Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dreaming Up the New Project

By the time most of you folks read this (assuming its Thursday night) I shall hopefully be in the middle of gaming with some newfound compatriots at the local coffee shop. We’ll see how well these "convention contacts" work out…I’ve got a little nervous anticipation just thinking about it.

However, at the time I’m writing this, it is still Thursday morning (I won’t have a chance to post it till after work), and my brain is zooming around quite a bit this morning so I figured I’d better get my thoughts down on paper.

D&D…that’s what I’m thinking of right now, specifically my next writing project. I have two in mind, neither one of which is finishing that adventure module dammit (I don’t know why I keep procrastinating on that. Oh, wait…the maps, right). Anyway, two other products have suggested themselves to me, neither one of which would be nearly as ambitious in scope as the B/X Companion, and both of which would make heavy use of blog topics to date. Since both would be slim tomes, I was thinking I might combine them into one big one…I know gamers just LOVE to throw money at a hefty book!

The first possible project is one I’ve talked about a loooong-ass while ago: recreating (or re-interpreting) The Compleat Adventurer for B/X play. I’ve already written up a couple-three of the classes: the Beastmaster, the Bounty Hunter, and the Witch Hunter. In going over these today (something I haven’t done in several moons), I still find that I am satisfied with how they turned out, and would be happy to publish them…along with similar class write-ups…in a book.

Would people pay money for my musings on classes? Maybe not a lot…especially as more than a bit of it is available free through perusal of this blog. But there are probably people that wouldn’t mind having all these “optional extras” in one handy-dandy tome. Kind of an “Unearthed Arcana” for B/X.

Besides, it was too long ago I had blog readers clamoring for some sort of compilation. And for the most part, I’m proud of my work.

Don’t think such a thing would be limited to…or a simple re-telling of…the classes in TCA. For one thing, I don’t think they’re all necessary. One of the great things about B/X is the structure of their classes. Classes are just that: “classifications” of adventurer. And most things can fall under the purview of one of the Big Four: cleric, fighter, magi-user, and thief.

Here’s a list of D&D “classes” you will NOT see in any book of mine:

Assassin: anyone can kill, with or without poison. If you want an assassin with thief abilities, you’re playing a thief who murders for money.
Barbarian: any fighter can be an illiterate barbarian. If you want to make him as buff as Conan, make sure he has a high strength, dexterity, and constitution. Conan wears armor, but you don’t have to.
Buccaneer: there’s already a B/X monster for this; likewise with the bandit, merchant, and noble.
Cavalier: any fighter can wear heavy armor and ride a horse. Write up your own Code of Honor. There’s no need for any “ability score inflation” or extra bonuses. What is this…Rifts?
Knight: see Cavalier.
Ninja: see Thief.
Paladin: my feelings on this class have been covered extensively. See Cleric.
Rogue: See Thief.
Sage: this is an NPC hireling in B/X.
Spy: another NPC hireling.
Templar/Temple Knight: see Paladin.
Warrior: see Fighter.

Personally, I doubt I would ever write-up a “Gygaxian Druid” as a B/X class…these are fairly specific to Gygax’s game world and bear little resemblance to historic druids. As it is, I do have a druid “monster” in my B/X companion, and I prefer the “druid of the grove” archetype to the “adventuring druid” any day of the week. B/X isn’t World of Warcraft!

The original Compleat Adventurer had only 13 new classes. Right now, I can only think of 9 or 10 that fail to fit into one of the standard archetypes. Hmm…maybe I should say “fails to fit into the standard archetype well;” after all, one could certainly use a cleric as a witch-hunter, or a fighter or thief as a bounty hunter. But people that buy the book want to pay for SOMEthing; the following classes are ones that I think would be fun to write-up and would add something “extra” to the average B/X game:

Bounty Hunter
Martial Artist/Monk

Much as I love the jack-of-all-trades Bard, I don’t think I would include it. Depending on the type of literary reference you’re using, I can see many different character classes working just fine as a minstrel: Fighter (Fflewddur Flamm), Magic-User (Vainamoinen), Elf (various Nordic folk tales)…even Dwarves (Tolkien)! All they need is a musical instrument (call it 50gp).

