A group or character classification in many Tabletop Games. The most well known splats are the typical 'fighter-mage-thief-cleric' classes, common to games such as Dungeons & Dragons, though racial splats are common as well.
The term comes from White Wolf games. Practically all of their Storytelling System games have a variety of character types, with a variety of names for these character types, and lots and lots of books about these character types, "tribebooks," "clanbooks," and so on. These came to be known as "*books," or "splatbooks."note
The most common splats are typically known as 'character classes' or 'job classes', with the attendant characteristics and class-based abilities. Some of the more 'specialized' splats define a character's role within a group — 'tanks' and 'healers' are splats, as well as (loose) definitions of roles within a group. There are also racial splats, such as human, elf, or halfling, which usually provide one-time permanent bonuses.
Outside of Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque games, splats are usually called anything else. A splat can be any group your character belongs to that defines their powers, suggested skills, and often something about their personality. Popular ones include different types of supernatural (vampire, werewolf, etc.), different subtypes of a supernatural, places of origin, allegiance to an organization, or place in a pantheon.
Frequently splats are delimited to forming a Five-Man Band group of characters, though the number of splats (or combination of splats) is often greater than five. Changing from one splat to another depends on the game and which splat you're changing. Fluid splats, like character class or alliegence to a certain group, usually have a catch of some sort to keep players from cherry-picking all the good stuff. It's usually impossible to change permanent splats without extreme measures, Green Rocks, or other Applied Phlebotinum. Those who can tend to become insanely powerful.
For systems that have more complex character customization (such as a system that allows players to alternate levels in different classes, select different "trees" of abilities, or make their characters from whole cloth), the term "build" is more often used, as in a "character build".
- Dungeons & Dragons has character classes, and also races as splats, everything from Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Orcs, and Half Human Hybrids of every stripe. Changing splats was only possible with the Druid's Reincarnation spell, which reincarnated a dead person randomly into any kind of naturally occurring species. Of course, since D&D is replete with hundreds of naturally occurring mythological creatures because All Myths Are True, there's an even chance a resurectee could come back as a Troll or an Elf.
- And of course there's that one ritual that lets you sacrifice levels to gain species templates. Including Undead, Half-Dragon, Half-Demon, Half-Celestial, Abyssal, Celestial, Construct... All at once. Just keep in mind that this usually has the effect of making your character have so few actual class levels as to be unplayable.
- There are generally held to be four main class archetypes, based on the four human classes from the original 1974 rulebook: melee specialist (Fighter), skill specialist (Thief/Rogue), arcane spellcaster (Magic-User/Wizard), and divine spellcaster (Cleric). In 2E, the psionicist (mental-powered character) was kinda-sorta a fifth archetype, but became more of a Wizard clone in 3E.
- According to optimization forums on the internet, D&D was highly unbalanced and mostly dominated by spellcasters, leading to the (satirical) fan made "splats" of God (casters, the ones who get things done), Big Stupid Fighter (meatshield, stands in front of the caster to take hits), Glass Cannon (mops up the enemy with hitpoint damage after they have been disabled by the caster), and Useless Waste of Space (monks, CW Samurai, soulknives, commoners). It didn't help that a Big Stupid Fighter could do tons of damage as well, so that leaves two combat roles: BSF and casters.
- In the editions before 3rd, the splats were all so well defined it was virtually impossible to get anything done without a team containing all of the big 4 - warrior, wizard, cleric/druid, and thief. For example, no one but a thief could by the rules disarm traps or climb walls or pick locks. Ever. So many monsters had massive resistance to magic (which did not scale down with level - it was a flat percentile chance) that a party of casters was pretty much doomed as soon as they encountered them. If the party didn't have a required basic archetype and the GM challenged them on the grounds of that class' specialty, the party was pretty much toast.
- Way back in the 1st Edition Basic Set, races were character classes. You could be a Cleric, Fighter, Magic User or Thief or you could be an Elf, Dwarf or Halfling.
- Pathfinder initially followed the same mix of splat as D&D 1st-3.5, but attempted to tone down Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards. Their expanded product line includes classes which hybridize the existing splat to create some unusual classes with newer roles. The Inquisitor, for example, is a blur of Rogue and Cleric who can buff his party, the Cavalier and Samurai blend the classic fighter with D&D 4E's Striker and Leader, and the Magus is a straight up Magic Knight who studies like a wizard and then hefts a sword.
- The satirical MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing has six classes — Seal Clubber (aggressive fighter), Turtle Tamer (defensive fighter), Pastamancer (aggressive spellcaster), Sauceror (defensive spellcaster), Disco Bandit (aggressive roguey-thiefy type) and Accordion Thief (defensive roguey-thiefy type).
- The New World of Darkness has formalized what might be called the dual-axis splat: the fundamental element of the character (other games would call it your race, but the nWoD equivalents are Clans, Auspices and Paths) and the socio-political element of the character (e.g.: Covenant, Tribe and Order). Thus, a Five-Man Band of vampire PCs might all join the same Covenant but come from different Clans.
- There's even a recursive element to further differentiate characters (in case the players can't play them differently enough without help). For the Vampires, they're called Bloodlines; for the Werewolves, they're called Lodges; for the Mages, they're called Legacies; for the Prometheans, they're called Athanors; for the Changelings, they're called Entitlements. In many ways these are the equivalent of Prestige Class.
- Some splatbooks aren't explicitly connected to a single line- these usually are written to be either usable with all the sourcebooks, or standalone. Innocents, a sourcebook focused around playing as children, is a standalone example.
