This is the second in a series of posts about some of the design choices I made. In addition to explaining what the system is about, it will also help folks in deciding which elements are the most useful to them as one of my overall goals is to support kitbashing.
The basic rules are meant to be a complete system supporting players and referees. But given the page count (140 to 160 pages) I had to pick and choose what elements to include from the larger system. For classes this meant sticking to the traditional four: Burglar, Cleric, Fighter, and Magic User and detailing levels 1 to 5.
When I started blogging, I stated the following:
To me the Old School Renaissance is not about playing a particular set of rules in a particular way, the dungeon crawl. It is about going back to the roots of our hobby and seeing what we could do differently. What avenues were not explored because of the commercial and personal interests of the game designers of the time.
With my Majestic Wilderlands supplement and later with these rules, I started with Swords & Wizardy, Core that uses the 3 Little Brown Books (LBBs) of the original edition plus selected element from later supplements as a foundation. I didn't stop there. I tweaked, and altered things to better suit the campaigns I was running. Still I wanted to easily use to all the great material the OSR was producing so that acted as a limit as to how far I would change things. Among the things that got modified and altered were the basic four classes. The reason I altered these classes was to reflect some of the specific details that were present in previous campaigns.
It is possible as a author to design a system in a way that at certain points the character have a 50-50 chance of defeating certain opponent and overcoming specific challenge. This is not what I do. Instead I define how the setting works first and then see to the rules. While I switched away from the advanced system in the mid 1980s, I still keep the basic idea that there were fighters, priests, mages, and thieves. Then fleshed out from there. So when I returned to using the original edition in the form of Swords & Wizardry, I was able to use the existing classes as a starting point but made changes due how these different character types developed in the intervening years As a result the "balance' within these rules reflect the settings I used rather than strictly sticking to the original edition.
Basic Rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG Kickstarter
To be blunt, the thief didn't make the cut. Thus in its place I created a new Burglar class. From the days of using the advanced edition in the early 80s the thief always felt a little off to me. A 1st level thief felt way under powered compared to the other classes because of the low percentages of success for their thieving abilities. Many of these abilities covered things that even then I felt other character can do like hide in shadows, or move silently.
Later as I was fleshing out the Majestic Wilderlands supplement, I read about how the thief came to be in the first supplement to the original edition. Along with of some of the controversy around who created the class. I was already trying out my first pass of the ability system so I decided to jettison the thief and make a new set of Rogue classes that were better at doing things outside of combat and spellcasting. Among them was the Burglar.
What distinguishes the Burglar and the other rogue classes is that they have a lot more ability bonuses compared to other classes. Any character can use any ability but the rogues are generally the best. The Burglar class focuses on burglar abilities: Climbing, Eavesdrop, Legerdemain, Perception, and Stealth. At 1st level a burglar gets +8 bonuses to distribute among these abilities with no more than half going to any one ability. This means a 1st lever burglar can be competent at one or two abilities especially after you add in the relevant attribute bonus.
Not in the section on rulings, I talk about what I assume about character competence. In short I view 1st level not as a complete novice but somebody who has their initial round of training.
Compared to the thief, another major difference is the lack of an explicit backstab ability. This reflects what I read about campaigns when they only had the 3 LBBs to use. Any character was able to sneak around, and if they had a good plan had a chance to knock out a guard.
But the various accounts varied greatly as to how each referee came up with their own ruling on this and other things that character can do. When we talk about the combat rules, you will see that while any character can try to knock the guard, but the burglar has the best odds of being able to sneak behind an unsuspecting enemy and thus have the best opportunity to knock them out cold with a single blow.
If you like how the original thief was presented but still want to use my ability system, what I recommend is to give the Thief class a reduced number of ability bonuses comparable to what the cleric, fighter, and magic-user get ( +4 to +6 total). Make the the thief skills like move silently, pick locks, etc. represent an extraordinary use of that skill. With ordinary use handled by the ability system.
Clerics in the Majestic Fantasy RPG have some additions that reflect my view of the role of religion in a fantasy setting and campaign. First they get a small amount of ability bonuses: Theology and +2 (or 2 +1s) that they can use on any other ability. At 3rd level they get the use of a specific spell once a day (typically a spell of 3rd to 4th level). This spell reflects the nature of their deity and religion. For the basic rules this spell is Prayer. The last is the ability to cast rituals which I will cover when I talk about the magic users.
