Thursday, June 2, 2011

Character Classes: The Noble

I've always been interested in playing noble-type characters in fantasy RPGs, but I remember growing up with the game in the early 1980s with the Moldvay Basic set and 1st Edition AD&D, there really weren't any options for such characters.  I remember seeing ads in The Dragon for alternate character classes from Bard Games, like a whole book on Alchemists, and another one that included a whole bunch of new classes like Bounty Hunters, Harlequins, Scouts, and Witch Hunters.  All of those classes sounded pretty cool, but none of them were nobles.  Even the so-called "NPC" classes in Dragon back then didn't ever include a noble class.  I just did a search myself through my collection (which goes all the way back to The Strategic Review #1, thanks to my Dragon Magazine CD-ROM collection) and I can't find a single class that was designed to fill the noble niche.

I know that many of you probably think that any class can be a noble, and there is some merit to that argument.  It's the same argument that TSR used when they removed the Assassin from the AD&D game when 2nd Edition came out.  Their reasoning was that anybody who kills for money is an assassin, whether they are fighters, magic-users, or thieves.  And, I get that.  If your style of game is to have fewer classes and fewer options, then you don't need nobles (or assassins).  For a noble, just play a fighter with some aristocratic quirks and have-done.  Easy-peasy.

The 2nd Edition "Complete Book of..." series followed this idea.  When the fighter, wizard, and cleric books came out, they each included options for taking a noble-type "kit", such as the noble warrior, patrician, or nobleman priest.  Even the Complete Book of Dwarves had two neat kits for dwarven nobility, the highborn and the patrician.  These kits, in conjunction with some of the noble-type classes found in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay really sparked my imagination, and I started creating lots of noble-type NPCs and their families, for some really cool inter-family politicking that I thought would be fun to role-play during an actual game.  Of course, this was sadly during the time that I didn't really have a game group to play with, so I just spent all of my time developing NPCs and campaign worlds that never saw the light of day.

When 3rd Edition D&D came out, I had strongly considered not even buying the books, but later on ended up working on the advertising for Wizards of the Coast and the client sent me a bunch of d20 books, including the 3.0 Player's Handbook and d20 Star Wars.  One of the things I noticed right away was that the d20 Star Wars book had an actual Noble Class, but alas D&D did not.  However, the D&D 3.0 Dungeon Master's Guide did include an NPC class called the Aristocrat, which was designed to help portray any important NPC character that had been elevated to an advanced position in society through inheritance, money, education, or any other number of ways.

As an interesting side-note, my fascination with noble and aristocrat characters eventually led me to propose to Matt Sprange over at Mongoose Publishing that he hire me to write The Quintessential Aristocrat, which he did.  The book was published in 2004, and is still available on Mongoose's DriveThruRPG page here

Well, although Wizards of the Coast never published an "official" noble base class for the 3.X era of D&D*, plenty of 3rd party publishers did so.  I collected a bunch of them while I was doing research for writing the Quintessential Aristocrat, but honestly at the time I wrote it, many of them had not been published yet.  Probably the most "famous" of the d20 noble classes was Green Ronin's Noble's Handbook, which was written at pretty much the same time as my book and, if I remember correctly, published at almost the same time.

I really liked Green Ronin's treatment of the Noble class, because it felt like it could actually offer something new and different to a party of adventurers.  Later on, Green Ronin did a modified version of the class for their Spirosblaak campaign setting.  They removed the class' dependence on its "noble house" and replaced it with some other mechanical abilities.  It was this version of the class that I then modified myself for my own Pathfinder game in my home campaign of the World of Samoth.  You can see my version of the class here.

I'd love to hear what you think of the class, and also on a broader topic, if you think that nobles can make viable character classes for an RPG campaign.  I'd also be interested to hear your thoughts on why, for example, WotC made a Noble base class for the Star Wars game but never created one for mainstream D&D*.

* Just after I finished this, I remembered that there was a Noble base class in the d20 Dragonlance Campaign Setting book published by WotC, which had a lot of similarities to the Star Wars version.


  1. I always figured the cavalier to be some sort of noble class. But I agree, it's strange how vanilla D&D seems to have ignored such an important part of medieval society.

  2. I think if you base the class on an archetype, you can make a go of it, even though it will always be more niche than the fighting-man or magic-user. I have an S&W noble class I'll post eventually that (kinda) works off the Prince Charming or Wandering Prince archetype of many fairy tales.

  3. I have an S&W noble class I'll post eventually that (kinda) works off the Prince Charming or Wandering Prince archetype of many fairy tales.

    That's great to hear, Matt. I'll look forward to that on your blog. I've always toyed with the idea of taking some of my Pathfinder stuff and converting it to LL or S&W just for the OSR types that follow my blog, but I'm not sure that there'd be any interest.


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