Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Lost" Gygaxian Classes

As I reported yesterday, Randall at RetroRoleplaying found a number of "lost" D&D articles, written by Gary Gygax and Len Lakofka, which appeared in Lakofka's Diplomacy fanzine, Liaisons Dangereuses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I printed off many of the articles he found and have been reading them with great interest. Of particular note, to me anyway, were issues 74 and 76 (September 14, 1976 and December 14, 1976, respectively), each of which included D&D classes I'd never seen before.

Issue 74 describes the Pyrologist or "Fire User," a magic-user sub-class specializing in, as you'd expect, fire magic. There are many interesting things about this class, which, in some ways, resembles the more well-known Illusionist. Firstly, pyrologists seem to have strong clerical connections, as it's noted that they "may also progress as clerics," although the text adds the cryptic qualification "but they must do so in separate campaigns," whatever that means. Though both good and evil pyrologists are possible, evil pyrologists can advance higher as clerics (8th level as opposed to 6th). Speaking of alignment, there's a note that fire users "are always highly Lawful" and, from the text, it's made clear that this applies to both good and evil members of the class. Elves may become pyrologists, but, if they choose to do so, they "may not later choose to be an Illusionist, Alchemist or normal Magic User though Fighter and Thief are still available" as options.

Like illusionists, pyrologists have their own spell list, including a large number of new spells, many of which I've never seen before. Some re-appear in other contexts under different names, so Gygax mustn't have forgotten about the class, even if he never updated to AD&D. I'm not sure I'd use the class as written in my own campaign, but it's intriguing nonetheless. For one thing, it's a potent reminder of the days before D&D had been rationalized, when neither its designers nor players balked at special cases and one-off rules. I'm actually a big fan of pre-2e "specialist magic-users" and deeply regret that we never got to see Gary's proposed savant class for this reason. I feel strongly that 2e's approach to the concept was deeply wrong-headed and it's a pity subsequent designs have followed its lead rather than that of classes like the illusionist and pyrologist.

Issue 76 is, in many ways, even more interesting, since it tackles "dwarves & hobbits & magic." The article provides rules for hobbit druids (who "may advance separately as a Druid and a Thief"). Interestingly, such multi-class druid/thieves "fights as a Thief but has saving throws as a Cleric," which is highly suggestive about the mechanics surrounding multi-class characters in the old days. Both hobbits and dwarves may also be clerics or cleric/fighters. Both races are limited to 7th level and many of their spells, including healing, cures, and raise dead, are either less effective or ineffective against races other than their own. This puts comments about dwarf clerics who "can cure and resurrect their own" in Greyhawk in a new light.

Issue 76 also gives us the dwarf craftsman class, which gains "abilities" as it advances through levels. Abilities have levels, like spells, and a craftsman character must choose which ability he wishes to learn from a list. Unlike spells, many abilities can be used more often than once per day, although some are similarly limited. Abilities range from low-level ones like "Wedge Door" and "Dig Trench" -- both obviously useful in dungeoneering -- to high-level ones like "Summon Earth Elemental" and "Make Mithril Coat." It's an interesting concept for a class and one I'd actually be keen to see someone use in a game. If nothing else, the craftsman provides a good model for creating other "semi-magical" classes or indeed even classes distinguished by specific "abilities." Heck, part of me ponders and alternate thief class based on the craftsman.

Two final comments: First, throughout both articles, the term "character" is never used; the word "figure" is used instead. Second, I am amazed that, in a fanzine devoted to Diplomacy, there was so much D&D-related content. Taken together, these two things reveal the extent to which D&D took the wargaming community by storm in the mid-70s.


  1. I thought about the Crafter myself as a different take on a Thief.

    Great minds and all of that... ;-)

  2. The Dwarven Crafter class design sounds a lot like 4E's "class powers" concept.

    That's not an insult, as there are some things to like about that (as long as you don't excessively rationalize it as the 4E devs did).

  3. Interesting find, James: thanks for sharing (and helping to centralize my reading for these kinds of discoveries! :D ).

    The Pyrologist also appeared in a Chicago fanzine entitled "The Wizard" c. 1977, so I'll be interested to compare the two versions once I've dug into the LD version.


