Monday, April 15, 2013
Subclasses, Variants, and Filters (P. 1)
Dammit...sometimes my blog-hopping takes me farther afield than I normally "surf" and I end up leaving comments somewhere that...later...I can't find anywhere. Which is too bad, because I like to give credit when I'm ripping off someone else's thoughts and musings.
[EDIT: Thanks to Red for the suggestion...have I mentioned how terrible I am with this computer stuff? The "dude" in question was Talysman (duh) over at Nine and Thirty Kingdoms. Jeez, JB...here's the link to the post, along with my half-assed comments at the time]
So some dude was writing recently that he's having a hard time with the ability score prerequisites for subclasses. Which, I'd gather, means he's playing/complaining about AD&D (at least one of its iterations) since that's the only edition that really has "subclasses." Well, okay, both Supplement II (Blackmoor) and Supplement III (Eldritch Wizardry) use the terms "sub-class" when referring to the monk, assassin, and druid classes...and these, too, have ability score prerequisites...so I guess he might have been playing OD&D. But the term and concept is more ubiquitous to AD&D.
B/X doesn't, of course, have subclasses, only classes, and except for the demihumans (dwarf, elf, and halfling) it doesn't even have ability prerequisites. Do you want to play a skinny fighter? A clumsy thief? A stupid magic-user? Sure, you can do that...it's a longer, slower row to hoe (with that prime requisite XP penalty) but you can certainly do it.
BUT, there are no subclasses. Even my B/X supplements (the B/X Companion and The Complete B/X Adventurer) steer clear of the term "subclass." The former has a full enough plate just dealing with a rules expansion for the basic B/X classes...and the NEW classes in TCBXA are just that: "new classes," i.e. classifications of adventurer. The scout is not a subclass of anything, nor is the bounty hunter, nor the summoner. I suppose I could call them "subclasses" but that's not how they were designed. Like the beastmaster or gnome, all were created to fill specific niches not already covered in the B/X rule book.
But what if you wanted to adapt subclasses to your B/X game? Certainly, the Advanced Edition Companion (AEC) for Labyrinth Lord provides all the AD&D subclasses cut to the B/X mold, though they are inconsistently referred to as "subtypes," "types of," "varieties of," and "sub-types." Not that the lingo matters terribly; they're the same things you find in AD&D. The real question is, are they really subclasses? And if they are, is this the best way to present them?
We'll get to what I mean by "presentation" in a second. My own game, 5AK, does indeed have subclasses, but they are true "subclasses." Each main class has two subclasses, the subclass being the exact same as the main class, save that each loses a few class features while gaining a couple (minor) advantages not present in the usual class. This is generally done in order to provide niche or setting specific concepts for the players. For example, the mountebank subclass fills the concept of the magician that failed out of his apprenticeship (he couldn't hack it for whatever reason), but turned to thievery and flimflammery with the few "tricks" he learned in order to have an adventuring career. As a subclass of the thief class, the mountebank is exactly like the thief (same HPs, saves, attacks, skills, etc.) but he's spent less time honing his thieving abilities, in exchange for some of the knowledge of an apprentice magician.
[as a side note, the reverse concept...i.e. the thief taken off the streets and apprenticed to become a true magician...is NOT represented by a subclass. Instead such a character would simply be a magician with the randomly generated advantage, "misspent youth." Becoming a true magician takes years of study compared to picking up some minor ability at picking pockets. But I digress]
Similarly my temple knight subclass (the closest thing 5AK has to a "paladin") provides additional martial training not found in the saint/shaman class, at a cost of some of the divine favors (spells) the saint would normally access. No, it is not a subclass of fighter.
See that's one of the things that irk me about AD&D...the subclasses aren't really "sub-" in the true meaning of the prefix, which would indicate beneath, below, imperfect (as in subpar), or subordinate to. Paladins and rangers aren't subordinate to fighters...they fight the same, have the same or better saves, and have additional bonuses and powers that make them superior to the fighter class. An assassin has all the abilities of a thief, albeit as two levels lower, but has the ability to use all weapons, shields, the express ability to use and manufacture poisons, as well as the ability to disguise and assassinate targets. How does that make an assassin a "sub-" thief?
Other subclasses...like the druid and illusionist...are so expressly different from their parent classes that they might as well be their own. I suspect the reason monks were deemed to be their own class (as opposed to a subclass of cleric as originally stated in Supplement II) was for exactly this reason.
[to be continued]