Since it’s obvious I’ll have some room to make up, I was also considering adding some of the spell-casting classes from The Compleat Spell-Caster to the book. As with the “adventurer” classes, I don’t want to simply re-tread the spell-casting archetypes already in B/X (i.e. clerics and magic-users), but would want real, new “magical stuffs.” This one is so much harder, not because it would be difficult to create new spells (I actually think THAT would be a ton of fun!), but because it’s so difficult to create separate schools of magic, when magic is so well-defined by the game system.

B/X magic IS well-defined. It is Vancian, living stuff that wraps itself around the mind of the spell-caster until it can be released into the world. Magic-users implant these “spell creatures” through the study of books, clerics have them implanted by their deity (through prayer and meditation). What other ways could spell-casters have magic stuffed into their brains? Eating fairy food? Reading rune-carved standing stones? Bargaining with demons and spirits?

The main reason (I would think) that most people come up with new spell-caster types is because they want a new spell list (or alternate list). People play druids in D&D because they think it would be cool to call lightning, animate plants, turn into birds or bears, and (in later editions) have an animal companion. Most are not thinking about what it means to be a druid from a historic or even game setting perspective. Not wearing metal armor is something they have to “put up with” in order to get the cool powers, as is the limited availability of high levels (in old AD&D anyway).

I’m not about that. At least, I’m not JUST about new spell lists and cool powers. New classes (in my mind) should provide different styles of play. The bounty hunter PLAYS DIFFERENT from a normal fighter or thief. At least, if you want to make use of his special abilities. I don’t want my illusionist to be “just another magic-user.”

That being said, here are the spell-casters I’m thinking of including in the book:


These are not set in stone, but they are my current considerations. Yes, the Harlequin and Witch-Hunter are technically “spell casters” but their abilities are so minor, they don’t rate their own spell lists. These guys (and gals) do.

Unfortunately, each of these is problematic for different reasons.

Necromancers are “evil” pure and simple; anyone who deals with demons and seeks immortality through turning themselves undead is a Very Bad Person. In B/X terms, the person is CHAOTIC, being extremely selfish and self-centered in their actions. Yet, none of the classes in B/X have alignment restrictions…and I do NOT want to start! But is there any way to create a Lawful demonologist?

Witches, on the other hand, can easily be of any alignment: Glenda or the Harry Potter chicks are examples of non-evil Hags, and Baba Yaga might even be considered Neutral in some circumstances. The problem with witches is how to treat them: are they nature worshippers (like clerics/druids) who derive their magic from on high? Are they potion brewers and spell crafters (as in, formula writers) like modern day Hermeticists? How to treat them…perhaps as some sort of cleric/m-u hybrid?

I think Mystics are probably the easiest guys to write-up…they’ll be something of a cross between the Compleat Spell-Caster version and the Rifts Mystic OCC (possibly with a little oriental monk thrown in). The trick with them is making them interesting enough to play, without bulking the class down in a bunch of extraneous “special powers.” I think these guys will draw magic from their own “inner resources” (like meditation) or possibly “reading the Akashic records.” They will have the smallest spell list of any of the classes.

And the Illusionist? Well, I’ve blogged about the Illusionist before. I really do think this can be a good class for an adventurer: spells are useful and different, alignment is un-restricted, nothing ties them down. The only question is: how do you make them different from magic-users BESIDES their spell list. I don’t want them to just be a magic-user with a different spell book.

Maybe I need to take a page from pulp and look at all those Eastern mesmerists of fiction (the Shadow, Fu Man Chu, etc.), as well as the Howardian pulp illusionists and be-dazzlers. I really think they need magic that comes from something other than a spell book…any character limited to spells of 7th level should NOT need to carry around a spell book (especially if they can’t go armed and armored). Arabian Night stuff is more what I’m thinking about.

Hmm…maybe illusionists will be more like mystics after all. Like architects in the film Inception, they will create labyrinthian structures in their own minds every morning, locking away a portion of their own “disbelief” in order to create the reality-warping structures that will blow peoples’ minds.

