Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Greyhawk 4E - Classes and Races

I still think that the best way to add some Greyhawk into a 4E game is to run the generic 4E universe as Legendary Ancient Greyhawk and just add in some flavoring to the DM's taste. Where you set the Nentir Vale on the traditional Flanaess map and how familiar your players are with Greyahwk's history and geography will determine how much they get out of this, but I've found that if the DM is happy with it, even if the players don't get much of it, well, it's often still quite satisfying.

But what if you don't find this approach satisfactory?" What if you say "durn it 'Steel I'm a Greyhawk DM and I don't want to have to change that just because the rules got all changed up this last time". Well, there is another way, but it means that "Greyhawk" has to be separated somewhat from the mechanics and that's hard for a lot of people. If GH for you means Fighters run around with d10's for hit points (or d8's if you're older-school) and Clerics use maces 90% of the time then I don't know that you need to worry about this. However, if you can separate the mechanics from the setting then we may be in business here. That said, GH's real-world evolution was shaped by the mechanics of OD&D and AD&D, so we're not going to ignore those things. In fact they're going to drive a lot of our decisions as we work through this.

First, are you converting an ongoing campaign or are you revisiting one that's been dormant for a while? Trying to convert an active campaign is tricky because characters work somewhat differently. Going from session 499 of your 1E campaign (look! we're almost 10th level!) to session 1 of your 4E campaign is going to be a jarring experience. Find a good stopping point for your current campaign and don't even call it an ending - call it "on hold". I recommend a timeline jump of 10-20 years. Present it as The Next Generation of your campaign and see if anyone wants to play the children of their current characters in the new run. For a dormant campaign I recommend the same approach - a new edition is a good reason to fire up an old campaign and take a fresh look at it. Throw in a timeline jump, get the old team back together and get moving again! Some player-side stuff first:

Greyhawk had a specific set of races associated with it and it's a good idea to stick to that to keep the classic feel. Unearthed Arcana added a bunch of oddball races to the world but I want to address it separately so I'm ignoring it for now - this is just classic Greyhawk.

Elves - GH had High Elves, Wood Elves, and Wild Elves. I would probably recommend the 4E "Elf" for all 3 of them and chalk the rest up to cultural differences that can be picked up with a Background we will work out later. Stat choices can play a role here as well, so use the Essentials version of the race. Technically, the old High Elves would be Eladrin so that works, but natually teleporting elves seem a little out of place.

Dwarves - GH had Hill Dwarves and Mountain Dwarves. For 4E we're sticking with "Dwarf" and letitng the stat choice from the Essentials version of the race cover the physical differences, and a Background can handle the rest.

Gnomes - these are a fairly common race in GH and the 4E versions work just fine to represent them

Half Elves - Use the Essentials version, no changes

Half Orcs - Again, the Essentials version works just fine. These were fairly popular in GH and the 4E mechancis drive them to be a very similar character type

Halflings - GH had Stouts, Tallfellows, and Hairfeet. Use the Essentials Halfling stat choices for the physical stuff and we will add a Background for the rest

Humans - this is the easy one

For things like height and weight and age categories I would just use the original 1E material or whatever edition you were using prior to 4E. Why change it? Some other options to consider:

Tieflings - so they're marked by a heritage of half-human / half-infernal? Sounds like some GH types I remember, from Iuz to alu-demons. I would definitely consider them rare types of creatures without cities or nations of their own, but they are not completely outside the body of Greyhawk lore.

Goliaths - they make a good substitute for half-ogres, and who doesn't like half-ogres? If you allowed them before (Dragon #73...sigh) then why not allow them now?

Greyhawk was prety much the definitive 1E world by the time of the 1983 boxed set so that's our guideline for classes.

Cleric - Use the Essentials War Priest for the basic Cleric. The PHB1 Battle Cleric works here too, the Essentials one is just a little more themed. If someone wants to run a Cloistered Cleric type (from the old Dragon article) then the Devoted Cleric option from Divine Power could be used for that.

Druid - Now 1E Druids didn't have animal companions but they did have Wild Shape so the PHB2 Druid is probably truer to the original treatment. They were not terribly effective in hand to hand and were better off relying on their spells as much as they could, cursed by poor AC and limited weapon choices - again, the PHB2 Druid is remarkably similar. Consider allowing the Essentials Druid a place in your game as it is a much stronger option mechancialy and thematically fits with the older material pretty well, being tied to the seasons and all.

Fighter - The Essentials Knight covers the sword-and-board fighter while the Essentials Slayer covers the big-weapon fighters. Thematically a Slayer could start out as a screaming barbarian type but mechancially he can wear heavy armor right from the start if he wants too. The standard PHB1 Fighter is fine too but you have to deal with 1) the concept of daily powers for a guy who swings a sword and 2) marking. If those two things bug you then just stick with the Essentials Fighter options - they work quite well.

