Open Game Content: D12 Criminal Subclasses for B/X or Old School Essentials Games
Despite being involved in a variety of different projects right now for the advertising agency I own, as well as editing an RPG book for another publisher, finishing my final judging on this year's One Page Dungeon Contest, and having a backlog of RPG reviews to write, I was struck by a desire earlier this week to revisit another D12 Subclasses table. This time, the list takes a bit of a turn toward larceny, and focuses on some Criminal subclasses for campaigns with characters who skirt the law.
As I always do when posting these lists, I want to acknowledge another far more prolific creator who inspired me to make these tables, Dyson Logos, who not only makes and posts fantastic RPG maps and artwork, was also the person who developed the idea of small tweaks to old-school style character classes to create modifications for different types of games. I highly encourage you to check out Dyson's work, which I have found very inspiring.
My list of subclasses so far includes Experts/Specialists, Wilderness, City/Urban, Naval/Sea-Based, Horror, Fairy Tales, Sword & Planet, and a brand new B/X-OSE class, the Sorcerer, with D12 bloodlines.
Work on a short booklet for Experts/Specialists, including the 12 Specialist/Expert subclasses as well as three new ones (one each for Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings), and three full classes (Alchemists, Demolitionists, and Inventors), along with new equipment and genre rules for Expert/Specialist games, is in the works. The writing is about 85% done, and the layout is complete other than the sections I haven't quite finished writing, and I'm working on getting some artwork. After I get that ready for sale, I'll work on the Sorcerer book with new spells and other content, and then after that, my plan is to put together a booklet with all of the rest of my D12 Subclasses content to date, with additional ideas and content for each "genre."
HOW THE SUBCLASSES WORK
As always, if you're read this section before, you can just skip down to the DESIGNER NOTES.
For those who haven't seen my previous posts on Dyson's original D12 subclasses, the idea with these is that every character in the game would take a subclass to keep things balanced, as the subclasses tend to be slightly more powerful than a standard B/X class. If a player opts not to take a subclass and prefer to use the standard B/X (or OSE) classes, the referee should award that player's character an extra +10% to earned XP.
These subclasses are intended to be short, quick modifications to allow for a bit of customization without creating an entirely new class, so while there may be a whole host of additional abilities you could think of to add to each subclass, they would most likely make it too overpowered or would warrant creating a new class instead of modifying an existing one. Each subclass adds one or two new abilities, and often removes something as well, for balance.
SOME DESIGN NOTES
Most of the subclasses on this list were part of my original ideas when I started working on this idea, but I ended up skipping past it to write the Fairy Tale and Sword & Planet subclasses. A few nights ago when trying to fight off a mild case of insomnia, inspiration struck and I jotted down some notes in a small notebook I keep handy on my nightstand so I can get ideas out of my head before trying to drift off to sleep.
I did have to do a lot of work to come up with 12 distinct archetypes, and in particular, at least one for each of the seven basic B/X - OSE classes. There were quite a few times that I had an archetype assigned to one class, and at the last minute, shifted it to another class.
The cleric subclass was by far the most difficult, not in terms of the class modifications, but in terms of how to think of the archetype. In my notes, I had a mention of the Crime Bible from DC Comics, but ultimately discarded that idea and went with a basic "god of thieves" theme. As I worked on this one, I recalled the old 1st Edition AD&D half-orc multi-class option of the Cleric-Assassin.
The dwarf archetype was one of the very first ideas I had, going back months ago to pre-pandemic planning. I went a bit back-and-forth with a lockpicker or a safe cracker, but decided on the latter as it seemed a bit more unique.
The shadow archetype for elves was another older idea that I kept - it's a very slight homage to a ninja type character, which I think fits a B/X type elf well, given their supposed magical abilities. For the "Confidence Man/Woman," this was a brand new idea that only surfaced in the past couple of days as I sought out new archetypes to fill out my list. I did struggle a bit with the name - I originally intended to call it a "Grifter," or a "Face," but, while I knew the meaning behind those terms, I thought they were a little too uncommon for people. This is the type of character who is focused on the social aspect of role-playing, and able to convince others that they will have all they desire if only they do whatever the character says. I would prefer to have a gender-neutral term for the class, but "Confidence Person" didn't sound right. I'd love suggestions if people have them.
