Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Mountebank: 1st ed/LL/AEC Class

Oh mountebank, how I have yearned for ye. Way back in the misty day--before girls and punk rock turned my head--I can distinctly remember opening that old issue of Dragon (#65 I do believe) to read The Great Man Himself laying out his vision of the new D&D classes to come in the next edition.

Laying along side the soon-to-disappoint barbarian and achingly-lame thief-acrobat were some odd but compelling new additions. One in particular grabbed me at the time:
"Mountebank: This sub-class of thief specializes in deception, sleight of hand, persuasion, and a bit of illusion. These factors, together with speed, are what the mountebank relies upon. However, disguise and theatrics also provide valuable tools of the trade to this class, so that one might never know one has been had by this class."

The class shouted all kinds of awesome to me. Sadly the Mountebank's road to legal limbo is well-known in these geekified circles. TSR gave Gygax the boot and his vision of AD&D part two in all its baroque, oddball glory never came to be.

Twenty-something years later, the itch to see this character come into being in an old school game swept over me again as I watched one of the players in our San Antonio LL campaign guide a character with a name appropriately stolen from Jack Vance through a series of smooth-talking swindles--with all the seeming dice gods-given luck of his namesake. (Well that is until meeting his fate last month on the horns of a ghost minotaur he rather unwisely tried to headbutt in a cursed helmet, a story for another time.)

So, what follows is my own stab at creating such a class. Again as I did with the white wizard, I tried to put together something that fits with the satisfyingly simpled, balanced nature of pre-Unearthed Arcana D&D classes. And as always feedback is greatly welcomed.

(For those of you as annoyed by Blogger's formatting limitations as I am, a PDF version of this can be downloaded here.)


Requirements: INT 13, DEX 13, CHR 13
Prime Requisite: CHR
Hit Dice: 1d4
Maximum Level: None

The mountebank is the consummate con artist of the medieval-fantasy world. By use of smooth talk, sleight of hand, and magical illusion the mountebank stays one step of the law—and earns a decent living in the mean time. Because of their specialized skill set they are often also employed as spies.

As a sub-class of the thief, they are allowed to wear leather armor and use any weapon. They are also allowed to pick pockets, move silently, hide in shadows, listen at doors, and back stab as per a thief of the equivalent level. They can further use disguises as per the assassin class. All saving throws are made on the thief table.

They are also able to use a new skill, sleight-of-hand, at the level they can pick pocket--plus an additional 15 percent. Sleight of hand allows the mountebank to move, switch out, or otherwise manipulate a hand-sized object without being noticed.

Upon earning second level, mountebanks can cast illusionist spells. They learn and memorize spells as per the standard rules for illusionists and magic users. They are restricted however to only using magic items open to thieves until ninth level at which time they can also begin to use items available to magic users and illusionists.

At third level, a mountebank can use their special flim-flam fast-talking powers to cast Charm Person once a day. At seventh level they can additionally cast Charm Monster once a day.

Mountebanks cannot be lawful or “good” in alignment.

Experience Level Hit Dice (1d4)
0 1 1
2,501 2 2
5,001 3 3
10,001 4 4
20,001 5 5
40,001 6 6
80,001 7 7
160,001 8 8
310,001 9 9
460,001 10 +1 hp only *
610,001 11 +2 hp only *
760,001 12 +3 hp only *
910,001 13 +4 hp only *
1,060,001 14 +5 hp only *
1,210,001 15 +6 hp only *
1,360,001 16 +7 hp only *
1,510,001 17 +8 hp only *
1,660,001 18 +9 hp only *
1,810,001 19 +10 hp only *
1,960,001 20 +11 hp only *
*Hit point modifiers from constitution are ignored.

Spell Level
Level 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
2 1 - - - - - -
3 2 - - - - - -
4 2 1 - - - - -
5 2 2 - - - - -
6 2 2 1 - - - -
7 2 2 2 - - - -
8 3 2 2 - - - -
9 3 3 2 1 - - -
10 3 3 3 2 - - -
11 3 3 3 2 1 - -
12 4 3 3 3 2 - -
13 4 4 3 3 2 1 -
14 4 4 4 3 3 2 -
15 4 4 4 4 3 2 1
16 5 4 4 4 4 3 2
17 5 5 4 4 4 3 2
18 5 5 5 4 4 4 3
19 5 5 5 5 4 4 3
20 6 5 5 5 5 4 4


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. One of the San Antonio campaign's players, "The Professor", sent me offline the following constructive criticism:

    "I like the concept, but not the idea, of casting illusionist spells *as such*. If the character is based on the archetype (Brad's character Cugel), it seems to me the mountebank should instead have non-magical spell-like powers that mimic certain spells, like you already do with the charm spells (e.g. the equivalent of spells such as suggestion, scare, ventrilquism, audible glamer, change self, fascinate, pass without a trace, penetrate disguise, and so on, to name a few from the PH and UA).

    Also, instead of a spell book, they would have a (metaphorical) bag of tricks; they wouldn't need to memorize spells, but could "cast" any of the spells in their "book" (perform any of the tricks they have learned) up to their max for that day. For example, a fourth-level mountebank is able to cast two first-level and one second-level spells according to your tables. Instead of pre-memorizing, on any day he would be able to at-will "cast" any two of the first-level "spells" and any single second-level "spell" he already knows (kinda like the 3E sorceror).

    Also, for examples of the sleight-of-hand stuff, you could point to the cantrips from Unearthed Arcana.

    Speaking of the charms, targets should probably get a (decreasing) bonus to their saves until the mountebank reaches name level. And I think that at ninth level, they should be able to cast confusion, but only on groups of six or more.

  3. I'll be including a version of the Mountebank in my own RPG effort, hopefully coming out next year. You might also enjoy some of the past posts on the blog that deal with Gary Gygax's never-realized 2nd edition. Look for the posts tagged UE.

  4. @Joseph I've been following your efforts over at Greyhawk Grognard and am definitely looking forward to Emprise in all it's over-the-top crunchy glory.

  5. It sure would have been nice to be able to cast those spells...

    On a serious note, I realize the mechanical in-game advantage of the class is to promote a particular play style, but as we all know, players rarely do what you think they're going to do. My character was rather inept at being a smooth-talking swindler, and that was a major part of the fun. This class provides a means to create a viable smooth-talking swindler, which is probably more attractive option but sort of defeats the original purpose, in my opinion. I do understand that the Mountebank was a historical character class probably intended to be included in Unearthed Arcana, which is cool, but if you want to make a Cugel-type idiot, you'd probably be better off just making a fighter with low wisdom who thought he could actually do all the things outlined above.

    Am I actually arguing that people should play inept characters? What is wrong with me...

  6. As you were inspired by Gygax, so too have you inspired me. I was working on a re-tread of the Harlequin class (from Bard Games' "The Compleat Adventurer") for B/X (LL) play. I have decided to junk that idea in favor of the mountebank. Good stuff!
    : )

  7. Ironically JB at the urging of one of the guys (in Seattle too) in my LL Skype group, I just opened up your brilliant Witch Hunter class as a player option in the campaign.