Sunday, March 18, 2012

Class as Caste in Classic Dungeons and Dragons

I've read this series of posts by Greywulf before on why he feels the Dungeons and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia is the most awesome version of the game ever published (this being an opinion I share); however, ever since re-reading them yesterday, I have been putting much thought into his concept of "Class as Caste" and how it might be used to add flavor to a campaign setting.

If you haven't read Greywulf's posts, please do so. But for my purposes, I will quote what has been causing my gaming gears to turn lately (the italics for emphasis are mine own):

In the Rules Cyclopedia we have Fighter, Thief, Magic-User and Cleric – all of whom are Human – and the demihuman “classes” of Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. In our campaigns we say that humans undergo a Casting ceremony while still a child (at birth or later, depending on religion and culture), and their path in life is revealed. The D&D human Classes are the character’s Caste, and wars have been fought over a child being Casted a Thief to a long line of noble Fighters. The other races have no such ceremony – an Elf is just an Elf – and are bemused by human’s pre-occupation with pidgeonholing each other. In many cultures, ordinary folks can’t afford the Casting ceremony (unless a kindly Cleric offers it for free), and end up as castless Commoners, shopkeepers, etc.

For me, the class as caste concept is an intriguing basis for a campaign. What kind of world is it that has "Thief" as a viable social caste? I think, if I were to adopt something along these lines into one of my games, there would be guilds associated with each caste that a character could join, and probably should unless he wants to be an outsider in his own caste.

In most cases, this makes a lot of sense. Many campaigns have Thieves Guilds, and having a Wizards Guild and a Warriors Guild is not uncommon. In some cases, the guilds would not be called or considered as such. For instance, Clerics would belong to a Cult, Temple or Church and Wizards might belong to Universities or Colleges with each college of magic having its own branch. Again, this is nothing new to most gamers. I can think of several game worlds off the top of my head that have organizations such as these in place for players to have their characters join.

In the case of some zero-level NPC's, they may not belong to a guild and are in fact caste-less. Farmers and barmaids for instance might not have a caste; however, I believe in a society that places so much emphasis upon a caste system, there would be guilds set up for even the zero-level NPCs. I can envision several guilds being in place for farmers, slavers, merchants, prostitutes and town watchmen, just to name a few. Aristocrats would belong to a line of families, that again like Clerics and Wizards "guilds" may in fact not be called as such, but would work much the same way.

In such a caste driven society, the importance of belonging to something is paramount to identity. For example: "I am Graven of the Warriors Guild", "I am Celina of the Comforters Guild" (Comforter being a polite term for prostitute), "I am Benjamin of the Agriculture Guild", etc. etc.. A further identifier could be what level the character is.

Once upon a time, when I was a pre-teen gamer, my group got into a heated argument about levels. Some of us believed that what level a character is was meant to be background noise; in other words, a simple rule mechanic illustrating how powerful any given person is. Others of us believed, and I was in this camp, that since name levels were provided for each level (and here I am referring to first edition AD&D) that each character was aware of what level he is. For clarity, I will post those levels from the AD&D first edition Player's Handbook for those that don't know what I am referring to (and I include only the four "basic" human classes offered in Classic D&D):

1: Acolyte
2: Adept
3: Priest
4: Curate
5: Perfect
6: Canon
7: Lama
8: Patriarch
9: High Priest
10: High Priest (10th level)
11: High Priest (11th level)

1: Veteran
2: Warrior
3: Swordsman
4: Hero
5: Swashbuckler
6: Myrmidon
7: Champion
8: Superhero
9: Lord
10: Lord (10th Level)
11: Lord (11th Level)

1: Prestidigitator
2: Evoker
3: Conjurer
4: Theurgist
5: Thaumaturgist
6: Magicician
7: Enchanter
8: Warlock
9: Sorcerer
10: Necromancer
11: Wizard
12: Wizard (12th level)
13: Wizard (13th level)
14: Wizard (14th level)
15: Wizard (15th level)
16: Wizard (16th level)
17: Wizard (17th level)
18: Wizard (18th level or Arch-Mage)

1: Rogue
2: Footpad
3: Cutpurse
4: Robber
5: Burglar
6: Filcher
7: Sharper
8: Magsman
9: Thief
10: Master Thief
11: Master Thief (11th level)
12: Master Thief (12th level)

I like this concept coupled with Class as Caste. Thus now one might introduce himself as "I am The Footpad Collin of the Thieves Guild" or "I am Magrill, Hero of the Warriors Guild". From these two examples, we know that Collin is a second level thief and that Magrill is a fourth level fighter, or at least that is what they claim to be. There would be no stopping someone from lying about their caste, but I think such a crime would be a serious one in a society that takes caste so seriously; however, buying one's way higher into a guild would most likely be an acceptable practice. Therefore, if Magrill has not paid his dues, while he may mechanically be fourth level, as far as the Guild is concerned, he might still be considered "Magrill, Veteran of the Warriors Guild"; thus, the dungeon master has a good way of eating up some of that extra gold that his players have lying around. If a player wants to be able to use his new name level, he must pay to do so. 100 gold pieces per level sounds reasonable. Of course, a social power hungry player that wants to quickly climb the social ladder could easily buy a name higher then that which he should actually be.

The system must be played with, in my mind "The Arch-Bishop Draven of the Cult of Entropy" sounds better then "Draven, Arch-Bishop of the Cult of Entropy", but others may disagree. Also, it is a stretch to say that every 10th level magic-user is a Necromancer, but what if it's not? Meaning, what if to advance through each level, a magic-user must concentrate his studies on a different branch of magic for each level? Thus every 10th level magic-user is a necromancer. That is a thought that may be worth plumbing itself for ideas.

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