Milton's poem describes the poet waking from gloom to throw himself into the busy tumult of life, traveling from the farm, through the beautiful countryside, to the city, and a life given over to pleasure and romance, with poetry being the highest pleasure of all.
It doesn't start in the lovely city. The poem begins in a place of nightmare:
Hence loathed Melancholy,
It's quirky that Milton's description of his nightmares resembles a dungeon adventure, with Cerberus the hell-hound, Stygian caves and Cimmerian deserts. The whole poem (whose title, L'Allegro, means 'The Happy Man') reads like the experience of dungeon adventurers, returning from their harrowing escapade through the peaceful realms, past farms, through woods, at last to a great city, where they will spend their loot and, y'know, level up.
Ah. Downtime. Every Referee has his or her own system for it. Go to drivethrurpg and there's an embarrassment of house rules on offer. No one needs to add to this tottering pile.
So obviously I'm going to tell you about mine!
But I'll make up for it by explaining my thinking as I go and maybe raise a few issues about why we need systems like this in Fantasy RPGs - and why we don't.
What's Downtime for?
In a nutshell, roleplaying.
Look, in some idealised gaming world, there would be no 'downtime': the roleplaying experience would move seamlessly from the quest or dungeon to the home town, to the Green Dragon Inn in Portown, to negotiations with merchants and feudal lords, reunions with family and friends, flirtations with lovers, marriages, funerals, the highs and lows of a life well-lived. Fighting monsters and unearthing treasure would be one of the things fantasy adventurers do - but they would also ask Rosie the barmaid to marry them. And really, which would be the greater achievement?
But it's not always so easy. Some Referees are uncomfortable narrating domestic joys and tribulations, some players find it boring; at the end of an adventure many gamers (players and Referees) are tired and want to relax with treasure distribution and XP calculation, not launch into arduous personal roleplaying. The sheer open-endedness of downtime can be daunting: at least with a dungeon the Referee can plan things out in advance.
Before Lockdown moved us online and into more conventional dungeon-bashing, I was running a One Ring campaign set in Bree. The characters were humble Hobbits, a Dwarf tinker and a troubled Woodsman and much of the roleplaying revolved around running their businesses, pursuing their love lives and exploring their families and neighbours. In other words, activities that would usually be assigned to Downtime dominated the roleplaying. The players found this refreshing and addictive but, for a Referee, it was fatiguing. Moderating a dungeon-crawl is, by comparison, a relaxing activity.
Ignoring Downtime is unsatisfactory too. The PCs end up lacking a context and a world outside of adventuring. They accumulate huge amounts of loot but have little to spend it on.
My Downtime system is based on a couple of core concepts:
One last note. I'm using White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game alongside Simon Piecha's Expanded Lore supplement with his rules for Feats. White Box condenses the whole D&D level system into 10 levels (well... 12 for Magic-Users) and the dice rolls here are based on that rather condensed approach.
Staying at the Inn
Staying at 'the Inn' between adventures is a sort of default option for players who really don't want to engage with Downtime or who need to save money. Time passes, you heal your Hit Points, it doesn't cost much, then back down the dungeon we go.
Adventurers heal 1 HP for every day of rest; luxury guests can add their Constitution Bonus to this. Merchants at the Inn will buy gems and jewellery but will only offer 50% of its value. No one will buy or sell magic items.
Going to the Big City
Accommodation in the City charges double the rates of an Inn.
During each week in the Big City, players engage in City Activities.A character may undertake 4 activities per week modified by their Charisma (from -3 to +3) but each activity may only be chosen once.
These activities usually have a cost based on a d8 die roll and a multiplier. For some activities, the cost is multiplied by the character's current level. Many activities generate Favours or Insights, which are explained later. All die rolls are capped by the player character's level: if you get a result higher than your level, the result is treated as being equivalent to your level.
When a character reaches 9th level, builds a stronghold of some sort and attracts followers, they roll 1d12 instead of the d8.
Bawdiness & Harlotry*: Enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. Have a Random Encounter (roll at +1 or +2 for expensive bawdiness). Cost: 1d8 x 50gp or x 100gp for the expensive sort.
Black Market*: Buy illegal goods/hirelings or standard goods/hirelings at 75% cost (contraband, slaves).
Carouse*: Drink, eat, dance then do it all over again. Have Random Encounters (one for ordinary carousing, two for the expensive sort). Cost: 1d8 x 10gp or x 100gp for expensive carousing.
Craft*: Manufacture potions, scrolls and other magic items at higher levels. War Smiths create arms and armour with this activity (which represents spending up to 5 Craft points).
Debt Management: If you overspend, this MUST be your next City Activity. Visit your debtors. Spend a Favour. Add 50% to your debt. You can do this once, plus one extra time for each bonus point of Charisma. Debtors will send collectors (i.e. assassins) after a month. If you leave the city without meeting your debtors this way, the debts are doubled and the collectors/assassins are dispatched after a week.
Devotion*: Carry out the rites, sacrifices and services of your religion. Gain 1d6 Insight. Optional: roll a Random Encounter. Cost: 1d8 x 100gp per level.
Fence*: Sell stolen gems/jewellery or illegal valuables to criminal deals. You will get 50% of the value.
Gambling*: Dice, cards, pit fights and races. Spend the cost then pass a Saving Throw to recover it and another Saving Throw to double it. Thieves and Street Mages add +2. Have a Random Encounter at -1. Cost: 1d8 x 10gp or x 100gp.
Good Works: Devote yourself to a project you believe in. Gain 1d8-1 Favour and 1d8-1 Insight (0 means nothing is gained). Cost: 1d8 x 100gp per level.
Lotus Eating*: Take mind-bending drugs and lie in a stupor.Gain 1d8-1 Insight (0 means nothing is gained) or 1d8 Insight for Luxury Lotus. Gain 1 Trauma. Have a Random Encounter at -2 or a normal Random Encounter for luxury Lotus). No further activities this week. Cost: 1d8 x 25gp or x 150gp for luxury Lotus.
Magickal Market*: Spend a Favour to inquire to buy a magic item or sell one. If buying, roll a magic item randomly (White Box p117) to see what is for sale. The cost is in Favour/Insight. Potions and Protection Scrolls cost 10 Favour/Insight, 25 for Lesser Items/Lesser Rings and 50 for Medium Items, Lesser Wands/Staves and non-unusual Arms/Armour. More powerful treasures are not for sale: if you roll these, treat "nothing for sale this week." If selling, the PC earns half the sale amount (5, 12 or 25) but can choose whether to be paid in Favour, Insight or a combination. Optional: roll a Random Encounter.
Market: Buy standard equipment and recruit Hirelings at normal prices. Optional: roll a Random Encounter.
Physicks and Leeches: Hire a skilled doctor to treat you. Add +1 to the number of HP you heal each day and heal 1 Injury (in addition to any normal healing). Cost: 1d8 x 100 gp
Politicking*: Meet with the movers and shakers and influence their plans. Gain 1d8 Favour. Optional: roll a Random Encounter. Cost: 1d8 x 100gp per level.
Quest*: There are downtime quests, like following a treasure map. Cost: 1d8 x 10gp for supplies, porters, horses.
Spiritual Comfort: Hire a cleric or mystic to help you pray or meditate on your problems. This counts as Spiritual Comfort, removing 1 Trauma for a week of rest (no * activities) and removing 1 point of Derangement after 4 weeks of rest. Cost: 1d8 x 25gp (or 1d6 x 100gp for a month).
Study*: Visit a library, laboratory or Sage to find answers to questions. Cost: 1d8 x 100gp.
Trade: Sell your gems and jewellery to respectable dealers. You will get 75% of the value or 100% if you spend 1 Favour.
Training*: One week of training per level you currently possess is required before you can advance a level in your class. You must spend 1 Insight or Favour to use this activity. Spending extra Insight or Favour halves the cost (multiple Insight/Favour may be spent in this way). Cost: 1d8 x 100gp per level
Work*: Spend a week earning money from your profession. Thieves may roll twice and choose the higher amount. Assassins roll Assassinate ability and claim fee if successful. Gain XP equal to 50% of your earnings. Optional: roll a Random Encounter. Gain: 1d8 x 10gp per level
Horatio is a 3rd level Magic-User with a +1 Charisma Bonus so he gets 5 City Activities a week. He spends his 10gp accommodation undertakes these activities:
At the end of a week, Horatio has completed a third of his training, gained a Trauma and spent 1,135gp. He also earned 90gp and realised 1,000gp cash from some dungeon loot. He has to roll on the Encounter Table from his lotus binge.
Random Encounters must occur while Carousing, Gambling, Lotus-Eating or carrying on with Bawdiness & Harlotry and are optional with several other activities. They are rolled on 2d6. Charisma Bonuses apply, but there is a penalty of -1 if you have debts and -1 per Favour you owe to NPCs.
Favour can be lost and turn into negative favour (Favours you owe rather than favours owed to you) but you cannot reduce Insight below 0.
Horatio has a +1 Charisma Bonus and rolls 7, minus 2 (for cheap lotus) and plus 1 (Charisma), resulting in 6: someone robbed him while he was at that drug den. He rolls a d8 and the result of 8 is reduced to 3 (because he's third level) so Horatio has lost 90gp. That was his weekly earnings! Horatio begins a roleplayed encounter as he blearily pursues the thief through the night time streets.
Favours & Insights
Favours/Insights are a sort of currency for Downtime, representing leverage with NPCs or institutions or else your own growing understanding of plots, factions and power in your community. Ideally, I like to turn each favour or insight into a roleplayed moment: an incident, a new NPC, a flashback or cut-scene.
Insight can be traded for a (true, relevant) rumour about a dungeon. Insights can be spent to engage in Training or halve its cost.
Favour can be used to get the full gold value of a Trade or 75% for a Fence/sale of a magical treasure. A Favour enables you to manage your Debts or engage in Training. A Favour can also be spent to halve the cost of a week’s training.
Horatio has 3 Insight and 2 Favours. As a third level Magic-User, his To Hit Bonus is +0 so a temporary Feat costs him a basic 1 Insight. He purchases Iron Will for +2 to all his saving throws during the next adventure. He wants someone to cast continual light on his dagger so he doesn't have to worry about his torch going out. This is a 2nd level spell so spending 2 Favours will turn up a friendly mage willing to cast the spell. Horatio trades his other Insight in for rumours about the dungeon.
Homebrew rules are funny. You create them to be as simple and unfussy as possible, but anyone else looking at them sees only a dog's breakfast of otiose tables, dice-rolls and redundancy. Then they offer their suggestions which strike you as insanely baroque and over-complicated. Ah well...
I wanted this system to be ABSTRACT. I didn't want it to dictate to me that Dian the Cleric has been mugged in an alleyway by 3 fifth level Thieves or that Konall the War Smith has offended the Dowager Princess' favourite eunuch. Those are campaign specifics that I can come up with myself once I know that someone has lost money or made an enemy. I get that some people want a system to tell them much more detailed events but that's just not a requirement for me.
I also wanted the system to be EXPENSIVE and it's been through several drafts to get the economics right. Players emerge from dungeons with huge amounts of loot. I want to take it off them, partly so that they value finding the next haul and partly to provide an economic incentive for adventuring. Arranging the money and the Favour/Insight to go up levels is becoming an abiding concern for players and I think that's as it should be. My early drafts were too punitive, though - I think this one is about right.
I want the system to LEVEL UP because D&D is all about levels. First level characters potter about, gambling with small stakes, making modest donations, politicking with low-tier bureacrats, carousing in inexpensive taverns. Higher level characters incur much bigger costs for greater benefits. A first level character might spend 100gp at the temple and earn a single Insight but a fifth level character could part with 2,500gp for 5 Insight. That's why fifth level characters are down on the lower dungeon levels, doing dangerous stuff for big rewards.
Favour and Insight quantify the ebb and flow of a character's influence and awareness about what's happening in their world. Using them as the currency for magic items and spells spares me quantifying the cash value of a +1 sword or getting remove curse cast to remove that lycanthropy. The option to buy 'temporary Feats' lets PCs power-up ahead of important or dangerous missions. They also generate roleplayed encounters, in-character flashbacks and NPC allies, patrons and contacts.
We're playing a campaign using White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game, which makes a virtue out of simplicity. We like to impose a critical hit (maximum damage!) on a 20, so there needs to be a critical failure on a 1. Currently we go with the old drop-your-weapon standby.
There's nothing wrong with drop-your-weapon (DYW). It's simple. You can spend a round picking it up again (foregoing your attack) or someone else can pick it up for you (foregoing their action) or you can just draw another weapon and bash on with that.
I note with a sinking heart that White Box uses the ghastly one minute melee round (p31) that Gary Gygax introduced for AD&D. Why?!?!? I wrote about this back when I was reviewing Forge: Out of Chaos. In a one minute melee round you have plenty of opportunity to pick up a dropped weapon yourself. Needless to say, my White Box melee rounds are a brisk 10 seconds.
The problem with DYW is that it gets a bit boring. Players never get tired of dealing maximum damage but they do get fed up of dropping their weapons, especially the Dark Elf War Smith whose warhammer seems to be made out of banana skins. DYW also gets comedic, which is fine on some occasions but not the vibe you want in more dramatic showdowns.
I need to resist the urge to create a complicated Critical Fail table, partly because this is White Box here and partly because whatever I create for PC fumbles will have to apply to monsters too and, as a Referee, I don't want extra book-keeping.
Option 1: Fumbles Are Stressful
I already use the Trauma & Insanity system, adapted from Goblinpunch. I find it pretty easy to track and it doesn't alter the structure of the game too much, but it helps spotlight scary moments and indicates to players when danger is looming. So far only two characters (both belonging to the same player!) have contracted any permanent derangements, but a few people have had awkward breakdowns.
A simple mechanic is: if you roll a natural 1 in combat, gain a Trauma point.
Of course, you then have to make a Breakdown Test by rolling over your current Trauma on a d20 (Wisdom modifiers apply) and if you fail that you freak out in the manner of your choosing for 1d6 rounds or else 'suck it up' and waive the penalty at the cost of taking on a derangement. This means combat fumbles don't always produce a bad side-effect, but they contribute to your overall stress and, when they do explode in your face, you could be quite severely discomfitted.
