Wednesday, September 1, 2010

B/X Mountebank

This class was inspired by the imaginings of Gary Gygax (Dragon #65) as interpreted by ckutalik of Hill Cantons blog. While my version is substantially different from the one presented at Hill Cantons, I still acknowledge the idea which sparked this write-up. A fitting substitute for the Harlequin or Illusionist.

When using the B/X Headgear tables, it is suggested mountebanks roll on the Magic-User line.


Level.....Title.....Experience Points.....Hit Dice
7.....Con Man.....48,000.....7D4
10.....10th level Mountebank.....285,000.....9D4+1*
11.....11th level Mountebank.....380,000.....9D4+2*
12.....12th level Mountebank.....475,000.....9D4+3*
13.....13th level Mountebank.....570,000.....9D4+4*
14.....14th level Mountebank.....665,000.....9D4+5*

*Constitution bonuses no longer apply.

Mountebanks are frauds and shysters extraordinaire, using trickery, sleight of hand, and good old fashion fast talk to help separate marks from their gold. Some of the mountebanks’ skills seem magical in nature, and they often pass themselves off as magicians or alchemists; however, their skills are mainly physical, not mystical.

Mountebanks have two Prime Requisites: Intelligence and Dexterity. A mountebank with one of these abilities at 13 or better gains an additional +5% on earned experience points, and mountebanks with both Intelligence and Dexterity at 13 or better gain a +10% bonus. All mountebanks must have a minimum Charisma of 9.

RESTRICTIONS: Mountebanks use four-sided dice (d4) to determine their hit points. They never wear armor or use shields, preferring loose clothing with numerous folds and hidden pockets. They may wield any type of weapon but prefer easily concealable ones and missile weapons. Mountebanks may achieve a maximum of 36th level of experience. They use the same attack table as magic-users of the same level, and use the same saving throw table as thieves. A mountebank may attempt to use any magic item, regardless of class restrictions; however use of a restricted item carries a 25% chance of backfire (see below).

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Mountebanks have several skills that are of use in adventures:

Thief Skills – a mountebank may pick pockets, move silently, and backstab as a thief of the same level. A mountebank of 4th level or higher has the same ability to read languages (provided they are literate).

Disguise – mountebanks can disguise themselves to look like any humanoid of roughly the same size (though creative use of padding and extensions can make them appear larger or taller). The chance of passing un-noticed is the same as an equal level thief's ability to hide in shadows, though this chance drops by half if closely examined.

Sleight of Hand – the mountebank can palm, hide, and manipulate small objects without detection at a chance equal to his or her pick pockets ability. As with pick pockets, characters of higher level have a better chance of noticing mountebanks making “the switch.”

Fast Talk – mountebanks always receive a +1 bonus to Reaction rolls with anyone who does not know them to be a fraud or faker. What’s more, the mountebank may substitute his or her Intelligence bonus (13-15 +1, 16-17 +2, 18 +3) instead of Charisma when making Reaction rolls to represent the sham artist's ability to lie and tell people what they want to hear. A mountebank of 15th level or better can cast the equivalent of a confusion spell by weaving an outrageous and convoluted tale, but this ability can only be used once per day.

Smoke Powder – mountebanks manufacture a pyrotechnic powder for the use in making grand entrances or quick escapes. This chemical does no damage, but makes a flash and a cloud of smoke that quickly clears. Characters looking in the direction of the smoke powder explosion must save versus petrifaction or be stunned into inaction for the round. Smoke powder costs 50gp per flash to manufacture.

Brew Tonic & Potion – a mountebank of any level can brew any elixir or tonic one cares to name; drinking any such beverage, however, produces no noticeable effect. A mountebank of Name (9th level) or higher may attempt to brew actual potions with the same cost and components as per magic item creation; however there is always a chance the potion will backfire or fail in some spectacular fashion. Whether or not the potion was brewed successfully cannot be known until it is actually drunk; it always appears to have been brewed correctly (chance of success equal to 50% + the mountebank’s level; for example a 10th level mountebank has a 60% chance of successfully brewing a magic potion).

Use Magic Item – a mountebank may attempt to use any magic item, even those restricted to non-mountebank classes. However, use of such a restricted item always carries a flat 25% chance of failure (checked by the DM). Failure always indicates the item backfires or fails in some spectacular fashion.

Mountebanks can buy or build a home, castle, or store front as soon as they can afford it, though many prefer to remain on the move (and keep ahead of any swindled victims and enemies). In general, the only way a mountebank will ever become a dominion ruler is through impersonation of a warlord, wizard, or patriarch.


  1. I dig this. Good work! I like the use of the Moldvay reaction mechanic.

    I think SPEAKING languages is more fitting to the Mountebank than reading them - maybe instead, at 4th level, if he gets a certain value on an intelligence based Reaction check, it turns out he "picked up" Cloud Giantese somewhere!

    Maybe there is a way to work the Confusion effect via Reaction roll instead of Saving Throw to shore up its nonmagical nature - that's probably easier to do than with a Save but I think it would be more fun if the "spell" could be broken by someone bringing the victims to their senses. Or maybe the Mountebank has to maintain the charade with a minimum result after the first.

    50 GP isn't that much money beyond a certain point but is a lot to a beginner. Maybe as long as he has a kit of "Mountebank's Tools," under normal circumstances he could make a dose of smoke powder per day or week, with more at higher levels - I think there could also be room for sneezing or itching powders, or "monster repellent" that would work with the "Pursued by Monsters" rules.

    This is just great :

    In general, the only way a mountebank will ever become a dominion ruler is through impersonation of a warlord, wizard, or patriarch.

    Well played sir!

  2. @ Cole:

    Thanks! Some notes:

    - I don't see mountebanks as "scholars;" in general they are flim-flam artists in their own language. With a prime req of Int, they can raise their ability to speak languages at character creation, should players wish the character to have the "gift of tongues."

    - The ability to confuse appears magical but isn't. A save versus spells appears appropriate due to A) higher level characters being more resistant (better saves), and B) higher wisdom characters being more resistant. I like to work within the normal rules of B/X whenever possible.

    - 50 GP is a lot for low level characters...I was actually considering it at 75 or 100 and still think that's not a bad idea. For low level characters, this ability is to be used sparingly (pick your moment, like a 1st level MU's one spell). High level characters can use it more frequently, based on funds (and emphasize their "magical" abilties).

    One possible side benefit of including this class...magic-users may become a lot more rare and powerful, and PCs might be constantly wondering if they hired an actual magic-user or a mountebank (especially considering they can use wands and such). I see the mountebank as a bit like a human "wand of wonder;" you never quite know what he/she is going to do next!
    ; )

  3. Well done. And level titles - always a fan of level titles!

  4. This is great too : "...and PCs might be constantly wondering if they hired an actual magic-user or a mountebank (especially considering they can use wands and such)."

    I worked up a slight variant to playtest the next game of D&D that I run; there are differences but it's basically rooted in this Mountebank. It's far too verbose to post, but I thought i'd list the level titles for fun. Originally the first level title was "Carny" but I decided it didn't have that Gygaxian ring to it. Oh, and I'm still tempted to have the "name level" title just be "Wizard." :)

    1 Huckster
    2 Humbug
    3 Quacksalver
    4 Four-flusher
    5 Charlatan
    6 Cozener
    7 Inveigler
    8 Bamboozler
    9 Ringmaster
    10 10th Level Ringmaster