Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Articles of Dragon: "Character Classes to Consider"

Issue #65 (September 1982) of Dragon saw yet another "From the Sorceror's [sic] Scroll" column by Gary Gygax that I will long remember. At the time, I was an avid AD&D player, having largely cast aside the D&D line as "for kids" (despite my being only just shy of 13 at the time). So, anything Gygax wrote about an "expansion volume" for the system was of keen interest to me. In the article under examination today, Gary laid out his plans for some new sub-classes, a topic sure to cause me to catch my breath.

According to Gygax, there would be seven new sub-classes, in addition to an additional level for druids beyond 14th. Of these sub-classes, we only ever saw three: barbarian, cavalier, and the thief-acrobat, in addition to the 15th level Grand Druid (and the Hierophant levels), each appearing first in the pages of Dragon and then in Unearthed Arcana. The others never appeared under Gygax's name in any form. They were:
  • Mystic: A cleric sub-class "concerned more with prediction and detection than are other sorts of clerics."
  • Savant: A magic-user sub-class "specializ[ing] in knowledge, understanding, and arcane subjects." Because of their deep learning, they can even learn some cleric and druid spells and, at high levels, use scrolls of other classes as well.
  • Mountebank: A thief sub-class "specializ[ing] in deception, sleight of hand, persuasion, and a bit of illusion." 
  • Jester: Whether this was a sub-class or a new class all its own Gygax never explains, though he does reference Roger E. Moore's NPC jester class. Amusingly, he has already worked out the class's level titles in this article and presents them.
At the time, I was salivating at the thought of so many new sub-classes for AD&D, though, in retrospect, the only one I now think was a good idea was the mountebank and it's one of the classes we never saw (you can get Joseph Bloch's excellent own version of them, along with several others, for free here). Regardless of my present feelings, the article caused quite a stir at the time, leading many to believe that the next volume of AD&D was about to appear imminently. As it turned out, it would be several more years before we saw Unearthed Arcana and that book was not at all what we were expecting.

The article also covered a handful of other topics. First up was about personalizing one's character, a key facet, Gygax claims, in a role-playing game rather than a "roll playing" game. I'm not sure if this is the first ever instance where this pun was used, but it's certainly an early example of it. Of course, for Gary, "personalizing" meant one of a wide variety of adjectives to describe one's character's complexion, skin, hair, and eye color. It's both an odd thing to include in this article and a strangely literal understanding of "personalizing."

Gygax also notes that he is "retir[ing] from the position of 'sole authority' regarding the D&D game system," making way for Frank Mentzer as his colleague. He also notes that he is working closely with Francois Marcela-Froideval on several AD&D-related projects, including two "volumes." One of these is presumably Oriental Adventures but the other could have been any number of things. Finally, Gygax once again inveighs against "cheap imitations" and "knock-off" products, urging his readers to "avoid all such fringe products." I'm not certain which products he specifically had in mind in 1982, but it's unlikely to have been the Arduin series, since they were several years old by that point.


  1. I always thought what he meant by "cheap imitations" were the Role Aids products by Mayfair. Judges Guild wasn't something I ever saw or hear of back in the day, so I figured he meant Mayfair's stuff.

  2. As I recall, Gygax was actually in favor of formally licensing Mayfair "Role Aids" line -- what a terrible name! -- as official D&D-compatible products, but I may be misremembering.

  3. The Role Aids stuff generally had a higher production value than the Judge's Guild stuff, though I think they lacked the spunk (for lack of a better word) of the latter.

