I’m going to reference another of -C’s posts from Hack & Slash. This time, it’s about Prestige Classes. In the post, -C notes:
The problem with codifying prestige classes is that players cannot help but focus on what they are going to be instead of what they are. This isn’t a problem with prestige classes, this is a problem with codifying them. So we don’t need a book of prestige classes, we don’t need a book filled with restrictions and limits and builds. We really don’t even need rules on how to construct a prestige class. What do we need? Simply the idea that perhaps somewhere in the world is someone willing to teach you something you don’t already know.
I keep running up against this concept as I design games. I like to design the structures for things but leave the content somewhat blank, to be discovered or created during play. Many players aren’t going to like this strategy, at least at first, because generating content is hard and they want that done for them, and because they are used to having an optimization problem to solve, but it’s been taken away. I rarely want to create all of the elements of a given structure (spells, abilities, classes, etc) , and it’s not because I’m lazy (honest!), it’s because every time I do, I’m creating one more thing that all of the players are going to have to go through to make sure they’re building exactly the character they want – when in the end we could have just skipped all of the codified game elements straight to custom content. It also means that if I codify those things, any imbalances are going to be harder to clean up, because the players may have planned a build around getting those imbalances. I think the player feels like they’ve been earned, more so than a custom-built power.