Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mixing and Matching Classes

I am a B/X D&D kind of guy: I like having four core classes and not much else. So officially that's Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief — but actually I tend to call them Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, and Wizard instead. Never mind the details here, let's just say that I like those names better. Of course there are also demi-humans in B/X, but I treat them more like AD&D does: I separate race from class. I actually wrote a thing about that if you're interested. (Before you complain, I do understand why some people like race-as-class but for me it's just not the right fit, at least not for a campaign game.)

Now obviously there are many players with experience in other systems such as AD&D, and some of those players would really like to run a Paladin or a Druid or an Illusionist or whatnot. There are plenty of resources that provide those classes (and many more) as additions for B/X D&D or compatible systems such as Labyrinth Lord. But I still prefer the purity of just four core classes and so I usually negotiate with players like that, granting their characters a "small edge" that goes in the right direction but doesn't mess with the game too much. Dyson's random sub-classes are an excellent example of the kind of thing I tend to do.

Then along comes Zach H of Zenopus Archives fame with a G+ post that gets me thinking. Here's that post:

Idle thought on adding subclasses to whitebox OD&D or Holmes, but without adding any new rules.

Paladin = Fighter/Cleric
Ranger = Fighter/Thief
Monk = Cleric/Thief
Druid = Cleric/MU
Bard = Thief/MU

Subclasses are for humans only (Fighter/MU is still just elves). Use whatever multi-class rules you use for elves.

One can obviously debate whether the suggested "breakdown" for each of these is the best possible one, but the idea of "mixing and matching" the core classes to re-create approximations of other popular classes is genius! And although Zach's "idle thought" is not explicitly targetting B/X it can certainly work there as well, once we add some kind of multi-classing mechanic anyway.

As luck would have it, I already added such a mechanic in support of my take on demi-humans: I am using a variant of archetypal multi-classing! And one of the cool things about that approach is that Fighter/Thief and Thief/Fighter are not the same thing: The secondary class is always at half the level of the primary class, so those combinations feel very different in play.

Applied to Zach's idea this gives us a number of additional possibilities for "mixing" classes together. For example we can interpret Fighter/Thief as "Ranger" or maybe "Scout" whereas Thief/Fighter might be "Thug" or "Assassin" if we squint a little.

But I got my real Christmas present when I tried to figure out the difference between a Fighter/Cleric and a Cleric/Fighter. I agreed with Zach that a Fighter/Cleric should be a "Paladin", but what the heck is a Cleric/Fighter if not also a "Paladin", albeit of a slightly different bent? (Yes, I could make up another name for that combination, but it still seems too redundant.)

What hit me at that point was that the Cleric is already a multi-classed character: Clerics combine "divine spell-casting" with "decent combat-ability" after all! So if there was a class that only focused on the divine stuff, a Priest class say, then I would get a much more sensible result: The Fighter/Priest would be the "Paladin" but the Priest/Fighter would now be the "Cleric," reconstituted from salvaged parts.

Praise be to that glorious redemption from the interwebz!

This little insight fixes so much for me. I've always looked at Paladins with a critical eye, mostly because I felt like the Cleric was already some kind of Paladin to begin with. The "heavily armored guy bashing orcs with a mace while waving a cross" just never really worked for me as something a "run of the mill" religious person should be. So I found it necessary to cast the Cleric as a "militant fanatic" of sorts to make sense of it all and I assumed some "less militant" religious folks in the background as non-player characters: tending to the sick, writing history and philosophy tracts, celebrating "mass" of one sort or another, herding the undead pets of their EHP, etc.

Now I can finally remedy this situation in a framework that makes sense to me. I'll throw out the existing Cleric class and replace it with a Priest class that gets "divine spell-casting" and "turn undead" but nothing else. Priests are of a scholarly bent, sort of like Wizards (or Magic-Users or whatever). Priests get the Wizard's hit die, combat progression, weapon selection, and armor restrictions, but (just for kicks) they keep the old Cleric's saving throws. And of course Priests have to memorize spells from their "prayer books" just like Clerics had to already in my campaign. (This allows me to cut down on Dan's old complaint that Clerics have access to too many spells.) Now if players want to have a priestly character, one that's not also a slaughter-house, they finally can! And if they want to be something with more "oomph" in battle, well, just multi-class the right way and become either a Paladin or a Cleric.

