On the B/X-ification of Classes

As part of the work on the future B/X Essentials: Advanced Characters book (previously mentioned here), I've found myself reading a lot of AD&D material. With my general B/X obsession, AD&D isn't something I've looked at in great depth for quite some years, so it's been very interesting to observe the contrast between the two rules sets. On the surface, just reading through the class descriptions, the rules are, for the most part, the same, and the level of complexity doesn't seem so much greater. It was when I came to directly comparing the AD&D classes against the B/X classes, though, that the differences stood out rather sharply.

Principles
My aim with the Advanced Characters book is not merely to clone the AD&D material, but to present classes that slot cleanly into B/X. This has several aspects:

  1. Rules: Obviously, the classes must not use any rules that only exist in AD&D (good and evil alignment, for instance).
  2. Complexity: The classes must not be any more complex than the existing B/X classes, in terms of the number of class abilities or the mechanical complexity of those abilities.
  3. Power: Generally, AD&D amps things up from B/X. The majority of classes have higher HD. Some classes start play with multiple HD. I want my converted classes to be in line with B/X power levels.
  4. Rarity: In AD&D, some classes are clearly way more powerful than others. The paladin is a prime example: unlimited use of detect evil, and a continually active protection from evil, 10' radius are the most obvious super-powered class abilities (and both from 1st level!). In order to make classes like this less commonplace, AD&D introduces an additional mechanism: stringent ability score requirements. Only with super lucky rolls can a player select the paladin class, making them exceedingly rare. (This, in turn, was the genesis of the "alternative rolling methods" arms race. But that's another topic.) This concept of class power vs rarity doesn't exist in B/X to anywhere near the same level (the most stringent class requirements are the halfling's CON 9, DEX 9 -- hardly a harsh limitation), so my converted classes should not rely on it.
  5. Overlap: Each class should have a clear niche, and its own set of unique abilities. The core B/X classes (especially the core 4 human classes) each have a very clearly defined niche, and can do things that other classes cannot. Adding more classes to the mix, a degree of overlap is inevitably going to creep in, but my aim is to keep this to a minimum, and to make sure that each class retains a niche. There's a tendency in AD&D classes to be able to do everything another class can do, plus X, Y, Z. I want to avoid this.

Practice
With the above in mind, I started writing up some B/X-ified versions of AD&D classes. The question was, though, what exact yardstick to use to ensure that I was achieving the goals I'd set? Eyeballing and play testing are, of course, necessary, but to address the points of complexity and overlap, I quickly came upon a very different, rather unusual, and highly effective method.

One of the prime directives of B/X Essentials is that (as far as possible) all material relating to a topic should appear on the same page or spread. Thus, a very effective measure of the rules-complexity of a topic is simply: how much space does it take up when laid out?

In the basic Classes and Equipment book, the class descriptions have all been painstakingly edited and laid out to fit exactly onto a single page or spread each. For example, the most complex B/X classes (according to the "how much space?" definition of complexity):

The cleric class -- turn undead requires a lot of explanation

The thief class -- there's a lot of those % skills
So, if it's possible to fit the whole description of every B/X class onto a single 6" x 9" spread, including all required tables, it should also be possible to fit any new, additional classes within the same space constraints. It was when I started to attempt this that I truly realised how much complexity there is in some of the AD&D classes! Some of them required a huge amount of trimming. But this process of trimming to fit on a spread forced me to consider two things:

  1. Which abilities can be simplified? (i.e. so that explaining them takes less words and/or tables.)
  2. Which abilities are really the core of this class, and which can be removed?
Results
Thus, my aims of complexity and overlap were neatly addressed by this process of rough layout. As a result, I think the classes I'm coming up with are much closer to true B/X-ifications of AD&D material than other, previous attempts at this.

As an example, here's a laid out preview of my B/X-ified paladin class:


I'll be putting out an official call for play testers soon, but if anyone has any feedback on the paladin, please feel free to comment!

13 comments:

  1. Looks like a fitting solution, I would certainly appreciate not having to flip pages when checking classes.

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  2. That seems to work. It's particularly useful in terms of being able to give IT to PCs as a handout. I'd be interested to compare your rendering of the class to that in LL AEC.

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    1. Right, the class descriptions in the B/X Essentials books can certainly be printed out in a single page to give to players.

      Please compare! I've not done that yet. From memory, the paladin is one of the most similar classes in this book to the version in the AEC.

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  3. As much as I am not a fan of them, the high ability score requirements for the assassin, ranger, paladin, druid and illusionist are there as balancing agents for more powerful classes (yeah, I don't get why illusionists were included either). Dropping it to 9 for the paladin, which is lower than the human average, seems wrong to me.

    And are you going to include the bard and UA classes?

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    1. Yeah, as discussed in the post, I don't think making a class rare (via stringent ability score requirements) works as a balancing factor. I'd prefer classes to just be more balanced. That's what I'm aiming at.

      Why does doing away with these high requirements seem wrong to you? (Given that the classes will be more in line with the power of other B/X classes.)

      >And are you going to include the bard and UA classes?

      Yep. Everything except the monk, which I'm saving for a future, "Oriental Adventures" type supplement.

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    2. Obviously these are my suggestions.

      Paladins are the "knight in shining armor", the warriors that protect the innocent from the dark things in the world, the people that the common folk look up to. I can't see any of them with less than average Charisma. The minimum I would allow is 13. And they are warriors that wear the heaviest armor and wield the largest weapons. Strength 11.

      The druid speaks to, and makes alliances with, spirits and animals, both difficult to discern and understand for anyone else. They should have minimums of 9 in Wisdom and 13 in Charisma.

      Illusionists are all about using their hands as most of their spells have strong somatic components (odd for a caster that should be trying to hide their presence). minimum 13 for their Dexterity.

      Assassins need stealth more than thieves as their primary ability requires surprise, otherwise it doesn't work at all. They also need to hit hard to ensure a quick kill. Minimums of Strength 9 and 13 Dexterity.

      Rangers are warriors that requires stealth and quick wit more than bulging muscles (they should need the heavy armor only when riding to battle, not ambush fighting orcs in the woods). Minimums of 9 Dexterity and 13 Wisdom.

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    3. Well, I'm following the other B/X classes, none of which have any ability requirements higher than a 9. I mean, I could introduce higher requirements, as you suggest, but I don't see a strong reason for making these new classes any different.

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    4. Okay. Any old crusty people like me can always change the requirements for our campaigns, obviously.

      It will be interesting to see what you do with the three UA classes- they are messes aren't they?

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    5. Yeah, I want to be clear that these classes are strictly "inspired by" AD&D. They're not close clones of the AD&D classes.

      Haha, yes, the UA classes are a total mess. It's been fun writing up streamlined, B/X renditions of them!

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  4. The Paladin just seems straight up better then a Fighter. I don't think the higher XP requirement compensates the special abilities and saving throw advantage.

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    1. Yes, I'm planning on doing a second pass through the warrior classes with an eye to not overshadowing the fighter.

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    2. Have to totally agree with this. he just seems better.

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    3. Yep. I already have an updated version that's a bit less powerful.

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