An important new feature is the Shield of Faith. In my campaign divine power is superior to anything arcane (or mundane). I portray clerics as divine agents of their deity. As their understanding of their faith deepens so does their ability to resist various supernatural effects. By the time they reach 5th level, a cleric's faith makes them completely immune to spells like charm person. However this shield only works against certain spells that effect the character directly with magic. So while the shield protects against spells like sleep, charm person but doesn't protect against spells that create something else that does the damage or causes an effect like cloudkill, fireball or wall of stone. Each spells has a note stating whether it is effected by magical immunity or not.
This does makes clerics more powerful in terms of class abilities. Keep in mind that a cleric character is not a free agent, they are a representative of their religion and deity. If they do not uphold their religion's tenets they will lose their ability to cast divine magic, and their shield of faith. I realize that not all campaigns are interested in this type of roleplaying, so dropping the Shield of the Faith is fine.
In addition for the basic rules, I decided to attach a specific deity for flavor, Delaquain, the Goddess of Honor and Justice. This can be changed to suit your campaign along with the third level spell that is granted. In addition, because Delaquain is a war goddess, her clerics are trained to use any armor, and all weapons. This can also be tweaked depending on your campaign.
Clerics in the basic rules still have the ability to turn undead, and still have the same spell progression as found in Swords and Wizardry..
Fighters have two important addition in these rules.
First they can add their to-hit bonus to their initiative roll. This change came about in the campaigns I ran after the release of the Majestic Wilderlands. Later editions pad out the fighter with extra abilities to use in combat. I resisted doing this as it didn't feel to be in the spirit of Swords and Wizardry and the other classic editions. But the issue kept coming up. So one session, I suggested adding the to-hit bonus and we tried it. It proved to be a winner among the players playing fighters. Now they generally went first in a combat round. It also felt right in that it was something that ought to happen when a character is a fighter.
The another tweak I made is to give monsters an initiative bonus equal to 1/2 of their hit dice. I initially did this because it made sense for certain monster they also got a bonus as well. But I soon found out that it also made the rest of the party appreciate the fighters even more as the fighters were the only ones that had a chance of going first before a high hit dice monster.
Second and more recent, I experimented with extending the multiple attack ability that fighter get against 1 HD foes. It can now be applied against higher HD creatures but only in proportion. A 6th level fighter can attack 6 1 HD enemies, 3 2 HD enemies or 1 foe that is 6 HD or higher. I found players learning the exact hit dice or level of their foe to be a non-issue as most of the time they generally had a rough idea what hit dice range their enemies fell into. This also reflects my experience fighting reenactments that I could get a sense of the skill level of my opponent after the first series of exchanges.
Like fighters magic users have two important additions in these rules.
First they have a set of ability bonuses: +1 to Thaumatology, +1 to Research, and +2 that they can split between two other abilities.
The more significant addition is the ability to cast rituals. Magic User in the Majestic Fantasy RPG can cast spells without memorization. But they have to have the spell in their spell book, it take a 10 minute ritual (and a wandering monster check) plus an expenditure of ritual components. To keep it simple the ritual component are only the total value of the components are track. A 1st level ritual takes 10d or 10 silver pieces to cast. While a second level ritual will take 40d.
Other details are that 250d worth of ritual components equal 1 lb of weight. And the higher level that a magic user can cast is equal to half (rounded down) of the higher level of spell they can cast. So magic users can only cast 1st level rituals when they reach 3rd level in their class. Clerics can also cast rituals except they can cast any cleric spell as a ritual although they are still limited to half of the highest level spell they can cast.
This reflect that the magic level of my setting went up a notch since the early 80s when I ran my campaigns with the advanced edition. I switched to other RPGs where spellcasters were more flexible But oddly despite the flexibility they never were quite as spectacular as they are in the original and advanced edition.
More importantly the ritual allowed me to come up with other types of spellcasters that dovetailed nicely into the original edition without overshadowing the magic user.
If you use rituals in your campaign, I recommend that you require players keep strict track of the value of ritual components on hand. That in most cases they will have to return to a shop in the town or city to buy more if they run out. This makes ritual a limited resource just like memorized spells. Also if you feel a base of 10d is too low. Then translate 1d = 1gp instead of 1d = 1sp.
5th level ability
In my campaigns, players just don't suddenly become a lord, high priest, boss, etc. Like in life, they start by acquiring allies and friend. Cultivating relationships with patrons. By 5th level, this has developed to a point where the players now have a small group of followers of their own. Fifth level is around the time where character undertake their first command. So in the basic rules I summarize this with a 5th level class ability. For example 5th level is around the time a magic user attracts their first apprentices or aides.
I started these rules with the 2nd printing of Swords and Wizardry. At that time each classes hit points were rolled as increments of 1d6 +/- a modifier. I opted to retain this. However substituting variable hit dice (d8, d6, d4) is fine if that your preference.