Thursday, April 18, 2013

Exceptional B/X Classes (P. 1)

People who were kind enough to purchase my last book, The Complete B/X Adventurer, were treated to a number of new classes for their B/X campaign. The list includes B/X write-ups of some of the variant classes found in Bard Games’ The Compleat Adventurer (the obvious inspiration for my volume), plus a handful of new spell-casters, a couple-three new demihumans, and variants of AD&D classes NOT already found in Goblinoid Games’ Advanced Edition Companion (specifically, the acrobat, barbarian, and bard). Plus the mountebank…always have to include a mountebank variant in anything I do these days (though I’ve yet to see anyone play one…*sigh*).

 When creating these…what? Sixteen?...classes, my design objectives included the following:

-        I wanted to create fun, “fantasy classes” of types that would be recognizable to people who enjoy fantasy literature, comics, and film.
-        I wanted to create B/X classes that did not already exist in another form (for example, I considered adding an illusionist class but GG already has an illusionist for LL so why duplicate the work?).
-        I wanted to create classes in the B/X style…short and simple, with a few abilities and restrictions, nothing overly complicated (i.e. something more streamlined than the classes found in the AD&D PHB).
-        I wanted to make sure the classes were “balanced” (*shudder*) compared to the original classes of B/X. That is, I did not want to create “exceptional variants” like the paladin or ranger that would render the standard fighter “redundant.”

Personally, I think I was able to accomplish these objectives. It was fun to do it…as I picked up each class I asked, ‘How can I make this a unique choice that will be fun for a player? How can I make the class simple and “B/X” in style?’ And when I look at the compilation of classes and creativity, I’m pretty proud of it. Even if folks don’t use it exactly as written, I’m sure folks can find some inspiration for their own house-ruled classes…which was a lot of my motivation for doing the thing.

Of course, now I wish I’d done it differently.
; )

Well, not exactly, but…well, let me put it this way: regular readers are aware that I’m in the process of producing my own “version of D&D” under the title 5AK. 5AK has a very specific setting, with magic and monsters and classes that (I felt) were appropriate to that setting. Fortunately, the setting (inspired by the Arabian Nights stories) is fairly wide-open as far as “fantasy adventure” is concerned…giants and dragons and ghouls and demons and jinn all work within the setting, for example, as does sorcery, witchcraft, and saintly miracles. However, cool as it is, there’s a part of me that says, “man, it’s not fantastic enough.” Or rather, there’s the second guessing that says the fantasy is too much like an Arabian fairy tale (‘too much Ali Baba’)…which, understand, I’ve always loved but, well, it’s not Tolkien. It’s not King Arthur. Maybe there’s just not enough Beowulf.

My personal background is one of American Anglo-Saxonish descent. Yes, I’m Catholic from my maternal Austrian roots (well, and my paternal grandmother converted to Catholicism due to being placed in a Catholic orphanage as a child. No, she wasn’t an orphan…that was kind of a substitute for foster care “back in the day”). It’s hard to imagine how I would have been different as a Lutheran or Episcopalian…but I digress. The point is, despite my “Roman” religion, I am very much a plain, white-bread type; a boring Englishman-descendant whose ancestors had a little bit of ambition (and not a lot of prospects) forcing them to push their way out to the western coast of the American continent. The folklore that is my heritage is mostly a cross between the Arthurian and Brothers Grimm and most everything else…leprechauns or genies or Norse giants and Greek gods…are extremely tertiary to my upbringing.

[hell, my REAL folklore, I suppose is more American folklore like Paul Bunyan…a good axe-man, that one]

So while flying carpets and giant snakes and lamp-bound genies and turbans and curvy swords are all things that fire my imagination, there’s a definite part of me that misses having the knight in shiny armor charging the fire-breathing dragon on horseback. Not that I’m going to suddenly stop writing 5AK or throw out all the mid-eastern “flavor”…as Tim down at Gary’s pointed out, there are folks to whom the setting will resonate. But maybe I’ve missed an opportunity here with the tact I’ve taken. Certainly, it would be tricky to do parts of “traditional D&D” (at least in the style I've traditionally played it) using the rules I’ve written.

