Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Happens When You Take the Fighter Out of the Game?

                                ... or, Classes Beneath the Broken Moon

I'm going to get back into specific races eventually.  In fact, each of the playable races in Beneath the Broken Moon will get its own blog entry once ready to be worked on. But I've still got some off-blog work to do there and before I get absorbed with details and lose anybody actually following along so far I want to keep the overview going.  Next up, logically, would be classes.

Since the invention and addition of the thief and the cleric to the original game, and their absorption into the default assumptions of today's game, there have really been but four classes in D&D.  The fighter, the cleric, the magic user and the thief.  These have been defined and re-defined through the many editions of the game, but have remained pretty consistent as far as archetypes and roles go.  I'll admit I get a little foggy when it gets to 4th edition, but I'd hazard a guess that every class even there is some variation on or combination of these four.

The variations themselves seem to originate from a player's desire to play a specific fictional character or archetype (e.g. AD&D monks & rangers) or a DM's or designer's desire to introduce classes specific to the campaign setting's style or genre, (e.g. samurai and ninja from Oriental Adventures).  A third motivation for a variation on class is a desire to introduce new or take advantage of existing rules.  Clearly the deathtrap and the locked door came before the thief.  I wonder, though, which the originator of the cleric class thought up first... turning undead or a 2nd rate fighter with hammers and utility spells?

Anyway, I'm starting to meander.  Let's say you agree or at least humor me and recognize at present four foundational classes for the game today; what happens when one is removed?  Does the game break or does it just change... does its focus shift?  In the past I've dropped clerics from the game all together, and dumped all of the spells into a single list.  The game still resembled itself and worked.  I'll take it at face value that others play just fine without the thief class, and the reports there seem to indicate that other classes just start doing the thief-y stuff.  What happens when the adventuring party is composed entirely of magic users, though?  Does the game still work?  I say it could, though necessarily the focus would shift.

At it's core D&D is pretty flexible.  You can take the structure (6 ability scores, AC, Hp, combat rules, saving throws and spells) and apply it lots of ways.  Creative DMs and players can get a lot of mileage out of what's already there and assumed based on their interests and curiosity, but lately I personally feel stuck in a rut.  It's not enough to simply give a fighter some spells or an animal friend and some meaningful and/ or specific function in the campaign setting and say we've got a new class.

The previous discussion on new races was mostly about changing the tone or fictional references for the game.  Dropping elves and dwarves and playing deep ones instead is essentially a cosmetic change.  A significant one, perhaps, but nothing that should incite much difference in how the game actually functions.  Part of what I want to do with the Beneath the Broken Moon campaign is what many of the better OSR offerings have done:  hit reset and see what comes up with a clean slate and challenged assumptions.  Fundamentally changing the four-class structure looks like a ripe target right now.

So which classes to toss, all of them?  Physical confrontation is  pretty universal and the game is at its core about combat, so one could argue that the fighter is therefore the only necessary class.

But is it? 

What happens to the game when the fighter is removed?  Not remove fighting on the whole, 3/4's of the rulebook concerns fighting in some way.  But what happens if you take the combat specialist out of the class equation?  Is the game less fun?  It probably is and if it isn't it might become too unrecognizable as D&D.  I'm going to keep the fighter unless convinced otherwise.

What about magic users?  Getting rid of them either means getting rid of magic (not gonna do it), keeping it out of the hands of player-characters (not gonna do it) or changing significantly how players use and interact with it (hmmmm.....). I'm going to keep spells and magic items,  that's all I know for sure so far.    

Clerics?  Gone.  I have long had a love/ hate relationship with the class so it's the easiest to let go.  Whatever comes of magic, clerics will not be needed in the far, far future beneath the broken moon.  That's not to say religion and superstition won't abound, I'm just taking away its credentials.   

Thieves?  Also gone.  Not because I've ever been against them in D&D, but because of the so-called four foundational classes they seem to have been the most likely built specifically to take advantage of new rules or specialize and make concrete certain styles of play.  Eliminate the thief, eliminate the style and see what fills that void. 

So I'm not saying that I'm down to one, maybe two classes.  These are just the one or two I've decided to keep.  Now comes the harder part... what is then added to the mix?  How will this help shape the kind of game I tried to describe a few posts ago?


  1. Did you decide to nix Clerics before or after starting to play Andrej?

    So if i interpret your post correctly, the loss of clerics will not adversely affect your game too much, as magic users can already cast their spells.

    With the loss of thieves, are you going to allow the acquisition of their skills to anyone? Such that the magic user can detect and disarm traps, and a fighter could drop to light/medium armour and have stealth and sneak attack type rolls?

