Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Back When We Were Myrmidons Together..."

So said the one-eyed bard Gellor to his companion Gord when reminiscing about their mytual friend Curley Greenleaf in the Gygax novel Saga of Old City.

I can remember reading this and thinking at the time, “How cool! Gygax actually references level titles in the narrative of the game world!” Now I can’t help but see the silliness.

What…you mean back when you lived in Ancient Greece?

We did not read Homer when I was in school (Dante, yes…it was Catholic school), and though I well-versed in Greek mythology and knew of Achilles, I didn’t read the Iliad (where Myrmidons feature prominently) till well after college. Hmph…probably first discovered them in some gladiator-themed research.

I do love level titles in D&D. Not only is a level title a sign of achievement, but it gives you something to say other than, “Hello, I’m a level 5 fighter.” How soul-less. Go play video games.

2nd edition AD&D (speaking of soulless) is the first edition to do away with level titles wholesale (or so I was recently told on another forum). However, the first place I notice their conspicuous absence is in the 1st edition Oriental Adventures supplement where only the Monk class is given titles. Whether this was a gross over-sight, a conscious decision, or sheer laziness (nobody wanted to research Oriental-style titles for samurai and ninja?)…who knows? But it was a sign of things to come.

Frankly, I was a bit disappointed that Labyrinth Lord didn’t include level titles for their character classes. I read somewhere that this may have been done for copyright reasons. Whatever. From what I can see, some of the classes could use an overhaul in the titling department anyway. Here are my proposed new titles (might have to call them “ranks”) for the fighter class, to be included in my B/X Companion:

Level – Rank
1 – Man-of-Arms
2 – Warrior
3 – Veteran
4 – Hero
5 – Cavalier
6 – Swashbuckler
7 – Master-of-Arms
8 – Champion
9 – Warlord

I chose these titles, and their order of appearance, with good reason. A first level fighter has little to distinguish it from other classes except its ability to use all weapons (or with my optional variable damage by class rules, the ability to use the weapons with greatest proficiency).

By level three (the last level of the Basic set), the fighter should well and truly be a “veteran” adventurer. I never liked Vet as a 1st level title as it implies some sort of backstory to the character which generally wasn't the case…1st level characters are usually described as "young" and "inexperienced," after all. But after gaining enough XP delving dungeons to reach 3rd level, veteran sounds like a good description.

A 4th level fighter is always going to be a Hero in my book. It is the first level of an Expert adventurer, a step beyond the first three levels of the Basic set, a sign that the character has outgrown other inexperienced adventurers. When the townsfolk say, “we need a hero” they mean a fighter of at least 4th level.

I like Cavalier for level 5, though at first I had it down for level 7. 5th level is still early Expert and should be about the time characters are getting acquainted with the whole “horse and lance” concept. Cavalier also implies a type of attitude, that suits the PC at this level. Likewise with level 6…the Swashbuckler implies an even more reckless/cocky attitude. It is also the level where characters should start becoming experienced with sea-going voyages (X1: Isle of Dread is for characters level 5-7).

Originally I had Arms Master as level 5, but now I feel level 7 makes more sense. It is after one of the fighters 3-level “break points” (the To Hit rolls and Saves improve beyond those cocky mid-levels). I also feel that “Master-of-Arms” is a good intermediate step between a king’s guardsman and the king’s “Champion.”

Champion replaces “superhero” and its comic book implications at level 8. These are the big bruisers in service to a powerful noble…the Lancelot character that hasn’t yet been granted his own fief.

Finally, Name level for a fighter is “Warlord,” because the fighter achieved his lofty status by strength of arms, not just an entitlement from lord to vassal.

I wanted to stay strictly away from any title that might describe a sedentary character, like “guardsman,” “soldier,” or “man-AT-arms” because the fighter is an adventurer…they need pro-active level titles. Likewise, I wanted to stay away from actual titles like “knight” or “mercenary” that could be applied to a fighter of any level, depending on how a character is branded within a campaign.

Next up: a much needed Clerical over-haul!


  1. As an aside Myrmidon is one of those words that had a second usage beyond its original meaning. It also meant a "No questions asked Mercenary" for quite awhile, in the same way "Spartan Living Conditions" doesn't mean ancient Greek architecture.

  2. My (AH) dictionary defines myrmidon as "a faithful follower that carries out order without question." Ok...but that doesn't say 6th level fighter to me (where I expect excellence above the "hero" level as well as independent thought). Only the "legendary warrior of Greek legend" makes sense to me, but in either case I think the level titles could use an update.
    : )