Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Variant Classes in Blood & Treasure

Half-Orc Assassin (or Bounty Hunter?) by Jon Kaufman
My main goal in Blood & Treasure was to use as much of the treasure (i.e. creative ideas as opposed to rules rules rules) in the SRD as I could. Now, there are plenty of things in the SRD that, deprived of one rule or another wilt and die. Most of the prestige classes fit into that category, for example, and there were a few spells, feats, etc that just could not make the leap.

At this point, I've written 90% of the game, needing only to write down some ideas on creating dungeons and on running characters through the wilderness and city. Almost all of this material comes from the "core" SRD and the psionics material (a few classic powers turned into spells and some of the classic monsters). That leaves me with two more "books" - Unearthed Arcana and the Epic Level Handbook.

The Epic Level Handbook I'm mostly ignoring, though I am poaching a few monsters and cutting their Hit Dice and Armor Classes in half (or close to it). They'll work well with 20th level adventurers. Unearthed Arcana is primarily about alternate rules systems, and since B&T is intended to work with most classic forms of D&D and the retro clones, those systems are of no interest to me. That leaves some of the variant races, classes, etc.

The variant races are not terribly interesting to me, to be quite honest, and could probably be hand waived by a Referee. Since B&T is clocking in at around 270 pages, I really don't want to devote any of those precious pages to desert halflings or fire dwarves. (Crap, just writing fire dwarves makes me want to include fire dwarves ... must resist). The variant classes, on the other hand, gave me an idea. Why not, to show how easy it is to make a variant class, include one for each of the main classes.

In the case of magic-users, I already have the specialist mages. In the case of clerics, it gives me something to do with the cleric domains, using their granted powers as a way to make specialty priests. The fighter gives me a chance to do a quick and dirty conversion of the dwarven defender, recasting it as simply a defender. For the paladin, the blackguard (I'd go with anti-paladin, but I'm not 100% sure that wouldn't get me in trouble - at your table, call it whatever you like).

Here are a few of the other variant classes included in B&T:

Bounty Hunter (Assassin Variant)
Some Referees and groups of players may feel uncomfortable about having an assassin in their midst, especially if the party is to include a paladin or other lawful characters. Feel free to use the bounty hunter as a slightly less “evil” version of the assassin.

The bounty hunter replaces the assassin’s 5th level death attack with a “knockout punch” attack. The attack works in the same manner, but the result is unconsciousness for 1d6 turns instead of death.

The bounty hunter learns to cast spells from the ranger spell list instead of the assassin spell list.

Specialty Priests (Cleric Variants)
The clerics presented above are fairly basic agents of Law and Chaos, or, in the Medieval sense, of God and the Devil. One can expand the horizon of the cleric by using specialty priests of different deific domains.

Each domain corresponds to the portfolio of a god or goddess and gives the specialty priest a special power that can be used in place of the traditional cleric’s turn or rebuke undead ability. Specialty priests can be neutral as well as lawful or chaotic.

AIR: A deity of air might be a deity of the sky and heavens, such as Jupter, Zeus, Anu or Varuna, or a more minor deity of a particular wind. Air priests can turn or destroy earth elemental creatures.

ANIMALS: Priests of animal deities might be dedicated to a particular animal like Bast, goddess of cats, to animals in genral, or to deities of the hunt, like Artemis. Animal priests can speak with animals at will.

CIVILIZATION: Deities of civilizations might be lawgivers like Marduk of the Babylonians, founders of great civilizations, like Romulus of Rome, or simply the patron deity of a city or kingdom. They are almost always lawful deities. A civilization priest can use calm emotions once per day and gains a +2 bonus to all reaction checks.

DEATH: While death deities are usually considered chaotic, mainly because living creatures have a general disregard for dying, they need not be chaotic. Hades was one of the kings of creation, along with his brothers Zeus and Poseidon, and thus arguably a lawful deity. The demon lord Orcus is also associated with death, via his control of the undead. Death priests may use a touch of death once per day. They must make a successful melee attack against an opponent and roll 1d6 per cleric level. If the roll is higher than the target’s current hit points, they die with no saving throw.

EARTH: Earth deities run to the deities of mineral wealth, like the Roman Plutus, deities of stone and earth, like the Egyptian Geb, and deities of the land, like the Chinese Tu Di Gong. Earth priests can turn or destroy air elemental creatures.

EVIL: Deities of pure evil or primordial chaos are quite common in mythology and religion. For pure evil, there is, of course, Satan in all his guises in the Abrahamic religions, a primordial deity like Tiamat, or a fictional deity such as H.P. Lovecraft’s Azathoth. Evil priests can smite lawful creatures as a paladin smites chaotic creatures.

FIRE: Priests of fire include priests of hearth deities (who are usually lawful), priests of the element of fire (who may be neutral) or priests of hellfire (and thus chaotic). Fire priests can turn water elemental creatures instead of turning undead creatures.

GOOD: Deities of good are always lawful, and include such heroic deities as Mithra of the Zoroastrians (or Mithras, his Greco-Roman incarnation), archangels like Michael, or saints, such as Cuthbert or George. Priests of good can smite chaotic creatures in the same manner as a paladin.

KNOWLEDGE: Deities of knowledge are often also deities of magic, the Egyptian Thoth being a good example. One might consider some saints, like the Venerable Bede, as a deity of knowledge. Priests of knowledge have the same abilities as sages (see Henchmen below).

LOVE: Gods and goddesses of love may be gentle and kind, and thus lawful, or lustful and passionate, and thus chaotic or neutral. A priest of love is probably chosen as much for their charisma as for their wisdom. Love priests can, once per day, make a charisma skill check with a bonus equal to their cleric level.

