species combined) and smush them together to create your character, so depending on how the dice fell you could end up being an octopus android, or a telepathic plant, or a yeti with wings. I think once you'd levelled up enough you could even add a third class on top to mutate into something even weirder (forgive me if I'm misremembering!).
 

Straife Milton

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I didn't mean settings that had weird classes (although these are some interesting suggestions). I meant, classes FOR Numenera that were as unique and tailored to the setting as some of these other suggestions are for their respective settings. Nanos were clearly inspired by DnD mages and Glaives by fighters (even though they can be given some odd powers.)
If Numenera had classes as odd as its setting, what would those classes be?
 

Octopus Prime

Retired User
Blades in the Dark has playbooks that, while technically not classes, have pretty much the same function to me. In any case, I always felt the Whisper playbook was as singularly weird as the BitD setting. A ghost-whispering and nefarious arcanist just seems like something that only works in the context of BitD. Of course, YMMV!
For me the real Fresh Classes were the Spider and the Leech. Most of them relate back to fairly common RPG class types - sneaky one, talky one, fighty one, magic one, etc. - but the Inventor and the Schemer tend to come up a lot less.
 

inoshiro

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7th edition Gamma World (the one based on D&D4e rules) deserves a shout-out here I think. As weird post-apocalyptic mutants, you had to roll for two classes (which were sort of class and species combined) and smush them together to create your character, so depending on how the dice fell you could end up being an octopus android, or a telepathic plant, or a yeti with wings. I think once you'd levelled up enough you could even add a third class on top to mutate into something even weirder (forgive me if I'm misremembering!).
If I remember right, your mutations constantly changed and shifted—like, from scene to scene—and items often burned out after they were used (as a way to get players cycling through the item and mutation cards more frequently) but your base species combo remained the same, and I don't think you added a third base race/class thing later on. (I do remember it was capped at Level 10.)

(I could be wrong: I've never played this edition, but someone threw in the complete game series when I was buying some older editions of Gamma World, so I read through it out of curiosity.)
 

Straife Milton

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If I remember right, your mutations constantly changed and shifted—like, from scene to scene—and items often burned out after they were used (as a way to get players cycling through the item and mutation cards more frequently) but your base species combo remained the same, and I don't think you added a third base race/class thing later on. (I do remember it was capped at Level 10.)

(I could be wrong: I've never played this edition, but someone threw in the complete game series when I was buying some older editions of Gamma World, so I read through it out of curiosity.)
That's interesting and weird, and doesn't necessarily slot into one stereotypical old-school role.
Numenera almost brags that unlike DND the players don't understand the world and the powers around them. But the Nanos (or at least the player) is going to be every bit as familiar with some of those powers as a mage with magic missile. The Nano's powers aren't really any more mysterious than a d20 wizard's spells, they're understood pretty well by the player. Although a lot of people understandably might not want to play it, I can imagine something like the wild mage, where the player can't fully understand their own nano-powers. Something will always be left unknown or not mundanely predictable.
 

inoshiro

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That's interesting and weird, and doesn't necessarily slot into one stereotypical old-school role.
I'd agree, though I'll also say that I don't know how much it actually impacts play. From reading it (and the occasional actual play I managed to hear online) the majority of GW7E play seems to have followed D&D4 in being first and foremost a tactical combat game. No minis, probably because the recent line was so short-lived (and the inclusion of sturdy tokens stood in sufficiently for most people), but it feels like the kind of game you could easily see people playing with minis, if it had caught on enough for minis to ever be made or repurposed for it.

Numenera almost brags that unlike DND the players don't understand the world and the powers around them. But the Nanos (or at least the player) is going to be every bit as familiar with some of those powers as a mage with magic missile. The Nano's powers aren't really any more mysterious than a d20 wizard's spells, they're understood pretty well by the player. Although a lot of people understandably might not want to play it, I can imagine something like the wild mage, where the player can't fully understand their own nano-powers. Something will always be left unknown or not mundanely predictable.
I'm actually reading Numenera at the moment and I don't know that I'd call it "bragging" so much as "trying very hard to establish tone." I'm not sure that's disagreement, of course: I feel like for a setting that is supposed to be so unknown and so weird and new and different, it feels like a sort of D&Dified Gamma World with more highfaultin' weirdness mashed in, and the magitech items jiggered so they cycle in and out of the party's possession faster.

