Ah, the Classic D&D Classes. So reviled, so little understood yet still so dearly loved by their fans for nigh-on thirty years. There’s just the four human classes – Fighter, Thief, Magic-User and Cleric – and the three non-human races (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling – you knew that, right?). Plus Druid and Mystic too, but let’s not confuse things, ok? Character creation takes mere minutes meaning it’s trivial (and expected, at 1st level) to roll up two or three in preparation for the game. Up until around 5th level, this is high-attrition D&D where characters have to be Very Lucky or Very Well Played (or both) to survive. Every gamer group had their own House Rules ranging from boosting 1st level Hit Points to re-writing the entire combat system. And y’know what – that’s one of the big strengths of this Edition.
Classic D&D has self-contained mechanics for each subsystem. Rolling a saving throw is different to making a skill check, Turning Undead or making an Open Doors check. It might sound counter-intuitive to say having all of these different mechanics is a strength, especially after we’ve been brainwashed into believing that consistency is king, but it is. For a start, having different mechanics means that this is a wonderfully hackable system; don’t like the Turn Undead rules? Change ’em, and everything else stays the same. Compare that to the minefield that is house-ruling 3e or 4e D&D where the slightest alteration can have unforeseen effects down the line.
Also, having different game mechanics means that each character class feels special. Whether it’s the Magic-User’s hinky spell memorization, the Thief’s skills or the Cleric’s Turn Undead, that player has got some super special slice of rules that no other character has. Y’know, just like 4e D&D’s exception-based paradigm, only the rules really are different, not just the same with a different coat of paint.
In our games we roll 4d6, dropped lowest and allocate stats. We grant max Hit Points at 1st level, use the Skill and Weapon Mastery options (more on those, another time) and ignored the restrictions on allowed weapons – if a Magic-User wants to become a Grand Master in the Sword (eventually), so be it. If a character drops to 0hp the player decides whether they are dead or if they want to bring in a replacement character – but if the entire party reached 0hp then they’re all eaten. Nasty.
There are a few more wrinkles – Magic-Users can memorise more spells if they have high INT (as do Clerics with high WIS), for example. The focus is on fast, fun characters first and foremost. The irony is that the generation rules from the Rules Cyclopedia are every bit as flexible as those found in 3rd Edition, and streets ahead (in terms of flexibility) of those in 4e. Want a Classic D&D Ranger? Create a Fighter, make him skilled with the Longbow, Dagger, Sword & Handaxe and take Skills in Survival, Animal Training, Stealth and Snares. Done. I’ve yet to find a character I can’t create in Classic D&D with a little imagination and some occasional rules twistery. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
It’s all funky, and I love the funk. I dig that Clerics don’t get spells until 2nd level – they’ve got to prove themselves to their Gods, dawg. I love the 1st level Thief’s piss-poor skill percentages because that means he can only tackle piss-poor locks and traps and quite right too – he’s only First Level! Mind you, the Stealth Skill goes a long way toward improving a Thief’s survivability. Which, if you want to play a Thief, is a Good Thing.
Want a few example characters? Here’s four, all 1st level, wide-eyed and ready for their first (and probably last) dungeon.
Cardamon, Male Lawful Fighter-1
Str 17, Int 9, Wis 5, Dex 12, Con 15, Cha 15
HP 9, AC 4 (Chain & Shield), THAC0 19
DR/P 12, MW 13, P/TtS 14, BA 15, R/S/S 16
Sword (Bs), +2, 1d8+2
Shortbow (Bs), 1d6
Mace (Bs), +2, 1d6
Staff (Bs), +2, 1d6
Muscle (18), Endurance (15), Bargaining (15)
Anise, Female Chaotic Elf-1
Str 12, Int 15, Wis 13, Dex 14, Con 13, Cha 14
HP 7, AC 5 (Scale), THAC0 19
DR/P 12, MW 13, P/TtS 13, BA 15, R/S/S 15
Longbow (Bs), +1, 1d6
Sword (Bs), 1d8
Nature (15), Survival:Forest (16), Singing (14)
Infravision, Detection, Immune to Paralysis
1: Sleep**, Read Magic
Basil, Male Neutral Thief-1
Str 7, Int 12, Wis 10, Dex 14, Con 9, Cha 10
HP 4, AC 6 (Leather), THAC0 19
DR/P 13, MW 14, P/TtS 13, BA 16, R/S/S 15
Shortsword (Bs), -1, 1d6
Light Crossbow (Bs), +1, 1d6
Stealth:Urban (16), Acrobatics (16)
Thief abilities, Backstab
Mugwort, Male Neutral Magic-User-1
Str 10, Int 17, Wis 13, Dex 6, Con 15, Cha 7
HP 5, AC 10 (Ouch!), THAC0 19
DR/P 13, MW 14, P/TtS 13, BA 16, R/S/S 15
Staff (Bs), 1d6
Dagger (Bs), 1d4
KS:Local Myths & Legends (18), KS:Local Geography(17), Nature Lore (17)
1: Magic Missile**, Read Magic, Detect Magic
The Rules Cyclopedia gets it just about spot on with the mix of funky rules and simplicity. Too many rules and you end up with conflict, confusion and…. well, AD&D. And that will never do.