Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What I Talk About When I Talk About Prestige Classes

Some people seemed to like my previous post about prestige classes. I figured I would follow it up with some concrete examples of what I'm thinking of. Here are some brief sketches of possible 'old school prestige classes', arranged according to type.

Classes requiring a journey to a remote location
Monk of the Beyul: Long ago, the great Guru created seven hidden valleys of paradise, protected from the outside by snowstorms and snow leopards. The only way to find these valleys is to follow the directions of a terma (esoteric scroll) which is itself hidden inside a sacred cave or a stupa (reliquary). The monks who dwell in the beyul practice a secret art which allows them to perform superhuman feats of strength and agility. They are willing to teach it freely, on the assumption that anyone who reaches the valley must be pure of heart.
Anthropophage: In a distant land far to the south, there are a tribe of cannibals who have discovered secret culinary techniques by which they can gain the powers of their enemies by devouring their organs. Some adventurers have returned from this land with hidebound cookbooks and mysterious smiles on their faces.

Classes revolving around a particular quest or mission
Paladin: A paladin is not merely a holy warrior. A paladin is one who has been chosen by their God for a specific quest of utmost importance and righteousness. While the quest lasts, the paladin gains mystical powers, strength and protection from evil, but only in pursuit of that quest. When the paladin reaches their goal, their powers vanish forever.
Cosmic Debt Collector: Relics pilfered from a hall at the end of the universe; minutes stolen from the hour between twelve and one; a patch of stars caught in a bottle: these are the kinds of theft that attract the attention of the immortal cosmic Powers behind the universe. But the Powers do not retrieve that which is stolen from them, they merely count it as a debt. And the debt will always be repaid. Occasionally, it is possible for a human to be chosen as their agent and empowered to collect the debt. The Debt Collector is empowered to travel through the known planes and warp the very fabric of reality itself. The abuse of these powers for petty means is frowned upon.

 A two-stage class
Paladin (alt): A paladin is a person who is too good for this world. Anyone can become a paladin, even a sorcerer or a thief. All they have to do is undertake one act of purest selflessness, sacrificing their own life for the benefit of an innocent. If, somehow, they survive this sacrifice, they will be granted holy powers for God himself smiles upon them.
Unfortunately, the favour of God is a heavy burden to bear in a world filled with sin. No paladin can continue to measure up to the moment of radiant goodness that first defined them. Sooner or later they will fall, and when they do they fall further than any other, becoming an Anti-Paladin.
Anti-Paladin: An Anti-Paladin is a terrible sight to behold, a ravening beast who is hardly able to tell friend from foe as they take out their existential rage on anything in their path. Their once holy power becomes evil and destructive. The state of being Anti-Paladin lasts only for a few hours, after which the character is left with nothing but dark memories and bloodstained hands.

Classes involving bargains with dangerous powers
Warlock: No adventurer starts out as a warlock. Even the most foolish among them know that it is madness to risk one's very soul for a brief chance at power. Yet once they have set out on their path, the lure of the devil's offer is always there. When faced with insurmountable challenges or certain death, some will choose to make a pact with Hell to save themselves.
The powers of the warlock are significant, but their days are numbered before they must pay the debt and be dragged down to Hell. The only way they can ward off this end is by offering the souls of others, but the number of sacrifices required grows larger every time.
The only way to escape the warlock's fate is to be blessed by a powerful cleric and undertake a dangerous mission of penitence. Well, not the only way - it's also possible to take your soul from one demon and sell it to another...
Goblin Prince: The goblins of the Summerwood have no royalty of their own. By ancient law, they must choose humans to be their princes and princesses. One who becomes a Goblin Prince is granted access to their fey magic, including the ability to summon animals and to become supernaturally lucky. However, when the harvest moon next rises it is time for the Prince to become a King. The King is taken by the goblins to the heart of the wood, locked inside a wicker throne and set ablaze. The only way to escape this fate is to abdicate the throne, which requires someone else to take up the mantle of the Prince and all that it entails.
Cat Fancier: There are secrets that only the cats know. Some few make a pact with the cats, and are given access to these secrets - forgotten spells, ancient lore, things which men think they have kept hidden from all. The price that the Cat Fancier must pay is only to offer their hospitality to any cats whom they meet. As news of the pact spreads, the Cat Fancier will find their home overrun with felines. Wherever they travel they will have cats following them, and woe betide them if any of their furry guests come to harm. Most will eventually be driven mad by the incessant mewling of a thousand kittens.
The Pact of the Cat can be broken if a good team of dogs are brought in to chase the cats away. But the cats will not forget.

