"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Why B/X Is My Favorite #3

3. Strong archetype classes

One of the claims I hear about B/X is that it is a great "whip out the box and play" version of D&D. The nice thing about the B/X rules is that the number of classes is very limited but they cover all of the standard archetypes of pulp fantasy.

There are only seven classes in B/X:

I find that these classes are general enough to portray nearly any of the character types of the pulp fantasy genre. While many people may find the limited number of classes to be restrictive, I find that the low number of classes forces players to use their imagination to develop their character.

While someone could view all clerics as being basically the same, through some good roleplaying and descriptive flavour, the cleric of the frog god of chaos can feel very different than the cleric of the righteous brotherhood. For example, the cleric of the frog god may decide that they would never cast a light spell because their deity prefers dank darkness and that when they are under the effects of a bless spell there skin takes on a green colour covered in warts. The cleric of the righteous brotherhood however, may always be required to take a light spell. each gives very different flavour without any specific mechanics - just roleplaying.

Fighters can be any of the warriors from fiction or pulp literature. Anything from Conan to Jason to a Samurai can be portrayed with this class - you just have to use your imagination.

Magic-users are a bit unique in B/X. I believe that the B/X rules allow Magic-users to be very diverse and fill a number of the roles of various wizards and sorcerers in literature.

Some people have an issue with the thief and how their skills are the cause of much evil in RPG design. I have vacillated on this topic and, at least for now, have settled on the side that doesn't mind thieves. In terms of archetypes however, I find the thief does fill a required role.

To me, the human classes of B/X can fill any of the archetypes with a little imagination and the right attributes. I mentioned in my last Why B/X is My Favorite post that B/X's moderate mechanical bonuses for attributes gives each character some uniqueness. If you roll a high Dexterity your character could be a quick, swashbuckling fighter. A high constitution could be used for a street tough thief. A high strength could be used to make a vengeful cleric of an intolerant deity. As will all version of D&D, a little imagination can go a long way.

I have already discussed the demi-human classes in a previous post and I will cover a few more points when I discuss reason #4 - Race = Class and meaningful level limitations


  1. Only one more class would have been my ideal: the ilussionist. Along with some fighter-subclasses: the barbarian, the archer, the pirate and the berserker.

  2. But you can have an illusionist.
    There are illusion-type spells in the spell lists, for example - Invisibility, Phantasmal Force, Hallucinatory Terrain, etc
    And then the Magical Research rules on page X51.
    Remember that there are strict limitations on spellbooks in B/X that create a quasi specialist system.

    As for the Fighter sub-classes, I assume that you mean you would prefer mechanical differences for each. I don't see why they are needed in a simple roleplaying game like B/X. The Fighter class alone covers all of these (except Berserker - which comes from the monster section), you just have to picture them in your mind's-eye.

    A barbarian could easily be a Fighter with a high constitution. Give him an axe and a chain shirt and name him Thongar.

    An archer is a fighter with a high dexterity and a bow.

    And a pirate is a guy wearing leather armour on a boat.

    I don't understand the need for codified rules/mechanics to allow someone to picture the character the way they want.

    That being said, if you really want your barbarian to be "different" it is not a big deal to give him a "tracking" ability based on the dwarves stonework ability and giving them a bonus for foraging as described on page X51. I have done this kind of stuff numerous times. I always try to make sure it is non-combat and saving throw stuff that gets adjusted.

    I honestly wouldn't make a separate archer class but for a pirate I would start with a fighter and give them a bonus to reduce the chances of becoming lost while at sea - instant pirate.

  3. Of course, you don't "need" any of what I mentioned. Just day dreaming about how my ideal B/X should have been.

  4. I know that mechanical differences are not needed, but laying down the options in an express manner contributes in creating the atmosphere of the game. You don't really need the thief or the cleric if you wan't to be a minimalist, but those two classes really set a unique atmosphere for D&D

  5. I agree. If a person wanted to get down to the basic archetypes of sword & sorcery you could nix the cleric and thief.

    One of the great things about B/X (or other old versions of D&D) is how you can add things to fit your "ideal" D&D and not "break" anything.

  6. And sorry. I reread my previous post and I didn't mean to be coming across as busting your chops.

  7. Oh, don't worry about that at all! I was just commenting something totally hypotetic. I think B/X did it right as a comercial and flagship product, because it's much more generic and can therefore appeal and be house-ruled by a wider audience.