Saturday, 21 September 2019

THIEVES LIKE US (Humans: the character class, a WIP)

Really, there are only two classes: fighters and magic-users. They come in various flavours, shapes and sizes, but ultimately there are i) bags of hit points who are good at melee and ii) squishy one-hit-wonders who, given the right set of circumstances, might actually evolve into glass cannons.

"But what about ro-"


I'm getting to that.

A picture by the creator of Dungeon Robber, the author of Blog of Holding

Fighters and magic-users may be born or made, but they aren't lifestyle choices. One has to possess a very particular set of characteristics to fall into either camp, characteristics that most of us simply do not have. That does not preclude 'normal' humans from picking up swords or unlocking arcane mysteries, but they will always be journeyman rather than a master.

The idea at play here is that there is a human "race-as-class" default, akin to the specialist in LOTFP, but with a broader portfolio. This all ties in with the idea that a proficiency/ skill system should not act as a rigid constraint on gameplay: all characters can do thief stuff, it's just they're not as good at it.

Thieves are thieves like us.

Carpenters have invested all their skill points in doing stuff with wood.

...but this 'class' is about a lot more than thieves and carpenters: it could include rangers, bards and monks from traditional class lists; it could also include alchemists, healers, scouts, artificers, torchbearers, assassins, tomb raiders, dervishes, pirates, poisoners, prophets, poets, animal trainers, priests...


  • Level progression uses the thief/specialist/rogue table from your other favourite TTRPGs. Normal humans gain 1d4 in hit dice per level. Hit points cap at 4th level (hit dice cap at ninth: hit points are used in recovery).
  • They save as thieves, except at level one (save as normal human). 
  • Humans gain four skill points per level: these can be invested in new or existing skills. 
  • Skill points can also be used to buy spell slots, improve (one) hit die or increase attack bonuses, but at great cost. 
  • Skills are ability score based, but in what way I am yet to decide. I'm toying with skill ranks representing die size (a la middle road skills)
Once I've settled on a decent skill mechanic I'll link it back here. After that, it's simply a question of drafting up a list of appropriate skills. At its core will be the rogue/thief skills we've come to know and love. Not sure if knowledge or charisma based skills are going to make an appearance just yet.

The principal philosophy of the skill system is best described this quote from the above link:
Having" a given skill, NWP, or whathaveyou should not, as a rule, be a requirement for attempting any adventure-related action or for having a reasonable chance of success.
Skill points are not available to fighters and magic-users unless they trade in their class features for that level.

The above illustration is by the creator of Dungeon Robber, a surprisingly addictive (mostly) text-based procedurally generated flash/html adventure game. I say surprising because the gameplay is simplistic and repetitive: you control a solitary dungeon robber through a random labyrinth based upon Gary Gygax's rules for random dungeon generation. Death comes easily and unexpectedly, the town is somewhere to sell loot and buy gear, and if there were any NPCs (which there are not) they'd only be there to be killed. Consequently it's incredibly evocative of the OD&D experience, and has provoked reconsideration of some old school gaming talking points.

Dungeon Robber is responsible for this post.

There's more than a few conversations that regularly pop up on the OSR discord server, but there are three (well, maybe four) in particular that I started to contemplate after running through Dungeon Robber a few hundred times. They are (in no particular order):
  • What class abilities should a fighter have?
  • How should thief abilities relate to the skills of other classes? Should thief progression be unrewarding as it is in early editions of D&D?
  • Are general skills necessary or not? How should they relate to ability scores, if at all?
...and all of this popped into my head because the default character class in Dungeon Robber is... a dungeon robber. They don't have any particular special abilities apart from their attributes and their wits. There is some progression, as experience is gained: the dungeon robber increases their hit points each level... and that's it.

Despite the fact that a thief class can be unlocked in that game, I couldn't shake the notion that thieves, rogues and tomb raiders were just normal humans with a slightly lighter step and quicker hands,and that's what has led us here.

So now you know.

Some easily digested crunch:

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