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Racial Limitations on Class Choices

June 29, 2012
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While looking through my list of unfinished drafts, I found this post that I had always intended to revisit after I began it back in November of last year.  Unfortunately, the Twitter conversation I discuss may be long gone now, but the question is still an interesting one:  Should WoW allow us to create a character of any class regardless of race?

Gnome druid cat form – I wish!

There’s nothing like attempting to have long discussion about lore through a medium that only allows you 140 characters at a time.  Despite its limitations, when this discussion happened back in November, Twitter ended up being a fantastic place to get several bloggers into a debate over whether all class choices should be available to all races.  (The conversation began when I, once again, appealed to the Blizzard gods for access to gnome druids.  Zaralynda understandingly questioned my sanity.)

Psynister then had this to say on the matter:

His point (which I hope I can do justice here), was that there is nothing inherent to any of the Warcraft races that should prevent an individual from becoming whatever class she would like to become.  Here is the rest of Psynister’s argument, pieced together from several tweets:

[Gnomes becoming druids is] only improbable because all the races have been pigeonholed into specific classes from the beginning.   I don’t think you can say that races should continue to be restricted simply because it’s not normal. It’s refusing to evolve. You can draw racial restrictions into the real world to see why it should have no place for something so simple as “it’s not normal” or “it’s always been this way.”  Time for lore to evolve.

(from @Psynister)

It’s a really interesting line of argument, and one that I wasn’t considering at all when I initially disagreed with the notion that some races simply could not be certain classes.  When Psynister later asked what race/class combinations broke my sense of immersion, I immediately answered that I could not conceive of a Forsaken paladin/shaman/druid, nor of a night elf warlock.

Of these, the warlock issue is easiest to debunk.  Illidan is, essentially, a night elf warlock – and that is precisely why I have trouble believing that the night elves would allow someone of their race to go down the path that he did.  The problem is that night elves (both NPCs and now player-created characters since Cataclysm) can become mages.  A warlock is basically a fallen mage (warlocks who dislike this description may feel free to assume that mages are basically warlocks who haven’t realized their true potential yet), and so every other race who is capable of becoming a mage can also become a warlock.  That makes sense, in lore.

Is a night elf capable of becoming a warlock?  Absolutely.  Would they have the same in-game experience that every other night elf in the game has?  Not a chance.

This, for me, is the primary issue with unusual race/class combinations.  For a night elf to choose to become a warlock, they would have an entirely different experience of the world than a night elf warrior or druid.  They would be shunned by their community and turned away as an outcast – were they not outright killed.  Within the restraints of WoW’s questing system, it’s just not possible for every single race/class option to have a unique starting experience.  While I would absolutely love to see this level of personalization in the leveling system, realistically I know how much effort would go into writing and implementing quest lines for each possibility.

Where I have the most difficulty believing that a combination could work at all is with the more vocational classes.  In the case of priests, paladins, druids, and shaman, it is not simply that their practitioners study hard and become masters.  For those who call on the Light, Elune, or the elements, those entities must respond – they must answer the call.  Would the elements respond to a Forsaken who wishes to be a shaman?  We know that Forsaken priests are gifted in the use of Shadow, but those who wish to use the Light pay a terrible price to do so (an affliction best described in the short story “Fresh,” but also confirmed by Ghostcrawler’s comments on the subject).  Using the Light is “self-destructive,” according to Ghostcrawler, because Forsaken who call upon it feel “as if their entire bodies are being consumed in righteous fire.”  What could this mean for a Forsaken who wishes to use the elements and become a shaman?  If the whole concept of the Forsaken is that they are unnatural (i.e. against nature), why would the elements or Elune ever grant them power, and what could that power possibly look like?

On the other hand, some race/class combinations seem to be so obviously possible that it’s difficult to understand why Blizzard wouldn’t want to allow them.  I am always baffled by any race who can become both warriors and priests, but are unable to be paladins.  This might make sense if the only paladins in the game were those originally trained by the Silver Hand, but we know this isn’t the case.  If a gnome (or any other race you like, I just happen to be invested in the importance of gnomes), can be a fierce warrior and a champion of the Light, why isn’t becoming a paladin a logical step?

A gnome paladin … I wish!

Would opening up all race/class combinations break Warcraft’s immersion for you?  Or, does NOT being able to create exactly the character you want break your immersion?  What race/class combos do you think should be added to the game?  What combos do you think can’t work and why?

*Note:  Both of the images used in this post were found using a Google image search, and I could not trace them back to specific owners or creators.  If you happen to know where either of these images came from, please let me know so I can give proper credit!*

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 4:36 pm

    Right, I now want a sabre-tooth bobcat form for my druid. :-D

    • June 29, 2012 4:39 pm

      I KNOW, RIGHT?! :D

      The forum where I found that picture claimed it was an early version of artwork for the troll druid forms. Those are way too adorable to be trolls, though.

