Wednesday 12 December 2018

Petty-Classes in OSR Games

Today I’m presenting a prototype of what I’m calling Petty-classes, for use in OSR-style games. They’re called petty for several reasons: for one thing, they carry no ability requisites, so anybody can take them up, no matter how severely disadvantaged. Secondly, they only advance to 6th level. Thirdly, they are low-powered: a 6th level Pilgrim will, in all probability, be defeated fairly smartly by a class of an equivalent level. Petty-classes’ combat values are worse, and their saving throws poor. Any interesting abilities they may have barely compensate for their lack in these key areas. Level advancement comes quicker than for standard classes, but brings no great gains.

So why bother? Well, these classes can be used to create NPCs that are a little more interesting than standardised ones, able to throw a curve ball here and there, thus challenging – or aiding – adventurers in new ways. I’m aware some folk object to the idea of NPC classes: this is merely one use for the concept (although personally I prefer having a range of options beyond adventuring class-NPCs and 0-level schmucks).

Another possibility is that these may be used as bridging classes for the player with atrocious die rolls. The idea here is that progressing in a Petty-class to its maximum level can be regarded as the functional equivalent of rolling the qualifying abilities for a standard class. Note that this won’t grant actual ability increases: a Pilgrim who becomes a Fighter will, due to their substandard rolls, be a pretty awful Fighter, although they will retain all the features of their Pilgrim class. The mechanism here is that of dual-classing, with all the usual caveats and conditions except the need for high ability scores. However, only the four ‘core’ classes (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief) are available as destinations for the Petty-class character. Although it might be narratively plausible for a Watchman character to become a Paladin or a Shepherd become a Druid, they will simply never be adequate enough to gain entrée into those classes.

An exception here is if, for narrative reasons, or a challenge, a player who has rolled abilities sufficiently high to qualify for such a class opts to pursue a lowly career before the full range of their talents bloom. This is, of course, another possibility for the GM and players: it might prove piquant or interesting to begin play with characters of outward ordinariness that may, if they survive their early travails, become formidable indeed. A despised Beggar may rise to Paladinhood, a simple Farmer might find within themselves great reservoirs of magical might, or a lowly Scribe discover a knack for mayhem and murder, and ply a career as an Assassin. This approach ties in with the ‘hero’s journey from obscurity to power’ trope in fantasy literature, as well as those many, many tales in which ordinary folk are thrown into the midst of  cosmos-wracking events far beyond their ken. Could be fun, if one’s character lives that long! As an aside the normal rules for Human-only dual-classing would need to be overlooked in this case. Otherwise Halfling Gardeners or Gentry can never rise to world-shaking heights...

I might add to this last that some interesting, possibly unforeseeable synergies may arise from combining the standard classes and Petty-classes. An Administrator-Cleric might find their combination of skills perfect for rising through the ecclesiastical ranks and delving into political intrigue. New options become possible in the form of unique capabilities for those who combine a Petty-class with a standard class, limited only by the parameters of your game and your own imaginations...but beware power creep (I’ll be looking into this myself as I introduce the various Petty-classes. If you’re a regular reader, you may note that I’m tying this material in with the stuff I’ve been doing re skills, no doubt to the consternation of any purists out there).

One last possibility is the notion of adding the Petty-class characteristics to humanoid and demi-human foes. Obviously, unless your campaign allows it, Bugbear Scribes will be rare, but Ogre Shepherds or Puck Sculptors are eminently possible in most settings.

ANYhoo, here is the Administrator, the first of – probably – many Petty-classes. It is formatted for OSRIC, but should be easily adaptable for games like Labyrinth Lord, For Gold & Glory and Dark Dungeons. I hope you enjoy them, and, as ever, feel free to comment!


Administrators are a rare breed among adventurers – partly due to the fact that they are often securely bound to a particular posting and partly due to the fact that the life they have thus far led does not lend itself to an adventuring career. However, there are a number of plausible reasons why an Administrator might take to the road. Perhaps they have been tempted into graft and are fleeing before they are collared for their crimes, or perhaps they are tired of being a mere functionary, reviled merely for doing their job and are seeking to alleviate their boredom. Sometimes, too, there are Administrators who know too much...

Administrators are seldom trained combatants, and they might appear to have few useful skills. This is not the full picture, however: Administrators gain a number of free skills that other classes must purchase, and they often have contacts (legitimate or otherwise) and know a useful secret or two.

