Back in December, I promised to deliver my rant on prestige classes.
Instead, I ended up designing one.
(Nothing in life goes in a straight line, it seems. Just curves, twists and unexpected opportunities.)
Using the 3.5 variant Pathfinder rules, I submitted and had published the Dawa Defender, which is available as a free download, Wayfinder 4, over at paizo.com. Thanks to some development from editors Liz Courts, Adam Daigle and Ashavan Doyon, and company, and a particularly kicking illustration from Eureka contributor Hugo Solis, it turned out pretty good.
So, did the experience temper my position on prestige classes?
A little. But not enough to derail this post entirely.
Oh, get on with it already …
Here is my beef in a nutshell: Prestige classes were presented as a GMing tool in the third edition Dungeon Master’s Guide.
Hear that, GMs? It was intended to be our toy to play with originally. Ours.
And I don’t let go of things easily.
What did those pesky power-gaming players do when they learned about prestige classes? (I say that in jest after all. What’s the fun of being a GM without a few power gamers around the table?) They stole them for their own use. But not only were players latching on to this mechanic with wild enthusiasm, Wizards of the Coast was complicit in the scheme, feeding their desire to build more powerful characters.
Before you could blink, PrCs were showing up in every supplement geared toward players. Masters of the Wild. Check. Defenders of the Faith. Check. Song and Silence. Check.
And what were GMs getting? Books on how to design strongholds and castles. (“Really? Did we really, really need that?”)
Sure, each release came with the standard caveat: Do it only with your GMs approval. Of course, the warning was delivered with all the authority that comes with the “do not remove under penalty of persecution” label on a mattress tag. It’s not like you can send players to PrC jail. Nope. Players just countered with the more powerful rejoinder: It’s official!
As you can see, my ire has been building a long, long time.
Take a deep breath, dude
Time for some perspective. This is D&D. The game was dead. Third edition not only revived it, it rejuvenated the whole rpg scene. If players were staking out new territory by incorporating PrCs wholesale, so what! As a GM, I could be magnanimous. I mean, it’s not like I still couldn’t use PrCs as they were intended, right?
Until 3.5 rolled around. And its Complete series of books. Yes, in many ways it was just a reprinting of the earlier softcover player supplements. But the players, almost as one, started issuing a common complaint: Why are you guys at Wotc wasting space by including stat blocks of an example NPC with each prestige class entry?
Wasting space? The only nod to the original purpose of PrCs as a GMing tool – a sample NPC we could use – and the players are complaining about their inclusion in a gaming book?
By the time the GM series of campaign books came out, the number of prestige classes offered got woefully slim. The player-focused books are loaded with PrCs, and the GMing ones only get a smidgen? The world’s been turned upside down, right?
Righting the ship
This proliferation of prestige classes contributed to the rules bloat that 3.5 sagged under. So, I now appreciate the reluctance that Paizo has had with adding PrCs to the Pathfinder rules. Better yet, Pathfinder introduced the alternate class features, which gives the PCs the tools they they’ve really wanted all along – the means to customize a player’s character class. This solution means there’s less incentive to mine prestige classes with this new mechanic.
It’s interesting, because prestige classes – a template GMs could use to bolster or customize adversaries and NPCs, as well as add flavor to a campaign – got fixed in fourth edition, too. That rules spot is now occupied by monster templates, ways to beef up those encounters with only a little fuss.
True, the campaign flavor mechanic got lost, the bait you could dangle in front of players to acquire levels in a PrC that immersed them in your world was set aside. But experience had already shown it wasn’t immersion the players craved, so much as the cool powers.
Not much of a rant, bud
Yeah, I know. Apparently dipping my toes in design did cool things off. And now players can dip in to my PrC for a few levels of dawa defense …
… but only if their GM says it’s OK.
Prestige Classes were meant to be a reward given to players, by the GM, or an extra boost for the PC in order to achieve the quest’s goal.
It was also supposed to be a way to add something a little extra onto a PC or NPC that is just a little off the usual linear class progression.
I once made the mistake of telling a group of players that their players should be tenth level, of any class. (notice I said “any class”, not “any prestige class”) I did make the requirement that the class must be one that was written up in an actual sourcebook, one that they had to have in their possession (circumventing all the web-published homebrew classes out there).
I’m not joking. I had one player with a character that had three prestige classes. The “let’s get to know the characters” session turned into a fight, with half of the other players trying to rework their characters to include prestige classes. That game never happened, and I never played with those players again.
Notice that none of these players came to me beforehand to see how they could make their characters “better” (in other words, able to kick the crap out of Tiamat, at 10th level).
Personally, I blame MMO’s.