MADNESS: Deities of madness are always going to be chaotic in nature. They might include the fictional Nyarlathotep created by H.P. Lovecraft or the Greek demigoddesses known as the Mania. A priest of madness gains a +2 bonus to save vs. mind control, and can cast confusion once per day.

MAGIC: Deities of magic include the lawful Thoth, the more neutral Hermes Trismegistus and the chaotic Hecate. Priests of magic can use scrolls and wands as though they were magic-users of the same level

PLANTS: A plant priest is not unlike a druid. Plant deities are sometimes wild, like Dionysus, the god of wine, but often they are associated with fertility and agriculture, like the Germanic Freyja or the Greek Demeter. Plant priests can rebuke or command plant creatures.

STRENGTH: Deities of strength are often deities of heroism. Heracles, the Greek demigod, is probably the most famous deity of strength, but there is also the Roman goddess of strength, Strenua, and the daughter of Thor, who was called Thrud. Once per day, a priest of strength can gain a bonus to a Strength skill check equal to their cleric level.

SUN: Though sun deities are usually lawful, peoples who inhabit extremely hot climates may cast them as chaotic. The Egyptians, for example, had lawful Ra, the god of the morning sun, and chaotic Set, the chaotic god of the noonday sun. Sun priests may only attempt to turn undead three times per day, but once per day, a sun priest can destroy undead with a successful turn undead check instead of just turning them.

TRAVEL: Deities of travel are often also deities of communication and merchants. Some examples include lawful Mercury of the Romans, and chaotic Eshu of the Yoruba of West Africa. For a total time of one round per level, priests of travel can operate under the effects of the freedom of movement spell.

TRICKERY: Trickster deities are rarely lawful, but they need not be chaotic. Some tricksters simply balance the playing field between man and god, or keep the gods from becoming too egotistical, such as Raven of the American Indians or, to some extent, Monkey of Chinese mythology. Others are true agents of chaos, such as the Norse Loki. Trickster priests add hide, move silently and legerdemain to their class skills.

WAR: War is one of the oldest human endeavors, and most pantheons contain one or more deities of war. War gods include the chaotic Ares and Tezcatlipoca and the more lawful Athena and Tyr. War priests can use edged and piercing weapons.

WATER: Water deities are usually divided between deities of the oceans and seas, lile Susanoo, Aegir, Mananan Mac Lir and Neptunus, and the lesser deities of fresh water. Water priests can turn or destroy elemental fire creatures.

WEATHER: Weather deities are fairly close to air deities in form and function, and one could argue that Jupiter and Zeus are more associated with lightning than with the sky for many people. Some thunder gods have managed to survive in popularity into modern times, such as Thor in comic books and Raiden in video games. Weather priests add survival as a class skill, and add lightning bolt to their list of third level spells.

Beastmaster (Variant Druid)
The druid intercedes between humans (or demi-humans or humanoids) and the natural world. The beastmaster is part of the natural world, dwelling apart from civilization and maybe having even been raised by animals. Beastmasters gain the AC and movement bonuses of the monk and the favored enemy ability of the ranger, but lose the ability to use armor and shields and the druid ability to change shape.

Blackguard (Variant Paladin)
The paladin is a champion for law, and while the assassin is something of a champion for chaos, they do not fit into the traditional role of the black knight. Note, “blackguard” is traditionally pronounced as “blaggard”.

The blackguard is, for all intents and purposes, the opposite of the paladin. Any ability of the paladins that works against chaotic creatures works against lawful creatures for the blackguard. Instead of healing with their laying on of hands ability, blackguards inflict damage. Where paladins cure disease, blackguards cause disease. Blackguards retain the paladin’s immunity to fear.

Blackguards must do all in their power to glory in the seven deadly sins: Avarice (take all, share nothing), Gluttony (take more than you need), Lust (take what you desire), Envy (nobody should get something I do not), Wrath (give into hate), Sloth (let somebody else do the work) and Vainglory (tell everybody just how wonderful you are). Failing to wallow in the seven deadly sins at every opportunity has the same effect on a blackguard that breaking his code has on a paladin.

Warlock (Variant Sorcerer)
Warlocks are, depending on one’s definition, the male form of witches or simply another term for a male spell caster. This version of the warlock merely draws inspiration from the first syllable of the name, turning the sorcerer into slightly improved combatant.

A warlock loses one daily spell per level and one spell known per level. In return, they roll 1d8 for hit points and may use up to leather armor and wield the following weapons: Battleaxe, club, dagger, flail, hand axe, heavy mace, heavy pick, kukri, light hammer, light mace, light pick, longsword, morningstar, rapier, sap, scimitar, short sword, sickle, spear, trident and warhammer.

If you treat these as classes, that would bring the class total in B&T to13 normal classes and 12 variant classes (no variant for the duelist yet), for a total of 25. This, along with multi-classing and the ability of humans to switch classes should give folks who are big on options plenty to work with, while the lower power levels should keep "min-maxing" to a minimum. If you're really itching to be a troll bounty hunter/warlock, though, and you have a Referee who is willing to allow it (and are willing to put up with a pretty severe level limit), you're good to go, and hopefully will not overshadow the human fighter standing next to you.


  1. Perhaps the duelist variant could be a magical swordsman, sort of wuxia style. 3E Oriental Adventures had the Bladedancer prestige class that was pretty fun. Enchanting their blade and gaining jumping/flying powers in place of some of the duelist stuff?

    1. I like that. I was also thinking of doing a B&T version of the soulknife - in fact, I was going to include it as a starting class, and recasting it as a wuxia warrior might be kinda cool. I'd definitely like the base book to support play in non-Western Civ-style campaigns.


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