Since NPCs are made using either NPC classes or PC classes, they're all built using a strict of rules. This would mean that the vast majority of NPCs with the Wizard class don't wear armour. It's D&D, there are a ton of classes and builds, there will be armoured arcane casters, I accept this.

As players of the game, the DM and the Players know this. But, do PCs and NPCs know this?

In an AP, there is a character that is trying to hide being an Evil Cleric and claiming to be a 'necromancer' to his goons, who would desert him if they knew he was a Cleric of Evil Bad Terrible God. Would the fact that he's clearly wearing armour and carrying a sword not immediately raise flags?

I could see it being argued that the goons, being Mere Goons, don't realise this, but we have a party of well-travelled PCs. Would they, IC, know that wizards don't wear armour or carry weapons?

Basically, do PCs know what classes are? Do they know the equipment restrictions of classes, such as the Wizard? Could they figure out an NPCs class and therefore capabilities? Do the terms Sorcerer, Wizard, Paladin, Rogue all have the same meaning to the PCs as to the players?

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    \$\begingroup\$ There are two questions here, one which is fairly straightforward (do characters know that arbor interferes with magic it at least done magic), and one which is impossibly contentious (are classes “real” in-character, or purely metagame). Strongly recommend focusing on just the first, which actually probably can be answered. Though doing it system-agnostically may also be problematic. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think system agnostic works for this, so I'm going to change your tags up. Different worlds have different rules for classes/more or less in-world use of class descriptors/etc. This sounds like a substantial answer would really only apply to Pathfinder, or be too broad. If you dislike the change, you can roll it back, but expect to get pinged again for a broad question. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ A game tag really would make a difference here, as pathfinder does have rules to identify class abilities since the ultimate intrigue and inner sea intrigue books came out. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I have no idea what tags to use here. It's not actually system-agnostic, but it hardly pertains to only one or two systems. \$\endgroup\$
    – Frezak
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Definitely needs a game/system tag - even if the answer might be similar for a bunch of systems, it's not the same for all and I guess you're interested in an answer for your specific case. Unarmored wizards are not universal, and systems that do not allow it may or may not have an ingame, lore explanation for it which may be more or less well known to the world's inhabitants. It's not even true across all D&D editions, as 5E allows wizards to wear armor without restrictions. And the more general question about classes and their ingame implications could well be a question of its own. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:52

5 Answers 5


The rules (of Pathfinder at least) are not precise* about whether classes are a in-game thing or metagame thing. However considering them as a in-game one is not realistically maintainable without being quickly very unfun.

For example let's say Bill is a lvl 10 ranger, doing ranger things. Some day Bill decides that, even if it's nice to be able to speak with critter, as the war is coming he has to enlist (for whatever reason). Compare these two approaches:

  • The instructors make Bill dump one level in the Fighter class, or he will be considered a rookie with no experience.

  • Bill presents himself as a valuable fighter. After all he is pretty tough.

Even if the first can look appealing I can assure you it's not fun at all. It yields to builds that are completely useless and sometimes ridiculous situations.

Let's take another example. Irori's clergy organises a tournament where monks are supposed to compete is non-lethal fights. Bob has the Fighter class but fights with his bare fists: he tooks all the feats that goes well with that. He goes to the tournament. What will he be told?

  • Sorry, you don't have the "monk" tag. Look, you are able to wield a sword so you can't compete.

  • Do you share Irori's faith? Ok, then you can compete.

Do you like this first answer? I don't.

Let's get back to your Cleric.

In Pathfinder at least it is common knowledge (I would say Knowledge (arcane) DD 10) to know armors makes casting arcane spells harder (because you can't do the gestures well). That being known it can be a hint toward the fact this guy in full plate is probably a divine one, but it doesn't really prove the thing. After all there is nothing that forbids anyone to wear an armor, even if it makes you unable to use some of your magic, and maybe he removes it for rituals and such. (notice how I didn't speak about someone being a Cleric or a Wizard)

*I am not being really honest here since examples such as the druid class (which comes with a secret language and a taboo about wearing metal armors) suggest there should be a direct effect of classes in game. I personally put that on the designer's bad job.


The Ultimate Intrigue (which brings intrigue-related optional rules) and Spymaster Handbook (which expands on it and brings the Recall Intrigues rules) came to increase our options to identify exactly "what is that guy doing?". We can use the Knowledge skill upon seeing an ability or feat being used to try to identify what just happened:

Recall Intrigues (Knowledge)

You can identify feats and the class features of various classes with successful Knowledge checks when you observe the feats or class features being used.

