Military Subclasses for Fantasy RPGS

Battle of Crécy between the English and French
in the Hundred Years' War from an illuminated
manuscript of Jean Froissart's Chronicles is
in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
This is the 13th entry into my series of subclasses (perhaps more appropriate called "character concepts") for the 1981 Moldvay Basic D&D game. As reminder, once again, that all of these were inspired by me stumbling across Dyson Logos' original D12 Subclasses: please check out the originals, which are chock-full of great ideas for fantasy tabletop RPGs. 

This list of military subclasses specifically was inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Redwyrm on Twitter. He has a fantastically creative Twitter presence in which he (mainly) presents ideas that he and his five year-old son ("the Wyrmling") have come up with while playing D&D, which they play together every single day. Redwyrm is one of those people who make Twitter a better place, and I highly encourage anyone who uses the bird app to follow, and more importantly, engage with him about his ideas. 

Shortly after posting my Norse subclasses last year, I went on Twitter and asked folks what subclass ideas they'd want to see next. Redwyrm said his son would be interested in seeing some military subclasses, so I got right to work, but as with many of my RPG ideas, it got pushed to the side for other projects, mainly continuous prepping for the campaign I'm running for my daughter.

Redwrym was kind enough to view and comment on many of the subclasses included in this table. I hope his son enjoys them. With no further ado, here are 12 modifications to the existing 7 B/X character classes to help evoke a military style campaign. After the table, I present a few ideas for making military campaigns easier to run, and end with links to all the previous D12 subclass tables I've made so far. 

Lastly, my ultimate goal is to put all of these subclasses into a book (I'm planning the smaller A5 size), probably hardcover, with each D12 table also including additional material related to that genre (e.g., for the Wilderness D12 subclasses table, I have tons of random tables for fantastic encounters and weather in various environments like Arctic, Desert, Hills, etc. as well as ideas for foraging for food, checking if water is safe to drink, etc.). Stay tuned for a future blog post talking about this, and also you can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where I share my works in progress occasionally. 





Class Modifications




Battlefield Prayer: 1x/day, pray for one round to grant all companions within 10’ +2 to saving throws against fear effects or a second save at no bonus if they already failed before the prayer was offered. Rally the Faithful: 1-in-6 chance to give allies within 10’ +1 to attack and damage rolls for one round per level of the chaplain. Can be used once per turn. The chance increases to 2-in-6 at 4th level, 3-in-6 at 7th level, 4-in-6 at 10th level, and 5-in-6 at 13th level. Hindrances: Cannot turn undead.



Combat Healing: use turn undead mechanics and table to heal. “Monster Hit Dice” is the highest level of character or hit dice that can be healed (e.g., at 1st level, the Medic must roll a 7 or higher on 2d6 to heal someone of 1st level or with 1HD, and a 9 or higher to heal someone of 2nd level or with 2HD). The second 2d6 roll indicates the total number of HD that can be healed; e.g., a roll of 5 indicates up to five creatures of 1HD or 5 1st level characters can be healed. A healed character gains 2 HP (but cannot go above maximum hit points). Healed characters gain a very visible scar which could affect their Charisma score. Spells: Must only pray for healing spells (cure light wounds, remove disease, etc.).  Hindrances: Cannot turn undead as normal.




Repair: 2-in-6 chance to repair or reinforce weak supports or construction; replaces Detect Construction Tricks. Water Source: 2-in-6 chance to purify a water source to make it safe to drink; replaces Detect Room Traps.


Explosives Ordnance Technician

Disarm Explosives: 2-in-6 chance to successfully render enemy explosives inert; replaces Detect Construction Tricks. Create Explosives: 2-in-6 chance of success; increases to 3-in-6 at 5th level, 4-in-6 at 7th level, and 5-in-6 at 9th level. Replaces Detect Room Traps and Listen at Doors abilities. Explosives Details: Cause 2d6 damage at the point of origin and 1d6 damage in a 10’ radius; save versus breath attacks for half damage. Failure indicates an early detonation, causing 2d6 damage to the explosives ordnance technician and 1d6 damage to everyone else in a 10’ area. Explosives may also be filled with unique mixtures, such as green slime, ochre jelly, yellow mold, etc.