  4. Back then in 1984-1990 there was a regular "NPC" Character Class feature in the White Dwarf. Each issue featured either a charfcater for AD&D or for Traveler. White Dwarf also had a feature, where they expanded the skill tables and made them a lot more detailed. Traveler featured a "Thug" and an "Intelligence Agent" (never retired and you had to rol; rfegularly for reactivation into service). Thug had table for such events as "Crimes" and "Laying Low". As far as AD&D is concerned, there were subclasses of Magic User, such as Elementalist and Summoner, and a separate class of Houri (also covered Geisha).
    I think that a lot of thes classes have made themselves into Second Edition as "Specialist" Magic Users. I had always a problem with some of the ways that Magic is defined by Gygax. For instance, a D&D Sorceror is a guy who "naturally" knows some spells. According to traditional definition, "Sorcery" is a household magic done with everyday objects. A Sorceror would be able to make a magic needle with an easy thread isnertion for an arthritic or Parkinsos's person, hammer that never misses a nail, Sorcery, according to defintion would be a school of cantrips and small spells. Term "Mystic" is also used in properly, as was the "Shaman" and "Witch Doctor" classes. Mysticism is about giving up who youi are to join the greater (and more powerful) entity, such as cosmic consciousness. Hindus believe in Atman (souls) joining Soul of Universe or becoming "One with God" with early Christians. PERVERSELY interpereted byte Unity in Fallout 1 1 and Carpenter;s The Thing. Mysticism was also a feature in Medieval historic magics and "heresies" - Demons are ancient beings thousands of years old, with arcane knowledge and skills. You let the demon possess your body for periods of tiem to accomplish its business in this world, and in rturn you get to be patt of Demon's consciousness, and remember later what it knows, its ancient languages to read the old texts, it's skills, who knows, neurosugery for 14yh century alchemist? Shamanism, was the root of this line of thinking in th early societies inhabiting tough terains, where if you don't hunt and gather enough, you die of starvation. There were people, who beause of biological deformitioes could not sustain themselves by bunting and gathering. They would go out of body and deal with the nseen worlds, letting spirits pssess them in exchange for performing useful services for the ciommunity - looking for lost oibjects, game, water, lost chldren, so as to be kept fed and not to starve to death. This was viewed as a dangerous undertaking, the possesing spirits might hijack your body forever and you never really knew if the spirits that you were dealing with were friendly or ostile to the Shaman and his people. Witch Doctors are Magicians and Healers in societies that did not believe in Shamanism and traditonally used a combination of Botanicals/Biologivals and/orthe school of glyphs, hexes, and protective symbols. istorically speaking, Abjuration school of magic was a LOT more prominent than D&D. It was the "White Magic" of the non-Christian societies whose primary function was to keep the spirits of the dead at bay.

    All this knowledge opens a lot of new vistas, which can be explored via D&D gaming.

  5. I was wondering why I saw a spike in downloads for the Adventures Dark and Deep books. Thanks for the mention, James.

    1982 was the year that the Judges Guild license to publish (A)D&D compatible material lapsed. So it's entirely possible Gygax was referring to JG in that swipe. I think it's far more likely that he was referring to Mayfair Games here. Gygax was a company man, especially when writing in Dragon, and since TSR had made a formal complaint to Mayfair in 1982 (they didn't make an agreement until 1984), I think they're the target.

  6. "the article caused quite a stir at the time, leading many to believe that the next volume of AD&D was about to appear imminently"

    In regard to these articles and many other aspects of AD&D you regularly mention player anticipation or apprehension of upcoming AD&D publications. I must say that at the time, even though I think my group would have been considered heavily into AD&D, we never anticipated upcoming publications. They just kind of came out when they did and we picked them if we could or wanted to, or didn't. I don't ever remember spending any time anticipating in any way any upcoming publications. They just kind of happened and showed up on the book store shelves. I always thought the "pre-release hand wringing phase" was something the Internet made possible with late 3rd edition and into today. For us at least, it didn't exist in the 80s.

  7. As far as Gygax being a company man, well, he was the President, so I suspect he held that view because he believed it at the time, not just "towing the party line". I suspect he was specifically targeting people who didn't get an official license.

    As far as Frank Mentzer was concerned, I've said this elsewhere but I truly believe Gary was going to outline D&D and guide it, but he would have increasingly trusted subordinates. Based on the credits of Unearthed Arcana, I suspect that both Jeff Grubb and David Cook would have been part of this time.

    (Yes, even though some people think Gary "Hated Zeb Cook", this is wrong, I think the only stressor between the two was the Oriental Adventures fiasco during Gary's legal battle, and the fact that it sort of slighted Francois Marcela-Froideval. The only people Gary ended up not forgiving were the three business people who wrested control of the company--the two Blumes and Lorraine.

    If things had not deteriorated with the company I fully suspect some of Zeb's ideas might have made it into Gary's 2nd Edition.

  8. (Yes, even though some people think Gary "Hated Zeb Cook", this is wrong, I think the only stressor between the two was the Oriental Adventures fiasco during Gary's legal battle, and the fact that it sort of slighted Francois Marcela-Froideval.

    I've never quite understood where the notion that Gary and Zab hated each other came from. There's no evidence of it that I've ever been able to discern and Mr Cook himself has only ever had kind things to say about Gary. I get the impression -- and I say this as someone none too fond of 2e -- that the "hatred" is entirely in the imaginations of those who felt that the mere existence of a Gygax-less AD&D was a betrayal of the man.

  9. In one of Gary's Q&A's on online forums, he makes mention of "Zeb the Destroyer." I have no idea if this was at all serious, a playful jab, or if Zeb just actually had the nickname of "Destroyer" for an entirely different reason. And I say this as someone *quite* fond of 2e.

  10. In one of Gary's Q&A's on online forums, he makes mention of "Zeb the Destroyer."

    Was this in reference to Oriental Adventures? As John mentions above, the biggest source of real (as opposed to imagined) friction between Gary and Zeb was over OA. Perceptions and accounts differ but my incomplete understanding is that Mr Cook was given the job of rapidly completing a partial -- how partial is a matter of dispute -- manuscript for OA turned in by Francois Marcela-Froideval. Given the time constraints, it was easier to start from scratch than try to expand on a MS written by someone else and so he did. Gary seems not to have liked the result, though he did allow the book to be published, under his own byline no less. The impression I get is that Gary's dislike had more to do with the fact that Marcela-Froideval's ideas weren't used but rather cast aside entirely.

  11. I think the problem is that we fans see things a little more fanatical than the actual people involved. Where they see subtle jabs, other people see outright hatred. From our perspective, it's a night-time soap opera. From their perspective, it's a bit of an irritant or a tempest in a teapot. This is something I learned slowly as I moved from being a fan of Gary's to a friend, as well as also just growing up and putting life in perspective.

    I think Cook gets it from portions of the fan base just like Greenwood, they were the "scabs" that allowed D&D to continue after Gygax left. If Cook was really hated, I doubt Gary's sons would have invited him to GaryCon, for instance.

  12. I sure hope he isn't, as from what I know of Cook he seems like a real great guy and was a great contributor prior to 2e, and possibly a big reason why I liked 2e so much. I also hear that OA was a very well-received and regarded book outside of Gygax-fandom.

  13. from what I know of Cook he seems like a real great guy and was a great contributor prior to 2e

    I completely agree. My interactions with Mr Cook have been very pleasant. He's a polite, self-effacing guy and I find it hard to imagine him as the ogre some people assert that he is. Perhaps I'm biased because I am so fond of a lot of his pre-2e work, I don't know.

  14. Just to clarify, I think his contributions during 2e are just as great, I just highlighted pre-2e since so certain people seem to disregard that.

  15. I believe Joseph is right in his suppositions. Or at least I was about to say the same thing. But I think was also a control thing and wanting to have a single vision of what D&D actually is. After all, if people went in vastly different directions would it be recognisable as D&D? Gary was naturally very protective of his creation.

  16. Never understood the attraction, or even inspiration for the various jester classes presented in different places over the years. Is there some rich vein of jester-themed fantasy writing or film-making I've been blissfully unaware of all these years?

  17. If I want a Sage D&D 3.0-3.5/Pathfinder I take a Thief+any I have a huge Skill Point pool to draw on and fill him up with knowledge.

  18. Nagora, some day you must introduce me to all the druids in fantasy literature and film you've obviously seen over the years.

  19. No problem. Irish folklore is full of them, as is much of the fantasy literature inspired by them.

  20. @ cibet

    "I always thought the "pre-release hand wringing phase" was something the Internet made possible with late 3rd edition and into today. For us at least, it didn't exist in the 80s."

    To a large extent I agree with you … with one caveat. In the ‘80s (and indeed the ‘90s) my first inkling of new products was usually when they showed up on a local store shelf, or when the shopkeeper let me know they were “incoming.” In several cases I was completely unaware of the existence of books I would have instantly snapped up because they never made it to a local store – for instance I assumed that ICE stopped producing their Middle-earth product line in 1989 or so, and I completely missed out on the last 5 or 6 years of this series.

    My caveat is that Dragon articles and editorials – like the one profiled here – occasionally stoked the fires of our anticipation (and every so often – T2 anyone – dangled a carrot in front of our noses for years on end).


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