Monday, August 17, 2015

Alternate Character Class Round-Up

Apropos nothing, here, from the great swirling surfeit of alternate classes available on the Internet, are a few I'm especially fond of.

Timothy Ide
Delving Deeper: The Illusionist (free pdf)
No shortage of contenders out there for the spell-casting variant, the Illusionist. This one is unique, and wonderful. Rather than a magician who specializes in a particular type of spells, this Illusionist is a straight-up fraud. But an effective fraud. Instead of spells, he prepares tricks—chemicals, gadgets, sleights of hand—to mimic the appearance of magic.

F'rinstance, this first level "spell":
FOG (affects: 4" diam, duration: 6 turns + 1 turn/level, range: 6") The illusionist mixes two ethers that immediately produce a thick bank of fog 4" in diameter (or any equivalent dimensions) and up to 20ft deep. It is impenetrable to sight.
Some of the contrivances for the fake spells are more convincing than others, but it's not important that each spell hold up to practical scrutiny. Once the class's schtick is sufficiently established, I think we can all allow some hand-waving on how exactly some effects are achieved.

Interestingly, some of the higher level spells actually do cross over into actual magic, as Illusionists begin to tap into some sort of shadow plane. Rather than undercut the conceit, I think this implies that, in a magical (that is to say, analogical) environment, a convincing enough lie becomes the truth. It's all very Gene Wolfe.

Beyond the cleverness of the conceit, and the potential for role-playing (imagine the rivalry between an Illusionist and an actual spell-caster within the same party), something I really like about this class is that assumes that magic is not so quotidian that there is still profit to be made from faking it.

Mattias Adolfsson
Anomalous Subsurface Environment: The Robot (link)
So, obviously, all right-thinking nerds want to play a robot at some point in some game. But robots are tricky as PCs. They skip over so many of the basic human frailties that they can really, ah, short-circuit an adventures challenges.

Patrick Wetmore's Robot starts out very frail: a spongy positronic brain in an acrylic case perched on top of a spindly mechanized armature. As they adventure through the gonzo wastelands of the Anomalous Subsurface Environment, they scavenge parts to upgrade and accessorize themselves.

This is an admirable solution. It takes a character concept that typically has been a rough fit for level advancement and makes it work absolutely perfectly. IN fact, it makes leveling-up work so perfectly for robots that they almost don't seem right for non-robots.

My only complaint with the Robot is that the advances are set in stone. At level 5 you will get a plasma cannon installed in your chest, end of story. You can excuse this by thinking of it as a hard-wired upgrade and maintenance schedule. But it'd be fun to expand to a menu of upgrade possibilities, to reflect the randomness of scavenging and the proclivities of the individual.

EDIT: My wish has been granted! Stan Rydzewski has written a version of the AES Robot with upgrade options!

Goblin Punch: The Bug Collector (link) (and also) (further also)
Every morning, while the cleric is praying and the wizard is studying, you dig around in the underbrush, looking to add to your bug collection. You roll a random assortment of collected insects based on what sort of ecosystem you find yourself in, and can expend the bugs (often by eating them) to access spell-like effects.

The class is a really fun class to play, especially in a campaign that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's a work-progress, though. Bug lists have only been worked out for a few levels with smattering of suggestions for where to go from there. But we're a DIY community, right? We're not afraid of filling in the gaps. Especially when working with as inspired an idea as this.

The Land of NOD: The Gourmand (link)
John Stater is the poet laureate of character classes. He brought us the Canting Crew and the Master Blaster. His Bloody Basic books are finely tailored rulesets with wonderful classes specialized for given settings.

The Gourmand is less interesting because of his mechanics (his cooking can heal and his reputation can score the party seats at fancy do's) than for his motivation—which is to travel the world finding new things to eat. I haven't played a gourmand, but, inspired by this class, I did play a fire-and-brimstone cleric who felt it was the mission of the Righteous to consume evil and purify it through the digestive process. I really liked that character. Died from friendly fire, fighting some tender-looking orcs.

Erol Otus
Dyson's Dodecahedron: The Gibbering Mouther (link)
I'm half-hoping that my necromantic sabbat-satyr dies in the deep pits of a dungeon, because it would be the perfect chance to replace him with a Gibbering Mouther!

Erol Otus' shoggoths hold a special place in the nightmares of my generation of geeks, and it was a stroke of absolute genius on Dyson Logos' part to turn them into a playable race. Basically, you are a writhing blob of screaming eyes and teeth. You drool, you ooze, you screech, you chatter incessantly in unnerving tongues, and you spread madness to friend and foe alike. And you just keep growing bigger.

I made my own, more dapper version of the Shoggoth for a Microlite20 ASE hack. But I really want to play the straight Dyson version, sometime. Soon. Now.

EDIT: check out this great variation: The Impressionable Young Shoggoth.