Mar 8, 2010

Gygaxian Systematization

One of my favorite things about Gary Gygax, other than his florid language, was the way he tried to systematize everything. An impossible task, but still interesting. The way he tried to boil down the moral law into an axis of good/evil and law/chaos, or the way he tried to organize all the possible adventurer types into fighters, clerics, wizards, and thieves. I always enjoyed these attempts he made, perhaps my favorite was the inner planes. Particularly the detailed breakdown as he presented them in Dragon 73 the Sorceror's Scroll: The Inner Planes. Here is a snippet:

(the 5-cd Dragon compendium is so handy!)

This tendency towards systematizing everything probably led to the success of the original Dungeons & Dragons. How else could the mad (genius) ravings of Dave Arneson be transformed into the masterpiece that was the original white box? But this tendency also lead to absurdities, some of which have since been purged from the game. I won't dwell on what those are. Instead I want to propose an idea I've had brewing for a while. What if Gygax had developed his method of systematization to a finer degree at the time he wrote the original booklets, and what if he'd kept the focus on six character classes, one for each ability?

Here is a systematization of 6 basic character classes, one to conform to each ability. To avoid all the thief or not nonsense so often talked about, I've replaced the thief with a class called the "scout". Not only is it less morally ambiguous, it allows for a bit more freedom in describing what the class can, and cannot, do.
So the basic classes are: barbarian, bard, fighter, paladin, scout, and wizard.

The "prime" classes: fighter (a pure warrior), wizard (a pure spell caster), and scout (pure skill based).

The "sub" classes: barbarian (a warrior with other skills), bard (a spell caster with other skills), and paladin (a warrior with some spells)

The beauty of this is the way it synchronizes with each of the abilities, fills each of the roles in an adventuring group, and creates a seamless circle.

Astute reader you've noticed the cleric is missing! I've always been bothered by the definition and role of the cleric. Also it's the class that any group when creating characters inevitably says "someone has to be a cleric" so they can have their traveling hospital. So, I've chosen to replace him (or her) with a more appropriate class: the paladin, clearly a warrior but with a divine mission and some spellcasting and healing powers. A much more reasonable candidate for adventurer than some priest best left to his studies in some dusty monastery.

This is just a fun variant, or speculation on how a different type of systematization could be applied to the original d&d.


  1. i like it -
    then a Paladin could also be like a Van Helsing character
    an educated scout could be like Indiana Jones, while a foppish scout (guide? explorer?) could be similar to Captain Jack Sparrow

    ALLOW wizards to learn some healing spells

    ADD that your maximum level can not exceed you primary ability score and you would create a truly unique game system

    NOT just another version of 1st edition

  2. I like it. I always thought we needed a barbarian tied to con. I also like replacing the cleric with the paladin. Putting the bard between MU and Scout makes sense. If you look at the opposed classes, your typology makes sense as well (barbarian vs, wizard, figher vs bard, paladin vs scout)

  3. I like it! Its like a color-wheel, but for D&D classes. I always liked generic, open-ended class names as a class should be a broad category of archetypes, instead of an archetype into itself. The Scout and Paladin titles sounds much better – like how WotC renamed the Thief class into the Rogue to be more open-ended (too bad that fell apart with all the really specific classes).

  4. I like this very much. :)

    I like the opposites on this graphic. Barbarian <-> Wizard. Fighter <-> Bard. Paladin <-> Scout (Thief).

  5. Malcadon: color wheel, heheh, my artsy mindset coming through.

    APIC, Stuart: yeah, the way it creates complements (opposites) is interesting.

    Clovis: great thinking, I like the idea of Van Helsing being a sort of paladin, and of course Indiana Jones and Jack Sparrow are two of the greatest characters put on film! I'm not a huge fan of level limits, but I see where your going with it. So that your prime ability has more impact on your career.

  6. Malcadon: regarding the term "rogue", i didn't have the negative reaction so many did to that name change because I was never that fond of thief anyway. I've been deliberating on what to call the dexterity/skill class for a long time, before finally settling on scout. I think an important ingredient to a good class name is that it sounds cool enough that you want to play it. And scout is appealing (to me at least!)

  7. Not having any acoustic talent, dancing ability or a comprehensible taste in music (what can I say, I like both the Ramones and Kenny Chesney).
    I am incapable of designing a functional bard class. Therefore in my DnD campaign . . .

