Monday, March 15, 2021

D&D "Revised" Half-Orc Class

This is beginning to sound like an ongoing joke. But hey, since I’m at it, I might just as well. What on @#&! (replace with appropriate game world) am I going to do with half-orcs now? Fret not. I do have a few ideas to set them apart from your basic fighter AND make them feel a tad beastly!

            If D&D BECMI isn't your thing, be aware that unlike more recent game versions, races are treated as classes—thus an “elf” is a class onto itself, and so are the dwarf and the halfling. If you are a big fan of 5e, that’s great but this article isn’t for you. Comparisons and personal judgements on the validity of games from the early 80s are irrelevant here and unwelcome. Please consider this analogy: plenty of folks love the latest car makes, with the best modern technology can offer; others collect vintage cars as a hobby. Neither is wrong. D&D BECMI also fits on the vintage side of things, much like most other OSR fares.

Origins: Much of how orcs are perceived comes from literature, especially Tolkien and the medieval tale of Beowulf, which Tolkien points to as his source. In Beowulf, the “orcneas” are evil spirits (no connection with Orkneys as far as I know). In Tolkien’s Middle Earth, orcs are brutal and malevolent creatures, possibly descended from corrupted elves. Previous to this, “orc” came from the Latin “Orcus,” a name for Pluto, the god of infernal regions. In old Anglo-Saxon, orc refers to some kind of goblin (don’t tell the orcs). In the 17th century, the word morphed into “ogre.” The latter term came into English through French fairy tales which took it from Italian literature—“orco” referring to a big, hairy, tusked, man-like monster that seeks to devour people. It was meant consistently through the ages as a malignant and brutal boogeyman to scare a storyteller’s audience.

How do I see Orcs? Based on original depictions in roleplaying games, it’s a brute living within a tribe’s rigid pecking order reflecting individual strength and ferocity, and who is often inclined to acquire by force what it needs or wants. Spiritual beliefs reflect a rough-and-tumble culture, and appear to the outside world as crude and blood-thirsty. Much of what is known of orcs comes from how their victims see them. They are universally thought of as malevolent thanks to their harsh upbringings in the harshest of worlds. Would they remain naturally evil under different life conditions? Perhaps, but at the very least, their fundamental character endures: coarse mannered, distrustful of those above them, intolerant of rivals, and unforgiving of those they perceive as weaker. Somewhere between belligerent and thuggish, orcs bow nonetheless to those who prove themselves tougher… or they die. They are compelled to confront or bully others because their kind always had to fight over scarce resources for the sake of their tribes’ survival. It’s in their blood. Strength, ferocity, and resilience run deep, along with a wild streak. 

Concepts: I see the half-orc more as a warrior class in BECMI than anything else. The goal is not to make the existing fighter class less attractive or short-change the half-orc. Rather, game mechanics for this class of warriors should illustrate the half-orc's mindset and ancestral traits: Strength and Ferocity, by Khroomsh!

            Half-orc warriors need not fight as well as fighters. These pragmatic folks aren’t interested in the technical end of things. Spirit and resilience is what makes up for their lack of sophistication. I can guarantee you that your half-orc will not want to run from combat. What happens during a battle, therefore, determines how hard your half-orc will fight. It won’t go down easily, and can recover from its wounds on its own. It’s really good at snarling too. Its fairly benign experience progression table is a straightforward affair. It encourages cunning warlike instincts rooted in eons of fine tactics evolution: Khraugor smash!

The New “Revised” Half-Orc Class

Prime Requites: Constitution. Strength should be at least 9.

Experience Bonus: I give a +5% if Con lies between 11 and 12, and +10% if less than 11, implying that all other stats are lower than the prime requisite. At 13+, stats provide conventional bonuses.

Hit Dice: 1d8 per level up to 9th level, +2 hp per level thereafter, and Con adjustments no longer apply.

Maximum Level: 36.

