Design Journal: Creating New Character Classes for OSR Games

Design Journal: Creating New Character Classes for OSR Games

Low Fantasy Gaming CompatibleMy home is a mostly-homebrew campaign, in an original, Swords & Sorcery-inspired setting, the World of Weirth (TM). I use the Low Fantasy Gaming core rules to help set the tone and create a low-magic, low-fantasy atmosphere. In addition, I have created a set of custom character classes for this setting, to enhance the experience of being in a different world.

Different from our own, certainly, but also different from any other the players may have encountered in the past. Everyone has their own head canon about what is a Fighter, or a Wizard, but I wanted to re-cast those roles into specific archetypes for this setting. There is no room for a Samurai, for example. There are certain cultural and aesthetic notes that I am trying to hit, and to encourage the players to explore.

For the Fighting-man classes I took a deep dive into the cultures of Weirth, and decided exactly what kind of templates would be available. Soldier, obviously. And Knightly Orders. But also Monster Hunters, and the Shepherds that protect people and livestock from the predation of wild animals and monsters that roam the wilderlands between outposts of civilization. While each would fall under the rubric of Fighting-man, they would definitely have different skills and opportunities for training. Knights, for example, would be trained to fight from horse- or lizard-back with the appropriate weapons for that role, while Soldiers would be mostly footmen, with weapon specialties different from the mounted warriors. Each would have crucial skills for success in their typical roles, quite different from one another.

The biggest change is in the concept of the spell-casting classes. Taking inspiration from Saberhagen’s Empire of the East, all magic-users get their spells and magical powers from supernatural entities. The low-level spells and powers are recorded in books and scrolls, but the big stuff only comes from, well, monsters. And gods.

Let’s take a look at the magic-users who are also servants of a god. While there is no mechanical difference in “Magic” or “Divine” arcana in this setting, those who take on the role of missionary and messenger of a deity will have access to a very particular set of skills and list of spells that make up the core of their training.

Orphune, for example, is the god of Chance, Luck, Decisions, Journeys, Horses, Camels, Trade, and Commerce. His itinerant priests and servants will be trained in mercantile skills, negotiation, caring for beasts of burden, inventory and resource management and so on. The magical powers and spells available to these representatives will likewise be related to these spheres of influence. Comprehend Languages, Circle of Protection, and Wizard Lock would be very useful spells for a traveling merchant. At higher levels these professional travelers would focus on more of these types of useful, practical spells, as well as some specialized defensive/offensive spells, some divination and especially direct-travel types of spells.

Another example: the Raven, a lesser goddess, whose spheres of influence include Healing, Protection, Initiation, and Messengers. Her followers are trained in some of the basic medical arts, small unit tactics and communications. Because a large part of the calling for the servants of the Raven (the Ravenwing) is to travel from village to village, aiding those who are sick or injured, they are in an excellent position to gather news or gossip and carry messages. The servants of the Raven are honor-bound to aid both the rich and the poor, which can require the knowledge of multiple languages and styles of etiquette and behavior.

The Components of a Character Class

New character classes should obviously be built upon the templates of the existing classes. Some, obviously, are more complicated than others. But they do follow the same basic structure:

  • Ability score requirements, if any
  • An XP bonus for exceeding the Prime Requisites
  • HD type
  • Melee/Spell tables
  • Any special saving throws
  • Allowed weapons and armor
  • Allowed magic items
  • Any spell casting ability
  • Any special abilities, unique to the class
  • Specific feats or skills that define the archetype
  • How and when they may build a stronghold

In designing the character class for the Ravenwing, we will take a look at Clerics, Magic-Users, and the existing Cultist class for LFG.

Ability Score Requirements

Generally speaking it is not easy to become a “classed” individual in the World of Weirth. It is a dangerous place and most of the people are simply struggling to survive in a very hostile environment. Minimum Ability Scores are usually 12 in the Prime Requisite for any character class. For the Ravenwing, since they focus on Healing and Communications, using mundane skills and some magical knowledge, we will make INT and PER the Prime Requisites, needing a 12 in each. If either is 15 or more, the PC can gain a 10% bonus to earned experience.

