So I've been thinking about Into Ploughshares again. This is partly because it just sort of got inside my head and niggles at me. Another reason is that I'm doing a lot of fiddling with games at the moment, and have managed to play a good few since I got back from abroad. The writing and reviewing parts, in particular, emphasised to me just how much time RPGs devote to fighting, or investigating grizzly deaths, and I started to feel rather down about it. I also had some interesting conversations with Dan about other types of genre and gameplay, which helped revive my interest.
What about characters?
The (silly) conceit of Into Ploughshares is an attempt to more-or-less directly map a combat-free pastoral narrative onto stereotypical traditional dungeon crawl mechanics. And that means character classes with distinct roles. I actually think this might work fairly well.
The idea that's come to mind is that, just as seasons (and their challenges) will map onto dungeons (and their rooms), individual challenges will map onto combats. Some will be unavoidable - winter descends on you inevitably, just as the minotaur hunts you down in its labyrinth. Others are optional challenges that can bring some benefit - destroying the undead guards in the vault will get you loot, forging a road through the forest will open up trade routes and speed communications.
Obviously, "fighting" a challenge means a damage system is needed, and the idea that comes to mind is Work Points.
Any given Challenge has, amongst other things, a pool of Work Points. This is a crude representation of how much effort will be needed to overcome the Challenge. Digging a privy requires relatively little effort and has few Work Points. Building an irrigation system for enough farmland to feed a village requires a lot more effort.
The first class we need, then, is naturally the fighter-analogue. Um... possibly. In our case, we have the Labourer. A Labourer is a pretty simple class with minimal special abilities. Where they shine is in plodding away at hard work. A Labourer has a high average Work output and is pretty reliable. They take on the lion's share of labour, freeing up other party members to handle fiddly stuff. In contrast, the other classes have more specialised roles that depend on application to be effective.
What about PCs, though? Most challenges aren't exactly damaging them, but PC Work Points would make no sense at all.
Dungeon crawls feature enemies that injure you, but often you're the one making decisions about pacing. I feel like season challenges need to work a bit different. Essentially, the challenge of pastoralism lies in whether you can overcome a challenge with the resources you have in the time available. This means a lot of challenges will tend to be on a schedule, with PCs only having a certain amount of time to deal with them.
In this case, I'm inclined to say that the obvious option is Fatigue. A PC's "attacks" indicate how much they manage to accomplish, but a challenge's "attacks" indicate how much the character's reserves are depleted by their efforts. This isn't the only option, though. A storm might damage infrastructure, so the challenge is to cope with it as quickly as possible to minimise the harm it does (PC "attacks" here will indicate taking precautions, minimising damage, repairing and so on).
The classic rogue/thief mechanics create a character who's good at sneaking around to find out the lay of the land and predict challenges. They can also deal with unexpected hazards (disarm traps), acquire unexpected benefits (theft) and position themselves to dish out heavy Hit Point damage, providing they can make the right setup rolls. How would we parallel that?
Clearly, we're looking at a Scholar.
The Scholar relies on some kind of theoretical roll to metaphorically 'navigate' the season, interpreting and predicting challenges and opportunities. They can find and deal with unexpected hazards (test of ingenuity or knowledge), acquire unexpected benefits (inspiration), and position themselves to deal heavy Work damage by application of theory to do a lot with a little.