Seems like every game is an RPG these days. At this point we fully expect the next chapter of Tetris to tout “RPG elements!” on the box. It’s the cliché of our times. But saying something has been inspired by RPGs usually means more than “it has numbers and a skill tree.” Just about anything with even a whiff of RPG about it can trace its roots back to Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop adventure that debuted back in the ’70s.

Perhaps the greatest contribution D&D made to gaming wasn’t just the use of numbers and random rolls to determine success and strength, but rather the definition of, well, roles. D&D laid down the basis for the character archetypes that appear in nearly every modern game, especially anything that even vaguely resembles an RPG. And, as it turns out, just about everything breaks down to one of three character types: The warrior, the wizard, and the thief. Or to put it into proper D&D 1st Edition terms, the Fighter, the Magic-User, and the Rogue.

The Fighter



What Was It?

Your basic down-and-dirty brawler, the Fighter makes use of a wide range of weapons and armor in order to deliver efficient hurt to deserving foes.

What Inspired It?

The Fighter was Conan the Barbarian through and through. John Carter of Mars minus the laser guns. Your classic huge, muscular man with a sword in one hand and a buxom newly-liberated slave girl hanging off the other. He probably speaks without bother with things like “articles” or “grammar,” and when other people describe him they probably use words like “thews” and “sinews.” He may not be highly educated, but he know exactly where to put the pointy part of a sword for maximum effect.

The Paladin

The Paladin took the Fighter concept in a very specific direction: As holy warriors sworn to work to protect others and uphold the greater good, Paladins gained greater power and impressive spiritual skills. The tradeoff? They could only behave according to the strictures of D&D’s Lawful (or Lawful Good) alignment, limiting their potential solutions for problems as well as their potential allies.

The Ranger

The Ranger uses his strength to commune with nature and befriend animals. This may sound silly, but when a Ranger’s animal pals include eagles, bears, and even dragons, you probably don’t want to laugh too loudly. A Ranger probably won’t help much in cities, but he’s an invaluable ally in the wilderness… you know, where most D&D adventures take place.

The Monk

If you grew up in a Christian-dominated society and the word “monk” evokes visions of dudes in sackcloth and tonsured hairstyles, this class might have been a little confusing at first. No, the D&D Monk draws upon the Eastern monastic tradition of ascetic living and sweet martial arts. Devastatingly powerful unarmed fighters, Monks tend to be a little fragile since they don’t wear heavy armor. But they make up for it with their mastery of the spirit, which allows them to channel their inner strength anf the power of the Earth to heal themselves and others.

What’s Its Legacy?

The fighter is basically the default class in any kind of role-playing game. After all, it’s the easiest role in a combat-driven RPG to understand: You hit something, it dies. But there’s surprising nuance to this class and its interpretations.

No look at character classes would be complete without the Final Fantasy Job System, one of the most detailed and considerate distillations of character skills in the medium. The Job System typically includes Knight and Monk among its most basic classes, with interesting variants along the way. The Mage Knight allows players to retain the standard perks of the Knight class with elemental augments, where Rangers and Archers incorporate ranged combat skills into their repertoire. Final Fantasy’s Job-based games also offer one of gaming’s purest takes on the D&D Monk class, fast and powerful albeit fragile.

The Fighter concept mutates in interesting ways for RPGs that stray from the classic sword-and-sorcery template. In Mass Effect, for instance, most combat revolves around shooty sci-fi weapons… but then you have the Soldier class, which leans on heavy weapons and high durability, and the Vanguard, whose strength is closing the gap with enemies quickly to deliver a shotgun blast to the face. Similar concept, different execution.

In massively multiplayer RPGs, the Fighter’s descendants usually serve as the base of the team, serving the essentials roles of tank and the DPS. And of course you have those old-school fantasy brawlers, where Golden Axe’s barbarian and the alarmingly pinheaded Amazon in Dragon’s Crown uphold the classic archetype.

The Magic-User


What Was It?

“Blimey, ‘arry, yer a wizard!” Casting magic, slinging spells, and not necessarily being a fragile little weakling in a robe while doing it.

What Inspired It?

Pretty much everything in D&D came from Lord of the Rings, so it seems pretty likely Gary Gygax had his thumb on the bits where Gandalf did cool stuff like splitting rocks and summoning great beasts when he was drafting the Magic-User. In the super old-school D&D days, Magic-Users had to really work hard to do their job, memorizing a limited number of spells and only being able to use them once per day — and forgetting them once cast! Honestly, modern-day magic points are just a watered-down imitation of true D&D rules.

