The Scholar class for Planet Kaendor

As I am falling again deeply into the B/X hole, I have once again found myself having to deal with the question what I want to do about the issue of Clerics. Planet Kaendor is ultimately my own take on Sword & Sorcery, and with the passing of (many) years, I am seeing more and more the meaning and relevance of the typical conventions of this particular style of fantasy. Early on, I was all in for various (A)D&D-isms, like having elves and gnomes, goblins and gnolls, dragons, powerful elemental magic, other planes to visit, and a classical pantheon of gods. That’s all long in the past by now and I’ve fully accepted our Lord and Savior Robert Howard into my heart. And I really find myself enjoying the abstract magic of Moorcock and Smith much more than magic missiles and fireballs.

Finally getting a good picture of what I want gods and spirits to be in my setting (I never had really made a decision on this aspect in all the years), it’s really become clear that clerics don’t have a place on Planet Kaendor. Temples and priests are cool, as are barbarian shamans, but a clear separation of arcane and divine magic just doesn’t make any sense in the context of the supernatural forces that shape the setting. (Which will be the topic of a different post.) My main concern had been how the game would change if you no longer have clerics in the party who can cast healing spells and the players will only rely on healing potions. But when you look at how much healing spells they can actually provide in B/X, it’s really not that much. No spells at all at 1st level, and even well along into a campaign at 7th level, it’s still only two first level spells and one fourth level spell. And you might want to sometime cast other spells than just cure wounds as well. So I think when you’re not too stingy with healing potions as the GM, there should be no real disruption from the lack of clerics.

The most interesting alternative approach to priests that I’ve seen is from the Conan d20 game, which is build on top of a D&D framework. It only has a single full spellcaster class called the scholar. What spells they learn and how they present themselves in public is entirely up to them. Sorcerers and witches are obviously scholars, but so are priests and shamans. They don’t get their magic powers from their gods, but through the same arcane study as everyone else. Priests may claim that they get their magic powers from their gods, and might even believe it, but except for rare cases of divine intervention, it’s all their own doing. That’s an approach I feel is right for Planet Kaendor as well.

The Scholar class is really just the default magic-user with a different spell list. In any other regard, it’s really identical, including hit points, attack chances, saving throws, and number of spell slots. I’ve never been a fan of spell slots as it’s too obviously a game mechanic and not an abstraction to represent a plausible magic system in game terms. But I really don’t want to work out a completely new magic system myself. The most convenient solution for me is the one that was introduced in the 5th edition of D&D. Casters really have two separate sets of “preparation slots” and “casting slots”. You prepare spells as you would always do, but when you cast them they don’t disappear for the rest of the day. You’re still limited in the number of spells you can cast by your casting slots, but you’re not limited to cast a spell only once per day, or forced to prepare it in two slots if you want to be able to cast it more than once. It solves the weirdness of spells being forgotten without actually requiring any modifications to the classes themselves.

Since I want to cap character levels at 10th, the list only goes up to 5th level spells, but of course you could always expand it to 6th level spells as well. It’s mostly spells from Basic Fantasy, which are almost identical to B/X, but I also included a few from OSRIC as well.

1st level spells
  • Cause Fear
  • Change Self
  • Charm Person
  • Command
  • Darkness
  • Detect Magic
  • Entangle
  • Hold Portal
  • Light
  • Protection from Demons
  • Read Languages
  • Remove Fear
  • Resist Cold
  • Sleep
  • Spider Climb
  • Ventriloquism
2nd level spells
  • Blindness
  • Charm Animal
  • Detect Demons
  • Detect Invisible
  • Detect Thoughts
  • Invisibility
  • Knock
  • Locate Object
  • Mirror Image
  • Fog cloud
  • Phantasmal Force
  • Resist Fire
  • Silence
  • Sorcerer Lock
  • Speak with Animals
  • Slow Poison
  • Stinking Cloud
  • Web
3rd level spells
  • Clairvoyance
  • Darkvision
  • Dispel Magic
  • Growth of Animals
  • Haste
  • Hold Person
  • Invisibility, 10′ radius
  • Protection from Demons, 10′ radius
  • Protection from Normal Missiles
  • Slow
  • Speak with Dead
  • Striking
  • Suggestion
  • Water Breathing
4th level spells
  • Bestow Curse
  • Charm Monster
  • Confusion
  • Growth of Plants
  • Hallucinatory Terrain
  • Polymorph Other
  • Polymorph Self
  • Remove Curse
  • Shrink Plants
  • Sorcerer Eye
  • Speak with Plants
5th level spells
  • Animate Dead
  • Cloudkill
  • Conjure Elemental
  • Contact Higher Plane
  • Dispel Demons
  • Feeblemind
  • Hold Monster
  • Insect Plague
  • Slay Living
  • True Seeing

2 thoughts on “The Scholar class for Planet Kaendor”

  1. I went through an experience similar to yours. As my love for the work of Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft has increased over the decades so has my realisation of all the “D&Disms” I’ve had to unlearn. For more details, please see the most popular post on my blog (which is getting caught in your spam filter).

    [With my site admin powers, I added this link to the post.]

    Like you, I have removed all divine spellcasting ability from Grymwurld(TM) which has eliminated the cleric, druid, and paladin completely. In its wake, I had to address the absense of magical healing and turning undead. For magical healing, I gave all of the curing & healing spells to the sorcerer (magic-user) but the curing & healing became empathic. A scapegoat must receive the wounds, poison, or disease. Likewise Raise Dead became empathic in that in order to raise one person from the dead, another must take his place. Many years ago, there was a memorable event where a knight’s horse broke his leg. The knight was beside himself as this was his favourite horse and so he begged the party sorcerer to heal the broken leg and offered up his own in return. The player roleplayed the agonising anticipation of the pain as well as the excruciating pain itself so well that all of us around the table flinched several times. Later, the sorcerer purchased a cow and transferred the break from the knight to the cow. By using _empathic_ magic, I found no need to increase the level of the spell. After all, the damage, disease, or poison must pass through the sorcerer before going to the scapegoat and a class with a d4 for hit points will think twice before casting a _heal_ spell on the warrior! As for undead, I simply adjusted downward the amount of undead the party encountered. I also allow wounded PCs to heal all hit points with 24 hours of bed rest provided they are under the care of healers, e.g. at the nearest monastery or even the party sorcerer if that sorcerer has sufficient medical knowledge. After all hit points are a measure of luck, skill, and endurance rather than mortal wounds.

    And finally, I took the advice of the AD&D 2e Historical Campaigns and eliminated all the flashy magic of magic missiles, fireballs, & lightning bolts. The 7 volumes of the AD&D 2e Spell Compendiums have more than enough subtle spells to replace the flashy ones.

    Going forward, I would love to exchange ideas with you on how to modify the D&D ruleset to make it closer to Sword & Sorcery because while I have made progress I don’t feel like I’ve nailed it yet.

    1. I was just in the middle of writing my next post on my current list of modifications to Basic Fantasy.

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