Class And Level System
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Basic Information

A class and level system is a set of RPG rules that defines a character's skill set by Character Class and tracks their development by their Character Level in one or more classes.

These systems have the benefit of being mechanically straightforward (at least in principle) and tend to be more or less balanced between classes, leading to a fairly coherent party with defined character roles, combat roles, and niche protection.

However, they also inherit all of the disadvantages of class and level mechanics - characters tend to be over specialised in their class skill set and may well struggle unless part of a full party, levelling leads to very strange effects in development and so on. If you have fewer players than the number of "must have" character archetypes in your system, the party's performance may suffer. (Examples: A D&D party without a healer will have to stop and rest frequently. One without a tanky front-line fighter will have to be very careful with tactics or risk being cut down quickly. One with no spellcasters may occasionally get stopped dead cold at obstacles that could be easily solved with a ubiquitous low-level spell.)

In general, a class and level system is best suited to cinematic, gamist play and begins to creak if used for detailed, simulationist games - although as always a good group should be able to overcome the limitations of their system.


The various incarnations of D&D are probably the archetypical class and level system.

1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • A few things worth considering when using or designing a class and level system:
    • Are classes and levels Watsonian or strictly Doylist? In other words, are they a mechanical abstraction, or can people in-universe recognize "this person is a fifth-level Fighting Man?" A society where power is objectively quantifiable and advances in discrete steps would likely look very different from anything in our own world.
    • What classes exist, and what are they good at? A combat-centered game might just map classes to combat roles, but a more broad one may need classes like Bureaucrat or Crafter, and roll all of its combat-focused classes into a single Soldier class.
    • How much potential is there for "multiclassing", and how badly will a quick "dip" interfere with someone's growth? If your Paladin takes a few levels of Wizard, does that make her just worse at being a Paladin than she otherwise would be, or weaker overall?
      • Can you, in fact, perform a "quick dip" or is changing classes a radical career shift that is hard to implement and at least as hard to go back on?
    • How specialised are your classes? Are there a wide range of ways of playing one class or a wide range of similar classes - for example, are the heavily armoured tank-warrior and the dextrous, evasive warrior both different ways of playing "warrior" or are they two different classes? Is there one way, that, mechanistically or otherwise, a specific class is "meant" to be played?
    • Is there a "generalist" class that can cover any weak points in an adventuring party?
    • Are all classes meant to be equal (and if so, how do you measure "equality"?) Is a level a level no matter what class it is in?
      • In the Ur-example ("That RPG"), until version 3.0, a level varied in value (or at least in XP cost) depending what class it was in - 3.0 tried to make all class levels cost the same, which was arguably a mistake. That RPG also appears pretty clear that "equality" means equality of combat potential - balancing in roleplaying or other "fluff" factors was limited up to second edition and essentially abandoned from 3.0 onwards.
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