Tuesday, January 25, 2011


That's "specialties" in Portuguese, by the way. I used it as the title of this post, because I've been reading, haltingly since I'm using my knowledge of French and Latin to get by, the Brazilian old school RPG, Old Dragon. There are a number of rather clever rules and options in Old Dragon, but the one that's lately grabbed my attention is the concept of a class "specialty."

In the game, there are only four classes: cleric, fighting man, magic-user, and thief. However, each of the classes also has one or more specialties, often alignment-based, that a player can choose for his character once he's reached 5th level. These specialties minor but flavorful tweaks to the class's normal abilities to represent what in some editions would be a sub-class. For example, a Neutral cleric is a druid, one of whose abilities is to control forest animals, an ability that replaces the turning of undead but uses the same game mechanics to do so. Meanwhile, a Chaotic cleric is a cultist -- I actually like that name better than "anti-cleric" -- and gains the ability to control the undead under certain circumstances. The changes to the base classes are generally fairly small, but I think they're conceptually significant enough to matter in actual play. That's what I like about the design of Old Dragon, from what I've read so far: it does a lot with only a few minor tweaks to the familiar rules of Dungeons & Dragons.

In the interests of inspiring others, here's a listing of all the specialties in Old Dragon:
  • Cleric: Druid (Neutral), Cultist (Chaotic)
  • Fighting Man: Paladin (Lawful), Warrior (Neutral), Barbarian (Chaotic)
  • Magic-User: Illusionist (Neutral), Necromancer (Chaotic)
  • Thief: Ranger (Lawful), Explorer (Lawful), Bard (Neutral), Assassin (Chaotic)
Looking over this list, I'm sure many of you are intrigued by what you see. Ranger, a Lawful specialty of Thief? What's a Warrior and how does it differ from a Fighting Man? That's what I like about these specialties -- they're quite inspiring. Even if you don't like or disagree with specific presentations, the core idea behind specialties is a sound one. Moreover, some of the re-interpretations of classic D&D sub-classes are quite evocative, as are the new additions. In my opinion, they all demonstrate an easily forgotten principle of old school play: less is often more. It's not necessary to have a tome of feats and skills and prestige classes to individualize your Fighting Man, so long as the options available to players, though simple, are interesting. For my money, Old Dragon definitely provides interesting options.

I'll likely talk more about this game in the days to come, but it's slow-going for me, since, as I said, my command of Portuguese is limited. Still, I've been enjoying this game a great deal, so it's well worth having to move slowly, dictionary in hand, as I make my way through it.


  1. I don't mean this as a criticism -- I think that originality is unduly fetishized in our culture -- but this mechanic is very similar to the system used by the CRPG Dragon Age. It works great there as a way to create interesting characters through play, rather than at the time of creation, and I think it would probably work well for D&D as well.

    In short: Dragon Age characters are either Warriors, Mages, or Rogues, and can learn a specialty at level 7. This often involves taking specific moral stances in the world, e.g. making a deal with a demon to learn the Blood Mage specialty. Even the Ranger-as-Thief thing is a Dragaon Age feature: the Rogue specialties are (IIRC) Bard, Assassin, Ranger, and Duelist. Pretty similar list.

    Of course, I could have the direction of influence backwards, or perhaps they have a common source of inspiration.

  2. Very cool James. I've been interested in Old Dragon for a while now, originally due to finding the outstanding art online. I really like the specialties, as it's basically a codification of something I usually do 'ad-hoc' in my own games. I'm particularly happy to see Ranger as a specialty of Rogue - I've felt that way since 1e.

    Also, it's an excellent name for an OD&D game!

  3. Hi James

    I agree this sounds very cool, and I wondered have you seen the Lord Kilgore blog and his idea of a 'five colour' game? http://www.lordkilgore.com/wizards-warriors-alpha-five-color-game-pdf

    The basic idea is that there are only two classes - a wizard or warrior - but you also choose a colour, which defines your class abilities (so green warriors are a bit like rangers, white wizards have cleric like spells and so on). Obviously there's an implied flavour to the setting you'd have to play in, but given your comments from a couple of years ago about getting rid of clerics or thieves, and the above post I thought you might find this idea interesting if you haven't already seen it.