Ironically, I think a lot of OSR folks would dig playing a "nano"-type character who doesn't completely understand his or her own powers, and isn't in complete control. (Think of all the "risky casting" systems in OSR systems and supplements over the years. I certainly remember seeing the Chaos Magic table in some old AD&D2E book—Forgotten Realms Adventures, I think it was?—and being staggered by the idea your magic user could cast a spell and not know for sure what the outcome would actually be till it was cast.)

I agree, though, that broadly the three classes do feel a lot like magic user, rogue, and fighter, and that Numenera would have been a richer setting if it'd either done away with class altogether, or had come up with a weirder range of classes that complement the ostensible weirdness of the setting. (And there is weird there, if you spend time working your way through the exhaustive worldbuilding.)

My main complaint about Numenera, actually, is that it exhaustive worldbuilding: it presents the Ninth World setting as if it's a canned setting, when I'd rather have seen a lot more skeletal outline of the regions presented, a more OSR-styled toolkit for making your own Ninth World, packed with useful material, inspirational ideas, tables, adventure seeds, and guidance on different ways to use the setting—possible even something about different modes of play, something I loved in Paranoia and was glad to see repurposed in Nights Black Agents, among other recent games. I mean, maybe that exists somewhere later in the book: I'm on page 320 at the moment and haven't seen it so far, as all I can say.

Monte Cook has said that Numenera is all about exploration, and I'm sure some groups play it as if it is—parleying more than fighting—but I think the system has plenty of combat-specific content (to cater to gamers who'll default to that, which makes sense: you don't sell books by telling people, "Stop RPGing the way you like, there are other ways you should be doing and I'm now going to teach you how..."). The thing is that this plenitude means there isn't a huge incentive to branch out into playing things in a more explorers-in-a-bizarro-world it any way other than how one learned to do RPGing, i.e. like one or another flavor of D&D, especially 3/3.5. (And the Free RPG Day adventures I've seen kinda reinforce that, if you ask me.)

Also, I went cross-eyed at the length and detail of the feats section. If you can forgive a classical music analogy, it made me think of how Robert Schumann used to orchestrate his compositions late in his life: he didn't trust any member of the orchestra to catch their cue and enter on time, so everyone ended up doubling someone else the whole way through, and the result sounds like musical mud. Of course, it's not an exact analogy: nobody wants to hear Schumann in the original orchestrations except as a curiosity: lots of people seem to crave and appreciate the amount of detail baked into massive chapters filled with feat after feat, as plenty of major RPG lines make clear. But having started in the hobby when people either learned how to make rulings from vague guidelines or end up writing to Dragon every week for rules quibbles and "Sage Advice," I kind of feel like the amount and depth of detail devoted to each feat or level-up ability is a little overkill.

Since Blades in the Dark's classes have been mentioned, I will also mention that I agree: the Spider and the Leech are fun and feel different and new. I haven't played a Spider—the group I'm playing with is very new but more importantly a small group, and it feels like a class that gets more mileage with a bigger group—but I think that's also interesting: classes that work better when you have a bigger group, or that become a little less workable when you have a smaller one. One effect of a lot of the changes we've seen in 5E is that there's an effort to make sure groups can function without, say, clerics, or wizards—but also to ensure that people can play a party composed of whatever individual players actually happen to want to play. (I don't feel like clerics are particularly necessary anymore for healing, for example... at least for a group that understands that sometimes fleeing is wiser than standing their ground.) I kind of dig that some classes might not work with small groups. or might be more useful if you're running with a bigger group.

