Showing posts with label Class Struggles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Class Struggles. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Review & Class Struggles: BX Options: Class Builder

Over the Summer Erin D. Smale released his BX Options: Class Builder book as a guide to how to build custom classes for the B/X, Basic-era, style games.  Of course, I had to grab it. I love making new classes and anything that involves a little number crunching is great in my opinion.  

Though I will admit I was at the same time worried that this would just be a rehash of the formulas used in Dragon Magazine #109.  Well, I am happy to report it is not, and there is more to this book than just that.  In fact, the author even points out in the book the original system.   My back-of-the-napkin calculations tell me that for levels 1-14 they both should give you the same numbers.  But more on that in a bit.

I am going to break this up into a normal review and then follow with a Class Struggles.

Review BX Options: Class Builder

The BX Options: Class Builder was released originally has a special edition print version via The Welsh Piper's website over the early part of Summer 2020.  The book later came to DriveThruRPG in a 2nd Editon mid Summer 2020. I will be covering the DriveThruRPG version only today.

The PDF is 82 pages, full-color art covers, with black, white, and blue color inside.  The interior art is all b/w from various stock art publishers from DriveThruRPG.  The advantage of this is the style of the book is very likely to fit into all the other books you might have in your collection.

The book is broken down into two larger sections. First is the class builder itself and the calculations for it. Second is a collection of Classes and Sub-classes for B/X D&D and clones, with the math worked out.  There are also a few Appendicies.

The layout of the book is very, very clean, and easy to read.  The PDF is bookmarked and the table of contents is hyperlinked.

After the Introduction, we get right into the builder itself.  There is a single page of explanatory notes (that is all that is needed) and then a worksheet (a plus for the PDFs!).  


After this, there are descriptions of basic abilities (armor, weapons, prime requisites), special abilities (thief abilities, spells, powers), restrictions and "Locked" abilities.  All with associated XP costs.

These numbers are then added up.  The Base XP is then plugged into one of the four base classes (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Theif) for experience levels 1 to 14 (B/X standard).

Simple really.  And that is only the first dozen pages.

The rest of the book is dedicated to "rebuilding" each of the four base human classes and the three demi-human classes.  All seven also include various sub-classes.    For example, the Cleric is built first and the numbers match those found in most clones and the original sources.  Class variants cover new variant classes that add, change and/or remove abilities from the Base class.  In the case of the cleric different types of Gods they can worship are covered.  These are designed not to differ too wildly from the base class.  

After the Base class and Variant classes the Sub-classes, with calculations and full XP tables, are covered.  Again in the case of the cleric there is a Crusader (more combat, less spells) and a Shaman.

This is repeated for the Dwarf (Elder), Elf (Archon), Fighter (Barbarian, Beast-talker, Beserker) , Halfling (Warden), Magic-User (Necromancer, Sorcerer), and Thief (Assassin, Bard, Scout) classes. 

This covers the bulk of the book (some 50 or more pages) and really is a value-add in my opinion.  Some of those classes we have seen in other sources, but others are new or have new ideas.  The Necromancer for example can create golems.  Great if you think that the golems have the spirits of the dead in them or created Frankenstein-style.

Since this system is aimed at B/X level play, the obvious clone to support it is Old-School Essentials.  It is not an "Old-School Essentials Compatible" product as in with a logo, but acknowledgments to OSE are made.  So it would be fair really to compare the overlap of classes between this and OSE-Advanced.

The overlap is where you expect it to be, what I call the common Advanced classes (minus a couple); the Assassin, the Barbarian, and the Bard. There are some "near" overlaps as well. 

The OSE Assassin compares well to the BXO-CB Assassin.  Their XP values do differ, but not significantly so. BXO-CB Assassins have more HP. Both classes have the same skills. 
The Barbarians compare well enough with the BXO-CB Barbarian having more HP again.
Bards have the most differences.  BXO-CB Bards have more XP per level, less HP, and fewer overall spells.   I don't consider any of this to be "game-breaking" or even "game-stretching", just different flavors of the class.  Rename one "Bard" a "Skald" and there you go. 

Shamans are a little bit like Druids and Crusaders are bit like Paladins, but different enough to provide some nice flavor to the game.

The Appendicies cover a number of topics like adding various thief abilities, a break down of the core seven B/X classes, skills, equipment, spell failure, home terrain, animal special abilities and abilities for higher-level characters.

The book is very high quality and has a lot of utility for all sorts of B/X uses.  Working through the numbers it works great for levels 1-14.  If you extend it to level 20 this would affect the numbers for spell casters.  For example, Magic-users in BX/OSE gain spells to level 6, for a 2,400 XP addition.  If you take this to level 20 Magic-users gain up to 9th level spells, this would be 3,600 XP added to the base.  GRANTED this book does not claim to support above level 14, or more to the point, spell levels beyond level 6.

Class Struggles

How does this work in the real world? Or more to the point can it work with classes I have worked on.


Printing out the sheet, which is great thanks to the PDF, I worked out what my own Witch Classes would end up.  Now please keep in mind I am going to do some things beyond the scope of this book so any issues I might encounter are not due to the Class Builder but more likely my use of it.

I already mentioned there are differences in the Bard class. The author even points out that these differences are really expected and that is OK because it will vary on how each group decides to use a particular class.  So with that now as a given, going deeper into this and expecting some variation is fine.

I went through the math on this for my witch class.  I will not go into the details here because I created a Google Sheet you can see for yourself.  Note you will need the Class Builder book to know what these numbers actually mean.  I am going to talk about the cases that vary.




Long time readers might recall I did something similar using the Dragon #109 system a while back.  In fact the spreadsheet is the same with the Dragon #109/Thoul's Paradise test on the first tab and the BXO:CB test on the second tab.

If the Thoul's Test tab is displayed, click on the next tab arrow to go to the Class Builder Test tab.


The "Thoul's Test" goes back to a couple of posts made by Thoul's Paradise that I discussed: 
So a couple issues right away.  Witches cast arcane spells, but they are not quite the same as those a Magic-user can use, there are more divine spells really.  Especially for the Pagan Witch.  
What I opted to do was make the "Witchcraft" spells worth 200xp to 300xp per level. A nice split between what the Divine (100xp) and Arcane (400xp) spellcasters have.

The witch also has Occult Powers. These are spell-like abilities. Since they can be used more often I gave them a cost of 250xp each.  Though 300xp per would have been fine too.

In the end I came up with something pretty close to the numbers I have been using forever and published for close to 20 years.   The differences are so trivial as to be considered error or even "noise."

These are also very, very close to the numbers I got using the Dragon #109 system.   I have not compared it to the system used in ACKS Player's Companion, but my memory of the system and playing with it when it first came out tells me that I should also expect similar numbers.  Especially since the ACKs system and the Class Builder System both use the same BX base and assumptions of 1-14 (or so) levels of play.

