Classy Rhetoric, Part 1

Once upon a time, I ran sessions of a Living Greyhawk campaign for a group out in California. One of the players had a half-orc fighter armed with a pair of wrist blades (Wizards of the Coast’s homage to Wolverine). When the party was assailed by a band of goblins, he stood before them and roared a defiant challenge. I called on him to make an Intimidate roll. At the time, Intimidate was not a class skill for fighters, so with no skill points and a 6 Charisma, he made his roll. He rolled a 2, leaving him at 0. Even with a modifier I had in mind for his size, he just wasn’t scary. And yet, is there a person among us that would not have found that moment frightening? A 6’3” green muscled beast with blades protruding past his hands and he looks like he wants to filet us – how is that not scary? But that’s one of the weird elements of RPGs, especially ones with class systems.

Each class in D&D and Pathfinder takes up a few niches in the “how do we solve encounters” spectrum. Fighters get violence, wizards and sorcerers get arcane magic, clerics get a little of several things, and rogues get specialized violence. At some point (I’m pretty sure it was the advent of 3rd edition), “Interpersonal Interaction” became a defined niche in the spectrum, and was given to the bard and the rogue (with a little for the cleric). Both WotC and Paizo have since gone on to use Interpersonal Interaction most sparingly as a resolution possibility. How this decision has closed off rhetorical options to the classes that aren’t bards and rogues is an interesting side effect.

Many of the characters from history or literature that we remember are remembered, at least in part, for being leaders as well as warriors. Julius Caesar, Atilla the Hun, Genghis Khan, George Patton – all able to motivate men to fight and not bad in a scrap themselves. Gandalf the Grey got a lot further on his ability to talk people into things than he did on his magic. I worry that classifying and compartmentalizing interpersonal interaction systems is actually cutting off some players from meaningfully participating in the roleplaying aspect of a roleplaying game.

To be certain, player choice can manage a lot of these problems: there are traits to give access to class skills in Pathfinder, and a point buy system means that you only get a 6 Charisma if you ask for one. At the same time, when a game closes off interpersonal options, it also reduces opportunities for roleplaying. That should be a concern to anyone who wants their game to be more than a miniatures combat with the occasional Monty Python joke.


One thought on “Classy Rhetoric, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Classy Rhetoric, Part 2 | Rhetorical Gaming

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s