Sunday, February 19, 2012

Thoughts on Prestige Classes and Other 3isms in Classic D&D

I'm not sure if I've touched on this in the blog or not - maybe back in one of the first posts. I've played D&D in one form or another since '81.  Moldvay ==> 1E ==> 2e from middle school through college.  After that I no longer played tabletop, having no regular group to get together with.  I continued to get my RPG fix via video games, both PC and console, playing "real" D&D games when I could, and eventually played and enjoyed Bioware's Neverwinter Nights I & II. Those two games in particular were based on the 3.0 and 3.5 rulesets - my only experience with either one.  When my then-too-young daughters expressed interest in playing then after seeing me do so, I took the opportunity to introduce them to the tabletop RPG - I mean, who among us would miss that window?

Seeing that 3.5 was too complex, I thought back on my own gaming history and without hesitation realized I wanted the old box set I started with so many years ago as the tool to teach them the game.  A bit of internet research led my to RPGNow and PDFs of the Mentzer basic and expert sets - Moldvay/Cook was not available. That was, what, almost 5 years ago now, and one of the girls still plays.  A weekly BEMCI game I run, and she's recently started playing 4E with friends from school. Turns out one of the teachers runs a 4E game club and the kids are also playing it on their own.  Awesome.

So where is all this going, you ask?  Well, here's the thing. I've found myself firmly settled into the Classic family of D&D - whether B/X, BECMI/RC, Labyrinth Lord or whatever.  For the level of rules crunch I enjoy and have time to commit to memory, those games hit the sweet spot.  But to be honest, if I was a teenager again and had the all but unlimited time to game I did back then, I'd be all over 3.5, or rather Pathfinder now.  All those options and reams of fluff would be heavenly.  I always loved (and still do) reading game books nearly as much as fantasy fiction. It's a bit of a shame that the kids are playing 4E rather than Pathfinder since it would give me an excuse to blow the $35 on a Pathfinder Beginner Box.  I'd love to read it.  I had bought a 4E Starter Box out of curiosity over Essentials - I gave her that to use since I never will, having read through it already.

Damn it - get to the point man! Prestige classes? 3isms?

Ok, ok... Despite not wanting the full level of crunch that 3.5 has to offer, it still have plenty of offer my game.  Skills and feats, races and classes, monsters and magic: these can all be mined for ideas that I can simplify and use in my game. One idea in particular, though, really interests me - prestige classes.  As far back as 2008 was was looking at them and wondering how to incorporate them.  Not just 3.5 style classes, but 2E kits and other "advanced" options for non-standard class choices.  A year ago, the ever prolific map-maker Dyson Logos - who shares scads of other great content on his blog beyond the maps - did a series of  posts on "Glantri-style" prestige classes. The Glantri Gazeteer for Mystara introduced a system of specialized sub-classes - specifically schools of magic - and Dyson took that concept and showed how you could easily use to to introduce any prestige classes you wanted into your game in an amazingly elegant fashion.

I want to use this as the basis for adding some things back into my game.  The RC had a wonky system for Paladins, Knights, Avengers and Druids - being something you could switch to after 9th level.  Interesting idea, but too limiting for my taste.  Cue Glantri as a way to use some of that without creating full class progressions for them.

I can see using the system to add in paladins and knights as specific orders or organizations for fighters or clerics, schools or magic as originally used in Glantri and many other things. Some I'd like to do eventually:

  • Assassins - not just for thieves either
  • Martial arts styles - no full monk/mystic needed
  • Bladesingers or Dwarven Defenders - a little demi-human specialization
Let's show the much-maligned Prestige Class some love, shall we?  It's not that bad an idea old-schoolers!


  1. I think Prestige Classes is one of the best ideas ever being most mishandled. :)

    Having setting specific just makes so much sense. I was actually thinking of those Glantri style classes a few days back (when I was working on my old school "feats") and had almost forgotten where they had been posted.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I've always like the idea of prestige classes too, ever since I promoted Cecil the Dark Knight to Cecil the Paladin in Final Fantasy IV. I think for maximum effect they really need to be tied to the campaign setting though, which is why many of the generic prestige classes or paragon paths in 3E and 4E seem so bland (in my opinion).

  3. Definitely setting specific, yes! There are some really good ones for the Kingdoms of Kalamar setting.

  4. Go, now, and pick up the Pathfinder Beginner Box! Go, are you gone yet? I bought both it and the 4e started box a few weeks ago, night and day. I SO want to play PFBB now. I did a writeup on my blog if you are interested (Hate pimping my own blog, but don't want to ramble on about PFBB here again, when I already did there. Hope you don't mind.)


  5. Hey guys, thanks for the comments. I agree completely - prestige classes are something that can easily be tweaked to be setting specific, and those should be the most interesting too. A great way to bring a unique flavor to your game. I haven't read any Kalamar material, so I'll have to check that out. Kenzer, right?

    Re: Pathfinder. I don't see myself changing my campaign over to play it, but yeah, I'd really like to read it. No doubt I'll drop the cash eventually, just out of curiosity. There's just so much positive buzz about it, especially compared to the 4E red box. I'll drop by and check out your post Bane, thanks!

    If anyone posts some of their own prestige classes let me know!

  6. A while back I wrote some musings on modelling ethos classes (such as the paladin) using something like prestige classes:

  7. Great ideas here, great post. I will have to look over Brendan's paladin too.

    1. Thanks Carter. There are some interesting thoughts in Brendan's post. I want to go back and re-read that myself. I tend to get caught up in a cycle of more classes/options is better, despite wanting a nice simple game. It's always good to read others ideas on how to make it all work.