Paladin - Here we're going to stick with the PHB1 Paladin supplemented by Divine Power. Plate, shield, sword, a bunch of divinely powered abilities, lay on hands...it still looks a lot like the PHB 1 Paladin. We will limit the alignment to Lawful Good because that's the way it works in Greyhawk, and we can worry about the equipment and association restrictions within the campaign. It should also be Human only if we're going strictly old-school and I don't think that's a bad restriction.

Ranger - This one is a little different now, as 1E rangers did not have animal companions, were not two-weapon fighters, nor were they bow specialists by rule. They got tracking skill (easily handled in 4E), a damage bonus against certain enemies (hmmm), and had weaker hit points per level than a regular fighter (that's certainly true in 4E!). The Essentials Rangers are probably fine here but even the PHB1 and Martial Power 1 & 2 Ranger options all fit pretty much. Rangers got spells at mid to higher levels in 1E so daily powers and such are not a stretch for them. You might consider limiting the option only to one of the dual-purpose types but my 1E Ranger mostly ran around in plate mail and used a two-handed sword so I think the pure melee rangers have a place here too. This is probably one of the most wide-open classes for choice in the campaign. They do need to be limited to a good aligment though as that's the way the 'Hawk works.

Magic-User - The 1E M-U is a generalist and so the PHB1 + Arcane Power Wizard works just fine.If you want a more 2E feel for your spellslinger then the Essentials Mage is a better option. Either one works just fine and still feels a lot like the clasic old-school Magic - User.

Illusionist - The Essentials Mage is probably the best way to bring in an illusionist type character too.

Thief - The Essentials Thief is a re-creation of the 1E Thief, right down to the backstab ability.It's the obvious choice.

Assassin - this one gets really tricky.There is a 4E Assassin class and it's pretty nasty but it uses the "Shadow" power source and includes some mystical elements which may not sit well with traditionalists. Instead, I think the PHB1/Martial Power Rogue fits better here. I think a fully decked-out Daggermaster Rogue spinning twin daggers for 1d4+2d8+X damage per hit looks a lot more like a classic assassin (and hits a lot like one too) and doesn;t rely on shadow stuff for power. Now the shadow assassin does have a lot of options for poison use which was one of the signature things about 1E assassins but I think it's to the point that it overshadows their other abilities. If you want a guy who sneaks through the back alleys and then sticks a knife into his target, I think a Rogue is a better choice for Greyhawk. Also, they must choose an evil alignment. Sorry, but old school GH views killing other sentient beings for money as evil. It's an important flavor choice, as important as Paladins being lawful good and just as limiting in its own way.

Monk - They never have been all that good, not in 1st, 2nd, or even 3rd edition, but they are a part of Greyhawk lore. I'd stil lconsider dropping the mentirely but if you do want to include them then the PHB3 Monk  (Psionic Melee Striker) is thematically the same and far more effective then any of the old school versions were. They were also a human-only class, with a lawful-only alignment restriction.

Special: Bards - In 1E Bards were a kind of hybrid/multiclass/paragon path type of character. Finding that unsatisfying there were several regular class Bard options worked up in the pages of Dragon and by 2E this was the standard approach. Based on that I think the standard PHB2 Bard is a perfectly acceptable option for a Classic Greyhawk campaign under 4E, though I would favor the melee-centric bard over the ranged bard for pure flavor reasons. I wouldn't restrict that option, I'd just encourage it as more old-school.

Even More Special: Psionics - This was a sort of template in 1E, overlaid any other character class and race. There was a roughly 5% chance that any character might be psionic and if they were they got to roll on some random tables to see what kinds of super powers they got in addition to their normal class abilities. It was an entirely separate sub-system that was not particularly level-dependent unlike everything else in the game. Despite this quirkiness it was pretty popular in some circles and I don't feel that it can be ignored when discussing an old-school Greyhawk campaign. So, much as the original was an optional system found in an Appendix at the back of the PHB I would consider opening up all four Psionic classes from the PHB3 as optional classes. I know, it's a little weird, but if you were comfortable having it in your 1E game, what's wrong with allowing it in a 4E game that's actually built to handle it?

So, following these options we would have:

Controllers: Wizard/Mage, Druid

Defender: Fighter-Knight, Paladin

Leader: Cleric, Bard, possibly EssentialsDruid

Striker: Ranger, Fighter-Slayer, Thief, Assasin/Rogue, Monk

...and then possibly one more class of each type from the Psionics group. I think that's a pretty good set of choices and maintains the flavor of the original pretty well. Options to consider:

Warlord - it's a martial leader type class, mainly melee-based. He's not as good at healing as a Cleric, but having a guy who looks like a fighter in the party who can heal soomebody by shouting "rub some dirt on it" in the middle of a fight seems like a good fit to me. I'd allow them. Think of them as taking the role of a multi-classed or dual classed Fighter/Cleric in the old days.

