Classless 2E

The proficiency system in 2E D&D is able to handle non-fighting and non-spellcasting skills. It refuses to handle Thief skills because those are the province of the Thief class, but it could perform admirably in that way also.

So what if we don’t like the idea of classes? What if we don’t like that a Fighter beats on Orcs for several days and then spontaneously learns how to build ships?

(No, the ship is not in the shape of an Orc)

We have just one “class” – everyone rolls 1d6 for HP. Saving throws are as Thief (which is kind of in the middle of everyone). XP advancement is as Fighter. Everyone gains 7 proficiencies at first level, plus two per level thereafter. No proficiency can have a higher bonus than your character level. So at first level you must choose 7 different skills or else save some for later.

General: Blacksmithing, Herbalism, Horse Riding, Move Silently, Tracking, Weather Sense, etc. (Everything but a weapon or a spell school)
Weapons: Axe, Hammer, Dagger, Bow, etc.
Magical: Abjuration, Conjuration, Evocation, etc.

There’s no real reason to split them up like this. I just figured it would help to visualize.

You spend your proficiency slots to buy proficiencies: they all cost one slot to purchase. At that point you have +0 to the proficiency check. Every additional slot you put in, you gain +1 to the check. If you’re not proficient you have -4 penalty to the check.

The object is to roll under the related ability score, so a bonus will raise the number you have to beat.

Example: Horse Riding at basic proficiency is (WIS+3) and your Wisdom is 12. You need to roll 15 or less on d20 to succeed. If you put an extra point into Horse Riding, it becomes (WIS+4) and you need to roll under 16. On your character sheet, you need to note what proficiency you have and in parentheses the number under which you must roll.

For weapon skills, the number of points you put into the skill is your attack roll bonus with it. This takes the place of THAC0 advancement by class. If you’re not proficient you have -4 to attack with that weapon.

Example: You have Axe +2 and Sword +1. You are nonproficient with Daggers, Maces, Hammers, and Unarmed. On your character sheet you need to note which weapon it is and what your bonus is. It helps also to put your total attack and damage modifiers next to each weapon you commonly use.

Note that none of this gives you any damage bonuses. You get that from magic or high Strength.

Side note about weapon specialization: this doesn’t exactly replace it, it replaces the THAC0 advancement. Specialization should be eliminated in this scheme since it was put in to help single-class Fighters.

As for multiple attacks per round, you get an extra half attack at +7 skill and another extra half attack at +13 skill. This neatly gives little capstone abilities, which you may want more of. Maybe +9 or +10 (“name” level in 1E) is the point where each proficiency gains a special little ability. That’s beyond the scope of this and may complicate matters too much. Though players don’t need to be told what the capstones are, just that they exist.

For magical skills, you cast spells of a maximum level equal to the extra points you’ve placed in the school. In any case your spells per day and caster level are based on your character level and are found on the Magic-User spell progression chart.

On your sheet you need to note the school and what your bonus is. You should try to keep at least one school high enough to gain access to the highest level of spells youc an cast by character level.

Example: You’re Level 3 and have Abjuration +3 and Evocation +2. In your spellbook you have Fireball (Evo Lv 3), Dispel Magic (Abj Lv 3) and Find Familiar (Conj Lv 1). You can cast 2 first-level spells and one second-level spell per day because you’re level 3 (found on the Wizard spell progression chart).
You can’t cast Fireball (you’re too low-level and you don’t have enough Evocation skill),
You can’t cast Dispel Magic (you aren’t high enough level to access third-level spells), and
You can’t cast Find Familiar (you can use first-level spells in general but you don’t have Conjuration skill).

Note that you still need to find the spell. All spells listed have the Magic-User school, even the Clerical ones. Yes, you can use Clerical spells, but they exist in scroll and spellbook form just like Magic-User spells. Yes this means you can have one character with Cure Light Wounds and Raise Dead and Vampiric Touch (all Necromantic).

Why is this worth doing?
1: More organic character development, more player choice, more interesting character skill sets, and believable NPCs.

2: Yet it allows you to use all the proficiencies out there, all the spells, and all the little modifiers in sourcebooks as-is. No need to change any text or rewrite anything. No need for custom monster statistics or anything – monsters work exactly as they used to.

3: It’s really just a mod of 2E, and players familiar with 2E will be able to jump right in. The only really funky thing is that you can’t be multiclassed. Heck, you could even still use kits from the Complete X Handbooks. Just nothing that modifies the rate at which you gain proficiency slots (such as many homeland kits). Bonus proficiencies are fine but stick to the level-based proficiency limitation.

What about game balance?
What’s to stop someone from spending all their points on Swords at level 1? Well, you can’t have a skill above your character level. So your maximum is proficiency and then +1 bonus. As for magic, you’re actually unable to keep up with all the schools you want to cast from. Effectively every spellcaster is a specialist to some degree. Which is still balanced with standard 2E because you get access to Clerical spells too.

DM’s Note
Remember that you shouldn’t have the player roll for every little thing. If he wants to build a fire in dry weather with little wind and plenty of tinder, just let him start it. If conditions are bad, make him roll unless he’s proficient, in which case he gets it automatically. If conditions are really bad, demand a roll at -4 or -8. But it’s okay to say something is impossible – you wouldn’t give someone a 1 in 20 chance to light a fire underwater, would you? Or to jump to the moon?

Deciding that a task is impossible unless you’re proficient may be tough to swallow but it reinforces the importance of the proficiency over just bashing at the task with the -4 nonproficiency penalty.

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