[RPG] way to ask in game (i.e. in a non-meta way) what a character’s class is


Is there a way to ask in game (i.e. in a non-meta way) what a character's class is? There have been a few times when my character is meeting an NPC (allied combatant) or another PC and it's bugging me that I can't think of a non-meta way to ask what their class is.

My goal is to figure out what a character can do. I don't care (in this context) if, for example, a sorcerer is a bandit (that's background) — the point is learning that their fighting style is that of a sorcerer.

I've had my DM or fellow player tell me to RP finding out.

Anyone have any ideas?

Best Answer

There is no non-metagaming way...

...because class is a metagame construct: from the characters' perspective, it doesn't exist. There is no good way to determine "class" as a hard fact for the character, because a particular set of abilities does not cleanly map to the character's identity and societal position in-world.

To put it a different way (using D&D 5E terminology)...

  • You have a two characters who wear heavy armor without discomfort, swing a greatsword with skill, and call on the powers of a deity to enhance their abilities and destroy their enemies. Are you dealing with a War Cleric or a Paladin?

  • You have two characters who wear medium armor, wield a longsword, and cast arcane spells1. Are you dealing with an Eldritch Knight Fighter, or a multi-classed Fighter/Wizard?

To emphasize the difference even more... all four2 of these characters, if asked in game (without metagaming), may call themselves a knight.


Even within the same class, knowing a character's class may not tell you anything substantial about their capabilities. Knowledge that a character is a sorcerer, for instance, doesn't tell you anything about how the character might fight. Even if one knows a character is a sorcerer, without observation or simply asking in-character (i.e. "Hey, finger wiggler, what spells do you know?"), there is no question that would give insight on how a sorcerer is going to fight that isn't also asking for metagame information.


Furthermore, in some editions, NPCs are built entirely differently from characters - they don't have classes or levels at all. In those cases, the name of the stat block in use may be more descriptive than a class, but it's not guaranteed to have anything to do with the character's role or place in society.

To use another D&D 5E example, using the bandit stat block does not mean the character is a criminal. It could just as easily be a poorly equipped town guard or a mediocre hunter/trapper.


The point is this:

A character's class defines what the character can do, not who they are. The in-character answers may have very little bearing on the metagame/mechanical answer.

1We could go even further if it's a Githyanki we're talking about; they get the appropriate proficiencies via race. We could be talking to a pure wizard, bard, sorcerer, or warlock.

2...or five...