“KD&D,” Part 3: Simpler & Better Character Classes

This post is part of a series describing the rule changes I've made for my current fantasy role-playing campaign. "Kenton's Dungeons & Dragons," or "KD&D," is a full-fledged variant of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game initially released in 1977. Feel free to use some or all of these rule changes for your own D&D gaming, no matter what edition you play.

As I described in the inaugural post to this series, I’ve recently started playing 1e AD&D again, running a campaign for my neighbors and family.  While I’ve always enjoyed AD&D, the game system itself can be clunky and difficult, and some parts are, frankly, lame.

To make what I consider to be improvements to the core rules, I’ve borrowed ideas from issues of Dragon magazine and later D&D editions, as well as come up with a few of my own.  My operating motto for re-tooling the game is to make it, “Simpler & Better.”

In the previous post, I looked character races. This time, I’ll examine classes from the Players Handbook (PHB), and Unearthed Arcana (UA).

 

The PHB presented clerics, druids, fighters, paladins, rangers, magic-users, illusionists, thieves, assassins, monks, and bards. UA gave us cavaliers, barbarians, and thief-acrobats, as well as more for druids and rangers, and weapon specialization for fighters.

I’ll discuss each of those in turn, but for now, here are the character classes I allow in my campaign:

  • Clerics (Priests or Shamans)
    • Druids
  • Fighters
    • Paladins
    • Rangers
  • Magic-Users
    • Illusionists
  • Thieves
    • Assassins
  • Bards

All of those classes had some serious changes, which I’ll cover in detail in future posts. Let’s talk next about who’s not included.

What About…?

Just like I had with the races, I culled out classes–most of them, again, from UA–that I thought were superfluous or unbalanced. First to go, sadly, were cavaliers and barbarians.

The Cavalier was an awesome class–a bit TOO awesome

I say “sadly,” because I really liked both classes when Unearthed Arcana came out in 1985. Some memorable player characters in previous campaigns were Lady Fea Thalionar, my wife’s elven cavalier, who had a unicorn mount; and Keric Quicbrand, Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel’s barbarian.

The problem with cavs and barbs was that as character classes, they were too good. Once you had them in addition to paladins and rangers, there was no point in playing a fighter unless:

  • Your PC’s stats sucked;
  • You wanted your fighter to be dual- or multi-classed; or
  • You were playing a race other than human, elf, or half-elf.

So, reluctantly, I took cavaliers and barbarians out of my campaign. However, for those players who might want to play something similar, I came up with some Fighting Feats to emulate a few of their signature abilities. More about that in a future post.

It was a much easier decision to ditch UA’s thief-acrobats, because the only person to ever play one in any of campaigns was Pat. If memory serves me correctly, Pat’s character rarely used tumbling, only used pole-vaulting once, and never used tightrope-walking.

Maybe the circus will take him, but I don’t want him

Also gone were monks, who fit better into an Eastern Asian-themed setting.  However, I didn’t ban the monk, so much as I made them—along with the samurai, the ninja, and all other classes and races from the 1e Oriental Adventures—a special option for someone who really, really wanted to play one.

In my  campaign, playing a monk is like being at a restaurant and wanting something that isn’t on the menu: you can have it, but you have to ask for it.

In previous campaigns, I had incorporated several other classes, notably the witch, the psionicist, and the skin-changer (which I created). While some of those had been fun, they didn’t add much to the overall campaign, so in the spirit of keeping things “Simpler & Better,” I cut them loose.

Classes and Races

Let’s move on to how the campaign’s pared-down collection of races (as discussed here) work with the pared-down choices for classes. Specifically, who can be what?

In the PHB and UA, certain races (especially elves) had more choices than others when it came to character classes available to them. Also complicating things was that demi-humans had, depending on their race, various limits on how high they could advance in their class.

I found all of this to be unbalanced, and too much hassle. In my new campaign, there are no level limits, and each race (except for humans and half-elves) has a “favored class” that gains them a 5% bonus on experience points, in addition to bonuses for high ability scores.

Only humans may choose any of the 10 classes: other races are restricted to those shown below.

  • Dwarf:
    • Cleric
    • Fighter (favored)
    • Magic-User
    • Thief
    • Assassin
  • High Elf:
    • Cleric
    • Fighter
    • Magic-User (favored)
    • Thief
    • Bard
  • Wood Elf:
    • Cleric
    • Druid
    • Fighter
    • Ranger (favored)
    • Thief
  • Gnome:
    • Cleric
    • Druid
    • Fighter
    • Illusionist (favored)
    • Thief
  • Half-Elf:
    • Cleric
    • Druid
    • Fighter
    • Ranger
    • Magic-User
    • Thief
    • Assassin
    • Bard
  • Halfling:
    • Cleric
    • Fighter
    • Thief (favored)
    • Assassin
    • Bard

As you can see, members of all races may be clerics, fighters, and thieves. Each race (except for half-elves and humans) has a choice of five classes, one of which is a “favored class” that most tend to gravitate to. While half-elves have no favored class, they have more choices (8) than other demi-human races: this reflects their human heritage.

Revising the class options has shaken up many things. Dwarves can now be magic-users: if that sounds too weird for you, recall that fairy tales and Norse myths abound with dwarves who can cast spells or enchant items. And after all, do you think that a dwarf who has spent years painstakingly hand-crafting a masterpiece of a battle axe for his king is going to trust some shifty pointy-ears to make it magical? Not on his life!

Speaking of said “pointy-ears”…. High elves can be magic-users (which they’re very good at) and fighters, but not druids or rangers. Conversely, wood elves can’t be magic-users, but they can be druids or rangers. This makes more of a distinction between the two types of elves.

Gnomes didn’t have a lot of character under the old rules, being sort of like dwarves but not really, so I decided that they were the most magical of the “little people.” In addition to being clerics, and illusionists (their favored role), they may also be druids (as gnomes are very in touch with nature).

Halflings, of course, are best at thieving, but I also allowed them to be bards (halflings have a love of songs and dancing, stories and books), or assassins (which I have redefined as a class that specializes in killing by stealth, rather than being one that kills for money; more about them in another post).

Classes and Combinations

The original rules gave options for characters changing classes (called “dual-classing”) or having two (or even three) classes at a time (“multi-classing”). I kept the PHB’s ruling that only humans could dual class, and that only demi-humans could multi-class. To simplify and improve multi-class combinations, I said that:

  • Player characters could have only two classes—three was just too much;
  • One class must be a “main” class (cleric, fighter, thief, or magic-user [if permitted by race], but not bard); and,
  • The other class could be another “main” class, or a subclass of another main class, but not of the first class taken.

Thus, a half-elf could be a cleric/fighter, or a cleric/ranger, or even a cleric/assassin, but could not be a cleric/druid (main class + same type of subclass) or a ranger/assassin (two subclasses).

Let’s take a deep dive into each character class. Next time out, I’ll talk about clerics.


When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F  for young adults, and adults who are still young. And now you can get my novel Lost Dogs
–the story of the end of the world as seen, heard, and smelled, by a dog–for free!  

This Wasted Land, my latest novel, isn’t your typical teenage love story.  It’s more like: Boy meets Girl –> Evil Witch takes Boy –> Girl goes to get Boy back.

My first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons.  With Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel, I created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.

Visit kentonkilgore.com, and follow me on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch me on Instagram.

 

 

 

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