  4. And, relatedly, the Hoosier Archives are now at Bowling Green @ http://blogs.bgsu.edu/pclnews/?p=62


  5. Interesting stuff; EGG and company were throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see if it stuck in those days; perhaps through actual play the Pyrologist was either too powerful, too limited or just unbalanced play. I can picture the one guy that always wants to "play the pyrologist" causing groans in the group as they think about having to dodge fireballs and walls of fire while adventuring with this guy. Frankly sounds like a recipe for disaster in most cases!
    The halfling as druid I've always thought is a natural fit; it's an allowable class combo in my game.

    1. We handled all specialties by lowering the spell level by 1 (min 1) and raising all the non speciality spells by 1 (anything over 9 impossible). Simple

  6. Yes, very interesting. Thanks, James!

    @Badmike: I agree. A flame-throwing wizard sounds great in theory and fits well within the fantasy realm, but the game really changes when Papa Wizard is burning down the house, the dungeon, the continent...etc.

    We've been playing Castles & Crusades, which allows for halfling druids. I wonder if Gygax is the source, the later versions of D&D, or an in-house Troll Lord decision. I know that EGG was working with them for a time.

  7. To be fair, halfling druids were possible under 1e, limited to 6th level, but they were listed as being a strictly NPC class.

  8. That's some neat RPG archaeological work there, James. Thanks for presenting it! Like you, I preferred 1E's way of handling MU subclasses to 2E's take, though I could work with the latter. The 1E Illusionist was always near the top of my favorite classes - Color Spray is such a neat spell, and the class gives the game (to me at least) an Arabian Nights feel.

    I'd love to see w "modern" rendering of the Pyromancer.

  9. I think the new classes came from boredom and a search for spice in the campaign. Once everyone had a try at the Fighting-Man, the Cleric, and the Magic-User a few times they wanted to play something new.

    And it's relatively easy to make up a new class. Dragon Magazine had a ton of them. And if you add them in this way, one by one as people get used to the old ones, it's not a problem.

    The problem arises when a new player comes to the group. Imagine the difference between choosing from among three or four classes, or choosing from hundreds.

    Off the top of my head, here is a list of classes for 1E and 2E that I can remember from books and magazines.

    (Paladins of 8 other alignments)
    (Oriental Adventures Barbarian)

    (A dozen specialty clerics for each of 10 pantheons)
    Cloistered Cleric


    Wild Mage
    Wu Jen
    Death Master
    Shadow Mage
    Incantantrix (spell stealer)

    (Eight or nine specialists, I forget, things like Healer and Blacksmith)

    Bard (1E)
    Bard (2E)

    (Oriental Adventures monk)


    That's 182 classes right there. Then each class qualifies for a racial kit, or a class kit, or a homeland kit. So you have another 45 kits to choose from after you choose a class.

    That aassumes single-class characters. Considering the multiclass combinations you could add about 20 choices if the DM is going by the book, to over 600,000choices if the DM lets you make any three-class combination you want (including Cleric/Specialty Priest/Paladin for example).

    Now how is a player new to your group going to make a choice from among 200 possible classes?

    You might argue that you can chunk those up into main groups: offensive spellcaster, defensive spellcaster, sneaky, fighting. But some classes do more than one, in varying proportions, so a list of them is shorter but still well over a dozen choices.

    I can see why so many people just play a Fighter. It's quite a pickle.

  10. James: I feel strongly that 2e's approach to the concept was deeply wrong-headed and it's a pity subsequent designs have followed its lead rather than that of classes like the illusionist and pyrologist.

    Why? How? In what ways?

    I'm curious since I've seen that thrown around so often but not actually talked about by the grognards just as the newbies talk about how "impossible" THAC0 is.

  11. The crafter class sounds like a possible early precursor to the "Heka Forging" ability in Dangerous Journeys, something I've long thought D&D could use. I'll have to take a closer look at this...

  12. Why? How? In what ways?

    I can speak only for myself, so take my answer in that light.

    I dislike 2e's specialist wizards for two reasons. First is the creation of a universal spell list that lumps both MU and Illusionist spells into a single collection. In 1e, there were spells -- illusionist spells -- that no MU could ever cast, regardless of their ostensible school. I think 2e misreads the meaning of the schools and attempts to over-rationalize them at the expense of flavor and mystery, which is what having separate spell lists for each class did.