Sorcerer - this is an arcane striker and is a strong representation of the 1E/2E invoker/blasting mage. I know technically they don't follow the 18 Int/Spellbook model of wizard but some of that is just flavoring and if someone wants to be a pure blasting mage this is a good way to go. Plus it still ends up as a guy in cloth running around with a rod or a dagger in their hand throwing spells.

Warlock - this is another arcane striker but is flavored around making pacts with other-worldly entities and powers from beyond. That's a common theme in much of the old-school material and they are again a guy in robes wielding a rod and throwing spells. I think they are another good fit for an old-school flavored game.

Barbarian - I know this was an Unearthed Arcana class but If you really want the wilderness-centric fighting man in from the start then he does fit. With a bunch of abilities focused around charging an enemy he will be at the front of any fight. There's more in 4E about being powered by animal sprits but that fits in fairly well with some of the Greyhawk lore about places where Barbarians would originate, whether it's the Frost/Ice/Snow barbarians or some of the more southerly options.

Wow that's a lot of Strikers, but those do seem to have the best fit. There are two others though...

Swordmage - One interpretation of an old-school Fighter/Magic-User, this one more focused on the "Fighter". It may be a little too teleporty for some but it should be considered. I would definitely make it Elf and Half-Elf (and Eladrin if you allow them)only though if you want to keep some strong flavor.

Bladesinger - The other interpretation of an old-school Ftr/M-U and one that to me feels more like they did back then - more blasting ability but more fragile in combat too.  Again I would limit it to Elves and Half-Elves for flavor purposes.

Multiclassing gets into an interesting area. In 4E multiclassing is a feat choice that gives you a particular ability from a class. Hybrid classes are more like the old school multiclassed characters and I would definitely allow that option in a Greyhawk campaign, but many find them unsatisfying in play. What if we look at the 1E multiclassing options and see if there's a better way:

Dwarves usually went with Fighter, Thief, and Cleric. Warlord makes a pretty good Fighter/Cleric substitute, and Fighter/Thief might make the most sense as some kind of Ranger though you're not easily going to get the lockpicking and trap handling abilities. For Cleric/Thief the Avenger (Divine Striker PHB2) is the most similar thematically though they don't have much healing and support ability. Dwarves should probably also be banned from any Arcane class.

Elves went  Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief. Bladesinger makes a reasonable M-U/Thief combo, with Swordmage there for Ftr/M-U. Fighter/Thief comes back around to Ranger again most likely.

Half-Elves were open to pretty much anything with the Cleric/Fighter/Magic-User and Fighter/Magic-User/Thief as unique options. For those I'm thinking you take one of the classes described above and then a multiclass feat for the third element. A Swordmage multiclassed to Rogue for Thievery skill or a Bladesinger multiclassed to Cleric for a Healing Word is a pretty faithful version of the original's capabilities.

Half Orcs were limited to Clerics, Fighters, and Assassins so they might consider the Avenger (Divine Striker, PHB2) for some of that combination.

Halflings were limited to Fighters or Thieves so besides those a Ranger option might be workable here too.

Gnomes subbed in Illusionist specifically besides Fighter and Thief and that's probably the hardest thing to combine into one class. There's just not a great class choice to cover Fighter/Illusionist. llusionist/Thief could be an illusion Mage with a multiclass feat for Thievery skill. For general wizardy type abilities then a Bladesinger wouldn't be bad either.

Working through this, one decision clearly has to be made: What kind of racial and class restrictions do you want to put in place in your game. In 1E only the Fighter and Thief classes were open to any race, and Psionics was an option too. Paladins, Rangers, Druids, and Monks were human-only. Multi-classing was nonhuman only. Dwarves, half-orcs, and halflings had no arcane abilities at all. Later 2E changed some of this and 3E changed most of it, so you have to decide where you want to draw your line, if any. We don't need them for mechanical balance any more, but the idea of a dwarf wizard in Greyhawk still bugs me a little bit and this is going to be a fuzzy area for a lot of long-term Greyhawk DM's.

Tomorrow: adventures and other campaign elements.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

If you want weird template psionics instead of fully formulated psionic classes there is a Dark Sun Theme that grants power points then feats and utilities you can swap out your class utilities and feats for that give you wild talents.

That would be pretty equivalent to the random 5% (three wild talents in one party? what are the odds!?) to be able to use a random psionic power on your standard essentials slayer.