Game Design Sins

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David Johansen

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With the discussion of bad rpgs I think there is a need to discuss the cardinal sins of game design.

Abilities that give an ability. Okay, if the Knowledgeable trait give you the Learned trait you should just give the Learned trait. It's sloppy and needlessly repetitive and damned annoying. If you do this you are going to the ninth circle of game design hell right now. We're not talking about packages and metatraits which are only a venal sin. We're talking about single traits that only have the effect of giving another named trait. The first offender in my mind is the Warzone Rebirth game by Prodos which revels in this sin like an axe murderer at a nudist swimming pool!

Depending on GM fiat to resolve everything. Sure, the GM will have to resolve things sometimes. Ideally you've got a core mechanic that's robust and flexible enough to handle most anything with a skill roll. But look, if your game can't function without GM fiat handling everything all the time your game is incomplete and badly designed. It's common enough that you're only going to the first circle of hell because it's biggest and all. OD&D and Tunnels and Trolls get a pass on this because of the ignorance of early days but you'd think by eighth edition T&T's combat system would actually function in play. It's not avante garde or liberating it's laziness and incompetence. Into the pit with ye!
 

Rob Necronomicon

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This is purely personal but I get annoyed at hit locations as it adds an extra layer of complexity to combat.

Also in GURPS (if I remember correctly) a weapon like a sword does a couple of different types of damage, like one for cutting and thrusting. Again, it's just adding extra detail that bogs the game down a wee bit.

So needless complexity would be one of my bugbears. :smile:

Oh here's another one... Rulebooks that repeat themselves over and over. :sad:
 

ffilz

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Or re-naming things which have fairly standard names in the hobby just to be different, when in fact they function the same way as they do in most systems.
This is annoying, but understandable in the early days when there was a lot of lawsuit fear. These days, yea, stick to common terms.

I do use all of Cold Iron's terms, some of which have common terms because I've been playing the game for a long time, and the terms that I could replace with common terms NOW were not common back in the day.
 

ffilz

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This is purely personal but I get annoyed at hit locations as it adds an extra layer of complexity to combat.

Also in GURPS (if I remember correctly) a weapon like a sword does a couple of different types of damage, like one for cutting and thrusting. Again, it's just adding extra detail that bogs the game down a wee bit.

So needless complexity would be one of my bugbears. :smile:
Heh, I like both of these. Well, the different damage not necessarily too much, but RuneQuest 1st edition does have greatsword that is both cutting and thrusting with different damage. When the different damage types play into how armor works, yes, it's extra detail, but it also helps differentiate armor and weapons. But needless complexity is definitely a matter of preference. I would argue against over simplification. In my book, neither are sins. For every incredibly complex system, there are players who love it, and the same is true for every super simple system.

Oh here's another one... Rulebooks that repeat themselves over and over. :sad:
Yea, that could be a problem. Do you have an example?

Repetition if it's things like spells or feats being complete descriptions even if some rules are repeated are OK for me, but I could imagine repetition in other places being annoying.
 

ffilz

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Character generation length should be inversely proportional to lethality.
With the caveat of "lethality that is expected as a normal course of play" if the system has detailed character generation, but expects smart players to never be in a position to be subject to the lethality, well that's got a legitimate place.
 

VisionStorm

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Negative Roleplaying/Background Details as a Disadvantage that grants bonus points. I get that some people like to defend these, cuz apparently you can't just add negative elements to your character's background without codifying a rule around them and getting a point buy kickback for RP details you should be adding to your character anyways. But IMO disadvantages that grant extra points during character creation should 1) have concrete mechanical penalties that don't rely on the player bothering to RP their character (usually in an annoying, half-asses, lip servicy sorta way), and 2) they should be actual disadvantages, rather than plot hooks guaranteed to grant you and the rest of the party extra XP once they come up during play.

Having "Enemies" is NOT a "disadvantage". That's just an opportunity for XP waiting to happen, in a hobby where facing different challenges is practically the whole point of playing. You don't deserve to get extra points for adding that detail to your character during character creation. You'll get them if and when they come up during play.
 

