Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Whence class level titles?

Here's a random encounter subtable from Hints for D&D Judges (Joe Fischer, Best of Dragon 1980):

Sub-Table 1
1 Heroes
2 Thaumaturgists
3 Swashbucklers
4 Magicians
5 Evil Priests
6 Myrmidons
7 Enchanters
8 Superheroes
9 Sorcerers
10 Lords
11 Wizards
12 Evil High Priests

Which got me wondering, whatever happened to class level titles?

None of what I would consider the "bigger" retro-clones, SW, LL, nor OSRIC, saw fit to include them. I don't believe that was a copyright omission, as I'm pretty sure no one can copyright a word like "Thaumaturgist", even in the context of a 5th level Magic User.

Original D&D didn't even number levels originally - there was no such thing as a "5th level" Magic User , according to Little Brown Book #1 pg. 16. Yet by 2nd Edition AD&D, 1989, the class level title was gone completely, all that flavor gone, reduced to a sterile number. Something that seems to have been, for a good while, as integral and iconic a part of the game as AC, hit points, and alignment was lost to the mists of time after a scant 15 years of use.

What happened?


  1. I love class titles. I think it was always meant to be used to declare your 'level' in game. That's why I always add level titles back into my house rules for all classes. I'm surprised that none of the retro-clones picked that back up.

  2. Well, the good thing is, at least two of the guys behind the big clones, Dan Proctor and Matt Finch, could potentially be asked this question directly. We have access to ask them why level titles weren't included for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. That's not a bad idea, I think. I don't really know much about the people behind OSRIC (though I think at least one of the aforementioned folk was involved with that as well...am I wrong about that?).

    In the meantime, I think DCC RPG included titles for levels...

    1. That's true, I had forgotten that!

      Level titles *and* Race-as-class :)

  3. Well, I never played with level titles, but I always thought that using them quite severely hampers your "in-game-thesaurus"...

  4. Subclasses and kits, that's what happened. The level titles all became either sub-classes, variants, or kits of the various classes. ergo, not used as a level title, but as an effective class in and of itself...

    As for the retroclones, actually, tables can be copyrighted... so the choice was to use either different titles at each level or just not use them at all...

    1. I thought that might be the case.
      No 'laws' for house ruling them back into my games though, I says happily!

  5. I loved Level titles myself and used them all the time.

    I included them in The Witch, but there they have some in-game logic when you get up to the "Court Level" witches (21+). But there they also make sense. 1st level (Initiate) and 2nd level (Neophyte) made sense, but after that 3rd to 9th levels it was completely random.

    I recall an article either in Dragon or some other magazine asking which was higher of various level titles. The problem was they were great fun, but didn't have a lot of internal consistency. In my own case which is higher a Sybil or a Mystic? (they are 4th and 6th levels respectively).

    I had some discussion on this a while back myself if you want to go through what people said then.
    Part 1 and Part 2, with some suggestions for Wizards which I based on the levels for the Golden Dawn and the Rosicrucians. Anyone is free to use these as they like.

    1. And only because it is the companion piece to your image above...The Beautiful Witch.

    2. Why don't girls wear hats like that anymore?

  6. Simple. Gygax wrote Saga of Old City.

    In it one character says to Gord, about a third character "Back when we were myrmidons together..."

    Everyone who has read that has realized how silly/stupid/lame the level titles could be.

    I'm a "Swordsman", but I wield an Axe?

    And even if you could come up with enough that didn't evoke specific imagery, would there be any point to it then?

    Ooh cool! Magic Platemail armor. Oh. But I leveled up and now I'm a 'Swashbuckler'?

    1. That.

      Level titles were completely arbitrary and basically stupid. Never liked them.

      And yes, level numbers are sterile and flavourless but so are 3-18 ability scores. What do you want? It's a game that uses numbers, dice and tables.

  7. I love level titles.

    I suspect the clones don't have them because it is a copyright issue. Although individual words like "Thaumaturgist" are not copyrightable, a list of particular words in a particular arrangement in a table may well be protected. It would be hard for the clones to get around that by substituting and reordering titles without destroying the titles' descriptive value (i.e. making Myrmidon the title for third level destroys compatibility with original products).

  8. I got the impression they weren't in OSRIC because of "trade dress" issues, they thought it might violate it.

    Blood & Treasure has them.

    Personally, I think they are good because if you can't come up with at last half a dozen names for level titles, then the class might not be distinct enough to warrant it being a class.

  9. From the description of Dispell (sic) Magic in Men & Magic, p. 25:

    ...so if a 5th level Magic-User attempts to dispell the spell of a 10th level Magic-User there is a 50% chance of success.

    I have a later printing, but I assume it's the same in all of them.

    I don't mean to be snarky here. I think your overall point is a good one, and it's true that in the initial table of "Levels" for the different classes, only the titles are given (though one wonders whether the explicit level numbers were left out merely for space or aesthetic reasons). Though the titles were somewhat (though not completely) random and occasionally silly--Vicar?--, they were still cool, or at least their idea was cool. I think their gradual eclipse and final elimination was part of the trend to explicitly quantify everything--"Hello, you may not realize it, but my Bushcraft skill is 37%", which overall was quite detrimental to play but also to the overall aesthetic--to how people thought of their characters and the game in general.

    1. There are plentiful references to levels instead of class titles. Even sections where they mix the two up without any apparent reason whatsoever, like this entry for orcs:

      7th - 9th Level Fighting-Man
      11th Level Magic-User
      1 - 6 Ogres
      1 - 4 Trolls
      10%/100 Orcs
      10%/ 50 Orcs
      10%/100 Orcs
      25%/100 Orcs
      10%/100 Orcs
      15%/ 50 Orcs
      Orcs will defend their lair without morale checks until they are outnumbered by
      3- 1.
      If found other than in their lair Orcs may be escorting a wagon train of from 1-8
      wagons. There is a 50% chance for this. Each wagon will be carrying from 200 -
      1,200 Gold Pieces. Wagon trains will have additional Orcs guarding them, 10 per
      wagon, and be lead by either a Fighting-Man (die 1 = Champion, die 2-4 = Superhero,
      die 5, 6 = Lord) or Magic-User (die 1 = Sorcerer, die 2 - 4 = Necromancer,
      die 5, 6 = Wizard), 50% chance for either (die 1 -3 = fighter, die 4-6 = magical type.)

  10. Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG brought them back proudly.

  11. ACKS is another clone-ish game that has level titles.

  12. the copyright issue can be side-stepped by making up your own, or using someone else's list: here's one i made for fighters a while back: http://aeonsnaugauries.blogspot.com/2011/09/fighter-level-titles.html

  13. They stop using them because too many people had dictionaries. The magic-users especially caused a problem as Medium, Seer, Conjurer, Enchanter, Necromancer, etc... had meanings beyond what level you were. You might not be a Lord in a game, yet have the title lord. Burglar, Footpad, Llama, Bishop, etc... all of it just seemed like complete nonsense, a bit like when you look at Ku Klux Klan titles and start laughing at the fact they called themselves Grand cyclops, ghouls, goblins, and the grand Turk. Too many people playing the game knew more than Gygax did when he apparently plucked them out of a thesaurus.

    There were a lot of details in the early rules which were just kind of slapped together, as amateur an effort as a lot of the artwork. For that matter, their mastery of polearms was a bit hazy and who can forget some of the lists of items from the appendixes

    Some of the titles made sense. I'll still use acolyte. I still call a third level cleric a Priest and a ninth level High Priest.



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