Monday, April 20, 2015

The Magnificent Seven

What I really want to write about this morning is skill trees, but mine won't make much sense until I've had a chance to discuss classes in the new FHB.

[which reminds Game of Thrones last night went unseen due to the disgusting inability of my internet to stream shows (couldn't watch Mad Men, either). As such I'm irritated by the whole subject at the moment. Which means, Crowns of Blood stuff is on-hold, despite my original plans for today's posting]

All Basic editions of D&D have a pool of seven classes to draw from...the same seven classes actually. Well, all pre-1985 editions of Basic. They are, of course:


I read somewhere, once upon a time, that the average human brain has a rather easy time when it comes to holding grouped data where the data points number seven or less, but struggles when the number hits eight or more. This was a few years ago, and I don't remember where I heard it (maybe NPR when I still listened to that radio station?). But I remember thinking (at the time) that perhaps this is why the Basic classes of D&D are so easy to remember and regurgitate (along with their associated capabilities): that magic seven number.

Seven has always been a bit of a "mystic" number. In numerology, it represents the planet Neptune, and it's astrological meanings. Seven was the number of "celestial bodies" visible to the naked eye in ancient times (counting the Sun and Moon), from whence we get our seven days of the week. Seven is considered a "lucky number" by many folks. It is a number that fires the imagination.

Anyway...I didn't have seven classes in my Moon game (the prior iteration of my FHB) or either of Moon's prior incarnations. Instead all had three classes (the three classes being different in each) attempting to model archetypes with "sub-classifications" (i.e. specializations) under each basic class.

Of course, I wasn't using demihumans, which knocks out three of the four Basic D&D classes.

[for an example of what a JB "subclass" looks like, check out Five Ancient Kingdoms. A subclass (of which there are eight in 5AK) is the same as the main class, but simply loses one or two of their normal class abilities to gain a subclass specific ability. No new spell lists or major strictures of the druid or paladin type...just subtle variation]

Welp, the latest version is junking that and going back to something more basic. Well, more "Basic" anyway. It's got seven classes, classes that (somewhat) ape the original seven, though they don't include demihumans:

(Sorcerous) Dabbler

I figured I'd go ahead and list 'em all, and then explain my thought process here. Sorry for the ass-backwardness.

First off, in considering the setting (South America-ish) and premise (treasure hunting) of the game, I made a list of what classes I wanted to see at the table. Not which classes I thought should be part of the game, but what I wanted to see people play. While I could take a picture of my crummy, hand-written notes ad post it, it will be faster (and more legible) to simply type it out:

Sorcerer-Priest (the same...some more pious, some less)
Fighter-Knight (the same...some stouter than others)
War Priest (big guy with smiting ability)
Thief-Assassin (the same...just with different focus)
SpellSword (Lythande, Elric, etc.)
Hunter (the "halfling" class...primitives)
Illusionist (charlatans & rogues)

That's what I wrote...but as you can see I ended up with something a little different (and yet, not terribly so).

The hyphenated guys (sorcerer-priest, fighter-knight, and thief-assassin) were concepts that I envisioned as classes with two sides...not necessarily a coin with two sides but more of a sliding scale with (for example) sorcerer on one end and priest on the other. I saw the difference of side being more one of perspective...or perhaps one of opportunity (the "knight" being born a higher caste than the more mercenary "fighter"). I needed something that would allow the slide to take place between the two poles of these classes...and since I wanted to be consistent, I felt I would need to create similar poles for each.

There's some obvious re-skinning going on here. The "spell-sword" (a character that fights AND uses magic) is a pretty obvious "elf" re-skin (something I've been doing since waaaay back in 2009). The halfling has been rebranded specifically as a "hunter," which in the case of this setting is more of a "savage" or "barbarian" type (and no, they ain't short). The only odd-man out was the illusionist...made more odd by the fact that I still wanted to use the magic system I have from Moon which is really just a bunch of sorcerous spells of different flavors, none of which are really "illusionary."

