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General D&D History 101: Origins of Classes

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
So I wanted to do a short series on some of the history of D&D, and I thought I'd start with a fun and relatively easy one- the original class system, as codified in the AD&D (1e) Player's Handbook of 1978. For those of you unfamiliar with that 1e PHB, it was a continuation/expansion/codification of the OD&D Rules that started in 1974, and had the original class system with "subclasses" that continued on through 3e; arguably, these choices echo through the game we have today.

The classes were arranged as follows:

There were four core classes (the "Core Four" that we still think of today), with the other classes being subclasses off of those.

In addition, the Monk was a separate, special class, and the Bard was the equivalent of what we now call a "Prestige Class," that you could only obtain by going through levels of fighter and thief first.

So, a little bit of history! Please feel free to comment or kvetch!

ASSASSIN
The assassin first appears in OD&D (Blackmoor)

Origin: It came from Arneson, and has been variously sourced to having been first played by Allan Hammock. While the class/concept came from Arneson, the class Assassin is credited from Kask to Arneson (as in the usual for Tim Kask- it was terrible and I edited but I still hate it).

Controversy: While Blackmoor was "written" by Arneson, and it appears that the assassin first came from Arneson's campaign, the rules for the class may have come from Tim Kask when he was editing. The origins of the assassin are suitably mysterious, as befits the class.


BARD
The bard first appears in The Strategic Review v. 2 #1, then in PHB 1e (Appendix)

Origin: The original Bard was printed as a regular character class, and only became what we would now call a prestige class after Gygax transmogrified it in the appendix of the PHB. Doug Schwegman explained the Bard when he created it by writing that the class was a admixture of three specific influences- the Norse skald, the Celtic bard, and southern European minstrel. Specifically, however, the Bard should resemble a fighter with a little magical knowledge.

Controversy: None. Doug Schwegman is credited with the original class, and Gygax is credited with butchering it.



CLERIC
The Cleric first shows up in OD&D (Men & Magic).

Origin: Bishop Carr, played by Mike Carr, was the proto-cleric. Bishop Carr was created to defeat Sir Fang, and the Cleric (Arneson Campaign) was primarily based on the idea of the vampire hunter from Hammer Horror films. Additional tweaks to the Cleric concept (no edged weapons, for example) were added by Gygax for publication in Men & Magic.

Controversy: There is a dispute over authorship. Gygax claims to have created the Cleric, specifically citing after Bishop Odo and other sources as inspiration. Most people reject this claim, and believe that the Cleric is almost entirely based on Arneson's campaign, sourcing it to the character played by Mike Carr and referencing the Hammer Horror films (kind of a Van Helsing).



DRUID
The Druid first shows up in OD&D (Eldritch Wizardry).

Origin: Dennis Sustare, who would achieve fame, if not fortune, as the creator of Bunnies and Burrows, wanted to create a character with a focus on plants and animals, loosely based on his understanding of the literature about early England. Yes, proto-Romano-Celtic something or other.

Controversy: None that I know of. Dennis "Chariot of" Sustare invented the Druid. That's right! That is where the spell comes form. The more you know!



ILLUSIONIST
The Illusionist first shows up in The Strategic Review v. 1 #4, Dragon Magazine #1 & #12, and then in PHB 1e.

Origin: The Illusionist first appeared as an article in The Strategic Review by Peter Aronson. Basically, there was a fan who really, really liked illusions, and made a class. And then it was put into 1e! Never to come back.

Controversy: None here. Peter Aronson made the class.



FIGHTER
The Fighter first shows up in Chainmail (pre-D&D), then in OD&D (Men & Magic).

Origin: The Fighter (fighting man) has always been a part of D&D.

Controversy: No more than the usual controversy over the origins of D&D, I guess. But nothing particular.



MAGIC-USER
The Magic-User first shows up in Chainmail (pre-D&D), then in OD&D (Men & Magic).

Origin: See Fighter.

Controversy: See Fighter.



MONK
The Monk first appears in OD&D (Blackmoor)

Origin: The monk is based on the Destroyer series of novels about Remo Williams and the general "kung fu" gestalt of the 70s.