Classes requiring you to defeat someone of that class
Grand High Magister of the Order of Tzun: The title of Grand High Magister of the Order of Tzun is not merely an honorific; it is enchanted with mystical energies by the original Magister, Tzun himself. Tzun believed it was best if the Magister was given special powers because the Magister was democratically elected. Unfortunately, after his death an obscure loophole in the ancient laws was discovered, allowing the title to be passed on by a formal duel. Since then, the title has never been claimed any other way.
Bearer of the Body of the Saint: Long ago, a mysterious 'saint' came to earth. Later he was killed and his mummified body parts were scattered. By cutting off one's own body part and replacing it with the body of the saint, one can acquire mysterious powers. It is said that many warriors fight each other to gain control of the body parts.

Classes granted by a particular faction
Anarch-Assassin: The Anarch-Assassins believe in the total destruction of the social order in order to create a better world for the future. They know secret techniques of stealth, poisoning and bomb-making. Those who join their order and learn their skills are expected to assist them in their endeavours, or else wake up one night to find a bomb under their bed.
Myrmidon: The most fearsome warriors in the Imperial Army are the Myrmidons, conditioned to fight alongside each other as brothers. They gain a bonus to fighting in ranks and are immune to fear. During peacetime the Myrmidons are allowed to travel freely as long as they serve the goals of the Empire. When war breaks out, each Myrmidon receives a black talisman which serves as a call to arms. Such is the strength of their mental conditioning that it is almost impossible to resist this call or to disobey the orders of their superiors.

Classes requiring certain restrictions on behaviour
 Vegan Ninja: Vegan Ninjas are sworn to do no harm to any animal, nor use any product of animal labour. They have no problem doing harm to humans, though. The Vegan Ninja cannot eat meat or any animal products, and cannot attack mundane animals of any kind. They cannot wear hide or leather armour, nor can they use bows made with sinew, clothes sewn with catgut, fletched arrows, woolen clothes, etc. Nor can they ride horses, ride in carts, or eat food grown in fields tilled by animal labour. In exchange for these numerous and irritating restrictions, the Vegan Ninja gains supernatural powers of agility and telekinesis.
Trappist Cavalier: Trappist Cavaliers are warriors blessed with holy powers by St. Benedict, in exchange for which they swear a solemn vow of silence. A regiment of Trappists on the battlefield is a terrifying sight, riding into battle without a single war-cry. The powers of the Trappist include the ability to enforce silence upon their enemies, and at higher levels also pacifism or even submission to the will of God. They are also able to brew holy ales that confer strength upon those who drink them.
Smirking Coward: The Smirking Cowards are an order of assassins who, through a combination of unholy rites and psychological conditioning, trade away their courage in exchange for dark powers. A Smirking Coward gains a bonus to assassination attempts and sneak attack damage, as well as a variety of indirect murder techniques such as contact poison and insanity-causing patterns. However, the Smirking Coward is wholly unable to fight an enemy face-to-face. As soon as their opponent is aware of them and threatening to attack, the Coward is forced to flee.

Classes acquired as an 'Achievement' for unusual or amusing circumstances
Dungeon Survivor: If the entire party is killed in the dungeon, save for one character, then when that character emerges into the open air they take the Dungeon Survivor class. Their time alone in the mythic underworld has changed them, making them more sensitive to the subterranean world. They gain a bonus to detect secret doors checks and surprise rolls while in the dungeon. However, if they linger too long in the dungeon they may give in to the siren call of the lightless corridors, and vanish into the dark never to return...
Talespinner: A character whose travels have taken them very far afield (say, the two furthest points they've visited are over 100 miles apart) may take the Talespinner class. Their outrageous tales of distant lands make them popular in town, help them to recruit hirelings, and can be used to distract eager listeners.
Drunken Master: Whenever a character fails their carousing roll, there is a very small chance that they will wake up the next morning having spontaneously discovered the secret techniques of the Drunken Master. They gain a bonus to both attack and defense, but only while utterly shitfaced.
Crippled Master: When a character takes three or more permanent disfigurements (severed limbs, gouged eyes, etc.) they may take the Crippled Master class. This character has learned not just to overcome their disabilities but to use their unique fighting style to their advantage. Enemies take a penalty to defenses against the unexpected techniques of the Crippled Master, and the character also gains a special combat maneuver based on what disfigurement they have suffered.


  1. Every last one of these is great. I especially love the paladins, smirking coward and dungeon survivor. The Ripley/Ben Gunn class.

    I got here from Jeff Rients' G+ feed, where this is getting some love.

    1. Thanks. It's funny that I almost deleted the Smirking Coward because I thought it was too silly. I guess one of the cool things about putting your stuff out in public is that sometimes people can like your ideas even if you don't like your ideas?

  2. oh, d'oh. You already knew that, of course. Anyway, stealing this for my own science fantasy disaster.