Check: You can attempt a skill check to identify a feat or class feature when you observe it in use, similar to how Spellcraft can be used to identify a spell. The feat or class feature must have some observable effect in order for you to attempt the Knowledge check. For example, you can’t see the internal determination of Iron Will, so this ability can’t identify that feat. In general, if a feat or class feature creates a noticeable effect (such as the extra attack from using Cleave) or has a variable modifier a character must choose to use (such as Arcane Strike, Combat Expertise, or Enlarge Spell), it can be identified. If it creates a static bonus (such as Dodge or Lightning Reflexes), there’s no telltale sign to give it away.

The Knowledge skill required to identify a feat or class feature varies depending on the type of feat or class feature to be identified and is outlined in the Recall Intrigues (Knowledge) table above, along with the DCs of such skill checks.

To identify arcane abilities (wizards, sorcerers, magi, arcanist) that would be Knowledge (Arcana), to identify divine abilities (clerics, paladins, oracles) that would be knowledge (Religion), to identify nature-related abilities (druids, rangers, hunters) that would be Knowledge (Nature), to identify martial abilities (power attack, sneak attack, flurry of blows) would be Knowledge (Local).

So, a character could know about classes and their abilities, but if they lack the proper knowledge to do so, they can't possibly understand what is going on (other than it's magic).

With a Knowledge (Arcana) check, you could know that arcane spellcasting is disrupted by armor. However, not all classes are affected by armor the same way. Wizards and sorcerers (who do not invest on the right feats) cannot use any armor without a risk of losing their spells, while bards and magi can wear light/medium armor without the same issue. So, there is no way to tell if that guy wearing robes is, in fact, a wizard, or he is a bard who found nice robes and decided to wear them.

With that said, the concept of classes are not known in character, at least, not as we know it. That is an out of game concept based on the fact that this is still a game and we need certain rules to play it. PC's and NPC's will know that there are wizards, sages, sorcerers, witches, warlocks, demonologists, necromancers, astrologers, enchanters, diviners, and so on. But what exactly each of these titles means are just that: titles.

In character, a "class" is very similar to a profession, the guy who makes breads is known as a baker, a guy who does spells is known as a wizard or sorcerer, but maybe women who does spells are known as witches, even if their actual class (as per game system definition) is Bard.

The word "class" may even have a different meaning depending on your setting. The Pathfinder wiki, which gathers information about Pathfinder and Golarion (Paizo's official setting for Pathfinder) defines classes like this:

Not everyone is born the same: people have differences such as race, ethnicity, temperament and religion. People are also differently skilled: some are devout followers of gods, artists, brutal fighters, or perhaps trained scholars of the ways of magic. Scholars tend to categorize such differences as classes. Some people seem to exhibit few special characteristics and may be classed by their role in life: perhaps as aristocrats or mere commoners. However, some develop heroic capabilities and may grow in power with experience in their class.

Those titles and what they mean will change based on the game setting played. Some settings have different names for certain game classes, sometimes a single title can be used for a variety of classes. Like, on Dark Sun, the guards on the city of Tyr are known as templars, but they are fighters, rangers, brawlers, inquisitors, clerics, etc.

The ability to identify a class ability is based on recalling information known previously. You did read or see that certain type of people, known by the scholars as Sorcerers perhaps (or not, that's a GM's call), do show traits of draconic lineage, which allows them to breath fire and grow leathery wings and fly.

On your example, a "necromancer" is a word that the goons might not even know what means, unless their boss explains it to them or they have some ranks on Knowledge (Arcana) or Spellcraft, and if they do know it's probably something like "well, it's a bad guy who can raise the dead". Not only that, there are multiple ways to build a necromancer character in the game system: Wizards who learn necromancy spells (even if their actual school is not Necromancy), Sorcerers, Clerics, Oracles, Witches, Shaman, etc. Or pretty much anyone with access to Animate Dead, Raise Dead or the ability to channel negative energy. A clever wizard could even buy himself a suit of Mock Armor and pass as a fighter-type of some sort.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Knowing about features still falls short of knowing about classes, though. Several different classes might offer the same feature (e.g. you recognize evasion—even assuming classes are things in-character, you don’t know if the user is a monk or rogue), and moreover knowing about features doesn’t mean you know about how they get packaged together (e.g. even if you recognize, say, the magus’s signature spell combat feature does not mean that you now that a “magus” is a thing and can deduce the rest of what that character can do). (Also, on a personal note, ugh I hate these rules.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ The table seems to be missing from the SRD, without that, the DC's are vague. I will try to look it up and add to the answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ But it's usually 10+ class level, so that knowledge is normally beyond normal people's understanding. \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 12:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I hate Paizo so very much. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 13:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ The CRB does not ever state anything like "Scholars tend to categorize such differences as classes." This is a quote from the Class page of the unofficial Pathfinder Wiki project, and while it cites the first page of the Classes chapter of the Core Rulebook, no such text exists anywhere in the 6th, most current printing of the book. \$\endgroup\$
    – Firebreak
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 22:04

