Very recently, I posted about archetypes. I had something of an epiphany yesterday. Most of my thinking and rules tinkering occurs in a vacuum, since I have no group. So, when I pontificate on a topic, such as the idea of many different classes, it is essentially based more on principle than practice. It finally dawned on me that my thinking on classes comes from such a place.
My best friend and gaming buddy used to run his own brew of AD&D 1st, with bits of 2nd thrown in, and a heavy dose of house rules. He also had a lot of classes unique to his world that he had made up. Whenever you would sit down with him to make up a character, his guideline was "Any class is available, from 1st, 2nd, Dragon, whatever. If you have one you made up, run it by me." He wasn't worried about how the classes balanced against each other. If somebody wanted to play a class that was a little weak in actual play, that was their choice.
So, yesterday it hit me: a plethora of choices doesn't automatically restrict player options. Just because there is a ranger class shouldn't mean that other players can't track. Paladins do not have to be the only class that can Lay on Hands. If a players wants to make up a fighter and we can work out some backstory where he has some divine gift of healing, we can do that. If he wants to play a full-on Divine Warrior, he should be able to do so.
We do this for fun. As a player, I would not have found it fun in the least if I had told my friend "I have an idea for a druid for your new campaign" and he said "Well, ok, we'll start with a cleric. I'll try to work something in where you can quest for the shapechange ability, and I'll look over some of the druid spells and work them into the cleric list. How does that sound?" I would have said "It sounds like I'm playing a cleric. Nevermind."
As a corollary to this thought, it hit me that I don't play/referee enough for balance inconsistencies to actually manifest at the table. So, maybe some house rules isn't especially balanced. I can't tie myself up in knots over it, because it's likely I will never know, since I'll never generate a large enough play-experience example to chart it. So, maybe my latest monster design is actually too tough to appear on the 1st level of the dungeon. Well, oops. Maybe you should start running.