The beauty of this is elegance: it relates to a mechanic I already use and my players understand and it's a mechanic which periodically causes PCs to freeze or flee or freak out. Of course, it doesn't apply to monsters - instead, a Natural-1 could cause them to make a Morale Check. There are some monsters (Berserkers, Undead) who simply don't fail Morale Checks, so a Natural-1 is just an ordinary fail for them. Is that a problem?
Option 2: Fumbles Are Feints
Another view is that a fumble in combat represents, not your clumsiness, but your opponent's craftiness. They feinted or somehow drew you into a reckless attack that exposed yourself.
A simple mechanic is: the enemy you are attacking gets a free attack.
In other versions of D&D, this could be quite punishing, but remember two things:
The beauty of this is that it speeds fights up by adding in extra attacks now and again. Given the damage output that PCs have, it probably plays in favour of PCs. It rewards high-HP, high-AC characters who can endure multiple attacks. Most importantly, it's REALLY SIMPLE. You roll a 1 and your opponent hits you: simples.
Option 3: A Critical Miss Table
It's a classic solution:
This was my first solution, but on reflection it's the least attractive. It's another damn table to roll on. The results won't always make sense in the narrative. It can be unintentionally comedic at the wrong times. But it does introduce uncertainty and drama to combat.
One option is to decide which to use on a case-by-case basis, announcing it at the start of any given fight. Being swarmed by Giant Rats or an army of rotting Skeletons is stressful, so Option 1 fits best: your fumbles means the rats are in your hair, the skeletons' bony fingers are at your throat. A duel or matched melee against humanoid opponents fits Option 2 better: you are both trying to break through each other's guard. A party attack on a big enemy fits Option 3 better: if you are all fighting a Dragon or a Giant, it keeps swatting you away and deafening you with its roars.
It's time to go way back. I'm talking White Dwarf 4 (1977/8) and Brian Asbury's Barbarian character class. This is the Barbarian from the twilit time before the Players Handbook (1978) introduced AD&D. This is the Barbarian before Unearthed Arcane (1985) made his Hit Dice 12-sided (just... no, I don't want to talk about that). This is the original Barbarian.
Most people know the revised version from Best of White Dwarf Articles I (left) but click the cover to peek at White Dwarf 4
Brian Asbury's lively imagination later introduced the Houri, but back in 1977 he was ploughing a fresh furrow with a character class like this. There were few templates except for the outlines of Rangers and Illusionists in Strategic Review and player-made classes in fanzines. There was no standardised layout, little consensus about power creep or overlap. Lots of fan-made classes were pretty crass. You just piled on all the cool powers you could think of and presented it to your Dungeon Master on badly-typed foolscap.
Asbury is guilty of some of this with his Barbarian class. Nevertheless, he anticipates the way official character classes would develop and sets a pattern White Dwarf contributors would follow. This class was very popular: people were still using Asbury's Barbarian for AD&D right up to 1985 when it was officially eclipsed by the 'official' AD&D Barbarian ... and for some time afterwards, since the 'official' Barbarian sucked so badly.
1985 was the year of the Unearthed Arcana supplement for AD&D and New Coke. They had much in common. The UA Barbarian was a lumbering powerhouse that wouldn't associate with magic or Magic-Users, creating much party division and many dead Magic-Users
It's worth pausing and wondering what a 'Barbarian' is supposed to be in a fantasy RPG. Assassins were often criticised for their redundancy: anyone can be an assassin, after all; it's a role rather than a character class. If you're a Fighter or a Thief but someone offers you a sack of gold to go murder Curtis the Cleric then all of a sudden you're an assassin - but you don't need to change class. Something similar is true of barbarians. If your character is from a tribal, pre-literate culture with little taste for living in cities, then you're a barbarian. You're a barbarian Fighter or a barbarian Cleric. It's flavour, not a class in itself. The same could be said of characters who are nobles or gypsies or mercenaries or gladiators.
And yet, barbarians have a special status in the sort of fantasy literature that D&D descends from. 'Barbarian' means Conan, Rod Sonja, Fafhrd, Ka-Zar, Tarzan, Asterix and Obelix, anyone from Rohan, Boadicea, mythic meatheads like Beowulf and Cuchulain and just about everyone who appears in a Norse Saga.
In other words, it's a literary device. It's a bit like Consulting Detectives: they don't really exist and they're really just a job title but if your RPG involves tracking down the Ripper in the fog-ridden streets of Whitechapel some player will want to be one.
Robert E Howard's Conan is, of course, the paradigm. He's a footloose bruiser with some talents for sneaking and scaling towers, handy with a sword, sharp of wit if slow of intellect, triumphing over enemies who are smarter and stronger and better-equipped by virtue of his ferocity and a certain happy instinct for mayhem.
The core trait, then, is that what others accomplish through training or study or craft, the literary barbarian achieves by instinct - which in this case means a sort of unreflective energy that is smothered in civilised people. She's not really a sub-class of Fighter so much as an anti-Monk!
Brian Asbury's Barbarian is a Constitution-based class of its own:
Prime requisite is constitution, because one of the barbarian's greatest assets is his sheer hardiness and capacity for survival.
From this, the Barbarian gets to save as a Cleric 4 levels higher than her actual level, which is a rather clumsy formulation. They are also "twice as resistant to disease" as other classes. They are also always treated as one Armour Class better than their normal AC. When you factor in the requirement that they have a minimum of 13 or 14 in Strength, Dexterity and Wisdom (Wisdom?!?) then you are already looking at a rather over-powered class and we haven't reached the good stuff yet.
Barbarians have the same tracking abilities as Rangers. I really dislike this sort of overlap. If you want to play a barbaric wilderness tracker, play a Ranger and give him a barbaric name like 'Wulf' or 'Gnar'.
Barbarians are also fearless and have a 50% chance of going berserk (+2 To Hit) rather than fleeing if affected by fear effects. They have a chance of sensing danger based on a d6 roll that scales almost exactly like Charlie Mason's d6 abilities for Thieves in White Box. I wonder if Asbury influenced Mason in this?
The fearlessness seems a bit heavy-handed. By all means give Barbarians a bonus to save vs fear, but the berserking benefit overloads it. Szymon Piecha offers a Berserker sub-class for Fighters in White Box: Expanded Lore so, once again, if you want to be that guy, just play a Fighter with barbaric flavour.
Sensing danger, though, is a nice ability and something no other class possesses. Brian Asbury suggests it is "on" constantly. This puts an obligation on the Referee to be checking whenever danger approaches and warning the player if the dice come up right. I don't like putting tasks like this onto Referees and I feel abilities should involve player choice. Danger Sense needs to be something the player asks for, rather than an ongoing 'spidey-sense' that requires no player agency.
Barbarians also get Sign Language, allowing them to get over language barriers with monsters. Once again, this is a nice idea, but it's too powerful as it stands, since it renders spells like tongues or high-Intelligence characters with lots of languages completely redundant.
Next are a bunch of stealth skills: hearing noise, climbing and (in the revised version) hiding in shadows. The revised version justifies these by claiming Barbarians should be able to "emulate the feats of the greatest barbarian of them all" (i.e. Conan). I'm not at all convinced of this; just because Conan did a feat once, with a grappling hook and a rope (climbing Yara's Tower in The Tower of the Elephant), it doesn't follow Barbarians in D&D should be able to do this all the time. Just as Sign Languages walks on the lawns of Magic-Users and Bards, these stealth skills just crowd out Thieves.
Click the image to read The Tower of the Elephant (1933)
Then we get the combat skills. Barbarians have a chance of catching missiles out of the air. I have no idea where this comes from. It imitates a Monk ability and, frankly, Monks should be left alone.
First-attack Ferocity is much more interesting. Barbarians enjoy +1 To Hit as a matter of course (naturally) but the Barbarian gets a special bonus if he wins initiative on his very first attack against an opponent:
This is their chance of whipping themselves up into such a frenzy that their first attack only will be carried out at a +2 hit bonus, and do double damage if the barbarian is 1st to 4th level, triple damage for 5-8th levels, and quadruple damage for 9th level and above.
POW! I love the energy in the illustration by (I think) Albie Fiore
I like this power, but once again, there's too little agency. Thieves get an attack with +2 To Hit and double damage, but they have to earn their Back Stab by hiding or positioning themselves. Barbarians get the same bonus automatically and every fight by just rolling well on initiative (or the monsters rolling badly).
Are there any down-sides to being a Barbarian? There's a bit of confusion over Barbarians being illiterate if their Wisdom is 13 or less, since a Wisdom of 14+ is a prerequisite for the class.
The main penalty is armour. These are your loincloth-only Barbarians, with skimpy armoured bikinis available for the ladies. Levels 1-5 limits you to a shield only; leather armour at level 6 and chainmail at level 11. This is a big limitation, but it's a shame Brian Asbury lacks the courage of his convictions and allows higher level Barbarians to cower behind their armour. Barbarians already get tougher as they go up in levels, with more ferocious first-attacks and better chances of sensing danger, catching missiles and thieving: their signature restriction is being gradually dismantled too!
The other problem with the lack of armour is conceptual. It's great for imitating Tarzan, Kazar and comic-book Conan/Red Sonja, but it doesn't reflect Vikings or Beowulf. Is the Barbarian meant to be a half-naked berserker or not?
In a nutshell...
The Asbury-Barbarian is an overpowered confection that poaches important aptitudes from other classes and confers benefits without asking the player to make meaningful choices about employing them: the Referee rolls for danger-sense and First-attack Ferocity is resolved by winning initiative. The armour limitations that might balance this are half-hearted and only restricts lower-level characters.
Great fun though!
The Barbarian for White Box
White Box doesn't do Attribute minimums. If you want to be a fat, clumsy Barbarian with hay fever, go for it. It also avoids gradated powers, except for signature skills like Thievery. Powers don't 'kick in' at arbitrary levels, but White Box: Expanded Lore introduces Feats as a way of customising your character at higher levels. There are only 10 levels, so the whole Barbarian life-journey has to be compressed into this.
Barbarians must be Humans or (at the Referee's discretion) Half-Orcs. Some campaign settings might include Savage Elves, Neanderhalflings or Cave Dwarves who would qualify as Barbarians. The Prime Attribute is Constitution and a Barbarian character gains +05% to earned XP if this is 15+. Barbarians may be any alignment.
Armour & Weapon Restrictions
Barbarians cannot wear armour. They can carry shields. They can use any weapons. They can make use of all magic items usable by Fighters but also Cloaks of Protection.
Barbarians progress slightly slower than Fighters but with superior To Hit Bonuses at lower levels. At some levels they get +3HP rather than a new Hit Dice. This is a mixed blessing, since +3 avoids the danger of rolling lower but you don't add your Constitution Bonus since it isn't a new Hit Die.
The player may ask the Referee if their instincts warn of danger and the Referee secretly rolls a d6 and compares it to the Instincts score; if successful, the Referee warns the player of danger (but not its nature) and direction or source. This could detect approaching monsters or traps.
The Instincts score is added to the Barbarian's Armour Class. It is also added to some saving throws (see below).
A successful Instincts test enables a Barbarian to communicate simple intentions, directions or requests to an animal or non-magical creature of animal-like intelligence. It does not enable the Barbarian to understand replies.
Undead and creatures that can only be harmed by magical weapons will not respond to Sign Language.
Sign Language also enables two Barbarians to communicate wordlessly (often while hunting or trading). In this case, the Instincts test can be rolled to succeed in communicating complicated ideas or to use Sign Language without bystanders noticing.
First Attack Ferocity
At the start of a combat encounter, the Barbarian can forfeit one round to work herself into a battle frenzy. She then gains +2 To Hit and rolls the damage dice twice on her next attack. This can only be attempted once per combat (and cannot be used a second time if the Barbarian moves to attack a fresh opponent).
Sometimes adventurers are aware of monsters before combat starts and a Barbarian can work himself into a frenzy before the first round of combat, without forfeiting any actions. This is allowed, but the noise of the Barbarian's attack will instead forfeit any surprise round that the party might have enjoyed. It might be better for a Barbarian to use a round of surprise bringing on the frenzy in order to allow the rest of the party to enjoy surprise attacks.
Barbarians are not used to civilised ways or actively disdain them. They suffer a -2 penalty on Reaction Tests in towns and cities and pay double for supplies, armour and weapons from trading stores.
This is discrimination. If other PCs offer to buy supplies for a Barbarian PC, they too will pick up these penalties until they stop offering! If the Barbarian's player argues that their character is now accustomed to civilisation and accepted by civilised people, remove this penalty but also remove the Barbarian's Instinct ability, since they have clearly gone soft!
Barbarians add their Instincts to saving throws vs fear and disease. At the Referee's discretion, Instincts may also be added to saving throws versus effects which can be dodged or evaded (spell effects like fireball, gaze attacks of monsters like Medusas, falling rocks, dragon breath).
Don't allow a bonus to saving throws against magical effects that target the Barbarian mystically (like hold person or charm person) or which have already 'hit' because of another roll (like poison or paralysation from the successful attack of a monster or an activated trap).
Establish a Lodge
At 9th level, the Barbarian becomes a Barbarian Chief and can build a Lodge, which is a sort of camp-cum-fortress in the wilderness where the Barbarian celebrates victories, feasts and hunts. He will attract a group of tribesmen and women, who might be Barbarians or barbarian-flavoured Fighters, Clerics, Rangers, etc.
Barbarians do not gain Trauma from the death of companions in battle or from traveling through the wilderness in extreme weather. They can return to action after a Fatal Wound without gaining Trauma because they didn't rest for an hour. They gain extra Trauma from one type of monster they hold in superstitious dread: Demons, Fey, Giants, Giant Animals, Undead.
The player chooses the monster type they dread. On the first appearance of that type of monster in an adventure, the Barbarian gains 1 Trauma. For example, if the player chooses Undead, they gain 1 Trauma the first time they see Skeletons, Zombies, etc. If the creature would ordinary impose Trauma for its appearance (e.g. Mummies, Sidhe) then the Barbarian gains 2 Trauma.