DeadBob

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I don't know if it's a sin exactly, but I wish designers would sit down and write at least starters/concepts/outlines for a couple dozen or so adventures early in their game design process, as a normal part of designing their games.

It probably doesn't affect professional designers a lot, but I'd like to see a few more happy amateurs actually develop a clear idea of what players and GMs are going to use their system to do exactly.

I had a buddy who went on a tear developing a home-brew system for something a bit like American Gods but set in the Old West. In the process he probably had 30 handwritten pages for a skill system, including a whole bunch of work-related skills (blacksmithing, carpentry, so on). I asked how he imagined those would come up in play and how often. He was just a bit dumbfounded by even hearing the question. Of course a skills system of that type was needed! Of course it had to include a bunch of mundane skills!

After a couple of hours of him valiantly defending his design choices and hard work, I still had no idea what sort of adventures he imagined characters would go on in the setting or what those mundane skills and their related system added to the fun of any of it.
 

Black Leaf

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Scaling exp costs. More specifically, scaling exp combined with non scaling character generation costs.

Vampire is a good example. Don't make it so it's far more optimal to min max at character gen then to buy up your stats more evenly as the game progresses.
 

Black Leaf

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Negative Roleplaying/Background Details as a Disadvantage that grants bonus points. I get that some people like to defend these, cuz apparently you can't just add negative elements to your character's background without codifying a rule around them and getting a point buy kickback for RP details you should be adding to your character anyways. But IMO disadvantages that grant extra points during character creation should 1) have concrete mechanical penalties that don't rely on the player bothering to RP their character (usually in an annoying, half-asses, lip servicy sorta way), and 2) they should be actual disadvantages, rather than plot hooks guaranteed to grant you and the rest of the party extra XP once they come up during play.

Having "Enemies" is NOT a "disadvantage". That's just an opportunity for XP waiting to happen, in a hobby where facing different challenges is practically the whole point of playing. You don't deserve to get extra points for adding that detail to your character during character creation. You'll get them if and when they come up during play.
I like the more modern version when "disadvantages" are "this will grant you a bonus EXP if it both comes up in play and makes your life more difficult".
 

Necrozius

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Meta-currency... for GMs.

Look, a GM's role is very complex. Fun! But very detailed and demanding.

To create a game system in which the GM has to "earn" permission to do their job... I think that's just plain awful now.

I get that people seem to love this in games like Fate Core. And I don't mind it if certain special dice rolls by PLAYERS generate their own narrative triggers (e.g. critical success or failure, complications on success, boons on failure etc...) but having a game shackle the GM's freedom to be creative...

Thanks, I hate it. And I hate that our current community makes modern game designers and players feel that the necessity to implement this trust system.
 

JAMUMU

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Meta-currency... for GMs.

This is why I can't deal with 2d20. I'm your GM. I love you. Don't make me deal with the same shit the players have to deal with. I have other stuff to do, like reading the whole book and researching stuff and writing material and statting NPCs and looking at the pictures in the book. Make *me* spend points? Your games done, game-writer-fool.
 
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PolarBlues

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Symmetry is a trap. We love symmetry. It gives things a semblance of order. It is aesthetically pleasing. But when designing mechanics, you I think you need to put that aside. Just because you have rules for critical successes doesn't mean you have to have critical failures. Having Advantages doesn't mean you need corresponding, comparable disadvantages. I am also of the view that NPCs don't need to be built the same as PCs, though I can understand many have more substantial objection about that latter than just mere lack of symmetry.

As we are talking about Disadvantages in systems, I do a lot of hacking with Fudge. One of the default characteristics of Fudge are Gift (advantages) and Flaws. And in the vanilla rules they work much the same and you get more points by taking on more Flaws, as with many other games. I was not happy with that.

