Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Imperishable Fame, part 3

Today I'm going to do a little stream-of-consciousness writing on classes and races in my vision of a Proto-Indo-European campaign setting.

Fighters - All are members of the upper tier of society, basically kings, chieftains and their families.  Three distinct groups fall under this heading.  The Werewolves are an initiatory society made up exclusively of unmarried men and adolescents.  They dress up in wolf skins, howl at the full moon and often make nuisances of themselves.  Think soccer hooligans with spears.  Married warriors are Brothers of the Axe.  Most of them don't actually wield battle axes in battle, but the weapon is ceremonially important enough that at least one PIE culture is called the Axe People.  How could I not use that?  The third group would be an Amazon order.  Note that all these groups would be mechanically identical.  I just want some additional social dimensions for the fighter types.

Clerics - I could see maybe using the default cleric class if the adventure strayed over to the Nile or the Fertile Crescent, but the local divine casters would all be druids.  The cleric is just too citified for the barbaric people I'm imagining.  Furthermore, I think the default alignment of the society will be Neutral.  Law represents the organization principle of the city dwellers.  PIE society would see itself as being organized as a mediating force standing between the fires of Chaos and the ice of Law.  Also, druids are cool.  The druids represent the middle class in the society.  Everyone participates in the religious life of the community, but these folks are specialists in ensuring proper observances and crafting correct ritual objects.

Magic-Users - I mentioned yesterday that since there's no writing, spellbook-based M-Us are replaced with the wizard as epic poet.  Herb over at Places to Go had some good thoughts on this subject yesterday.   I'd only add two more things.  M-Us would be allowed to wear armor and wield spears just like everybody else, though they couldn't cast a spell with a helmet on.  My reasoning for this change is simple: when an enemy tribe's host comes over the ridge it's everybody's job to protect the community.  Busting mad rhymes does not excuse you from this obligation.  The other thing I would point out is that magic-use is a lower class gig.  M-Us are all basically the sons and daughters of shepherds.  Learning poetry while minding the flock is one of the few sources of upward mobility.

Thieves - These guys are right out.  The world is sorely lacking stuff to pick, as both locks and pockets have yet to be invented.  Stealing is something that anyone of any class can do.

Demi-humans - These folks would be unlockable content.  The only way an elf, dwarf or halfing could join the party would be if the PCs find an enclave of such people and befriend them.  Even then, I'd only allow a single token demi-human in the party at a time, or maybe a pair of twins.  Befriending the demi-humans won't necessarily be easy, either, as they aren't initially friendly to humanity.  Think of it this way: the difference between an elf and a hobgoblin is how well your reaction roll went.  Dwarves would be the grumpy little jerkwads from Nordic mythology.  If you can bargain with them maybe they'll make you a magic item.  Halflings might be homo floresiensis, which would probably end up playing out as cannibalistic mini-sasquatches.


  1. " Halflings might be homo floresiensis, which would probably end up playing out as cannibalistic mini-sasquatches.

    This is a great campaign setting in one sentence.

  2. You rPIE druids might like these:

    ...if you don't already know about them....

  3. I really dig this whole thing Jeff!

    Perhaps you could make clerics/druids into animistic shamans?

    And maybe magic weapons are just iron ones? From what I gathered this far, your campaign is taking place in the late Neolithic/early Bronze age?

    I'd suggest making it bronze age, with some primitive cultures still using stone for weapons and tools, while giving very few enclaves the "secret of steel"?

    That way you can have a blade that shatters all other blades, and is totally badass, without being formally magical.

  4. "Stealing is something that anyone of any class can do."

    I am a little bit tired of this argument. Because it could also read like this:

    "Fighting is something that anyone of any class can do. So fighters are out."

    The problem of thieves is not their concept, but their implementation and the focus of the game.

  5. It's a tired old argument, Mr. Castle, but I think here it fits. With no pockets, no locks and maybe not a lot of traps, there just isn't much to justify the thief's existence here.

    squidman: I'll have to give that some thought.

  6. Thieves may be out but my Thugs from Majestic Wilderlands would fit in nicely and Merchant Adventurers as well. Wandering from tribe to tribe bartering here and there (mainly with cattle for really big transactions).

  7. Jon H8:07 AM

    "With no pockets, no locks and maybe not a lot of traps, there just isn't much to justify the thief's existence here."

    I'd think there'd be pouches or sacks to be slit. Instead of picking locks, that could be interpreted as "untying a knot without being caught", "lifting a cloak off the peg on which it's hanging" or similar. Moving silently and hiding in shadows would still be useful, even if the thief is just trying to steal a turkey leg from someone's meal.

    IMHO a 1st level thief is one who got through a 0-level adolescence of small-time thievery without being caught, jailed, crippled, or killed. That kind of high-stakes learning environment is what separates a Thief from a magic-user who tries to pick a pocket for the first time in his life.