General Abilities: Fights and saves as a thief. Starts with 2 weapon proficiencies (instead of the fighter’s 4) and earns new ones as a thief.

Armor & Weapons: Any. Although half-orcs are free to wear any sort of protection, excess armor may eventually prove counterproductive to this character class. It’s up to the half-orc to strike the right balance between risk and benefit.

Special Abilities: Extra languages (dwarf, goblin/hobgoblin, ogre, troll); –2 Cha bonus with orcs and half-orcs related to rival tribes; Infravision 60’. Half-orcs may wear tattoos related to their ancestral tribes. In an odd and slightly masochistic way that other races do not fully grasp, half-orcs gain combat bonuses when suffering damage (First Blood & Battle Scars). Under certain conditions, they also heal on their own (Resilience).

Fighter Combat Options: As fighter.

Special Defenses: None.

Daylight Penalty: –1 to hit and saving throws when exposed to direct sunlight (ignore in overcast conditions or within an hour of sunrise and sunset). A goblin hireling with a large parasol can’t solve that problem. Sorry.

First Blood: When first blooded by an opponent, the half-orc gains a +2 bonus to hit against this foe alone. If this first wound inflicted at least 1/10th the half-orc’s normal hit points, the half-orc’s following attacks also inflict +2 damage against this foe alone. These bonuses are cancelled when this foe is stricken down; they cannot be accumulated and carried over to other foes. On the other hand, when fighting multiple opponents who inflicted wounds to the half-orc, the half-orc earns its +2 bonus against each one separately. Want a piece o’ me, punk?

Battle Scars: When reduced to 1/10th its normal hp or less during a battle, the half-orc suffers a permanent scar. With each battle scar, the half-orc earns a +1 to saving throws, up to a maximum of +4. The half-orc also incurs a   –1 penalty to Cha for each battle scar, up to –4 when addressing other races. Battle scars confer instead +1 Cha bonuses (up to 18 Cha) when interacting with other half-orcs (see Posturing Snarls later on), as they are a mystical source of great personal pride and accomplishment. I got more scars than you. (Oh yeah? Mine are bigger!) 

Resilience: After slaying a foe in battle, the half-orc heals 1 hp per hour until fully recovered. This ability does not regenerate destroyed body parts or revive a dead half-orc. With 5 battle scars, it heals 2 per hour, with 10 scars 3 per hour, etc. This mind-over-body aptitude is only triggered by the thrill of slaying a foe with at least half as many HD as the half-orc’s. For example: A level 1 half-orc can trigger its healing ability when slaying a puny kobold in battle; however a level 8 half-orc would need to strike down an ogre instead. The slaying must be in the context of a battle—executing prisoners or helpless foes does not elicit a sufficient thrill level.

            Death Door: Most DMs have their own rules on what constitutes "death" in their games. In many, a PC lies at "death's door" when hit points drop to zero down to –10. If this results in "blood loss" (losing a hp each round), then resilience will not be sufficient to revive the wounded half-orc. On the other hand, it could slow blood loss to 1 hp every two rounds. Us folks is tougher!

Battle Roar: A half-orc bearing at least one battle scar can roar once per battle. All foes within 90' receive a –1 penalty to Morale Check thereafter. The penalty grows for every 3 permanent battle scars, up to –4. The battle roar counts as a full action as it is somewhat equivalent to a warrior's haka. The next action must be to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Beat it, vermin!

Posturing Snarl: When half-orcs meet, they may snarl at each other for one round. They both roll a d10, adding their Charisma and battle scar bonuses. The one with the worst result backs off and accepts the other’s leadership. Ascendancy ends when the underling earns a new battle scar, at which point snarling may resume. If they’re tied, snarling continues for another round. If still tied, fighting ensues until one yields… or dies. You talkin’ to me?

