From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 8

The original rules for Dungeons & Dragons included the concept of alignment. It was a property that applied both to characters and intelligent creatures. There were three possible alignments: law/neutrality/chaos. They were intended to describe behavior to some extent, e.g. chaos implied unpredictably and a disdain for rules and strictures.

The first major rules revision (AD&D) included a second alignment axis: good/neutral/evil. Now a character could be, for example, chaotic good. It made more sense, but it still served no real purpose. Even worse, the rules stated that there were languages specific to each alignment, something that makes no sense whatsoever. And even now, alignment remains part of the D&D rules.

Alignment is not only unnecessary, it hampers proper role-playing by oversimplifying things. Characters should have real personalities, including goals, quirks, defects, etc. And their personalities should develop and change with time, reflecting their experiences. The goal should be to create characters (and creatures) that seem real, not that correspond to artificial labels.

Now let us discuss character classes. Originally there were three: Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Rules supplements soon introduced new ones, starting with Paladins (a sub-class of Fighting-Men) and Thieves. More followed, including Monks, Assassins, and Druids. At the time, character classes were quite useful. (After all, role-playing games were a new concept for most people.) It simplified things for the players by providing restrictions and guidance.

As the rules were revised, the number of possible character classes increased, and the individual classes became more complex. Furthermore, characters could pursue multiple classes. And there were so-called Prestige Classes for high-level characters. The numbers of abilities, skills, and spells kept growing. It became, in short, a complete and utter mess. Creating a character became time-consuming, and gaming sessions required constant referrals to the rule books.

These days nearly everyone knows what role-playing games are. And that’s why my D&D campaign includes no character classes anymore. Instead, I (in conjunction with Jym Ramage) created a point-based system that allows each player to gradually shape their character. It’s a simplification that allows for tremendous flexibility, and it helps to make each character unique. I’ve been using the system for years as both a DM and as a player. My players never need to waste time looking things up in rule books, and neither do I. Their character sheets (and custom-printed spell lists, if appropriate) are all they need—aside from dice, of course. It makes D&D far more interesting and fun.

Now let’s look at some of the characters in my books. Gabriel is straightforward. He’s a do-gooder. He wears armor and fights with a sword and shield. In AD&D, he would be described as a Lawful Good Fighter. Saxloc, however, doesn’t really fit. He’s trying to be both a warrior and a spell-caster. And he can cast healing magic. He’s an amalgamation of portions of three separate D&D classes. Siljan and Hankin are similarly complex. Despite this, each one can be described using the spreadsheet I developed specifically for use with the system.

As should now be clear, adapting the various D&D characters in my campaign to characters in my books was straightforward. Part of Siljan’s character arc is that she becomes a cleric. But she didn’t start out that way. It was something that she elected to pursue later on, after already developing skills as a warrior and a spell-caster. She’s complex, and that makes her much more interesting.

In conclusion, alignment is something that has never made any sense, and character classes have simply become unnecessary complications. The games I run (and play in) are still recognizably D&D despite having far fewer rules. And they are great fun, which is what is really important.

In Part 9, I will discuss how martial arts fits into D&D and the role it plays in my books.

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