People who've been following my random musings since before I started this particular journal will be aware that one of my back burner projects has been what I called "Pulp Fantasy D&D." This would be a variant on the D&D rules that, while generally not changing anything about the game as written, would be presented in a way that was more consonant with the pulp fantasy literature that inspired Gygax and Arneson. I've recently begun to think that Swords & Wizardry would make a nice basis for such a game, not least of which because, of all the retro-clones and simulacra currently available, it's the one that's closest to the three little brown books that started it all.
In thinking about it, I realized that Pulp Fantasy D&D would be built on the foundation of three primary character classes: the Fighter, the Thief, and the Magic-User. Where is the Cleric, you might rightly ask, especially given that it's one of D&D's original classes? Well, my feeling is that the Cleric just isn't a pulp fantasy archetype. The class itself owes its existence to a combination of Peter Cushing's Van Helsing and the Knights Templar. It's really a "Vampire Hunter" class and, as such, has no place in Pulp Fantasy D&D. Now, the Priest is a pulp fantasy archetype, but the Priest is in fact just a kind of Magic-User, which is why my version of the M-U comes in two varieties (or maybe three): the Wizard and the Priest, each of which taps into the same flows of magical energy but whose effects are quite different owing to means by which they channel that magical energy.
You can view these three classes (including the sub-sets of the Magic-User) as three slices of a big circle. At the places where two classes meet, you find other archetypes, such as the Warrior-Wizard (where Fighter and Magic-User meet) or the Rogue Wizard (where Thief and Magic-User meet). It's my belief that multiclassing in either the traditional Gygaxian form or the 3e version thereof is an abomination, both mechanically and thematically. The desire to play a character whose archetype exists at the boundaries between two primary classes is a valid one and should be accommodated. D&D -- Pulp Fantasy D&D even moreso -- is a game of archetypes and the rules need to support them. In my opinion, a new character class is the simplest and fairest way to handle "mixed" archetypes. This approach also nicely puts a cap on the number of possible classes, since there are only so many combinations, even if one allows for numerous Magic-User variants, which is why I like it.
The one difficulty I'm finding is this: what's the archetype that exists on the boundary between the Fighter and the Thief? I suppose a lot depends on how I define the Thief, something I'm still mulling over. I've always been a little unhappy with D&D's portrayal of the Thief, which alternates between being reductionist (the Thief as "Special Skills Man") or being the Ninja class in all but name, neither of which quite captures the Thief as a pulp fantasy archetype. Likewise, since the Fighter is intended to cover all warriors, regardless of favored weapons or armor or fighting style, I don't think it's appropriate for the "hybrid" Fighter-Thief to be the Swashbuckler or some other nonsense like that. The Fighter is a broad enough class to accommodate the quick, dexterous warrior concept and, if you think otherwise, odds are you won't be happy with the direction I wish to take Pulp Fantasy D&D anyway.
So, there's still some thinking that needs to be done on this score, but the ideas are flowing again and I'm happy for that. Particularly in this post-4e age in which we live, there's need of a game that pays appropriate homage to the literary inspirations and origins of OD&D. It's a pity that D&D itself isn't the game to do so, but so be it.