I was perusing blogs earlier today that I haven't looked closely at recently, and I came across this post that details a 'Mariner' character class for Castles & Crusades. As someone who is in the Navy, who has previously expressed an enjoyment of naval (or maritime-themed) campaigns, this caught my eye. I read through it and thought that it was a pretty nice treatment of what I would want a mariner to be.
This, then, got me to thinking: Does there need to be a mariner class to run a maritime-themed campaign? My mind raced for a few minutes and then I found myself asking that age-old question: Do there need to be a multitude of character classes in D&D (incuding all of its various iterations and clones)?
The question might be considered odd, coming from someone who created his first character class shortly after learning the rules a good 27+ years ago. Or from someone whose only product for 4E is a character class supplement. (That contains a Paragon Path and Epic Destiny specifically designed for adventuring in and around water no less!) But, then again, I think that everyone has pondered this question at one time or another, if only for a moment.
I wrestled back and forth and came to that (also) age-old answer: It depends.
(I know: That handful of you who were expecting a grand pronouncement one way or the other followed by a finely crafted discussion explaining my POV are now sorely disappointed. Luckily for me, it is only a handful.)
So now that I've taken the cop-out, I suppose that I should explain why. I think that in the newer editions, character customization is such an integral aspect of the game that to limit character options in any way would detract from what those games are about. For those editions, a multitude of classes (and other ways to tweak them) is vital.
The answer becomes a little more muddied for the older editions. Do they really need as much mechanical differentiation between classes? I can think of arguments for and against. And I could list them all here.
(And, I started to type several, but then I realized, why bother?)
Ultimately, what you at your gaming table do, you will continue to do despite whatever I say. And even more importantly, whatever I say here will have little impact on what I choose to do at my gaming table. Because hypothetical discussions on a blog are one thing, but real world game play is much more important.