  8. Well, maybe city stuff like locks or pockets might be out, but swiping livestock is a hallmark of a lot of primitive cultures, and you still might need "move silently" or "hide in shadows" for that.

    Maybe add in some skills to replace pick locks/pockets like "Handle Animal" to calm flighty or recalcitrant beasts or something equivalent to "Sense Motive", to use a couple 3rd Ed.-isms

    Heck, you could even have level names for 'em.
    Lvl 1: Chicken Thief
    Lvl 2: Goose Thief
    Lvl 3: Pig Thief
    Lvl 4: Goat Thief
    Lvl 5: Horse Thief
    Lvl 6: Cattle Thief
    Etc. Etc.

  9. I see where you guys are going with this, but stealing from the other tribes is a totally legit activity. The cattle raids are the highlight of the Werewolf social calendar.

    On the other hand, playing a Chicken Thief sounds pretty awesome.

  10. Anonymous9:23 AM

    Bronze age, skills to handle animals, shamans, iron is a big secret, elves and dwarves are hidden people, etc. etc?

    I think what you really want to do is play RuneQuest 2.
    Just sayin'.

  11. @JeffRients

    Yeah, true enough. The milieu you're positing is very appropriate for an essentially classless game (non-humans and magic users notwithstanding)especially since you're doing the cultural stuff like the Werewolves.

    I once read a book about the early days of Saturday Night Live where someone described John Belushi as resembling "an Albanian Goose Thief" Now THERE is a character concept.

  12. The thing is, once you've removed Pick Locks/Pick Pockets from the oD&D thief, he's basically a hunter/scout/ranger type. Climbing skills, hiding skills, deciphering trail marks, hearing noises, making and disarming snares and pit traps, attacking from ambush? Old-School Thieves are the only ones with actual mechanical support for doing this!

    And if you're arguing a talented woodlands hunter has no place in a PIE setting, well, I don't know what to say.

  13. Jon H9:59 AM

    "I see where you guys are going with this, but stealing from the other tribes is a totally legit activity"

    True, but then again, as the story goes, a bunch of people wandering in the desert for 40 years sent a guy up a mountain and got back a rule called "don't steal". And they didn't have much of anyone else to steal from.

    Every tribe has its slackers and crooks who prey on their peers. The guy who says he can't go on the hunt because of a 'bum leg', kicks back all day hitting on the ladies, and then later sneaks around and steals meat off the hunters' fires. If the guy's good, he gets the meat and the hunter goes hungry. If not, the attempted thief ends up in the fire.

  14. Dave: if I had any interest in a skills-based game you might have a point. Seeing as how I want to keep classes, levels and Vancian magic, I don't think RQ is a very good fit.

    And if you're arguing a talented woodlands hunter has no place in a PIE setting, well, I don't know what to say.

    I'm not convinced I need a separate class to do any of that. I feel pretty certain I don't need Jon H's proposed Shiftless Slacker class.

  15. I'm not convinced I need a separate class to do any of that.

    But you're convinced you need a separate class, in a society where everyone defends the community, whose whole shtick is murdering things?

    The ONLY reason you ever have thieves in your regular D&D games is Pick Locks and Pick Pockets? Really?

  16. But you're convinced you need a separate class, in a society where everyone defends the community, whose whole shtick is murdering things?

    No. I'm convinced I need at least one class who isn't a spellcaster.

    The ONLY reason you ever have thieves in your regular D&D games is Pick Locks and Pick Pockets? Really?

    No. The ONLY reason I ever have thieves in my D&D games is because somebody wants to play one. For my own personal tastes I find them as extraneous as the lich, demon, Ash from the Evil Dead and dire wolf PCs that have dotted my recent campaign. Those have all been nice, fun characters. But that doesn't mean I have to feel obligated to hotwire those classes into the setting.

  17. Did I write 'hotwire'? I meant 'hardwire'. Stupid brain.

  18. For my own personal tastes I find them [...] extraneous

    Ah, well then. That's really a different story. I was arguing from a campaign setting stand-point that "Hunter" is as valid as "Warrior" as a specialist role, and you were arguing that you find the Thief class a superfluous one for the manner in which you run your D&D.

    1. For that matter, the socioeconomic status of hunters vs. warriors is significant: the former (in an agricultural society) are important but menial - - even if they are a king's personal huntsmen, they are still common.
      Warriors, by contrast, really should occupy the upper tiers of society, as the leisure classes had the most time and resources to devote to combat training. Absolutely, everyone can pick up a spear, but Warriors should remain as they are: the elites, the champions (actually, it's like the difference between 3e fighters vs. warriors or warriors vs. commoners).

  19. You may be on to something with the Hunter. Calling it a thief variant rubs me the wrong way, but labeling aside I think you have a point. On the other hand, it screws up my attempt to fit the core classes into a triad that maps onto the social classes.

