Monday, April 8, 2024

Barbarian, Scout, Tomb Robber

Initially, I modeled the character classes of Secrets of sha-Arthan on 4+3 structure of Tom Moldvay's D&D Basic Set, coming up with the following:

  • Adept: An analog to the cleric only in as much as it's a second "caster" class.
  • Chenot: A non-human class occupying a similar niche to the halfling.
  • Ga'andrin: An analog to the dwarf – a "tough" non-human class.
  • Jalaka: A non-human class that combines combat and sorcery – elf analog.
  • Scion: An analog to the thief only in as much as it's a "skill" based class but focusing more on social situations.
  • Sorcerer: Obviously, an analog to the magic-user.
  • Warrior: Fighter.
I was quite happy with this arrangement, because it kept the number of classes down to a manageable number and (for the most part) the classes were all distinct from one another. However, as I've developed sha-Arthan, both through preliminary playtesting and my own evolving sense of the setting as a place, I've come to realize the need for some additional classes – or at least I am seriously considering adding them. 

The proposed additional classes are:
  • Barbarian: Another "fight-y" class but distinguished in part by its "outcast" status, which is to say, coming from outside the major societies/cultures of sha-Arthan. The purpose of the class is to provide an easy "in" for players who don't want or don't yet feel comfortable playing a character who's part of one of the established cultures of the setting.
  • Scout: Since travel and "hexcrawling" are a big part of Secrets of sha-Arthan (including how secrets are acquired), I felt the need for a class whose niche was exploring (which is why I might use the name "explorer" instead). It's a very broad analog to the ranger class, but with more focus on survival and overcoming terrain hazards, in addition to the usual stuff.
  • Tomb Robber: Despite my alleged hatred of thieves, I nevertheless find myself drawn to (and creating) variants of the class. The Tomb Robber is yet another one, albeit one closer to the traditional D&D thief in terms of its abilities. Given the more "ancient world" of sha-Arthan, I felt like the Tomb Robber makes good sense and has a clear place in the setting.
I haven't yet made up my mind about the additional three classes. They'll require further thought and playtesting, but I feel like they all add to the game, as well as the setting. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I like them is that they all – even the barbarian – hook into the setting and kind of gameplay I find enjoyable. The question is whether they bring enough to the table to justify bringing the total number of "basic" classes to 10. (Alternately, I could eliminate the racial classes entirely, leaving seven classes and four races, but that's a much bigger change in my opinion).

Regardless, work on Secrets of sha-Arthan continues. With luck, I might even finish a complete draft before the next total solar eclipse!


  1. I'm working on a piece looking at class based on the archetypes that the attribute scores represent. Under that focus, for me, I would want to design six base classes for (SIWDCC). If you account for the archetypes through a combo of primary and secondary stats it gives one 30 basic archetypes. The sweet spot is somewhere in between, I think. It seems to me your system looks at classes through the Three Pillars of Play (combat, exploration/investigation, social) in a way.

    1. Piggybacking off the above comment, when 4e was in the dawning I played around with classes created by combining different sources or archetypes or pretty much anything else you chose. 4e used primal, arcane, divine, martial, psionic, or shadow. For kicks & giggles I added in a a bunch more just to see what would happen - mundane, feudal, technological, law, chaos, etc, etc, etc.

      Anyway, martial/mundane/arcane/divine seem to me to be the usual basic ones, if thieves occupy the mundane slot. Cross that with the Pillars of Play above, and you get concepts like arcane X exploration/investigation (a thief/magic-user race, or gnomes); mundane X social (the scion); martial X exploration (barbarians) and mundane X exploration (scout). You can obviously play around with different sources/archetypes, and the point is inspiration, not slavish adherence.

      If you make some races and some classes, each race gets its own niche, and isn't just "a fighter but weaker". Something that bothered me about early dwarves & halflings.

  2. I have conflicting feelings about a barbarian class in a fantasy RPG. On the one hand, I find them fun to play, and who doesn’t occasionally think about playing a nice Conan/Thundar/ (insert your favorite book/movie/comic/cartoon barbarian here) analog. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that a barbarian should be a culture instead of an actual class, some group of people considered outside, uncivilized, and savage by the campaign’s main “civilized” culture. Admittedly not every rpg makes a character’s background/culture a significant factor in either game mechanic terms or otherwise, so I do understand why making a barbarian a class makes sense for many rpgs.

  3. 8f your going to add thieves and skills then I like the sneaky fighter type All Weapons, Leather Armor, Fighter Hit Points, Move Silent, Hide in Shadows, Climb Walls, Hear Noise, as a thief.

    But that's the whole problem with thief skills is once you add them everyone want to sneak or climb.

  4. I too have issues with the Barbarian class: it's usually too much of an overlap with Fighter and Ranger. I've yet to see a Barbarian that is something different from a light armored rager or a magic-less ranger.
    The challenge you have in front of you is to differentiate it enough from the warrior and the scout (and the Ga'andrin).
    If it was me, I'd probably fold it in the Scout: 9 is a very nice number nonetheless, and maybe it has some mystical importance in sha-Arthan?

    1. Blending barbarian and scout was my thought as well.

  5. By the way, given your love of ERB's Barsoom I'm more than a little surprised you didn't introduce an Exiled Earthling class or race.

  6. James, a question. Have you read any of the World of Xoth material? The free player's guides are for 5e and Pathfinder respectively, but the setting is very sword and sorcery.

    1. I have – or at least I read some of the early adventures published for the setting.

  7. I agree with other thoughts in disliking Barbarian as a separate and distinct class. Rather, a warrior can be civilized or "uncivilized" simply by how they are played. As previously suggested, a ranger or scout class operating on the fringes of society seems like a good add and would fill a similar niche of being a quasi-outsider, adding some stealth skills and a bonus to ranged weapons but with an armor restriction.

  8. I'm in the Minority here, I rather like the Barbarian class concept, personally. Really, I hope all ten of these are in the core.