    That sounds like it might be an interesting type of game, limiting your base style to melee or magic-user, and letting other archetype skills organically appear at the next level or an expenditure of time and xp/gold if the PC's find that they are lacking a certain expertise on their adventures.

  2. I love playing Andrej in Alexis's game and my love/ hate relationship with clerics started long before I rolled him up.

    Correct, the cleric spells won't be lost just the class and probably turning undead.

    As for thieves, it gets more complicated. I don't think I'll be building a stealth class, otherwise why bother getting rid of the thief, so things like sneak attacks and hiding just become part of what anybody can do given the right preparation and circumstances.

    In my mind the need to find and disarm traps or open locks will be played down as a result of there being no thief. Any lock requiring a specialist on a door you simply wouldn't or couldn't bash down might be covered by one of the new classes... I've got some ideas there but nothing concrete yet.

    As far as organically developing things, I think if I were interested in that route I would have started with an OD&D or Swords and Wizardry base and gone from there. My fear is that we'd fit right back into the same groove I'm trying to bust out of.

    Rather, I'm looking to make intentional and specific changes ahead of time. I admit freely I haven't figured out all of what that will be, but I've got some ideas and they deserve their own upcoming post.

  3. When I started reading your post, my mind wandered to why the four classes exist. My philosophy on this has been that there are three ways people like to solve problems: 1) through physical force; 2) through application of logic and knowledge; or 3) through physical or social agility.

    The traditional six abilities map nicely to these three styles, and so I run a classless game based on these.

    The four classes seem iconic more for their problem-solving style than for anything else. However you define them in the context of your game, I think there's room for at least three of them.

  4. Keith, the thought has crossed my mind in the past to run a classless D&D, but class seems to me one of those necessary elements to call a game "D&D". How do you assign saving throws, to hit charts/ bonuses and what happens to the class abilities? Definitely curious about your specifics if you don't mind sharing. If you've got it documented on line somewhere a link will do. Thanks in advance.

  5. You could try something like this:
    I'm running an OSR (LBB D&D) campaign and am considering translating this class over and using it myself.

  6. Dave, that's one way to go classless... everybody is the same all-encompassing, customizable class. I don't know that I'd use that approach for my next campaign, but I might steal those Vancian spell names. Thanks for the link.

  7. There might be a fourth (and a fifth) reason to make more than the basic classes available for players. I try to see those 4 classes merely as categories and my basic assumption is to give players examples of variations they'd not think about themselves (due to time and the effort it takes to work on the game). It is a legit way to accentuate certain aspects in a setting, that's true, but it also helps to inspire players along the way. After all, one of the perks of making a setting yourself, is working with your players. And that's something a ruleset or a bought setting just can't do (thus the tendency to be as vague as possuble).

    Some food for thought in that direction (I use that to encourage players to make their own classes, if they want to and we can agree on the result. It's pretty balanced...):

    (Also: the xp needed to achieve the next level regulate a game, too. So the players decision to play a class is connected to what he is willing to invest into a character and what kind of game is played. Elve vs. thief, if you will. Variation helps regulating that.)

  8. JD, intersting link. This coming Monday's post revals a new class for my campaign I built before checking out the link. Most of the class abilities are new or unique, at least they don't show up on the .pdf... but using the tables for unique abilities I came out with a pretty close XP table to the one I used (which was the clerics).

    It looks like based on the approach outlined in the link magic users would require much less XP to advance... how did that strike you?

  9. Considering that the math seems solid for all other classes, I think the author is right in assuming this was tinkered with after the fact or at least on purpose disregarding the harmony between the other classes.

    I go with the 1600 xp needed for level 2. The change is not that big (especially in mid- and high-level games) and we play it like that for about three years now.

    I just double-checked: the first 4 levels this means a difference of a little bit more than a third, but to reach level 5 (and using the Generic Level Advancement Tables at the end)the distance is reduced to a quarter (old: 20.000, new: 15.000). I can live with that and it didn't make MUs to fast to powerful. It is a matter of taste, though. But if you use this, like I do, to build new classes, it's only fair to use all classes as if build with it...

    What's your take on that?

  10. My gut reaction is that its too low an XP for magic users, but I'm not sure how much of that is the influence of the last 25 or 30 years and how much of that is objective. I'm wondering if different spell lists should require different XP requirements (i.e. being able to cast magic user spells is more expensive in XP when building a class then cleric.) Definatelt food for thought, though, and I'm going to give it a spin when I design my next two classes after the one that will be auto-posted today.

  11. Re which came first: I read somewhere that there was a vampire character that no one could defeat, and the cleric class was designed specifically to deal with that.

  12. Hey anarchist, it's not important but out of curiosity do you remember if that was in reference to Arneson's campaign or Gygax's or some other?

  13. According to this, Dave Arneson's.