I’ve been very curious about Running Beagle Game’s Companion Rules for some time, but never got the chance to pick up a copy before the physical books were sold out by the time I really made up my mind. However, recently, RBG put out a new book, The Complete B/X Adventurer which I decided to pick up because, as you may have noticed, I love classes and options in my game and an entire book devoted to them sounded right up my alley.
After some mix ups over Xmas with getting the book shipped to me (which were quickly and kindly resolved by RBG with some excellent customer service) I got my copy in the UK shortly after the holidays. The book is soft-bound and 62 pages. The cover art is nice, showing four of the classes inside, and the interior art ranges from fair to quite good in my subjective opinion. There is a table of contents, but no index.
The book begins with an introduction in which the author talks about the systems this book is aimed at (B/X, Labyrinth Lord, and similar clones) and justifies why one might include new classes into the relatively simple mix that’s always been around.
100 Fine Reasons and Head Gear
The next few pages is devoted to random tables of head gear that can quickly be used to add some personality to a new character (why do you wear a fish shaped helm?) and a single page devoted to a d100 table containing justifications for why two characters adventure together. I found the head gear stuff interesting but probably not something I’d ever use, but I could see having new players roll on the ‘Reasons chart (though some might balk at the assumptions or finding out their two characters are lovers/former lovers/parent and child/etc).
The next part of the book is a few pages on Exceptional Traits for different character classes. Characters roll one at level 1, and at the DM’s option, might gain more at level 4, 9, and so on. There are 4 tables, one for Fighters, one for Thieves, one for Mages, and one for Clerics, and classes that straddle these divisions are supposed to pick a table to roll on (so an Elf might roll on the fighter or the mage, but not both). Each table contains 12 traits, and they provide some nice customization for characters that, in the absence of a skill or feat system, lack a lot of mechanical differentiation.
The traits are not balanced with each other (not that they necessarily should be, but it is worth mentioning), some of them are much stronger mechanically than others. For example, the Mage table contains things like Sorcerer Pet wherein you have an animal that is intelligent and you can communicate with but is otherwise normal and never gets any better, meaning it becomes a liability the higher level you become. Meanwhile, it also contains Elven blooded, which grants Infravision and ghoul paralysis immunity and Exceptional Memory which allows the memorization of another spell from spells known, so one additional spell of your highest available per day. Other traits represent underlings that serve the pc loyally from the beginning, but the game makes it clear that some traits can be lost and nothing is given in their place.
I found it interesting that several of these traits are almost identical to similar ACKS proficiencies. If I were to use these in a game that didn’t use proficiencies I’d probably just let players choose them.
Firearms in a Fantasy World
The next section details some interesting rules and real world considerations for bringing ancient guns into a fantasy game. I found this section interesting, even though I don’t intend to add flintlocks and wheel locks into my games. However, the section was missing something vital that made me feel it failed overall…damage values. I don’t know if their Companion Rulebook already included those rules, of if they use the d6 only rule for weapon attacks, but it would have been nice to see some damage values for those who don’t use single die types (which is most groups I’ve interacted with).
Ah, now to the meat of the book, the actual classes. I’ll take them in order:
Acrobat-a thief-lite, who has amazing athletic prowess, but lacks the usual thiefly focused abilities. Can only fight with a staff (for balance) and doesn’t wear armor but does get a level based bonus to AC that outstrips any thief’s AC.
Archer-fighters who specialize in the bow. Lower HD, limited to chainmail, but they can climb and hide as thieves, see secret doors as an elf, and get a sick damage bonus to bows and crossbows (1/2 their level!). Their experience chart has them needing less experience than a cleric for level 2, but honestly I think they should be closer to fighters.
Barbarians-well, everyone has a try, let’s see how these look. Higher HD than fighters, but fight and save as thieves oddly. They can track, climb and hear noise. They travel faster in most wilderness, gain a +1 to melee attacks due to their ferocity (I don’t know why not just let them fight as fighters). After 9th level they only gain 1 hp a level. And for this they need 2200 xp for level 2. Hmmm… not so sure I agree with this either.
Bards-Fight and save as thieves, but have the skills of a thief ½ their level. Have d6HD, gain more languages as they level, and have a Lore skill with its own percentile. From 3rd level, their playing can mimic specific magic spells, but they have to play for 6 rounds outside of combat. Otherwise they have no limits on how often they can use their abilities. An interesting take on the class. They need slightly more xp than a cleric for level 2.
