I'm sorry to keep doing this to you people out there who haven't the opportunity to see these videos wherever you may happen to be, but lately I've just been feeling very visual, I've been seeking out lecture videos on youtube (which is a marvelous, time-consuming exercise) and its terribly convenient to be able to point out to people, "See, I'm not crazy, really brilliant people think so too!"
A fellow asked me recently why it was that I was driven to create this complicated environment for my players, in depth and elaborate in the extreme, but I continued to embrace the sort of clumsy cardboard framework of character classes.
I explained that the reason for this had a lot to do with choice.
It is generally believed by the friendly fuckwits at WOTC, and the many, many fools who frolic there, that increasing 'choice' into the fabric of the game cannot help but improve the game. This is a natural extension of a lot of different sociological factors that began with the Me Decade of the 1970s and carried forward into marketing and so on ... an ever accelerating process which is loosely connected to the subject we've been talking about the past few days, that being market research. Generally, market research was designed to identify what people wanted, so that markets could then produce those wants and therefore target people's needs in a way that would make them very happy. The introduction of 3.0 and 3.5, concentrating as it did upon many classes and many races, along with skill sets that offered hundreds of ways in which to fabricate a character for YOU personally, was a natural extension of something that was exploding in the marketing culture.
(Here you thought D&D was an 'underground' phenomenon. Shame on you)
This has backfired. Of course, I don't expect you to believe me that it's backfired, so let me have Barry Schwartz explain it to you:
In general, for those who can't hear the video, Schwartz makes two fundamental points. The first is that having choices - a great many choices - produces paralysis. People feel, particularly where they have little or nothing to base a choice upon, that they are almost certain to make the wrong choice. This has the consequence of making them feel inadequate in the face of change, causing them to either make choices for the sake of just getting past making the choice (and being disappointed) or of making no choice at all. In D&D, this is commonly expressed in farming the choice out to someone at the table, usually the DM, who has far more experience than the player. Depending upon the DM, this can be either a good thing or a bad thing, but the principle issue is that it isn't the player making the choice.
Schwartz's other point is that increased number of choices causes individuals to concentrate more upon the choices they did not make rather than the ones they did. So the character who, as part of the creation of their character, has decided upon the skill of making armor, discovers too late that fishing would have been more useful and valuable given the campaign they're in, and are therefore dissatisfied with their choice to the point where they blame their own shortcomings. This is a much bigger problem than most campaigns realize, as the words "I've been fucking stupid," are somewhat anathema to the game, producing players who are sullen and unhappy with the characters they had the freedom to create.
I would argue, for anyone familiar with the original class system, and familiar with the later skill-choice system, that their memories of the game are that people in general, particularly less experienced players, are much less happy with the characters they ran in 3.5 than characters in earlier game-systems.
Look at the elements of human nature. We as people are almost entirely unable to choose who we are. The skill sets we have when we reach the age of 18 are largely those things which our families happened to know. If your father was not a great cook, you're probably not much good in the kitchen. If your mother was wild about fishing, and took you into the woods to fish every summer, you probably know quite a lot about fishing. For the most part, you're just not familiar with things that haven't been dangled in front of you, and this is even more true of someone growing up three generations ahead of you, who did not have access to most modern media.
So who you are and what you know is something you simply have as you become a young adult, and except for some envy issues you probably have about friends who get given cars by their rich parents, you're probably content that you know how to play hockey or basketball or curling or what have you. Yes, you may not know how to sail, but you're not bitter about it when you first encounter a sailboat. You never got the chance to learn. It's not your fault.
So if the game includes a powerful restriction on who you are - i.e., a rigorous class structure of fighter or mage or thief - you're prepared to live with that. Moreover, every fighter is the same, every mage is close to the same (the hard part is choosing spells) and every thief is the same. You're not punished for not picking the "right" elements of the fighter that lets you fight differently from other fighters. And once you're used to fighters, a fairly shallow learning curve, you're comfortable playing them.
The world, on the other hand, for you in reality, is a wide open vista. You don't want to live in a cage. You want a big, massive, complicated world because that is the world you live with everyday. Having a million choices in the world is more comfortable for you, because the world actually offers you a million choices. Yes, sometimes you'll make the wrong choice, but since you're not identifying your personality on the choices you make in the world, you're more comfortable when you make the wrong choice.
So in general, it is better to make the character creation process more stale and predictable, because your players will be happier. And it makes more sense to make the actual game world more elaborate and complex, because your players will be happier. Those players who are familiar with the variety of choices, who have parsed them out in depth, will grumble about the lack of their choices, but the base line for ALL your players will be improved.
Schwartz is talking to an audience in the hope of making the whole world understand this entirely proveable concept against their gut instinct, which is making all of us - daily - less happy. But for your world to improve on the basis of his argument, the only person who needs to believe this is YOU.
I really liked this one: