Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fighting Men and Level Titles

As I've stated many times before, I'm very fond of level titles and regret they weren't included in any retro-clone I've seen thus far. I've come up with some titles for use by magic-users and clerics in my Dwimmermount campaign and am (mostly) happy with them. They're evocative and have a solid in-game justification for their existence.

The same cannot be of fighting men. Unlike clerics or magic-users, whose place in the setting can be tied to some sort of over-arching organizational structure, the same isn't the case for fighters, a class that's a lot more varied, encompassing everything from a battle-hardened northern barbarian to a highly trained knight to a peasant boy just off the farm. Is it even possible to find level titles that make sense for such a class?

I'd originally thought of coming up with some kind of pseudo-military ranking system for fighting men, but I'm honestly not sure that works very well. Why would a rootless mercenary call himself by the title as soldier in the employ of the city-state of Adamas, never mind a Northman raider? It may be that one of the unique aspects of the fighting man class is that it's so broad -- in effect the default class of anyone who isn't obviously any other class -- and thus lacks level titles of its own. In itself, that's not a bad idea, but there's still part of me that wishes there were an obvious solution.

If anyone comes up with one, please do share it; I'd appreciate it.

45 comments:

  1. Did you consider two title tracks running in parallel? One for the lone wolf types and one for the organized military types? Give the player a choice at each level depending on where that character is in their life? Fighters could use a little extra love, I feel, since they are the default class.

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  2. Perhaps a Valhalla like hierarchy of warriors, as above so below. This might be too close to cleric though. I guess it depends on the society.

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  3. Perhaps a title for every level doesn't quite work, but a level at which, say, a fighting-man is a recognized "Weapon Master" (Swordmaster, Master of the Axe, etc.) would serve as a good benchmark. You could also fix a level at which younger fighting-men start showing up to try to take the title of "Fastest Sword in the West" from the character. :)

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  4. I personally prefer to add suffixes and prefixes on to my fighting-men. For example, Thorgrim the Reaver did not begin as a Reaver, oh no! Before his first forays into the dungeon he was merely Thorgrim the Gutless, who eventually proved himself in combat and was recognized 'round the tavern as Thorgrim the Unfeared.

    Now, obviously a 2nd level Fighting-Man probably would be a fearsome sight in a tavern full of 0-level peasants, but I still think the idea works, and it would work for fighting adventurers of any stripe. A rogue mercenary from the civilized world could be just as believably called "the Ferocious" as a barbarian of the wastes.

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  5. Yes, accomplishments might be the way to go here -- not unlike how the Romans kept adding agnomen to their names (i.e, Scipio didn't become Africanus until after the Punic wars)

    Maybe set it up a structure of every three levels or so: Thorgrim starts out as a swordsman (1st level), but by 3rd level he's Thorgrim the Reaver. By 6th level he's Thorgrim the Reaver, Blade of the North, etc.

    Then again, you could always go the Conan route: ___ the Swordsman, ____ the freebooter, _____ the avenger.

    Eventually, of course, a truly great warrior has no need of titles, and the mere mention of his single name should set the locals to panic ("MONGO'S COMING! AIIIEEEEEEE!)

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  6. I'm working on a campaign where everyone's level is a direct expression of how much they have personally impressed the king. which has me considering a level title system not tied to classes at all, just honorific titles granted by the local ruler, and this might work out for you too. Anyone can be granted a knighthood in gratitude for impressive accomplishments. The local peasant boy working his way out of the stables would of course feel more honored than the wandering barbarian, but it's still a good way to get across to the locals how serious they should take him.

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  7. Possible titles for Fighters:

    1. Armsman
    2. Warrior
    3. Gallant/Ravager
    4. Champion
    5. Weaponmaster
    6. Slayer
    7. Guardian/Destroyer
    8. Battlemaster
    9. Warlord

    Left of slash for lawful fighters, right of slash for chaotics.

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  8. Hm. Dang, this IS a tough one.

    How about colors instead of titles, the way it is with some asian martial arts? It's easy enough to invent a history to describe the dissemination of what would have to be a near-universal tradition. The fighters wouldn't just have a color as a suffix but would actually wear the color - the handle of his main instrument or some piece of flair generally known by other fighters to be where one wears one's "fightin' color."

    Hm. On further reflection, while this would add a wonderul "can you back up that black belt you're a-wearin', mister?" element to a game, you'd have to also invent a culture of martial tradition where it's okay for lower levels to display their colors because only a thoroughly evil and dishonorable character of a higher level would pick a fight with someone of a lower level. It would have to be such a bad thing that the response by lawful characters of both Good and Evil alignments would feel duty-bound to "chastise" the chaotic rascal in question. (One can END a fight with a lower-leveled character, one had just better make sure he doesn't get caught PICKING that same fight.)

