Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Touch of Class

I've been giving a great deal of thought for quite some time about what classes to include in my campaign.  At first it was which ones to retain when I was using Castles & Crusades, and now the question is which classes to add to Swords & Wizardry.

I think it was during my 3E years that I became averse to unnecessary character classes.  Classes for that game proliferated like bacteria, spawning new ones for every conceivable role that a character could want to fill.  Almost all of them were completely unnecessary, duplicating things that could already be accomplished using basic classes.  This inelegant inefficiency bothered me greatly, and I still dislike the idea of creating a class when it isn't necessary.

I've previously explained my decision to add thieves into the game and I also like monks;  they've long been one of my favourite classes and they do things that can't be duplicated by any other class.  But what about the other classes?  Rangers, berserkers, assassins, druids, bards, and paladins have long existed as distinctive organizations in my campaign world and I need to retain what they bring to the game.  But what I've been pondering lately is whether there is a simpler, more elegant way of incorporating them into the rules without bogging the game down with an excess of classes.  After all, bare-bones simplicity was what attracted me to S&W in the first place.

 Within my campaign world these archetypes are not broadly defined niches, but represent very specific organizations and groups.  Rangers are not just any old woodland warrior, they are very specifically the Rangers of Llanvirnesse, a group of wardens dedicated to protecting the land and the Caemric people.  Operating singly or in small groups they hunt threats to the land and answer only to their patron, the High King of Llanvirnesse.  Berserkers are a society of Caemric warriors who have undergone the Rites of Sussarach and learned to induce berserk fury on the battlefield.  Assassins belong to the dreaded Black Veil guild of Callovia or to the mysterious cult known as the Daga-shai.  Druids are magic-users brought up in the Caemric tradition, while bards are not just minstrels but students of the prestigious bardic colleges of Llanvirnesse and Callais - chroniclers of the living history of the land and traveling story-tellers who connect isolated communties by bringing news from afar.  Paladins are Aquitainian zealots, fanatically devoted to the teachings of Mithras and ruthless opponents of chaos.

It seems to me that all of these archetypes represent only minor variations of the existing classes and can be effected by applying a template to modify the base class.  I envision these templates as similar to prestige classes from 3E; an idea I liked in concept, but hated in practice.  Characters can't begin the game belonging to any of these groups, but can be attained only through play.  At the beginning of a level prior to gaining template abilities, the character announces his intentions to begin training for them.  An experience point cost for the template is added to the point total needed to gain the next level.  As soon as the character gains the next level he is inducted into the ranks of the organization in question.  The experience points needed to gain subsequent levels will be based upon the new total with the template cost added on. 

For example, a fighter who has just reached 3rd level petitions to join the Rangers of Llanvirnesse and begins training.  The experience cost for the Ranger template is 250 xp, so he now needs 8,250 xp to reach 4th level instead of the normal 8,000 xp.  As soon as he reaches 4th level he becomes a ranger and gains the template abilities.  The experience points for each subsequent level will be based on the 8,250 points he needed for 4th level (e.g. 16,500 to reach 5th level, 33,000 to reach 6th level, etc.), which reflects the greater effort he will need to make to improve his skills and abilities from this point forward.

I use the SIEGE mechanic from Castles & Crusades to resolve ability checks, but if not using that system, one could simply roll under the relevant attribute on 1d20 for success.

Ranger of Llanvirnesse
Base class: fighter
Abilities: Tracking, Woodland Stealth
Prerequisites: Lawful alignment, Wisdom 12+
Experience cost: 250 xp
Restrictions: rangers may not wear armour heavier than leather when using Woodland Stealth

Base class: fighter
Abilities: Berserk Fury, To the Last Breath
Prerequisites: Any non-lawful alignment, Con 12+
Experience cost: 250 xp
Restrictions: must chew Iracunda root to use template abilities; Addiction: Iracunda root is a powerful and addictive stimulant.  If the berserker is unable to chew at least once per day he becomes sluggish and lethargic and his Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores are reduced by 1 until  he gets his fix.

Berserk Fury: The berserker may induce a berserk fury by making a successful Charisma check.  He may make this attempt every round.  The character automatically goes berserk, but may make a Charisma check to avoid doing so, if reduced to one-half hit points or less.  The berserk fury lasts a number of rounds equal to his level.  While berserk, the character gains a +1 bonus to hit and damage, +1 hit point per level, immunity to fear effects, and a +1 bonus to saves against charm and mind-control effects.  He also receives a -1 penalty to all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma checks and opponents gain a +1 bonus to hit him.  While berserk the character must attack the nearest enemy, may never withdraw from combat, and must pursue fleeing foes.  The berserker may attempt to end the fury prematurely by making a successful Charisma check.  Once the fury wears off, the character immediately loses his temporary bonus hit points and becomes fatigued, suffering a -2 penalty to strength and dexterity, and is reduced to one-half movement.  The berserker can recover from this fatigue after one turn (ten minutes) of rest.

To the Last Breath: The berserker can remain conscious and able to fight until his negative hit point total equals one-half of his Constitution score.  As soon as his hit points drop below this level he immediately loses consciousness and takes an additional 1d6 points of damage from shock.

Base class: thief or fighter
Abilities: Lore, Charm
Prerequisites: Charisma 12+
Experience cost: 250 xp
Restrictions: none

Lore: the bard may recall some long-forgotten lore with a successful Intelligence check.  This lore may be legends, rumours, history, or even partial understanding of ancient script.

Charm: the bard may attempt to captivate one or more nearby creatures by singing, playing or reciting poetry.  The creature(s) may make a saving throw to avoid being influenced by the bardic charm and if they fail they listen quietly for as long as the bard continues to perform.  The effect ends as soon as the bard ends his performance.

At present these are the only templates I have designed.  I consider druids to be magic users trained in a different spell-casting tradition.  No template will be necessary - they are magic-users in all respects, but I plan to give them a different spell list.  Assassins and paladins I am unsure of.  I've always been a bit uneasy about the assassination ability - it seems almost too easy, and poison use could reasonably be learned by anyone so I'm not sure that there needs to be an assassin template.  I may change my mind about this, but for the present I think I'll go without.

Paladins are another puzzler.  I don't see them as being much different, mechanically, from clerics.  The cleric is assumed to be a holy warrior and the Paladins of Aquitania could just be an order of particularly militant clerics.  I'm not certain there needs to be a template to turn a fighter into a quasi-cleric.  I might also change my mind about this later, but I'm willing to wait and see how things work without the template.


Trey said...

That looks like a good solution. Leaving paladins as clerics, though, would disallow them there holy swords--or do you allow clerics edged weapons?

Sean Robson said...

If a cleric chose to become a paladin I would allow them to use edged weapons, which would be balanced by the code of conduct required of paladins that normal clerics don't need to adhere to.

nykster said...

Not to mention a better THAC0 advancement. If a paladin is a holy warrior, a clerics THAC0 is not for him.

I would almost think that a fighter would become a paladin. Paladins, while warriors of their god, were never as magically inclined as clerics and more directed to physically beating heretics to death.

Sean Robson said...

Clerics are intended to be templars and their attack progression is the second best in the game. Their role is that of a warrior.

In my opinion a paladin works best as a cleric because that is the class and role they are most similar to and requires little modification.