Monday, December 12, 2011

Oe, BX and 1e Class Title Comparison

As I was working on my d30 DM Companion this weekend, I found myself having to deal with something that, while most of know they're there, may or may not use them much in the context of everyday game play. (I know I don't, but I could be an exception.) I'm talking about the character class titles by level from the early editions of THE game.

Interestingly, it's a conceit of the game the clones pretty much ignore, though plenty of folks out there in the blogosphere have suggested naming (like James at Grognardia.) But this isn't about solving/creating a cohesive/final list. This is really about examining the ones from the original editions. I've seen a few people out there asking for a chart that compares them but I couldn't seem to find one, so I've compiled one (FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY!)

In looking at the titles for the 4 main/common classes, here are my biggest takeaways...

1) BX is the most overtly politically correct of all the original editions.

Yes, we all knew it, but someone had to say it.

I assume the creators knew this version might be the most likely to attract a mixed (male and female) audience. Being grounded in the male-dominated hobby of wargaming, it's no wonder the "hardcore" versions of the early game (Oe and 1e) give no nod to the "female" variations of titles like Priest, Enchanter, or Sorcerer (i.e., Priestess, Enchanter and Sorceress, respectively.) But BX either androgenizes them (e.g., from Swordsman to Swordmaster for a 3rd level fighter) or bows directly to the female audience through the "either/or" options (like Priest/Priestess or Lord/Lady.)

2) BX seems to aim toward accessibility (i.e., "dumbing down"), while 1e seems to aim toward detail/academia (i.e., "pretension.")

Look at 1e's 8th level thief title... Magsman. Now, maybe that term is more familiar to some of you Brits out there (being a British slang term for a swindler), but the term obscure enough that its appeal is toward the more well-read. But why add it at all? I mean, it's not in Oe, so where did it come from? And why was it so important as to be added at all when the other thief titles in 1e were simply reordered from Oe. My guess is that Pilferer sounded a little "small" for a 7th level thief. Maybe it works for a 3rd or 4th level thief, but not 7th. What Magsman implies, on the other hand, is something more along the lines of a con man, which seems to be much more in line with a 7th level thief.

Another difference of note in the BX reworking is the dropping of the MU titles Theurgist and Thaumaturgist. This one's a no-brainer. Let's face it, of all of the class titles that ever graced the pages of the early editions, those two (along with Prestidigitator) are the least tongue-friendly. Especially if you're trying to introduce the game to grade-schoolers.

3) The fighting man seems to be either the most fully realized, least debated, or completely uninteresting character class to the various edition writers/editors.

Apart from the Swordsman/Swordmaster adjustment in BX noted above, this is the only original character class where there is no alteration in the class titles by level... through all three editions! The other classes go through (at a minimum) multiple changes throughout (mostly the shifting up and down in levels of certain titles), but only the fighting man/fighter remains essentially unaltered.

4) Of all the titles from all three editions (approximately 120), only one class title (1e's first level thief) has more than one class name.

In the 1e PHB, the title of the first-level thief appears as "Rogue (Apprentice)," with the title Apprentice in parentheses. Given that thievery is a guild system profession, the choice of the title Apprentice seems obvious. But why was it not important/strong enough for 1e that Rogue become the main title for that level, and the title "Apprentice" relegated to secondary status? Was the Apprentice designation so ingrained with players, or so important to the guild idea, that the writers couldn't abandon it? I'm truly at a loss on this one since, by comparison, they generally changed, shifted, altered, removed, and added other titles (seemingly) at will.

5) Of the approximately 120 class titles among the various editions, only one was left blank (assuming you have a 2nd printing or later of the 1e PHB.)

In the early printings of the PHB, the 5th level cleric title Prefect (obviously the intention) was printed as Perfect (a typo.) It was obviously easier/cheaper to take it out than to fix it.* In later printings** that class title was left blank rather than letting the word "Perfect" remain because it was wrong. Now that's irony, folks!

* With a background in graphic design and print production, I can look at the page and pretty much guarantee you this was this case.

In the "old days" (prior to the introduction of post-script in 1984), changing the title would have meant: 1) speccing a new piece of type (from a typewritten page), 2) having that type output from an old phototypesetter, 3) pasting that new piece of type onto the galley/mechanical board for the thief's page (assuming it still existed), 4) making a new sheet of negative film from that mechanical board (which would have taken 2 passes in front of the camera because of the gray bars in the tables), 5) stripping that new piece of film into a bigger sheet of existing film (if they still had it) for that printing signature (which would normally include 15 other pages to be printed together), from which 6) a new printing plate would be made to put on the press. If I had to guess what that would cost in early 1980s dollars, I'd guess somewhere in the neighborhood of one-to-two grand (including new charges for typesetting on down the line).

These days, printing plates for 1 color jobs are generally plastic and are made straight from the digital (computer) file. And they're beginning to get recycled. Back then, the printing plates (being rather expensive, made of metal, and somewhat damage resistant if packed well) were saved and shelved for reprints. If you look at the PHB, you'll notice that the title in question is in a "white" area (as opposed to appearing on a gray background.) This is the kind of "fix" that could easily be done on the existing printing plate by "wiping away" (with a chemical) the word from the old plate (a change that cannot be reversed once made.) More so, it is NOT the kind of change that could have been made to the "gray" areas of that level/title table without creating a white hole in the graphic. Had the word "perfect" appeared in the gray area, I imagine we'd all have copies of the PHB with a typo in it.

** (Editor's note: the typo existed up through the "true" 6th printing, but the 6th-10th printings were all labeled as "6th printing." Please see comment thread below for corrections on this.)

To download a PDF of the compared titles, click here.


  1. Pedantic nit-pick: The "Perfect" typo lasted quite far beyond the 1st print. By the Acaeum's reckoning, the typo was present up through the 6th print and into at least one variation of the 7th print. (The Acaeum doesn't yet properly account for all three variations of what they call the 7th print.) Also recently discussed at K&KA.

  2. That's not a nit-pick at all Guy. Thanks for the clarification. My copy is actually a 6th printing, but does not contain the typo. Based on my production note above, I suppose it's entirely possible the change was actually made while the 6th printing was on press. This sort of "wipe" of an area is quite easy to accomplish without even removing the printing plate from the press. However, that being said, it wouldn't account for a 7th printing still containing it. Hmmm. Interesting.

  3. The printing numbers listed in the 1e PHB are not all accurate. The 6th through 10th printings all say "6th Printing, January 1980" . More info at the Acaeum.

  4. I did not know that. (That was supposed to sound like Johnny Carson.) Looks like what I have is actually a 7th, then.