Monday, April 20, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Horror Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

This represents the fifth (or sixth, if you count the first table I came up with for my revised B/X-OSE Sorcerer class) table of subclasses for B/X and/or Old School Essentials games, this time for games with a stronger horror undercurrent. The idea of creating B/X style subclasses was inspired by the original D12 Subclasses by Dyson Logos on his blog.

As a reminder for those who haven't seen my previous posts, or who haven't read Dyson's posts on the matter, the idea is that every character in a game like this would take a subclass. If a player opts to play a standard version of a character class instead, the referee should award that player's character +10% to earned XP to account for having fewer class features and abilities.

These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entire new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they could end up making it too over-powered, or could instead have enough changes to warrant the creation of an entire new class in its own right. Instead, I'm taking the standard classes from the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X edition of D&D (or from Old School Essentials) and adding one or two new abilities based on the theme of the list. In some cases, I also remove some abilities for balance and flavor.

This is the first list of subclasses I've created that didn't have anything to do with the initial work I did on Expert characters. While converting some of the character concepts, multi-class concepts, and prestige classes I created for my discarded proposal for the Quintessential Expert over to B/X style subclasses, I kept a running list, and many of the leftover ideas that didn't make my list of D12 Expert/Specialist Subclasses I eventually used as inspirations to create lists for Wilderness, City/Urban, and Naval/Sea-Based Subclasses. As I was working on those themed lists, I started to think of other genres that could make sense for a table of subclasses, and horror was the first new genre that came to mind.

Several of the concepts on this list came to mind right away, including all three cleric subclasses of Exorcists, Occultists, and Spiritualists, as well as the Fortune Teller for elves (I changed the name of this one several times), the Necromancer for magic-users, and the Grave Robber for thieves. While I had the ideas for the titles of the subclasses, the actual abilities didn't come until much later. In fact, the Grave Robber subclass was the most difficult of all of this initial group to write, and I almost ended up discarding it completely because I couldn't figure out how to give it the right set of abilities that would be useful to an adventuring group but still make sense thematically.

Other concepts were much more difficult to create, which is one of the reason that it's been about a week since I made my last subclass post.

The dwarf concept was, by far, the most difficult one to create for this list, primarily because I couldn't think of an appropriate archetype that made sense for dwarves in a horror setting. Initially I was going to make them a version of demon slayer, but it wasn't quite fitting the aesthetic I was going for with this list, and the problems were compounded by the issue that demons and devils aren't part of the "official" rules for B/X D&D or Old School Essentials. I've spent the better part of two or more weeks trying to come up with a different archetype, at points considering some kind of angry, lost and forgotten underground version, or making them close to the derro from 1E Advanced D&D. At one point, I even considered how to make a dwarf subclass that emulated an Igor type lab assistant character. It wasn't until this morning, actually, that I came up with the idea of using Rumpelstiltskin as an archetype idea, but rather than using the proper name, I called him a Dark One, or an Imp. The abilities for this one are kind of fun, but I do wonder about the ability to create ("spin") gold out of mundane materials. It's only once a day, and the character can't keep the gold, so I figured it wouldn't be too powerful. It's mostly there for flavor purposes.

The Afflicted subclass of fighters was another semi-late addition to the list. Originally I was trying to work out a concept that would apply to a character bitten or infected by a lycanthrope or a vampire, and then I split it into two different subclasses, and ultimately discarded the vampire idea to concentrate on the lycanthrope idea, as I felt it was more flavorful. The Afflicted isn't intended to be a full lycanthrope, but rather a character that is fighting against its nature and holding his humanity intact. The d6 roll to determine the "animal affinity" was the first random roll idea I had for these subclassses, and then I extended that idea to the elf Fortune Teller and the magic-user Mad Scholar.

For the halfling subclass, the Jinx, I originally was going to go for a lighter touch and have them be a "good luck charm" type of character, but changed later to instead focus on bringing bad luck to opponents instead of good luck to comrades.

On the magic-user side, I struggled a bit with creating another subclass. I initially had a Golem Maker subclass that I envisioned as a Dr. Frankenstein type, and a Mad Scientist that was the classic crazy character that dabbles into things man was not meant to know. After doing some digging, I recalled that creating golems was a task for much higher level characters than B/X or Old School Essentials handle, and after initially discarding the entire idea, I realized that Dr. Frankenstein was a bigger concept than being limited to just golems, and I ended up merging the two different archetypes into the Mad Scholar. I like the d4 table to explain why they have a reaction roll penalty.

