There is a super ridiculously large amount of chatter in forums, blogs, and other websites about the over- or under- powered effects of multiclassing in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. So, given the way that Wizards of the Coast designed the new game: why have classes at all?
Think about it...
- All the classes use the same progression table (p28 PHB I think).
- The powers, at each given level, are comparable across classes. Level 1 powers are just as "powerful" no matter what class you choose. OK, sure, some people will no doubt argue this fact - but that's a topic for another day.
- Removing the choice to multiclass from the game entirely eliminates the bitching associated with it.
Now, from a game designers point of view (not that I am one, but...) I could see the need to keep the whole notion of classes in D&D
- It's just the way things should be. Without classes, the game would not be D&D anymore.
- It provides easy, self-contained choices for new players to choose from. This facilitates people learning the game, and wanting to play. Too many options at the start can be daunting and will scare people off.
- An open, class-free game system would be too hard for a DM to keep track of and the level of player to DM abuse would skyrocket. Munchkins and PowerGamers would be roaming the streets, frothing at the mouth - and that is something we just can't have.
The way WoTC has encapsulated each class's abilities into fixed powers, at nearly every level of the game makes me scratch my head and think: Why the hell do we even need classes anymore? If my player wants to make a fireball throwing, healing, rogue who wears plate mail -- FINE! I mean, you could do that in 3.5, right?
The biggest obstacle I would see about a class-free system would be how to allocate Class Features, starting skills, etc. You know, all the stuff you get at 1st level. But - beyond that - if you make the prerequisites for some power or feat or something; take it!
Let me know what you think. I'm going to be thinking about this hard for a while I think - the idea just seems so "OMFG, of course!" I can't ignore it.
OCTOBER 2008 POST EDIT: This topic was also later addressed by Avaril over at DireKraken.com.