Setting the wayback machine to the very origin of the hobby, the game encouraged players to play whatever they really wanted to play. With only a few classes to choose from, there was no real reason why you couldn’t make a “fighting centaur” instead of a “fighting man” – and have the exact same stuff as a normal fighting man from then onwards.
This idea combines nicely with something I used to run into a lot back in the early 80’s. The number of hit dice a creature had was often referred to as it’s level. So an 11HD dragon would be a level 11 Dragon, and we had several encounters in one campaign with a level 20 Semi truck.
Combine these two things together, and you can replace most monsters in the core books with a set of monster “classes”. In some ways as I worked through this idea, it reminded me of the method by which monsters are leveled in the d20 instances of D&D – except I want to include XP tables in this mess too so players can level up as monsters.
Since old-school D&D didn’t give monsters ability scores, it gives us a significant advantage over d20 monsters when converting them into classes that players can play too. This means we don’t have to balance the stat increases of said monster with the piddly stats of standard PCs, nor do we have to balance their special abilities against standard class abilities because we can actually increase the XP cost to level up as our balancing guide instead for special abilities. Further, this is assisted by the pre-AD&D rule sets that don’t give the different races stat bonuses. Instead of getting a boost to Strength for being an Ogre, just give Ogres a minimum required Strength.
One of the “big” decisions to deal with is the value of a better AC for these critters, and when it comes to PCs, the value of their natural AC is basically zero, since players will want to stick armor on their characters that is probably better than the AC listed in the rules… and a lizard man in plate mail is AC 3 just like a human in plate mail.
Of course, it’s all a lot easier when you stick to the real easy monsters.
Let’s take goblins for instance. We can roll Goblin, Hobgoblin and Bugbear into one creature class and call them Goblinoids. Goblins have a 1d8-1 base hit die (average: 3.5), hobgoblins are 1d8+1 (average 5.5), and bugbears have 3d8+1 (average 14.5). Based on this I’ll switch them to a 1d6 Hit Die instead of a 1d8, and make the bugbear a level 4 goblin.
For all intents and purposes we can replace all goblinoids with one goblinoid class. Effectively, goblins are halflings with less abilities and with infravision and we can stick them with a max level of say 6 or 8.
In fact, just about all the humanoid monster types can be replaced with the fighter class with a level cap and infravision. Occasionally they may get a few special abilities in which case you will want to put aside for special consideration.
Using this basic concept you can play a lot of unusual character types. Want to play a demon? Make an elf and just call him a demon. Want to play a sneaky little kobold? Hey look, it’s a thief with infravision! Lizard Man? Fighter! Ogre? Butt-Ugly Fighter! Gnoll? Fighter with a funny laugh!
Alright, you get the idea there, I’m sure. But we can step it up a notch or two and actually add an XP value to certain special abilities. If we assume that non-humans max out at level 10 (which works nicely to keep them from replacing humans completely in the game), we just tack on an extra XP cost at level 2, and then double the total XP needed at every level, rounding off when it seems appropriate. If the critter has multiple special abilities, consider spreading them out a bit to avoid totally front-loading it.
Let’s take the Centaur again. What if the player wants all the advantages of a centaur in the core rules, or the DM is just the kind of person who likes the extra work? Then a Centaur class is born! In this case, I don’t see centaurs as having Infravision, and I think their special abilities barely bring them up to the power level of a dwarf (especially combined with their max level of 10), so I’ll give them a minor XP cost increase, just to make players think twice about playing one.
Centaurs must have Strength 13+, Dexterity 9+ and Constitution 13+
They can use any weapon, armour or shield, however their armour costs twice as much as normal.
Centaurs attack and save as a Fighter of their level.
Later on this week or next I’ll provide some more examples of non-standard character classes.