    Second, and more damning, many of the specialist wizard types exist for no other reason than to fill out a schema. No effort is made to make each specialist type unique. Instead, each type gets an identical bonus for its favored school and cannot cast spells from one or more "opposed" schools. It's in my opinion the triumph of categorization over substance, a kind of "spreadsheet" mentality where everything has to fit in a nice little box according to an outside rationale.

    I don't think 2e specialist wizards (or specialty priests for that matter) are unholy abominations and I fully understand the reasoning behind their creation. However, I think they sacrifice too much uniqueness on the altar of simplicity/rationality and, given the choice, I'd rather stick with the original presentations.

  13. I don't think 2e specialist wizards (or specialty priests for that matter) are unholy abominations and I fully understand the reasoning behind their creation. However, I think they sacrifice too much uniqueness on the altar of simplicity/rationality and, given the choice, I'd rather stick with the original presentations.

    That's entirely fair, and a better explanation than I've ever seen put forward. Most seem to revolve around "2nd edition is the devil's work!" which gets old very quickly.

    I've always felt that the specialist wizards presented in 2nd edition were a bit of a two edged sword. On the one hand, they make perfect sense if you view the wizard as the hermetic, or perhaps "academic" is a better descriptor, caster. A general magic-user is somebody who went to college and walked out with a general degree in Law or Criminal Justice. A specialist, on the other hand, is the one who stayed on through graduate school and, at the expense of some other general areas of knowledge, gained deeper and more focused insight into his chosen field.

    More importantly, it did what I think is crucial to AD&D. It kept down on the number of "special" classes created just to fill a perceived niche. Does there really need to be a special class specifically for "illusionists"? I say no, not really. And of course, it's easy to maintain the mystery and exclusivity of specialist spells: I've been experimenting with the thought of restricting wizard/magic-user classes to specialists in Thylia, but specialists only have access to ONE school. A Transmuter, therefore, has access only to Alteration magic and a shorter "universal" school (read magic, detect magic, etc.) The spell lists in 2nd edition were, by the time the supplements were all out, extensive enough that this is feasible I think.

    At the same time as all that, I'd love to see some real alternate caster types who do not focus on the "old man with a book" archetype. A magic-user who does't focus on recipie like spells, but instead channels the raw energy of magic innately. I haven't seen anything like that except, perhaps, a modification of the Spellfire rules out of Forgotten Realms (and still, they make me choke whenever I look at them). The 1e Illusionist was, to me, just another wizard with a different list of available spells. He's just not unique enough, in my mind, to merit a completely separate class, nor are any other specialists within the same vein.

    Anyway, sorry about changing the subject and choking up the comments.

  14. In 1e, there were spells -- illusionist spells -- that no MU could ever cast, regardless of their ostensible school.

    I agree with your take wholeheartedly. I'm assuming the savant would have been something along the lines of a 1e counterpart to the 2e "diviner" specialist wizard. I think it'd be fairly straightforward to envision what the class would have been like.. XPs for each level same as the illusionist, maybe wis as the second ability score requirement rather than dex, and a score or so of new spells that magic-users wouldn't have access to.

  15. For what it's worth, I agree with the opinion that there has been a weakening of specialist spellcasters with the assimilation of arcane spellcasting classes. The 1e illusionist was a great character class, and I agonized over which I wanted to play on the rare occasions where I could match the prerequisites for the illusionist. The difference was in the different spell lists, and that made the choice important.

    The earliest days of D&D have a great appeal for me, because it seemed that the game was a lot more story driven then I suppose. I didn't like 2e as much because it was more about producing rulebooks than modules, and it only seemed to get worse from there. In my opinion, there is no better single rulebook than the 1e DMG.

    For what it's worth, I like the Pathfinder system's take on D&D. But even in that the individual 'specialist' wizard schools may each have their own advantages and quirks, but there's still the one spell list for all wizards, which means there's really no 'choice' about it. You don't lose access to any spells, which means there's no real difference at all.

    Ah, maybe I'll make my players play 1e again. Even if almost all of them weren't born when I started playing D&D in '78. :-p

  16. I can picture the one guy that always wants to "play the pyrologist" causing groans in the group as they think about having to dodge fireballs and walls of fire

  17. I wonder how much of this is the work of Lakofka work and how much the work of Gygax?

  18. Sorry James, you've lost me on the critique of specialist mages.

    Other than Illusionists, what other specialist mages were there, in 1e?

    Did those other specialist mages in 1e have their own spells lists, that were separate from magic user spells?

    I'm no fan of 2e, but I was completely unaware of those other 1e specialist mages.

  19. That's really cool.

    What do you mean by "over-rationalize?" Is that the same as the "'spreadsheet' mentality?"

    If so, I agree entirely. Filling in all the boxes for all the wizard types isn't something I much like.

    There's something to be said for the tutorial value of common structure; for instance, every class having a Prime Requisite. But I also think that often a mechanic just needs to be what it needs to be, regardless of whether there are seven other mechanics that match.

    Plus, I was just this weekend trying to make up a fire magician, so this is extra exciting.

  20. Did anyone else have thier minds totally blown by the female classes?

    Very pulp, very iconic, very sexist.

    I can't think of any final print game I've played where men and women had not only different stat generation but different stat lists.

    The beauty for women vs. male charisma duality I find uncomfortably compelling. (Secrets man wasn't meant to know or shouldn't in the pursuit of equality...)

    Anyway, I might work up the courage to talk about these classes whith the girl players in my group.

  21. I would really like to see Gary's Savant class and especially the original monk-like psionic class, both being strong pulp fantasy archetypes

  22. What I really find interesting is the feel of the Pyrologist class.

    It seems to me to be less a magic user than an iconic pulp sword & sorcery sorceror-priest. You know – the sort of character that leads a tribe and is entirely prepared to sacrifice the captured female members of the adventuring party to his Volcano God. <grin>

    Lots of fictional precedent.

    On a side note, this does make me very nostalgic for the fanzines of the time. I think how the original game was published really encouraged the fanzine; after all, you could just add the stuff that tickled your fancy in the same manner that the supplements just added stuff to the rules. Once you had a cohesive printed rule set, on the other hand, there was a much reduced tendency to meddle and add optional stuff, including new character classes, to the game.

  23. The Holmes Blue Basic refers to a Witch MU class "coming soon" in AD&D. There at least 2 in Dragon.

    I think was/is room for some more classes in OD&D. I'm partial to the idea of a Witch/Shaman as a generic replacement for the Druid. I know you're not a fan of Thieves, James, and neither am I as they were presented in early D&D but I think there is room for a Rogue-ish class. Perhaps one more emphasis on stealth and ranged fighting - less on theft. I like the idea of racial special classes, the Dwarf Craftsman, the Halfling Scout, the Elven Hairdresser....

  24. I may be odd man out, but I'm not fond of either AD&D subclassing philosophy, 1E or 2E.

    Re: 1E-style "lost classes", I'm used to running D&D with 3 classes purely by rote (no book lookups), so having several pages of new rules for a single character feels just crazy. That Pyromancer is a lot of new rules text. Setting the precedent for unending class proliferation is not good for me.

    Re: 2E style specialists, I agree with James' "second and more damning" issue ("no effort is made to make each specialist type unique"), but I disagree with the first ("creation of a universal spell list"). They're bloodless and frankly just don't work very well (I'm doubtful the pristine system was playtested).

    For me, I'd much rather see small manageable bits of rules being added, like new individual spells, so I'm also generally a fan of the 3E idea for its Feats system. I would rather have specialist wizards handled by in-campaign network effects of who has access to what spellbook (i.e., the fire wizards only give access to their special spells to those who perform a quest, oath of allegiance, etc.), but I've never seen that in play.

    What I don't like is calls for "magic that doesn't use wizard books". My attitude is, you're playing D&D, the whole magical premise is Vancian-style wizards memorizing spells out of books. I don't see much rationale for a given spell to be unlearnable by any wizard-type. And simultaneously I'd rather just stick with the basic 3 mechanical systems (Ftr, Thf, Wiz) and not memorize more.

    (This comment interrupted briefly, and eerily, by my girlfriend looking for the word "evoke" in a crossword puzzle.)

  25. This is a fascinating concept for skills! I like it alot, though most I would not use "out of the box" Example: making a chainmail coat, which apparantly can be done in 5 hours(!). As a practicing armourer, I'd be purely ecstatic to manage the completion of a hauberk from start to finish in 5 *months*, let alone five hours...

    Also, I think some of the more magical ones (Heat Rock, etc.) would better serve as clerical spells or powers, rather than craftsman skills.