Last night, I concluded a really weird reverse-engineer of the “best” Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons classes, breaking them down into the most useful elementary parts. I guess it’d useful as a guide for anyone trying to rank the Fourth Edition classes into tiers, but I intend to use it for milestones in game design.

Taking into account the recent advent of themes and how they’ve proved immensely popular among optimizers and such (as the videos of my solo game session go up over the next couple weeks, I may talk a bit about how they helped shape my character Vandal) — and I started to wonder about their utility in character creation.

Race and class have been the two biggies for a long time. Your character’s race lends an idea of where they came from, and their class defines “what they do.” Now, a character’s theme gives you an idea of “how they got there.” It’s adding to a character using the “w’s” of who, what, when, where, why, and how. (Well, sort of, I guess.)

“Who” a character is may be difficult to define with a single class feature, since a character is really a combination of what’s on the paper and how the player uses what’s on the paper, and how the other players react to them and interact. Some aspects help though, like where you’re from, and how you got there.

“What” is probably best defined as a combination of your character class and theme, though theme overlaps quite a bit with “Where.” Think of it like this, “What you do” and “Where you come from” are generated through combination of your racial, social, and cultural backgrounds — represented (vaguely) by your race, class, and theme.

There are some other little things here and there that modify your character somewhat, but they’re largely incidental. I mean, your choice of weapon doesn’t really matter much except when you choose the WRONG one, and your feats don’t really matter unless you’re falling behind in the “feat tax.”

Backgrounds are only helpful when they provide you with a useful miscellaneous bonus (usually on par with a feat), and rarely when that bonus is a couple pluses to skills. The skill system means so little in actual play that it’s just embarrassing. I’ve seen some really good house rules for making skills mean more.

There’s more that ought to be covered, but let me get to my point, and if I think I need to come back to this, I will. Look for my race-class-theme analysis in a bit.