After many iterations I've come to a simple solution. In my rules players can choose as many or as few Flaws as they like, even none. You get not points, no extra XP, bribes or cookies for you taking up or playing out your Flaws. Choose a Flaw if you think it is interesting and you want to roleplay it, or don't. And a lot of folk do.
 

ffilz

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Yea, I've come to dislike disadvantages (other than I guess if they are part of the point system for designing races). Burning Wheel has an interesting take, disadvantages COST you points, and the more of a pain they are for the GM the more points... But in Burning Wheel you can leverage any trait, good or bad, to earn Artha and so they tie into the whole play cycle and advancement cycle. I'm still not sure I'd qualify them a sin though...

I get the objection to symmetry for symmetry's sake. But I do like systems where NPCs CAN be written up the same way as a PC, though I appreciate when there can be shortcuts, and I'm perfectly fine with not have any stats or just one or two for run of the mill NPCs. While both my favorite systems have both critical hits and fumbles, there is an asymmetry to them. In both, as your skill goes up, your chance to fumble goes down, and in Cold Iron, the chance to fumble really almost goes away, it really is mostly only an issue for beginner characters, or someone loaded up with penalties from injuries, magic spells, and circumstances.

And yes, every game system should be prepared to explain just what you do with the system. And yes, lots of rules for stuff that has nothing to do with "what you do in this system" is a problem, and yea, I think this one raises to the level of being a sin. Now a skill system may make provision for non-adventuring skills, but it either should be clear how they might come into play, or they should be a minor side detail that fleshes out the character. A character having a single skill that identifies them as a blacksmith can be cool if it doesn't take lots of points or space in the rule book if blacksmithing won't be a normal part of play. On the flip side, it can be a problem if it's clear there SHOULD be various skills, usually non-adventuring skills, and no clear way for a character to have them or advance them (if advancement makes sense in the system). Ideally it's obvious how to invent skills so if a character really needs blacksmith skill to be complete, let's add it if necessary.
 

robertsconley

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As we are talking about Disadvantages in systems, I do a lot of hacking with Fudge. One of the default characteristics of Fudge are Gift (advantages) and Flaws. And in the vanilla rules they work much the same and you get more points by taking on more Flaws, as with many other games. I was not happy with that.

After many iterations I've come to a simple solution. In my rules players can choose as many or as few Flaws as they like, even none. You get not points, no extra XP, bribes or cookies for you taking up or playing out your Flaws. Choose a Flaw if you think it is interesting and you want to roleplay it, or don't. And a lot of folk do.

So I borrowed a page from Fate (sorta) and jettisoned gifts and flaws. Instead, I have aspects. Which can be thought of as a bundle of stuff that gives the characters abilities and causes complications. Basically, they make sense in terms of the setting. For example, a cleric will the gift of turning undead but also has complications resulting from being a priest to a god and having obligations to their religion. A basic mage aspect obligates the players to come up with a brief description of how they came to learn magic. Being a mage, in my setting and system, is a scholarly profession so character requires some type of support when they were training. That decision may have some benefits but also complications as well.

Before I found the issues with the bell curve of 4dF, I didn't get far with this. But the end result would have been to use then a GURPS template or Hero System Package Deal and not as restrictive as a D&D class. For example, the Mage aspect gave access to the one form of arcane magic. It doesn't preclude a player with a good idea for their character making another aspect that also would allow access to arcane magic. Nor a character from spending a certain amount of downtime to start learning arcane magic despite focusing on combat skills up to that point.

This was a result of my experience with my later GURPS campaign when my friends and I realized that we are going to roleplay the characters we are going to roleplay regardless of what the cost was on various GURPS lists. That "balance" is largely illusionary and that it works better for a campaign to do what makes sense for the players and the circumstances they want to play in. A good example of this is the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings with Gandalf and the rest of the group he is adventuring with. Despite the disparity of importance and power levels for Gandalf to be with (and at times not to be with) made sense given what was happening.

