Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Class: The Noncombatant

I've mentioned before why I feel that B/X D&D is a better match for romantic fantasy than most subsequent editions: the rules place a much greater emphasis on social solutions, negotiation, persuasion, and so on than the murder-fests which later editions tended to become. Similar factors mean that it's much more friendly to 'noncombatant' PCs: without 'search checks' and 'diplomacy ranks' and whatnot, it's perfectly possible for a non-leveled character to make a major contribution to a story despite being useless in a fight. But while such a noncombatant can do a great job of bargaining with monsters and solving mysteries and finding secret doors and whatnot, the fact is that any D&D game is sooner or later going to feature a fight scene: and at that point, it's a bit rubbish for your only option to be 'cower and scream'.

It's particularly frustrating because this isn't at all the case in so much of the source material. Loads of fantasy fiction features a character - often an audience stand-in character - who is no good at beating people up, and yet contributes enormously to the overall success of the protagonists, usually through a combination of empathy, diplomacy, quick thinking, and luck. I've already mentioned Chihiro in Spirited Away; Sarah in Labyrinth would be another great example, as would the 'girlfriend' characters in most older action or adventure movies - Dale in Flash Gordon, Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, even Elizabeth Swan in the first Pirates film. Give them half-a-dozen levels in Fighter and you spoil the whole effect. The point of them is precisely that they can achieve these things without being able to cut baddies into bits.

You know it's a metaphor for adolescence, right? You can't beat adolescence by punching it in the face. More's the pity.

Thus the Noncombatant class: for people who want to play runaway noblewomen, tag-along younger siblings, teenage love interests, and similar 'civilian' types without having to give them inappropriate class levels. It's a little bit non-traditional, in that some of its 'powers' are actually ways of modifying the unfolding fiction around the table, rather than special abilities consciously employed by the PC: so if you hate that, then you'll probably hate this too. But I've tried to keep these to a minimum, and modeled them wherever possible on the kinds of things that such characters tend to do in their source material.

Noncombatants: Game Information
  • You are proficient with simple weapons, and with armour no heavier than heavy furs (+3 AC). You are not proficient with shields. 
  • You gain a bonus to all your to-hit rolls equal to one-third your level, rounded down.
  • You gain 1d6 HP per level.
  • You are really good at resolving situations without violence. As long as no bloodshed has yet taken place, you get a +1 bonus to all reaction rolls as long as you are the one doing the talking. This stacks with any bonus you may get from a high Charisma score. 
  • Your noncombatant status is obvious to everyone, and enemies won't treat you as a threat unless you give them reason to view you as one. For as long as you are cowering, hiding, running away, etc, all enemies will always ignore you until all your more threatening comrades are dealt with, and will not use lethal force against you unless they have a strong reason to leave no survivors. Once they see you inflict real damage on someone, this no longer applies.
  • Because they don't take you seriously as a threat, enemies won't bother to defend themselves properly against you unless you give them reason to do so. If you attack an enemy who is currently ignoring you, or who is fighting you but has not yet been given any reason to view you as a real threat, you get +4 to-hit and inflict bonus damage equal to half your level, rounded up. For as long as these attacks keep missing, enemies will continue to not take you seriously (although they will try to stop you attacking them, in a low-priority sort of way), but once one of your attacks actually hits and does damage then this bonus no longer applies.
  • You are fantastic at knocking out unwary enemies by whacking them on the head with blunt objects. Any time you are able to sneak up behind someone, either because they don't know you're there or because they're ignoring you, you can try to whack them on the head with a table leg, rock, vase, etc. Make a to-hit roll (with your +4 bonus, if appropriate): if it hits, your victim must make a FORT save or be knocked out cold for 1d6 rounds. (Enemies in helmets get a +4 bonus to this save, and enemies without heads or brains are, of course, immune.) Once enemies have seen you do this, they will start to take you seriously as a threat, so this ability will usually only be usable once per combat.
  • Once per day per level, while another PC is fighting someone, you can make some kind of vital contribution which lets them get in a telling blow. Maybe you trip the enemy, or distract them; maybe you clumsily stumble through the melee at just the right moment to knock them off balance. Whatever happens, the PC in question gets a free attack, with a +2 bonus to their to-hit and damage rolls; but while, in the fiction, their character is the one who makes the attack, you roll the attack and damage dice for it. 
  • You have an almost supernatural level of luck when it comes to dodging and ducking things. Once per day per level, you may declare that a single attack automatically misses you, or that you have automatically passed a single REF save. You may make this declaration after the to-hit or saving throw, turning a hit into a miss, but not after damage has been rolled.
  • Any time a ranged attack would take you to 0 HP or below, any other nearby PC may elect to take the hit instead by yelling 'NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!' and jumping in the way of the bullet / arrow / whatever. They take the same damage you would have done. This can only occur once per encounter.
  • You are surprisingly adept at sneaking around. For as long as there are things to hide behind, you can sneak from place to place without being spotted except under the most extreme circumstances. People looking for you will never find you unless they have the time and opportunity to exhaustively search the location you are hiding in.
  • Any time you surrender to your enemies, they will always tie you up and take you prisoner unless they have a very strong reason for doing otherwise. You will always be tied up in such a way that you will be able to wriggle your way free in 1d6 hours, and your captors will never notice the looseness of your bonds until it is too late. If you are subsequently recaptured by the same group of enemies, however, they will treat you in the same way as anyone else.

Noncombatant Summary Table


Level
Hit Points
To Hit Bonus
Fortitude save (FORT)
Reflex save (REF)
Willpower save (WILL)
1
1d6
+0
14
14
14
2
2d6
+0
13
13
13
3
3d6
+1
12
12
12
4
4d6
+1
11
11
11
5
5d6
+1
10
10
10
6
6d6
+2
9
9
9
7
7d6
+2
8
8
8
8
8d6
+2
7
7
7
9
9d6
+3
6
6
6
10
10d6
+3
5
5
5

Starting equipment: Civilian clothing, unsuitable shoes, pocket knife (1d4 damage), 5d6x10 sp.

(NB: NPCs should never have Noncombatant levels; they should always be real noncombatants, and be treated by the rules and world as such. This class is strictly for 'noncombatant' PCs!)

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