  4. "Less is often more..." It is amazing how easy it is to forget this simple rule.

    I've been wanting to throw up a post recently about this versus "the joy of expanded character creation." Familial duties currently preclude anything but light posting at this time, I'm afraid.
    : )

  5. "there are only for classes":

    I think you meant 'four'.

  6. The game sounds fascinating. Are there any plans for an english translation?

    Ed Green

  7. I think they ought to have Priest for Lawful Clerics and Wizard for Lawful Magic-User. All other classes get Lawful specialties, why not them :P

  8. So no one else is reminded of 2nd Edition? Really?

    Check it:


  9. First, sorry for the english, I'm Brazilian (and a Old Dragon fan)

    Importantly,the specialties are optional. For example, if you are a neutral cleric, you don't need to be a druid. Some specialties will give certain disadvantages, some not. "Equilibrium" is not the focus of the Old Dragon, but the old school playing and flexibility to adapt materials from other D&D editions.

    The Pilgrim

  10. Nowadays, as an adult, I dedicate less time to playing roleplaying games. I can perhaps manage a game every week or two, but that's really stretching it. Also, the campaigns are shorter now, as most of my friends don't want to dedicate themselves to unending campaigns.

    This means that in most games we don't get to *see* that many options available. There's also the thing that I have many games I've never played and I would like to try them out, so usually I GM a different rpg in every campaign. I have a couple of friends who GM the same games again and again, but usually with short campaigns, too, so they can get to use more stuff.

    In this light, less is definitely more. A smaller game is fun here, because there's not that much feeling of leaving things out. I'd like to run games like Transhuman Space or Earthdawn, but the whole size of these games leaves me a bit uncertain - how to decide *which* part to use.

    For example, I liked running Don't Rest Your Head. It's quite simple, but it can also do much stuff with it, and run different games just renaming the items.

    So, in my circles, less is usually more.

  11. James, thank you very much for your kind, kind words about Old Dragon. As one of the authors, it means a lot to hear such compliments from someone as attached to the OSR as you are. When me and Antonio were writing the game, one of our mottos were "less is more", and I'm glad to see that you are being able to capture the essence of our game, that is, classic D&D with little tweaks.

    About the ranger as a lawful thief: when I was designing the specialties, I had in mind for the ranger not Drizzt, but Aragorn. With that, I came up with the following: Aragorn, as a dúnedain, is attached to a vow of loyalty and he's defending the lands of the north against the forces of Sauron. Well, in my opinion, that's exactly what is about a ranger: a wilderness expert who vowed to defend a land from a specific menace. Therefore his lawful alignment. The thief part is due to the class' abilities to move in silence, climb, etc., that suit nice with the idea of the ranger.

    Actually it's funny that you commented on the fact that it might be strange, because Antonio put a box on the book commenting about the ranger as a thief, and I got so mad at him!

    About Dragon Age: altough I know that the RPG exists, I've never played or even read it. So the similarities are purely coincidental.

    About an english version: there's a lot of talking about Old Dragon in english, specially at Dragonsfoot. But it's kind of complicated. Not because of the translation itself, but I believe that the authors have a special responsability when releasing a game. We are forming a great community of Old Dragon fans in Brazil due to our (and their!) support for the game. The thing is I don't know yet if me and Antonio will be able to support the game on both fronts at the same time. And I think it's reckless to release a game and leave it by itself, unsupported.

    About the specialties for lawful wizards and clerics: at first, we didn't come up with ideas that really mattered and influenced the class to justify a lawful specialty for those cases. We tought about battle priests, archmages and such, but we concluded that it wouldn't be a specialty, just bonus givers, like most of the prestige classes of the 3.5 era, and we want to avoid that. But, like I said, we have a great comunnity here in Brazil, and they are already developing additional specialties for the game.

    Again, James, thank you very much for your words about the game. Coming from someone like you it's like winning an Oscar.


  12. I agree this sounds very cool, and I wondered have you seen the Lord Kilgore blog and his idea of a 'five colour' game? http://www.lordkilgore.com/wizards-warriors-alpha-five-color-game-pdf

    No, I hadn't seen that, or if I did, I'd forgotten it. I must rectify this!