Three is the magic number...

So looking at the classic OD&D rules, I have been mulling over something that bugs me.  For classes, you have Fighting-man, Magic-user, and Cleric.  Each of these constitutes a fundamental way of accomplishing tasks, (Looking at these from the perspective of 4E, each is a Power Source.)  So while a Fighting-Man approaches tasks in a physical way, a Magic-User approaches it in a magical way, and a Cleric uses their god’s divine influence to get it done.  Meanwhile, the demi-human classes are different mechanical interpretations of the core three classes.

On the other hand, Thievery is kind of the odd man out.  It seems to me that being a thief is not a mechanical difference, but more a lifestyle choice. 

Thinking back to the Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser stories, which were one of the big inspirations for D&D, Fafhrd was a barbarian fighting-man who acted more like a thief.  And the Grey Mouser was trained as a wizard but had also chosen the life of a thief. Yet in the basic rules there is no way to recreate either of these characters.

As the class is written, they are like weak fighting-men who have an additional sub-mechanic of thief skills and some other tricks.  But they still are assumed to approach their tasks in a physical manner, but just in a less directly way.

So could you have a magic-user thief, who wasn’t a multi-class or hybrid of the two, but instead a magic-user who used his magic to steal. And how about if you created a cleric of the patron god of thieves?  Shouldn’t he also be motivated to be a thief, but would rely on his god to get past guards and open locks?

So this got me to wondering if the thief class is really just a template that can be applied to one of the core classes.  Actually also then would the other later classes (Monk, illusionist, Druid, etc) are not full on classes, but instead just a particular template applied to a core class.


Thief = Fighting-man + Criminal Template

Druid = Cleric + Nature Template

Monk = Cleric + Ascetic Template


…and so forth.  Psionics could also be a template.  And in fact so could the demi-human classes.  I am seeing a template as being a set of powers or advantages they get, but also there would be associated restrictions and other negatives.  If they take more then one template for their character, then these would all stack.

I can see this as add on book for OD&D with these different templates, almost like a recipe book.  The DM would have the players describe an idea for their character, and then he would look up and see what template(s) he would permit to get close to their idea mechanically.  (I suspect this is the sort thing that DMs houserule all the time- for instance the new player REALLY wants to be a pirate, so the DM gives them some some extra pirate stuff their Fighting-man can do.)

The first question that would need to be addressed is can you stack templates, and if so how many is the limit.  (To avoid the “Dwarven Cleric thief who is also Psionic” uber character)  I think that it should be up to the DM to make the call, and also they can assign stiffer negatives to the templates if they are worried about balance.

I also wonder how close this gets to just having multiclass characters, or if this is just trying to subvert OD&D into being something closer to AD&D.  (and if so, why not just play AD&D?)

I think the difference is that a template can be anything- it can cover specialized classes, but also cover GURPs style Advantages and Disadvantages or 4E backgrounds.  (Raised by wolves be a template, or being Ambidextrous.)

The big mechanical question is over the advancement charts.  The demi-humans have a level cap, and the 3 classes advance at different rates through their levels.  It seems like a template can put a level cap on a character, but it should not mess with the core class’s advancement rate.  For the Dwarves Cleric Thief with Psionics, despite all their limitations, and level cap, they should still use the Cleric charts, because it should still feel like a cleric.

So back to the Thief, if it were a template instead of a class, then the PC would still get their thieves ‘skills’ using the same rolls.  But depending on their base class, the ‘fluff’ text on how they do it would change.  And rather then having their own advancement chart, they would use their core class’s chart but might have a level cap.  And finally they would also have the weapon and armor restrictions which would be superseded by their core class if its more restrictive.  (One advantage of some templates would be that they negate a restriction on a core class- so if a Cleric took the ‘evil cultist template’ option, then suddenly they would no longer be restricted to blunt objects- and could wield a sacrificial dagger in the service of their dark god.) 

Swords & Wizardry Wheel Chart

Heres how my mind works- When I think of 1974, there is one tool that epitimized nerds more then anything else- the Slide Rule.  Its an amazing piece of technology that was pretty much killed off by the pocket calculator, and later the PC.  But looking at the attack roll charts in S&W, I had the thought - "I bet I can make a sliderule type tool to make that easier."

So after a few nights puttering around I came up with this volvelle design.  Pretty simple- you cut out the two circles, and pin them together through their center- and then just line up your character's level with the target's AC.  Pretty simple.

Now some folks might argue that part of the fun of retro-gaming is looking up to-hit numbers in giant charts in the book.  But I figure I don't want players asking for the book everytime they want to hit something new.  Also wheel charts fit with the whole math nerd side of classic gaming.

Anyhoo, I figure I can probably make a similar chart of Labyrinth Lord/Moldvay, since the charts work in a similar fashion.  Let me know in the comments if that is worth doing.

Download the Sword & Wizardry Wheel Chart (350kb PDF)


For the last few months, I have been exploring the vibrant OSR scene.  I am still involved with 4E D&D, but I have been less fired up about it since they announced the new products for 2010.  It feels like WotC has successfully launched the system, and so for this year they are working on expanding their base of players, and going back and doing some polishing.  I just got the Plane Above that looks like a good read, and I am sure I will pick up the Dark Sun books, but otherwise 4E is not going to be my main focus for a while.

So instead I have been looking at Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, as well as OSRIC and 1E AD&D scene.  The key philosophy that the old idiosyncratic rules systems don't need 'fixing' or 'expanding upon' is kind of interesting. (Here is the primer for OSR gaming that explains it better then I can.)

I think for me the draw is the fact that it keeps the focus on the game session as a social interaction, with "rules" more akin to social rules at a party.  the other draw are the freer OGL type rules that allow creating supplements that can be sold on Lulu.

In any case, I will callout what system a posting is referring to going forward.