Two points I shall make. The number of them shall be two and they shall have two as their magnitude.
Point a):- Does nothing show the ultimate uselessness of the class system underpinning D&D than the “need” for such tomfoolery? Yes I’m saying that with a smile, but really, such nitwit goings-on are what gave D&D a bad name years ago and now Paizo want to start the Madness Waltz?
Point 2) 8oP If there was one thing I would have eradicated from this world – hunger, disease, poverty, war – it would be the idiotic notion that the owner of a mattress is forbidden by law to remove the tag.
People who perpetuate this nonsense should be flogged thrice around the city walls, then hung by their heels and pelted with rotten fruit by passersby and finally sentenced to spend three weeks on the municipal maggot heap in a sack. Anyone who can read and understand the bloody 3rd ed GM Manual should be able to muster the attention span and wits to extract the meaning from the twenty words or so on that G.D. mattress tag!
@XonImmortal – You bring up an interesting point about a PrC being an aspect of reward — just as a crucial magic item or bit of flavor (a title, honorific or just free drinks at the tavern).
To view this from 1,000 feet, and I’m speaking very generally, here (there are always good exceptions) it seems that more and more, players are less interested in waiting to receive awards as doled out by GMs. Rather, they’d rather get the gold and XP and “buy” for themselves what they want. Which might be another post altogether.
There’s always been tension between GMs and players. But it seems that gaming today focuses on this aspect, rather than the “GM is out to kill the PCs” mentality, which was prevalent when I started out.
@Roxysteve – Mattress tags. Congrats. That was my first good belly laugh of the day. You have my thanks!
The only ‘issue’ I have with the concept is that PrC aren’t needed to break the game or to powergame.
A well-built (powergamed if you will) Druid, Cleric or Wizard will already break the game and make a same level fighter, monk or bard feel almost useless. Sure it’s annoying to have a Fighter 5/PrC1/PrC2/PrC3/PrC4, but that’s the only problem I see with them. If a player can actually explain why it makes sense and I don’t find it cheesy, then go ahead with it.
The few times I had problem was when, for example, characters all came from a city in the middle of the desert, they were thousands of miles from the nearest shore. None had ever seen a body of water, and one player wanted to play some pirate PrC. No, Dave, you can’t be a ship captain in the middle of the desert.
I do agree that most players feel like they’re *entitled* to just use anything from a book that’s official, released by WotC, and not some 3rd party splat. If you don’t allow something due to setting lore/overpoweredness (like making the most powerful class even more so) then some people get angry, even offended.
My opinion on things like Prestige Classes is based on a pretty simple idea.
The system you choose matters.
Take D&D and Pathfinder for examples. They have lots of mechanics to handle most all situations. This isn’t bad, because it gives you established rules to rely on for a lot of situations, but it does encourage players to look at the mechanics an awful lot too.
Now look at something like Savage Worlds. Still has mechanics to cover a lot of situations, but it is a lot less crunchy, so players have less mechanics to look at.
Then look at Fudge, or whatever implementation of it you’re playing. Potentially even less mechanics.
Obviously these are wildly different systems, but playing the same game using each of those systems would create completely different games.
So, back to Prestige Classes, they are a natural progression in a game that encourages lots of focus on mechanics. Your character becomes less of a person with history and personality and more of a summation of their character sheet.
I think the burden of the GM is know going in what kind of game they want, how that will work or not work with that system, and figure out a way to mitigate those differences.
Lord knows your gaming group uses a lot of Prestige Classes….
Oh wait…they don’t.
hets is VERY right as far as a player doesn’t need a PrC to screw over a campaign. One dancing bard with every feat possible to lift his perform check to 25 at 7th level can do the job all by himself it seems. The problem isn’t necessarily that the players in question want to add flavor as much as they still see RPGs as player vs. DM. Until a DM can shake them from that, then uber-ridiculous bonuses to skills will continue; and instead of a cooperative storyline between players and DM, it’s a competition. IMHO, YMMV.
I’ve been very fortunate in that half of my D&D group bought into the “PrCs are strictly under DM’s control” when 3e first came out, and the other half have been trained by the first half. IMC, I have a list of PrCs that I allow, a list only allowed to NPC/monsters, and a really long “no” list.
I really liked the idea of using them to add to the world, as rewards to the PCs for acting “in right ways,” so that’s how I use them, and I make the players work to get in.
OTOH, I don’t run very often, but play more, and they have become rather common at the table. We do, at least, offer the DM veto rights, but a lot of the RPing that should go with it has faded away. Right now, I couldn’t tell you how my Combat Medic got his kewl powerz, but I certainly know why!