The Wizard

The classic model of the magic-user, the Wizard suffers extreme physical frailty heightened by their inability to use any armor that’s worth a damn. But when it comes to nasty battles against huge mobs of foes or insanely high-level beasts, there’s no one you’d rather have on your side than a rumpled old man chuckin’ Magic Missiles with impunity.

The Cleric

Originally, Cleric was one of just three classes available to D&D players, standing separate from and distinct to Wizards. But soon after, they rolled into the general mage category, becoming the “white” counterpart to the Wizard’s “black” magic. Calling on holy power, the Cleric could heal the living and banish the undead… and isn’t too lousy in a scrap thanks to some decent weapon proficiency.

The Bard

A special prestige class, the D&D Bard took exceptional dedication to master. But the result was a spectacularly talented character, one able to hold his own as an active combatant or a valuable support character. In later editions, the Bard drifted from mage classification to become more of a Rogue type. A Roguelike, if you will.

What’s Its Legacy?

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the series’ steadfast old-fashionedness, Dragon Quest has always stuck most closely to the traditional D&D concept of magic-users. Sorcerers like DQIV’s Maya are physically weak — almost tragically so — but cast devastating attack spells and can sometimes even transform into raging beasts. on the other hand, Dragon Quest clerics tend to be handy melee warriors but trade a degree of physical strength and defense for the ability to cast curative magic.

In Japanese RPGs, mages generally tend to be young female characters, often scantily clad (apparently they figure that since they can’t use armor for protection, they shouldn’t bother dressing at all). They usually wield staves and rods, deal negligible physical damage, and should lurk in the back row of combat to avoid being utterly slaughtered.

Western RPGs, on the other hand, tend to favor the Gandalf model. Old dudes and ancient crones study magic for centuries, becoming wizened little Yodas capable of tear the fabric of reality asunder with a thought. All along the Sword Coast, the scent of magical catalysts is complemented by the smell of Ben-Gay.

Even RPGs that avoid using fantasy conventions, such as our old friend Mass Effect, deal with wizards. They call magic “biotics” and their mages “Adepts,” but whatever. Memorizing spells and amplifying your innate psychic potential with implants is all pretty much the same.

Meanwhile, more traditional RPGs like Etrian Odyssey and Final Fantasy Tactics make use of Bards (and their lady equivalents, Dancers) in the classic D&D sense: A nimble warrior skilled in the sword but even better for singing spells of party enhancement and enemy debuffs.

The Rogue


What Was It?

A sneaky pilferer who slips through the night in order to take your money. And your heirloom jewelry. And, possibly, your life.

What Inspired It?

The Thief began as a rogue, equal parts Bilbo Baggins (sneaking silently to steal goodies) and Fritz Leiber’s Gray Mouser (preferring guile to conflict). While D&D originally began life as a distillation of tabletop war gaming, it had stats like “charisma” and “intelligence” that determined how effectively its players could role-play in the true sense: Interacting with characters performed by the game master, creating allegiances and winning allies with words as much as deeds. The Rogue and Thief classes specialized in these areas… and in figuring out how to crack locks and disarm traps, whether on the door of a citizen’s home or hiding treasure inside a dungeon chest.

The Assassin

While the Thief specialized in pilfering goods, the Assassin class used its stealthiness in a more predatory capacity: Namely, pilfering lives. With greater combat capabilities, instant-kill skills, and better proficiency in disguises, Assassins took the Thief profession in a deadlier direction — albeit one with less finesse.

What’s Its Legacy?

The Rogue has never been that huge a presence in Japanese RPGs. Sure, you can name some memorable thieves — Locke Cole from Final Fantasy VI (though he preferred the term “treasure hunter” and Rutee Katrea from Tales of Destiny come to mind — but by and large that class never gained much traction. That’s probably because Japan already has ninjas, which are basically thieves and assassins, but several orders of magnitude cooler. Video games never have “cyborg thieves,” but “cyborg ninjas”? Those guys are all over the place.

On the other hand, Western RPGs love the concept of Rogues and Thieves. This is true of licensed MMOs like The Old Republic — the Smuggler class is basically Han Solo, who was referred to multiple times in the movie as a rogue! — and of more traditional RPGs as well. In fact, stealth and theft have become endemic elements of Western RPGs to the point that Rogues often make the easiest class to play.