Going back to a source the author and I both have used, Breeyark: Building the Perfect Class, I realized that the author of that resource IS the author of this book. The systems are different but are built on similar premises. Also, they should grant the same or very similar results.

The BX Options Class Builder is a very fun book with some great class choices as an added bonus of some worked out classes.   There are no spells offered for the new spell casting classes, but that would have been way beyond the scope of the book anyway.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Plays Well With Others: BASSH, Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I love my Basic-era games, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI and their clones.
BUT I also love Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The games are similar of course, drawing from the same sources, but there are also a few differences. 

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) is more closely aligned with "Advanced Era" D&D, but its feel for me has always been more OD&D, though over the last few years I have been treating it as another flavor of Basic.  


I have mentioned in the past that I see AS&SH as a good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book, and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

In fact, it works so well with Basic that I have featured AS&SH with other Basic-era books in previous "Plays Well With Others."
I find the game that useful and that inspiring.

Class Struggles: Which Each Game Offers
Originally this was going to be a Class Struggles post, but with the inclusion of the monsters below, I felt it had grown beyond just that.  

If Basic-era D&D lacks anything in my opinion it is class options. Yes. I know the classes are supposed to be archetypes to play anything.  A "Fighter" works for a Paladin, a Ranger, a Barbarian, a Knight, and so on.  But I like a little game mechanics with my flavor.  I also like to have choices.

AS&SH achieves this in a beautiful way that can be adopted by any Basic-era game, but in particular, ones that cleave closest to the original sources and of course Holmes, B/X and BECMI.

So we are going to go beyond the Basic Four (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif) here.  I'll talk about demi-humans in a bit.

In AS&SH we have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Huntsman, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock.  The Magician has the Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine), Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch (an old favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, Runegraver, and Shaman (see BECMI).  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist,  Purloiner, and the Scout.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. Every class goes to the 12th level.


Looking over at the Basic side of things we have a few more choices.  Holmes, B/X, and BECMI all cover the Basic Four in more or less the same ways.  BECMI gives us the additions of Paladin, Avenger, Knight, Druid, Mystic, and the NPC/Monster classes of Shaman and Wicca/Wokani/Witch.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord gives us the Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger in addition to the Basic Four.

Old-School Essentials' Advanced options give us the Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.  It also gives us the new race-as-classes Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, and Svirfneblin.

The B/X RPG from Pacesetter has the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger along with the Gnome and Half-elf.  (Yes, a review for this is coming)


AS&SH classes go to the 12th level.  Basic classes, at least B/X flavored ones, go to the 14th level.  I like the idea of splitting the difference and going to the 13th level. 

Additionally, AS&SH has different cultures of humans to provide more flavor to the human classes.

All the Basic-era books have demi-humans that AS&SH lacks. Lacks is a strong word, the game doesn't need demi-humans by design, but they are still fun to have.  Combining these gives us the best of all worlds! Kelt Elves? Dwarf Picts? Lemurian Gnomes?!  This could be a lot of fun.

Plus the mix of cultures in AS&SH is second only to mix found in BECMI Mystara in terms of "let's just throw it all in there!"

I might let people choose one of the Basic Four and stealing a page from D&D5 allow them at 2nd or 3rd level to take "sub-class."  I'll have to see what the various classes all get at first level vs 2nd and 3rd level.

Monsters! Monsters!
It's can't be denied that AS&SH has some great monsters.  Not only does it give us demons and devils (Basic-era is lacking on both) but also Lovecraftian horrors.  Sure, "At The Mountains of Madness" took place at the South Pole, who is to say there is not a similar outpost in the North? 

BECMI does talk about "The Old Ones" a lot and in the Core Rules is never very clear on who or what they are.  But it is not a stretch to think that those Old Ones and the Lovecraftian Old Ones have a connection.  


Oddly enough these things feel right at home in a Basic game.  If one goes back to the Masters and Immortals sets with the original idea that the Known World is our world millions of years ago this tracks nicely with some Lovecraftian mythology of our world.

I have talked about Demons in Basic/Mystara already, but AS&SH offers us "The Usual Suspects" and then some.  While Labyrinth Lord has always been good about opening the "Advanced" monsters to the Basic world, the monsters of AS&SH are of a different sort.

Maybe more so than the classes these require a bit more conversion.  Here is a monster we are all familiar with (and one I am doing something with later), drawing from the same sources to give us three or four different stat-blocks. 




Well. Not that different I guess. They are left to right, top to bottom, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, AS&SH, OSE, and B/X RPG.

AS&SH looks like a "best of" stats, combining features from both Basic and Advanced. Bite damage does a bit more on the average and the XP value is higher.  But nothing I am going to call game-breaking.

So the AS&SH monsters can be dropped pretty much "as is" into a Basic-era game. 

Anyone that plays these games should have no trouble with this really.

Putting it all Together and then Putting it in the North
It's settled then, AS&SH is part of my "Basic World" and where to put it is easy.
In the Known World of Mystara, there is already a Hyboria. It is one of the features of both D&D (Mystara) and AD&D (Hyperboria, Oerth) just as Blackmoor is (Mystara, Oerth). but Blackmoor is a topic for another day.

While none of the maps can be reconciled with each other to make one perfect Hyperboria, the concepts certainly can. This is something I have been considering since I first got the 1st Edition Boxed set.
I know that my family of witches, the Winters, come from the Hyperborean area.  Likely closer to more civilized areas, but not too civilized.  This became the basis for my Winter Witch book. 

BASSH is Born
So take what I love from AS&SH, mix in what I love from Basic and I have Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, or BASSH.  Yeah. This will be fun.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Class Struggles: The BECMI Prestige Classes

A slightly different sort of Class Struggles today.
Yesterday I reviewed the Companion Set Rules.  Within those rules some new "sub-classes" or "traveling classes" were introduced.  Let me summarize here.

Druids are Neutral clerics of 9th level or greater dedicated to the cause of Nature. They are non-land owning and not devoted to another lord or cause.
Knight a Neutral (or any alignment) traveling fighter, that is a non-land owning fighter. Must swear fealty to a royal ruler.
Paladin a Lawful traveling fighter who swears fealty to a Lawful church.
Avenger a Chaotic traveling fighter who swears allegiance to a Chaotic church.

There are others, such as Guildmasters and Magists, but those four are the focus of my attention this week.


Looking over the rules I can't help but think of how much these resemble what would be known as a Prestige Class in 3.x D&D.  In fact let's make a direct comparison between the Avenger and the Blackguard, an evil fighter prestige class.

According to the d20 SRD for 3.0 a Blackguard must meet the following requirements.  I am putting D&D BECMI equivalent translations in brackets [].
Alignment: Any evil.  [chaotic]
Base Attack Bonus: +6. [at least 6th level]
Skills: Hide 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 2 ranks. [again at least 6th level with some knowledge of religion so high wisdom is good]
Feats: Cleave, Improved Sunder, Power Attack. [knows some combat maneuvers]
Special: The character must have made peaceful contact with an evil outsider who was summoned by him or someone else.  [makes allegiances to an evil religion.]

