Saturday, October 15, 2016

5e and The Lost Colonies

When the current party I am GMing created its characters, I had yet to get my hands on the core books and was operating solely with my reading of the Basic version of 5e. As such, I limited the choice of classes to the archetypal four found in Basic: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. This made my life easier and, as I explained to my players, all of the other classes are really just variations of those four classes.

Having now read the PH and getting a better handle on both the system and the classes I have come to a rather surprising conclusion: if I were to do it all over again, I would have limited the class choice to three, but not the three one might expect.

I say three, because when I first started the Lost Colonies campaign world so many years ago that is exactly the number of classes I allowed (plus the race-as-classes of B/X). I got rid of the thief and wanted to see what the game would feel like with only the three classes of 0e. It worked surprisingly well. When new classes were introduced, it happened organically because of events within the campaign.

I also intellectually like the conceptual and mechanical balance associated with the three classes: Fighters fight, magic-users use magic and clerics are something in between (which, in practice, leaned more towards fighting than magic). This balance, however, does not really exist between the three core classes in 5e. While fighters still fight, the differences between clerics and magic-users have been blurred so much that it is hard to tell the difference without seeing the mechanics behind the special effects.

Thus, the three classes I would use in 5e to emulate that 0e feel I was going for when I first began using the Lost Colonies are:

  • Fighter
  • Paladin (in the place of the cleric)
  • Warlock (in the place of the magic-user)

In the Lost Colonies, all clerics worship the same god. I don’t need different Domains to represent different pagan cults. The paladin better represents a monotheistic set-up. They also don’t get their spell-casting abilities until 2nd level, just like B/X and 0e. In addition, they have fighting skills like a fighter, but don’t have as broad a choice nor are as good at them in the long run as the fighter is.

The warlock is the best D&D representation of the idea that arcane magic is a dangerous thing. It also is the closest I have ever seen D&D get to one of my favorite magic systems — the Elric RPG where demons and elementals were bound into items in order to get magical effects and spells. In addition, this also is a really good analog for the idea that pagan clerics are really magic-users dressed up to look religious.

Obviously, the various patrons for PCs would have to be tweaked else the cleric (paladin) and magic-user (warlock) would not get along very well. My initial thoughts are these: The Summer Queen/Winter King (a variation of the Archfey patron), the Dragon Kings (ancient metallic dragons, which could be a variation on the Great Old One) or the Celestials (archangels, which could be a reverse variation on the Fiend). Since these arcane casters have cantrips and can be really good casters at first level, they are much better at casting than clerics (paladins) who get no cantrips. Thus, it better cements the cleric (paladin) as a tweener whose magic comes from a much different source than the magic of the magic-user (warlock).

For those who want to play a thief, I will provide a background called Thieves’ Guild which will provide all the skills and connections necessary to play one, while still being one of the three core classes. Ironically, this set-up probably does a better job of emulating Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser than any version of D&D ever did.

In the same vein, for those that want to play a barbarian, bard, druid, ranger or monk I will provide a background which will encompass all the skills and backstory necessary to play one.

BTW this is yet another reason I think the background mechanic for character creation is such a brilliant idea. I get to have a much simpler version of 5e by limiting it to three core classes and players can customize these three core classes to emulate all kinds of cool characters without hardly any mechanical shenanigans.


  1. I like it, and since I'm playing a Paladin (currently 7th level) in a 5E game, I can attest that I spend a lot more time fighting than spell-casting (of course, there are usually one or two players with clerics in the group, as attendance fluctuates, so I don't have to). Being able to turn a spell slot into 2d8 (or more) bonus damage AFTER I KNOW I'VE HIT has allowed me to dish out lots of damage, which keeps me nearly as effective as the fighters. The mount helps, too.

    It's an interesting set-up for a game, and it does look close to the OD&D classes.