- And the Hunter books are different still— their main splatbooks go in-depth about hunting and fighting different types of supernatural creatures. Night Stalkers, for example, is all about bringing the war to vampires, and what that war entails.
- In the Old World of Darkness the different games were more varied in splat types, Vampires only had "clans", while Werewolves chose a breed, auspice, and tribe.
- Even games without clearly-defined divisions between character types can often develop splats; witness Shadowrun, which tends to divide characters into specialist Archetypes such as street samurai, deckers, riggers, mages, shamans, etc. despite having a wide-open point-build system that gives the player the freedom to create a character however they wish. These archetypes stem largely from the sample characters included in the rulebook, although their necessity stems from the Master of None problem.
- In the game 7th Sea, players can differentiate via nations or secret societies (sometimes both).
- Dark Heresy divides characters mainly by their background, be they Adeptus Mechanicus adepts, Imperial Guard veterans, Ecclesiarchy officials, etc.
- GURPS usually has a few sample splats in each... splatbook.
- Most versions of Traveller have careers, which determine your starting skills (with dice roll tables) and gear but that don't have much affect on the character after they enter play. Careers still received splatbooks. Classic Traveller may in fact be the Ur-Example of splatbooks - they produced Book 4: Mercenary in 1979 and followed it up with other career books through the mid-'80s.
- Exalted has the various types of Exalts — the Solars, the Lunars, the Dragon-Blooded, the Sidereals, and so on. Each Exalt type is then split up into Castes (or, in the case of the Dragon-Blooded, Aspects) that help define their specialties and powers.
- Legend of the Five Rings has Clans - the Great Clans (Crab, Crane, Dragon, Lion, Mantis, Phoenix, Scorpion and Unicorn), the Minor Clans (14 of them, in the new core book), the Spider Clan, the Imperial Families as well as clanless Ronin and Monks, and a select few non-humans races (Naga, Ratlings). Most of these have their own splatbooks (The Minor Clans as a group). Most have more than one. And most of these are out of print...
- Fading Suns has the five major noble houses, the five major Church sects and the five major guilds. Befitting the Feudal Future setting, the splatbooks divide the characters by social class, so there are three. There are also the books for other organisations like the military, spies, and revolutionaries, and the books for the aliens.
- The BattleTech/Mechwarrior RPG gets rid of 'classes' entirely — instead, character creation involves rolling dice to determine 'life paths', which chart your character's personal history (it's even possible, with the right (wrong?) choices, to construct a BattleTech/Mechwarrior character that dies as a result of a path selection). The latest version of the RPG rules, Battletech: A Time of War eliminates the horrifically broken dice rolling in favor of simply having players spend points to have their characters take different life paths, gaining bonuses at each level. Unfortunately, the system is complex enough that character creation just about requires the use of a spreadsheet.
- The furry RPG Ironclaw has species and career, which act like abilities that apply to a select list of skill rolls. In first edition each species and career applied to a different number of skills and species included a number of gifts and flaws while some careers had gift or skill prerequisites, so they each had a different point cost. While in second edition each species and career has a list of three skills, and they grant three gifts as well, presumably for game balance, while flaws and point-builds are relegated to variant rules.
- Hc Svnt Dracones has three or four splat categories. Species are grouped into "families" that share certain abilities, with the species acting as skill specializations. Then there's "morphism" or body type, such as ordinary digitgrade, taur, hemi, micro... And finally you choose one or two Mega Corps that provided your education and pick from their associated skill lists.
- Monsterhearts has several "skins" based on both monster and high school tropes (though mostly the former). The default ten are The Chosen, The Fae, The Ghost, The Ghoul, The Infernal, The Mortal, The Queen, The Vampire, The Werewolf, and The Witch. Its second edition replaced The Chosen with The Hollow in the core rules, reasoning that a Chosen automatically shifts the tone of the game towards outside threats rather than intraparty drama.
- Magic: The Gathering initially just called its splats "subtypes", and that term is still in common use, but with 8th Edition it also instituted a more formalized system of "races" and "classes". Every creature card has a race subtype (Human, Goblin, Elf, etc.), and those printed before this rule have been errata'd to have a race; many also have a class subtype (Wizard, Warrior, etc.), but this is optional. Interestingly, some noncreature cards also have splats, such as tribal noncreature cards that have a creature type, or lands that have a land type (Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, or Forest).
- Used in-universe in Homestuck, with Sburb having two types - classes and aspects (the combination of which is often referred to as a "classpect"). There are twelve of each, not counting the classes of Lord and Muse, which seem to only appear in otherwise dysfunctional session. They are usually somewhat metaphorical (the Prince class actually means "destroyer") and can be combined to form very unique character builds. Dirk, for instance, is a Prince of Heart, which translates to "destroyer of souls". Which is exactly what he does. Many of the characters who share either a class or an aspect don't have similar powers at all.
- Paranoia has service groups and secret societies. While PCs usually belong to the Troubleshooters, they still work for their old service group between missions, possibly drawing envy due to the Troubleshooters being glamorous and a fast track to promotion (despite the much higher death rate).
- The XP edition expanded service groups into dozens of specialized and competing service firms. ("Alpha Complex remains a totalitarian state, but now it stinks less of the 1980s USSR and more of, say, Singapore or Shanghai.")
- Munchkin initally had races and classes, and also cards that allow the player to have two races or two classes. Later games expanded this with loyalities, accents, mojos, factions and many more.
- In Apocalypse World and other Powered by the Apocalypse games, each character chooses a unique playbook, a character archetype with a few fixed abilities and a number of customization options. Monster of the Week has playbooks based on paranormal character archetypes like The Flake and The Wronged, while the playbooks in Fellowship represent various fantasy races.