Into the Stone Age: Classes, Part Two

Picking up where I left off, here’s the analysis of the remaining classes (minus the magus class from the upcoming Ultimate Magic supplement) in Pathfinder for a Stone Age campaign setting. While it’s not too far back, I’ll link to part one of this feature anyway.

Inquisitor: The inquisitor is the person who fights enemies of their god/religion – not so much a holy warrior as a dedicated slayer of heretics. Unfortunately, in a prehistoric period, “organized” religion doesn’t yet exist – there’s no set of religious dogma and practices for people to follow, meaning that there’s no need for an inquisitor who punishes those who don’t follow them. Like many classes, this one is based around ideas that won’t happen for quite a while after the Stone Age. Verdict: banned.

Monk: While you can certainly have lawful cavemen, the idea of a monk in the Stone Age just doesn’t work. Concepts of martial arts, enlightenment, and internal ki energies won’t be developed for a while, which undercuts the thematic basis for this class. Verdict: banned.

Oracle: Even with a casual glance, the oracle is a superb class for a Stone Age Pathfinder game. This class has the character being chosen by the gods, rather than the character choosing them, and the gods strike the character with some sort of personal defect even as they grant them strange powers such laying down curses and learning revelations. This is what being a divine spellcaster in a primitive age should be like – that makes the oracle the class of choice for PCs who want to play a divine spellcaster in a Stone Age campaign. Verdict: allowed.

Paladin: Even moreso than the cleric, the paladin carries a lot of thematic baggage. Beyond simply having an inherent reverence for religion that dispels the fearsome awe it carries in the Stone Age, the high-minded morals of the paladin clash with the “life is a struggle” attitude that’s universal in the Stone Age. When you’re worried about hunting and gathering, finding shelter, protecting yourself from natural predators (which people surely still have in a fantasy Stone Age), is chivalry really going to be a concern? As such, this class just doesn’t fit. Verdict: banned.

Ranger: The ranger is a toughie. On the one hand, it’s a class that specializes in functioning in nature (without worshiping it like a druid), something quite appropriate for the Stone Age. Even its animal companion can be overlooked if we treat this as something aberrant that only a ranger can do – a precursor, perhaps, to true domestication practices. However, we then start tacking on divine spellcasting (remember, gods/spirits are to be feared and placated more than worshipped), and specialized fighting styles (can you really elect to two-weapon fight when it’s all rocks and sticks at this point?) and that’s some truly impressive baggage weighing the class down.

This is made more difficult if we take a hard look at the ranger options in the APG, which can potentially fix several of these problems. A ranger with the spirit ranger archetype, and using the natural weapon combat style goes a long way towards being appropriate for a Stone Age game. However, that’s a pretty tight needle to thread. Ultimately, the ranger is undone by small elements that alone aren’t any big deal, but altogether make it (in its basic incarnation) inappropriate for a Stone Age campaign. Verdict: banned (but may be allowed if given appropriate alternate class features).

Rogue: The rogue is like the fighter in that it’s one of those classes that covers such a broad theme that it can make getting a good read on this class difficult. A rogue seems to be anyone with a penchant for numerous skills, striking from an advantageous positions, and learning a variety of “tricks.” That’s pretty nonspecific, isn’t it? Given that, it seems fair to say that a rogue can be flavored however you want it to be, which certainly makes it allowable for a Stone Age character. In fact, the rogue makes a good stand-in for the absent ranger (since it has enough skills to devote several to wilderness prowess), as well as an alternative combat class to the barbarian (since the fighter is also banned), making them highly useful in a primitive game. Verdict: allowed.

Sorcerer: The sorcerer is often played up as some sort of mutation; a character who develops their magical powers spontaneously, often as a result of having a “tainted” bloodline. In a savage setting, where gods and spirits are seen in everything, and the entire world outside of your small tribe is a scary and poorly-understood place, the sorcerer fits right in. Like the oracle, these are people who’ve been touched by unknown otherwordly powers, and have gained strange abilities because of it.

Personally, I wish that the sorcerer’s bloodline abilities played up their physical mutations more. In 3.5, I enjoyed using Octavirate Games’ Octavirate Expansions: Feared and Hated which used “sorcerer domains” (a precursor to Pathfinder’s bloodlines). These limited a sorcerer’s possible spells known down to a thematic list (e.g. fire, speed, etc.), but provided other powers, which came with various physical alterations. This let you really play up the “sorcerers as freaks” angle. In a world where quasi-religious overtones are given to everything that people don’t understand (which definitely includes magic), that works great. Verdict: allowed.

Summoner: The summoner is a spontaneous arcane spellcaster, with powers related to summoning creatures, particularly his eidolon. This is a problem, because while summoning creatures doesn’t clash with the ideas of a Stone Age campaign per se, this class doesn’t really add anything that the sorcerer isn’t already doing better. The sorcerer’s spellcasting can already include summons (as can the witch’s), and the sorcerer plays up how this power is strange and frightening, since it warps him. By contrast, the summoner pays no such price. Moreover, the inherent awe that comes with summoning a creature from thin air is diminished when the summoner does it so often.

