I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

The Deprived Class - from Dark Souls to your OS D&D games

If you like old school D&D and videogames, you might be a fan of Dark Souls already.

If you haven't played it, it is a very old school, very D&D, and very old school D&D game. There are a few reasons to say that; for now, I will just say that the game is very hard (like many videogames of old), has lots of D&D tropes (mimics, +x weapons, everything is trying to kill you, and of course the whole class-level-HP thing) and some characteristics that many people in the OSR identify with old school RPGs (death is frequent, player skill over character skill, starting characters aren't unique, etc).

Its influences also include lots of Berserk (the manga) and British RPGs (Titan is said to be an inspiration). I wholeheartedly recommend it for everyone that likes any of this things.

It is also one of my favorite videogames of recent times, and a great inspiration for my upcoming RPG, Days of the Damned, which I will discuss in future posts. 

In this post, I want to take a look of one of the most unique classes in the videogame - the Deprived. Bear in mind that I already discussed a lot of the mechanics in another post; there is not much new stuff here, other than the philosophy behind it.

The cool thing about the Deprived is that it starts as the weakest class, but it might become the most powerful of them all if you are skilled enough to survive until you gain a few levels (not that different, in that aspect, to the original D&D Magic-User).

It is an "advanced" class, not for beginners - supposedly, you should try the game with other classes first, and only then try the deprived.

The way the Deprived does it, though, is different, and quite interesting - the class starts with a lower level than other classes; since choices are made when you level up, and leveling ups gets harder and harder, starting with a lower level gives you more choices, and through this choices you can create exactly the character you want.

This pattern might be useful for your D&D games. Many people see classes as straitjackets, but they are often better used as shortcuts and guidelines, both for beginners and for experience players that don't care much for the whole character building mini-game.

And here is one way you can use the same philosophy in old school D&D:

First, everyone gets 3d6 in order to their abilities and starts at level 3 (there are lots of reasons to do that, which I'll discuss later). Also, if the sum of your abilities is smaller than 60 + level (so, 63, the average of 3d6 times six), you can augment your abilities at will until you get a total of 63.

After that, everyone gets one ability point per level. If you already got more than 63 ability points, you gain no more points until your level+60 exceeds the total of ability points (for example, if you roll really well and start with 70 ability points, you only gain more after level 10).

Even with different XP charts, I don't think it will break your game, since thieves can enjoy some faster advancement and MUs already have enough power as it is.

So, the Deprived starts at level 1, with no magic, BAB or thief skills. Also, if the sum of his abilities is greater than 61, he can diminish his abilities at will (minimum 3 for each ability). 

Oh, and Dark Souls basically makes then start with no equipment, too. So, 0 GP. Borrow stuff from someone else. Or steal.

Starting in level 2, he can choose which class to pursue - and he is more likely to be able to get the abilities he wants. 

If he survives, which most won't.

Additionally, some players might enjoy if everybody starts with deprived characters.

There is another interesting facet to the idea: demi-humans. They start with a few powers: darkvision, immunity to poison, disease, or whatever. But each special ability counts as one ability point. So an elf, for example, is likely to start with 65 or more "ability points", adding abilities and special powers. Still, the ceiling remains the same (I am working with a total of 73-80 points, depending on how many levels you're using).

The effect? Elves and dwarves start the game better than humans, but after a while they reach a lower ceiling... as OD&D intended! You can use this formula instead of level limits, of which I'm not a fan; to me, this option seems a little fairer to everyone.


  1. I find it off that elves and Dwarves have ceilings. Especially because elves are essentially superhuman immortals. And before you protest against that last bit: baelnorn. Lichdom free of charge. Free immortality.
    Perhaps I'm not fond of the whole "human superiority" idea, but way back humans were cowering in caves praying that nonexistent elves would come and save them from nonexistent giants. So the idea of humans ultimately winding up stronger feels wrong. Either buff humans with talents (exceptional humans and average elves, just like LotR) or give up.
    Even the term demihuman is incorrect. Neanderthals were demihuman- Elves and Dwarves have so many natural advantages only the best of mankind can keep up. You think any old human could become Aragorn? That takes talent.
    This is why I don't like settings where Elves and Dwarves are common. They get degraded to the status of subhuman when a level 0 dwarf could take apart a level 0 human any day.
    As for advantages, elves take extra cold damage from iron and steel, dwarves get seasick easily. But a human still needs to be exceptional to keep up.

    1. You make some interesting comments that could work very well on some settings. But remember, this part is specifically a throw-back to OD&D, where you did have such ceilings.