After all, the system is much more Chainmail/OD&D than it is B/X.

So it is that my recent thoughts on “subclasses” and “exceptional variants” have led me to think again about D&D Mine, but from a perspective of remaking B/X. Now this is, of course, an even more useless exercise than the current endeavor: at least with 5AK, there may be people who want to play it for the setting or novelty, who then adapt its rules to their normal gaming...whereas people interested in B/X already have B/X or its equivalent (Labyrinth Lord) ready to fulfill their gaming fantasies. And I do NOT want to do an Eberron/Forgotten Realms/Tolkien-style “setting book” for B/X…people can use B/X to do that themselves. Truth is, anything I ended up doing in this vein would probably end up looking like “B/X Talislanta” or “B/X Game of Thrones” (or both), either of which would be kind of dumb. Still, my mind has been having interesting thoughts on ways to remake B/X without remaking the system (as 5AK does) that might be worth a quick gander…

[boy, it takes me a long time to come to the point, doesn’t it?]

Remember how, the other day, I was writing about the way the AD&D subclasses aren’t really “sub-“ anything? How they’re either so wildly divergent as to be separate classes, OR their advantages are so substantial as to make them superior to the basic class? And then remember me saying (in THIS post) how I strove to find “niche” categories for my new classes that did not render the base B/X classes redundant? WHAT IF, instead of the tact I took with TCBXA, I decided to create exceptional variants similar to the AD&D classes…but ones that included the FILTERS I was talking about earlier?

How would that look? Well…

First, we’d have to define our basic classes for the project…um, let’s call it New B/X (as opposed to B/X Next or something), or NBX for short. Let’s go with:

Holy Man (or Woman)

Each with a maximum of nine hit dice and 14 levels (because 36 is kind of outrageous unless you plan on playing the same campaign for 20 years or handing out a dragon hoard’s value in treasure every week). We’ll also include the demihuman classes as “basic classes” (with attributes and restrictions similar to B/X)…because THEN, if you want your “Halfling Thief” or “Dwarf Troll-Slayer,” you can create it as an exceptional variant class.
; )

[to be continued]


  1. Why not have your 'Arabian Nights' thing be more- 'Arabian Knights'. Without making it a setting book make there be an implied conflict between the two regions. There's a crusade heading East while trade and culture expands West. I think there is alot of room for this kind of thing. Characters transplanted to lands unfamiliar to them or to a war-torn border region. Anyway, you are cool. Keep up the good work.

  2. I'm interested. Not sure if I have the CBXA yet; I'll look into that, but definitely agree with your goals.

    1. Ah. If it's print only, then I don't have it. Bummer.

  3. @ Pierce: seem pretty cool, too (I say that as a fan of Nurgle...nice minis!).

    The setting of the game is purposefully set a couple centuries before the crusades: the Arabs are "the only game in town" as far as civilized least by modern standards (India is more like the feudal kingdoms of real world Europe, the Byzantines are comparable to Moorecock's Melniboneans, and the Chinese are a bunch of mystic sorcerers and dragon lovers).

    In other words, when one leaves Bagdad or Basra, you're entering The Wilderness and all the danger it entails.The rest of the world is designed purposefully to be "not on par."

    @ Nathan:

    Still have some print copies left for order.
    ; )

  4. You, sir, are doing a very complicated, yet brave thing. It is difficult to create something that is unique within role playing terms. You have a seriously hard task ahead of you and I do not envy you one bit, but I salute you.

  5. I dig Sinbad a lot more than I dig Lord of the Rings. Stick with the Arabian/Persian stuff!

  6. @ Matt:

    Ha! No worries there!
    : )

  7. Cool, can't wait to see your game!