Anyway a copy of my Fudge/Fate rules can be found here.
 

robertsconley

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Yea, I've come to dislike disadvantages (other than I guess if they are part of the point system for designing races). Burning Wheel has an interesting take, disadvantages COST you points, and the more of a pain they are for the GM the more points... But in Burning Wheel you can leverage any trait, good or bad, to earn Artha and so they tie into the whole play cycle and advancement cycle. I'm still not sure I'd qualify them a sin though...

Why bother quantifying any of that? Figure out mechanics to handle what happens if you have a character with an amputated leg, sure. But for the most, if you want to roleplay a wealthy character or a character with a mental affliction more power to you. I found over the long haul getting 20 points for the affliction doesn't make the player want to roleplay that anymore or less. That just declaring a player character wealthy and powerful at the start doesn't crash a campaign. The trick to is to hash out with the group and individually what they really want to do for starting out the campaign.

Granted I found that some type of measured progression works out better whether is Runequest style training your style of advancement or GURPS skill paying points to level up a skill. So you can't do it entirely free-form. But I think you do it more than what most folks think you can do and still have things work.
 

ffilz

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Why bother quantifying any of that? Figure out mechanics to handle what happens if you have a character with an amputated leg, sure. But for the most, if you want to roleplay a wealthy character or a character with a mental affliction more power to you. I found over the long haul getting 20 points for the affliction doesn't make the player want to roleplay that anymore or less. That just declaring a player character wealthy and powerful at the start doesn't crash a campaign. The trick to is to hash out with the group and individually what they really want to do for starting out the campaign.

Granted I found that some type of measured progression works out better whether is Runequest style training your style of advancement or GURPS skill paying points to level up a skill. So you can't do it entirely free-form. But I think you do it more than what most folks think you can do and still have things work.
Yea, that all makes sense. And sure, if we're having a discussion about an upcoming campaign, if one or more players want to advance being wealthy, I can roll with that. Cold Iron happens to have "character classes" and it works well with that but I'm equally fine with RQ's skill by skill advancement. Both systems have really good points. Burning Wheel's traits play into the Artha system in a nice way, Artha IS a meta-currency, but I think Burning Wheel actually uses it in a nice way, but as a game with a meta-currency and other abstract and narrative elements, I don't expect it to be everyone's cup of tea. But as a system with meta-currency and all, it does actually make room for "running the world" in a sandbox fashion, maybe not pure, but I think it can still run something that would solidly be identified as a sandbox.
 

SavAce

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I think the biggest "Game Design Sin" is a lack of questioning why you are doing what you're doing during the design process, or maybe "making a game, but not designing it." Basically, somebody has a genre or setting idea they love, they take an existing game or game engine, and paint in the numbers. Like a PbtA game that is just AW with new playbooks, or a D&D-like that swaps out a set of classes to become a Noir game or something. Like, you could be in 2004 making a Noir game with giant chapters detailing partial actions and 5 ft. steps & Feat trees for Femme Fatales & Saving Throws. Is that the best way to evoke the vibes you are going for with your setting? Or is it cargo cult design, where you cobble together something in the shape of 5e and hope the money starts flying in?
 

Lofgeornost

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I think the biggest "Game Design Sin" is a lack of questioning why you are doing what you're doing during the design process, or maybe "making a game, but not designing it." Basically, somebody has a genre or setting idea they love, they take an existing game or game engine, and paint in the numbers. Like a PbtA game that is just AW with new playbooks, or a D&D-like that swaps out a set of classes to become a Noir game or something. Like, you could be in 2004 making a Noir game with giant chapters detailing partial actions and 5 ft. steps & Feat trees for Femme Fatales & Saving Throws. Is that the best way to evoke the vibes you are going for with your setting? Or is it cargo cult design, where you cobble together something in the shape of 5e and hope the money starts flying in?

I think that's a fair criticism, but I think it goes the other way as well. That is, some game-makers are much better at creating an interesting setting than they are at coming up with new mechanics, but feel they have to create a new system for their game when just a systemless setting book--or a book that fits the setting into one or more existing systems--would actually be more useful.