Special Operative

Minimum INT: 13. Creature identification: Ability Check against INT – Creature HD to know a weakness about the creature. Intel: Gains twice the number of rumors when gathering information. Spells: Must always learn spells with “detect” or “locate” in the name first and prepare them each day. Hindrances: Not immune to ghoul paralysis. Cannot wear heavy armor.




Mounted Combat: +1 to hit and damage when mounted and firing missile weapons. Mount Shield: When dismounted, may use mount as a shield in combat, adding +2 to AC. Each attack that misses the dragoon hits the mount instead; mounts that lose more than half their HP are frightened and immediately flee from combat. The dragoon must save vs paralysis or be knocked prone by a fleeing mount, taking 1d6 damage.



Formation Fighting: When fighting alongside other Legionnaires, each Legionnaire gains +1 to attack rolls and AC. Fighting alongside means adjacent to each other (e.g., if using a tactical grid, each Legionnaire would be in adjacent squares), within 5’. Expeditionary: Legionnaires wearing heavy armor are considered to be wearing light armor for purposes of encumbrance. Hindrances: The Legionnaire loses all benefits if there is not at least one other Legionnaire in the party. -2 Reaction Roll penalty during encounters and when hiring retainers if the Legionnaire’s status is known.



Local Knowledge: When on campaign on local ground, reduces the chance of getting lost by -1. Parties with a levy increase their chance of foraging by +1. When on military missions, parties with a levy roll for surprise twice and take the best result. Hindrances: Cannot wear plate armor. Only proficient in bows, clubs, daggers, hand axes, and polearms.



Drummer / Fifer

Keep the Beat: Parties with a drummer or fifer can complete a forced march (see Wilderness Adventuring) two consecutive days before needing to rest. Lift Spirits: Any mercenaries in the drummer’s/fifer’s party add +1 to their morale score. Hindrances: Do not have the halfling’s hiding ability. Parties with a drummer or fifer are always surprised.



Sudden Strike: After a successful hiding roll outdoors (Core Rules, Halfling, Hiding), may backstab as a thief of the same level. The skirmisher takes -4 to AC for the remainder of that round. To use this ability, may not wear plate mail armor or use a shield.  



Air Cavalry

Air Support: When casting fly, can target one additional creature. Death From Above: When flying, can use the “bombing” tactic (see Other Combat Issues). Spells: Must learn fly when 3rd level spells become available and prepare it as many times a day equal to the number of 3rd level spells per day -1 (e.g., a 9th level magic-user must prepare fly twice).




Polyglot: +1 language at 1st level. Read Languages ability allows speaking as well as reading languages. Hindrances: Chance to Climb Sheer Surfaces reduced by -10% (e.g., 77% at 1st level instead of 87%).


Cleric: The Chaplain and Medic were two to the easiest concepts to develop, although the mechanics are the medic are a bit fiddly to explain. I know how I would handle this at the table but trying to write out the exceptions, etc., got perhaps too wordy. Of course, any army with a Medic or Chaplain better hope they're not sent to fight an army of undead. 

Dwarf: These ones were fun, especially the Explosives Ordnance Technician, although I confess I'm not crazy about the overly long name. The abilities of the Combat Engineer came from a conversation I had with Redwyrm, who, in a prior life, served as an engineer in the Air Force. 

Elf: This was the second most difficult subclass to develop after magic-users. I originally thought to have elves be "Intelligence" but that specialty seemed to fall closer to the classic Thief who could accomplish it without any tweaks. I finally chose "Special Ops," with encouragement from Redwyrm, mainly because elves in B/X are the only class with access to do fighter and magic-user abilities. 