  20. Mazes & Minotaurs might prove to be a resource for gaming in an age with few weapons and little armor. There are actually many clever ideas in that game that could be applied to D&D-style systems.

  21. Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of how cool this all is. Also, I am surprised how much opposition there is to thieflessness. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, I just didn't expect that. And, finally, just a reminder that cannibalistic, forest-dwelling halflings were actually done pretty well in the Dark Sun setting. Thanks!

  22. I like your idea of mapping the character classes to the social classes, and I see a way to keep that
    sensibility AND work in the thief and a few other class options that have been brought up in the comments.

    Since you already created sub-divisions of the Fighter classes, we could do the same with the other (social) classes, keeping a triad of triads could become something like:

    The bachelor party-animal Werewolves, who raid for cattle, sheep, and sometimes women.
    The more solid married Axe-Brothers, who make war and peace in council.
    And, the furious and deadly amazons, who live apart and hunt the moon itself.

    The Berserking Sons of the Sky Father. Bearded dudes, who smite the enemy with stormcloud and sword. [Thor/Ares/Odin/Vishnu/Zeus/Odin]
    The Serene Daughters of the Earth Mother. Quieter priests, men and women who bless the crops, heal the sick, and dispense silent justice. [Hera/Freja/Ceres/Aphrodite/]
    Seriously, no one pisses them off. You're not sure if they really can lay curses, but they can definitely refuse to heal you.
    And, the semi-heretical Brothers of Night and Fire, whose rituals of wine and blood are agonizing but often necessary. [Loki/Bachus/Pan/Prometheus]
    I see these guys as a band of Special Forces vulcans who listen to Black Sabbath and Bauhaus.
    They know things that man was not meant to know, and if you get on thier bad side, they will tell you about it.

    Hunters--men trained in weapons, but not of the brotherhoods. As masters of woodcraft, stalking, stealth, and tracking they are often hired as guides for long journeys.
    That many of them are rejects from the brotherhood of the wolf for some reason throws in as much conflit as you care for.
    Skalds--Your wizards, who memorize poems and epics. Won't that also make them the lawyers of the age?
    You could totally make an adventure about finding and jogging the memory of the last person who remembers whose grandfather promised to sacrifice how many cattle to which serpent monster.
    Traders--Men from the few towns who make and repair things (potters, smiths, masons, glassblowers, millers, brewers)
    This is the weak leg I know, but I see them as having skill monkey and people skills, who else would know
    the crazy language of these foreigners we keep meeting, or how to fix a wagon wheel, aLso alchemy.

  23. So is this a bronze age game?

  24. I agree with Dave in spirit, though I realise being advised to use different system and setting when you just wanna play some D&D can kill your creative flow.

    But don't deny Runequest off the bat. There are still things you can crib from a game that closely resembles yours. Runelords sound just like how you want your player characters, as badass magical warrior heroes, and the fact that "Oratory" is a major skill in the game say loads about the epic nature of the game.

    In particular, may I suggest nicking Heroquests. Except rather than have the characters recreate the great deeds of the gods to gain fame and magical boons, have the players creat their own Heroquests, and form cults of their own based around those deeds.

    Also, for your Werewolves you may want to look at the various Hsunchen (dudes who transform into animals) cultures of Glorantha, most notably the Telmori Wolf-people and the Basmoli Lion-people. Lots of stuff you can use there.

    Hope that helps,

  25. 1. The whole thief thing comes down to how you want to run your campaign. IMHO it might be cool to build a new thief class that is an outcast (or taboo) because they are robbers of burial mounds.

    2. I love the way you are envisioning magic-users. Traditionally, the shaman/poet/bard had great social sway within society. Perhaps allow them to bestow a minor bonus to another person's status or CHA score (temp +1 bonus) after publicly praising them in verse? The old BBC documentary The Celts really explored their historical role, and it showed boobies! :-)

  26. Jeff: thanks for the shout out.

    I like the idea that magic is the poor kid's way up. As for cannibal halflings, now we're cooking with gas.

  27. Anonymous1:32 AM

    How about if Fighters are called "Warlords" or something? As far as I can tell, the idea is that they represent the top class of leaders in battle and full-time warriors, so there should be something to indicate that they aren't just any bloke with a spear. A fear leadership-themed powers or benefits would help keep them different from magic-users or cleric/druids who can use armor and weapons.

    Personally I'd also do something different with magic-users: their name says something about them, that they are not Wizards or Spellcasters, but that magic is a raw tool to be used, a metaphysical implement, and rare is the person able to use it....

    But I have no idea how to translate that to a D&D type system in a meaningful way.

  28. Seems to me that Hunters would be a logical replacement for thieves in this level of society- a ranger's extensive-but-mundane knowledge of the wild combined with the stealth abilities and sneak attack.