Hmm…that sounds pretty good.
: )


  1. For what it is worth, I have successfully played two Necromancers who were not necessarily 'Chaotic'. One was unhinged from a death of his true love and wanted to bring her back. He just happened to think he found an option that wasn't quite normal. Selfish yes, Chaotic no.

    The other was a dimwit who wanted to cast, though probably more on the Demonologist side than a true Necromancer, it was not by choice that he chose this route but instead do to his low Int/Wis he was susceptible to influence. He just didn't know better.

    So, yea, bring on the casters!


  2. My first D&D character was a 2nd ed Necromancer who believed that the use of healing magic was causing an imbalance to the natural order of life and death, and blamed this unbalance for the creation of undead. He dedicated his (short) life to studying undead and trying to restore balance. Unfortunately D&D is not the best system to deny healing in, and the other players were not to fond of the concept. So there's another example of a Lawful, if stupid, character concept.

    PS: Any word from the printer yet?

  3. What exactly would a Harlequin class do? The character Harlequin is mostly good at fucking up.

  4. B/X Space Opera? What ever happened to that, JB?

  5. The Compleat Spell caster (CSC) is still one of my all-time favorite supplements!

    I know you said you don't want alignment-specific classes, but what about alignment-specific spell lists?

    In The Arcanum, Bard Games's RPG based on the Compleat line, Witches were allowed access to 2 of the 7 types of magic. Evil Witches had access to Black Magic, which was the type of magic practiced by Necromancers (pretty much the identical list as in CSC), while other Witches had access to Elemental Magic (the list is a slightly pared down version of CSC's Witch list), which are the spells used by Druids. (Both had access to Enchantment, the list of spells most closely resembling D&D's MU class, the basic spells.)

    Since Witches can be an excellent alternative for Druids (which you want to annex from your B/X ideas anyway), a Neutral Witch can effectively be your equivalent of the Druid, specializing in nature magic. Likewise, a Chaotic Witch could could be like CSC's Necromancer, with its specialty on demons, curses, and the undead. If you wanted, you could add some Cleric spells to the Lawful Witch's list (just like the "OD&D Witchcraft Supplement" did in The Dragon #5 and every attempt at the class since then).

    You just list the common spells as the basic list and figure out which smaller lists connect with the alignment of the Witch in question.

    Just an idea...

  6. @ Bane & Blueskreem: I think I"m currently considering the idea of a "summoner" rather than a necromancer or demonologist. The problem, of course, is that I'd have to put together a list of demons (there's only a handful in my B/X Companion), which seems like too much aping of the AD&D Monster Manual. I'll ponder.

    @ Cole: You're rootin-tootin. I wasn't drunk when I wrote this post earlier, but I've had a couple pints now, and I'm thinking more clearly...why the hell wold I want to include the harlequin? I think I was just being retarded.

    On the other hand, should I add an "archer" class?

    @ Ryan: Dammit Ryan! People are supposed to forget I said things like that! Don't know if you read my recent numerology post, but I even got a name for the game that adds up to that magic "19." That's like hitting the jackpot like WW did with Vampire. But B/X D&D is so much easier to write for than starting from scratch....

    @ The Myth: Actually, I was over at Ye Olde Game Shoppe today, and was considering picking up a (used) copy of D20 "Witch"...a D20 supplement specializing in a Wicca style witch class, written by women (or perhaps wiccans). I love the idea of witches replacing druids...on the other hand I like the idea of the "glamor-ing witch" a la Morgan Le Fey. many possibilities for the class. No wonder it was never "core."

  7. I really like the summoner concept. It's a bit video gamey perhaps, but I still like it. ;)

    If you are looking for inspiration for demonologist-type characters, you could do worse than look at the materials available for Stormbringer/Elric!. As I recall, the magic system there was based entirely on summoned and bound demons, and was available to both Lawful and Chaotic characters.

    There was also a very good sequence of articles on demonology in Runequest in White Dwarf #44-47, but it may be easier to find the Elric! stuff.