Given the systems, the Blackguard is pretty much the same as an Avenger.
Back in the 3.x days, there was even a Paladin Prestige Class that you had to be a fighter or a cleric to qualify for.  It made a lot of sense to me.


So a Knight, Paladin, and the Avenger can all be seen rather easily seen as BECMI Prestige Classes.
In 3e, Prestige Classes were designed to be open to any class, but some were easier to get into if you started in the right class. Some were limited to class, but not "on paper" so a Prestige Class limited only to clerics could say "must be able to cast divine spells" or "ability to turn undead."  Yeah, it was sneaky, but a fighter could take a level of cleric and be able to get in.

So I am thinking that in BECMI prestige classes would have to be "Base Class" specific.
What do I mean by "Base Class?" Well, these are your Cleric, Fighter, Magi-User, and Theif classes.
In D&D 3.x a difference is made between a Base Class and a Prestige Class.   Why would I even care?  Well, looking at classes in this light gives me a ton of new options.  For starters it allows me to be able to add classes to my BECMI games and not add the bloat of an extra set of class rules.  It also allows me to explore all sorts of other options for a class.
It also allows me to have these new classes, often treated like a multi-class or dual-class without the need for a bunch of messing with double noting of XP rewards.

There are other examples.
The book GAZ3: Principalities of Glantri covers the Seven Secret Crafts of Magic in Glantri.  Each one of these could be seen as Magic-user specific prestige classes.  The Master's set introduced the Shaman and Wokani classes.  Not to mention all the various "witch-like" classes I have covered from other BECMI books.  I am sure there are more to be honest with you, I just have not had the chance to dig them all up yet.

BECMI Prestige Classes

How then can you use the 3.x Prestige Classes, or for that matter 2nd ed. Kits, 4e Paragon Paths or 5e sub-classes, in BECMI?  Simple find classes that work for you first.

So I am going to start up a BECMI campaign and I know that one of my sons is going to want to play an assassin and the other will want to play a ranger.

Both classes are in AD&D and in most versions of the game.   How can I bring them in?

Well, the simple solution is to import the class wholesale, but I guess at that point why not just play AD&D?  I want something that is more Basic-feeling.  I would need to add some more details, but here are some ideas.

Acrobat
A thief that steals not for profit or personal gain but instead for the thrills and even the challenge could become an Acrobat.  These thieves can be Neutral and even some Lawful.  I would follow the guidelines in the Unearthed Arcana.

Assassin
This class was removed from AD&D 2nd Ed and absent in D&D 3e as a base class.  It does exist as a 3e Prestige Class and a 5e Sub-class. In the case of 3e the fastest way in is to start out as a Rogue.  In 5e you have to be a Rogue first.  The 5e SRD only lists one sub-class or archetype, the Thief.
The BECMI Assassin starts out as a Thief but at some point becomes an assassin.  I am going to say 8th or 9th level, and they would need to be Chaotic. They can use poison, but a limited number of weapons, armor, and no shields.

Illusionist
These are Magic-users that focus completely on Illusion Magic. They have their own spell lists like the druid does.  They do not build their own towers but are often entertainer magicians for courts and other notables of power.

Ranger
These are fighters that are dedicated to nature, much like the druid, and focus on a particular enemy.
They cannot become Lords or Ladies, but instead, have a small stronghold.  Fighters of 9th level or higher may become rangers.

These ideas can be easily extended.

Necromancers
Have their own spell list. Do not build towers but may take over any ruins. Command undead.  The existence of Illusionists and Necromancers could also imply other schools of magic like AD&D 2nd Speciality wizards.  I suppose I could just import those. Other options are like the School of Magic in Glantri.

Bards
Oh man, these guys in AD&D are a mess.  But I would steal a page from 2nd Ed and make them Thief-like and have them improve their fighting skills a little and give them some druid magic.  OR go the Celtic route and make them part of the Cleric class.  Still thinking on this one.

Looking at 3.x a few jump out right away.  In addition to the Blackguard and the Assassin, I can easily see adapting the Arcane Archer for elves and the Dwarven Delver for Dwarves.



There can be many, many more.  With five other editions of *D&D to choose from there is no end to what could be done. 

Now I am sure some people might complain about "class bloat" and that is a fair argument.  I think keeping to the base four (or base five if you count my witch) then adding the other Prestige Classes on an as-needed basis. 

Or, even closer to the spirit of the rules, add these as "role-playing guides" only.  I mean really what is to stop a player from saying "my elf is an arcane archer!" and make the choice to only use a bow?  Maybe the DM and the group can decide that this elf can add +1 to hits with their bow due to their dedication.  Simple fix and no new rules added!

Make some use out of that multitude of books I own.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Class Struggles: The Alchemist

The Love Potion by Evelyn De Morgan
Thought a Class Struggles might in order today.  I have been thinking a lot about the Alchemist lately and thinking that of all the potential classes, this the one Old-School AD&D/D&D talks around the most, but never actually executes. My history with the alchemist goes back to when I was creating a bunch of new classes.  There was the witch (obviously), followed by the necromancer, the "sun priest" and finally the healer.  The alchemist was one that I mentioned in conjunction with all these other classes, but never had much more than an outline of it.

So let's have a look at how the Alchemist has presented to us over the years and what the class has become today.

The Dragon Magazine Alchemist(s)
I want to start here since these are the first alchemists. The ones that even predate the information in the DMG.
To claim there is one alchemist from Dragon Magazine is a bit of a stretch.  While a claim can be made for the Dragon Mag witch class, the alchemist has seen less cohesion.
The first alchemist we see, and one that predates AD&D, is the  "New D&D Character Class: The Alchemist" by Jon Pickens in Issue #2, page 28. This is a solidlyOD&D class.  Here we get 20 levels of the alchemist class which functions as a slightly weaker version of the magic-user.  It can create potions up to 6th level, like spells.  This alchemist though has some special powers to go with it. It can detect and then later neutralize poisons and paralysis. It can identify potions and can prepare various poisons.  The class is playable, but feels limited to a support role in some cases.  The Prime Requisite is Wisdom, though I think Intelligence is a better choice.

A few more years in and we get a combo of classes for Roger and Georgia Moore in Dragon #45, "NPCs For Hire: One who predicts... ...And One Who Seeks the Perfect Mix." This gives us two NPC classes, the Astrologer and the Alchemist. While the Astrologer looks like a lot fun, I want to focus on the alchemist now.  This is a pure NPC; no class levels or XP, no hp, just what they do and how they do it.  There is a bit on hiring an alchemist as well.  The assumption here must be that these are all older professionals likely past their adventuring years.  Fo me I can see both versions working at the same time in the same class.  Pickens' class for adventuring years and the Moores' for after that.