Barbarian Flavour for other classes
A simple way to give your Ranger, Druid or other character class the 'Barbarian Flavour' is to give them the Uncivilised restriction in exchange for the use of Sign Language or any Barbarian Feat (except Armoured Barbarian/Frenzy). If a test of Instincts is required, the barbarian-flavoured character is assumed to have Instincts 2.
The barbaric character can choose Feats (except Armoured Barbarian/Frenzy) from the Barbarian Feats instead of their own Feats. However, their Instinct score never increases. If they forego the Uncivilised restriction later on, they lose the benefits of Barbarian Feats or abilities they picked up.
For example, Emily creates a Druid character and wants her to be a barbarian-flavoured Druid. She takes the Uncivilised restriction: townsfolk distrust her and she pays double for adventuring suipplies. In return she takes a free Barbarian Feat and chooses Hunter, so she can track in the wilderness with 2-in-6 success. As long as she remains Uncivilised, she has the option to choose Barbarian Feats (and Sign Language as if it were a Feat) instead of Druid Feats when she reaches odd-numbered levels.
I've retained three key ingredients of the Asbury-Barbarian: First-attack Ferocity, Sense Danger and Sign Language.
First-attack Ferocity no longer depends on winning initiative: it's a given. However, you have to do something to activate it, which is take a round out of combat. This makes the double damage a rather equivocal benefit, since you're losing out on another attack opportunity. Really, you will do this for the +2 To Hit Bonus. It stacks nicely with Blade Venom too.
Sense Danger is now something the player has to ask for. This runs the risk of a player over-using it, ruining immersion and wasting time by 'sensing for danger' as every corridor or doorway. If the Referee feels the power is being used trivially, it's easy to balance this by imposing a point of Trauma. After all, if your character is worried about possible danger all the time, they must be stressed, right?
Sign Language is now something you use with animals and animal-like monsters rather than a Babel-fish that crosses all language barriers. It doesn't work automatically. The Sign Language shared by these characters is based on the Plains Sign Talk of Native Americans.
Gone are the stealth skills. If you want to climb walls and hide in the shadows, create a Thief with barbarian flavour. Tracking is now a Feat if you want to develop your Barbarian in that way, but it only applies in the Wilderness and so the Ranger is left as the pre-eminent character class for tracking.
The armour restriction is fixed to shields-only but you can earn yourself exceptions by taking the Armoured Barbarian Feat once or twice. This is quite a big investment of Feats but if you have a Viking huscarl in mind rather than a Navajo scout you might want to do this. Since Instincts now adds to AC, a first level Human Barbarian with a shield will be AC 7  or AC 5  if they took the Feat to wear leather armour. Dexterity and magic might improve that. At tenth level, in chain mail and shield, your Barbarian could be AC -2 , which might make some Fighters jealous, except that they're probably wearing magical plate mail by that point and they didn't have to invest Feats to do it.
The idea of superstitious dread is really just a roleplaying opportunity. A Barbarian who dreads Undead but has to enter a haunted crypt will get a Trauma point when the Undead first appear, but after that there are no further penalties except the doubling of Trauma from the Undead that everybody finds uniquely horrific (like Mummies or Banshee shrieks).
How big a deal the Uncivilised restriction is depends on the Referee and the setting. Most first level Barbarians can afford to buy a shield and a sword even if the costs are doubled. If it's easy for the Barbarian to slope off back to his own people, the -2 Reaction penalty won't affect many things. In other campaigns, harassment and distrust from merchants, town guards, innkeepers and local lords will be a constant aggravation. If the Referee intends to make this a defining part of the Barbarian experience, rather than an occasional annoyance, it might be kind to reward Barbarian PCs with an extra Feat at character creation.
There are two approaches we can take to Lew Pulsipher's controversial Necromancer class from White Dwarf 35 (1982). One is a root-and-branch revision of the class, trying to salvage its core characteristics and present them without the one-note schlock and misogyny. The other is to treat it simply as a type of Cleric. I'm going to look at both options.
Lew's Necromancer was in terrible taste (or, to use modern terminology, it was "problematic") but it was also flawed as a character class because it was overly-directive. I'd like a Necromancer to be an anti-hero instead of an outright villain. A player should be able, if they choose, to play a Necromancer as someone who hunts down and captures or euthanises the Undead. You could be trying to bring your lover back from the dead or cure them of vampirism. You could be seeking dark wisdom. The point is that Necromancy should come at a terrible cost but the player should be able to choose the ultimate goal and it shouldn't automatically be an evil one.
The Necromancer for White Box
Necromancers are students of the death and undeath: they seek to master death and transcend it, but at great cost. Some are merely ghoulish zealots for the powers of Death but others are dark mystics seeking to understand mysteries of death and others might have a personal agenda, such as breaking the curse of undeath.
Necromancers are usually Human but at the Referee's discretion Half-Orcs can advance as Necromancers up to 6th level or Dark Elves up to 8th. Necromancers must be Neutral or Chaotic. Their Prime Attribute is Wisdom, representing strength of will and they add +05% to earned XP if this is 15+.
Armour & Weapon Restrictions
Necromancers can wear leather armour and carry shields. They can use one-handed weapons in combat (not bows). They can use magic items available to anyone, but also cloaks of protection, magic gauntlets and magic horns. They can use any items for Magic-Users or Clerics that summon or control Undead.
Necromancers advance slower than Clerics but faster than Fighters. Their Hit Dice are only slightly better then Magic-Users. Their To Hit Bonuses start well (better than Clerics) but then plateau and end up like Magic-Users. They have terrible Saving Throws. This is a class that is fairly robust at lower levels but gets overtaken by other classes later on, which is why they rely on Undead muscle.
Necromancers can compel Undead to do their bidding. This is done in the same way as a Cleric turning undead (Table 4, White Box p13). Compulsion can only be attempted once for a group of Undead monsters. If successful the group serves the Necromancer, although more intelligent Undead may do so with complaint and without enthusiasm.
A 'D' result means the creatures are automatically compelled to serve the Necromancer.
Compulsion normally means that the Undead allow the Necromancer (and companions) to pass in safety. If they are intelligent, the Necromancer can demand a piece of information from them which they must offer truthfully (although it may be cryptic in phrasing). If there are other enemies present, the Undead can be compelled to fight them. However, Undead cannot be Compelled to leave their graves or lairs and accompany the Necromancer.
This power is similar to Chaotic Clerics Turning Undead (White Box p13) except that it is a bit more circumscribed but can be effective at lower levels (the Necromancer doesn't need a 'D' result). The Referee should give intelligent Undead credit to mislead or obstruct the Necromancer in some way. However, since this is their signature power, if the Necromancer succeeds in the roll, the Undead should obey them. Reward players who make clear and achievable demands of Undead monsters then leave them to their cursed existence. If players try to extract more favours or information, allow the Undead to summon help, escape or create other sorts of trouble.
The Necromancer is immune to the special powers (paralysis, level drain, charm, etc) of Undead that she could turn on a 10+ result. For example, a third level Necromancer cannot be paralysed by Ghouls and an eighth level Necromancer cannot be drained or charmed by weaker Vampires.
This is a significant power, although it doesn't do much until the Necromancer reaches third level (most 1-2 HD Undead monsters don't have special abilities). At higher levels it opens the possibility for Necromancers to be effective vampire-hunters or mummy-slayers, since they are immune to effects like level draining, charm, fear and disease.
The Necromancer has an extra stat – Necromancy (check his last column in the advancement table). This is a pool of points and the Necromancer may spend his Necromancy points to summon and control the dead and the Undead.
Speak With Dead: The Necromancer can spend Necromancy points to speak with a dead person’s spirit, asking one question per point spent. The Necromancy must be at the dead person’s grave or corpse or else possess an item important to the dead person in life. A particular person’s spirit can only be summoned once.
Raising Undead: The Necromancer spends Necromancy points equal to the Undead’s Hit Dice (rounded up). There must be corpses to raise the Undead out of and the Undead’s total Hit Dice cannot exceed the Necromancer’s level (so a third level Necromancer could spend 1 point to raise 6 Skeletons or 3 points to raise a single Wight). If the Necromancer achieves a 'D' result on the Cleric Turning Undead table, twice as many Undead monsters are raised (so a fifth level Necromancer could spend 1 Necromancy point to raise 20 Skeletons or 10 Zombies). The Undead are automatically considered Compelled to obey but will not leave the vicinity of the corpses they rose from.
Rule Undead: The Necromancer permanently spends Necromancy points equal to the Undead’s Hit Dice. This causes Undead who have been successfully Compelled to fall under the Necromancer’s Rule. They will leave their lair or grave and follow the Necromancer as a henchman so long as their Hit Dice do not exceed the Necromancer’s level (so a 4th level Necromancer could spend 4 permanent points to rule a single Wraith or two Ghouls). If the Necromancer achieves a 'D' result for on the Cleric Turning Undead table then twice as many Undead may be Ruled per point spent. Necromancy points spent on ruling Undead are not recovered even if the Undead are destroyed.
This uses the point-based system that Szymon Piecha introduced for Paladins in Expanded Lore. With 2 Necromancy points, a first level Necromancer can ask a couple of questions of the dead or raise up a few Skeletons or a couple of Zombies. Higher level Necromancers will be tempted to Rule over useful Undead like Wraiths or Vampires but of course they permanently lose the Necromancy points they invest in creating Undead henchmen.
Necromancy points spent on Speaking with the Dead or Raising the Undead can be recovered through a Ghastly Ritual that the player decides upon. This ritual restores all spent Necromancy points (except those invested permanently in Ruling Undead) but at a cost:
This is how you get those Necromancy points back, but you need to choose your Ghastly Ritual carefully because it defines your character's progress. If you choose Antisocial Rituals you will strip away Charisma; Unhygienic Rituals strip away Constitution. Life Drain might seem like a better option if you have a lot of Hit Points but it will weaken you in the long run. Higher level Necromancers might find it easier to sacrifice magic items. "Victim" is here for Necromancers determined to be that guy, but at least you get to choose your victim type to reflect your character concept. It could be murderers or abusers or people who (according to some views) deserve a grisly end. It doesn't have to be virginal young women.
Necromancers save at +2 vs Death or the powers of Undead (but not Demons).
Establish a Mausoleum
At 9th level, the Necromancer gains the title 'Lord of Life and Death' (or something equally camp) and can build a Mausoleum, which is a sort of temple-laboratory dedicated to exploring death. He will attract a group of strange and/or desperate servitors – including Clerics of dark cults, junior Necromancers and enterprising Undead - who will serve him in pursuit of their own sinister agendas.
Necromancers gain no Trauma from the appearance of Undead, from searching through corpses or bones, from the deaths of companions or from being alone in dark or dangerous places. However, Necromancy is traumatic for adventuring companions, who gain Trauma just from having Undead servants accompany the party.
If a Necromancer turns up at the start of an adventure with Ruled Undead sidekicks, companions gain 1 Trauma per type of Undead she has with her. If she Rules and recruits more Undead during the adventure, companions gain more Trauma each time she does it. Other Necromancers and Clerics do not gain Trauma from seeing Undead.
This is where you customise your Necromancer (and remember Humans get a free Feat at first level). If you sink a lot of Necromancy into Ruling Undead and you want it back, then Soul Putrefaction restores all the points but you develop an insanity. If you're trying to bring back your lover or friend, you can Raise them as Undead with Resurrectionist then making them mortal again with Vivamort, but the Necromancy expenditure will be pretty steep. Greater Ritual gives you some flexibility in how you reclaim your Necromancy points: at higher levels, you might want to swap over to sacrificing minor magic items. Army of the Dead and Damnation let you follow the Undead Super-Villain route while Deathsight helps with dungeon exploring.
Necromancers as White Box Clerics
Rather than giving Necromancers a class of their own, you can treat them as Clerics serving a god or goddess of death and undeath (Hecate, Hades, Hel, Arawn, Morrigan, Mictlantecuhtli, Anubis, Sutekh, keep going). As Clerics, they wear armour and turn Undead normally until they get a 'D' result whereupon they can control Undead instead of repelling them - and can control a number of Undead equal to their level at any given time.
If you use Expanded Lore, then the God's Weapon ability lets a Necromantic Cleric use some horrid blade but you could substitute it for a Necromancy power that lets them command Undead on a successful roll to turn them and allows a 'D' result to mean that the Undead only count as having half their Hit Dice for purposes of calculating how many the Necromantic Cleric can dominate.
Some of Lew Pulsipher's Necromancer abilities can be converted into spells that are only available to Necromantic Clerics:
Speak With Dead
Spell Level: C1
Duration: 1-6 questions
The caster can asks 1d6 questions of a corpse, which it will answer truthfully if it knew the answer when it was alive.
Spell Level: C2
The caster can raise dead bodies as 2d4 Skeletons or 1d4 Zombies under her control. The Undead will serve until destroyed or turned by another Cleric or the party leave the dungeon/complete the adventure. (Optional) Using this spell causes adventuring companions who are not Clerics to gain 1 Trauma.
Create Skull Guard
Spell Level: C3
The caster can transform 1d6 skulls into Skullguard Undead monsters that will guard the area where they are raised (and patrol up to 60ft distance).
Spell Level: C4
Duration: 1 hour
The caster creates a bell inscribed with a person's name. When it is rung, the person's spirit appears. The caster can ask questions or seek advice. The dead person is not under the caster's control but must be negotiated with and might have requests of their own in exchange for their wisdom or information. After the summoning, the bell shatters on a roll of 1-4 on a d6 and the spirit canmnot be summoned again.
Spell Level: C5
Range: 240ft radius of caster
Duration: 1 day
The caster can animate a huge number of corpses from a graveyard or a battlefield, creating 100-600 (10d6 multiplied by 10) Zombies who will obey his commands until sunrise. (Optional) Witnesses to this guesome event will gain 2 Trauma if they are not Necromancers or Clerics.