Fighter: These were surprisingly more difficult to create, as the standard "by the book" fighter makes a fine military class. The levy was something I stumbled across while researching medieval army formations and it made sense to include, as they often formed the bulk of medieval armies. I liked the dragoon as an alternative to the standard mounted-combat knight or cavalier, as they really don't excel at mounted combat but are mainly a force of mobile infantry. 

Halfling: These were a lot of fun to create. I had the skirmisher from the beginning, but the drummer/fifer came later. I really dislike having a dual name for the class, but I didn't want to pick just one, and I couldn't think of an appropriate "generic" name (other than "musician" which didn't sound right). 

Magic-User: This was by far the most difficulty I had with the concepts. I had the idea of Air Cavalry very early on, but coming up with a non-game breaking way to implement it was more difficult than I anticipated. I perhaps have a tendency to be a little conservative with new abilities versus the hindrances to ensure that balance isn't thrown completely off. In this case, there weren't that many hindrances I could conceive that made sense thematically or mechanically. 

Thief: Linguist was another idea that I believe was inspired by a conversation I had with Redwyrm. Languages are an area of fantasy RPGs that I think are ripe for excellent role-playing, but with which I've had difficulty implementing for dramatic effect in my own games. 


Although D&D was built on the bones of miniatures wargames, running mass battle scenarios is not something the system does particularly well. Over the years, attempts have been made to introduce mass battle rules into the game, such as AD&D's Battlesystem (1985, with a 2nd Edition revision in 1989) and the War Machine rules from the 1984 D&D Companion Set. With the advent of 3rd Edition, Wizards of the Coast revived the idea of mass miniatures battles with the 2001 release of Chainmail. But, in general, D&D's mechanics do not really support mass battles. 

My suggestion for running mass battles while running D&D is to focus on specific tactical missions. The DM determines how many missions must be successfully completed in a specific time period. Each successful mission means the army as a whole has advanced, while each failure means a retreat and/or regroup. This way, the game still focuses on the PCs (as it should) and ties the success of the whole army to the actions of the PCs. 

As an example, let's say the PCs are part of an army that is besieging an enemy castle. Rather than just rolling tons of dice over and over and determine the strength of one side versus another, break the siege down into smaller objectives where each PC could be given a chance to shine. 

Using examples from the D12 Military Subclasses table above: 

  • Four missions must be accomplished successfully in 12 hours; otherwise, the PCs side has lost the engagement, with whatever repercussions the DM decides
  • The Chaplain must rally the troops before a morning raid
  • The Engineer needs to find a source of clean water so the troops can stay hydrated
  • The Special Operative must learn a rumor related to finding a weakness in the enemy's lines
  • The Levy needs to lead its troops through the terrain without getting lost
  • The Skirmisher must successfully backstab an enemy sentry
  • The Linguist must be able to speak to locals affected by the siege to learn a way to sneak into the enemy castle

The DM sets the time limits and how many tries are reasonable to see if the PCs succeed. Success means the siege works and the enemy surrenders or is destroyed by the sieging army. Failure means the siege is unsuccessful and losses are taken. 


Three things to pay attention to while running a military style campaign are:

  1. Supply Lines. This is probably the most important thing. An army with secure supply lines is far superior to one with better tactics but no way to resupply itself.
  2. Communication Lines. Another crucial element of military combat is being able to quickly let other elements of your army know what is happening, and where, so supplies and troops can be redeployed where they will have the most effect. 
  3. Defensible Positions. It sounds simple, but many battles throughout history have been lost even with superior numbers because one side did not take the time to dig in and create a defensible position to which they could retreat and regroup. 


Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: A Negroni on the rocks (equal parts Gin, Campari, and Sweet Vermouth, with an Orange Twist)
Listening: "Sepia" by Indigo Jams Unit, from the album "Oonops Drops, Vol. 1"


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