Case in point: The Elder Scrolls games. Between the class’ tradition of a silver tongue and the utility of stealing (and selling) everything in sight, building a thief is so practical that it’s one of the game’s core options. Built right, Elder Scrolls Thieves essentially break the game by combining stealth, archery, and preemptive attack perks.

Jeremy Parish was voted Best Dressed Games Writer by a jury of his peers. Follow him on Twitter @gamespite for updates on Breaking Bad, fancy hats, and roguelikes.

Seems like every game is an RPG these days. At this point we fully expect the next chapter of Tetris to tout “RPG elements!” on the box. It’s the cliché of our times. But saying something has been inspired by RPGs usually means more than “it has numbers and a skill tree.” Just about anything with even a whiff of RPG about it can trace its roots back to Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop adventure that debuted back in the ’70s.

Perhaps the greatest contribution D&D made to gaming wasn’t just the use of numbers and random rolls to determine success and strength, but rather the definition of, well, roles. D&D laid down the basis for the character archetypes that appear in nearly every modern game, especially anything that even vaguely resembles an RPG. And, as it turns out, just about everything breaks down to one of three character types: The warrior, the wizard, and the thief. Or to put it into proper D&D 1st Edition terms, the Fighter, the Magic-User, and the Rogue.

The Fighter



What Was It?

Your basic down-and-dirty brawler, the Fighter makes use of a wide range of weapons and armor in order to deliver efficient hurt to deserving foes.

What Inspired It?

The Fighter was Conan the Barbarian through and through. John Carter of Mars minus the laser guns. Your classic huge, muscular man with a sword in one hand and a buxom newly-liberated slave girl hanging off the other. He probably speaks without bother with things like “articles” or “grammar,” and when other people describe him they probably use words like “thews” and “sinews.” He may not be highly educated, but he know exactly where to put the pointy part of a sword for maximum effect.

The Paladin

The Paladin took the Fighter concept in a very specific direction: As holy warriors sworn to work to protect others and uphold the greater good, Paladins gained greater power and impressive spiritual skills. The tradeoff? They could only behave according to the strictures of D&D’s Lawful (or Lawful Good) alignment, limiting their potential solutions for problems as well as their potential allies.

The Ranger

The Ranger uses his strength to commune with nature and befriend animals. This may sound silly, but when a Ranger’s animal pals include eagles, bears, and even dragons, you probably don’t want to laugh too loudly. A Ranger probably won’t help much in cities, but he’s an invaluable ally in the wilderness… you know, where most D&D adventures take place.

The Monk

If you grew up in a Christian-dominated society and the word “monk” evokes visions of dudes in sackcloth and tonsured hairstyles, this class might have been a little confusing at first. No, the D&D Monk draws upon the Eastern monastic tradition of ascetic living and sweet martial arts. Devastatingly powerful unarmed fighters, Monks tend to be a little fragile since they don’t wear heavy armor. But they make up for it with their mastery of the spirit, which allows them to channel their inner strength anf the power of the Earth to heal themselves and others.

What’s Its Legacy?

The fighter is basically the default class in any kind of role-playing game. After all, it’s the easiest role in a combat-driven RPG to understand: You hit something, it dies. But there’s surprising nuance to this class and its interpretations.

No look at character classes would be complete without the Final Fantasy Job System, one of the most detailed and considerate distillations of character skills in the medium. The Job System typically includes Knight and Monk among its most basic classes, with interesting variants along the way. The Mage Knight allows players to retain the standard perks of the Knight class with elemental augments, where Rangers and Archers incorporate ranged combat skills into their repertoire. Final Fantasy’s Job-based games also offer one of gaming’s purest takes on the D&D Monk class, fast and powerful albeit fragile.

The Fighter concept mutates in interesting ways for RPGs that stray from the classic sword-and-sorcery template. In Mass Effect, for instance, most combat revolves around shooty sci-fi weapons… but then you have the Soldier class, which leans on heavy weapons and high durability, and the Vanguard, whose strength is closing the gap with enemies quickly to deliver a shotgun blast to the face. Similar concept, different execution.

In massively multiplayer RPGs, the Fighter’s descendants usually serve as the base of the team, serving the essentials roles of tank and the DPS. And of course you have those old-school fantasy brawlers, where Golden Axe’s barbarian and the alarmingly pinheaded Amazon in Dragon’s Crown uphold the classic archetype.

By Jeremy Parish