I'll admit to being biased, since at this point in my gaming arc I'm suffering somewhat from system fatigue and don't have a lot of interest in learning new ones simply to try something different. YMMV, etc.
 

Gringnr

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Using jargon and acronymns unique to your game in the text before you've explained them is a big one for me

Or re-naming things which have fairly standard names in the hobby just to be different, when in fact they function the same way as they do in most systems.
*Stares in Immortal: the Invisible War*
 

Black Leaf

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[mod]As we recently had a 20 page thread debate on safety tools, maybe let's not have the same argument in this thread as well? Nobody's done anything wrong; I'm just aware this particular subject derails to a point even the Pub has trouble recovering from. If people think that anything has been left unsaid from the previous thread we can consider reopening it, although a cooloff period is probably a better idea[/mod]
 

Necrozius

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Can we talk about layout / design / desktop publishing?

I burn with loathing when the inner margin (the inside edge of the page closest to the spine) is too narrow. God dammit people give your text some breathing room! Not everyone likes to break the spine to lay the book as flat as a board!
 

Bunch

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Can we talk about layout / design / desktop publishing?

I burn with loathing when the inner margin (the inside edge of the page closest to the spine) is too narrow. God dammit people give your text some breathing room! Not everyone likes to break the spine to lay the book as flat as a board!
I think those might be a different set of sins. Related and important but different
 

Rob Necronomicon

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Heh, I like both of these. Well, the different damage not necessarily too much, but RuneQuest 1st edition does have greatsword that is both cutting and thrusting with different damage. When the different damage types play into how armor works, yes, it's extra detail, but it also helps differentiate armor and weapons. But needless complexity is definitely a matter of preference. I would argue against over simplification. In my book, neither are sins. For every incredibly complex system, there are players who love it, and the same is true for every super simple system.


Yea, that could be a problem. Do you have an example?

Repetition if it's things like spells or feats being complete descriptions even if some rules are repeated are OK for me, but I could imagine repetition in other places being annoying.

I get it man. :smile: These are just personal niggles and I'm probably in the minority as I know a lot of folks who love hit locations, etc. So if people like them it's totally cool.

A lot of the repetitive stuff tends to be hammering the rules home over and over. I don't mind a brief overview for a start but really you shouldn't have to repeat it a few times. I've just finished reading and digesting 'the ministry of peculiar occurrences'. I really like the game but I was driven mad by the repeating of certain concepts and it was ubiquitous. :sad:
 

David Johansen

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Disadvantages could work but mostly don't. It's a bit like alignment, everyone wants to be evil because they feel good is restrictive and lacks benefits. People always want more points but seldom want to suffer the consequences.

This is purely personal but I get annoyed at hit locations as it adds an extra layer of complexity to combat.

Also in GURPS (if I remember correctly) a weapon like a sword does a couple of different types of damage, like one for cutting and thrusting. Again, it's just adding extra detail that bogs the game down a wee bit.

So needless complexity would be one of my bugbears. :smile:

Oh here's another one... Rulebooks that repeat themselves over and over. :sad:

Hit locations are the best and easiest way to handle cover and partial armour.

Too much repetition is bad but so is only mentioning a vital rule once in the middle of a block of text.
 
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ffilz

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Too much blank space/ useless filler. HUGE margins, or random geometric shapes (not game art) designed to inflate page counts.
Oh, yes. Good one. There is artistic design that leaves a bit more white space but at some point too much white space is too much and is a waste of paper and all that implies to costs.
 

Bunch

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Along the lines of chargen and lethality, the depth of a sub system should be no more than proportional to how much you expect to see it used. No need for 7 charts on detailed wall crawling if the game is about dueling mages.
 

Brock Savage

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I don't have a problem with disadvantages or flaws granting character points. I tend to interpret flaws as the player saying in good faith "this is the kind of challenge I want to encounter regularly." Yea, sometimes players are gonna bad faith bullshit their disadvantages but any GM worth their salt can either simply say "no" or make them regret their choice.