For the fighter, I went back and forth on whether to include the bandit, as it seemed to stand out a bit as not being part of a more "formal" guild arrangement in line with the other archetypes on the list, but it is a strong archetype and required few mechanical changes to implement, so it stayed. The enforcer was a bit more fun, as I had a much longer list of abilities and penalties, mostly involving social situations. One of my ideas was to give them a bonus on the NPC reaction table, but only against people who owe the enforcer's guild money, and in that case, a positive reaction wasn't "friendly," but instead, "compliant." I pared it down to the version on the current list.
Halflings were another somewhat easy class to modify, by sticking with the age-old archetype of Bilbo Baggins and a Burglar (originally called a "Sneak" on my list). The Courier, however, is new - just added in the past day or so, and originally an archetype that I was trying to shoehorn into the Cleric class, but that wasn't working to my satisfaction. This is the person who is making the drop, delivering something fast and without being noticed. These types of characters are very appreciated in the criminal underworld for their speed and discretion.
Other than the Cleric, the Magic-User class gave me the most trouble in terms of coming up with archetypes that made sense to assign to the class. Once I started to dig a bit more into various roles without the criminal underworld, however, I came up with a list that included about four different archetypes, and ultimately I settled on these two as being the two that seemed most aligned to using one's Intelligence attribute. The Mastermind came first - this is the type of character who would make a perfect leader for a Thieves' Guild, but they really only come into their own if they have a group of like-minded characters to work with. The Mastermind is the brains of the operation, doing the research, finding the right people, and making the plan.
The other Magic-User subclass, the Chemist, is a bit darker in its inspiration, with the idea that the Chemist is making potions that are in high demand, and therefore command a higher price. It's possible that people who quaff the Chemist's potions develop a strong desire to want to obtain more potions, and are willing to pay whatever it costs to procure them. I did go back and forth on whether to include this subclass or not, but I ultimately decided that this list was the only one that made sense if I ever wanted to include a character like this, so if I wanted to try it out, I had to include it here. Again, I appreciate any feedback from people if the archetype is considered offensive, etc.
Oddly, when putting this list together, the Thief class was one that originally I hadn't assigned any subclasses to. The Thief fits the role of an all-around criminal already and I felt that many of the criminal archetypes I had that could be taken by thieves had already been assigned to other classes. When creating these two archetypes, I had to figure our some roles that hadn't already been taken by the other classes. The Fence is a classic criminal archetype, so my goal was just to pick a few strong abilities changes to make the role clear. The Ghost, I knew, was going to take a bit more work. These are the characters who want to complete a job without leaving a trace; they aren't looking to make a mark or to gain comments or appreciation from other thieves; in fact, their goal is do a job without anyone having a clue who pulled it off. If you are playing a ghost subclass of thief, your main objective should be to achieve your missions without engaging in combat at all. In fact, a referee might consider awarding you XP for encounters that are avoided instead of encounters that are won.
I've only played a thief type character once, a very long time ago, shortly after I first began playing RPGs. I had a multi-class 1st Edition AD&D Dwarf Fighter-Thief, and I really wanted to test my abilities, so while attending a "How to Play D&D" session at the local library with my friends who were running the seminar, I had my character try to pick the pockets of a few of the new players who had shown up, as we were about ready to starting playing through Module I3: Pharaoh. I recall that I failed my role miserably, and was very embarrassed, but I forged ahead and tried to be a role-model, however awkward, for these younger players who were trying to learn the rules. It was the only time I ever attempted to have one of my characters steal something from another member of his party.
Other than that, I've only played an "evil" character one time as well, for my friend's 3.5 Edition Evil One-Shot, and in that case, I was assigned a character (a Githyanki Psion) to play. I did have fun in that game because the goal was to really explore the boundaries of what could be done with the 3.5 system when taken to its extreme, and the fact that we were evil was really not a huge part of the game since it was a one-shot and we knew we weren't going to be using these characters again.
But, other than that, I'm not really a fan of playing evil or even chaotic-selfish characters. I find the game works best when character are all working together toward a common goal. However, if all of the characters are playing some type of criminal archetype, and ideally are all part of the same criminal organization or guild, and their actions are watched and directed by the hierarchy of the guild, and there's the constant threat of discovery by the local law enforcement, then I think a criminal type campaign could be fun for a a few sessions or short campaign.
Here's the D12 Criminal Subclasses Table. Have a look and let me know your thoughts on class balance, the archetypes I chose, and whether you try any of these in your games. My plan is to include this along with the other subclasses I mentioned above in a short booklet with some cool art and great layout, and additional content for ideas on playing a criminal campaign.
Hanging: Home office (laptop) and small idea notebook
Drinking: Tap water
Listening: "Crazy Good' by Dojo Cuts and Roxanne, from the single "Crazy Good"