Beastmaster-an interesting ‘primitive’ class. They fight as monsters of equal HD so stop gaining combat abilities at level 9, which seems overly restrictive in a class designed to go 36th level. They use d8 HD, cannot wear man-made armor and only use primitive weapons. Hard to surprise and hide as Halflings outdoors, can make armor from animal pelts that is treated as leather but equal to one worse than the animal’s ac (watch out when they kill some dinosaurs!), and can always find food in the wilds. They learn the various beast tongues and can Call, Befriend, and Master (make into hirelings) animals they can speak to. They need slightly less XP than a fighter to advance.
Bounty Hunters-like fighters but with d6HD, limited to chainmail. They can track at their own percentage, but also hide, find traps, and open locks as a thief. They can set snares and ‘waylay’ which is like backstab but with limited weapons and has a chance to knock an opponent out.
Centaur-an interesting take on the monster race. They start at 2HD, fight as monsters of their HD, have an innate AC7, move of 180’ and speak some extra languages. They can strike with their two hooves and at 3rd level also strike with their spear at the same time. Finally they can track and carry more than other characters, though face difficulties in-doors. They need 8,000 xp to reach level 2 (where they get their 3rd HD) and only go to level 7 (though there is mention of the rules in B/X Companion for increasing their to hit and saving throw numbers with an vast sum of experience.
Duelist-the light armored fighter. Limited to leather and save as thieves (for some reason), duelists receive double their dexterity bonus to AC and Initiative (I don’t like this as it makes an attribute too important, I’d rather have seen a bonus that increased with level). They can use a cape or offhand weapon as a shield. When using a one-handed sword they gain a bonus to damage equal to ½ their level! They can also make a riposte if an attacker misses them with a melee attack. Finally they can attempt to disarm an opponent instead of attacking. They need less XP than fighters to advance. I don’t like the idea of duelists or archers getting such a huge damage modifier (unless there is something similar for fighters in the Companion) because it just creates a ridiculous disparity. A 36th level duelist gets a +18 over the damage of their normal fighter companion… that’s just harsh.
Gnome-a new race class. They are inherently magical underground dwellers. They are limited to level 9. I really like their spell rules. They have a spell list (unique with about 4 spells per level up to level 5) and learn one spell each level they advance (with their maximum level being dictated by class level). They can cast one spell a day per class level, but with no limits on how often they cast an individual spell and no memorization required. I would love to see elves treated similarly in B/X games that would really help showcase their differences with humans.
Ogre-Kin-first a small race and now a big one. They can advance to 11th level, use d8+1 HD per level. Armor costs them triple due to their large size, but they get +1 to hit and damage in melee due to their strength (which is an interesting way of handling it that essentially treat’s their 3-18 scale as different from human scale). They also have a +1 to AC from their hide and suffer a reaction penalty except with ogres and giants. They require 2,400 xp for level 2. They feel about right (maybe a bit pricey). No mention is made for them advancing beyond level limit like for the gnome or centaur.
Mountebank-I don’t understand the OSR’s obsession with this class. Yes, I know Gary invented one, but everywhere I turn I seem to see these guys. Essentially tricksters, they have a few thief skills, a disguise ability, can confuse as the spell from level 15 by talking to someone, can make smoke powder and eventually potions. They can attempt to use any magic item but have a chance of failure if its class restricted. They need slightly less xp than a thief.
Mystic-an innate divine caster. Essentially a cleric spin off who doesn’t wear armor or use weapons beyond a staff and fights as a mage. However, they can bind wounds, innately detect magic and evil at will, and at 15th level project astrally. Like gnomes, they learn spells innately, gaining one each level from their own spell list (basically a slightly altered cleric list with a few unique spells, goes to 8th level). They don’t memorize but can cast one spell per level per day, with no more per day than their constitution (an unnecessary limit I thought…especially with 36th level clerics can cast 72 spells a day…why should they only cast on average 10.5? It seems especially punitive when they can’t serve back up duty on the frontline?)
Scout-another sort of ranger. Fight as thieves, save as fighters (?), d8HD, only wear leather, but use all but 2 handed weapons, can track, hear noise as a thief, and move 30’ faster than other characters. Only lost on a 1 and if alone surprise monsters on a 4 in 6. They need slightly more xp than a thief for level 2.
Summoner-I wanted to like these guys, but their unique magic system strikes me as unusable. Basically mages (in combat, saves, and HD), who can wear any armor and use any weapon (though…not well). They’ve made a pact with some force (fey, elemental, necromantic, demonic, etc). At higher levels they make more pacts. They earn favor points and use these to cast spells of their pact list (each list contains 8 spells, of levels 1-8 which is also how many favor points it takes to cast the spell). They gain one favor point per level. Their level determines the maximum level of favor they can ask. So, at 36th level you can cast 4 of your highest level spells per day…? Granted, they have some pretty awesome effects, but they often also require bargaining or reaction rolls…or can only be done once a (time cycle). I just think that either the class needs better fighting and HD (especially since all of the pacts allow the character to conjure magic arms and armor) and/or more favor points.