Separate, these classes feel a bit lacking by my standards but are likely fine by others.  Together though they combine rather nicely into a complete whole for me.

In "Recipe For the Alchemist" (Dragon Mag Issue #49), Len Lakofka presents, in very typical Len fashion, a very complete alchemist class.  Like many of his classes, this one is an NPC only and should be considered something of a more useful henchman.  In addition to the powers of detecting and making potions and poisons there are skills on glass blowing and pottery making.  Two useful skills for an alchemist to be sure.
There are XP per levels given, but they add up to be a little bit more than the magic-user if you consider the first couple levels are "apprentice" levels with little more than pottery making and glass blowing skills.   While the class is very complete it is a bit prohibitive as a PC class. I am certain that is by design.

There is a bit of a stretch before we get to another one, but it is worth the wait. "Better Living Through Alchemy" from Tom Armstrong in Dragon #130 has become in my mind the defacto article on alchemy in D&D.  Armstrong gives us not only an alchemist class but also a primer on Alchemy and how it could work in the game.  This is also the only alchemist I have played and playing the class though was hard. It had higher XP per level than the wizard and there was little they could do without their lab. The article is dense. That is in the sense that there is a lot here to read and unpack.
The article reads like a cleaned-up version of all the alchemists we have seen so far and this one also has the benefit of a few more years of play on it. 

The Alchemist in the DMG and D&D Expert
In between all of those we get some notes on the alchemist from the Dungeon Master himself in the DMG.  Though if anything this only makes me want to have an Alchemist NPC class, or better yet PC class, even more.


While the alchemist is not needed for higher-level magic-users, someone is going to need them.  Plus someone out there is creating all those potions.   If Jonathan Becker's recent deep-dive into the Illusionist class is any indication we could have used a magic-user sub-class of an alchemist more than the illusionist!

The D&D Expert set also has guidelines for an alchemist and maybe the most iconic alchemist art there is in D&D.


For 1000 gp a month you can have an alchemist on hire. Likely less for that sketchy guy above.

So how do we get there?  Well, let's see what the 3rd party publishers have to say.

Bard Games



I have gone on the record many, many times about my love of the books from Bard Games.  Their Compleat Spellcaster is still a favorite and particularly germane to today's discussion is their Compleat Alchemist.


While the Compleat Spellcaster is my favorite for obvious reasons, the Compleat Alchemist seems to be the most popular.  There are two prints from Bard Games, the Arcanum (which combines all three) and then another one from Wizards of the Coast long before their D&D years.

This was one of the most complete (it says so in the title) alchemist classes for some time to come. At 48 pages the book was huge for a single class.  By necessity, the class was written for "any FRPG" so a lot of the language is coded since they did not want to run afoul of TSR. But there is enough information here for you to read between the lines to figure out what to do. 

Some time is given to the art and science of alchemy. This includes the use of special symbols and language to communicate with other alchemists. Prices and rarities of ingredients and equipment.  And even a component sheet to keep track of the alchemist stores.
Potions and Elixers are granted by level as one would expect, only, in this case, it details what the alchemist can do at their class level. Not by let's say potion level (like a spell).

This alchemist really was the gold standard by which all other alchemists were to be judged for years.  Enough so that it appeared in several different books by a few different publishers over the years.  So much so that it still appears in the Arcanum 30th Anniversary Edition from ZiLa Games.

The OGC / OSR Alchemists
Not to be left out modern authors have looked back to the Alchemist and created their own versions using the OGL.

Pathfinder
The evolution of the D&D game to Pathfinder has also given us an evolved alchemist class.  This is presented as a fully playable PC class. It is also so popular that while it was originally a "Base Class" in Pathfinder 1st Editon, it became a Core Class in Pathfinder 2nd Edition and the favored class of Pathfinder goblins.
I rather enjoy this version of the class since it more playable than previous versions of the class.  Good rationale is given as to why an alchemist would want to leave the lab and get out into the field of adventuring.   The class though does tend to be a little too "blasty" for my tastes and it seems that the 2nd Edition version has gone even more in that direction, but it is still a very fun class to play.

There is so much alchemist stuff  (over 300 according to DriveThruRPG) that there is even a product to collect all the OGC extracts into one place, Echelon Reference Series: Alchemist Extracts Compiled.

Pathfinder is not the only place though to find a "new" alchemist.  There are plenty of OSR/Old-school choices out there.  Here are a few I have grabbed over the years. In no particular order.

The Alchemist
Tubby Tabby Press
This is certainly one of the more complete alchemist classes I have seen. At 81 pages it is full of information on all of the class details, equipment, ingredients and everything the alchemist can create by level.  Designed for AD&D it can be ported over to any game. It is based on the Bard Games version.  There is only a small amount of art in this one and no OGL statements.  Despite that this is a very full book and plenty to keep players and GMs busy.

Basic Alchemist
Den Meister Games
This is a smaller product, but it is totally in line with the Basic-era games.  What makes this particular product useful is its flexibility.  Produced for Labyrinth Lord it is a solid B/X feeling class. The cover art even invokes the Erol Otus alchemist art from the D&D Expert book.  The alchemist can build potions, elixirs, and compounds and use them as magic-user spells.  Some examples are given and it has a great old-school feel. In particular, I love the alchemical failure table! 
At six pages it is not big, but it makes each page count. I do wish there more examples of spells though.

Supplement #1: The Alchemist
Vigilance Press
This is another smaller product. Five pages (1 cover, 1.5 OGL, 3.5 content) at $0.99.  It reminds me a bit of the Dragon magazine alchemists; Smaller XP per level needed, but only a few "powers" per level and some levels none at all. Slightly better hp and attacks set this off from other "magic-user" based alchemists.   I do wish this one had more to it than this, but it is a playable class.  If I were to use this one I might try it as a multi-classed Magic-User/Alchemist.  Get the advantages of the magic-user spells and the better hp/attacks of the alchemist.  Designed for OSRIC.

Old School Magic
Vigilance Press
This is an update to The Alchemist also by Vigilance Press. For another buck, you get more classes, another 23 pages and a better-looking layout. A good deal if you ask me.  The alchemist is very much like the one from the previous product.  Like the alchemist supplement, I might do a multi-class with this alchemist. Either as an alchemist-artificer or an alchemist-sage. 
The other classes include the artificer, conjurer, elementalist, hermit, holy man, naturalist, sage and seer.  Plus there are some new spells that I rather like.

The OSR Chymist
Jeremy Reaban
A slightly different version of the alchemist. Jeremy Reaban does some great classes and this one is no exception.  This chymist is closer in nature to the Pathfinder Alchemist but somehow this one feels more like an old-school class and manages to work well.   He includes some new formulae for alchemists/chymists and some sample NPCs.  Also there are tables for whatever old-school games you are playing. Sure conversion is easy, but this makes it all easier. 
It is PWYW, but my advice is to send him a buck or more. It is 16 pages so that is not bad for a dollar.