Necromantic Clerics can create Skullguards using a 3rd level spell. The Necromancer character class can Raise Skullguards from ordinary skulls but they count as 4HD creatures (4 Necromancy points to Raise them and a fourth level Necromancer is required to Raise just one Skullguard but an eighth level Necromancer will raise 4 with a 'D' result).
If I had a hammer I'd hammer in the morning
It's Hammer go Hammer
It was 1990 and by then I was at the ragged end of my interest in AD&D: new games like Pendragon and Vampire were waiting to seduce me away from dungeons. I ran my last ever D&D campaign, which ended badly with everyone falling out. One fond memory I do have from that time is my brother playing a War Smith named Chynoweth. His character was very put-upon by his domineering uncle who owned ther forge where he worked. I suppose that was the start of my interest in PCs having families and communities, which explains why I turned so eagerly to Pendragon and Vampire, now that I think about it.
The War Smith appeared in White Dwarf 28, which came out at the very end of 1981, a year which perhaps marked the last gasp of OD&D and its replacement by a 'completed' AD&D. Why? Well, this issue reviews the Fiend Folio compilation of AD&D monsters. That book gave us the Githyanki, Slaadi and the Drow but it was really the final hurrah of old school weirdness: the Disenchanter, the Eye of Fear & Flame, the Adherer (looks like a mummy, made of glue!) and the frickin' FLUMPHS!
No, the future could be seen instead in things like White Dwarf's new character class, floated by Roger E. Moore. To call Moore's output prolific is a bit like saying Adele can belt out a tune: it barely does justice. A couple of years after this he would join TSR and ended up as editor of Dragon for a decade, eventually becoming creative director of AD&D. So work like this was his calling card.
Click on the cover for a peek at White Dwarf 28
Described as "a subclass of the fighter, with special manufacturing and spell capabilities," the War-Smith sounds more intriguing than it turns out to be. Moore is comprehensive in his grasp of D&D rules and brings the same sort of nuanced approach you find in Phil Master's Demonist, but Phil knows when to cut loose and summon Slaadi death squads. Moore's stuff is always oddly pedestrian and cautious.
War smiths are the makers of armour, shields, and weapons of war, as well as locks, tools, and other useful items. They worship the gods who oversee inventiveness and craftsmanship, and hold holy the creative power of fire as represented by the forge. The hammer is their symbol of power and skill...
There's a lot of potential here: a mastery over not just arms and armour, but locks and tools. A divine mandate for craft and creativity. The holiness of fire. The symbolic hammer. You could really do something with this.
Roger introduces War Smiths who can be humans, dwarves or gnomes, but no elves, which is odd, given the Tolkien influences on D&D.
War Smiths need four pre-requisite Attributes, including a whopping Constitution; and Strength, Wisdom and Constitution all have to be 16+ for that +10% experience bonus. When you factor in the class' increased XP requirements (2,250 to get to second level), your War Smith is going to lumber up the levels.
What do you get for this? Well, the Dungeon Masters Guide (pp30-34) introduces costs and times for hireling armourers and weapon smiths and, basically, your War Smith gets to do that stuff: make (normal) armour, shields and weapons. Gnomes are twice as fast and Dwarves three times as fast. There you go. Get to work.
There is some elaboration. At 6th level, War Smiths make artifacts good enough to be the raw material for magical enchantment and at 10th level (tenth!!!) their weapons and armour are +1 equivalent or +2 at 15th level. It's a long wait to make this stuff (at the same sort of level at which Demonists are summoning those Slaadi Death Squads, let us note!).
A nice touch is that, at 2nd level, War Smiths can make locks and confer penalties on the chance of a thief picking their locks. They get to pick locks themselves, as a thief one level lower.
Similarly, at 5th level, they have a chance of identifying magic armour and weapons, but it's a laughable 05%. going up to 10% at 6th level and increasing by +05% each level afterwards. Roger notes that a 23rd level War Smith (23rd!!!) maxes out at a 95% chance of correctly identifying, say, a flaming sword.
You can see why Roger E. Moore ended up running the D&D product line. He shares Gary Gygax's parsimonious approach and hatred of power-creep.
Then the War Smith gets clerical-style spells at 5th level, a bit earlier than Druidic and Magic-User spells kick in for Rangers. Most of the spells are fire-related: protection from fire, creating fire, heating metal, making weapons burst into flames. The spells are economically culled from the clerical, druidic and magic-user lists and culminate in big blasters like wall of fire and flame strike.
There is a set of escalating armour spells that confer automatic AC (AC6 for Armour I, rising to AC0 for Armour IV which you get at 11th level). This could be nice for the thieves and magic-users in the party, especially as they last half an hour per level, so you get mileage out of them.
Armour Extension, available when you hit 15th level, doubles the duration of an armour spell, effectively making them last indefinitely - but only on yourself. I'm not sure why a 15th level War Smith would forego actually wearing armour and rely on a spell instead.
Finally, and as you would expect, War Smiths are good with hammers. With these weapons, they enjoy +1 to hit and damage per 4 levels of experience. That stacks pretty nicely.
Roger's new class takes a 'leave-everything-as-you-find-it' approach. War Smiths essentially do what specialist hirelings do, except for free. Their powers and spells don't alter in-game tactics much. Everything they can do another class does better, or else they can do it only when they reach a level at which it no longer really matters. But nonetheless, they're cool and they get to make things and I think there ought to be a role for characters like that. So I'm drawn to Roger's War Smith idea, even as I find his execution to be uninspired.
The War Smith for White Box
White Box only takes characters up to 10th level, so the whole dizzying ascent into the level-twenties that AD&D offers has to be condensed. The White Box aesthetic is to give characters their core skill set right at first level rather than letting new abilities 'ping in' at higher levels. I'm opposed to creating bespoke spell sets for new classes - but of course the War Smith could be treated simply as a type of Cleric, which I'll look at later. I love the Feats system that Szymon Piecha introduced in Expanded Lore: it's a great way to build in power progressions as options, rather than the restrictive pathways mapped out by AD&D character classes.
Expanded Lore is a fantastic resource for White Box
War Smiths can be Humans, Dwarves, Elves and Gnomes, with non-humans limited to 6th level as usual. Any alignment is possible.
Weapons & Armour Restrictions
War Smiths can wear any armour and use any weapons and shields. They can use magic items available to Fighters but also braziers of controlling fire elementals and a manual of the iron golem.
The War Smith has an extra stat – Craft (check his last column in the advancement table). He may spend his Craft points to manufacture equipment. The work lasts 1 day per Craft point used.
Craft Armour: The Craft points you invest in a suit of armour must equal its AC bonus (i.e. 2 for leather, 4 four chain and 6 for plate and 1 for a shield or helmet).
Craft Weapons: The Craft points you invest in a weapon equals 1 per damage step the weapon inflicts: 1 for 1d6-1, 2 for 1d6 and 3 for 1d6+1.
Craft Tools: Crowbars, grappling hooks, lanterns, oil (!), spikes and thieves tools cost 1 Craft per 5gp cost
Craft points are regained when the item works as it was designed to. If the War Smith sells items, she recovers the Craft points at the end of the month. If the War Smith provides items for herself or adventuring companions, the Craft points are recovered at the end of an adventure in which they are used.
Optional: Racial Crafting Specialisms
I'm tempted to add Halfling Victualers - or Food Smiths! - who can make leather armour, rations, herbs and drink in the time Gnomes make tools. They are limited to 4th level though.
I'm tempted to add Halfling Victualers - or Food Smiths! - who can make leather armour, rations, herbs and drink in the time Gnomes make tools. They are limited to 4th level though.
The War Smith receives +1 To Hit and damage when fighting with a hammer of any size. The hammer is treated as magical for purposes of damage undead, fey and demons.
Saving Throws & Trauma
War Smiths save at +2 vs Paralysation and attacks based on fire. If you use the Death & Dismemberment rules, War Smiths can sacrifice a shield, helm or parry weapon to negate all Injuries from an attack. They do not gain Trauma from taking fire damage past 0 HP or experimenting with magical weapons/armour/shields/helms.
It might not sound like much, but War Smiths will really value these two powers and settle into a happy cycle of sacrificing arms and armour to avert Injuries then manufacturing new ones.
And yes, I did complain about the 'point pool' used for Paladins in the new version of Expanded Lore. But I'm treating Szymon's document as 'canon' and, although I don't much like the idea of 'Pride points' for Pa;adins, I think Craft points for War Smiths work pretty well.
Establish Sacred Forge
At 9th level, the War Smith gains the title 'Master Artificer' and can build a Forge, which is a sort of temple-workshop dedicated to furthering their craft. He will attract a group of soldiers and apprentices who will benefit from his skill and powerful rulers (and perhaps monsters) become his customers..
War Smith Feats
Many of these Feats allow a War Smith to make +1 arms or armour. This equipment gets its bonus from its superior construction but is not considered magical for purposes of hitting enchanted creatures.
If you are already an Armourer (see below) you could make +1 leather armour for 4 Craft points. Arcane Forge lets you invest the points permanently to make enchanted (rather than just very good) +1 armour and investing 8 Craft points gives it an unusual feature (say, ethereality). You never get those Craft points back. That armour was you life's work. Treasure it. However, Dwarves only have to invest 4 Craft points, because their investment gets doubled for making armour.
Optionally, Halfling Victualers can use this to make Potions (rolled randomly) by investing 1 permanent Craft.
Players might approach a NPC War Smith and offer to buy superior arms and armour. Alternatively, PC War Smiths might want to enrich themselves by selling this stuff. Assume the cost is equal to the base cost of the item multiplied by the number of Craft points invested in it and the level of the War Smith. So going to a 5th level War Smith for +1 chain mail will cost you 30gp (for the mail) times 8 (for the Craft invested) times 5 (his level) = 1200gp. Actual magical weapons are never for sale and PCs are hardly likely to sell them.
War Smiths advance slightly more slowly than Fighters and punch slightly weaker - but their Holy Hammer more than compensates for them in combat. They save like Clerics but their Hit Dice progression is somewhere between Fighters and Clerics. I suppose they are sub-Fighters, being just a smidgin inferior to Fighters across the board (except with hammers!).
A first level War Smith with 2 Craft points can make leather armour or a sword or perhaps a couple of daggers or shields. If they are an Elf, they could make two swords for 1 Craft each. This isn't a big deal until Feats appear at third level (remember, Humans gain a Feat at first level too). A third level War Smith with 6 Craft points can make plate mail armour but if they take the Armourer Feat then they can make +1 armour. Making +1 plate mail will cost 12 Craft, so that's out of reach (although a Dwarf could do it). Making +1 leather armour costs 4 Craft, so that's possible and the War Smith gets the Craft back (and keeps the +1 armour) at the end of the adventure.
If you pick up Arcane Forge at 5th level, you now have 10 Craft and you could manufacture that genuine enchanted +1 leather armour. Maybe it turns out to be Armour of Etherealness (although +1 leather, not +3 plate as would be more typical). Amazing! But those Craft points are gone forever. You poured your soul into that armour. See why it's not for sale?
Since Dwarves and other non-humans are capped at 6th level, they'll not have more than 12 Craft points to play with. That's enough for Dwarves to make that +1 magical plate mail and blow all their Craft on it. Elves could manufacture 3 magical +1 swords in their working life. Gnomes could make a dozen sets of +1 magical arrows.
This War Smith gets to do the things I wanted it to do: make cool stuff! White Box is a bit more generous than AD&D with its treasures, so by the time War Smiths can make powerful magic items, they might not need to.
War Smiths as White Box Clerics
An alternative approach is to treat the War Smith as a Cleric devoted to a god or goddess of forging and craft.
This type of Clerical War Smith advances as a normal Cleric and gets access to normal Clerical spells. If using Expanded Lore, the God's Weapon ability applies to the Clerical War Smith's hammer.
Instead of turning Undead, give Clerical War Smiths the skill to craft items using this table. The player rolls before an adventure (or each month) to see what they have made and can make on attempt at each category of items, rolling 3d6 just like a Cleric turning Undead.
F means the Clerical War Smith creates these items automatically and can do so during an adventure from raw materials to hand if they can work for a turn.
Here's an example. If Chynoweth is third level, then before an adventure he rolls to create a shield (4+, almost a certainty), a helmet (7+, highly likely), 4d6 arrows (10+, a fifty-fifty thing), a weapon that inflicts 1d6-1 damage (13+, if he succeeds he might decide it is a short sword), 1d6 flasks of oil (15+, unlikely) and a suit of leather armour (17+, very unlikely). Let's say he ends up with a helmet and shield, 13 arrows and a short sword. He can keep them, sell them or give them to adventuring companions or hirelings. If he sells them, he should get XP for their gold value.
Clerical War Smith spells
Some of Roger E. Moore's original War Smith spells can be included for White Box, like these, which are only available for Clerical War Smiths. I've added a couple of my own.
Spell Level: C1
Duration: Until extinguished
The caster can create a small fire (covering an area about a foot in diameter) that will burn fiercely for 1d6 rounds and then go out. However, anything it sets fire to will continue burning normally.
Spell Level: C2
Duration: 2 hours
The target of this spell becomes immune to normal fire and saves at +2 vs magical fire.
Spell Level: C3
Range: 1 hammer
Duration: 1 hour
A hammer busts into flames, burning like a torch. It receives +1 To Hit and inflicts an extra 1d6-1 fire damage. The Cleric can handle the firehammer and so can anyone the Cleric personally gives it to. If the hammer is dropped or thrown the spell expires at the start of the next round.
Spell Level: C4
Cast this before rolling to manufacture an item. If you manufacture it successfully, it is superior quality (+1 To Hit and damage) but not magical. This spell slot is used up and is not recovered until the end of the adventure (or the next month).
Spell Level: C5
Cast this before rolling to manufacture an item. If you manufacture it successful, it is magical (+1 To Hit and damage) and it will have a Minor Ability or Unusual Feature. These spell slots are used up forever.