The Ravenwing are also trained in the martial arts, in their role as protectors, and therefore will use a d8 for Hit Dice.

For the Melee table, Ravenwing will use the Rogue column, as they are not as highly trained as a Warrior, but much moreso than the typical Magic-User.

The Ravenwing will not have any special Saves.

The members of the Ravenwing generally travel without any armor, or much in the way of weapons, especially if they are with a Caravan or Military Convoy. When they do travel in a role as Protector, whether as a Caravan guard or bodyguard, they will usually wear Light Armor, sometimes Medium if the threat is great. Their armor needs to be constructed of leather, wood, or bronze, as some of the entities they treat with in order to gain various magics cannot abide iron.

They are able to use any magic items available to Magic-Users or Clerics (we are blending things from the AD&D PHB here).

Spell Casting and Class Abilities

A Ravenwing Magic-User can cast magic spells up to level nine (depending on their innate level of magickal ability: Gift or Talent), chosen from a list particular to their teacher/training. Ravenwing Cultists are generally limited to the spells and techniques peculiar to their god and associated supernatural entities, though some may be able to acquire new spells through discovery, or by trading for/stealing spells from other Magic-Users.

Low-level spells and rituals have spread throughout the peoples of the world in a definite cargo-cult style. Ritual phrases, symbols, bodily motions and dances intended to manipulate nature are the kinds of magic that most people encounter or utilize in their daily lives. These practices are a mixture of superstition, chicanery and poorly understood ritualism, designed to harness the power of magic for manipulating reality for the benefit of the Magic-User and those around them.

Many of the practices exhibited by everyday people are based on remnants of actual magical procedures left over from the previous age, yet they rely on a type of “placebo effect” for their efficacy. These practices have been handed down from parents to children, from prophets and zealots to their congregations, over generations. Some of these practices have been codified and specialized by the Cult of the Raven:

  • Gestures to ward off evil/harm/trouble/illness
  • “Magic” words and phrases (such as a chant of “Heave-Ho!” makes a group stronger than the sum of its members, likewise “One-Two-Three-Push”; “open sesame” is thought to release a stuck door, etc)
  • Wound sterilization
  • Wound stitching
  • Bone setting
  • Potion, “tea” and salve mixing
  • Manipulation of Mother’s Milk
  • Speaking in tongues
  • Reading and writing secret messages
  • Summoning birds and Scroll Dragons

Wound sterilization – At first level the cultist is trained in use of wine or other highly alcoholic preparations to clean and sterilize wounds to keep evil spirits and demons from entering the victim’s body. If used prior to any other first aid practices it gives a +2 to the Skill Check. This procedure takes 5 rounds.

Wound stitching – Slashes and cuts are common wounds treated by the Sisterhood. At first level the cultist is trained in the use of gut or spider-weed-thread to stitch closed the damage to muscles and skin. Stitching a wound or wounds allows the patient to regain 1d4+1 HP. At levels 1-3 this is a Hard Skill Check vs DEX. Levels 4+ no adjustment. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points) This procedure takes 2 rounds per HP regained.

Bone setting – Broken bones are another common injury attended to by the Cultists. At first level the initiates are trained to manipulate the limb or body part to align the broken bones, then hold them in place with a splint and a wrapping. The wrappings are made of linen or spider-weed-webbing. Setting and splinting a broken bone allows the patient to regain 1d4+1 HP. The patient will be at 50% movement rate (if the bone is part of a leg or foot). At levels 1-3 this is a Hard Skill Check vs DEX. Levels 4+ no adjustment. There is a -1 penalty to the Skill Check roll for each day the broken bone was left unset. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points). This procedure takes three turns to complete.

Cauterizing – Using a hot metal implement to sear the flesh around a wound to stop severe bleeding is a difficult and rarely-used skill, but is sometimes necessary in extreme cases. Cultists at the third level of experience are trained in this delicate operation. This requires a Basic Skill Check vs WIL. Use of a burning brand (wood) or other flammable material makes this a Hard Skill Check. The recipient of a cauterizing operation must make a CON check to maintain consciousness, otherwise pass out for 1d4 hours. A cauterized patient will be at -1 to STR, DEX and CON for 1d4+2 days. On each succeeding day the patient will regain their lost CON, then DEX, and finally STR. This procedure takes one turn to properly heat the metal implement, and another turn to perform the cauterization and clean the resulting burn.