    On the other hand, there's lots of room for subterfuge by high level characters, but also social and professional penalties to pay since that same tradition of honor dictates that when one is wearing a color, which should be pretty much any time one has one's weapons out, one displays the highest color one has earned. So, in the previous paragraph, if you're a lvl 10 who wears a lvl 5 color in order to pick a fight with a guy of lvls 5-9, you'd better hope - if you win that fight - that no witnesses know you're a lvl 10.

    Just wingin' it here as I'm typing - please bear with me.

    The idea makes less sense when we start trying to apply it to demi-humans, unless the invented history can cover them too, maybe some ancient period of universal "bushido" (it wouldn't carry that name, of course) or someting.

    And it should be a more or less secret tradition among fighters. Something the general public - and certainly your catalog of monsters - isn't aware of, at least for the most part.

    Also, it's a system where the rules of chivalry-among-fighters only operates effectively in cities or among other fighters. Out in the wilderness or in a dungeon, the chaotic character is more free to break the rules.

    Hey - I'm starting to like this! Think I'll pop on over to the old writin' desk and see if I can turn this into something workable.

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  9. Final thought: You'd have to have a wide network of weapons masters among all alignments, lots of competing schools and the like, to account for more or less official awardings of color and advencement. One can't just advance one's self and get that flair - you need to pass an official test of skill, much in the way druids had to. (Was that in Greyhawk or Blackmoor? Can't remember.)

    OK - done. Thanks for your patience.

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  10. Other than "name level" at 9th I don't like level titles and am glad to see them go the way of the dodo.

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  11. It was easier when there were just 'fighters'.

    Now everybody has to be some sort of specialist fighter (archer, blademaster, barbarian, gladiator, and so on).

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  12. Since the Fighting Man is more unattached than the other classes, lacking a common organization or sense of brotherhood, they are less likely to be recognized and respected by society until they have distinguished themselves. So they should probably have street and slang titles that emphasize that, like "thug" "basher" and "bruiser." Then, when they have gained a few levels, they get more recognition and get titles like "guard" "enforcer" "champion" and "virtuoso." At higher levels they will own land and possess title in game, and so would have titles such as "baron" "warlord" and "conquerer." Whether or not they are actually barons in game, the title certainly conveys that sense of status and accomplishment, and the disparity between "bruiser" and "conqueror" is pretty cathartic.

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  13. I would go with titles that are as generic as possible, and not bother with a title for every level. Something like:

    1. Veteran
    2. Warrior
    3. Warrior
    4. Hero
    5. Hero
    6. Champion
    7. Champion
    8. Super Hero

    and "Super Hero" for every level above the 8th. I know the above is probably far too close to OD&D, and would thus run into artistic presentation issues... But in any case, I think the key is to come up with titles that could reasonably be used in a casual conversation. Consider, for example, what Gandalf says in The Hobbit about a frontal assault on Smaug: "That would be no good, [...] not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighborhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found."

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  14. "Unlike clerics or magic-users, whose place in the setting can be tied to some sort of over-arching organizational structure, the same isn't the case for fighters..."

    I'll take this on. I'm surprised to see the above said for magic-users, since in D&D they're generally portrayed as very much loner types (no "wizard colleges" in any core OD&D/AD&D).

    I'll say that the outlier here is -- you guessed it -- the clerics, who are the ones who really do imply some church hierarchical structure.

    Hence when I strip out clerics & replace them with thieves, I now have all 3 classes appropriate for representing freebooters and shiftless adventurer-types (esp., PCs) and not requiring big campaign society-building work to give them background.

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  15. A Warrior Brotherhood, which may or may not be still active. That last, has a nice mythic tone. A long disbanded, but influential Warrior Brotherhood, or famous Mercenary Company, whose fame and influence was such, that warriors, to this day, use some of their terminology.

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  16. i would use a pseudo-military system for NPCs that belong to the organized military, i.e.;

    0. recruit,
    1. veteran,
    2. sergeant,
    3. lieutenant,
    etc . .

    while PC titles could be awarded by you / the GM upon completion of specific heroic quests

    i waited and waited and
    I am NOW officially follower
    '357'
    put that in your colt python
    and see how it smokes ; - )

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  17. I really liked some of the solutions (including those in James' initial table) that were being bandied around this same time last year here:

    http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2009/02/level-titles.html

    Did you not end up using it in Dwimmermount, James?