Spell slots are shown on the Cleric Advancement table (White Box, p12). A sixth level cleric gets 1 spell slot for 4th level spells and could use it to cast superior crafting, but would not then be able to learn any other 4th level spells until the end of the adventure.
An eighth level Cleric has 2 4th and 2 5th level spell slots. If she uses enchanted crafting to make a magical weapon, one of those 5th level spell slots is gone forever. When she reaches tenth level, she will return to having 2 spell slots instead of gaining a third. As with the standard War Smith, making magical items is a labour of love and takes something from the creator that is never recovered.
Demons run when a good man goes to war
It is 1983 and we are well into the era of 1st ed. AD&D. The prolific Phil Masters publishes his Demonist subclass in White Dwarf 47. I'm so impressed I show it to my players and of course my old pal Andrew wants his Machiavellian Magic-User to go split-class as a Demonist. This he does and embarks on his epic descent into villainy that comes to define my teenage D&D campaign. Good times.
Click the cover for a peek at White Dwarf 47
After oddballs like Houris and Detectives in previous years, the Demonist subclass is the product of AD&D in its prime. More than that, it's the creation of Phil Master's nuanced imagination, so it looks ahead to innovations in 2nd ed. AD&D. All of which makes it tricky to retro-convert into White Box but I owe it to my 16-year-old self to try.
Let's look at Phil's creation first and identify its distinctive qualities.
Phil describes the Demonist as an "extra-planar specialist" which refers to the AD&D cosmology, the Outer Planes of gods, angels, devils and demons and the Inner Planes of the Elementals.
Demonists call on demons and devils as servants and allies and can command many other beings from the Outer and Elemental Planes. Their studies give them skill in inter-dimensional travel and their mastery of arcane lore bestows them with many informational spells... As 'lay priests' Demonists have some power over Undead.
There's a lot packed into this. Demonists are Clerics, really, with a focus on summoning/binding demons and elementals rather than dutifully serving some god. Phil rather cleverly gives Demonists clerical-style spells up to 3rd level (pray for the ones you want from the list) but the 4th+ level spells are Magic-User style and consist of a narrower range that must be recorded in a spell book.
Demonists are restricted to daggers, scimitars and swords and restricted from using poison or flaming oil. They are limited to studded leather armour. All of this feels a bit arbitrary, but that's AD&D for you. I think Phil is trying to conjure up the lightly-armoured, robe-wearing cultist rather than the lumbering plated demon-knight, but, like a lot of AD&D subclasses, this ends up imposing a singular interpretation on players rather than setting out an inspirational template for players to do what they like with.
It wouldn't be AD&D without equally arbitrary racial limitations and attribute pre-requisites. Demonists can be human, elven or half-elven (why not half-orcs who literally worship demons? "Unclear!") and the demi-humans can multi-class as Fighter/Demonists (which seems a bit redundant) or Demonist/Assassins (which sounds awesome!). Intelligence & Wisdom are the favoured attributes, as you'd expect with this sort of arcane-cleric.
Demonists have a cool holy symbol which is a weapon that acts as their 'Focus' for doing magic. They have a 'Dedication' spell to turn a weapon into a Focus and if they dedicate a magical weapon then their spells are harder to resist. Nice! This lends itself to an anti-Demonist tactic of destroying their Focus-weapon or casting dispel magic on it.
The spells start off as a rather restricted Clerical list - but Demonists get two at 1st level and race up the spell-levels a bit faster than normal Clerics, to reflect and (I suppose) compensate for their extreme specialisation.
The main spell-perk is augury as a first level spell, giving those good-idea/bad-idea answers to the mad stuff your party is considering. This is probably the first level Demonist's main contribution to an adventuring group. That, and turning undead, which Demonists do as a Cleric of half their level (rounded up, i.e. they match regular Clerics at first level then fall woefully behind).
Second level spells introduce a lot of utility/detection spells, plus taste-of-things-to-come petition (you bargain with a demon and this spell alerts it to fulfill its side) and dust warriors (creating Skeletons in the style of Jason & the Argonauts by sowing teeth!).
A good example of Phil Master's craftsmanship, granting Demonists animate dead as a 2nd rather than 3rd level spell, but with a lot of preparation and unreliable outcomes
Third level spells include speak with dead and the rather jolly spirit call which invokes some extra-dimensional goons who can help with lifting and shifting. And that's where your Clerical-style spells end, you're 4th level and you're going to have to wait until you're 7th level before the good stuff appears.
The fourth level spells are like Magic-User spells - you only have a limited selection and you're hungry for scrolls and robbing other people's spell books. All the exorcist-invoker Magic-User stuff becomes available along with a few arcane versions of Clerical spells: cacodemon, contact other plane, spiritwrack, astral spell, conjure elemental, commune, gate. The bespoke stuff includes contract (sign on the dotted line...) and call foe, which summons an entity's cosmic nemesis to deal with it for you ("Tiamat, I'd like you to meet Bahamut!").
That's it really. Like most of Phil's stuff, it's incredibly thoughtful about the way it works within the existing rules and spell lists. It's nuanced, flavourful and the opposite of power-creep. In other words, it's the high-water mark of AD&D homebrewing and about as far from crazy OD&D overkill as you can imagine.
It's also going to be a bit disappointing for anyone thinking they can dice up a Demonist and immediately start summoning things. Phil makes you work for your glory so that, by the time you're trapping efreeti in pentagrams at 9th level, you really appreciate the road you've travelled to get there. Then, at 13th level, you get the 7th level spells and Phil shows his other side: summon army lets you invoke a demon horde, slaadi death squads, githyanki war-parties, the Army Of The Dead...
Demonists for White Box
This takes a bit of thought. Phil's softly-softly approach doesn't really fit with the White Box/OSR aesthetic, which is about strapping on your broadsword and kicking bottoms as soon as possible. His subtle, inter-related spells don't jive with the straight-down-the-line White Box approach.
My personal aesthetic comes into play as well. I don't want to create a sub-class built around bespoke spell lists. As I've explained before, I'll give Druids a pass, but otherwise I'd rather design the class to do what it does without spells - or else just make Demonists a Magic-User who only uses certain types of spells.
Demonists are usually Human but at the Referee's discretion Half-Orcs can advance as Demonists up to 6th level and Elves up to 8th level. Demonists must be Neutral or Chaotic. Their Prime Attribute is Wisdom, representing strength of will.
Weapons & Armour Restrictions
Demonists can wear leather armour and carry shields. They can use one-handed weapons in combat (not bows).
Demonists can bind spirits to their will. This is done in the same way as a Cleric turning undead. Binding can only be attempted once for a group of otherworldly monsters. If successful the group serves the Demonist, although more intelligent creatures may do so with complaint and without enthusiasm.
Demonists can only have one group of each monster type bound at any time. If the Demonist tries to bind a new monster of that type, the old group is immediately freed from control - whether the Demonist succeeds in the new Binding attempt or not.
The Demonist can spend 1d6 turns creating an invoking circle for a particular creature, then roll on the Binding Table (above) to summon it into the circle. The attempt costs the Demonist 1HP of blood per Hit Die of the creatures being summoned and the Demonist can only invoke a maximum number of Hit Dice equal to her level. The player rolls on the table above: if successful, the creature appears in the circle, on a failure nothing happens.
Hit Points sacrificed this way are healed normally if the invoking fails, but if the invoking succeeds the Hit Points are irrecoverable until the invoked beings depart this world or are destroyed.
The invoked beings need to be Bound to the Demonist's will. There is one attempt to do this. If this fails, the creature remains hostile to the Demonist but cannot leave the circle or use magic powers (but watch out for Demons with Psionics!). Most unbound demons or elementals will return to their own world, but some will remain in the circle, purely to deprive the invoker of the Hit Points she sacrificed to get them there. Unintelligent monsters must be fought and destroyed to get rid of them. Of course, the Demonist could release an uncontrolled being in the hope that it is helpful, but Reaction Tests with invoked creatures are at -2.
Don't award XP for destroying invoked creatures - but do award XP for making good (i.e. worthy, dramatic, atmospheric) use of them.
A Demonist can consult the omens a number of times per day equal to his Omens rating. The Referee will give a verdict on a proposed course of action (in the next 15 minutes): beneficial, harmful, mixed or no consequences.
The Demonist can also use Omens to commune with his otherworldly patrons. This can be attempted once per adventure (or once per month outside adventuring) and the player must roll equal to or less than their Omens score to receive advice or information about the dungeon or the campaign setting.
All the Referee needs to do is provide the player with a true and (fairly) relevant rumour. However, the best omens are cryptic riddles that lend themselves to many interpretations and turn out to be true in surprising ways. Go nuts!
Saving Throws & Trauma
Demonists save at +2 vs the powers of otherworldly creatures that they can bind and invoke. If you use the Trauma & Derangement rules, Demonists gain no Trauma from the manifestation of otherworldly beings (obviously), from the deaths of companions (they're pretty cold) or from being alone in dark or dangerous places (they know what's in the darkness - and they quite like it!).
At 9th level, the Demonist gains the title 'Master of Demons' (or something equally grandiose and macabre) and can build a Fanum, which is a sort of temple-laboratory dedicated to invoking otherworldly powers and opening portals to other realms. He will attract a group of strange and/or desperate servitors - soldiers, clerics, magic-users and lesser demonists, monsters, earthbound spirits - who will serve him in pursuit of their own weird agendas.
I've adapted these creatures from M Stollery's elemental imps in White Dwarf 13 - they later appeared in the Fiend Folio (1981) as 'mephits'. They fill a gap because White Box is rather short of 2HD monsters that come from other planes of existence. Yes, the original mephits were 3HD monsters but I've demoted them to give Demonists some minions.
Fey Demonists (Changelings)
Demonists could be aligned with the powers of Faerie rather than the Outer and Elemental Planes. Fey Demonists are Changelings if their power comes from possessing a fey soul rather than a mortal one - perhaps because they were exchanged at birth.
Changelings follow the same rules as Demonists, but can be Humans, Elves or Gnomes, with non-humans limited to 8th level. Their saving throw bonus is against the abilities of fey creatures and illusions. Unlike other Demonists, they can wear chain mail armour.
Instead of demons and elementals, Changelings can Invoke and Bind fey monsters.
This follows the White Box implication that goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears are fey creatures; if you don't interpret them this way, remove them and allow Changelings to Invoke/Bind Skeletons and Zombies like other Demonists.
I fear Phil Masters would despair of the White Box Demonist, but let's look what we end up with.
The WB Demonist punches like a Cleric, but doesn't gain Hit Dice quite as well. Still better than Magic-Users, though! Plus, the ability to use all one-handed weapons opens up the world of magic swords.
The low-level Demonist has some value as a stand-in Cleric, with the benefit that instead of just frightening mindless undead away, the Demonist actually recruits them as minions.
The real value of the low-level Demonists is as an augurer: reading Omens twice an adventure and having a stab at communing with the nether powers - this is impressive stuff.
At higher levels, Omens gets more reliable. You will miss the ability to turn more serious sorts of Undead, but when infernal or elemental critters do show up, the Demonist can recruit them instead. Or at least try to. A pet Night Steed is very fashionable. The Demonist can try invoking suitable monsters at the start of an adventure, but it does cost a lot of Hit Points and you can't guarantee they will be biddable. But when it works, it works! A loyal Succubus (if there is such a thing) smooths a lot of encounters.
Some balance is needed. Intelligent demons resent service and will do anything they can to get the Demonist killed. short of outright disobedience. On the other hand, if the Referee presents bound demons as more trouble than they're worth, the Demonist's signature power amounts to nithing. A good rule of thumb is that each bound monster should serve in one encounter without creating problems, but becomes increasingly unreliable after that. Wise Demonists will dismiss a bound demon to liberate the sacrificed Hit Points and spare themselves the inevitable betrayal.
Phil's Demonist had a built-in power progression, starting with ad hoc deals with entities encountered down dungeons through to spells to summon, bind and compel particular powerful beings on your terms, and culminating in that army of demons!
The White Box Demonist doesn't have that all mapped out in advance. At higher levels, a Demonist can invoke Djinn or Balor Demons. What that leads to is found out by roleplaying. It's up to Referee and player to concoct a thrilling story together.
And that, folks, is the beauty of White Box.
Since the last blog, I've been working on Psionics rules for White Box that are faithful to the spirit of 1976's Eldritch Wizardry while avoiding the flaws of Tim Kask's system: fiddly point counting, multiple tables to consult, over-powered psionicists, lack of rationale, dependency on Psionic Monsters as a balancing threat.
And of course HA-HA. One of the ironies of games design is that your own systems always seem simple and un-fiddly to you. Everyone else sees them for the convoluted mare's nest that they are. Doubtless someone will point out to me that all this is just as complicated as Tim Kask's original rules!
Szymon Piecha's Expanded Lore supplement introduces an excellent system of Feats into White Box, with characters gaining a new Feat at every odd-numbered level (and Humans starting with a Feat at 1st level). Psionic Potential is a new General Feat that any character can choose instead of the normal Feats available. This marks the awakening of the character's Psionic powers.
What about Elves etc.? The original rules in Eldritch Wizardry limited Psionics to humans and Gary Gygax's revision in 1st ed. AD&D excluded Elves. Personally, I see no reason to exclude any race (or class) from Psionics, but you might have a campaign setting that limits Psionics to certain groups.
Psionic Potential gives the character access to one Psionic attack mode and one defense mode:
And that's it! A newly-awakened psionicist gets some protection from Psionic foes and can call on a Psionic Blast to incapacitate enemies (but at a cost, as well shall see). All the exciting Psionic Disciplines and Talents are still in the future.
Monks and Fighters (optional)
Monks enjoy a starting ability at first level to meditate for an hour, ridding their body of poisons and healing 1d6 HP. Optionally, a Monk character may forego this ability and take Psionic Potential as a class ability instead. A Human Monk may then take another Psionic Feat (see below) at first level instead of a normal Feat.
Another option is for Fighters to choose a Psionic sub-class. Expanded Lore offers 8 sub-classes for Fighter PCs to choose at character creation. An extra sub-class could be a Psi-Blade who automatically has Psionic Potential at 1st level.