Self-Inflicted Wounds: Deliberately harming oneself, directly or indirectly, or inviting injury at the hands of another does not trigger first blood or resilience effects. Self-inflicted damage negates resilience if healing was still in progress. Self-inflicted battle scars do not count; a half-orc rumored of self-mutilating would be seen as an outcast and a coward, resulting in all battle scars permanently losing their “beneficial” effects.

            On the other hand, cutting oneself for 1 hp and licking the blood off the blade with wicked glee, is mighty acceptable and righteous when specifically meant to intimidate. The action affects one immediate opponent or a group of foes with HD (individually or collectively) less than the half-orc’s. If these conditions are true, then the targets of intimidation must immediately roll a Morale Check. This show of sheer savagery bears no adverse effect on first blood, resilience, and battle scars, but can only be performed once per battle. Hawrrrg! It’s not Nutella!

Regarding Spellcasters: The Rules Cyclopedia allows spellcasting orcs—tribal shamans and sorcerers up to levels 6 and 4 respectively. As NPCs or monsters, this option is easy enough to put into effect. PC spellcasters are a different issue. Though half-orcs aren’t “full-blooded” orcs, the idea of an unlimited and proficient half-orc magic-user conflicts with this article's paradigm. Certainly, half-orcs can have clerics. For the half-orc to enjoy a cleric’s spellcasting ability in addition to its other class abilities, start out with 2,300 xp needed for level 2, doubling up to level 8, and with an additional 120,000 xp per level thereafter. Check the revised spell progression I gave clerics in a related article (click here).

Regarding Calidar: This setting hasn’t used half-orcs as of yet. I may just use the above material as an alternative to the setting’s inspiration from AD&D 1st Edition multi-classed demi-humans. None of what is posted here has been play-tested. Actual gaming feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

Coming Next: The half-orc's favorite adventuring companion.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

D&D "Revised" Gnome Class

D&D BECMI only offers gnomes as monsters (for example, as listed in the Rules Cyclopedia, page 180). I’m sure plenty of other DMs have created their own versions inspired from AD&D or present-day D&D 5e. Not one to follow anyone else’s footsteps, I decided to start from scratch. This article connects with several earlier ones revising the original character classes and addressing the issue of their spell progressions. If you haven’t seen those, start here: D&D Alternate Spell Progressions.

            If you are unfamiliar with D&D BECMI, please note that unlike more recent versions of the game, races are treated as classes—thus an “elf” is a class onto itself, and so are the dwarf or the halfling. If you’re an unconditional supporter of D&D 5e, that’s great but this article isn’t intended for you. Comparisons and personal judgements on the validity of games designed in the 70s and early 80s are irrelevant here and unwelcome. Please consider the following analogy: plenty of folks love driving the latest car models, with the best that modern technology offers; others collect vintage cars as a hobby. D&D BECMI, as it were, also fits on the vintage side of things, much like most other OSR fares. It’s part of the hobby. Drive on!

In the Beginning: A quick look into the background of the term “gnome” indicates it’s been in use since the 16th century at least. Paracelsus described them as small-size earth elementals able to move through solid earth. 18th century depictions alluded to small, subterranean guardians of treasures, mines, and precious stones. In the 19th century, gnomes were presented variously as being relatives of dwarves, elves, or fairies depending on the authors. In the 20th century, Tolkien described them as technologically talented, dark-haired elves with great gem-cutting skills. Frank Baum and others made gnomes Santa’s little helpers. In the Chronicles of Narnia, they are definitely a subterranean race as well. In the World of Warcraft, gnomes started out as machines that later became organic lifeforms, and as would be expected, savvy with mechanical devices. The idea of small-size subterranean miners hoarding gems and treasures prevails. In D&D’s present days, gnomes are often played as illusionists or techno-gnomes, such as those in Dragonlance. Many players today assume that gnomes are “fey” creatures related to elves. On the other hand, D&D BECMI clearly describes them as being related to dwarves, although some can be spellcasters. Lots to choose from. 