  8. I really like the idea of a summoner class. You could easily see it summoning anything from the dead, to demons, to natural spirits, elemental forces, faeries, or celestial beings.

    I want to see what you do with it.

  9. @ Kelvin: I had not even considered Stormbringer (I've been playing it since the 1st edition and am well familiar with it)...I should TOTALLY rip it off! Thanks for the idea!
    ; )

    @ David: I doubt any of my spell-casting classes will be published on the blog, since spell lists tend to be loooong. Maybe a free .pdf download?

  10. The "expansion" of the Compleat Spellcaster into the Arcanum gave us my single favourite class: the Wizard. The Wizard was a summoner who also studied the ancient Words of Power (presumably to better control those demons). The summoning system as pretty damn good. In essence, they got various summoning spells that called one specific type of demon. So, if you look at the demons in the book, they got a spell to Summon an Winged Demon and so on.

    Now, that's what I would do. Another source might be the Diabolist (is that right?) from Palladium Fantasy.

  11. @ Matthew Slepin: I loved the High Magic spell list in Arcanum. The Wizard had access to High Magic + Enchantment, but I always wanted a class that just used the High Magic list! Spells of Summoning (Demons *&* Angels!), Words of Power (like Word of Healing and Word of Sleep), good stuff there.

    I hope you follow through with these ideas, JB. I like seeing how you B/X-up all these old ideas.

  12. Regarding Demonologists, there is inspiration to be drawn from the western occult traditions. The most familiar and detailed system of summoning and treating with demons would be Goetia (based on the Keys of Solomon). There is a counterpart to Goetia that on a functional level (the form of the invocations and ritual areas used) called Theurgy. The entities entreated with Theurgy are divine angels and the trappings of the system are very much derived from Judaic and Christian traditions. I think that Theurgy and Goetia make quite a nice dichotomy, well suited to Law and Chaos.
    There are Neutral options too: Enochian invokes Elemental intelligences and the spirits named in Abra-Melin's grimoire are not defined as either benign or inimical to my recollection.
    On a side note folks may say that medieval sorcerors did not toss fire balls, but I remember spells for flying and finding gold in the grimoire of Abra-Melin. Fun stuff!

    Maybe the Satanic Wizard-Archer from the Malleus Malificarum needs a write up too... now that I've said it "out loud" someone is going to beat me to it. ;)

  13. @ Matthew: Palladium?! Well, actually, that's what I was going to do with the mystic, so I guess I might as well take a look at the diabolist. Warhammer Fantasy Role-Playing as well.
    ; )

    @ Myth: I AM glad you enjoy my stuff. I hope it doesn't get too dull for y'all.

    @ Garolek: don't think anyone's going to "beat you to it." Hell I could hardly follow your post...and I own a couple of Crowley books, not to mention Regardie and TOofGD.

    Having said THAT, I just want to say I agree that using historical inspiration is just as good (if not better) than drawing from literary sources. After all, that's what the fiction is based on.
    : )

  14. The Myth said:
    The Wizard had access to High Magic + Enchantment, but I always wanted a class that just used the High Magic list!

    Preaching to the choir. I never tried it, but I thought it would be really interesting as the single-classed Wizard woudl be lacking a number of common utility spells.

    Garolek Dolgarukii said:
    Maybe the Satanic Wizard-Archer from the Malleus Malificarum needs a write up too... now that I've said it "out loud" someone is going to beat me to it. ;)

    Eh, Heinrich Kramer was a munchkin!

  15. "anyone can (blah, blah)"? That's weird logic JB when exactly that is true of most of the classes you propose. You're ignoring that same argument for the "classes" you like and using it to justify excluding ones you don't. Personally I see no point whatever to class inflation and most of the ideas your have there can be played either straight up with roleplaying or by offering them as a varient "subclass" of the existing classes with a few tweeks. They certainly aren't archytypes in the traditional sense. So,I'm saying you can't have your cake and eat it too, unless you just want to call it "my book of favorites" or something. So I'd suggest if you want people to buy this, you need to rethink your reasoning and to what extent something really is a new class or simply a subclass (like the traditional monk, assasin, and paladin).