Whenever a psionicist would be eligible for a new Feat, they may choose a Psionic Feat from this list.
The Stress Die
When you use a Psionic Talent, you gain a point of Psionic Stress and roll the Stress Die (usually a d6). If you roll equal to or higher than your current Psionic Stress, all is well. If you roll less than your current Psionic Stress, you have lost control of your Psionic powers and a consequence will follow, which might be:
This makes using Psionic powers a sort of 'push-your-luck' experience. Sooner or later you will fail the Stress Test and either lose your powers (exhaustion) or incur something horrible. Players who are wise will call upon Psionics only under duress. As discussed later, using Psionic Blast against a non-psionicist always adds two points of Psionic Stress.
Removing Psionic Stress
Triggering a Stress Penalty removes some of your Psionic Stress as does losing in Psionic Combat, but those are bad things. A psionicist removes a point of Psionic Stress from a good night's sleep (uninterrupted, no watch duty) and a good day of ordinary (non-adventuring) activity. This means, at home, most characters will remove all their Psionic Stress in three days.
Talents & Sciences
When you acquire a new Psionic Discipline, you gain a new attack and defense mode, giving you more options in Psionic Combat. You also acquire a Talent which is a Psionic power that you can call upon at will, at the cost of taking a point of Psionic Stress and making a Stress Test.
According to Expanded Lore, when a character reaches an even-numbered level they may choose two attributes and increase them by +1 each. A psionicist may forego this and instead choose another Talent from a Psionic Discipline they already know.
A Science is a much more powerful Talent. A player who takes this Psionic Feat can suggest a Science to the Referee. It should be a more powerful version of a Talent they already possess. If the Referee approves it, the PC gains the Science. Using a Science always counts as failing a Stress Test, triggering alarm, exhaustion or insanity. The good news is that, after using a Science, the psionicist gets rid of all his Stress.
A character with the Telesentience Discipline already has the Talent to charm people through conversation. The player wants to have a Science that lets her replace a person's consciousness with her own and manipulate them like a puppet for as long as the character concentrates. The Referee allows this, but each time the player calls upon her 'Puppetry' Science she will trigger a Stress consequence.
Some Rules for Psionic Talents/Sciences
The magic-distinction an optional rule you are free to ignore if it leads to confusion. I suggest it to give Psionics its own character and create distinctive challenges for a psionicist. For example, to teleport to a place a psionicist must be familiar with it and this familiarity cannot be achieved by using a Crystal Ball or a clairvoyance spell. It also prevents unbalancing synergies with spell-casters: you cannot perceive someone using a detect minds (ESP) spell then psionically attack them. However, it also means that dispel magic and remove curse will not get rid of Psionic effects.
Psionic Sciences could get round some of these restrictions. For example, a psionicist with the Talent to teleport to a familiar place could develop a Science that lets him teleport to anywhere he can see on a map.
Discipline - Psychokinesis
Psychokinesis involves moving things with your mind, but really this is the mental control of energy so it includes creating and suppressing fire, electricity and even sound or sight.
Attack Mode: Id Insinuation
Defense Mode: Mental Barrier
The Id Insinuation is a similar attack to Psychic Blast (though it only works on other psionicists) and mental dominates opponents but it is less effective on the insane. Mental Barriers are another all-purpose defense mode. Both modes involve Wisdom bonuses or penalties.
Psychokinetic Sciences might include breaking down walls or fortifications, throwing multiple objects (perhaps 1d6 + Wisdom Bonus in number), outright canceling magical fire or cold damage, creating firebvalls or ice storms that deal lots of damage (perhaps 1d6 plus an extra d6 per Wisdom Bonus).
Referees need to decide what counts as a 'physical attack/creature'. Some creatures are obviously non-corporeal. My rule of thumb is that if a creature might be non-corporeal and requires magical weapons to hit (e.g. Wights) then they do not count as physical creatures and their attacks are not physical attacks. It's the Referee's call to make, just be consistent.
Discipline - Psychometabolism
This is the power of mind over body - initially your own body but Sciences might let you alter other people's bodies too.
Attack Mode: Psychic Crush
Defense Mode: Mind Blank
The Psychic Crush is much feared because it can kill an opponent outright. The Mind Blank is an effective defense mode against all attacks. Neither mode receives Attribute bonuses or penalties.
Psychometabolic Sciences might include healing others, rendering yourself immune to petrification etc., granting someone else enhanced Attributes, going into suspended animation for years, purging yourself of magical bodily effects.
What about the Psionic/Magic distinction? Well, I think psionicists should be able to grant themselves a buff against magical effects that fall within their Discipline, but outright immunity or removal of magical effects would have to be a Science.
Discipline - Psychoportation
Psychoportation is the manipulation of space (and perhaps, as a Science, time as well). It commonly involves teleporting but also includes speeding up or slowing down movement as well as astral travel.
Attack Mode: Ego Whip
Defense Mode: Intellect Fortress (10’r)
The Ego Whip is a dangerous attack, putting opponents into comas, but it is easily countered. The Intellect Fortress is the most potent defense and extends its benefits to all allies within 10'. Both modes receive Charisma bonuses or penalties.
Psychoportation Sciences might include moving at triple speed, teleporting to areas only seen on a map, transporting other people, moving groups of people out of harm's way.
It's important to be quite rigorous with perception/familiarity. For example, I would say you have to be able to perceive your precise destination, so you could not teleport to a distant mountaintop using a Talent (but a Science might allow that). Because of the Psionic/Magic distinction, a Referee could rule that magic items cannot be teleported by themselves (so no shortcuts round scenarios by teleporting the Sword of Doom straight out of the dungeon). Magical creatures - anything that requires a magic weapon to hit - cannot be teleported.
Discipline - Telesentience
Telesentience is the 'expanded awareness' that lets the psionicist perceive things without the use of the five senses.By establishing a perceptual link to a person or object, it can be a great enabler of other Disciplines. It includes projecting thoughts or feelings onto others.
Attack Mode: Mind Thrust
Defense Mode: Tower of Iron Will (3’r)
The Mind Thrust is a more subtle attack than Psychic Blast and stuns opponents, rendering them helpless. The Tower of Iron Will is a powerful defensive mode and extends its benefits to all allies within 3'. Both modes involve Intelligence bonuses or penalties.
Telesentience Sciences might include telepathy with anyone you know by sight, inspecting areas seen on a map or from a distance, dominating other minds, healing derangements, total immunity to mind-control or conferring these benefits to others.
NPCs don't get saving throws against Tekesentience but charm won't make characters or monsters act against their nature and 'strong emotions' can be acted on in a variety of ways so a Reaction Test will reveal whether the creature responds in the way the psionicist hopes (positive eaction) or in a less predictable way (negative reaction). Telesentience works on 'living minds' - not the undead, golems, demons or elementals. I'm inclined to regard fey as 'living' as will as djinns and efreets.
Psionicists automatically become aware if another character or monster that they perceive uses Psionic powers. Many monsters automatically identify psionicists as such when they perceive them, whether they are using their powers or not.
Any psionicist can engage in Psionic Combat with another psionicist they can perceive. Range is unimportant. If a psionicist is attacked, they automatically perceive their attacker and can retaliate.
This means that you can use Telesentience to spy on another psionicist and launch an attack on them, but they can attack you back even if they lack Telesentience themselves. Of course, you have the option to end the battle at any time by canceling the link.
Player characters can launch 'speculative' Psionic attacks on NPCs who might be Psionic but haven't revealed it yet. If the NPC or monster is not Psionic then this accomplishes nothing (unless the Psionic Blast attack mode was used) and the PC gains a point of Psionic Stress for the wasted effort.
Psionic Combat is simultaneous and lightning fast. A Psionic Combat exchange takes place at the start of a melee round, before initiative is rolled. The psionicists may take normal melee actions after their Psionic Combat exchange is resolved. Psionic Combat automatically breaks concentration, ending other effects the psionicist may be maintaining.
Each combatant chooses one of the attack modes available to them. Monsters choose the first attack mode listed for them and move onto the next on the list if last round's attack didn't work.
The combatant then chooses the best defense they have against the attack aimed at them. If there are several attacks, the defender must choose one defense and apply it to all of them. A surprised combatant must choose the worst defense mode available, if possible.
The chart shows the DAC [AAC] created by each defense to each attack. X indicates that this attack can NEVER penetrate this defense. Insane characters gain -4 [+4] to AC versus Id Insinuation and Demons are always treated as if they were insane for this purpose.
Characters add their normal To Hit Bonus and may add a bonus or penalty based on an Attribute. Psychic Blast uses Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma as its Attribute Bonus - whatever the player cjose when they first acquired Psionic Potential - and Psychic Crush never uses any Attribute Bonus. Monsters use their Hit Dice as a bonus To Hit. When a target is 'hit' in Psionic Combat, they acquire a point of Psionic Stress and after that the Referee has two options.
Option 1: Psionic Sudden Death
After gaining a point of Psionic Stress, the character or monster must make a Stress Test (usually on a d6 although powerful monsters roll 1d8 or 1d10) and if they fail this they suffer the effect of the attack instead of the usual penalty.
Option 2: Psionic Duel
After gaining a point of Psionic Stress, the character or monster checks to see if they have reached the maximum stress points, based on their Stress Die (usually 6, but 8 or 10 for powerful psionicists). If so, they suffer the effect of the attack mode. If not, the duel continues.
This means that you can use Telesentience to spy on another psionicist and launch an attack on them, but they can attack yu back even if they lack Telesentience themselves. Of course, you have the option to end the battle at any time by canceling the link.
Defeat in Psionic Combat
The loser remove Stress equal to the result of their Stress Die. In addition, the attack mode used by the winner takes effect:
If you use the Death & Dismemberment house rules then Psychic Crush automatically deals a number of Fatal Wounds equal to the victim's Psionic Stress at the time. If First Aid can be applied it is possible that the character could be saved; treat as Concussion + Coma.
Psionic Blast vs non-Psionicists
Psionic Blast is the only Psionic attack that affects non-psionicists. It automatically cause confusion in monsters that are less intelligent than the psionicist and stuns more intelligent creatures for 1d6 rounds (normal restrictions: creatures must have living minds). However, it is stressful to use this way: the attacker gains two Psionic Stress Points and makes a Stress Test.
Stress Penalties for Psionicists
Referees need to decide on the Stress Penalties for over-using Psionic powers. This could be based on the campaign setting. For example, in your campaign perhaps all Psionic powers are the result of having tainted demon blood and the Stress Penalty is insanity. Alternatively, the player can choose the stress penalty based on their character's background and the rationale for why they possess Psionics.
Option 1: Alarm
Psionic Stress sends out a psychic shriek detected by psionic predators attuned to such things. The Referee may choose a Psionic Monster in the dungeon to alert or roll on the Psionic Wandering Monster table. The monsters will arrive in 1d6 rounds.
You will notice there are tough monsters on this table and it doesn't scale by dungeon level. One option is: those are the breaks! It's a big dangerous world for psionicists and just because you've got Psionic powers it doesn't mean it's safe for you to go using them! Tread carefully!
But maybe you don't want your 1st level party running up against Mind Flayers just yet. You can scale the table by rolling 1d10 for early dungeon levels (1-3), 1d10+5 for mid dungeon levels (4-6) and 1d10+10 for the furthest dungeon levels (7+). A d12 Su-Monsters is quite deadly enough for low-level characters!
If the Referee places Psionic Monsters on an ordinary Wandering Monsters Table, then it will be these monsters who seek out the psionicist. If some of these monsters turn up as ordinary Wandering Monsters, why not allow the PC psionicist to detect their use of Psionic powers and know their direction and distance (but not exactly what they are).
Option 2: Exhaustion
Psionic Stress flips a circuit-breaker in the brain and the psionicist loses all their powers, effectively becoming a normal, non-psionic character. Psionic powers come back once a character is on full Hit Points and no Trauma and rests for an additional week.
This is the most benign limitation on Psionic powers but also the most restrictive. Psionicists get to use their powers for a few occasions, the they switch off and are gone for the rest of the adventure. Use this option if you don't want Psionics to get out of hand.
Option 3: Insanity
Psionic Stress drives you crazy. Perhaps psionicism is insanity. Either way, the psionicist suffers a breakdown. You could roll on a Random Insanity Table (D&D has tons of those) or use my house rules for Trauma & Derangement.
Trauma: Every time a psionicist gains Psionic Stress they instead gain a point of Trauma. Test for Breakdown/Derangements as normal rather than making Psionic Stress Tests. Psionicists who are hit in Psionic Combat gain Trauma and lose the combat if they suffer a Breakdown/Derangement (use normal Stress Dice for monsters). Deranged characters get +1 to their AC vs Id Insinuation for each level of Derangement they have.
This is the least restrictive limitation on Psionic powers in many ways: you can keep on adventuring and using Psionic powers while heavily Tramatised and Deranged. However many Derangements make it hard to rest and lose Psionic Stress. Derangements of level 3+ usually prevent a good night's sleep and level 5+ interfere with a day of restful activity too. Referees might allow psionicists to add their level of Derangement to any Psionic To Hit roll (making them very dangerous) and also deduct this from their AC (making them very vulnerable too). Characters with any level of Derangement alert other psionicists who perceive them to their psionic nature.
It was the tight bubble-perm on the smirking brownie that made him look like Paul Michael Glaser from Starsky & Hutch. That kooky illustration sold me on the Detective character class straight away.
It was 1981 and White Dwarf 24 had published Marcus L Rowland's oddball new character class, the Detective. Eyes rolled. "They don't belong in a fantasy setting," commentators opined, "they're from 19th century fiction, not myth and legend."
Of course, by the same logic, Monks don't belong in D&D either and neither do Eric Holmes' beloved Dreenoi, the insectoid space alien that the godfather of D&D played up to dizzying 4th level (whereupon it was eaten by Green Slime). That sort of negativity seems a bit quaint now, a symptom of the primness of '80s D&D that thought itself too grown-up. We're much more comfortable with genre-mashing these days. Terry Pratchett made a big contribution to the hobby with Guards! Guards! (1989, the first of his novels about the Ankh-Morpork City Watch). But maybe Marcus had read Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose (1980). Or the first three of Edith Pargeter's (aka Ellis Peters') Cadfael mysteries (1977ff).