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  18. I still don't get why a first level fighter was called a veteran. Swordsman or something like made/makes for a better fit.

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  19. > Why would a rootless mercenary call himself by the title as soldier in the employ of the city-state of Adamas, never mind a Northman raider?

    Hey, what's wrong with Lance Corporal Thorgrimm?
    Just because he doesn't wash /every/ year...

    =

    (aside/OT: I'd love to blame Aristophanes, but I think that's rather unlikely. The Frogs, that is. Didn't stop us from playing Raid on Nephelokokkygia by way of silent non-tribute, though - the disguised PCs trying to convince the guards that the gryphons they'd arrived on were "OK" was a lark... so to speak ;>~ )

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  20. I'd rather think of them as informal labels indicating peer recognition of one's skill and experience: labels that fighters would naturally use amongst themselves when discussing another's level of skill.

    A 1st level fighter is a "veteran": he's had some actual, life or death combat experience. Maybe a 4th level fighter is recognized as a true "warrior:" one who fights with palpably superior skill and has shown a dedication to mastering the art. A 6th level fighter is a "master" while an 8th level one is recognized as a "grand master." A 9th level fighter is a "warrior lord:" a true leader even among warriors.

    You can probably think of better labels than this. Maybe there are labels that are culturally applicable in the game world. (In another setting, "grognard" might be a suitable title for a 7th or 8th level fighter; maybe there's an equivalent term for someone who's been around, seen it all, and can handle herself against pretty much any foe.)

    Level titles can be seen to apply specifically to adventurers and not to other sorts of people who fight, so there's no reason level titles can't be tailored specifically to the adventuring lifestyle. Maybe "delver" and "ogre slayer" are perfectly legitimate titles. They don't have to be taken literally: "ogre slayer" may be a title bestowed upon anyone with the ability to slay an ogre single-handed, whether or not they've actually done it, and so might be a perfectly viable 5th level fighter title. (But again, they don't have to be so lame or generically D&Dish: they can reflect the specific culture and idioms of your setting.)

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  21. Multiple profession or culture based lists?

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  22. The following is used in my campaign, and seems simple, straight-forward, and realistic to me:

    FIGHTER- A fighter’s rank is quite loose due to the nature of his abilities. Within the campaign there is no precise way to tell the difference between a 4th and 5th level fighter. A person aspiring to be a fighter is a novice, meaning new. A low-level fighter is commonly known as a man-at-arms, but can also be called upon something that reflects his weapon of choice- swordsman, pikeman, archer, and so forth. At roughly mid-level, he has gained enough experience to be called a warrior or a veteran. At higher levels, he is a master at his trade, and be called a swordmaster, axemaster, master archer, and so forth. These are apart from military rank and titles, if he belongs to one. In addition, some high level warriors who have become renown heroes may be given the title of Lord by a ruler, and welcomed to the lesser nobility.

    Level Rank/Title
    0 Novice
    1-2 Man-at-arms/Swordsman/Archer, etc.
    3-7 Warrior/Veteran
    8-9 Master: Swordmaster/Master Archer, etc.

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  23. The following is used in my campaign, and seems simple, straight-forward, and realistic to me:

    FIGHTER- A fighter’s rank is quite loose due to the nature of his abilities. Within the campaign there is no precise way to tell the difference between a 4th and 5th level fighter. A person aspiring to be a fighter is a novice, meaning new. A low-level fighter is commonly known as a man-at-arms, but can also be called upon something that reflects his weapon of choice- swordsman, pikeman, archer, and so forth. At roughly mid-level, he has gained enough experience to be called a warrior or a veteran. At higher levels, he is a master at his trade, and be called a swordmaster, axemaster, master archer, and so forth. These are apart from military rank and titles, if he belongs to one. In addition, some high level warriors who have become renown heroes may be given the title of Lord by a ruler, and welcomed to the lesser nobility.

    Level Rank/Title
    0 Novice
    1-2 Man-at-arms/Swordsman/Archer, etc.
    3-7 Warrior/Veteran
    8-9 Master: Swordmaster/Master Archer, etc.

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  24. If I didn't have any set organization for them to belong to, I would just let my players make them up. They could even make up different ones for different characters if they felt their origins were different enough. This is a great place for players to add flavor to the game. Plus it can give you something to riff on in a pinch.

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  25. @Ed Ross

    You could also use a system like the titles in medieval guilds:

    0-1 Apprentice
    2-4 Journeyman/woman
    5 + Master/Mistress.