Tattoo Mage-very flavorful mage variant. They fight as thieves and have d6HD, they can use any weapon but not wear armor (in fact they wear less and less as they advance in levels because of their magic style). Essentially, each spell they learn is a tattoo on their body that they touch to activate. They are limited to the number of spells by ‘space’ available on their physical body. Spells at 7th and 8th level (their highest) take double slots. Once a spell is tattooed, it can’t be changed and can only be activated once a day, meaning if you wanted to cast fireball twice, you’d need two separate tattoos of it. Their access to spells is delayed slightly (they don’t cast 2nd level spells until 4th, and 3rd until 7th, for example) versus normal casters, but I think this is to balance their higher HD and combat abilities. I think this would be a good class for someone who doesn’t want to engage with the Vancian system, since their spell list is set. They need less xp to advance than a normal mage, and cannot use scrolls, wands, or staves (something I don’t really understand and probably wouldn’t enforce).
Witches-another oldie that’s been done a lot. Here we get a mage variant (d4HD, fight and save as mages) with a few special abilities and some slightly odd variations on their spell casting. They brew potions at level 6 and can bind wounds like a mystic. They can cast spells with their coven, boosting their caster level by doing so. They learn 1 spell, +1 additional per Int modifier, each level. And they can learn spells UP TO LEVEL 10?!? I don’t know if the B/X companion does this for mages and clerics, but…
Witches do not pray or memorize spells, but perform rituals using time and expensive components to create them. It’s not made clear but I assume (based on some of the spells) that these preparations can be performed ahead of time and the spell is then ‘hung’ or readied in some object or philter for use later (considering some higher level spells take hours but are offensive combat spells, it’s the only interpretation that makes sense). Witches can gather components from the bodies of slain magical monsters to offset the high cost of creation. 1st level spells take a mere 20gp worth of materials and 1 round of preparation, while level 10 spells take 8 hours and cost a mighty 200,000gp! Again, another interesting variation on the D&D magic system that is very Arnesonian in nature.
Witch Hunter-the final class and a nice change from the normal paladin inclusion. Witch Hunters fight as fighters with d6HD, wear up to Chain, use any weapons, turn undead at half their level, track, set snares, and find traps as a thief. They can read magic and decipher magical script. At level 1, and every other level thereafter up to 15 they gain a spell that they can use once a day, starting with Detect Magic and going to Commune and Holy Word. Finally they gain a bonus to attack demons, devils, and undead (but oddly not witches).
The next chapter deals with the spells and spell lists for the classes that cast spells in the book. There are a few new spells described and the magic systems for the classes that diverge from traditional D&D are detailed (such as the Mystic and Witch). Some spells from B/X Companion are referenced but not described, kind of limiting the usefulness for those of us without that book.
The summoner magic system is ripe with roleplay opportunities, though the favor point system lets it down. Each pact has its own demands on the character, and there are costs in time and money to forge new pacts. The individual powers are often creative and interesting, though some are strangely unhelpful . For example, Demon Armaments, the level 2 demonologist pact ability, allows you to summon random magical arms or armor which will disappear after a day if more favor points are not spent and the items are not bathed in blood…very cool. However, you can summon cursed items to yourself and these don’t go away. What a great use of my mighty summoning powers…
Witch spells are mostly a mix of arcane and divine spells that are thematically appropriate for a ‘witch’ concept (so lots of curses and enchantments and illusions, not so much lighting and fire). Interestingly, they have wish at 9th level and then have 10th level spells. It’s hard to determine how to how to judge these. Should wish be the be all and end all of magic? Many say yes. However, would you let a wish plunge a 6 mile hex into a year-long winter (or summer)? Would you let it kill without a saving throw, or enslave a target body and soul forever with no save? Would you let a wish annihilate a target and all trace of their existence even from the memories of those who loved them without a save? Probably not. Making the spell require at least 8 hours (probably too little honestly!) and 200,000 gp, and the target’s true name makes it a bit more…magical. I do wish the writer had gone into what true names mean in this context (i.e. is it their birth name, or some aspect of their soul that most are unaware of?).
I like the book and glad I got it. There are a lot of good ideas in here and a lot of new variations for existing classes and campaigns. I love the variant magic systems and think they could be a great addition to a campaign. I have some quibbles with a few of the classes and new mechanics, but I think I could tinker and ‘fix’ them to my liking (which is the great thing about Old School games after all!). I do wish that the spells from the B/X Companion had been detailed for those of us who can’t get a copy (I know, it’s available as a PDF, but without a physical copy, I probably won’t be getting it…I just prefer the old school books to be physical).
Style: 4 (of 5)
Substance: 4 (of 5)