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Thursday, December 15, 2011

AD&D vs. Bards, Vates & Druids

Or, do we need a special subclass for everything? I am knee deep in a redesign of my Garnia campaign world that I have worked on and played in since I was in 7th grade, I am 42 now so that's right around 30 years. Garnia had her greatest periods of development right when we started and later on in the late 1990's when I did the first serious overhaul. All of this got me to thinking about how AD&D works and whether or not I should be using it or some other form of D&D, house ruled for the campaign world of course, or just, as Darryl has suggested, create the world logically and system neutral, then let any system adapt to it; which makes a great deal of sense, but since I actually want to game there and playtest things as I go, I am inclined towards going with a Holmes-B/X bastard child moving towards AD&D, heavily house ruled to fit the unique culture and setting of the campaign.

But- I keep coming back to the same basic questions about classes and subclasses, wasn't the Fighter good enough? Did the Ranger and the Paladin really represent such different Fighter archetypes that they could not be modeled by playing a Fighter as a woodsman/anti-giant/protector of civilization, but living outside of it? I always get the impression that someone in EGG's gaming group pestered him until he let him play Aragorn junior and now we're stuck with it. The same thing with Holger Carlsen and the Paladin. He pretty much admitted that was how the Monk slipped into the game.

I guess where I am going with this is that by making subclasses, we're pretty much just making new character builds with different "feats" and "skills" than the standard Fighter build, in the case of Rangers or Paladins (or Barbarians if you want to go all UA). Sure they pay for this with slower level advancement and some roleplaying restrictions, but couldn't all of these subclasses have been played, albeit less mechanically effectively, through roleplay? In one of the early D&D books, I don't remember which one or where, it said something like "A Fighting Man might be a Knight, or a Viking or a Japanese Samurai"; I am probably mangling the quote, but I can't remember where to look for it right now; anyway, if that's the case, are any subclasses necessary at all?

Which brings me to the Bard. Overpowered and nigh impossible to achieve in ordinary play in 1st edition AD&D, poorly conceived and executed in later editions. Historical Bards are members of the Druidic class/hierarchy, as much as we can document them at all, they are the repositories of historical, legal and genealogical information for a preliterate society, as well as serving as entertainers. Bards spent something like twenty years learning all of the stuff they needed to know before they were ready to be real Bards (Druids too, but that's a different topic), they needed to memorize all of these laws and historical facts and genealogies and they did so by using poetry as an aid to memory. That actually makes a lot of sense, I can remember a lot of lyrics to songs from over twenty years ago as soon as I hear them start to play again, I might stumble here or there, but I get most of them, even with songs I didn't like at the time if I heard them enough; if it was a song I liked I can here the Muzak version of it and start to sing along. My wife says that my life is like one big Karaoke night.

Getting back to entertainment now, they had a different set of standards for entertainment than we do now, particularly for what was going to be the entertainment of the upper class, which in Celtic society, where Bards come from, is a warrior elite; so the history and genealogy are going to be important to crafting the entertainment for these people. They liked stories and songs about their own heroic deeds and the heroic deeds of their ancestors. They also liked fantastic tales about supernatural things and tragic tales and romances, but a good heroic tale is always a crowd pleaser and you can always tell one that includes elements of those other things, heroic tragedy is popular for instance, because how many heroes really live happy lives after completing their heroic tasks, raise a family and die happy in their sleep? Furthermore, and going back to the telling of tales about your patron and his ancestors, I firmly believe poetic license was invented to put a political spin on events back in the day; Bards are sworn to tell the truth, but they can try to tell the truth in the best possible light for their patron.

Now, bringing me back to my topic, is a separate subclass really necessary for the Bard? Or could he be played as a Cleric in this case, since he has his ties to, and training from organized religion. Should he just be a Druid? I have never been 100% happy with the AD&D presentation of Druids as nature priests to be honest, and I have given serious consideration to making the Druid class as written an Elven only Cleric substitute, and probably renaming it something like "Elven Nature Priest", although I'd probably change the weapon restrictions, if I end up keeping them in my future games at all. AD&D, as EGG was writing it, seemed to be subclassing itself into madness*; sub-racing too, but that's another topic for another day too, counting the AD&D 1st edition books published by TSR while EGG still worked there, you have six core classes- Fighter, Cavalier, Magic-User, Cleric, Thief and Monk. The Fighter has five subclasses, the Ranger, the Barbarian, the Oriental Barbarian (yes, they are slightly different), the Kensai and the Bushi. The Cavalier has two subclasses, the Paladin and the Samurai. The Magic-User has two subclasses, the Illusionist and the Wu Jen. The Cleric has three subclasses, the Druid, the Shukenja and the Sohei. The Thief has four subclasses, the Assassin, the Thief-Acrobat, the Ninja and the Yakuza. The Monk has not so much a subclass as an alternate version presented in the Oriental Adventures book, but I guess you could consider it to be a second Monk, so Monk and Monk II. Then you have the solitary optional class, the Bard. OD&D had three (3) classes, Fighting Man, Cleric and Magic-User, and no subclasses, until supplements started arriving. Gygax era AD&D has twenty-four (24) to choose from, and he was promising more. Even if you discount the OA classes, and I don't, simply because they are the basis for my entire argument that you SHOULD tailor classes (and races) to fit your campaign, not try and shoehorn in all of the D&D/AD&D spectrum, but even if you ditch those OA classes there are still fourteen classes to choose from, and again, EGG was promising more.

And yes, I never understood either why Cavalier wasn't a subclass of Fighter, it was when it was initially presented in Dragon Magazine #72; and why, if the Samurai is a subclass of the Cavalier, doesn't it get the Cavalier's crazy stat raising ability? Am I alone in believing that the Unearthed Arcana Cavalier was possibly the most ill conceived, or at least, poorly executed 1st edition AD&D character class of them all? Remember, UA also had the Barbarian, so take your time to think it over.

