Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for the Social Status

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic this month? Things necessary to take your D&D campaign from “eh, fantasy” to “kick ass.” And who doesn’t want that?]

S is for Social Status; the SEVENTH ability score.

“Seventh ability score? I thought that was Comeliness.” No my little poppet, I’m still talking about B/X Dungeons & Dragons, and there is no Comeliness score in B/X. There IS, however a seventh ability score, that I call “Social Status.” You might know it by an alternate name:

Starting Gold.

When creating a 1st level character, players roll 3D6 six times, in order, to determine the following abilities: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Players THEN roll 3D6 a SEVENTH time to determine their Starting Gold.

3D6 seven times, all in order. Why not just call it seven abilities?

It would certainly make character creation easier to have a more abstract system in place. Consider the following:

Roll.....Social Status
3…..Lower Class
4-5…..Upper Lower Class
6-8…..Lower Middle Class
9-12…..Middle Class
13-15…..Upper Middle Class
16-17…..Lower Upper Class
18…..Upper Class

Lower Class: Indentured serfs, slaves (escaped), criminals, hermits
Upper Lower Class: Peasants, Prostitutes, Working Poor
Lower Middle Class: Low clergy (monks), prosperous farmers, unsuccessful business folk
Middle Class: Middle clergy, students, moderate business folk
Upper Middle Class: Landless knights, prosperous business folk, teachers
Lower Upper Class: Landed knights, high clergy, titled nobility
Upper Class: Royalty, wealthy nobility, theocrats/patriarchs

The Social Status rank doesn’t show what your character IS, but rather what your character’s background is, as well as his or her upbringing. What you DO with that background is up to you…as with the four basic classes of B/X (cleric, fighter, magic-user, thief) nothing restricts your selection of class.

For example, even though you roll a 14 strength and a 5 intelligence, you could still choose to be a magic-user…you’ll simply receive a penalty on earned experience points (a wizard that is illiterate learns a lot slower from one who can read and communicate fluently in multiple languages). We’ve all got that down, right?

Well, LIKEWISE with one’s Social Status. You don’t have to be a fighter just because your father was a “landed knight;” but you’ll find it a lot easier to properly equip yourself as an adventuring fighter with the correct background.

Consider the Upper Lower Class fighter (a peasant) versus the Upper Middle Class fighter (landless knight). The former has, on average, 45gps to play with. The latter has, on average, 140gps to play with.

The peasant fighter? He’s arming himself with leather and a polearm…maybe a dagger and sling, too…in addition to his adventuring gear (backpack, torches, rope, rations, etc.).

The fighter whose father was a knight? He can oufit himself with plate and shield, a couple weapons (including his choice of sword), PLUS his normal adventuring gear. Even though he may have a lower Strength than the peasant fighter, the knight’s kid is going to be much more effective in combat...and probably last longer because of it.

Besides, one can always increase your Prime Requisite at character creation, right?

For most players planning to field a human adventurer, Social Status is probably the BEST indicator of what class one should take. Fighters and clerics should be coming from the upper classes due to the expense of better armor and weapons, not to mention those 25gp holy symbols. Thieves will generally come from the middle and lower classes…they need to afford their thieves tools, some loot sacks, and a dagger or blackjack, but even if they can afford leather armor they REALLY shouldn’t be getting into fights (thieves are not lightly armored fighters…they’re thieves, and they get gutted in combat). Wizards can come from any background, of course, with their exceptionally minimal requirements…a hermit, ascetic, monk, or peasant is just as likely to have magical ability as a nobleman’s son…and any adventurer from a LOW status background would be wise to consider the magic-user profession as away to advancement out of the poverty of his or her caste.

It would be fairly easy to assign standard equipment lists based on Social Status and thus get rid of the “equipment choosing” part of character creation all together…talk about fast character generation! However, I’ll leave that for individual DMs to ponder and tinker/tune for their own campaign setting. Consider, though, the following:

Lower Class: 30gp
Upper Lower Class: 45gp average
Lower Middle Class: 70gp average
Middle Class: 105gp average
Upper Middle Class: 140gp average
Lower Upper Class: 165gp average
Upper Class: 180gp

Each character should have 15-20gp worth of “standard adventuring gear;” things like backpacks, rations, torches, tinder boxes, water skins, rope, sacks, etc. Only characters of Upper Middle Class and higher can thus afford plate and shield (plus weapon). Middle class can afford chain and shield, Lower Middle can afford leather and shield. Any fighter below Lower Middle Class is going to be naked except for a shield…clerics are generally armored the same as fighters at Middle class and above, but are severely hampered below that due to the cost of their holy symbol. Thieves above Middle Class are going to have more money than they know what to do with (i.e. just enough to get them in trouble). While a bow is a good buy for the wealthy (Middle Class) thief, anything more is just going to invite heavy encumbrance (bad) or attract fellow pickpockets/muggers (worse!).

Magic-users should always have some extra gold, and they can use this to buy lanterns and wolvesbane and silver daggers and such…those specialty bits every party wants to have in the group. Wealthy magic-users with extra money can hire porters, servants, and body guards (men-at-arms) to act as shield grogs, too. These NPCs will come in handy when the MU is out o spells, and will probably be too fearful of the wizard’s reputation to try robbing or mugging him…plus hirelings give the magic-user good practice at acting “imperious” with underlings.
: )


  1. This is pretty clever - very simple and easy to implement in any version of the game. Very cool - thanks!

  2. Swordbearer did this. Every character had an actual Social Standing characteristic and equipment was costed by that ranking, not in any monetary units. So if you wanted to buy something it was based on your SS.

    Word Verification was 'vicar'. Apparently I'm a 4th level Cleric. Hopefully I'm from the UMC.

  3. This is a very elegant idea that adds a bit of flavor to each character without any extra die rolls.

  4. I agree with the Desert Scribe, this is a very elegant idea, and so easy to use. Very nice!

  5. Great post and very clever. Thanks for sharing. I will be adding this to my repertoire!

  6. It's not really the intention behind the skill, but this is how I tend to use Credit Rating in my Call of Cthulhu games. I seem to recall that the much-maligned Dragonlance: Fifth Age used a similar system.

  7. I love this. Love it.

    I have played with making players roll seven times and assigning to all stats, including starting gold. On the other hand, in Dying Sun, I decided that starting gold was equal to CHAx10.

    Swordbearer and DL: 5th Age did us a Wealth mechanic, but it was a little different in that it's effects carried past just CharGen. JB's idea is the classic Western one where you're background bears on how you start, but after that, it's up to you.

  8. Bugger, I wish I'd seen this before I started my new campaign. Perhaps I should cause a TPK so my players have to re-roll some characters and I can use this (joking of course). Great stuff, I look forward to using it in the future. Thanks JB.

  9. @ Austro: You're welcome man! You DO realize you don't have to wait for a TPK to start implementing, right? As characters die just have the new ones use it.
    : )