Main Directions: Streamlining all this is needed. First off, I’ll skip Top Ballista’s “sky gnomes” since PC2 already addresses those. I’ll stick with BECMI relating gnomes to dwarves, except they do possess fey abilities. I don’t really want to make them a cross between dwarves and magic-users, à la AD&D 1e. Unlike with the aforementioned game, BECMI doesn’t offer a whole lot spells specific to illusionists to which I could limit gnomish spellcasters. On the other hand, gnomes are often thought of as tricksters with unnatural powers. I’m thinking more along the idea of special abilities improving with experience, rather than a full-fledged spell progression. I’d scale these abilities from level 1 to 20 to accommodate conversions to other systems topping out at level 20, rather than BECMI’s 36 levels. Since few players ever get their characters past level 15 anyway, this approach would allow them to try out most of the gnomes special abilities.

            The gnomish class ought to enjoy many of the dwarven features, given their common origins and shared environment (subterranean lairs and mines). Some of the halfling benefits may also apply, given the small sizes of these two races. As regards combat, since gnomes are somewhat related to dwarves, they ought to fight and roll their saves as dwarves. On the other hand, a base d4 HD seems appropriate in exchange for abilities they are receiving. They wouldn’t last long in a melee situation, but they could provide excellent sling or crossbow support. Thankfully, armor should not interfere with their fey abilities. Sensing precious metals and stones, and appraising them should be a no-brainer. A significant ability to create, build, and operate machinery is probably a must. Going back to the original Paracelsus version, an affinity with earth elementals might not be inappropriate either. 

The “New” Gnome Class

Prime Requites: Intelligence and Charisma; Strength should be at least 8. Adult noses must measure at least 3 inches long (less with regular medical treatment).

Experience Bonus: You’ll never catch me giving free xp to any character because of high stats. It’s unfair in my opinion. Instead, I give a +5% if Int and Cha average out between 11 and 12, and +10% if they average less than 11, implying that all other stats are lower than the prime requisites. At 13+, stats provide other conventional bonuses.

Hit Dice: 1d4 per level up to 9th level, +1 hp per level thereafter, and Con adjustments no longer apply.

Maximum Level: 36.

General Abilities: Fights and saves as a dwarf.

Armor & Weapons: Any of the appropriate size.

Special Abilities: Extra languages (dwarf, goblin, kobold, earth elemental); +1 Cha bonus with earth elementals; 1 in 3 chances to detect traps, sliding walls, sloping corridors, new constructions. Infravision 90’. Sensing precious metals and gemstones; appraising gemstones. Free engineering and machine operation skills. Invoking up to 3 illusions per day.

Fighter Combat Options: Two attacks are possible at 12th level, three at 18th level. Does not include lance attack or set spear against charge.

Special Defenses: Earns a +2 bonus to Armor Class when fighting creatures larger than man-sized. From level 10 onward, halves effects from damage-inflicting magic, area-of-effect spells, and breath weapons; sustains ¼ damage with a successful saving throw.

Sensing Precious Metals and Gemstones: With a nose at least 3 inches long, the gnome may sniff out the presence of such within 60’ without intervening obstacles (doors and walls), or 30’ through non-magical obstacles. Odds of success are 1 on a d6 roll inadvertently, or 1-2 if the attempt is deliberate. Success indicates the general direction of the goods and whether obstacles are present. Choosing “Cyrano” as a name does not entitle the gnome to a +1 bonus.

Appraising Gemstones: The DM rolls under the gnome’s Int rating. With an unmodified roll of 1, the gnome senses the object’s accurate value and whether it is imbued with magic. If the roll succeeds, appraisal is +/–10% of actual value. If the roll fails, appraisal is off by the extent of the failure multiplied by 20. For example: the gnome’s Int rating is 16 but the roll scored a 19—the error is equal to 19–16 = 3, 3 x 20 = 60%. If the error was even, then the value is overestimated, or underestimated if odd. With a critical fail, multiply the result by 10 once more. Thus a 60% error becomes a +/–600% (at –100%, an object is deemed worthless). They do have the nose for business, mind you.

