Saturday, July 12, 2014

Filling Party Roles

As I've been thinking about filling party roles (here and here), I've been also wondering about how I might "fix" an old school D&D game up a bit. But now my requirement is minimal tinkering with the rules. I'd love to somehow turn thief skills into the feats or skills of older D&D, but that's a lot of work.

You know what isn't a lot of work though? Handing out a couple additional "thief" skills.

I'm now of the opinion that classes like Paladin, Ranger, and Druid are successes not only because they do seem to have a nice, narrow, and (by now) traditional archetype. They also can ape their "base" classes quite well, though they're no longer really subclasses in more recent editions. Illusionist and Assassin failed as subclasses because they could never quite do what their base class did: Assassins were down two levels on thief skills, and Illusionists just didn't have access to the same slate of skills as Magic Users.

So while one solution is to ditch the big four classes in favor of slightly specialized classes (e.g. fighter is out and soldier, weaponmaster, and berserker are in; wizard/magic-user is out and enchanter, necromancer, conjurer, and elementalist are in, etc.) another simple solution is to augment the list of thief skills a bit and pass them around. I really heart the idea of the first suggestion though, particularly for mages where the generalist is removed in favor of a couple thematic specialists. But the latter option is quite implementable in an old school game.

If we look at 2nd Edition, we can take the Bard's Legend Lore ability, plus additional Thief skills from Skills and Powers: Bribe, Detect Magic, Detect Illusion, Escape Bonds, Tunneling). We might even be able to nab a few Druid and Ranger powers (ID plants/animals, Tracking) or the Assassin's disguise ability. Then we can give a few additional powers out so that the lame classes can still participate.

Now the illusionist can have a few powers that legitimately might be in their domain (Detect Illusion, Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Pick Pockets) and they can fill in as needed. Wizards might get Detect Magic and the bard's History ability so they can actually function as someone who has studies magic extensively. Assassins might only have a subset of the Thief skills (i.e. no pick pockets) but actually be able to use some of their abilities.

It could go beyond class too. Race might allow some characters to help fill in some missing roles. Dwarves and/or Gnomes might have find/remove trap and open lock skills, Halflings might have scouting skills, while Elves might have scouting, nature, or magic detection skills.

It would mean that, since trapfinding and opening locks is such a vital role in a party, a smaller party (or really any party) could get by without a thief character (because assassin just doesn't cut it). Likewise a couple characters might be able to take the scouting role a thief has. Clerics of a knowledge or magic deity might be able to legitimately provide the Encyclopedia support that a wizard could.

And whither the thief? Well, if we just added the 2nd Edition bonus thief skills (Yes, they're in Skills and Powers but some of them are also seen in Dark Sun) that should up the power of the thief class slightly (already a weak class to begin with). Additionally, I think the 2nd Edition system where thieves assign points per level is rather nice compared to the older editions where each thief has the same chances (modulo dex and racial modifiers).

To some extent, this is actually what we see after 2nd Edition: any class can take cross-class skill ranks in third edition to (crappily) ape most rogue skill and 4th edition explicitly links the "Thievery" skill with other classes (warlock and artificer come to mind). This does make me enjoy 5th Edition a bit more now since it seems like its going to follow these advancements.

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