There are more, including many alchemists that are parts of larger books like Fantastic WizardryThe Crimson Pandect, and the previously mentioned Arcanum.


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Class Struggles: The New* Basic Classes

2019 was the start of my Back to Basics theme here at the Other Side.  I have covered a LOT of Basic-era/BX/BECMI/RC type products.  It got me thinking. In addition to the the base four human classes and three demi-human classes how many classes have been added to Basic D&D?

Answer. 113*
This includes at least four kinds of Barbarians, Bards and Paladins.  Three types of Rangers and Gnomes and duplicates of many others such as necromancers and illusionists.
*There are likely even more.

I am not sure if all of these are needed, but I am glad they are here.  Variety is the spice of life after all and these classes are all about variety.

The trick now is, can they all be played in same world? OR maybe a better question.  Is anything missing?

Basic Classes
Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Theif, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling

ACKS Player's Companion
Anti-paladin, Barbarian, Dwarven Delver, Dwarven Fury, Dwarven Machinist, Elven Courtier, Elven Enchanter, Elven Ranger, Gnomish Trickster, Mystic, Nobiran Wonderworker, Paladin, Priestess, Shaman, Thrassian Gladiator, Venturer, Warlock, Witch, and Zaharan Ruinguard.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord
Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger

OSE (Advanced)
Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Drow, Druid, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, Ranger, Svirfneblin

BX RPG
Druid, Gnome, Half-elf, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, Ranger

Mazes & Perils Deluxe Edition
Enchanter, Shaman

Psionics Handbook
Monk, Mystic

Class Compendium
Acrobat, Alienist, Angel, Automation, Bandit, Barbarian, Bard, Berserker, Bounty Hunter, Burglar, Commander, Cultist, Damphir, Dark Elf, Death Knight, Dragon, Dragon Slayer, Eidolon, Explorer, Fairy, Familiar, Feast Master, Fortune Teller, Friar, Gladiator, Goblin, Greensinger, Half-Elf, Half-Ogre, Half-Orc, Huckster, Inquisitor, Investigator, Knight, Lost Boy, Lucky Fool, Metaphysician, Pirate, Raging Slayer, Rune-Smith, Samurai, Shootist, Sword Master, Sylvan Elf, Tavern Singer, Thopian Gnome, Treant, Undead Slayer, Wanderer, Warchanter, Watchman, Wild Wizard (That's 52 classes!)

The Complete B/X Adventurer
Acrobat, Archer, Barbarian, Bard, Beastmaster, Bounty Hunter, Centaur, Duelist, Gnome, Mountebank, Mystic, Ogre-Kin, Scout, Summoner, Tattoo Mage, Witch, Witch Hunter.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts
Cleric, Wizard, Elven Swordmage, Elven Warder, Enchanter, Fleshcrafter, Healer, Inquisitor, Merchant Prince, Necromancer, Pact-Bound, Theurge, the Unseen.

Odysseys & Overlords 
Bard

Theorems & Thaumaturgy Revised Edition
Elementalist, Necromancer, Vivimancer

Class Catalog for B/X Essentials
Aasimar, Dragonborn, Dwarven Priest, Dwarven Thief, Elven Rogue, Gnome, Halfling Burglar, Half-Orc, Pixie, Tiefling

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Class Struggles: The Basic/BX/BECMI Witches

I have not done one of these in a while, and this one seems like a no-brainer.

The Basic/BX/BECMI Witches

Maybe more so than AD&D, the witch, in one form or the other, has been a part of the Basic D&D game from the early days. 

Holmes Basic
The "Holmes Witch" has been talked about in old-school blogs for years, mine included.  The so-called Holmes witch never materialized, but it kept us waiting for years and kept bloggers entertained for even longer.

GAZ3: Principalities of Glantri
This is, without a doubt, my favorite of all the Gazetteers and one of my all-time favorite Basic-era books.  I reviewed this book in depth a while back and one of the most overt witches in my Basic book collection.
The Witches of Glantri are some of the most detailed of the Basic-era witches.  It's no lie, that red-head on the cover of the Glantri book was one of the inspirations for where I took my own witch character, even if the book came out a year after I rolled up the character (July 1986 for the character and June of 87 for the Glantri book if I remember right.  OR at least that was when I got it).

One thing I don't care for so much with this class is the charisma reduction, but it seems to come up a lot.

I detailed at least one witch, Skylla, using this witch class and it worked out well.  Also, years and years ago, I redid the Glantri witch to make it something closer to my Complete Netbook of Witches for AD&D 2nd ed.

In the AD&D 2nd Ed version of this book, Glantri: Kingdom of Magic, the witch is completely replaced by the Wokani.

GAZ7: Northern Reaches
This Gazetteer covers the lands Ostland, Vestland, and the Soderfjord Jarldoms.  I REALLY wanted to use this back in the 80s with the G-Series.
This book features the Wise Woman (Witches).  This class is considered an NPC Class, but we all know what that means right?  They get a nice balance of both Magic-user and Cleric spells (up to the 6th level), along with the ability to use magical runes.  I kinda wish I had done more with runes in my own Winter Witch book.
The treat I found here was Carrah the Witch Queen of Hel.   Given the focus on Basic/Expert rules, I would likely have made her 14th level.  Or more likely 13th. But there is some good backstory on her here. While the temptation would be to make her a Winter Witch, I think given her unliving status and her ties to Hel she might be more of a Mara Witch.  Maybe a Winter Witch who had been in a Mara coven.

D&D Master Rules Boxed Set
The D&D Master Rules, also the one I know the least about, has rules for non-human spell casters.  Shamans, who can use cleric and druid spells, and the Wicca who can use Magic-user spells.  The list of spells given to Wicca certainly has a witch feel to them. They are really only missing a cure spell or two.

Spells Usable by Wiccas
First Level Magic-User Spells
Detect Magic (B39)
Light (B40)
Protection from Evil (B40)
Read Languages (B40)
Read Magic (B40)
Sleep (B40)

Second Level Magic-User Spells
Continual Light* (B41, XI1)
Detect Evil (B41)
Detect Invisible (B41)
Invisibility (B41)
Levitate (B42)
Web (B42)

Third Level Magic-User Spells
Clairvoyance (XI1)
Dispel Magic (XI1)
Fire Ball (XI1)
Fly (XI2)
Lightning Bolt (Xl2)
Water Breathing (XI2)

Fourth Level Magic-User Spells
Charm Monster (X13)
Growth of Plants* (XI3)
Ice Storm/Wall (X13)
Massmorph(X13)
Remove Curse* (X14)
Wall of Fire (XI4)

Fifth Level Magic-User Spells
Animate Dead (XI4)
Cloudkill(X14)
Dissolve* (C20)
Hold Monster* (XI5)
Pass-Wall (XI5)
Wall of Stone (X15)

Sixth Level Magic-User Spells
Death Spell (XI6)
Move Earth (C21)
Projected Image (X16)
Reincarnation (C21)
Stone to Flesh* (XI6)
Wall of Iron (C21)
* reversible spell

The shaman and wicca are used throughout the Basic line in future books, though the name would later be changed to Wokan or Wokani.

