April 24, 2011

Classes or skills, skills or classes? Archetypes!

Grognardia with its recent post about class versus skill systems got me thinking about my own preferences.

Looking back at my personal RPG history I definitely seem to be a "class guy". I started with D&D and proceeded through AD&D in its various incarnations. But looking at the details reveals that I have a definite penchant for skill systems. My first non-D&D game was Star Frontiers (in its German edition "Sternengarde") which I loved dearly... and the skill system (although somewhat strange) played a decent role in that.

Next followed Middle Earth Role Playing (MERP) (again in its German edition) which I loved dearly and played extremely intensely for about two years and there I also enjoyed the tight but flexible skill system derived from a highly tuned down Rolemaster.

And even AD&D really clicked with me starting with the 2nd edition and the introduction of the skill system there (which also heavily inspires the system I use in Hexer & Helden). And then we played Shadowrun (yet another time in its German edition) for a couple of years which I loved immensely. Until today. Actually so much that I have started writing a Shadowrun clone with extremely nice imagery which I will start posting once Gaia Gamma is done.

But James' post in Grognardia got me thinking about the whole matter of classes and skills. I really like classes for the the reference structure they provide to players. It's just so easy to pick up a class concept. But I also love skills for the personalization of characters they allow. Which lead me to the conclusion that I love most the concept behind these two approaches of handling things: Archetypes.

Archetypes represent a conceptual framework for a certain type of thing, being or whatever. And that is what I love most in games as they combine the rather freeform benefits of skill systems with the rather structured approach of classes. Shadowrun is my perfect game in that respect as the character creation is completely freeform and allows all kinds of concepts but lends itself extremely well to developing certain archetypes... like street samurai, deckers, mages, etc.

Thus Gaia Gamma will use a skill-based archetypical approach. Basically it is represented by the skill areas I already mentioned. To further enhance this I am going to add a kind of very simple and straightforward talent system to the skill areas. Basically a rank of 1 or 2 will provide the character with one specific talent per such skill area. Rank 1 talents will be more powerful and useful, rank 2 talents add some nice customization. Per skill area there will be 3-4 talents to choose from and each talent will get better with increasing experience levels further strengthening the notion of "Something exciting should happen at every level."

How the talents will look like is a matter for another post. Read ya!


  1. I'm not sure if I've already mentioned this, but you should definitely look at West End Games Star Wars RPG. It follows your rule of only D6's and allows for incredible character variety. The method focuses on skills rather than attributes to master activities, and you only have 2-4 points in any given attribute. I'm not suggesting this as a replacement, but rather to suggest that skill levels become more independent. This allows a non-class restricted character to focus in technical or mechanical duties and also have one or two combat skills.
    This is just a suggestion for something to look at, and I have to say, your archetypes' description mostly flew over my head :-), but I think I grasp the concept.
    I'll look forward to reading future posts on this subject.

  2. If you do want to take a look at the WEG D6 system, most of the source material for their Star Wars RPG is available in PDF format here:


    But this is the basic gist of what he's talking about.
    1) All skills fall under one of the attribute categories, similar to D&D skills. However, all similarity ends there- instead of a modifier for a static core die, the skill values represent the full range of what the character can achieve.
    2) All skills (except advanced, non-intuitive skills like engineering and medicine) have the value of the attribute as a base value of every skill related to it; attributes are really only a summary of character competency in certain areas. For example, a character with 3D Strength (3d6) will have at least 3D in brawling, stamina, and climbing, while a character with 2D+2 Technical (2d6+2) has at least 2D+2 in weapon repair, computer use, and demolitions.
    3) Although there are nominal classes (templates) in the rules, they mostly serve as examples and have no bearing on character development after creation.
    4) Instead of receiving XP, characters are awarded 'character points' to represent development over the course of an episode. There is no leveling mechanic at all; a character exchanges character points for individual skill points. Individual skills are relatively cheap to increase in terms of character points, while attributes (an entire skill group) take much more saving and increases are not guaranteed to be successful (a character has to roll against his species potential attribute value).

    I agree with Profire; I think that this system would suit your Archetype idea well, as class in the D6 system is really only a snapshot of who the character was when he/she started adventuring. It's good for story development, but does not rule the player's choices or progress.

  3. I'm sorry, but I posted this before I saw your rulebook. Your skills are much simpler than what Profire and I were describing; they remind me of the Star Wars Combine skill system. You should still look into the WEG D6 system, though- it is by far my favorite RPG.