Why I Hate Classes and Alignments

Why I Hate Classes and Alignments

If there is one thing I never understood about D&D, it was character classes and alignments. Just never got them. And I hated them. When I found The Fantasy Trip, it was like a breath of fresh air. The lack of classes and alignments just made sense.

Classes Are Too Artificial

Even as a teenager, first getting exposed to gaming, the idea of classes just seemed to arbitrary. Too controlling. Maybe it’s because I was a teenager, I didn’t like the idea of some artificial boundaries for my characters. The concept of character classes just seemed to conform to someone else’s idea of organization and what should be.

They also seemed to place an emphasis on others’ ideas of fantasy stereotypes. Fighter. Druid. Cleric. Thief. Magic-user (seriously? Why not call them wizards? Made no sense!) And do NOT get me started on the change from “thief” to “rogue.” I’m not kidding.

Anyway, why should players have to be forced to live with those controls? It just places artificial limits on the characters you can create.

Alignments Are Too Restrictive

The same thing applies to the concept of alignments. Really? What exactly does “lawful neutral” mean? I get the whole concept of Law and Chaos from the Elric books, but how does that fit into what a character should be like?

And in the end, isn’t that what we were supposed to be doing? Playing characters? Alignments seemed to drive characters into being one dimensional, like being a strict paladin or completely selfish thief. What about a character who was generally selfish, but had a soft spot and stole to help kids in an orphanage? How did we fit in multi-dimensional characters into that scheme?

TFT Got It Right

On the other hand, I saw right off that The Fantasy Trip got it right. Only two real classes–wizards and everyone else. You made up your character however the hell you wanted, and played him or her that way. Period. (I even toyed with the idea of not even having those two distinctions–just doing what GURPS did and making players take a Magery talent to be able to cast spells.)

Between the talents you chose and what you wrote up about your character, you had the freedom to have a character who was both bad and good, brave and cowardly. It all depended on what YOU wanted, not some artificial rules.

And THAT is what really appealed to even a dumb teenager like me–you created and played a character however you wanted. Not whatever someone else told you to do. What YOU wanted. That freedom was one of the things that hooked me on roleplaying–that and being limited only by my imagination. It was still enough to draw me back to gaming as a cough, cough, older man, too. It was what brought me back to The Fantasy Trip as well. And I know I’m not alone…

(OK, I’m off my soapbox now!)

Marko ∞


  1. Great article and THANK YOU! Although I feel that classes were something I could get my head around, I agree that alignment was a silly addition. I was often stuck when having to choose and often went neutral. But then I had the odious task of choosing “neutral good” or “neutral evil”. Are you serious?! A DM friend of mine took it to the next level and wouldn’t let us play as evil characters, remarking that none of us could effectively play an evil character as we couldn’t get into the mindset. LOL! Fantasy RPG is best when you play something that you’re not. If I want to play a devious, backstabbing, boisterous, ale-drinking, gambling thief, then I should be able to. Good/evil, chaotic/lawful, these should be as blurred and varied as the human population. NO ONE is purely good or evil and it’s the variety that make life and gaming interesting. The fact that, as a player, I could be penalized by not adhering rigidly to these distinctions was enough to dampen the experience. Go TFT!

  2. I really agree with this. When I first found a copy of Melee at my local game store (remember when we had those just about everywhere?) it was like a breath of fresh air compared to how combat occurred in D&D and every D&D clone out there. Then Wizard showed up and it was the dawn of enlightenment. I could hardly wait for the full-blooded TFT (Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth) and when they showed up in the store, I pulled my copies before they even had a chance to settle on the rack…and I wasn’t disappointed.

    I think my biggest objection to the classes/alignments thing is just that they were so rigid. People are like yin and yang; even the best of us has a little spot of not so good in us, and the worst of us has some slight tinge of not so bad — how does the whole alignment thing allow that reality? And doesn’t it really defeat the entire purpose of role-playing? Sure, establishing some sort of continuity might be important for the GM in terms of running his monsters and what-not, but shoehorning characters into those straightjackets always struck me as just another way to remove agency from the players. And why in the world is a thief/rogue the only one who can backstab someone? Whoever made that rule up had no experience with the real world.

    What TFT did was restore agency, and it did it in a remarkably simple yet coherent manner — your character was what you decided to be, and you could pick and choose the talents necessary to support you in your chosen role. Good and evil was a function of character choice, not artificial labels, and while Howard Thompson’s atheism weakened the whole effort by ignoring a large component of most people’s lives (especially in a pseudo-Medieval setting), overall the game was a huge step forward. And, surprisingly, after 34 years, still is to a large degree.

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