Engineering: A gnome generally needs two ability checks when first examining unknown machinery. The first concerns whether the gnome understands what the contraption is intended for. If this roll succeeds, the next one enables the gnome to operate the apparatus. Mishandling a device after a successful roll is always possible, requiring extra checks when performing new actions, causing the object to malfunction or do something entirely unexpected if a new roll fails. Operating machinery after failing to grasp its operation should double chances of malfunctions and other catastrophic mishaps, triple the odds if its intent is mistaken as well. Under these conditions, a gnome may be able to repair or even build machinery. This aptitude for mechanical devices also enables the gnome to disarm mechanical traps like a thief half the gnome’s experience level.

Illusions: Gnomes can use illusions up to three times per day, regardless of their experience level. The difference lies in the choice of available for what sorts of illusions might be invoked and how good they are. Range, area of effect, and duration increase on a per-level basis. Illusions do not move with whatever they targeted, unless indicated otherwise. The gnome or a spellcaster’s magic can dispel the effects at any time. Unless indicated otherwise, an illusion ripples and fades away if touched.

·       Range: 60’ plus 5’ per experience level after the first.

·       Area of Effect: 3’ high by 3’ wide (by 3’ deep) plus 1’ per experience level. For example: A 36th level gnome would be able to invoke up to three illusions per day, 39’ x 39’ x 39’.

·       Duration: Concentration or 1 Turn (levels 1-5), 3 Turns (levels 6-10), 1 hour (levels 11-20), 1 day (levels 21-30), 1 week (level 31+), whichever lasts the longest.

            These powers are innate and do not require spell preparation or memorization. There are no spellbooks or scrolls associated with them. Gnomes may use any of the illusions available to them at will, up to three times per day. They take a round of concentration to form, but require no verbal or somatic components—they result entirely from gnomish thoughts. The experience progression table shows which effects are available to choose from and how good they are. Gnomes can pick from 3 sorts of illusions—veil, mirror, or vision. How effective they are and what they accomplish depends of the gnome’s experience level.

Veil: It hides something or someone that fits within the area of effect. Although the veil isn’t a tangible manifestation, it acts like cloak hanging or draped over the object or creature to conceal. The gnome may select as desired some or all available effects described below. A veiled target performing any sort of attack will cause the illusion to ripple and fade by the end of the round. Saving throws aren’t relevant to magical veils, except for an unwilling target.

Type I: It renders the veiled target invisible. The effect ends if the target makes physical contact with someone, or the effect is dispelled.

Type II: As above, plus sounds, smells, shadows, footprints, airborne dust, sprayed paint, and infrared auras within the veiled area are entirely negated.

Type III: As above, plus the veil moves along with its target, and objects can be picked up and brought into the area of effect.

Type IV: As above, plus the veiled target becomes incorporeal. Although the veiled target cannot be physically touched by hand or projectile, it is otherwise of a material nature (it cannot pass through walls, for example).

Type V: As above, plus the veiled target is immune to mind-affecting and gaze attacks.

Type VI: As above, plus the veiled target cannot be revealed or located with any detection/divination magic.

Mirror: It is a two-dimensional screen reacting to what gazes at it. Unless indicated otherwise, there are no saves against mirror effects.

Type I: The screen acts as a normal, free-standing mirror. The mirror itself is not visible—only what it reflects. Though it isn’t a tangible object, it masks anything directly behind it (the originating gnome, a doorway, an alcove, writing on a wall, etc.). Oddly, unlike a real mirror, it can produce a vampire’s reflection as well as show the reflections of invisible, incorporeal, or gaseous creatures. If the affected area is touched by hand or projectile, the mirror ripples and fades by the end of the round.

Type II: As above, plus the mirror appears as a hard, tangible surface. It reflects any physical attack, directing it back to its attackers. It only vanishes if magically dispelled or when the illusion ends.