    It might be that there's no 'warriors guild', but that guilds are familiar enough that people apply similar titles.

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  26. Mazes & Minotaurs uses the following level titles for warriors:

    1 local hero
    2 favoured hero
    3 celebrated hero
    4 famous hero
    5 illustrious hero
    6 legendary hero

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  27. I still don't get why a first level fighter was called a veteran. Swordsman or something like made/makes for a better fit.

    Because an ordinary man-at-arms peasant-levy type of fighter was 0 level.

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  28. Hmm... for S&W something like

    1. Man-at-Arms
    2. Warrior
    3. Elite (eg Sparteatei)
    4. Weapon Master (eg Swordmaster)
    5. Local Hero (or Minor Hero)
    6. Hero
    7. Major Hero (eg Myrmidon)
    8. Champion
    9. Lord (or Legend

    For 3e I use a Traveller: The New Era/Twilight: 2000 2e approach:

    1 - Novice
    2 - Trained
    3 - Experienced
    4 - Veteran
    5 - Elite
    6 - Ultra-Elite
    7 - Local Hero
    8 - Hero
    9 - Major Hero
    10 - Champion
    11+ - Legend

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  29. Joseph:
    "I still don't get why a first level fighter was called a veteran. Swordsman or something like made/makes for a better fit.

    Because an ordinary man-at-arms peasant-levy type of fighter was 0 level."

    In Gygaxian 1e, even a professional trained mercenary soldier is 0th level, albeit with 4-7 hp rather than the typical labouring male's 2-7, or default MM human's 1-6.

    I always felt the Gygaxian D&D world felt more like a magical WW2 than the Middle Ages, with vast hordes of expendable troops obliterated by artillery/fireballs. I tend to prefer the Judges' Guild approach where every NPC tends to have a few levels, though that works best if the PCs start above 1st or have some kind of 'kicker' such as bonus hp.

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  30. There's also Jianghu as an example of a non-magical society of dudes who punch each other, with a presupposed hierarchy of ability. In this case, the titles would reflect the reputation not only of the fighter, but his trainer, his school, etc.

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  31. I understand the point of reference vis a vis the man-at-arms, but it seems to me there should be a few levels between a red-shirt man-at-arms and a veteran.

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  32. Well, your magic-user and cleric levels are direct descendants of the rank hierarchy used by the Thulians, so just use the rank equivalents for the Thulian army as the level names. Base it on what level you'd expect the commander of that appropriate detachment of troops would be and use that as the default level name.

    Consistency is not just the 2HD monster of small minds!

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  33. I have to concur with Reverance Pavane. I customize level titles (when I use them) to my specific campaign world. While generic titles may work in generic campaign setting, your Dwimmermount setting has some very interesting and very specific history, so - were I you - I'd use that history to determine those titles.

    MJB

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  34. I know you've read a number of the Bernard Cornwell books. Perhaps something like in the series about Arthur, 'The Winter King' most of the main fighters were members of a secret society, a cult of Mithras. This society had members from older Roman Legionaries, to Gaulish Barbarians, the Celt warriors, all brought together into the remnant of Mithraic worship. Of course, this was more a chance for them to negotiate and party, more than any sort of organized worship.

    I'm not sure how level titles would work then, if it was supposed to be some form of secret society, and thus Bob the Reaver wouldn't really be feared because the public wouldn't know what it meant.

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  35. I would echo the sentiment (that I think has been raised) of having the fighter titles the remnant of some older pan military army, perhaps, in Dwimmermount, was used in the legions of the Thulian Empire.

    Perhaps the ways and exploits of that army and its more celebrated members became so ingrained in the folk memory that when a fighter reaches a certain level he's known a myrmidon, or Hero, etc..regardless of the successor culture the fighter is from.

    I love by the way the title Myrmidon, all time favorite

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  36. I want to weigh in here one more time: I like the idea of allowing the player to determine his character's backstory and assign himself a title (with the DM's permission and ok, of course--no Thorgrim the Well-Endowed for my game). This allows a bit more character customization, especially since a player is probably fairly attached to their fighting-man after getting them to level 3 or 4.

    Knowing how much trouble it is to get someone to survive to level three, a title like "Captain" simply isn't very impressive or fun, especially if I decided to create a backwoods hillbilly who fights with a sturdy hunk of timber.