GAZ10: Orcs of Thar
This Gazetteer covers playing orcs, goblinoids, gnolls and other humanoid creatures.  It also has a guide for using the book with AD&D. Goblinoid wicca are featured here but they use the rules already outlined in the Master's book.

PC1 Tall Tales of the Wee Folk
Several non-human creatures are given options for Wicca levels. There are also plenty of new spells for Fairy spell-casters.  Many have since gone on in other products to have even stronger witch associations.  I reviewed this one in-depth yesterday.

PC2 Top Ballista
This also covers several spellcaster non-humans and new races.  In particular, we get gnomes and harpy wicca.  Gnomes advance to level 12 as wicca which is not too bad really.

PC3 The Sea People
Sea Wicca are also presented in this book but by this time we know what to expect.

D&D Rules Cyclopedia
By this point, the Wicca has been renamed to the Wokan, or the plural Wokani.  The spells usable are largely the same. That is to say, no obvious differences jumped out at me.  It also includes a fairly comprehensive list of monsters and what level they can advance to.  Interestingly enough Hags do not cast as Wokani, but rather they cast as clerics.

So. Wicca, Wise Women, and Wokani.  All three share a certain level of similarity and have, over the editions, been used in place of the other.  A good example takes all the way back to the dawn of D&D, Dave Arneson's Blackmoor.  Not the original Blackmoor, but the versions we got from 3rd and 4th edition.  For the 4th edition rules I talked a bit about the Wokani and their relationship to both witches and druids.  That version is no longer available, but the 3rd Edition version is.

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Core Campaign Book
This is not a Basic-era book. This is a 3rd Edition book, or more to the point, a d20 book.  I bring it up only because we get the Wokani here again.  They read more like primitive arcane spellcasters with a closer tie to the natural world.  That would work fine with most of the products above, to be honest.  These casters use wisdom as their prime and spellcasting ability.  The Blackmoor connection intensifies with it sharing a few gods with the Basic Gazetteers. In particular Hel (Gaz7) and Hella (Blackmoor).  There are more, but that is the one that interests me the most.
The Wokani here seems to move further away from the Glantri Witch, but there are still plenty of commonalities.

Honorable Mentions
I could let things go without a mention of the witches Karelena, Solorena & Trilena from Rahasia. Though these seem to be more of the "witches as weird female magic-users" rather than as witches as I usually mean.

Also, the witch class from Dragon Magazine #20 should get a mention as well.

There is a lot of material here, but not say as much as you could find for the wizard or cleric.  The witch remains one of the great almost-classes of D&D.  Given the dates of all of these works including Dragon Magazine #114, it seems I was tapping into something needed back in 86.   Or, more to the point, we were all exposed to the same influences in culture and this is another fine example of parallel development.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Other Side, A Look Forward

Trying to organize some thoughts here on what I want to do next on the old Other Side blog, figure you all might want to help me!  Or at least listen to my ramblings.


I am prepping for Gen Con now and trying to get another book done in time for Lughnasadh/Lammas so my posting here is going to be a little sparse.

#RPGaDAY
Dave Chapman will be doing (I think) his annual #RPGaDAY in August.  I am not sure what the questions will be, but I do like to participate.  Plus my Twitter followers have really increased this past year, so that might be nice to share.

The Other Side Rewind
Still plugging away at this! June was my Facebook experiment month, while July had been my month to try some other tools.  I am hoping to kick it off full steam in August or September.  Again, if you are reading here then you won't really notice anything at all.

One Man's God
While this one has been great fun, it was not designed to go on forever.  I am going to do the Celts (part 2) and the Chinese and Japanese, though I admit I know very, very little about these.  I am going to do the Demi-humans and do a special on the Cthulhu and Melibone mythos. But once I am done with those then the series will end save for some special editions.  Though this will lead to my next thing...

The Usual Suspects
I am going to spend some time, maybe a lot of time, going over all the various demon books I own and some I don't yet and talk about how to use them in your games.  I really love demons and demonic lore.  The title of this series "The Usual Suspects" comes not only from the notion that all evil in the worlds can be traced back to the machinations of demons (and devils) but every OGL book on the market today has the same half-dozen or so demons and a similar number of devils in every book; aka The Usual Suspects.  I think this will be fun, to be honest.


This Old Dragon
I still have some left and I want to get back to them.

Class Struggles
I have been too long away from this one. I have started writeups on the Alchemist and the Bard.  Been playing a couple Bard variants to get a good feel for the differences.  Sometimes there are more differences between two different bards than there are between most fighters and rangers!

So. Let's get to it!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Melisandre. Priestess or Witch?

"The Night is dark and full of terrors."
- Melisandre

Melisandre of Asshai - by John Picacio
Game of Thrones is in its final season and so far it has not disappointed me.  Well...there was that "whole new world" scene with Dany, Jon, and the dragons.
This past week we got to see the Red Woman, Melisandre again during the battle at Winterfell against the Night King and his army of the dead.  It was so fantastic, to be honest.   Loved the battle, loved how the episode ended.  Everything.

But I am not here today to talk about the battle.

I want to talk about Melisandre.
In particular is she a Priestess, read Cleric, or is she as many will claim, a Witch?

I thought a firey red priestess/witch would be good for Beltane today.

Let's look at what we know.  I am going to focus nearly exclusively on the TV show on HBO.  I'll grab from the books when needed to smooth out some details or get answers to questions.

In many ways, I am going to follow the spirit of my other series, One Man's God and Class Struggles.

What is Known
Or Me nem nesa as the Dothraki say.

We know that Melisandre calls herself a priestess of the god R'hllor, known as the Red God, The Lord of Light or the One True God.  In Westeros this sets her apart from most people as they tend to worship the Seven, or the New Gods. The ones that don't worship the "Old Gods".
Melisandre claims that all the other gods are false gods.  Most people have no issues with the Old or New Gods, so this also sets her apart.

She has seen to have powers of divination, cursing, breeding shadow spawn, summoning fire and the greatest, bringing people back from the dead.  She able to cast glamours and her red-gold choker seems to keep her young or at least appear young.
We know she is very, very old. She was a slave named "Melony" who was sold to the Red Temple in Asshai.

Looking at her through the lens of classes in D&D, and in particular B/X version, has many limitations.  It is still a fruitful exercise though.  For starters, it shows the flexibility of the B/X flavor of classes. It also helps me see how well my own witch classes can emulate various media representations of witches.  My philosophy in game and class design has always been "if a player wants to do to something my rules should tell them how they CAN do it, not how they CAN'T." (I hear grognards, OSR purists and other screaming in rage now. That's fine, let them scream.)