Attack Value: Illusionist 
Saving Throws: Levels 1-5: 20 (all, except Spells: 19). Level 6: 19 (all, except Spells: 18) 
Hit Dice: d4
Armour/Shield Permitted: leather only/no shields
Weapons Permitted: dagger, dart, light mace, oil, short sword, staff
Weapon Proficiencies: 1 + 1 per 4 levels
Non-Proficiency Penalty: -4
Base Skills: Numeracy 2, Law Speak 2, Read/Write 2, Common Knowledge 1, Local Knowledge 1
Free Elective Skills (choose 2 skills amongst which you may distribute 3 Competency Levels): Blather, Etiquette, Evaluate, Heraldry, Lip Reading, History, Bluff, Wit, Compose, Folk Lore and Public Speaking. 

Administrator Level Advancement
Base Experience
Hit Dice
Points Required
+2 hp
+2 hp
+1 hp
Canny Observer
+1 hp
+1 hp
Paper Tiger

Diligence: Administrators are always on the lookout for errors and inconsistencies. Once per day an Administrator may reroll any Numeracy, Law Speak or Read/Write check, although they must take the second roll, even if it is a worse result. Every time they advance a level, an Administrator may add another skill to which they may apply their Diligence ability with the limitation that the selected skill must appear on their list of Base or Free Elective skills.

Fudge: Administrators are capable of writing in such a way as to obscure their motives and misrepresent the truth, all the while maintaining the appearance of bureaucratic objectivity. Upon making a successful Writing check an Administrator may produce documents that will deceive all readers of a level lower than theirs, unless they succeed on an Insight roll (with the Administrator’s level as penalty to the roll). Those of equal or higher level are not fooled by the Administrator’s efforts. Note that Fudge confers no ability to falsify documents, seals or signatures.

Canny Observer: With longevity in the civil service, comes a watchful eye and suspicious ear: all attempts to use Blather, Bluff, Gossip, Persuade or Wit to manipulate an Administrator of 4th level or higher cannot be made unless the Administrator fails a Saving Throw vs. Spells (using their Intelligence bonus as a modifier). If the Save is failed, the skill roll proceeds as normal.

Paper Tiger: Administrators of the highest level have developed the knack of using the Intimidate or Blather skill on paper. Assuming a successful roll in either of those skills is made (the GM may also call for a Writing or Compose check at their option), the reader must, upon perusing the document, make a Saving Throw vs. Spells or be afflicted in the following manner:

Intimidate: the reader is treated as if subjected to a command spell-like effect, but the implicit ‘command’ contained in the document may be a sentence with a maximum length of six words (for example: “Cease your pursuit of the fugitives”, “You will approve the false documents” and so on). The effect lasts one hour, but does not preclude the reader taking other actions as well. They may indeed ‘approve the false documents’, but might summon the town guard to find and capture the letter-writer! Note that commands such as “put out your eyes” or “throw yourself off the city walls” will have no effect (whereas “kill your father”, will have an effect, but, if the reader’s father is not yet dead when the injunction’s effect wears off, and they will – most likely – cease their attempts to murder him.

Blather: the reader becomes disoriented and confused as they try to decipher the mad, cryptic (yet compelling) flood of verbiage in the document. They will concentrate on trying to interpret the document for up to six hours to the exclusion of all other things – unless it is a matter of self-preservation – before giving up in disgust. Having failed the first Saving Throw, the reader is allowed a new Saving Throw every hour, but, even if they succeed in this roll they will be at -2 for all saving throws, skill rolls and attack rolls for the remainder of the six hour period, due to their continuing distraction.

Note that the ‘reader’ mentioned above will generally be the intended target for the purposes of this ability: the Administrator is crafting a particular communication and are using all the knowledge of the target they possess – fused together with educated guesses and intuitive assumptions. If the document is read by someone else, there is a base 1% chance they will be affected as if they were the intended target. This may be modified by the GM dependent upon other factors (for example, Tractatus the Administrator drafts a blathering letter to the Bishop of Brukhos, hoping to keep him distracted during a key episcopal vote, but the letter is sent to Cardinal Bothwell instead. The GM rules that their comparative similarity yields a 10% chance of affecting Bothwell).

In addition, a document so crafted never loses its ‘power’ with time. It can only affect a particular individual once, but remains an intimidating or bewildering piece of writing, slightly capable of affecting any reader.  

For info on skills, look here.

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