Potion, “tea” and salve mixing – 

Initiates are trained in the following medicinal practices, up to two procedures per level (during level training), starting at Level two:

Poultice – 

Tibane – Wounds are (sterilized) bandaged and covered with a poultice made of an infusion of the Tibane herb, root-stem-leaves-and-all. The herb is indigenous to the tropical savanna of Jamul and Zygaria. Listed as an Uncommon herb, it typically takes 4-7 hours to forage enough Tibane to create 2d4 infusions. The plant is almost never collected while it is blooming (in the Fall, after the monsoon season) so it can reproduce and flourish. 

 Tibane can be cultivated in an herb garden, if a complete plant is carefully transplanted. It takes 30 minutes (3 turns) to prepare and brew the infusion, then soak the material of the poultice. Tying this poultice on over a wound will heal 1d3 HP. This poultice will only be effective on a person once every 24 hours. It also has the effect of speeding up the recipient’s heartbeat, giving them extra energy. This effect will reduce Fatigue by one level for 6 hours, after which the Fatigue level will increase by one level.

Spellcraft may be used to make this poultice more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a  +2 HP bonus to the amount of HP recovered (max 3 points of Spellcraft). 

Dogwort  – This herb is efficacious in treating wounded animals, as Tibane is for Humans. All Tibane rules apply.

Redcap Poultice – an infusion of Redcap Mushroom, Sourgrass, wine and Willowbark powder, can be used to treat more serious wounds. It takes 30 minutes (3 turns) to prepare and brew the infusion, then soak the material of the poultice. Tying this poultice on over a wound will heal 2d4 +2 HP. This poultice will only be effective on a person once every 24 hours. 

Spellcraft must be used to make the Greater Poultice fully effective, requiring one point of Spellcraft for any HP to be recovered.  This poultice requires a Basic Skill Check vs INT. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points)

Rowanberry Tincture – a concoction made to counter the effects of poisons, it will negate one symptom of the Cultist’s choice from a poisoned attack. This tincture requires a Basic Skill Check vs INT. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points). This tincture takes one turn to prepare.

Bezoar – a “stone” retrieved from the crop of a herdbeast is treated with Rowanberry, crushed and mixed with warm wine. Drinking this infusion will negate the effects of any animal-based poison. At levels 1-3 this is a Hard Skill Check vs INT. Levels 4+ no adjustment. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points). It takes 30 minutes (3 turns) to prepare the bezoar.

Sourgrass Salve – crushed Sourgrass and other herbs, mixed with wine and Willowbark powder, this ointment relieves itching, rashes, mild burns (heals 1d3 HP from burns/fire/heat). This salve requires a Basic Skill Check vs INT. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points) This salve requires 5 rounds to prepare.

Prickle-pod Ointment – crushed and rendered fruit of the prickle-pod cactus becomes a thick, syrup-like liquid which, when tendered upon a burn, heals 2d4 HP from burns/fire/heat. This ointment requires a Hard Skill Check vs INT. Spellcraft may be used to make this operation more successful, one point of Spellcraft for a +1 bonus to the Skill Check. (max 3 points). It takes 30 minutes (3 turns) to prepare and brew the ointment.

Summon Patron – gaining 5th level the Magic-User will need to perform the Summoning Ritual, in order to gain access to spells of third level or higher. An Exalted Warrior can cast magic spells chosen from a list particular to their god.

Establish Stronghold (9th): At ninth level, a Ravenwing Cultist may be instructed to establish a stronghold in a new area, with the permission of the local Liege Lord, by the leaders of the Order. This stronghold will consist of an actual fortification and a Church or Scriptorium.  The castle will attract peasants seeking safe places to establish homes and other magic-sensitives who wish to become apprenticed into the healing arts. The Ravenwing Cult Leader will become a powerful and influential personage in the realm where the stronghold has been established, though not a Liege Lord in their own right. The fortification will also attract a body of men-at-arms who will swear their loyalty to the character as their Patron and co-religionist.

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