To go back to Numenera, I think that's probably something in pay about the classes being familiar-feeling: weirdo, bizarre classes sound great, but people can end up wondering, "What am I supposed to do with this character?" (Hell, it's not uncommon to hear that about practically any RPG that isn't D&D.) Mainstream players are sometimes anxious to create a "fun" character, where "fun" means the character's role and purpose in a given group or party is not a baffling mystery, and is "useful" in some sense. I think weird classes are a bit like, well, like Robert Schumann: they appeal to a smaller number of people than some of us might imagine, and for pretty understandable reasons... hence the samey-ness of classes and assumptions in a lot of mainstream games that nonetheless emphasize their differences in ways that convince lots of people they are different.

(A parallel would be the difference in perspective between musicians and nonmusicians about the degree of similarity or difference between two specific and closely related music genres, like say classic rock and country-western music. Musicians—especially those who've played both—know that mostly the difference is in stylization and trappings, but that both genres are built on the exact same musical bedrock. But many, many devoted fans of each genre are enraged by this observation, because for them the trappings and stylization are the important differences, and the fundamental musical underpinnings simply never come up on their radar.)

That's not to say nonmusicians have nothing interesting to say about music or to dismiss their consumption of it as bad or wrong: it's just that they're paying attention to—and defining things, and sometimes deriving most of their pleasure from—different aspects of the same music than musicians are. And I'd say that probably is true of the divide between people interested enough to get into a discussion like this on an internet RPG forum versus people who play but wouldn't get into a discussion like this online.
 

Straife Milton

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Numenera is (well, in my opinion) missing out if its world has not yet developed a role or job or a skill that has no counterpart in a DnD or most settings like an Enterprise crew on like Star Trek. A billion years of civilizations rising and falling with the potential for magical technology that is only limited by imagination... ought to have left something that could lead in that direction.
 

inoshiro

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I would cautiously agree, though I'd note that Numenera does seem to have plenty of people doing very unusual, setting-particular jobs, like "trash miner" and "artifact cult leader" and so on; I feel like NPCs could be pretty much any weird, exotic thing the GM can think up. It's just that its adventuring classes in the setting seem very familiar (in the D&D mold) and curiously plain-vanilla, for a setting crammed with so much weirdness.

For some people, that's a feature: they get to do a D&D-like game with a very different setting. (This is a selling point that should not be underestimated. Getting people to learn a new ruleset is already asking a lot for a large proportion of the hobby. Getting them to learn a new ruleset while also getting accustomed to a game where their characters are doing stuff very unlike what their characters in past games have done isn't impossible, but it's a big ask. If I were a former D&D developer, and knew most people who knew my name encountered me in that capacity, and I was launching a game company, my flagship game would probably be something that offered at least a somewhat D&D-like experience, with enough of a balance between familiar and unfamiliar stuff to sell to (and entertain) a reasonable segment of that group of people.

Sure, for you and me, that seems more like a flaw: we ask, "Why are there not more and adventuring weirder classes? It's like a billion years in the future!"

I wouldn't be surprised if Monte Cook's response was that the classes are mechanical templates capable of creating a wide range of weird characters, and that the "weird" and "unique" comes from the way the player creates and imagines the character. ("I'm a[n] ADJECTIVE NOUN who VERBS.")

Also, probably that Numenera's set in a postapocalyptic dark age and that adventurer types in a dark age would tend to fall into those groups; that if there was a game 5,000 or 10,000 years into the future of the Ninth World you might have very exotic character classes and types.

I likewise wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people felt what Numenera really needs is a more subclasses and more feats to fill them out.

Ha, I think what I'm saying is that on some level this discussion kind of recapitulates the "edition wars" and that, having lived through that (and been directly affected by it) Cook probably—at least on some level—anticipated people would react with some of these criticisms, and, it being a flagship game for his then-fledgling company, erred on the side of what he felt would generate the most appeal.

Now I'm having fun imagining an OSR-sensibility version of Numenera (which I imagine as something a bit like Yoon-Suin), and a 4E sensibility one, and a Pathfinder sensibility one (with feat supplements and an free app you almost, but not quite, need in order to to run the game), and some old fellas in the back of the hall grumbling, "Eh, I prefer the Little Grey Book Numenera, that's the real Numenera!" (And waving around a few little forty-eight page grey booklets.)

Envisioning those, I can see why Cook designed it the way he did, actually.
 
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