Type III: As above, plus the mirror reflects any magic cast at it other than a dispel-magic spell, directing it back at its caster.

Type IV: As above, plus the mirror acts as a portal for the gnome and anyone named (same size or smaller than the mirror) when it is brought into existence against a stone surface. It enables those entitled to use it to reach the first open area directly behind the mirror and within the effect’s normal range (60’ plus 5’ per experience level after the first). If there is no open space within range, this effect is negated, otherwise an identical mirror materializes on the opposite side, enabling its users to return or look back through it at the previous area. Both mirrors last for the illusion’s normal duration or until dispelled.

Type V: As above, plus victims looking into the mirror must save vs. death ray or become stunned (⅓ MV, cannot attack or cast spells, –2 penalty to AC and saves; save vs. death ray each round to recover).

Type VI: As above, plus observers (same size or smaller than the mirror) who aren’t stunned must save vs. spell or become trapped inside the mirror for the duration of the effect. Treat as a mirror of life-trapping (see RC. Page 240). 

Vision: This is more akin to phantasmal forces, although as the gnome earns experience levels, the quality of the visions improves. Unwilling targets can save vs. spells to disbelieve visions (DM’s roll). Saves incur penalties depending on the type of vision (–1 for Type II visions, –2 for Type III, –3 for Type IV, etc.). A 20 always saves; a 1 always fails.

Type I: The effect conjures one sensory element that is either visual, olfactory, auditory, or other perceivable sensation (heat, cold, a nagging unseen presence, a sense of impending doom, etc.) If visual, the illusion is static; if touched by hand or projectile, it ripples and fades away.

Type II: As above, although all sensory elements can be combined in addition to a tactile sense. The illusion can be touched without getting dispelled. It remains entirely static, however.

Type III: As above, plus the vision is animated as long as the gnome concentrates on the effect. It can be programmed to repeat a specific set of actions before the gnome walks away. The vision must remain within the area of effect.

Type IV: As above, plus the vision may move out of the area of effect, but must remain within the effect’s range. Its MV is 90’ (30’) or the assumed MV rate of the imitated creature.

Type V: As above, plus the vision can react to nearby elements and people as the latter imagine it could (in the absence of the gnome), possibly fighting back, dodging, recoiling, roaring, etc.

Type VI: As above, plus the vision is a cogent creature. The gnome must be familiar with it, and the imitated creature must possess fewer HD than its creator. It can move beyond the effect’s range. It possesses the gnome’s alignment, half its Intelligence rounded up +3, a Morale rating of 12, and is immune to mind-affecting attacks. It can hold a conversation with nearby folks using any of the gnome’s learned languages, and respond to ESP probes. It supports in every way the gnome’s intent (if the gnome isn’t around) to the best of its abilities. Its Armor Class is consistent with the imitated creature; it merely appears to suffer wounds, but doesn’t actually “die” unless dispelled or the effect reaches the end of its normal duration. Any spells it is assumed to be able to cast remain entirely illusory. The gnome can use this vision as a companion for the duration of the effect, but only one such vision can be maintained at any single time.

Regarding Spellcasters: The Rules Cyclopedia allows spellcasting gnomes—clerics or magic-users up to level 12. Clearly, armor interferes with magic-user spells. As NPCs or monsters, this option is easy enough to put into effect. PC spellcasters are a different issue. For this gnome to enjoy a cleric’s spellcasting ability, start out with 2,300 xp needed for level 2, doubling up to level 9, and with an additional 150,000 xp per level thereafter. For the gnome to wield a magic-user’s spellcasting ability, use the revised elf’s progression table I described in a previous article (click here).

Regarding Calidar: This setting uses gnomes largely as intended in AD&D 1st Edition, essentially as multi-classed demi-humans. However, the version described in this article works more smoothly with D&D BECMI or games like Labyrinth Lord. None of what is posted here has been play-tested. Actual gaming feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

Click here for the Half-Orc Class