This class isn’t really a bad fit with the ideas of a Stone Age Pathfinder game; it’s just that it’s not filling any particular niche. A summoner and his eidolon could certainly be portrayed as a sort of shaman and his personal demon, whom is the religious focus of the tribe, for example. But that’s nothing you can’t really do with another arcane spellcaster who knows a summons or two. There’s just not enough here to really make the summoner worthwhile. Verdict: banned.

Warrior: Like all of the NPC classes, the warrior is a fairly mundane class with very little feel to it. These are people who fight, but have no training for it (though there’s no such training available in the Stone Age), and can’t summon up the fury of a barbarian. As such, the warrior can conceivably fit into the same background role of a Pathfinder Stone Age game as they do in a normal game; they’re the combatants who exist because they fill a need, but they never grab the spotlight. Perhaps, if commoners are the background members of the tribe who don’t fight, then the warriors are the ones who do; the “hunters” to the commoners’ “gatherers.” While not quite as distinctive from commoners as I’d like, they’re still different enough that their inclusion helps to flesh out the NPCs of a setting. Verdict: allowed.

You just know that in her tribe, nobody wears fox-fur.

Witch: Described as gaining her power from an unknown, otherwordly source, and delivered to her via her familiar, the witch fits seamlessly into a Stone Age campaign. The witch is perhaps an even better arcane spellcaster in this regard than the sorcerer. The mysterious nature of her powers, the fact that they’re delivered via an animal (which haven’t been domesticated yet, remember), and her ability to lay down hexes all make her a powerful presence in a tribe, and play up the feel of a mysterious, unexplored, and poorly-understood world. Verdict: allowed.

Wizard: The wizard is, to put it bluntly, too studious, too scholastic, and overall too civilized for the Stone Age. Their approach to magic is like that of a scientist – studying it, performing experiments, creating things with formulas and theorems – it’s all too modern for a savage age. The fact that wizards need to use a spellbook rules them right out – books haven’t been invented yet; for that matter, writing itself hasn’t been invented yet, which means that you can’t even swap out the “book” of a spellbook for something else (e.g. no mystic tattoos…not that tattooing’s been invented yet either). Wizards just take the mysticism out of magic, and as such aren’t appropriate for the Stone Age. Verdict: banned.

It’s worth noting that, of seventeen PC classes and five NPC classes, we’ve kept – between both parts of this article – only six of the former (barbarian, druid, oracle, rogue, sorcerer, and witch) and three of the latter (adept, commoner, and warrior). For PCs, this can seem monstrously restrictive, as they’ve lost about two-thirds their possible class choices!

However, it’s really not as restrictive as it might seem at first glance. There’s still two divine spellcasters, two arcane spellcasters, a martial class (the barbarian, though a rogue can conceivably work in this role also), and a skill-user. This covers all four of the traditional roles in a Pathfinder game, and even allows for some variation if two players want the same role (e.g. a sorcerer and a witch if both players want arcane spellcasters).

Also, don’t forget that a Stone Age game is limited by its very nature. As we get further into this series of articles, we’ll see how a lot of the things that are taken for granted in traditional medieval fantasy simply aren’t present here. It’s part of the challenge of the setting, and overcoming those challenges is part of the fun.

Next: Skills of the Stone Age!

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6 Responses to “Into the Stone Age: Classes, Part Two”

  1. Animism and Axes Part 1 « The Laboratory Says:

    […] of articles on Intelligence Check about playing pathfinder in a stone age setting (Part 1 and Part 2). While I felt that the articles were excellent, they did not go into much depth, and I felt that […]

  2. Animism and Axes Part 2 – Technological Boogaloo « The Laboratory Says:

    […] (based upon Intelligence Check’s “Classes of the Stone Age”, see part one and part two), I will be attempting to convert the four base classes from Iron Kingdoms: Character Guide […]

  3. Cristian Apostol Says:

    Why did you stop writing these? When I found these pages I thought I had struck gold but was really saddened to see the whole thing stop at Classes.

    • alzrius Says:

      Cristian, thanks for taking the time to comment!

      I have a bad habit of starting large projects and not seeing them through. In this case, I seem to recall that I looked at the full array of skills and was discouraged by analyzing each and every one of them; that’s not a good excuse, I know, but it’s all I’ve got.

      That said, sufficient interest is really all that’s necessary to push me back into picking up some of these lost series – I’ll definitely try and look into moving this series onto skills in the near future if people want to see it.

      • Cristian Apostol Says:

        “I have a bad habit of starting large projects and not seeing them through.” I can certainly relate to that, hah.

        And perhaps you could hold a poll to see if the readers of the blog would like to see it continued, there’re several websites that allow you to create polls that you could link to.

        I’ve also seen threads on various forums (and even one on reddit) started by people trying to run stone age games asking for help/suggestions, so there’s at least some interest in this kind of game out there.

      • Cristian Apostol Says:

        PS: Personally I’d remove Disable Device because mechanical devices don’t exist yet, Disguise because it doesn’t really seem like it would ever come into play, Knowledge (Nobility) and Knowledge (Planes) for obvious reasons, Perform (Act), Perform (Comedy), Perform (Keyboard), and Perform (String) for reasons that those kinds of professions or instruments didn’t exist back then, and finally Ride because domesticated animals don’t exist yet.

        Though I find Profession problematic, whilst it can represent the ability to do certain things that are needed in a stone age culture, such as fishing or cutting meat, mechanically it’s only used to make money, which paleolithic cultures didn’t use.

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