Having said all that, the one thing I am not sure about is whether this added complexity is worth it in the end. Don't get me wrong, I really like this approach. But the old "just give them a special thing" worked as well and in the end it's more flexible since the referee is involved and can "grant" something that's very special and not in the "official" rules.

In any case, I still need to "interpret" all the possible class combinations in a useful way, and I am still having trouble with some of them. Maybe you can help by suggesting something I have not thought of? Here's what I have now:

Fighter / Priest = Paladin
Fighter / Rogue = Scout or Ranger
Fighter / Wizard = Warlock?
Priest / Fighter = Cleric
Priest / Rogue = Monk? Inquisitor?
Priest / Wizard = Druid? Shaman?
Rogue / Fighter = Thug or Assassin
Rogue / Priest = Charlatan? Agitator?
Rogue / Wizard = Bard?
Wizard / Fighter = ?
Wizard / Priest = Thaumaturgist? Theurge?
Wizard / Rogue = Illusionist? Mountebank? Trickster?

And with that I am putting my behind on a plane to Germany. Merry Christmas (or whatever it is you celebrate) and a Happy New Year!


  1. Wizard / Fighter might be a Battle Mage?

  2. Wizard / Fighter could be a War Mage or a Cultist. I see a Fighter / Wizard as a Templar or a Dabbler 😄

  3. I like your musings here. I stick with b/x as is and maybe (Maybe) house rule as we go, but do not like to front load a bunch of new stuff. The race as class is what makes b/x what it me any way. Your making d&d 1.5. Ooh, maybe I am onto something. You keep writing and I'll keep reading it. Definitely insightful.

    1. I also enjoy B/X because of its simplicity. At a convention or even in a "side-trek" type campaign, I don't change things like race-as-class. I just add a few house rules for healing (too slow for a pickup game) and combat (class-based damage is simple enough). But for a campaign game I just like to be able to accomodate more variety for the players. I don't like to turn down halfling thieves and the like if someone really really wants to play that. They make an investment to show up regularly at my house, I think in return they should get a bit more flexibility for their characters. It's obviously a matter of taste whether the resulting game is still "B/X enough" for some. It's certainly not AD&D. Not by a long shot.

  4. On G+ Murdock Berk (see for more) added an awesome comment that I'll paste here for posterity:

    This is awesome. Excellent idea. Combined with the custom class/ability xp chart, you could easily generate appropriate combinations of class traits to fit the bill and be able to get a decent amount of functional difference between the inverse class combos. Possibly even alignment-varied examples with logical quirks and nuances..! You could use the standard spell lists, import advanced spell lists, mix and match custom spell lists...

    Here are some of my ideas:
    Fighter / Priest = Paladin (Lawful), Crusader (Neutral), Avenger (Chaotic)
    Fighter / Rogue = Ranger (Lawful), Scout (Neutral), Brigand/Thug (Chaotic)
    Fighter / Wizard = Battlemage (Any)
    Priest / Fighter = Cleric (Any)
    Priest / Rogue = Witch-Hunter (Lawful), Monk/Mystic (Any), Pilgrim (No Lawful)
    Priest / Wizard = Oracle (Any), Druid (Neutral), Necromancer (Chaotic), Wokun (Any)
    Rogue / Fighter = Bandit (No Lawful), Assassin (Chaotic), Agent (No Chaotic)
    Rogue / Priest = Gypsy (No Lawful), Bard (Any),
    Rogue / Wizard = Wayfarer (No Lawful), Bard (Any)
    Wizard / Fighter = Sorcerer (Any), Highwayman (No Lawful)
    Wizard / Priest = Scholar (Any), Elementalist (No Neutral), Occultist (Chaotic), Shaman (Any)
    Wizard / Rogue = Illusionist (Any)

    Might have to actually do a write up for these now lol... Note that Bards are listed twice, they could be either religious or scholarly.

  5. A surprising amount of time can be spent finding good names. At any rate, here's what I came up with.

    Fighter/Priest = Paladin
    Fighter/Rogue = Ranger
    Fighter/Wizard = Spellsword
    Priest/Fighter = Cleric
    Priest/Rogue = Pilgrim
    Priest/Wizard = Hierophant
    Rogue/Fighter = Marauder
    Rogue/Priest = Charlatan
    Rogue/Wizard = Dilettante
    Wizard/Fighter = Bellicose
    Wizard/Priest = Theurge
    Wizard/Rogue = Adept

    I've never heard Bellicose used this way but it *sounds* right.