But Marcus' inspiration goes deeper than a witty literary adaptation:
The detective is a new AD&D character class whose functions are the solving of mysteries and the restoration of Law.
Marcus' introduction hits just the right note. The Detective's nomenclature might be modern and winking-ironic, but his conception is rooted in old school D&D: the conflict between Law and Chaos. Paladins challenge Chaos with their swords, Detectives with their brains. Read on!
I'm taking some beloved fan-made sub-classes from my youth and adapting them for White Box RPG in the spirit of Szymon Piecha's Expanded Lore. Last blog reinterpreted the hilarious Houri. Now it's the Detective's turn.
Marcus L Rowland's Detective class has its feet in two worlds. On the one hand, she's a sort of virtuous Thief/Assassin who uses her powers for good. On the other, he's a quasi-clerical mystic with spells for combating Chaos. I think the secular version of the Detective is worth developing, because the clerical version doesn't require an entire subclass given over to it.
Detectives for White Box
Detectives are champions of Law and solvers of mysteries. They resemble Lawful Thieves and Bards to a degree. It is their calling to solve crimes and bring wrongdoers to justice. Some focus on tracking down particular Chaotic monsters, such as Werewolves, Vampires or Demons. Unlike Paladins, they rely on brains more than brawn.
Detectives must be Lawful in alignment. They are usually Human but at the Referee’s discretion Dwarves and Halflings may also be Detectives (advancing to level 6). The Prime Attribute for Detectives is Intelligence and they add +05% to earned XP if this is 15+.
Marcus' Detectives had to be Human or Elven, but I just don't see the Elf connection. Who is more law-abiding than a Halfling? Who is more dogged than a Dwarf? Little the little folk step forward to solve crimes and leave the Elves to being beautiful and mysterious.
Weapon and Armour Restrictions
Detectives may use light (one handed) weapons and bows. They may wear leather armour and carry shields.
Detectives advance in levels like Fighters, but their Hit Dice and To Hit Bonuses resemble Thieves. Their inferior saving throws resemble bookish Magic-Users. This class requires some commitment from a player: you'll take a while to get anywhere and you won't have much resilience.
This is the chance (roll on a d6) for the Detective to pick up a clue from spending 1d6 rounds studying a person, object or location. This could include:
At the Referee's discretion, a clue could help the player with:
During an investigation, a clue could include:
Deduction is mentally stressful and can only be used once per 10-minute turn. Whether successful or not, a Detective can not seek another clue on the same subject until he has gone up an experience level.
This is the Detective's signature power and it's pretty far-reaching. It's not meant to replace players figuring things out for themselves and a good way to punish its frivolous use is to impose a point of Trauma. The ability offers 'clues' and not necessarily the final solution to a mystery. It's intended to provide stumped players with a way forward and allow people to play brilliant investigators even when they're not personally insightful themselves (after all, D&D lets weaklings play strong and athletic types).
If a Deduction roll fails, the Referee should roll again and if this roll fails too then the Detective receives a false clue. If the re-roll succeeds, then no clue is provided.
PCs successfully listen at doors, detect secret doors and traps and open locks on a roll of 1-2 on a d6. Detectives are twice as good at this, succeeding on a 1-4 (and spotting secret doors and simple pit traps without searching for them on a 1-2).
This makes Detectives as valuable as Elves for detecting secret doors and replaces the Thief powers Marcus L Rowland gave them. The success range is high, but the player usually has to state that they are searching (and where) and Referees will make Wandering Monster Checks when time is spent this way - assume that most inspections use up a 10-minute turn.
Detectives prefer to capture some evil-doers alive. They can attack with their bare hands in the same way as Monks, They gain two attacks per round this way and deal 1d6-1 damage on a hit.
If a Detective uses bare-handed combat to reduce a non-magical enemy to 0 HP or below, she may elect for the final attack to be non-lethal. This knocks the opponent unconscious for 1d6 rounds instead of deducting Hit Points.
Two attacks per round is a lovely boost for 1st level characters. The Detective's hand-to-hand fighting is slightly less powerful than the Monk's: 1d6-1 (equivalent to daggers) rather than 1d6 (equivalent to swords and most monsters). Non-lethal attacks can still leave Injuries (see the Death & Dismemberment rules).
Detectives gain a +2 bonus against Poison and Traps.
This imitates the Thief's saving throw versus Traps but adds in the resistance of Clerics/Fighters to Poison. It's the one area where the Detective is superior to the standard classes in his build.
At ninth level, a Detective may build a Detective Agency in a town or city. She or he becomes a Master Detective and attracts the services of a band of lower level NPCs (often other detectives, bards and reformed thieves but possibly paladins or lawful clerics) who help her solve cases.
Detectives do not gain Trauma from negotiating with monsters, from searching corpses or from being alone in dangerous places.
Arcane Senses: Your Deduction power can be used to attempt to spot invisible or magically disguised objects or creatures (including illusions and polymorphs).
Elementary Insight: Add +1 to your Deduction score.
Escapology You can escape from rope bonds in a 10-minute turn if left alone or 1d6 turns if guarded. You can use a Deduction roll to try to escape from chains, manacles, bilboes, stocks and other more solid bindings.
Martial Arts: You deal 1d6+1 damage when fighting unarmed and your bare-handed attacks count as if they were magic weapons.
Master (or Mistress) of Disguise: You can spend 1d6 rounds disguising yourself to appear as any class, gender or race of your approximate build. If onlookers try to see through your disguise, use your Deduction skill to fool them.
Nemesis: Choose one particular enemy that you hunt. You are immune to its signature power. This could include the charm powers of Succubi, blinding beauty of Sidhe, the level-draining of Vampires or lycanthropy from Werewolves.
Sage: You have a broad area of knowledge (e.g. plants) in which you are an expert and a narrower area of specialism (e.g. fungi) in which you are unrivaled. You may select this Feat multiple times to extend your knowledge.
What about magical Detectives?
The spell-casting Detectives don't seem to require a whole subclass. They're just Lawful Clerics who follow a god of Justice or a cult of inquisitors devoted to solving mysteries or hunting down evil.
Rather than give Clerical Detectives the God's Weapon ability from Arcane Lore, give them a Sage area of expertise, just like the Detective Feat above. Let them expand into other areas of expertise, if they wish, instead of taking new Feats. They don't use the other Detective Feats and instead choose their Feats from the standard Cleric list.
Marcus L Rowland's Detective Spells
Some of Marcus' original Detective spells can be included for White Box, like these, which are only available for Clerical Detectives.
Spell Level: C1
Duration: 1d6 rounds
The caster can tell if she is being lied to (but not if someone genuinely believes a false report). The caster receives a saving throw vs Spells to resist a Houri Magic-User casting Silvertongue.
Reflect the Past
Spell Level: C2
Range: 10' radius of caster
The caster can hold up a mirror or shine a lantern through incense smoke to reveal events taking place in the same location in the past, up to one hour ago per level of the caster. The caster gains a point of Trauma from doing this. Certain demons and fey creatures might detect that they are being observed from the future and block the effect.
Spell Level: C3
Duration: 1 hour
The target of this spell is compelled to tell the truth. The target is not forced to speak but if they do speak they cannot lie. There is no saving throw against this effect.
Spell Level: C4
Non-magical bindings immediately fall away from the caster, including ropes, chains, manacles and gags. This only works on bindings on the caster's person, not locked doors. The caster receives a saving throw vs Paralysis to escape from magical bindings (such as web spells but not paralysation or hold person).
Vision of the Past
Spell Level: C5
This is an improved version of Reflect the Past because the vision occurs in the caster's mind and extends into the past for one year per level of experience. The caster sees the past as with her own eyes and can cast another perception-based spell (such as detect evil) but the vision will end immediately after a second spell takes effect. The vision causes the caster to gain 2 Trauma and demons/fey entities may perceive the caster themselves.
Was it the Houri's exotic powers or her sultry pose that intrigued me. It was 1979 and I was 12, so I think Russ Nicholson's art had something to do with it. But it was a good character class, a nod to non-Western themes (in a crude way) and one of those creations that briefly straddled the OD&D/AD&D divide. I've always wanted to revisit Houris.
Click on the image to read Brian Asbury's original Houri
Brian Asbury's 'Houri' appeared in White Dwarf 13 (1979) and was billed as a sub-class of Magic-User specialising in charm and stealth:
Houris, or Nymphs of Paradise to give a better description, are a very specialist sub-class of magic-user, their speciality being concerned with spells of charming and similar abilities. They also have the power to seduce single individuals and the ability to hide in the shadows as thieves.
Asbury's Houris have a fiddly Seduction ability that creates the same power creep problems as Bardic Charm and is rather problematic when reviewed from 21st century perspectives (it's super heteronormative!).
A seduced male will drop his weapons, become oblivious to his surroundings, and attempt to engage the houri in a passionate embrace. In such a state he is extremely vulnerable ... Seduction cannot be used in combat and cannot work against other females except homosexual ones
My appreciation of Szymon Piecha's Expanded Lore has made me want to take his philosophy and apply it to other fan-made character classes from those early days of D&D. How can we re-tool the Houri for White Box RPG?
There seem to be two ways to go with the Houri, which Asbury's original template muddles together. One is the Houri as a specialist Magic-User: whereas Illusionists specialise in illusions, Houris specialise in charm, ESP and other types of mind-control magic. The other is the Houri as a type of Bard: a seducer, spy and influencer. The latter seems to me to be much more interesting than the former, given that I hate the idea of Magic-User subclasses with their own unique spell sets.
Houris for White Box
Houris are intriguers and seducers who use their personal charms to manipulate others. They excel at gathering and trading rumours and exploiting social situations. Houris can be any non-Lawful alignment. Houris can be male (adonises, if you prefer) or female. They are usually Human but at the Referee’s discretion Elves may also be Houris (advancing to level 8). The Houri's Prime Attribute is Charisma, which confers a +05% bonus if it is 15+.
Weapon and Armour Restrictions
Houris may use daggers, darts and other small, concealable weapons. They may not wear armour or carry shields.
This table proposes Houris advance as fast as Thieves, but their Hit Dice, Saves and To Hit Bonuses advance like puny Magic-Users. This is a frail build.
This is the chance (roll on a d6) for the Houri to learn something of value from talking to a NPC for one round or observing a group of NPCs for 1d6 rounds. If successful, the Referee will provide the Houri with a rumour. If unsuccessful the Referee rolls a second time and if that roll is also unsuccessful the Houri is provided with a false rumour; if the second roll succeeds the Houri learns nothing but is not misled.
This is similar to Bard's Lore ability, but it deals with the present rather than the ancient past and people rather than objects. Intrigue might reveal who is a traitor, which monster carries a magic weapon or simply a rumour about the dungeon. It might reveal things NPCs know, such as traps on their treasure, a secret door they use to escape or the fact that they expect reinforcements soon. In a town setting, Intrigue exposes factions, plots and the ties between NPCs: who loves who, who hates who, who serves who and what it would take to bribe someone. The Referee decides how much or how little Intrigue reveals, but I recommend generosity (short of ruining your own scenarios) since this is the Houri's main ability.
This is an incredibly useful power, especially as NPCs do not get to save against it if they fall within the Houri's Hit Dice limit. The downside is that the Houri may be pestered and, in a dungeon environment, attacked by monsters. Nonetheless, the opportunity to stun monsters or lure away guards offers an incredible tactical edge. Entrancement resembles a Bard's Charm power, but the Houri does not have to do anything to maintain it; however unlike Bardic Charm it will only last a few rounds.
Houris can bewitch NPCs who have been entranced: this has the same effect as charm person. The subject is allowed to save vs Spells to resist this and, if successful, is immune to further attempts until the Houri has increased a level of experience.
Fascinated NPCs who are sexually orientated towards the Houri will be romantically infatuated. Other NPCs will be struck with admiration and a desire to impress the Houri
A Houri can keep one NPC fascinated, plus an extra NPC per Charisma bonus modifier (usually +1, +2 or +3). If the Houri exceeds this limit, a previously fascinated NPC is no longer charmed and conceives an intense hatred of the Houri that lasts 1d6 days but lasts weeks instead if the Fascination was romantic.
Being able to charm enemies at will sounds over-powered, but it's not quite that simple. The target must have been Entranced first, which is limited to a certain number of Hit Dice and carries its own risks if the charm doesn't work. Then there is the limit to the number of dupes the Houri can keep Fascinated at any given time - and every dupe you 'let go' to make room for somebody new creates an ex with a burning hatred towards you.
Houris gain a +2 bonus against ESP and mind-controlling powers.
At ninth level, a Houri may build a pleasure palace in a town or city. She or he becomes a Muse and attracts the services of a band of lower level NPCs (often other houris, bards and thieves but possibly illusionists or clerics of love-deities) who frequent her salon, which becomes a hub of culture, pleasure and gossip. A salon might be an artistic studio, a temple to love or a brothel or anything in between.
You can play Houris as the classic 'mystical prostitute' if you like, in which case the Salon is a place for orgies. This version of the Houri allows them to be more sophisticated than that: a Cersei Lannister or a Guinevere or even a Gertrude Stein rather than a sexual entrepreneur.
Houris are sensitive people but very flexible in their psychology: they do not gain Trauma from negotiating with monsters, from testing potions or from being charmed, possessed or transformed by magic.
Backstab: You can Backstab opponents you have Entranced, just like a Thief (gaining +2 to hit and rolling damage dice twice); this immediately ends the Entrancement.
Bewitching: Your Fascination power functions as charm monster instead of charm person.
Body Language: You can communicate with intelligent creatures without sharing a language, but only simple ideas, emotions and instructions can be conveyed.
Insight: Add +1 to your Intrigue score.
Master (or Mistress) of Disguise: You can spend 1d6 rounds disguising yourself to appear as any class, gender or race of your approximate build. If onlookers try to see through your disguise, use your Intrigue skill to fool them.
