When I was a Fighting-man… Part One

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Today I’d like to discuss the classes that should be available to player characters. So how do we begin? Well let’s start with my “keep it simple” concept.

The simplest way to do that is to just allow all the classes available to a d20 Pathfinder campaign. “All the classes?” I hear you ask. “Even the Gunslinger?!” you quickly follow. Well… No. We can’t allow all the classes. Some just flat-out don’t work. Not if we’re trying to create the atmosphere presented in REH’s stories.

I first looked at the Hyborian Age d20 Campaign Site for inspiration. It seems like they’re using standard 3E D&D (not Pathfinder) as a base. Apparently they chose the “Everyone gets to play whatever they want” method. Thankfully they left out the Paladin (because in absolutely no possible way does that belong in the Hyborian Age) as an option but they did add a few other classes to the mix.

I have a problem with this; every spellcasting class is present (sans Bard), an extra spellcaster (Shaman) is added, and the Ranger, presumably, still has his spells. Now the site does link (on a different page) to a “Hyborian Ranger” variant. I took a look at it and compared it to the Pathfinder Ranger but we’ll discuss that later. This all adds up to 10 playable character classes, a majority of which are spellcasters which just seems downright wrong to me.

When we read REH’s Conan stories we see a number of terms used frequently that I think should be our base: Barbarian, Fighting-man, Pirate, Priest, Sorcerer, Thief, and Wizard.

But let’s examine what these terms might have meant to Howard because he wasn’t writing a RPG campaign setting, he was writing fiction. If we start with Barbarian I have to assume he meant a textbook definition not AD&D Unearthed Arcana Barbarian class. In the stories (mostly) this term applies to the races described as “not of Hyborian Ancestry” as it’s usually a Hyborian nobleman speaking derogatorily about an “uncivilized” person. This would include the Aesir, Cimmerians, Kushites, Shemites, Picts, and Zingarans. I think this class is going to cause some trouble.

If we move on to Fighting-man obviously this is what the majority of combatants remind me of. In fact Conan himself is referred to as a Fighting-man. Again we can only assume the intention here is a trained soldier.

Pirate is a little harder. Is Howard saying that a Pirate has definitive statistical difference to a Fighting-man and a Thief or do they just have a slightly different selection of skills due to the choice of a profession? Some work needs to be done here.

Thief seems pretty straightforward. However Conan was often referred to as a thief. Does this mean he multi-classed or did he just have ranks in stealth? Technically anyone could be a thief. All you have to do is steal something.

Priest is going to be a difficult topic. Personally I don’t believe the Gods in the Hyborian Age are real. Not even in the “too important to worry about the insignificant lives of mortals” kind of way. One could argue that in “Black Colossus” the God Mitra answers the prayers of Princess Yasmela. However the princess herself notes that it could have been a priest hiding in the shadows. It’s not revealed where the voice came from but personally I think Howard wrote Yasmela’s response as a way of “breaking the fourth wall” and letting the reader know that “Mitra” didn’t say anything. You might also say that Epemitreus in “Phoenix on the sword” is a direct agent of the will of Mitra. I see Epemitreus as a spellcaster that learned the secret of immortality and just cast Magic Weapon on Conan’s sword.  I think the closest things to gods in the Hyborian age would be ancient alien entities from beyond the earth ala H.P. Lovecraft. In this case they don’t grant spells to devout worshipers, they teach knowledge that would best be left unknown.

Now we come to the dreaded Sorcerer and Wizard. In my opinion the terms are interchangeable in the stories but you could make an argument that each spellcaster is different from another. Does that mean they have different class progressions, spell lists, and class features? Or are the players just describing their characters in different and unique ways? I’m voting for the latter option.

Remember Howard wasn’t making an RPG so do we go with strict definitions of terms or do we let the game follow a more traditional RPG line of thinking? In traditional gaming many players want options. More and more options. NEVER ENDING options. And nowhere more than in d20 systems. It’s kind of out of hand when you think about it. You start with a Half-orc because you want the +2 Str. You make a Barbarian because you want 12 hit points at first level and Rage. Then you take a level of Rogue so you get sneak attack. You switch to Fighter so you can maximize your number of feats and meet the prerequisites for that Prestige class you’ve been eyeballing. Add in the supplemental material and buying and selling magic items on the open market and you have the perfect walking death machine. You also have a series of events that is so UN-HYBORIAN that we might as well just play the Pathfinder setting.

So what does all of this mean? Well if we keep it simple then we might have a list of classes that look like this: Fighter (all non-thief combatants), Rogue (career criminals and pirates), and Sorcerer (anyone that casts spells). This concept was explored in the 3E Unearthed Arcana as generic classes. The only problem with that is no class has class features and you choose from a very limited list of features that double as feats. If we sat down with noting more that a map of Hyboria and wanted to play a Hyborian age game Generic classes would be just fine. That being said I want a little more detail than that.

Next time we’ll jump feet-first into the Barbarian and see if he survives the fall.

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