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OD&D On the Origins of Classes (1e, OD&D)

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I approve of this thread. Is Old Geezer (Mike Monard) still around? Haven’t heard from him in years. His feedback would be great. I hope nothing happened to him...


Subscribed, with keen interest. I've played the game since the late '70s, but I've never been a D&D scholar* or looked into the history of the game much.

*(maybe that should be a class!)


Bonus fun fact!

The Sage was supposed to a PC class in the Blackmoor supplement (OD&D). Instead, we have a long and detailed sage NPC specialist (pp. 50-51).


Arneson had a Sage Class, and it was in the manuscript. Kask edited to be an NPC.

So, yeah, it almost was an Original Class! :)

And an incredibly boring one at that 😉. Thank goodness for Kask


Bonus fun fact!

The Sage was supposed to a PC class in the Blackmoor supplement (OD&D). Instead, we have a long and detailed sage NPC specialist (pp. 50-51).


Arneson had a Sage Class, and it was in the manuscript. Kask edited to be an NPC.

So, yeah, it almost was an Original Class! :)
It's fascinating to think what early D&D could easily have been like if various things hadn't been tweaked, rejiggered, or left out.

I had no idea the cleric was originally based on a vampire hunter, so the ban on edged weapons now seems especially weird.

Joe Fischer created the Ranger.
Origin: So, not to put to fine a point on this, but a fan really, really, really wanted to be Aragorn.
That should shock no one.

First Appeared: Chainmail, OD&D (Men & Magic)
Gygax?: Sure? I mean, Gygax, Arneson, Perren ...
Origin: What came first, the chicken, or the egg?
I can see that 'tude with the fighter, it just fights, the fighting hero is an ancient thing. Heck, Gilgamesh, right?

But the D&D magic-user is not the same kind of thing, bearing little resemblance to users of magic in myth and legend (who were often divine or supernatural in nature, rather than in learning), nor to the learned /mageia/ of antiquity, nor the classifications of ritual magic into Thaumaturgy and Theurgy. The D&D wizard was often depicted in the regalia of an astrologer, and there were many trapping of Hermeticism (some of which invited accusations of Satanism).
But, it's well-known that the D&D casters' "Vancian" roots are in that author's works of science-fiction, not myth/legend/fantasy.

First Appeared: Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9, OD&D (Greyhawk)
Gygax?: Hoo boy. Okay, so, kind of no. Gygax always steadfastly maintained sole credit for this, 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 the Aero Games' the thief.
Origin: This is the fine line between borrowing and theft, I guess? Anyway, the original thief had the skills you would expect from a so-called box-man who would deal with traps and safes (but not sneaking, climbing, etc.). Gygax switched the system to a percentile system (SO GYGAX) and added some details based on Zelazny and Vance.
Don't forget Lieber. The Grey Mouser seems like an archetypal D&D Thief, with his preference for the Sling over the bow, fascination with languages, and dabbling in magic.

First Appeared: OD&D (Blackmoor)
Gygax?: Um, no? This is very confused. The book is credited to Arneson, but Gygax definitely had a hand in it, but Biran Blume is credited with the design.
Origin: Arguably, the monk is based on the Destroyer series of novels and the general "kung fu" gestalt of the 70s.
Kwai Chang Caine of "Kung Fu" premiered in '72, and sure seemed to bring together a lot of that 'gestalt' in ways very similar to the D&D Monk.

Weirdly, the original Bard as printed in TSR v.2#1 was a regular character class, and only became what we would now call a prestige class after Gygax transmogrified it in the PHB. This class actually has a detailed origin story, in that the creator, Doug Schwegman, explained it at the time, stating that the class was a melange of three specific influences- the norse skald, the celtic bard, and southern european minstrel. Specifically, however, the Bard is explained as being more in the mold of the Norse and, um, Celtic type than anything else, and thus should resemble a fighter with a little magical knowledge.
Amusing, because it's rep - and in 2e & 3e, implementation - sure slid towards that last.

I think you need to suspend your antipathy to paladins, there origin is quite interesting - and some might like to know where the name comes from.

You should also look at more modern classes too, like barbarian, sorcerer, blackguard and warlock. And maybe some defunct offerings like cavalier and warlord.

Oh, and dates, add dates where known.

On thief, I don't think you have mentioned The Hobbit. Bilbo is sold to the dwarves as a "professional burglar". Conan is described as a thief (amongst other things) in the original stories. Whist he isn't much like the archetype he had sidekicks who were.
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Interestingly, IIRC, the design philosophy behind the thief was for a character to find traps, locate secret doors, climb walls, and comprend foreign languages without casting spells such as locate traps, spider climb etc. But wait, you can’t allow that without the expenditure of spell slots, so a chance of failure is in order not to infringe on the magic user and cleric’s roles.

now we complain about wizards and clerics infringing on the rogue’s skills with their locate traps and spider climb spells. I find the irony rather funny.

I love the Lieber, but I have some trouble tracking down specific Mouser references!

AFAICT, it's mostly the Aero Games model, with some Zelazny (Jack of Shadows / Shadowjack) and Vance (Cugel the Clever), but I don't doubt that Lieber may have some influence- just don't have a cite or way to verify.
You mean like testimonials from some insider back in the day going, "yeah, I totally ripped off _______"?

Was the 1e thief’s scroll use from Vance/Zelanzy, or from the Mouser?
Not quite like any of them, but I'd say more like The Mouser. Shadowjack had substantial magical powers of his own. Cugel often used items. The Mouser was a failed magician's apprentice. I can't recall any of them using anything like a D&D scroll (but it's been a while).

The Grey Mouser though, had a fascination with languages and deciphered ancient writings on occasion, and Gygax's scroll-using feature comes from the Theif's Decipher Script special ability. FWIW

OD&D Thief.p.4 Might and Magic-
Well, Greyhawk.
here, we see the ability to read languages and read magical writings..... where did it come from? Well, my best guess is
So you don't have any of the insider testimonials you were looking for on that topic?

I was just looking at similarities because someone asked. The D&D Thief didn't use innate/powerful shadow-magic like Shadowjack, for instance, in fact, like Cugel, it didn't have innate magic, at all. It did use magic scrolls via Decipher script, which is closer to Lieber's Grey Mouser than the other two. There were other similarities.
There were differences, too, The Grey Mouser was a swordsman comparable to Fafhrd, though using a rapier rather than a broadsword - and no early-D&D Thief was the equal of a similar-XP (let alone level) Fighter, that way.

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