The Principalities of Glantri (one of the BECMI Dungeons & Dragons Gazetteers) back in 1987 brought us a system much like prestige classes for that edition of the game. It introduced seven secret crafts, each with five “circles” of initiation and powers that each circle granted the initiate.
The basis of the system is that the character had to have reached a certain level in a specific class to qualify for initiation into a circle, and then had to spend XP to gain the circle’s special power. This is much akin to the skill system for old-school D&D given to us in the Arcanum from the Atlantean Trilogy.
Using this basic system, it should be fairly easy to produce a set of prestige classes that are not solely the realm of the Glantri magic users, but that can be applied to just about any class, based on secret societies, paths to power, orders of chivalry and so on.
I’m going to reduce the book-keeping angle and some of the fiddly bits from the original system a bit in order to make these as easy to implement as possible. Here’s the basic table for the overall advancement system:
Circle – level in the “prestige class”
Cycle – The time needed (in days) to study one ability of the circle. This time may be split up as needed instead of spent concurrently. Optionally, a d20 roll under or equal to the appropriate stat (typically the prime requisite for the class) is required to learn the ability at the end of this time,failure meaning the studies must be repeated.
Cost – The fee in gold pieces for each day of studies. This could potentially come close to bankrupting a level 5 character joining his first circle.
Experience – The experience points a student must spend before being able to use the learned ability without a chance of failure of 50% + 10% / circle level of the power. He must acquire the XP after learning the ability,and the XP does not apply towards his existing XP total. When done, the PC continues regular XP advancement.
Level – The minimum level at which a student may start studying abilities of this circle.
In the original system, there was always a chance of failure for all abilities. Abilities had a “chance of success” starting at 60% for circle 1 abilities and decreasing by 10% for each circle. This was increased then by the level of the initiate.
All abilities from a circle must be obtained before the next circle’s abilities can be studied. There are never more than a single 4th or 5th circle ability, and rarely more than 2 abilities in any earlier circle, with many of the secret crafts having only one ability at each circle.
This week I’ll use this baseline to produce a series of “prestige classes” that we’ll be playtesting in my current campaign.
Update: There are four sample classes designed using these rules now: