The Lost Classes: The Arnesonian Classes
Over the past few years, small publishers have embraced the “zine” format with the advent of campaigns like Kickstarter’s ZineQuest—there’s been a revival of the small indie format. I recently received several Appendix N Entertainment zines by participating in RPG Geek’s “Pay it Forward” communities. Each zine is specifically written for Old School Essentials; that was the initial draw for me. This review covers The Lost Classes: The Arnesonian Classes written by R.J. Thompson.
The title of the zine is slightly misleading. Although there are four classes included in this zine, only two are attributed to Dave Arneson. The other two are attributed to the zine’s author, R.J. Thompson. The two Arneson classes are the Merchant and Sage; Thompson’s contributions are the Chimpanzee Folk and Duck Folk.
In his introduction, Thompson briefly discusses his research into the original classes. He freely admits that the Sage class may not have been a true class; this highlights how sparse the information actually is. He also discusses how he feels he’s presented the best possible version of what might have been Arneson’s intent. Thompson’s two “Beast Folk Classes” come from the pages of his own homebrew campaign.
Merchant & Sage
The Arnesonian classes—Merchant and Sage—are interesting and give modern gamers a potential window into the world of Arneson and the early years of Dungeons and Dragons. The Merchant embodies exactly what it purports to be, an individual with the skills to bargain and barter. In addition, they possess other interesting skills like the ability to accurately appraise treasure, find and remove traps, and open locks. Beyond this, their best assets are their ability to determine when someone is lying and the art of using ambiguous language to hide the truth, or equivocating.
Arensonian Sage is equally interesting, as Sages are highly academic, and only a few become adventurers. Their uniqueness is embodied in their Sage Knowledge. There are four broad knowledge categories—Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Esoteric Sciences, and Cultural Sciences—each with six specialized areas. Every Sage has one area of expertise; those with exceptional INT may have expertise in more than one. Sages possess a special ability at death known as the Sage’s curse. A Sage dying from a malicious act can place a dire curse on their assailant. The higher their level, the more impactful the curse.
Chimpanzee & Duck Folk
Race as class is not a new concept for old-school fantasy gamers, and I was quite surprised to see these two included in this zine. Thompson’s homebrew Chimpanzee and Duck Folk races are very different than anything ever officially released. The Chimpanzee Folk feels like a different version of the Sage. Many of the skills are the same, including the Sage Knowledge, renamed Chimp Knowledge. It’s differentiated from the Sage with its Chimpanzee Skills, which include more acrobatic type elements. Duck Folk, on the other hand, is a martial focused class crossed with a Cleric. As a result of the history, which is briefly outlined, Duck Folk are essentially undead slayers.
When I first encountered these classes, it dawned on me what might have influenced their creation. This is purely speculation on my part, but the Chimpanzee Folk with its academic orientation screams of Planet of the Apes. On the other hand, the Duck Folk almost feel like they could have been teleported from Runequest’s Glorantha. Readers may also find it interesting that both of these classes are presented in two formats: Old School Essentials and original edition games, including advanced fantasy rules.
Appendix N Entertainment zines, like most zines, are saddle stitched with a cardstock cover. This particular issue has a bright orange cover with black and grey text and a large line art illustration. Its orange cover will no doubt stand out in a pile of zines or on your shelf. The interior is a simple black and white affair with several pieces of art. The artwork used is attributed to several different artists, some of it is outstanding, others not so much. For example, the Merchant is nicely drawn but appears disproportioned.
All in all, this was a fun and interesting zine to read, but the usability of the classes is yet to be decided. Although they are unique and interesting, the Merchant and Sage are rather bland as far as adventurer-type classes go. I honestly see playability in the Chimpanzee and Duck Folk, with the Duck Folk class being the better of the two, in my opinion. I would not dissuade any of my players from taking any of these classes. Having said that, they each seem to be best suited for certain types of adventures and environments.
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