Telling Stories: Tomato, Tomato, Shield Bash, Arm Thrust

Yes, I know, it's a horrible logo. I'm not always good at those.

How many classes are there in World of Warcraft?

If you said “eleven,” then you are wrong.  But you’re doing good, that’s the number listed, you’re wrong with the best intentions.  If you said “thirty-four,” you are also wrong, but you are very astute, noting that the choice of specs now is functionally like choosing a class.  (Albeit ones you can swap back and forth between.)  If you said “seventeen” then… er… you may wish to take some issues up with your elementary school teachers, that’s not even close to anything resembling a correct answer.  But thanks for coming out.

No, the correct answer is “as many as you want there to be.”  And the same is true of literally any game with classes or abilities.  You’re only as limited as you allow yourself to be.  You see a list of options and you group characters into small cliques, assuming that everyone who possesses these same skills must be the same sort of person… but that’s you talking, not the game.  Not the game at all.

Truce is a complicated woman.

A Farseer. Sort of. It’s complicated.

Let’s stick with World of Warcraft for a moment.  Mechanically, you can play a shaman.  Other than the shape of your totem, playing a Draenei shaman is the same as playing an Orc shaman or a Pandaren shaman.  For mechanical purposes, all seven of the possible shaman races have the exact same options.  It’s easy to conclude as a result that all seven races are identical, that shamanism is the same across all of these diverse peoples with different codes of behavior and ethics.

Horseshit.

Your Draenei shaman is a Farseer, a student of the Holy Light attempting to spread peace and understanding among the elements in the only way she knows how.  But your Troll shaman is a Shadow Hunter, harnessing the spirits as he delivers powerful melee strikes and fights against those who would harm the Darkspear Tribe.  Your Tauren is an advisor to his tribe, your Dwarf is a proud warrior of the Wildhammer Clan.  Yes, all of them have the same mechanical identity, because it would be a fucking nightmare to make seven different classes that all played functionally identical, but these are not even close to being the same sort of occupation.  Classes as a mechanical construct suggest, but they do not dictate.

City of Heroes players know what’s up with this sort of thing.  We played for years with power sets and archetypes, understanding that you could have the same elements while producing a totally different end character.  Dark Melee/Regen Scrapper?  Sure, you’re a solo beast, but you could be almost anything in terms of backstory.  I had one character for whom Regeneration was a limited form of time travel, another infected with a techno-virus that regenerated her body as a defense mechanism.

I won’t lie and say I don’t get excited about new classes in a game, because they’re fun.  But while playing my way through Star Wars: The Old Republic, I wasn’t playing the classes that were strictly outlined by the game.  Mercenary, yes.  Trooper, pretty much.  But Pilot Nurse?  Reformed Sith?  Criminal?  Sith Lawyer?  I didn’t need the game to give me these things, I just needed to explain how they worked within the class framework.

It’s not limited to games with classes, either.  In The Secret World game-terms, I was running a Chaos/Rifle build.  In practice, I was playing a skilled practitioner of Krav Maga with a penchant for teleportation magic who was also a crack shot with a sniper rifle.  The mechanical identity is just there so that the game knows how these things work; it’s not the defining attribute of your character.

That's what she tells herself, anyway.

Look, carrying a gun or two doesn’t make you less of a nurse, it just makes you smart. It’s called Star Wars, this is just self-preservation.

So how do you build around these things?  You determine what your character actually should be.  Ideally, you start there and move on to things like classes or abilities after the fact, but let’s just assume you started from class/ability and made a character you like playing but one who doesn’t have the identity you’d like.  Maybe you made a Warrior in Guild Wars 2 when what you really feel you should have played was an Engineer, because he’s supposed to be fascinated by mechanical things…

But is that his class or his role?  The two don’t have to be linked.  Not all soldiers are Warriors.

Fine, that’s how he fights, too.  Well, then, build up your armor just right and what you have is a character who is an engineer by trade, but he’s developed the first suit of (pseudomagical) powered armor.  He doesn’t fight with bombs and guns, he fights with swords and augmented strength.  (Please don’t name him Anthony Stark.)  It’s a matter of taking the abilities you have and recasting them in a slightly different light.  That’s not a charge, it’s an augmented burst of speed from the armor’s locomotive system.  You get the idea.

There are always alternatives.  I knew people who played Republic soldiers in Star Wars: The Old Republic by playing Jedi Guardians, ripping the mods out of heavy armor for their class, and inserting them into Trooper armors to maintain the look.  All of their abilities were the result of physical conditioning or onboard armor systems.  Yes, in-character they should have been able to use rifles, but it allowed them to create the illusion of a very different sort of character than had been intended while still maintaining a consistent front.

Thinking of abilities as presented by a game as ironclad rules is understandable, but the fact is that you’re always limited only by your own imagination.  You can play anything you want to in a game with three classes or thirty.  The trick is figuring out what you want to play and casting those mechanical conceits in a light that makes sense, not in railing against the structure of the game itself.  There will always be mechanical limits, but they’re as insurmountable as you allow them to be.

How many classes are there in World of Warcraft?  So many.  Blood Knights.  Farseers.  Sunwalkers.  Reformed Scarlet Crusaders.  Death Knights.  Necromancers.  Defias Partisans.  Samurai.  The list goes on.

Feedback, like always, is welcome down in the comments or by mail.  Or Twitter, whatever, I’m relaxed like that.  Next week, I’m going to talk about roleplaying friendships – not in-character friendships, but actual roleplaying friendships.  After that?  Tag-team roleplaying.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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