Monday, April 13, 2020

Open Game Content: D12 Naval/Sea Adventures Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games

Continuing with my series on "D12 Subclasses" for B/X and Old School Essentials games (inspired, as always, but the fun and creative work done by Dyson Logos), here are 12 subclasses for games set in waterborne environments.

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, 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 as a balancing factor.

As with many of these lists so far, the idea for this particular theme came from looking over a few of the concepts I'd considered for my discarded Quintessential Expert proposal I was developing back in 2004/2005 for the 3.5 Edition of D&D. Specifically, I'd created a Sailor "character concept" (like a background, essentially), and a Ship's Captain prestige class. As I looked over the list, I figured I had two sea-based adventuring types that could be subclasses, so I just needed to figure out 10 more.

For this list, I was originally only going to create subclasses for the four human classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief). But, at the last minute, I snuck in an aquatic elf, because I remember liking those ever since encountering an NPC aquatic elf named (un-creatively) "Oceanus" in the classic AD&D adventure U1: The Secret of Saltmarsh, which was one of the first AD&D modules I played through as a kid. I recall that Oceanus was a Fighter/Thief, and this was a big deal to me as a very young, inexperienced player, because up until that point, I hadn't considered that elves other than High Elves could have class levels.

Once I created the aquatic elf subclass, it stuck out on my list because I didn't have anything for dwarves or halflings. As a result, I decided to create the dwarf "Sea Dog" and the halfling "Shantyman."

The dwarf Sea Dog subclass is intended to emulate the sort of old, experienced, but gruff and hard-drinking type of sea adventurer, who adds a bit of good luck to an expedition just by virtue of being aboard ship.

The halfling Shantyman (I'll confess I'm not ecstatic about the name, but it's a real word) was my idea of a hafling type bard who could also add a bit of good fortune to a ship's crew, as opposed to some of the more world-weary type subclasses on the list.

Giving credit where credit is due, the "Deep One Disciple" cleric subclass owes its inspiration to the Deep One Hybrid from the very creative Against the Wicked City blog. There are a lot of very creative and non-standard B/X style classes on that blog for you to check out.

I avoided using term "Swashbuckler" as a subclass, since that was already included on Dyson's lists, and instead went with "Buccaneer" for fighters. This subclass uses a unique "two-weapon fighting" mechanic that is different from that presented in the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules (page 25), so you may want to just pick one or the other.

I also did a unique parry type rule for the Corsair thief subclass (originally this was a Pirate, then a Buccaneer, but I ended up using Buccaneer for a fighter subclass, and I wasn't thrilled with "Pirate" because it was a bit too dull). There are more detailed parry rules in the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules, so if you use those, you might want to change this Corsair ability to something else (perhaps letting them use their dexterity bonus to melee attacks instead of their strength bonus).

For the smuggler, the idea with spending gp to get a reaction bonus is the equivalent of a bribe. I considered making it 10 gp per number of HD of the person being bribed, but the description got too wordy and fiddly. But, it's something I'm considering for any revisions I do of the list. I tried to envision the smuggler as a Han Solo type, which is where using the idea of them being able to use their thief skill to hide contraband cargo came from, as well as the idea of increasing their ability to evade pursuit.

The remaining subclasses I think are pretty self-explanatory in terms of the archetypes that inspired them.

As with all my subclasses and any other Open Game Content I have here on the blog, I welcome your comments and suggestions. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop) and living room (moleskin notebook)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Van Horn - Beatsumishi Remix" by Saint Motel (remixed by Van Horn) from the album "Van Horn (Beatsumishi Remix)"


  1. These are all really great.
    I briefly ran a weekly game for two players, they were Halflings at sea; these classes would have been right at home.

  2. That sounds fun - I've never actually run in, nor played in, a completely sea-based game, but travel by sea has come up from time-to-time and it all depends on how the referee wants to handle it. Sometimes they just hand-wave it. In my campaign, at one point the characters wanted to sail from the equivalent of Spain all the way to the equivalent of India, so I had them role-play going to the docks, doing research to find the right type of ship and the right captain, and then threw in an NPC that was part of a family one of my PCs had a grudge against, and that all came to a head while they were at sea, and a fight broke out, so they had to think about the environment, and the wizard player realized pretty quickly that using a fireball spell (his go-to offensive spell) on a wooden ship was probably not the best idea, so they had to re-think their tactics. It was a lot of fun.

  3. Ed Greenwood had a take on halfling pirates in GAZ8

    They would form a band, and would elect a patron (usually a lady), and most of the treasure they collected would go to the lady after the adventure to set her up for life.

    1. Thanks! I had a few of the Gazetteers back in the day, but I never picked up any of the ones for demi-humans. That halfling pirate idea sounds fun.

      I recall in the old Dragon magazine "Voyage of the Princess Ark" series that covered some of the more remote parts of the Known World, there was an area that featured a sort of Spanish pirate style halfling near the town of Porto Preto, if I recall correctly.

      Cheers, and thanks for commenting.


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