Controversy: The book is credited to Arneson, but Gygax & Kask definitely had a hand in the rules ... regardless, Brian Blume is credited with the design of the Monk and the desire to have the martial arts tropes of the 70s represented in D&D.



PALADIN
The Paladin first shows up in OD&D (Greyhawk)

Origin: While both Gygax and Kuntz are credited on the Greyhawk supplement, the origin of the Paladin, based so transparently off of Holger Carlsen in Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions, that its Gygaxian origin has never been really disputed.

Controversy: None that I am aware of.



RANGER
The Ranger first shows up in The Strategic Review v.1 #2, PHB 1e.

Origin: Joe Fischer wrote the class.

Controversy: None that I know. Joe Fischer read the new Paladin class, and was like, "Yes, but more Aragorn," and created the Ranger.



THIEF
The Thief first shows up in the Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9, and then in OD&D (Greyhawk)

Origin: This is the fine line between borrowing and theft? There is no line for this class. Gygax stole the concept from someone else. The original thief had the skills you would expect from a box-man who would deal with traps and safes (but not sneaking, climbing, etc.) and probably used a modified "spell system" like a MU. Gygax switched the system to a percentile system and added some details based on Vance and Zelazny.

Controversy: This may be the mother of all controversies! Gygax always steadfastly maintained sole credit for this class, but exceptionally credible evidence exists that Gary Switzer & Aero Games made the Thief class, and while Gygax added some stuff to it and changed some stuff, it's largely someone else's invention.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I've been brainstorming some ideas (a little surprised no one had comments on this!); maybe a rolling review of the classic modules with some added history & context? Or would that be trite at this point?

...or maybe the early Dragon Magazines?
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I've been brainstorming some ideas (a little surprised no one had comments on this!); maybe a rolling review of the classic modules with some added history & context? Or would that be trite at this point?

...or maybe the early Dragon Magazines?
That might be more of a fertile soil; Tribality already had a LONG series on the history of the classes.
 

dave2008

Legend
I've been brainstorming some ideas (a little surprised no one had comments on this!); maybe a rolling review of the classic modules with some added history & context? Or would that be trite at this point?

...or maybe the early Dragon Magazines?
My apologies, I thought you were talking specifically about including the origins of more classes. Regardless, I enjoy your little bits of history and would welcome more of them.
 

D&D history is always interesting to read, and sadly, with every passing year will probably be harder to recall. Keep it coming please.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Are any of the classes from Unearthed Arcana in dispute about who created them?
There might be some interesting bits and bobs (like the contrast between the original, and IMO better, White Wolf Barbarian and the later Gygaxian one) but not really.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
@lowkey13 already did this a few months ago. I'll try to find the thread. Might save you a lot of work and research.

*Edit. Here it is. but it appears he deleted all of his posts and then account? When did that happen? Man, I took a few week break myself and apparently missed a whole lot...

 

dave2008

Legend
@lowkey13 already did this a few months ago. I'll try to find the thread. Might save you a lot of work and research.

*Edit. Here it is. but it appears he deleted all of his posts and then account? When did that happen? Man, I took a few week break myself and apparently missed a whole lot...

He had spat with a mod and left a couple of months ago (fairly recently still). I didn't realize he deleted his posts.
 

I still distinctly recall when our then-GM (one of the best I ever had the pleasure of playing with) switched to AD&D mid-campaign. We suddenly had a monk and a ranger, and all of us players were really intrigued by the changes. We had a blast.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I still distinctly recall when our then-GM (one of the best I ever had the pleasure of playing with) switched to AD&D mid-campaign. We suddenly had a monk and a ranger, and all of us players were really intrigued by the changes. We had a blast.
Did you switch to AD&D from B/X or BECMI (Red Box), or were you coming from OD&D?
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
*Edit. Here it is. but it appears he deleted all of his posts and then account? When did that happen? Man, I took a few week break myself and apparently missed a whole lot...
Mid-March, I believe. It's a bummer.
 

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