... 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?