    AGENTS are aristocratic and educated characters that function as diplomats, brokers, politicians and spies. They are a sophisticated blend of rogue and mage. They are skilled in both negotiations and espionage. Agents are more content in an urban rather than a rural setting. Examples of famous agents are Elric of Melniboné, Grey Mouser and Don Juan.
    The primary ability of an agent is Charisma; therefore, an agent’s level may not exceed his charisma score.

    Agents cannot use shields, but they may wear soft or rigid armor.
    They can use all weapons except bows, axes and matchlocks.
    They can use many magic items that are allowed to either mages or rogues.

    Agents instinctual skepticism requires them to be neutral (NG, LN, N, CN or NE).

    Agents use an innate or free-form system for casting spells. Instead of memorizing a spell, he may cast any spell in his spell book known to him. An agent may cast a known spell once, repeatedly, or not at all, providing he does not exceed his level limits. For agents, DC for cast spells is modified by ACP. Example if saving from a lightning bolt (3rd level spell) cast by an agent with a 15 charisma (+1) who is wearing hoplite armor (ACP -2); the target’s dexterity save DC would be 12 (DC12 = 10 +3 +1 -2)

    At 10th level an agent obtains REGENT status and may choose to acquire a patron. A patron is an extremely powerful NPC who provides for the regent’s comfort and material needs.

    “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, reflection and good company must finish him.” John Locke

  8. Systemization award goes to...

    Great work, but the bard has got to go. The roguish Charlatan with his charming ways is the archetype for that spot.

  9. mountebank, charlatan, scoundrel...rogue. Gygax promised a mountebank, but I never had much interest in such a character. I've always had a soft spot for the concept of a bard, particularly after reading history and the important role of the traveling minstrel as keeper of lore as well as entertainer.

    clovis: that Agent is pretty nifty. thanks for posting.

  10. I pretty much endorse the entirety of this post. I both love and despair at St. Gary's mania for systematization. Like it or not, it is one of the corner-stones upon which the edifice of Ye Auld game is built.

    As with others, I'm also not overly-crazy about the name "Bard", but it works well-enough as a generic Class name along the lines of the Scout. The thing is, once you accept the generic nature of Classes, it's easy enough to make them what you want. A mystically-inclined skill guy could be the typical D&D Bard, but he could also be an Occult Scholar or a Looter of Mystic Antiquities or whatever. In the same way, the Barbarian (soemwhat skilled Fighting-Man) could just as easily be a Ranger or a Spy or an Assassin.

    Re the Cleric: After much debate, I now fully embrace the idea of "Kill the Cleric, Keep the Thief". In games where I retain the Cleric, I renamed it the Champion (after some consideration of Paladin and Templar) to make it clear that we are talking about arse-kickers of the Lord and not simply priests. Champions may or may not even be priests in my game--Joan of Arc being a good example of the latter.

  11. I'm pretty set on bard. While it may have a specific connotation because of how he has been described in the game, history reveals a much more interesting and diverse type of character.

    However, barbarian may not be the ideal name. Ranger or pathfinder may be better. Though those names begin to sound to similar to scout.

    I love how broadly Matt Finch defines the classes in Swords & Wizardry. I was thinking very much along these lines with this system. Just a little more rounded.

  12. break the mold,
    ditch the title bard and
    simply call the class the

    'the entertainer'

    a certain piano score and
    billy joel song
    come to mind ; - )

  13. Apologies for posting on something this old, but I'm really amazed at how close this is to something I developed. Although I placed the attributes in a different order (STR CON WIS INT CHA DEX) and put the character classes between the attributes so that each class has two requisite attributes, and two that are anti-aligned. I put Dwarf between STR and CON, a Druid race between CON and WIS, Wizards between WIS and INT, Elves between INT and DEX, a modified Halfling between CHA and DEX, and finally the Fighter between DEX and STR. My Halfling is much more the fey troublemaker, like a cross between an elf and a goblin. A rootless race that picks up the skills of the rootless. My Elf is similarly a warrior poet with strong magic-user capabilities, and slow to advance. My Druid race is also fey, but of the full horns and little-seen-by-man variety. From your post and the comments, I'm going to look at giving the Wizard some of the Cleric's magic.

    One of the things I like B/X is that it's so easy to rewrite.

    Great post, and an impressive history building here.