Cavegirl introduced me to the term diegesis last year. In this past year, I’ve seen amazing content come out of the indie/OSR space, aligning tons of rules to the fictional world.
I am super into this. I have sensed that my preferences lie with the diegetic since before I learned the word. Way back in my LARPing days, I knew it was better to roleplay with bloody bandages than say “I heal you 1, I heal you 2, I heal you 3.”
The Future of Wilderlands
This is tagged as Wilderlands content because I have plans to collate and collect as much of this content as I can into a zine called Errantry.
Errantry will be a zine, a new DIY/SWORDDREAM/OSR game, a hexcrawl setting, and a campaign. It will have lots of blanks for people to build it out and adapt it to their table.
That’s the plan anyway. More on this later.
A Class on Classes
D&D has never been super clear whether its class paradigm is diegetic or non-diegetic. Is a monk an ascetic martial artist from Kara-Tur or a generic template for someone who fights unarmed? The more editions that passed, the less specific it seemed.
On the other hand, 3E’s prestige classes always seemed very specific and diegetic. You weren’t just a fighter, you were one of the Cormyrian army’s Purple Dragon Knights. This was fun in theory but wasn’t successful. It never mattered what your character did or said in the game, only that their Intimidation and Rope Handling were 9+ or whatever.
When I discovered OSR-style play in G+, I was thankful to get away from builds, level planning, feat acquisition and such. If I gained a knighthood during play, I was excited for whatever the GM said that meant.
But what if...
Diegetic Classes for the Wilderland
“That would be no good,” said the wizard, “not without a mighty Warrior, even a Hero. I tried to find one; but warriors are busy fighting one another in distant lands, and in this neighbourhood heroes are scarce, or simply not to be found. Swords in these parts are mostly blunt, and axes are used for trees, and shields as cradles or dish-covers; and dragons are comfortably far-off (and therefore legendary). That is why I settled on burglary —especially when I remembered the existence of a Side-door. And here is our little Bilbo Baggins, the burglar, the chosen and selected burglar. So now let’s get on and make some plans.”
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
Levels aren’t diegetic. Get rid of them.
Traditional classes aren’t particularly useful either. Get rid of those, too.
In the Wilderlands, there are various organizations, tribes, cults, and sects. Membership in these organizations grants certain benefits. These are called classes.
When you speak to a member of an organization, they will (almost always) tell you what you what quest you need to complete to join their ranks. This is never tied to your statistics; this is always some thing your character must do in the world.
If you join a class, you gain some boon. This is some discrete and useful ability.
(This may be thought as being roughly analogous to a single template in the GLOG.)
Some classes are mutually exclusive. For example, you may never be both a Knight of the Grail and a Blackguard.
You begin your career as an adventurer with no classes. Adventure and earn them in play.
The classes listed below are explicitly appropriate for the Wilderlands setting. Your game world should probably have different ones. Write some up and let your players discover them. (Hint: Look at the level titles and concoct a few based on those.)
Quest: You must slay, skin, tan, and create a coat from the hide of a dire animal.
Boon: If you wear your dire coat, but no actual armor, you may choose to fly into a berserker fit. While in this fit, you may only perform Melee attacks, but you gain damage resistance 2. This fit only ends when every creature who has attacked you is dead or you are.
Quest: You must challenge and best another bravo in a fair duel.Thereafter, as a bravo, you must accept any fair challenge from any duelist.
Boon: You gain +2 to hit.
Quest: You must join the Burglar’s Guild, whose membership dues cost 1 Treasure.
You cannot be both a Burglar and have Knightly vows.
Boon: At any point, you may declare that you go sneaking. This allows you to go dramatically off-stage. Later, if you are not present in a scene and it’s at least somewhat plausible that you could have snuck there, take 1d4 damage to arrive on the scene dramatically.
If you go sneaking and all tension evaporates, you may rejoin the scene by slinking out of the shadows. This does not cost HP.
Quest: You must make an oath of service to a lord from your realm and hold them as your liege.
Boon: You gain 1d8 additional HP.
Quest: You must make an appropriate sacrifice to Green Gods at the Tree of Faces inside the Myrkvith Forest. The Tree of Faces hungers for many strange things, but nothing more than the decapitated heads of orcs, who despoil trees. Thereafter, you may not carry works of iron.
Boon: When you apply one of the nine sacred herbs for healing, your ministrations heal 1d4+1 points of damage (instead of 1).
Quest: You must slay a monster and present its head to the Folkmoot. If they accept your offering, they will dub you a Knight Errant.
You may not be a member of two orders of knighthood at the same time.
Boon: If you have not told a lie since the last new moon, you may ask “Is what they just said true?” in response to any statement from an NPC. The GM will answer you honestly. You may do this once per day.
Knight of the Green
Quest: If you drop to exactly 0 HP and recover, you may thank the Green Gods for their blessing and dedicate yourself to their cause.
You may not be a member of two orders of knighthood at the same time. You may not worship two pantheons at the same time.
Boon: You (and everyone you are with) may travel through forest hexes as if they had a road.
Quest: If you find an ancient book of lore, the GM presents you with a sudoku puzzle with runes instead of numbers. You must solve this puzzle out of character.
Boon: You may now spend a dungeon turn to read any runes you encounter.
Quest: Write an in-character field journal documenting 15 hexes
Boon: You may use a Camp Action to scout nearby. You investigate a specific location in your hex or an adjacent one. Thereafter, you may ask the GM three specific yes or no questions about something you’d know having infiltrated that location, e.g., “Is this door trapped?” “Is this room guarded?” “Is the wizard’s bedroom on this level?” “Do the bandits have bows?” “Were the orcs green-skinned?”
Boon: As a maneuver, you may create a shield wall if you have at least two other companions who also carry shields.
The shieldthane “leads” the shield wall. They gain a +2 bonus to their attack roll by being in the shield wall. Other players in the shield wall cannot attack.
Damage done to a shield wall may be split up in any way between the participants. For example, a troll’s hammer dealing 12 damage may be split up as 6 damage to one participant, 3 damage to a second, and 3 damage to a third.
Quest: Best a supernatural creature in a riddling contest
Boon: When you bid lore, you may ask a follow up question for free.
Quest: Skinchangers put on a cloak of hide from the animal whose shape they wish to take. The ritual needed to create this magical cloak is known to few, but you know a rumor of at least two: Grimbold the Berserk of Northmark and Alianora of Svanlindale. Seek either of them out to learn this art.
Boon: If you don your cloak of hide, you may take on the shape of an animal. In this form, you gain no new stats, but you may leap, climb, slither, bite, swim, or fly as a beast.
Quest: On a night of the new moon, open one of the barrows of Northmark and plunder the Treasure you find there. If you survive the encounter, you will surely be called a sorcerer.
Boon: A sorcerer may cast one the spells of wilderlands for each item of enchantment they hold.
Quest: You must pay 1 Treasure and spend a Downtime Action to take classes at the Tower of Grammarye. Each time you do this, you learn the lore of one of the noble herbs.
Boon: Each time you gain this class (which may be done up to nine times), you are shown a row in the chart which represents the combinations of herbs into magical reagents. You may prepare these reagents as a Camp action.
Unbeknownst to me, my cohort Chris at Wayspell posted a very similar system a few hours back. We didn’t collaborate on this...but now we’re going to (and by that, I mean I’m going to steal his content). Give his system a read too.