  2. June 29, 2012 5:05 pm

    Gnome hunters need to be a thing.

    Also, your points about how night elves and warlocks are spot on when you consider what’s going on with Warlocks in Mists: the Council of Six Daggers sends people out to Outland to steal the secrets of the Demon Hunters. Demonology, especially the tanking version, becomes the equivalent of Demon Hunters.

    • June 29, 2012 5:13 pm

      Oh, I can’t wait to read more about that! I’ve seen a little of the info coming out about the Council of Six Daggers but haven’t looked into it completely yet.

      And, yes, don’t get me started on gnome hunters. Or gnome shaman – imagine the totems.

  3. June 29, 2012 10:28 pm

    All right, so now I really want a druid gnome since I would actually want to be feral just to be that cute :D :D :D

    I agree that a lot of combinations should exist, though some still don’t make a lot of sense. I’m just worried that if Blizzard tried to start doing all of the combinations that make sense, they would give up on lore and just allow them all ya know? Thought honestly I don’t think I’d notice very much since my immersion is all in my personal questing etc since no one plays in character anyway….

    Anya

    • June 30, 2012 10:10 am

      For me, immersion while leveling is kind of a weird thing. I usually have my character’s personality in my head while I play, even if I’m not actually roleplaying at all. Despite that, I still end up taking and completing quests that my characters probably wouldn’t want to do just because I want XP. It makes for a strange disconnect.

      Personally, I think that the way Blizzard wrote worgen druids into WoW proves that if they want a race/class combo to exist they will invent a way to make it happen … regardless of how ridiculous the result might be. :P

  4. June 30, 2012 8:28 am

    I’m a great fan of soft boundaries rather than hard ones in game design. It seems to me that the way to resolve this problem is to have a category of race/class combinations that is discouraged, but not forbidden. In other words the game designers are clear that if you choose this route, it will simply be harder and you will receive no compensatory benefit other than rarity.

    As an example, if you wanted to be a gnome druid, you might be required to:
    a) Get a gnome to level cap as a normal class
    b) Reach exalted with a race that permits druids
    c) Do a long quest chain to be permitted to train
    d) Start again with that character as a level 1 druid (albeit with banked gear/money/reputation intact), losing the level capped version.

    That would make it relatively rare, but not impossible.

    • June 30, 2012 10:07 am

      Great idea, and it’s actually pretty close to how this works in SWTOR. In that MMO, there are set races that are able to choose certain classes, just like in WoW. But, if you level a race all the way to cap you unlock the ability to purchase a reward that will allow you to make a character of that race as any class. Obviously it’s a time investment to level a character to 50, and the credits you have to spend to unlock the reward are pretty substantial. It’s not quite as prohibitive as what you describe – and I somewhat like what you’ve created better, as it gives more significance to your action than spending a pile of money does – but it’s a current example of an MMO requiring you to do something more difficult to create a class/race combination that would have to be rarer according to lore.

  5. June 30, 2012 2:47 pm

    Gnome Druids would be so unbelievably wonderful, I’d pay for race change in a heartbeat if Blizzard ever relent.

  6. pkudude99 permalink
    July 10, 2012 10:55 am

    Sorry for the necro-comment, but I just stumbled on your blog today.

    I’ve never understood race/class restrictions in any RPG, whether PnP or MMO. I was thrilled when D&D stopped with that. My 1st MMO was SWG — no restrictions. You did whatever you wanted with your skill points regardless of race. From there I moved to EQ2 — again, no restrictions whatsoever and you could even change faction to change a class if you wanted so I had a High Elf Shadowknight, and Ogre Monk, etc, even though thesse were “cross-faction” classes for the race chosen.

    This was one of the reasons I didn’t initially pick up WoW. I hated that they restricted race/class combos. I eventually got into the Vanguard beta and it had some restrictions, but in the beta, at least, there actually weren’t that many. The game at launch was more restricted than the beta was, which again, I hated (and I didn’t play Vanguard at launch either, though this was a very minor part of that).

    I bipped around various MMO’s, keeping EQ2 as my primary game and whatever game caught my fancy as a secondary. I settled on EVE for about 3 years — no race/class restrictions. I eventually dumped EQ2 in favor of Rift. No race/class restrictions there either.

    Now I’m in SWTOR and the initial restrictions annoyed, so I’m glad they made a way around them, though IMO they still shouldn’t exist in the 1st place. I’ll be picking up TSW in another month or so as well. Since Human is the only race but you choose your own path as you like it, it still feel “unrestricted” to me as a result.

    I’m sensing a pattern here. TBH, if someone asked me a list of features I really like in an MMO, lack of race/class restriction wouldn’t even come up, yet now that I’m actually looking at it here. . . . seems like unconsciously it’s actually a big thing for me.

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