Since this is narrowed to Pathfinder...

If you have an Arcane Spellcaster in the party, they would certainly know that wearing armor messes with your ability to cast Arcane spells.

Otherwise, it's a matter of what the characters have encountered before...might call for a knowledge check if they can't justify knowing it.

But, that said, "He is wearing armor, He's not a Wizard!" Is not even remotely definitive in Pathfinder.

OOC, consider the existence of things like Armor Proficiency Feats, Mithral Armor, Arcane Armor Mastery, the Magus Class, Still Spells, and several other methods by which you can wear armor but reduce Arcane Spell Failure Chance. In fact, Arcane Armor Mastery + Mithral Chainmail = 0% Spell Failure Chance.

Thus, In character, a character educated in arcane magic would know that armor generally messes with your ability to make all the complicated gestures needed to cast arcane spells while wearing it...but that doesn't mean people haven't figured out how to do it anyway. And even beyond that...it doesn't mean that some Wizards aren't willing to take the risk that their spells might fail, in exchange for having some nice sturdy metal between their precious organs and someone else's sword.

So, even if the PCs know that armor usually means "Not a Wizard," it's not definitive. Same story with the sword.

(And, as an aside...if the Cleric knows he's not supposed to be wearing armor to pass himself off as a Wizard...wouldn't he, having more than half a brain, elect to either wear low-profile armor he can hide under big flowing robes, or simply not wear armor most of the time?)


This depends on the setting and how common the groups are. If wizards are common, and people deal with wizards often, it may be common knowledge that armour interferes with spellcasting. If wizards are somewhat more separate from normal folk, it may be assumed that wizards in stories typically wear robes out of habit due to the customs of their education, or because their magic means they do not need armour.

However, I'd say that, while roles and skills are parts of the world, character classes are not. Not all wizards follow the same rules. One college may specialise in a certain type of magic, while another group of wizards learn while interacting with nature or the community. This is entirely world-dependent. A character class is a label to describe and inspire the particular set of skills a character has learned as they grow. Only a studied individual might know from small signs where a wizard has been trained.

Even if someone thought it odd and asked, "doesn't the armour make it harder to cast?", the cleric could simply say, "I have trained, and studied, and attuned myself to this armour, so I may channel my spells through it". The world is full of uniquenesses, and player characters are more used to experiencing these than others. What particular reason would they have to doubt this, unless they had specific knowledge of where/what the cleric claims to have studied which would lead them to see through his lie?


A character who has more than a passing familiarity with arcane spellcasters would be aware that restrictive armour hampers their ability to cast spells with physical gestures. That is information that any seasoned adventurer could be reasonably expected to know. However, it is information that could well be beyond the knowledge of those less well-travelled. It's also not impossible for a wizard to be able to wear armour and cast spells - especially if he has special training in order to do so effectively (like a bard does) or casts spells without somatic components (perhaps using the Still Spell metamagic feat).

A seasoned adventuring party who sees this cleric in disguise could have reason to be suspicious about their claim to being a wizard, since they could easily know that arcane spellcasting while wearing armour is usually very hard and requires special training to be able to do effectively. However, they could not take it as conclusive evidence of the lie.

More generally, in character there is no concept of classes - you don't know that X is a capital-W Wizard. However, you can make general observations about the way the world works as based on the mechanical rules of class abilities. So, when it comes to spellcasting, you know casters can only cast so many spells per day. When it comes to arcane spellcasting, you know that wearing armour can interfere with the gestures required. That doesn't require you have special metagame knowledge of classes and abilities - those are rules of the world which have in-universe justification.


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