Poisonous Kiss: You can apply contact poison to your lips or body, causing a victim you kiss or embrace either to be paralysed for 1d6 rounds or to take 1d6 damage if they fail to save vs Poison. Victims are only affected by the poison once, until you re-apply it the next day.
Striking Appearance: Add +2 to the number of Hit Dice of people you can Entrance.
Notes for Referees
You have to rule on entrancement on a case-by-case basis.
In a dungeon situation, Entrancement will stun a group of humanoid monsters then cause them to target the Houri with their attacks. Since Houris wear no armour, they need to think carefully before employing this tactic!
In other situations, Entrancement can lure away sentries, break up crowds or cause enemies to pursue the Houri rather than other characters.
Entrancement is a pre-requisite for Fascination. Once a creature is Fascinated, the Houri cannot remove the effect except by Fascinating more creatures, which causes previous subjects to react with hatred. When the Houri Fascinates a new subject beyond their limit, the Referee should determine randomly which of the previous subjects reacts this way.
Intrigue can only be used once on each named NPC or group of unnamed NPCs or humanoid monsters. It cannot be attempted again on the same persons until the Houri has gained a level of experience.
The Referee should give Intrigue a wide latitude to discover secrets, detect monster weaknesses or ‘read the room’. By way of default, a successful Intrigue could allow a Houri to confer on an ally an attack with advantage (a spell that is saved against at -2, an attack with a +2 bonus, an opportunity to Backstab or Assassinate) or allow the Houri knowledge of a treasure, trap or secret door in the area.
What about magical Houris?
Brian Asbury's original Houri was a spell-caster as well as a seducer. Now it seems to me that there is no need for a separate class if this is what you want. Any Magic-User can specialise in charm, illusion, scrying and mind control. However, they do not get the powers of Entrancement, Fascination and Intrigue described above and choose their Feats from the Magic-User lists.
A Magic-User Houri will only use these spells from the White Box lists:
The Houri's Kiss
Rather than giving Houris a Familiar as a starting ability (c.f. Expanded Lore), allow them this power: if they kiss a target while casting a spell, the target gets no saving throw against that spell. Of course, kissing an opponent in combat requires a roll to hit and if the roll misses the spell is wasted.
Brian Asbury's Houri Spells
Some of the original Houri spells can be included for White Box like these, which are only available for Magic-User Houris.
Spell Level: M1
Duration: 1d6 rounds
The caster can lie convincingly. Listeners will believe anything the caster tells them so long as it is not contradicted by their senses. Lies that go against deeply held beliefs allow the target a saving throw vs Spells and, if successful, the target will believe nothing else the caster says.
Spell Level: M2
Duration: 1 hour
The caster can communicate with any intelligent, non-magical creature in its native language. (The caster speaks normally but the targets hear their own native tongue, which the caster understands in his or her own familiar language).
Spell Level: M3
Duration: Until dispelled
The target will fall in love with the next gender-appropriate person it sees if a saving throw vs Spells is failed.
Spell Level: M4
Duration: Until eaten
The target will conceive a violent hatred for the next person it sees if a saving throw vs Spells is failed.
Spell Level: M5
Duration: 1d6 rounds
All non-magical creatures that can see the caster are frozen with awe and desire for 1d6 rounds and can take no actions, including self-defence. Attacks against them are at +4. There is no saving throw against this but creatures are freed from the effect if they are attacked, roughly shaken or spells are cast on them.
Spell Level: M6
This spell lets the caster cast any level 1-5 spell they have prepared as if it were bestowed through a kiss (i.e. there is no saving throw against it).
The one person who has more illusions than the dreamer, said Oscar Wilde, is the man of action. The old D&D Illusionist proves him right which, because Wilde was being facetious, also proves him wrong. That's Illusionists for you. They're tricksy.
After investigating the Ranger and the Assassin, the Illusionist is the last class for me to take a look at. What about Druids and Paladins and Monks, you say? Well, Szymon Piecha did a fine job on adapting them for White Box so I might review his creations in the future but I don't propose to alter them. Salvatore Macri offers a revised Illusionist in Swords & Wizardry: WhiteBox Heroes but his version is really the OD&D Illusionist, barely altered. I want to take a closer look at that then suggest another approach.
The Illusionist is an odd D&D class in many ways. For one thing, it doesn't emerge from the collaboration of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson nor (like the Ranger) from one of their gaming groups. It was developed by a Boston-area gamer named Peter Aronson and submitted to the Strategic Review, TSR's in-house magazine-cum-newsletter, and published in 1975. When Dragon Magazine debuted the following year, Aronson submitted a revised Illusionist with new spells and higher levels, bringing it into congruence with the development of Magic-Users in the OD&D supplements.
Aronson's original Illusionist, adapted from Strategic Review, Winter 1975
Aronson's creativity is greater than you would think. The idea of specialist Magic-Users had not been hinted at in OD&D - the spell categories of conjuration, evocation, alteration, etc. had not yet entered D&D's vocabulary. The original rules concluded the Phantasmal Force spell with the gnomic remark that would rock D&D tables with a million heated arguments over the next decade:
damage caused to viewers of a Phantasmal Force will be real if the illusion is believed to be real
Aronson takes this idea and runs with it, developing a whole grimoire of spells based around illusion, concealment and manipulating the senses.
The idea is all the more peculiar for lacking any real antecedents in literature or legend. Who are the famous fantasy illusionists?
Well, Loki I suppose....
But that's the Loki of modern comics and movies. The Loki of legend is certainly a shapeshifter but not an illusionist. How about literature? There's the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Gandalf adds foam-white horses to the flood that sweeps the Ringwraiths away at the Ford of Bruinen.
This example is ambiguous though: has Gandalf added an illusion to the very real flood, or has he invoked the spirits of the river to take visible form?
Folklore and legend feature many wizards, witches and fairies who can appear to be other than their true form, from the 'Loathly Lady' of Sir Gawain and Uther Pendragon taking the form of the Duke of Cornwall to seduce Cornwall's wife Igraine through to Shakespeare's Puck who disguises himself as a milking stool and gives Nick Bottom an ass' head.
Here again, it's not clear if Puck is an illusionist or a shapeshifter. Does he really become a pony, a roasted crab and a three-legged stool or does he just make people think that's what he is? Does Bottom really have the head of an ass or is that a true illusion? In D&D terminology, is this polymorph or phantasmal forces?
In contrast, other types of magic-users - necromancers, demon-summoning conjurors, scrying clairvoyants, potion-brewing alchemists - are so much better-attested. The Illusionist is very much a product of D&D fandom and I suspect Aronson's inspiration lies less in fantasy and more in science-fiction, especially comic book characters like Mysterio and Star Trek episodes like The Menagerie (1966).
Indeed, the whole idea of the 'illusion' as a subjective reality as opposed to magical alterations in objective reality brought about by shapechanging seems rooted in the assumptions of modern psychology (and ultimately Rene Descartes' dualism) rather than myth and legend.
Wherever the idea came from, Aronson's Illusionist gives a real focus to what D&D fans were already doing - creating new spells - by proposing a Magic-User sub-class drawing upon an entirely different spell-set from the original. In D&D 5th edition, all mages can specialises to some extent or other in different 'schools' and Aronson set this project in motion.
Or was Len Lakofka first with the fire-wizard Pyrologist in his 1975 fanzine Liaisons Dangereuses?
Because Peter Aronson redrafted his Illusionist with a determination to make it compatible with official rules as they evolved, Gary Gygax didn't have much work to do adapting it for AD&D in 1978.
One of the charming features of Aronson's Illusionist is the absence of power creep (compare and contrast, Joe Fischer's Ranger); in fact, Aronson unduly punishes his Illusionist, concerned that he's created something overpowered. Gygax brings the XP requirement down to be less than standard Magic-Users while raising spell slots to match Magic-Users. The spell lists are those from Aronson's revision in Dragon #1, with a few shuffles (for some reason, Ventriloquism is level 2 now).
Gary Gygax raises the Dexterity requirement to 16. Sixteen! This seems to be an expression of Gygax's delusion that high attribute requirements represent some sort of limitation on a new class, rather than just empowering them even further.
See what he's doing with his left finger? That's 16 Dexterity in action!
In bringing back the Illusionist for Swords & Wizardry: White Box, Salvatore Macri leans heavily on Aronson's original version. The attribute requirements drop back to 15, the XP progression, while not as punishing as Aronson's original, is still higher than a standard Magic-User, although the spell slots are the same as a Magic-User's. The spells are Aronson's originals, sometimes with a bit of tidying up (e.g. Light and Darkness are no longer two spells, but rather a single reversible spell).
Truly, Swords & Wizardry delivers that OD&D experience. However, Charlie Mason's White Box seems more willing to go beyond OD&D (such as the inclusion of fey monsters) and Szymon Piecha is much more radical, treating White Box as an opportunity to explore what OD&D could have been rather than faithfully recreating what it was.
The Illusionist for White Box
Minimum attributes are out, for starters. Szymon Piecha wisely ditches that colossal Charisma requirement for his Paladins and I'm following suit. So what if Illusionist spells are all fiddly and take a lot of manual dexterity to cast? If you're a clumsy Illusionist, you'll have your own problems. I'm not imposing a rule that, in effect, gifts all Illusionists fantastic Dexterity-based bonuses.
Then we have the spells. Now I'm all in favour of Referees and players creating new spells for their campaigns. They can be judged on a case-by-case basis. But I'm not a fan of whole rafts of new spells being created, whole-cloth, for new classes, without some solid justification. Instead, I ask myself, isn't there some other way of getting this result without composing a new spell book in its entirety?
I'll give Druids a pass, and not just because Szymon Piecha includes their spells in Expanded Lore. Wilderness adventures have always been an feature of D&D, but the spells have always been intensely 'indoors' in their theme, with little reference to plants or animals and an assumption that a 10' wide barrier blocks any conceivable approach. A set of 'outdoors spells' is a valid contribution.
A whole new set of illusion-themed spells, though? Couldn't we do that differently?
Why not give Illusionists exactly the same spells as Magic-Users - but their spells are all illusory versions of the standard Magic-User ones...? An illusory web, an illusion of a wizard locked door, illusory elementals and fireballs that deal illusory damage?
Not all spells can be illusions, but I think Illusionists should still be able to manipulate feelings and emotions so charm person and sleep still stand, while the various detect spells would be part of any sorcerer's collection. The spells that have to go are the ones that alter the real world in a non-illusory way: Alter Time, Animal Growth, Dimension Door, Disintegrate, Fly, Knock, Levitate, Move Earth or Water, Passwall, Plant Growth, Reincarnation, Telekinesis, Teleport, Transform (rock, mud, flesh, stone), Water Breathing.
How do illusory spells work? Well, just like the real ones, but if they 'kill you' you merely pass out for a while then wake up with all your Hit Points restored. If you touch an illusion with a disbelieving mind, you can save vs spells to dispel it. Since illusory monsters fade away when killed and illusory damage disappears, enemies may realise what's up sooner rather than later.
All of this is to make Illusionists rather weaker than standard Magic-Users, so let's balance them out. Let's give them spell-slots as if one level higher, so a 1st level Illusionist gets two first level spells rather than one and a 2nd level Illusionist gets access to second level spells. A few more illusory spells, in effect.
Two spells at 4th level, spell slots maxing out at 5 rather than 4 at 1st level and 4 rather than 3 at 2nd level: that's a lot more spells, sooner.
I'm giving Illusionists a power of 'Minor Glamour' to alter their own appearance at will or alter the appearance of anything they hold in their hands, while preserving the basic size and shape. To keep the fey element, this glamour always retains something of the Illusionist's true form: clothes the same colour, voice unchanged, a distinctive piece of jewellery, the same beard.
Lastly, I want to connect Illusionist to Arnold Kemp's Trauma & Insanity rules: Illusionists gain a point of Trauma if someone disbelieves in one of their illusions. That should keep them pleasantly unhinged.
The Gnomish Thief-Illusionist
AD&D introduced the option for demi-humans to multiclass, but White Box follows OD&D in making the Elvish Fighter-Magic-User a single class available only to Elves rather than a hybrid. Following this approach, I offer Thief-Illusionists for White Box Gnomes, a devastating combination of illusion magic, thievery and backstabbing. Beware.
Reflections: Hello rancour, my old friend
If the early years of D&D were riven with friendship-dissolving rows about whether anyone should be allowed to play an Assassin, the second most common and tearful disagreement was over what exactly you could get away with regarding illusions.
For example, if an Illusionist conjures an illusory bridge over a chasm and his companions believe it's a real bridge, can they walk over it?
The answer to this seems to be a hard 'Nope' and yet someone wrote into a RPG magazine (I think it was White Dwarf) asking this and similar questions, so back in 1979 you weren't an obvious cretin for finding this confusing.
People don't seem to raise these questions any more. I guess that D&D has evolved, there's a body of consensus and that concepts that were confusing 40 years ago are more easily grasped today. It's like Einstein's relativity theory. Back in 1919 at a meeting of the Royal Society, the famous and brilliant physicist Prof. Eddington was asked if it were true that only three people in the world understood Einstein's theory. Eddington paused then responded with lofty humour: "I'm just wondering who the third would be..."
Yet today, a bright High School student could give you the gist of it.
Allowing Illusionists to cast illusory versions of conventional spells would have been divisive and opened the door to power-gaming back in 1975. Today, though? I think we can work out what do with an illusory cloudkill or an illusory wall of fire, an illusory lightning bolt or animate dead. And there's often a huge advantage in not killing your enemies with your spells. It's much more subtle than your standard fireball.
30 Minute Dungeons
Essays on Forge
I'm a teacher and a writer and I love board games and RPGs. I got into D&D back in the '70s with Eric Holmes' 'Blue Book' set and I've adopted Forge Out of Chaos to pursue my nostalgia for old school RPGs.
The shoddy PDF rulebook available at drivethrurpg is missing pp 66-67, 82-83, 86-87, 126-127, 140-141 and 162-5. You can read or download these below: