Taking More Classes Build Character
Ye olde TL;DR - Players can build an infinite variety of characters by combining classes in creative ways.
One of the most common criticisms of old-school tabletop RPGs that I’ve heard from newcomers is the limited array of class options. Those that wanted to play a simple fighter, cleric, or magic-user anyway are undeterred. But players whose character concept doesn’t fit squarely into one of these molds can get discouraged. I definitely don’t fault anyone for wanting to stand by their dream adventurer. Fortunately for them, just because there isn’t an explicit class for your ideal character doesn’t mean you can’t create it.
One way to do so is to embrace the old-style conception of classes. To understand what I mean, consider this: what is a fighter? If you only see it through the lens of a modern fantasy system, you might think this is a character donning heavy armor and wielding hefty melee weapons, hacking away on the front line. To the old-school mind, though, a fighter is merely one who fights. A burly berserker and a sneaky thief are both at home in this class. What differentiates them isn’t special abilities, it’s imaginative roleplaying.
The fighter class was meant to encompass everyone who didn’t use magic. The two remaining classes both use magic, and are only distinguished by how they wield it. A cleric is a spellcaster that serves a divine patron in return for the ability to channel magic. By contrast, A magic-user is one that derives their magical power from somewhere else. That’s it.
Broad as these classes are, you may not be able to bend them to fit the adventurer you have in mind. So, the other way to get there is to build your character by multiclassing. With a creative combination of classes--and a lot of XP--you can play any “class” you can think of.
Allow me to demonstrate these two approaches by retooling popular “modern” fantasy RPG classes into old-school formats.
Give your arcane academic or thoughtful theologian a double-major
What is a “paladin” but a cleric with some fighter levels? Or perhaps it’s a fighter with some cleric levels? It all depends on how prominent faith is in your character’s narrative.
A “druid” is cleric plus magic-user, plus living in the woods. Again, your preferred style of “druid” will decide how much of each class you fold into the mix.
A “bard” is a magic-user who likes to sing, and fight even less than normal. And, living the troubadour’s life, “bards” know a lot more about the world than your average bookworm spellcaster. Or maybe your bard does have a couple of fighter levels, just to know how heroics should feel.
A “warlock” is really just a cleric with an insane god. Consequently, a player with a warlock character is really just asking for their referee to hold them to their “religious” precepts.
Crafting a “sorcerer”, one whose very being is magic, is a little trickier, but still possible with some inventiveness. Perhaps they are a cleric whose god is their ancestor. Or maybe they’re a magic-user whose spells are written on their body.
Mixed medieval martial arts
As alluded to earlier, fighters are quite a flexible designation. With some modest equipment and roleplaying tweaks, you can take them far. Observe.
If your fighter is good with their hands, has a propensity for theft, and wears less armor, what you have is a “rogue”.
A “ranger” is a fighter who likes bows and arrows. And the great outdoors, of course! Or maybe bows aren’t their thing--your call. Nature is non-negotiable, though.
Does your fighter have anger management issues? Sounds like you’ve got a “barbarian”. If you insist on powering up your character when they’re enraged, you could acquire suitable potions or magic items.
And if you take away all of a fighter’s armor and most of their weapons, you’ve crafted a “monk”. Give them back some “monk”-type weapons if you want.
It's not the classes, but how you use them
Realizing your roleplaying preferences through reimagination and multiclassing pushes you to think more methodically about your character development choices. You may even notice that your character performs with as much creativity as you built them with.