Keeping The Basic Three…
OD&D only has three classes or “types” for player characters to play: fighter, magic user, and cleric. These three venerable choices expanded almost immediately as articles appeared in TSR’s own newsletter, The Strategic Review, outlining other classes: the now familiar, paladins, bards, rangers, thieves, illusionists, etc. Beyond that point, the list of classes grew and grew. Soon, it seemed like your rpg publication had to include new player classes. The sheer number of them became dizzying. I have, so far, resisted the urge to include these extra classes in my campaign preferring, instead, to let players confine themselves to the original three options.
That said, I see nothing wrong with adding these classes… as non-player characters (NPCs).
Think about it. You can use any one of these wacky classes you want to as a thrilling NPC. Dig up some forgotten class description from an Arduin supplement or recover one from an old issue of White Dwarf and feel free to let fly. But as cool as these classes may be, they can always remain just for NPCs. Your players can still confine themselves to the simplicity of the original three options. As a friend told me, there may be any number of ways to experience your world – but for the players, the three basic classes are what they have as options. Otherwise, the creation of player characters imposes its own rules and background stories on the DM – and the DM is sudenly tasked with having to come up with the justifications and explanations for allowing all the little details in the player’s “back story.” In this sense, the players start to create a world with the characters. The DM isn’t in charge any longer.
If we look at the ways in which D&D started to “evolve” (or devolve) away from the original, we can see that the profusion of players classes is a major element in this change. I suspect that it led away from world creation, on the part of the DM, and more to the creation of characters on the part of the players. OD&D is really a DM-cenric system. When creating characters assumes the degree of importance it has, the GM’s role as the game’s ruling demuiurge has to be diminished accordingly. Going back to OD&D is all about restoring the original model and re-empowering the DM. This means player creation, and player classes, need to be accordingly simplified.
There are two kinds of “outre” style classes I am interested in using in my current campaign. The first one is the “Mycretian” class (described in The City State of the World Emperor) and the second one is the “Witch” class (described in Witches Court Marshes). Both of these classes are covered in some length and both, it appears, have received scant attention since they first came on the scene. And they interest me for different reasons.
The “lawful good” “Mycretians” are non-violent cleric types. They seem to be about injecting a kind of Gandhian ethic into D&D. How well would that fare and how would it come off? How would such figures appear to other NPCs and even the players? I can anticipate them being either the source of frustration, or of admiration, or both. How well would these “turn the other cheek” people do when confronted by the typical dangers in the wilderness? Are they the types who need civilizations to endure for very long? It would be interesting to find out, as this class is not wholly unprepared for calamities.
One of the challenges, as I see it, is not so much how player characters get along with their foes, but how well they relate to potential allies within their own alignment. Not every “lawful” character they meet may be benevolent enablers, after all. I suspect struggles existing between varying forces within an alignment grouping. Each “lawful” character isn’t obligated to get along with every other “lawful” character. In some cases, this may come down to personality conflicts and local power struggles. In other cases, a natural fellow feeling for those of the same alignment might be mitigated by other obligations – to family, town, custom, profession, etc. By being dedicated to higher principles, a “Mycretian” might draw these kinds of conflicts out. In this sense, the represent the ways in which differences existing between those of the same alignment could become more problematic that the differences existing between people of different alignments. Which ties prove to be stronger and in what context? A lot could hinge on that.
The “witch” character class- for NPCs – interests me because it appears to have the potential to be a truly malevolent, and not-so-easy-to-grasp group of solely female magic users. What kind of shadowy, twisted community would these crones work out for themselves… and how would it fit into the larger campaign ecology? I have to admit that I find these questions intriguing. I suspect that the witches carry with them a sort of heavy archetypal aura with them. Who wouldn’t want to have them in their game?
We should not confuse the timeless simplicity of the OD&D model to indicate that other elements can’t be pulled in from elsewhere – even new player classes. But vigilance must be exercised to prevent making a fetish of complexity for its own sake. One of the reasons I appreciate very simple rules sets – like OD&D and S&W:WB – is because they allow for the injection of nearly any element into the game. But as long as you keep to the basics, the play itself never becomes bogged down.