Lastly, having recently finished playing a years-long on-again, off-again campaign of the Masks of Nyarlothotep, playing an Investigator, I really wanted to use that as an archetype upon which to base a subclass. While that was one of the first subclasses I put on my list, it was toward the end of the ones that I fleshed out with different abilities.

As always, I'd really appreciate any comments, suggestions, and improvements you all have - comments from the community are one of the huge benefits of playing and developing content for the OSR RPGs.

Hanging: Home office (laptop), dining room table (laptop), and living room couch (Moleskine notebook)
Drinking: Oban Distillery's Edition 2012 Scotch Whisky
Listening: "The Grunt" by the J.B.'s, from the album "Food for Thought"


  1. Nice!

    Of course, the only *true* horror subclass is "victim." :P That's not very D&D-ish, though.

    Masks, huh? How long did that take your group to complete? As I think I've mentioned, I'm ramping up for a campaign to start this year, hopefully. The 7E books arrived a couple weeks ago, and the HPLHS Prop Set I picked up for it just arrived *minutes* ago. (An actual Edison wax cylinder to accompany the Prop Set arrives tomorrow - if I had the free funds, I'd invest in an actual cylinder phonograph, too - but alas, that sort of wealth eludes me still. :D )

    1. Victim! Ha!

      I just dug out my small notebook that our GM gave us to take notes during the Masks campaign. Looks like we started on June 1st, 2007, and our last session when we completed the campaign was May 11, 2019, so almost exactly 12 years. There was definitely a lot of hiatus periods where we stopped gaming, or switched to play another game entirely because the GM needed a break from prepping (both of my old-school games for S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth took place during one of these hiatus periods, as documented here on my blog). And, we played, at most, once a month when we were playing.

      That said, it was a really long campaign and I discovered afterwards that we actually didn't even visit all of the locations that are in the book; we figured out a different way to accomplish the tasks of preventing Nyarlothotep from returning and so skipped a whole section in Australia, I think it was.

      Those props are so cool! Our GM made his own - I've blogged about them a bit before, but in addition to making his own matchbooks for clubs and hotels our characters visit, he's made handbills, printed out newspaper articles (on actual newsprint and incorporating real world newspaper articles from the time period along with the fictional stories for the game), postcards, photographs, and once he did a whole slide show using old sepia-toned photos from Google Images to show us what Cairo would have looked like in the 1920's, and he accompanied it with a music playlist on Pandora.

      You can read about it here.

    2. 12 years? That's impressive! Our group will need to take *considerably* less time to complete the campaign. (I'm old, and I'd like to be alive to see its completion. :P)

      Note to self: add to ToDo list going back and reading all of Martin's Call of Cthulhu posts. :P

    3. Ha! I think based on our previous conversations that we're about the same age - I may even be a bit older than you. Yeah, 12 years was a long time, but this group of friends tries to get together about once a month to game anyway. The GM for that particular game was, for a while, the head Assistant ADA for the County of Los Angeles in charge of arson cases, and he got really busy at work with the Hollywood Arsonist and ended up just needed to take a break from running Masks because it involved a ton of prep for him for each session. So, to give you some perspective, while we started on June 1, 2007, the next session after that for this game wasn't until 9/28/2007, and then it was nearly a year until our third session on 9/12/2008. After that, in looking at my notebook, it looks like we didn't play again until 3/5/2010. From there, we played monthly through June, and then didn't play again until 3/22/2013. We played three more sessions in 2013, and then took another long hiatus until January 2016. However, it's possible that I just ended up missing a bunch of sessions due to my daughter's accident in the summer of 2015; I skipped a bunch of social activities for about a year while she recovered.

      My notes get sketchy after that until 5/12/2018, but my notes from that session are "recaps from the past few sessions" so I think that I must have missed a few sessions in 2016 and 2017 due to work and/or vacation. But, from that point on, we played nearly monthly until we finished in March 2019.

      During those in-between times that we weren't playing Masks, we played other RPGs, such as my two AD&D one-shots (S3 and S4), Torg, a Warhammer 40k game, the new Star Trek RPG, and some Twilight 2000.

      I'm sure you could finish it up in a year or two if you play consistently - due to our inconsistent schedule, oftentimes the first hour or so of some of our sessions was spent with everyone going over their notes and recapping what had been happening before.


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