What is a class? I have variously heard classes described as archetypes, as like an occupation a character trains for, or as a methodology for solving problems. All of these descriptions are useful, and I don’t think there has to be a precise definition. But if D&D is to be an appealing class based role-playing system, I think the classes do have to be meaningful. They must serve a natural function in categorizing characters: class features should arise naturally from the archetype/occupation/methodology and not as arbitrary rules. Thus any character conceivable that fits the archetype should fit the class, not just certain personalities and backgrounds. Actions chosen should be driven by the character being played, not the class. So far, I do not expect strong disagreement – but on to the controversial parts of this post.
1. “Rogue” is NOT a class; it is a personality. Surely a character can be inclined toward discretion and subtle physical talents as a means of solving problems while still acting with honor and strict adherence to legal principles. And one can act irresponsibly, on the fringes of legal and or accepted behavior, with crude manners or as a dishonest charlatan while solving conflicts through brute strength and mastery of weapons with the protection of heavy armor.
2. “Barbarian” is NOT a class; it is a background. Surely a character can come from a technologically backward society outside the mainstream cultural norms and still approach problems, say, with a strong faith in the divine and through pursuit of the transcendental. On the other hand, even a highly refined paragon of social propriety can have a deep seated, thinly controlled rage when confronted with conflict.
3. “Monk” does NOT imply lawful. Surely one can exhibit high levels of personal discipline, self-denial, and rigorous training while still upholding the supremacy of the individual and opposing laws that suppress free personal expression – even to the point of opposing all laws in favor of personal responsibility (an anarchist view).
4. “Ranger” is NOT a class; it is a type of fighter. It is a person who has applied martial training and techniques is ways adapted to wilderness situations.
I recognize WOTC will probably be unwilling to address these complaints – there are some strong D&D traditions that are hard to change; eliminating rogue, barbarian, and ranger classes will turn off more customers than it pleases. But I would argue that there are traditions (e.g. THAC0) that need to change for the game to improve. If D&D next does not strive to improve upon – rather than to just re-create the game to sell new materials, it is destined to fail.