Friday, December 13, 2019

Hunter of Men

Just continuing the series started Tuesday...

Are rangers the only character class able to track in an AD&D campaign?

Clearly other intelligent humanoids...especially humans...will have some means of tracking prey. Hunting has long been a means of providing meat for the table, and the ability to find and recognize tracks is nearly as pertinent to the practice as the ability to bring down the target. People have been hunting since the stone age and it is too far-fetched (from my perspective) to restrict the skill to individuals of exceptional ability and supernatural power (i.e. rangers).

Of course, this doesn't mean folks of non-exceptional ability are as good at tracking as rangers. The class as presented in the PHB provides a 90% base chance to track in the outdoors (Unearthed Arcana adjusts this to level based, though I'm inclined to ignore most of the UA). The Expert rule book (Cook/Marsh) provides a straight 1 in 6 chance per day of successfully hunting with a far higher likelihood of the turning up a hostile predator than a tasty antelope. Foraging for nuts and berries (also a 1 in 6 chance in B/X) is a safer bet.

Still, my takeaway is that it's possible for anyone (i.e. non-rangers) to find tracks (at least obvious ones), though their ability to make any sense of sign...or successfully follow it...may be far more limited than the sturdy ranger. And while there may be professional hunters or pathfinders...something equivalent to an expert hireling...these are probably little more than an NPC with the appropriate "secondary skill" (from page 12 of the DMG): something like forester, hunter/fisher, or trapper/furrier. Any PC has about a 15% of acquiring one of these skills, should the DM decide to include these in the campaign (we always did, back in my old AD&D days).

However, it's entirely possible that a player might desire more than a random secondary skill and less than the "full ranger" experience. While the clear winner of the man-hunter category is the assassin class (duh), I know there's been a long-held interest in the bring-em-back-alive archetype, usually embodied in the bounty hunter archetype.

A typical bounty hunter.
The bounty hunter is no stranger to the D&D game: aside from the Michael Sechi version (which inspired my adaptation in The Complete B/X Adventurer), I found no less than THREE different versions of the class waaaaay back in Dragon magazine #52 (August, 1981). Later editions continued to produce their own versions, first as a "kit" in the second edition (The Complete Thief's Handbook), then as one of several similarly themed prestige classes (the "Bloodhound," etc.) in third edition. There just seems to be something appealing to the concept of what is (essentially) a paid vigilante. It goes back at least as far as the Western genre, and remains active in the imagination of the TV and movie-going public (see The Mandalorian as the most recent example).

For an "advanced" D&D campaign, I think it's a bit more interesting to add such a character type to the list of permissible classes than to tweak or alter an existing class (e.g. by lifting the alignment restrictions on rangers and/or assassins). The reason I find it more interesting is that adds specificity, an additional layer to the setting. What does it say about the world that such a character type exists? If execution of wanted criminals was the only result needed, why would anyone require more than an assassin? A specialist in tracking and trapping targets can sometimes be useful, especially if one requires more information out of the subject than can be gained through a speak with dead spell. And it almost goes without saying that there are times an employer will want to engage the services of a professional kidnapper for the capture of an individual no goody-two-shoes ranger would ever touch.

Personally, I like the idea a lot. They'd use D8s for hit dice and be open to the same races (with similar level restrictions) as the assassin class, probably with a non-lawful alignment restriction. I like the idea of a multi-class or dual class bounty hunter, and can easily see the class paired with a cleric or magic-user to give them a kind of "witch hunter" vibe (without actually needing to create a new witch hunter class). Yeah, the more I think about it (and I have been thinking about bounty hunters a lot the last two-three days) the more I think I'm going to write it up...possibly for free, but perhaps as a download for my Patreon supporters. It's about time I showed them a little tangible gratitude.

More later.


  1. We can foresee that any ability that any member of any class has can be seen in the singular as the primary characteristic of an NPC, separated from the leveled abilities. A bard plays a flute, but obviously so does a flute-player ~ but separate from the combat and other abilities the bard possesses. A pickpocket possesses that one ability from the thieving class, without any other thief skill added. This allows us, as DM, to construct non-player characters not only on their class, but specifically upon their given skill ... the way that actual people are actually a part of the world's tapestry of activity.

    1. I agree, and think that's an excellent way to look at the majority of NPCs in a setting. One of the (several) things that I found disappointing with 3rd edition was the insistence on assigning "civilian classes" to NPCs, such that you'd have a 5th level flute player and an 8th level teamster, all with corresponding increases in hit points, attack ability, saving throws, etc.

  2. I think one of the issues with creating an endless number of classes is the *specificity*. Bounty Hunters are typically not a graduate of "Bounty Hunter School". Rather they have some skills that lend themselves to the practice and happened upon a chance to use them for personal gain.