So let's pull out my D&D Expert book and give Melisandre a go.

Melisandre is a Priestess
This is the easiest of course. She refers to herself as a priestess as do others.  Her religion is widely accepted in Essos and treated as such.  The biggest clue, of course, is her ability to raise the dead, a power she claims is not hers, but that of the Lord of Light.  Her spells and powers seem closest to a cleric.
If we take "Raise Dead" as the peak of her powers then that puts her level at a minimum of 7th level for B/X D&D. I would not say she is much past 9th level, but I am willing to accept 9th.

Melisandre, Priestess of R'hllor


7th level female Cleric

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 33

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

Spells
First: Cure Light Wounds, Light, Remove Fear
Second: Hold Person, Resist Fire, Silence 15' radius
Third: Continual Light, Remove Curse, Striking
Fourth: Cure Serious Wounds, Protection/Evil 10' radius
Fifth: Commune, Raise Dead

Close...but missing some of her abilities she is really known for, starting fires and giving birth to shadow monsters.  Plus by the rules Melisandre the Cleric can Turn Undead.  That skill would have been helpful in the Battle of Winterfell.

Taking a peek at my 5th Edition D&D books it looks like a Cleric and not a Warlock or Druid would be the best choice.

Let's see how she works as a witch.

Melisandre is a Witch
Of course, for that, I would also need to decide on a tradition for her.  Something like Lord of Light Tradition.  Witches, in general, do not get the spell Raise Dead.  So I am thinking that should be an occult power.  Something they gain at 7th level.
Also, there is her lesser explored power of alchemy/herbalism.  Something all witches get.

Melisandre, Witch of R'hllor


9th level female Witch, Lord of Light Tradition

Strength: 9
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 17

AC: 9
HP: 26

Magic items: Necklace of Protection Against Aging

Occult Powers
Familiar: Spirit of fire
Herb Use
Raise Dead

Spells
First: Bewitch I, Burning Hands, Glamour
Second: Augury, Dark Whispers, Hypnotize
Third: Bestow Curse, Brave the Flames
Fourth: Divination, Intangible Cloak of Shadows
Fifth: Summon Shadow

So I had to raise her level to 9th to get the Summon Shadow spell.  In general, I like her spell choices as a witch better.  BUT that could be my biases since I have written so many (900+ so far!) and I have many to fit an exact situation.

She doesn't really have a familiar, so I am saying her "familiar" is her ability to look into flames.
I also did not give her any "bonus" spells since I wanted a pure B/X experience here.

I should point out that Green Ronin produces a very fine game based, not on the TV show, but the books in A Song of Ice and Fire.


It's Beltane! A time for witches to celebrate.  Start your own celebrations with my new witch book: Daughters of Darkness, The Mara Witch Tradition

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Class Struggles: Psionics, D.S. al Coda

I have not done a Class Struggles in a while, but something came up to make want to look back at a few I did in the past.


Jason Vey, author and game designer of many systems (currently working with the Troll Lords on Castles & Crusades and Amazing Adventures), recently did a deep dive into the psionic systems of both OD&D and AD&D.  If you have not read his blog, please do. He is more knowledgable about OD&D and AD&D than many of the self-professed experts out there.  He will be the first to claim he doesn't know everything about the games and he has still more to learn, but I will take the opinion of a quiet sage that claims to know only little than a loud-mouthed fool that claims to know a lot.

Anyway, his posts are here:


If you have any interest in psionics or OD&D/AD&D in general then it is a great read. 

I covered similar, but with a different focus, in my Class Struggles posts on Psionics and Psychic Classes, Part 1 and Part 2.  I also covered the Pathfinder Occult heroes book and the Judges' Guild Psychic Witch in detail. 

That's a lot of actual and virtual ink spilled on the subject of psionics.

Today though one of my biggest questions is this.
Do psychic powers belong in Fantasy Role-Playing Games?

Now there are a lot of GREAT game books on psionics and psychic powers.  That is not what this question is about.  This question boils down to a few things in my mind. Should psychic powers exist alongside magic? If they do, can psychic powers interact with magic? Can a character be psychic and magical? 

Jason addresses some of these questions in his first post. He addresses it as his Point 1 ("They [Psionics] are science-fiction feeling and simply don't have a place in a fantasy game.") and later states that it is not the focus of his post.  That's 100% fine. It's not the purpose of his, but it is the purpose of this post. 

Psionics in Fantasy Role-Playing Games

Maybe it was because I grew up in the 70s and played a lot of *D&D in the 80s this question seems bigger to me than maybe it really is.   

Back in my AD&D days, we played in two separate psionic focused games. The first was our regular big AD&D game in which psionic people were inequivalent of witches or mutants. We read a lot of X-Men back then.  So there was a class of psychic characters that would use their psychic abilities to mimic wizards just to survive.  It was a great meta-plot and I have not done anything similar to it for a while.  We also did a limited run "Deryni" game using OD&D but the AD&D psionic rules. I thought they had been the OD&D Eldritch Wizardry rules, but re-reading Jason's posts made me realize that what we were doing was closer to AD&D.

In these games, this worked for us because we kept magic and psionic powers completely separate. Detect Magic would not detect psionic powers. For example, the spell Detect Invisible would not detect someone that was invisible due to psychic powers.  We decided that magical invisibility would "bend the light around you", thus the idea that "shadow" ala the Hobbit, could be seen.  Psychic invisibility edited the person from the minds of those looking.  So mindless creatures could still see a psychically invisible character. 
We had a lot of discussions on what worked when and how.  As I got older I wanted things to be simpler.  

The trouble lies not in the complexity or simplicity of the systems really. The trouble lies in my own bias.


D&D 3.x made some great strides in fitting Psionics into their Fantasy Magic game by largely making psionics just another type of magic.  This is a good thing that helps deal with the host of natively psychic monsters (grells, mind flayers, brain moles, intellect devourers, aboleths) and keeps the D&D 3 mantra of one single system going.  Trouble is with this idea is that psychic powers now do feel just like another form of magic.

D&D 4 also did this, a bit more powerfully and it kept the unique feel of psychic powers <> magic.  Which is quite a feat given that one of the legitimate complaints of D&D 4 is that all the classes feel the same. 

Thinking back to the 70s and the Occult Revival magic and psychic powers were all wrapped up in the same ball of weird-ass, new age, stuff.  While I certainly think that psionics, as they are written in OD&D and AD&D, were influenced more by science fiction stories there is certainly a feeling of the 70s mentality on what these powers are.

For simplicity sake maybe it is as simple as this.
Magic is a power external to those using it. Be it from a god, pact, bloodline or the ability to learn to how to manipulate those same forces. 
Psionics are power from within.  They can mimic magic but are not the same.

So what is the difference then between a Pyromancer (magical fire) and a Pyrokneticst (psychic fire)?  Maybe none from the outside, but one has spent more time in school learning how to use their powers and the other likely spent their time in a mental hospital for using theirs.