It also depends on the game. Most of the flaws in Vampire: the Masquerade are simply not worth the points from a min-max point of view whereas SLA Industries is one of those games where everyone familiar with the system loads up on disadvantages.

Player choices in non-combat feats or abilities often indicate the kind of hassles they want to avoid. Pleb-tier GMs tend to ignore this.
 
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Dammit Viktor

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Malign Completion Syndrome has to be one of my biggest pet peeves in game design-- it can badly deform a game's internal logic and stuff it full of design elements that don't make sense and don't serve a purpose. In terms of undermining intentionality... compulsive design might be even worse than lazy design.

Critical failure systems that make billion-to-one freak accidents happen about 5% of the time, turning the intended tone of the game into-- usually very gory-- slapstick comedy. Great for Paranoia and Toon, terrible for every single specific game people think need these mechanics.

And, of course, the most popular sin of all: using D&D mechanics for games and settings that aren't supposed to play like D&D. Levels and hit dice in gritty horror, military, or crime games. Races and classes in games that aren't heavily archetype-driven. Spell slots and "arcane" and "divine" magic in games based on real-life occultism.
 

TristramEvans

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Malign Completion Syndrome

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Dammit Viktor

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Adding elements to make things "symmetrical" without considering how they'd function or fit in the context of the game. Thinking that every empty space in a game's design needs to be filled with something.

Like Antipaladins in D&D, or the demand for a "martial controller" in 4e specifically.
 

Mankcam

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Complex character sheets are not my bag anymore.
They're not a deal breaker, but the more clunky the character sheet is, the harder for me to visualise the actual character.
Even with Mythras being my favourite system, these days I greatly prefer the Mythras Imperative character sheet to the one in the core book.
 
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Dammit Viktor

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What's a "Martial Controller"?
It's an expression of D&D 4e class design, much-maligned even though it's just codifying concepts that were unspoken in prior editions.

Classes are defined by two descriptors, their Role and their Power Source:

The Roles are Defender, Striker, Leader, and Controller:
  • Defenders stand between their allies and the enemy and try to draw fire, because they're better equipped to take hits. Fighters and Paladins are Defenders.
  • Strikers are mobile combatants that do a lot of damage, but can't last in a stand-up fight. Rangers, Rogues, Monks, and Warlocks are Strikers.
  • Leaders are support characters and healers. Clerics, Bards, and Warlords are Leaders.
  • Controllers are support characters who weaken enemies and set them up for allies. Wizards and Druids are Controllers.
The Power Sources (in the first PHB) are Martial, Arcane, and Divine.
  • Martial characters are characters who rely on skill, technique, and their equipment. Fighters, Rogues, and Warlords are Martial.
  • Arcane characters... well, they cast arcane magic. Wizards, Warlocks, and Bards are Arcane.
  • Divine characters draw upon the power of godlike beings. Clerics and Paladins are Divine.
So, by PHB3, every possible combination of Role and Power Source had been published by WotC. Except Martial Controller.

Martials had Defender Fighter, Strikers Ranger and Rogue, and Leader Warlord.
Arcane had Defender Swordmage, Striker Warlock, Leaders Bard and Artificer, and Controller Wizard.
Divine had Defender Paladin, Striker Avenger, Leader Cleric, and Controller Invoker.
Even Psionic, introduced in PHB3 had Battlemind, Monk, Ardent, and Psion.

Shadow only had two different Strikers.

But... lots and lots of people insisted beyond all reason that we needed a martial class that used skill and training to debuff and manipulate enemies.
 

VisionStorm

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Spell slots and "arcane" and "divine" magic in games based on real-life occultism.

Personally I hate this stuff even in games that play like D&D. Spell slots are silly and the arcane/divine split as an artificial D&D distinction.

I don't necessarily have an issue with antipaladins or the idea of an "unholy warrior", though.
 
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