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  37. Thanks to Anarchist for the comment. 'Journeyman' does not quite fit with fighters for me, but it still allows to flesh-out the guild system. It is details like this that really make the campaign for me, which is pretty much why James wants to sort out a definate rank system. I never gave a thought about rank titles before reading this site, since in the AD&D books many seem too superficial or forced-on. But I was inspired to make my own, based more upon data from history or folklore.

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  38. I've never been sold on the value of named levels, but for fighters, it might be reasonable to offer at least two hierarchies -- one for mercenaries and one for lone adventurer/Conan types.

    Mercenary
    1. Recruit
    2. Soldier
    3. Veteran
    4. Ensign
    5. Sergeant
    6. Captain
    7. Colonel
    8. Captain-General
    9. Marshal

    Freebooter/Adventurer:
    1. Stripling
    2. Vagabond
    3. Skirmisher
    4. Raider
    5. Reaver
    6. Warrior
    7. Champion
    8. Warlord
    9. Hero

    What would it be like to have honorifics that cut across character classes?

    1. Humble
    2. Worthy
    3. Respected
    4. Honored
    5. Esteemed
    6. Famous
    7. Celebrated
    8. Revered
    9. Mighty
    10. Renowned
    11. Legendary

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  39. Of all the OD&D classes, the Fighter class is the one most obviously lacking in any "need" for a level title of any sort. Virtually any state will have trained fighters. To think that fighters from the armed forces of another state would want to adapt "titles" derived from the enemy seems dubious. Add to that freelance mercs and it just seems too unrealistic to me. Thieves and magic-users with grades/titles? Yeah, maybe.

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  40. do your PCs pay money when they go up a level? I like this idea, but it can be hard to justify for fighters. if you've just killed a dragon, do you need a personal trainer? one explanation, that, solves your problem is that a fighter with sufficient reasure/experience makes a sizeable donation wheter to a temple, government entity, clan group, etc. and in return is allowed to "take a title." And it is this taking of title that in some way conveys the new level abilities. for me, this would suggest a sequence of titles divorced from military titles and that would be campaign-specific.

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  41. Fighter titles are critical if:

    1) Amassing henchmen and eventually "winning" D&D by establishing some sort of keep, rule and realm are the object. The title is not just a public benchmark for a fighting-man's prowess, but also for his proximity to power. Titles snowball the henchmen: the better the title, the greater the acceleration of underlings.

    AND/OR

    2) The ruling authorities require some form of registration (whether via beaureaucracy or magical means or both). The state dictactes the fighter classes, and keeps tabs on those who are rising, punishes those who lie about their level, and generally ensures the status quo. i.e. 6th level fighters are either already employed by the state, co-opted, put on a watch list, or eliminated due to their threat level.

    2) would not apply to the magic-using classes, as their talents are unlikely to exist outside of an established governing and educating guildlike body.

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  42. See Doug's post. Since on a meta game level, I see levels as not just a measure of skill but of reputation as well, I like to use titles that mix the honorific with the informative.

    In no particular order here are some of the level titles I've used, some familiar, some less so. They are always used in the cadence of (Name) the (Title):

    Veteran
    Widowmaker
    Mighty
    Swordsman (with infinite room for racial/weapon variety, like Hammerdwarf or Crossbowelf)
    Hero
    Fearsome/Courageous
    Victorious

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  43. I had always understood the need for level titles to be for in-game referents - so the character need not introduce himself as "Bill, the 2nd level fighter", but rather as "Bill, the Warrior". It wasn't a mark of membership in a hierarchy so much as a handy way of describing, in-game, the artificial construct of "levels" without having to refer to them. Granted, this falls down if you poke it too much, but I can still see the need for some such level-title system.

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  44. Actually, introducing your character AS "Og, the 5th level fighter" in a setting could be pretty funny as a title, if the DM and players roll with the meta-joke -- even funnier if the fighter is only 1st level and is simply trying to impress the locals by bs'ing them, only to have it come back and bite the PC on the ass

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  45. Why would a rootless mercenary call himself by the title as soldier in the employ of the city-state of Adamas, never mind a Northman raider?

    He might not, but that doesn’t mean you don’t use it for the level titles. That doesn’t mean people don’t recognize him as having equivalent abilities as a soldier of a certain rank.

    Do as Reverance Pavane suggested: Use the Thulian army ranks as your level titles. Provide equivalent titles that might be used by other military organizations.

    (Think of the Thulian ranks like the En/On system used in the US military. It’s the lingua franca of ranks. While the equivalents correspond to the ranks used by the individual branches.)

    And, sure, there will be fighters who don’t use any of those titles, but people can still recognize where that character would fit in the ranks if they were military.

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