Another way I guess to look at it is through the lens of books and television shows. Magic-Users are more like the Magicians, Harry Dresden, and Harry Potter. They study a lot, they know the rules of magic because others have written them down before them. In the case of Harry Potter the magic is outside of them and they manipulate it and in Magicians it takes a lot of learning and practice.  
Psychics are like Tomorrow People or The Gifted.  There are certain things they can do but they have had no training, and sometimes it is painfully obvious they haven't.  

I guess in the end here I still don't really have an answer.  
Maybe that is fine. Maybe I don't need an answer to "do psychics belong in a FRPG?" becasue that is not the right question to ask.
Maybe the right question to ask is to borrow from a current meme "Does it bring you joy?" or the question I ask everytime I design a new game or piece of a game, "Will it be fun?"

Do psychic powers belong in Fantasy Role-Playing Games?
Will it be fun?

If yes to the second question, then yes to the first.

Everything else are just details.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Class Struggles: AS&SH 2 Warlocks and Witch Lords

The new Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, 2nd Edition from +Jeff Talanian is out. It's going to take me a bit to go through it all.  But so far I am enjoying the hell out of it.

One thing that the 1st Edition had that the new 2nd Edition has expanded on is the Warlock class.
The book tells us:
Some warlocks practice the sorcery of cryomancers and may be referred to as ice lords; others practice the sorcery of pyromancers and may be referred to as fire lords. Perhaps the most feared and reviled of warlocks are those who practice the black arts of necromancy (death soldiers)...
Pretty cool really. And it got me thinking.

Yesterday I worked up the character Grimalkin as a warlock that has chosen witch magic as her type of  Sorcery. There is something interesting here. Something pretty cool.

Witch Lords

Warlocks the choose witchcraft as their sorcery see (Vol. II, p. 148: Table 68) are known as Witch Lords.   These warlocks are often found protecting the covens of more powerful witches or ruling over covens of less powerful ones.

Curse of the Witch Lord by tmza
Using the Grand Coven idea from my Warlock for Swords & Wizardry you can use Witch Lords as the leaders of Grand Covens in the Hyperborean world.  Instead of the usual compliment, a 9th level Warlock can gather, they may opt to form a Grand Coven.

The troop gathered include these 0th-level fighters of 1d8 hp each (known as cowans).
* 15 longbowmen (studded armor, longbows, short swords)
* 5 cavalrymen (chain mail, lances, light crossbows, horseman’s flails; light warhorses)
* 20 light crossbowmen (chain mail, small shields, light crossbows, long spears, short swords)
* 15 halberdiers/pikemen

They also gather the following coven
* 9 initiate witches of 0 level
* 3 witches of 1st level
* 1 witch of 2nd or 3rd level

A 9th level witch and a 9th level Witch Lord that gather together can create a cult stronghold to house all these members.

Once again, AS&SH is firing up my imagination for a game.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Judges Guild Psychic Witch

A few weeks ago I was made aware of the Judges Guild Journal. A newsprint 'zine made by JG back in the 70s "dedicated to Swords and Sorcery fantasy gaming".  In particular, I was made aware of issue 7 (p) and their witch class.

Issue 7 was published in December 1977.   For some perspective, the first Dragon Magazine witch was published in March 1977, though they claim to have received the manuscript for it 15 months prior.  OD&D Supplement III, Eldritch Wizardry was published in 1976.

I mention Eldritch Wizardry because the Judges Guild witch, like my own, was very much inspired by it.

The article is on one broadsheet or about two typed pages.  Titled "Witchcraft in Dungeons and Dragons" and Phil Benz as it's byline.

I have to give this article a lot of credit.  It really went outside the box with this class.  Seventeen levels are presented with roughly the same XP values as the Magic-User and has a d4 for hit point determination.  The 17th level is something called "Emelkartha".  I can only guess this has to do with the Demon Goddess from Gardner Fox's short stories about Niall of the Far Travels.  Which curiously enough appear for the first time in Dragon #5.  Should we call Shenanigans?

What makes this witch different is that she gains psionic powers instead of spells.
Her progression is very much like that found in later 2nd edition supplements on Psioincs and similar to the Basic Psionics book released by +Richard LeBlanc.
Indeed the author claims right away that a better name for the class is "Psionic Woman".   He also makes a good point about the Magic-User being unsatisfactory for a witch class.


The class then goes off into non-psionic and more spell-like areas, with the creation of potions and drugs.   I am also pleased to see the inclusion of talismans, something I also added to my witch class.  There are a lot of witchcraft trapping with this class, but I am not sure how well they mix with the D&D Psionics.

It certainly looks like a fun playable class.
There is a bit here about how males can only become witches under a special contract from Satan!

This article is much smaller than the one found in The Dragon issue #5, but is some ways is a lot more interesting.  I think that the Judges Guild article has the benefit of reading the Dragon magazine one first.  While I have no proof that the Dragon magazine article influenced this one I do find it difficult to believe that someone writing for a 'zine at this time had not read Dragon. Plus the inclusion of Emelkartha, which had only shown up in this one spot prior to this, is kind of a give-away.

Class Struggles: The Problem of the Psychic-Witch
While this might be the first Psychic Witch class published it is not the first one I have seen.  The first one I remember reading was the one from the Mayfair Role-Aids book Witches.  That witch was a "Deyrini" witch and while I was familiar with the stories I thought it was an odd inclusion.  First, the powers were less psychic and still more spell-like.  Also, I never got a witch or a psychic feel from that particular class.
I later made my own "Natural Witch" that was also a Psychic Witch, but again, something about it never quite jelled with me. This is one of the reasons you don't see a psychic witch in my books now. I could never get it to work right for me.

The closest thing I have been able to get to a psychic witch I really like are my Sisters of the Aquarian Order.

I think the issue is that like D&D, I grew up in the 70s and 80s.  The 70s saw the Occult Revival and the 80s saw the Satanic Panic.  This has forever locked witches, occultism, and psychic abilities together in my mind. If you read anything published in the 70s about witches they often talk about enhancing their psychic powers.  I could see a witch, instead of mixing potions or collecting herbs, empowering crystals or infusing talismans' with her own psychic power.

Maybe her familiar is not a spirit but a psychic construct of her own "Shadow Self" from Jung.  Her Patron then is a manifestation of her Mana or Higher Self as part of the Collective Unconsciousness (again, Jung).  So the Jungian archetypes of Self-Anima-Mana could map on to Maiden-Mother-Crone representations.
Jung is, and always has been, a huge influence on how I detail the witch archetype for myself. I spent a lot of time in the 80s reading Jung and it is one of the reasons I worked on a Ph.D. in psychology.

Maybe there is something here after all. Maybe it just takes 40 years to get it right!

I'll have to think about this much more.



I am also presenting this as another addition to the RPG Blog Carnival on Occult Mysteries and Magic.