Talysman had this idea about universal first level, the core of which is that all PCs start with the capabilities of first level in all four main classes. That is, a first level character is sort of like a multi-class character that can use all weapons and armor, can prepare one spell, can turn undead as a first level cleric, and can use all thief abilities as a first level thief. However, when advancing, the player must choose a class. Characters never lose those first level abilities, but must choose which set of abilities improve (by advancing in a particular class).
Here is my take on a similar idea, called the adventurer class, which is meant to be the only class available. Yes, this does defeat the underlying idea of class, but that’s okay. It’s a way to play “classless” D&D without actually changing the rules much. This class is probably slightly more powerful than most classes, but definitely weaker than the B/X elf, and maybe weaker than the traditional cleric. If only this class was available, I would use the fighter XP chart (because it is the easiest to remember), but if in mixed company (such as FLAILSNAILS) it would probably make sense to use the magic-user progression (for balance).
In a certain light, this adventurer class looks like another take on the thief. It could be played in many different ways, depending on the ability scores and choice of equipment. I think it would work well for a swords & sorcery setting. A martial (but stealthy) Conan type would be easy to construct, as would an agile failed wizard’s apprentice (like the Mouser), or a doomed swordsman warlock (Elric). A character with good physical stats would lean toward the fighter archetype, whereas one with high intelligence will be better at magic (due to the intelligence check scroll magic system).
The skill point system is designed so that only one skill choice is needed per level. It still allows individualization, choice, and progress, without the problems and complexity introduced by character builds and optimization.
Intelligence checks for magic use is intended to introduce some uncertainty into sorcery without requiring a heavy mechanical system. Also, given that magic must be found, it avoids the information overload potential of the magic-user class. Most sorcery being consumable (scrolls) avoids the power inflation problems of magic in a campaign (for those of us that enjoy the creative problem solving encouraged by low power campaigns).
The adventurer does not have the cleric’s turning ability, but can accomplish cleric functions with scrolls of protection, holy water, and healing potions.
- Hit die: 1d6 per level up to level 9, +1 per level above 9
- Attack: as fighter (+1 per HD if using attack bonus)
- Save: as fighter
- Weapons & armor: any (though armor penalizes skills)
- Scroll magic
- Adventuring skills
The adventurer uses the skill system created for the JRPG Basic game. Basic skills (climb, listen, search, and stealth) begin at 1 in 6. Expert skills (devices, locks, and steal) begin at 0 in 6. The force skill is 1+STR in 6 and may not be improved. Adventurers gain 1 skill point at first level which may be allocated to any of the basic or expert skills. Another such point is gained every time an adventurer gains a level. No skill may be raised above 5 in 6. Medium (chain) armor penalizes skills other than force by 1. Heavy (plate) armor penalizes skills other than force by 2.
Adventurers have the ability to cast spells from scrolls. To do so, an adventurer must make a successful intelligence check (1d20 less than or equal to the intelligence score). On failure, the scroll is not consumed, and the magic may be attempted again later. Adventurers may also use all magic items.
At first level, and when gaining a level, an adventurer gains +1 to the ability score of the player’s choice (max 18).
Sounds like the 0-level character idea they floated for AD&D back in the 80’s. That went absolutely nowhere, because when they hit 1st level, they magically lost all the abilities of the other classes.
Neither Talysman’s version or this class lose abilities when gaining levels. Basically, it just assumes a bit more competency on the part of starting characters and less niche protection (like how Cugel is able to prepare spells in the dying earth stories while not seemingly being a wizard).
My version is explicitly offered as a possible alternative to all classes (though it should also be able to coexist in a game with the traditional classes without breaking anything too badly).
So, “magic-user” adventurers would probably need a decent intelligence score to begin with, focus their per-level attribute improvements on intelligence, and collect scrolls and other magic items. This also matches how characters like Howard’s Thoth-Amon is the greatest wizard in Stygia entirely because he possesses the Serpent Ring of Set. “Fighter” type adventurers would instead focus on the physical ability scores, wear heavier armor, and seek out weapons of power. Of course, they might also keep a scroll or two in their pack (like Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane).
You could also maybe allow a skill point to be spent to learn a spell from a scroll, allowing it to be memorized and cast once per day, for a bit more of a trad magic-user option for those who want it.
Regarding using skill points to gain spell slots, that’s an interesting idea. I wonder how players would look at that calculus, and if most would pick guaranteed effect one use abilities over +16% reusable skill abilities.
Perhaps the choice could also be made less of a direct comparison by requiring wizard quests or something to be able to gain a spell slot (that is, spell slots might be gainable only through play whereas skills could just be improved mechanically).
Scroll magic hack for use with 3E style ability checks: DC of scroll casting is equal to 10 + spell level.