Much is made of the ‘archetypal’ nature of classes in older model D&D. The Fighter, the Wizard, the Thief, later additions like the Ranger and the Paladin—each one seems to embody a pretty broad outline that enables characters to be both instantly recognizable and infinitely diverse. But when I open the 1st Edition Player’s Guide, what I’m usually struck by is how very unique the ‘vision’ of each class really is. A woodsman who can cast spells? A priest who fights only with blunt objects? Vancian casting? And how did Bruce Lee get in there?
While these classes can be interpreted very broadly, in practice the D&D Druid (for instance) is pretty distinct from other historical nature-mystics. The AD&D classes are a diverse and oddly unique bunch, especially if you imagine them all in a party together and coming from the same general area. This is partly the result of the various sources from which they were drawn, partly the quirks of their creators.
Really, I think a class doesn’t need to work very hard to serve as an archetype. This is because of the nature of archetypes themselves and also the way players tend to stretch the edges of whatever box they’re put in. This leads me to wonder what it would be like if we substituted a number of more unusual and ‘niche’ classes for the traditional D&D classes. I have wanted to run a game for a while that had maybe 7-9 unusual classes to pick from that still served many of the same functions as the Fighter, Cleric, Mage and Thief combo that we all know and love.
Has anyone out there has already done this? What classes did you use? What ‘niche’ class ideas have you come up with?