    Many people seem to think there's a Guild or School for everything. There isn't, but there's a lot of freelance in any world.

    In many, if not most, genres, the hero/anti-hero is not someone who came up through the school ranks and achieved magnificent success in that manner. Instead, they have a number of useful skills that *could* lend themselves to that profession and end up being used to that end.

    All that to say: if you want a Bounty Hunter or something similar, build them individually. Don't make a Class for them. Just my thoughts.

    1. Pretty much the same thing I tell people when they want to play a bard in my basic games

  3. You know, in the real world we train perfectly ordinary people how to track other people. Tracking isn't a magic spell. Please explain why an ordinary fighter can't be a bounty hunter.

    1. I suppose you could train a fighter to track. You could probably train him to pick locks, too. Maybe even how to turn undead or say a few magic words?

      Not to be too crusty here, but I don't think of most adventurers as polymath types. Given a setting where life is a bit harsher and death a less discriminating in how it's meted out, I feel most PC adventurers are inclined to focus on their own strengths (i.e. class skills) rather than deal with the bother of learning those of someone else. When the chips are down, when the stakes are high, most folks tend to fall back on their strengths...and in the imaginary life of a fantasy adventurer, I presume the day-to-day stakes of ordinary life are "high" on a fairly consistent basis. For me, this kind of inertia (not to mention the normal inertia found in most humans that make us resistant to pursuing new avenues of expression and learning) is well modeled in the "dual class" character rules.

      As I wrote, I'm not averse to allowing any character a chance to hunt game and forage for food. Characters are also welcome to set ambushes and "attack with surprise" and whatnot as provided in the rules. But track like a ranger? Surprise like a ranger? In my book, these skills are honed over years of training and practice, little different from the art of disguise learned by an assassin, or the somantic gestures of the illusionist. There just aren't that many people that are cut out to be true "Renaissance men."

      [and, again, I have little problem with a fighter collecting with a secondary skill of hunting finding a way to put it to practical use, nor with any class of "collecting bounties" by capturing wanted individuals through creative means: setting snares, paralyzing spells, etc. The idea of a creating a bounty hunter class is simply that of putting together an adventurer who has specialized in this particular field of endeavor...for my players it gives them a different type of "hunter class," one of a less noble bearing; for the DM it provides an extra layer of material for the setting background and, possibly, additional fodder for NPCs, adventures, and hooks]

  4. A slippery slope argument?

    I equate tracking with fighting because it is a skill taught amongst the military and para-military of the world; to police officers and to soldiers. Most bounty hunters ARE ex-soldiers and ex-policemen, drawing on their training to perform that jobs. Most unpleasant jobs about chasing people or clouting them to be taken back to judges are associated with military professions. Unlike those other highly not-connected skills you chose to include in your argument.

    Not polymaths? How so? They're well-travelled, capable, forced to master highly diverse and unexpected situations, they can use multiple weapons, have knowledge of how to deal with the spells thrown at them, employ high level military tactics and they're overmastered by 21st century media-fed, internet-savvy, players raised on video games and constant politics. How do you somehow mystically remove the polymath from the equation without lobotomizing your players?

    When the chips are down, when the stakes are high, survivors tend to fall back on whatever works; and in any case, why are you preaching a system that forces players to fall back on what YOU think they should fall back on? Is that your agenda or theirs?

    Yes, tracking skills are honed over years. But not every bounty hunter tracks. Some do it in towns, by moving from bar to bar. Not every ne're do well rushes out to the wilderness, you know. I'm pretty sure most of them don't.

    I could have just let this go, but ... I have to ask: what exactly do you think the importation of this one character class into your campaign is going to accomplish? Exactly? How long do you think this class is going to hold the attention of even one player, much less enough players to justify the idea over a period of ten years?

  5. This is just procrastination. Just play the frickin' game, hoss! Anything that seems out of place can easily be house-ruled on the spot.

  6. I say create any and all the classes you want; even if only one example of such class ever exists. "Classes" are not being pulled from a finite resource.
    I mean sure you could create a specific example of a class by taking levels from other classes within the scope of multi-classing and dual-classing rules, but sometimes that will not produce the desired effect.
    You can role-play anything you want, but will there be agreement on the rules being used?
    Or you could add a skill system, but that has had mixed results in D&D-like games.
    So add what you like and play-test the heck out of it.

    So write it up, share with your Patreon supporters, have them play it, critique it, and give you feed back.
    If they like then release it here either as a freebie or sell the PDF for a buck or two. Give your Patreons an advance copy.

    Need more ideas? Check out the Vigilante class for Pathfinder.