OSR Class Shaker

Beside the classic seven B/X classes, the creativity and enterprise of the OSR community has spawned a veritable ocean of classes, and with good reason: classes are fun, they can evocative and flavorful, and they are discreet pieces of rules strongly tied to a concept in the fiction of the world. Plus, classes are one of the most powerful player-facing tools of traditional-style D&D-esque play.

In his OSE supplements, Gavin Norman addresses the issue of having too many classes to choose from, and he suggests limiting the initial choice of PC classes to a handful. I’m a firmly believer in restricting the initial setup for any game, even just a little, and build from there. A limited palette forces interesting choices. There have been many excellent posts on reddit and other forums doing thought experiments along this line: if these classes are the “core classes” of this campaign, what does it suggest about the world and about what kinds of adventures will happen? Furthermore, some OSR material has played around with the idea of ‘unlocking’ classes through adventure, with certain choices only becoming open to the players after completing tasks relating to it.

This is great stuff for kickstarting some creative juices.

The idea is simple: Roll six times on the table for initially available class, roll two times for ‘unlockable’ classes, riff on the results, dream up a world or setting based on that. I wrote some examples here, but I hope this can inspirational for you all out there – if so, share your results and ideas! I oriented this primarily around OSE and its adjacent materials, but it obviously does not reflect what is available or palatable to everyone. Season and change to taste, as with everything.

When every player except one rolls up a fighter. Art by Stepan Alekseev.

Big Nasty Table of Classes

Die Roll (1d6 and 1d6)ClassSource
1 / 1FighterOSE Classic Fantasy
1 / 2ClericOSE Classic Fantasy
1 / 3Magic-UserOSE Classic Fantasy
1 / 4ThiefOSE Classic Fantasy
1 / 5ElfOSE Classic Fantasy
1 / 6HalflingOSE Classic Fantasy
2 / 1DwarfOSE Classic Fantasy
2 / 2AcrobatOSE Advanced Fantasy
2 / 3AssassinOSE Advanced Fantasy
2 / 4BarbarianOSE Advanced Fantasy
2 / 5BardOSE Advanced Fantasy
2 / 6DrowOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 1DruidOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 2GnomeOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 3Half-OrcOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 4IllusionistOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 5KnightOSE Advanced Fantasy
3 / 6 PaladinOSE Advanced Fantasy
4 / 1RangerOSE Advanced Fantasy
4 / 2 Living HarnessKnock! #1
4 / 3Ne’er-do-wellKnock! #1
4 / 4Swarm LordKnock! #1
4 / 5AstromancerThe Crimson Pandect
4 / 6TheurgeThe Crimson Pandect
5 / 1Shakunasar/AzuThe Crimson Pandect
5 / 2DemonologistBrave the Labyrinth #4
5 / 3Beast MasterCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
5 / 4Chaos KnightCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
5 / 5MageCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
5 / 6MutoidCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
6 / 1MycelianCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
6 / 2WardenCarcass Crawler Inaugural Issue
6 / 3Cave DwarfSlumbering Ursine Dunes
6 / 4War-BearSlumbering Ursine Dunes
6 / 5Crab-ManYoon-Suin
6 / 6VowedRed Tide Campaign Sourcebook

Results and Riffs

Roll 1

Core Classes: Elf, Warden, Swarm Lord, Half-Orc, Thief, Magic-User. Unlockables: Cave Dwarf, Cleric.

Riff: Quite a few nature-esque classes here; the warden from Carcass Crawler is essentially a spell-less ranger variant, and the swarm lord commands, well, a swarm of stuff. I imagine vast, forested wilderness, where trade caravans travel between the fortified Holy Cities that dot the landscape. Thieves are city outcasts, magic-users are the last inheritors of a magic tradition that was once great. The cave dwarves live in the canyons and dungeons, and if a tribe is befriended, they can be used as PCs; clerics are unavailable until the arbitrary demands of a Holy City’s government are sufficiently met. All this suggests that divine influence is limited – perhaps the few gods left are jealous keepers of ‘civilization’?

Roll 2

Core Classes: Astromancer, Mycelian, Mutoid, Halfling, Illusionist, Fighter. Unlockables: Dwarf, Knight.

Riff: The power of the Chaos Stars has disrupted of magic to this desolate world, where communities of humans and halflings rub shoulders with mushroom-men and chaos-mutated bands of wanders! Below the earth, the Dwarves jealously keep their safe caverns, but may be persuaded to accept upworlders that help them in their wars with the monsters below. Roaming orders of knights insist on upholding a bushido-esque code even in this desolation.

Roll 3

Core Classes: Assassin, Druid, Beast Master, Chaos Knight, Mage. Unlockables: Acrobat, Living Harness.

Riff: Note: the mage class is a variant magic-users modeled more on subtle Gandalf-esque magic through a skill system.

This screams ‘dark fantasy’. Strong ‘nature does not care about you’ vibes with the amount of nature-based classes; this could very well be a game about anti-heroes navigating dangerous wildernesses while dealing with the corruption and decadence of a decaying kingdom that has openly accepted the worship of some dark power. Acrobats can be recruited after making friends with the Royal Circus, and Living Harnesses can be recovered and recruited by delving into ruins from before the corruption of the kingdom.