O quickly you meet the axe outside of 1st edition AD&D. In my notes, the class is scribbled out, which happened pretty early in the brainstorming process.

Anyway...looking at my now six I started wondering where I was going to get a seventh (because I liked the idea of having this Magnificent Number), and realized I'd done no re-skin of dwarves. Of course, this was due in part to me hating dwarves lately. 'But if I did not hate dwarves,' JB asked himself, 'what would they look like? What archetypal place might they hold in a class system?'

This line of questioning led me to "spelunker" and from there to the Explorer class, named above. See how my brain works?

Then I let it all stew a bit in the setting that I was envisioning (a setting that I am still developing, mind you...currently it's progressed from circa 16th century South America to something 10,000 years earlier). I decided the War Priest was going to be something decidedly primitive in nature: a dude with a lot of feathers, animal hide or plant-skin armor, and a big war mace of some sort. This dude was not coming from the same "colonist" faction as the other conquistadors, but rather from the ranks of the indigenous people. And so he was lumped under the class heading Native along with the pre-funked "hunter" class as two ends of the sliding scale (between the tribal warrior and the tribal shaman-type).

It was game system that had me excise the "priest" side of the sorcerer-priest equation. I mean, I suppose they are still "sorcerer-priests," setting-wise, but the magic system necessitated different I really didn't want to include a "piety" stat (or ability score) that would really only be of use to one of seven classes.

One of seven? Wait a sec...I consolidated war priest and hunter so now I'm back down to six! But then, I still didn't really have any type of healer or "wise man" class. Some people think that lore master types are boring as shit, and (like sages) belong in a support role (back home), not traipsing off on adventures. I, on the other hand, always come back to the film Krull, and Freddie Jones portrayal of Ynyr "the Old One." This type of wandering mystic is exactly the kind of thing I prefer to the D&D "cleric" class.

I eat slayers for breakfast...with my muesli.
[remember when I mocked up a Krull campaign setting for B/X? Check out the "Wise One" class]

Plus, this type of hermit-dude gives me a chance to include another of my favorite archetypes: the solitary witch. Like Mr. Brannan, I am a sucker for the inclusion of a good witch archetype in any game I write-play. Creating an Outsider class allows me to include the witch on the opposite pole from the mystic. And now I'm back up to seven classes.

Let's see, have I covered everything? Knight-merc fell into the Fighter category; thief-assassin is in the Rogue classification (natch); Sorcerers have "adepts" and "eclectics," though that won't mean much to folks at this point.

Oh, yeah...the Dabbler. That's just the "spell-sword" renamed because, neat as that sounds, I didn't want any confusion with the "sell-sword" pole (that I later converted to "mercenary" anyway). Besides, I still needed two spectrum ends for my elf re-skin. Here's my thought: what really defines the spell-sword more than anything is that they know "a little magic." They dabble in it, but they don't pursue it with same single-mindedness of "real" sorcerers. In fantasy literature, they're too busy wandering around, killing people with swords, getting paid, brooding on their fate, etc. Elric may profess to be the greatest sorcerer of his time, but you rarely see him actually working magic (maybe once or twice per story)...he's pretty damn laissez faire about the whole magic thang. Grey Mouser likewise curtails his magic use (despite being raised by a magician)...though perhaps more so out of fear (respect?) or distaste for the art.

SO..."dabbler." The two poles I'm currently working with are "spell-sword" and "spell-thief," the latter of which may act as a stand-in for any type of illusionist/mountebank trickster-type character I'd like to see in the game. We'll see how that works out (it's all still a work in progress). now you've got my classes (and the thought process behind 'em). Now, I can talk about "skills" (which will be my method for sliding between the twin "poles" of each class).

Later, folks.


  1. In ancient times Bell telephone did a study to see how many numbers an average person could easily memorize. That's why local telephone numbers in the US are 7 digits.

    1. @ Lloyd:

      Perhaps that is what I'm remembering.