I guess the issue here is that power levels in AD&D kept increasing over time, like stat inflation from OD&D to AD&D, so maybe I am a little gun shy here. I played through all these editions. With 1st edition, when UA came out suddenly there were Barbarians and Cavaliers everywhere, until they got banned and UA became the Apocrypha of 1st edition AD&D; at least around here. There was always an uneasy truce about what bits of UA we were willing to allow to be cherry-picked out and allowed into games, mostly the DM's section was considered kosher, but the rest was at his discretion, and he could alter it at will. 2nd edition had the Complete series of splatbooks, with the Kit and Non-Weapon Proficiency proliferation. 3e had splatbooks for every class and race too, giving us Skill and Feat proliferation and character build maximization***.

So, my thought here is that I go one of two routes with my Garnia reboot, I either kill all subclasses and just have people play their characters how they want them to be, with no mechanics attached, really old school; or I go Gygaxian and essentially recreate all of the classes from their core outward, including numerous subclasses to enhance the flavor of the campaign. Since Garnia is a pretty non-standard AD&D game world for a standard AD&D game world, that might just be the route to go. However, if I do that, then I need to have a Bard class that doesn't suck, and it needs to be more than a roguish minstrel type with some minor magical skills based in song. My Bard needs to be a guy that has a long education with a religious order and a fairly privileged place in society. Sure he knows how to create poetry and song at a moments notice, and will have some lore skills, and he'll know the law, heraldry, courtly manners and forms of address and all that too. He may be kind of a jack-of-all-trades, but I don't see him as having Thief skills, and any magic he has will probably be of the Enchantment/Charm variety. Maybe I'd give them some Divination, because that's all about knowing stuff. I can see an argument for Illusion spells, because they are all about making people believe things. Druid spells may be appropriate too, just because historical Druids did study nature somewhat, according to the surviving sources we have, particularly if you include all the batshit crazy invented/discovered stuff about the Druids** that has been surfacing since the 17th century or so. So I guess I'd most likely make them a unique spell list taken from the AD&D spell lists of Clerics and Druids, Magic-Users and Illusionists. In system neutral terms that would make them minor spell casters, generally.

I mentioned Vates in the title of the post too, the third, and least well known and documented class of Druid, they were seers. In the 2nd edition AD&D Celts Campaign Sourcebook (HR3 Celts), they were called Manteis and were their own class of Priest, my wife played one in a short, but fairly important campaign in the late 1990s, it was perhaps seminal to the development of Garnia and what it would become, so 2nd edition AD&D influences the development of my (at this point nominally) 1st edition AD&D campaign, is this a paradox? Anyway, there was something off about this character class, that I really didn't like, but I don't remember what it was now, since it was something like 1999 when we played this game. I am tempted to keep them as they were written and make them NPCs.

So, in closing, I don't know if I have worked anything out; I may have asked more questions than I answered for myself and for anyone reading this. Sorry about that. I am like that sometimes.

Also, keen observers will note that I am now using my Google+ profile, so I am no longer the super cool Great Khan Jagatai, except in my heart, as the Mighty Google has decreed that I must use my real name with my Google+ account, and I wanted to feed my blog to there too, so to connect the accounts my nifty net moniker had to go.

Oh, and I got this mixed bag of stuff in the mail the other day.

I had been looking to get the D20 Star Wars Revised Core Rules, so now I have all three WotC versions for comparison. The Galactic Campaign Guide & Hero's Guide were just a bonus, as was the Star Trek Encyclopedia. I got them for the minimum bid, and they had free shipping, it was a good deal, but I was almost annoyed that they were only shipping from Syracuse, NY; I could have driven there and picked them up the day I won the auction, but that would have cost me gas money and the shipping was free, so there you go.

*Although, to my disappointment, we never got the Witch we were promised in Holmes Basic.

**To be fair, this may have been where EGG got much of his information about the Druids, they are certainly more interesting this way, and there is an abundance of information available once you go to the, shall we say, less reliable sources about the Druids; and I certainly can't fault him for using it in a fantasy game. That being said, my Garnia, despite being a fantasy world, has a firm grounding in the real culture(s) of the Celts.

***3e was the first time I ever played D&D and watched my players planning out what Classes, Feats and Skills they were planning on taking for their next few levels, a part of my DMing soul died then; another part died when I realized I was playing a tactical miniatures skirmish game instead of an RPG, but it was a tactical miniatures skirmish game with explicit rules on how difficult I was allowed to make the combat encounters for the players- I was playing a skirmish game with miniatures that the rules insisted that , no matter how much I outnumber my opponents, or how well I play, I am expected to lose; and lose while inflicting minimal losses on my opponents. On top of all of that, as DM, I also needed to remember multiple modifiers for every combat, modifiers for my miniatures and modifiers for the PCs, that drove me a little crazy too. Honestly, I have no idea how they can market 3rd or 4th edition as a beginners game, I know for 3e, that for every rule they simplified it seemed like they added three to make it more complex. Look at it this way, I play 1st edition now (kind of), and my party in about 5-6 hours of "game time" will usually get a fair amount of actual roleplaying in, some investigation or exploration and two or three small combats and one or two big combats; less if there is a lot of BSing around the table or too many breaks, but in a 5-6 hour session that's not too bad. Hell, it usually takes us an hour to settle in to start to play. In 3e we'd be lucky to get one big combat in during that time and maybe one smaller combat, with a little bit of investigation/exploration. I don't know, but I have heard that it is worse in 4th edition.