GLoG Fighters, Thieves, and Fauna

The GLoG is Arnold K’s homebrew system, I don’t even play it, but I want to talk about it because the GLoGosphere pulls everyone into its orbit and does not let go, like a particularly goblin-fueled black hole or something.

So I’ll talk today of GLoG Fighters, GLoG Thieves, and GLoG Fauna. Unlike Phlox’s How to Design GLoG Fighters, Skerples’ How to Design GLoG Wizards, and Velexiraptor’s Thieves’ Guilds posts, I’m significantly more ignorant of the general GLoGosphere’s design conventions. As such, my piece will be less expansive, and will cover only what I know – the original GLoG, the GLoG addenda in Lair of the Lamb, and my own musings about D&D. I make my design observations in this restricted space.

I am, after all, a minimalist.

Another major difference is that while those posts are focused on helping you get to making your own classes as quickly as possible, I’m far more interested in discussing the many little cogs and gears of OSR class design. The “meta” of design, if you will. I still provide some ideas on how to make stuff, but if you’re interested primarily in making stuff, check out their posts, not mine, first.

I am, after all, also an over-thinker.

Let’s party.

12th Century Chinese Armor by Fangdan_Runiu (防弾乳牛)

The GLoG Fighter

Let’s get two screenshots in to show what we’re working with here:

The fighter on the left is from the original Goblin Guts document, while the fighter on the right is from the Lair of the Lamb expansion to the original GLoG rules.

I’m actually a really big fan of this new design ethos where you have 4 templates consisting of one feature each. It’s easier on the player, it’s easier on the designer, it’s just generally very good for my minimalist tendencies. However, I would say that particularly at first level, it can be helpful to have 2 class features rather than 1. Players are clearly able to manage that much complexity, and you can see evidence that this works well within the rest of GLoGosphere design, but also within other games, as shown in this short slideshow below:

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So, I propose that we adopt a 2, 1, 1, 1 feature count for our prospective GLoG classes – a hybrid of the two versions of GLoG I highlight above, for reasons that extend to the rest of the tabletop RPG community.

I also think that starting equipment and starting skills are important – the Lair of the Lamb version doesn’t bother with these only because it’s a funnel adventure and you start with peasant skills and no equipment whatsoever, so its absence there should not be taken as a new design direction.

This, then, is my proposed chassis for a GLoG fighter:


Each level of Fighter gives you +1 to your attack bonus

Starting Equipment (baseline): armor, 2 weapons allowing different combat interactions
Starting Equipment (addenda): cultural, religious, or problem-approach signifiers

Starting Skill (baseline):  roll or pick between 3, each further expanding on the identity

A| Defensive Feature
A| Offensive Feature
B| Niche ability OR progressive ability over time (see Notches)
C| Build on a previous template, expanding the scope of what fighters achieve in combat
D| A capstone for the class, whatever that means to you

A few comments on the design:

Designer Note 1: The OG fighter, that is to say the OD&D fighter, has some quirks that are worth explaining. Firstly, as the most vanilla class, it was Gygax’s standard way of interacting with the campaign world – it was competent, had decent survivability, and had no real bells and whistles to it. The Fighter was also supported by worldbuilding – the glut of magic swords that early D&D assumes will exist on magic item roll tables means that the world helps with the Fighter’s progression, not the character creation.

I think we’ve moved quite far afield from that design convention. Nowadays campaign worlds are filled with what makes sense to fill them with and +1 swords are a rarity in campaigns. Even when they appear, they tend to be viewed as one of the more lazy magic items in existence. Players also will often join pick-up games or shorter campaigns – the way we engage with the hobby has, if not changed, then at least gained new dimensions.

The focus on class features rather than waiting for the world to provide magic items is I think an important factor to consider when designing either a GLoG or nuOSR fighter. One way to think about designing a fighter is that you might want to think about what magic items that you might give them, and then just erase those magic items from the world and build their effects into the class.

Designer Note 2: For all that D&D claims to be about hirelings, it does interest me that few of the GLoG classes really touch on this, except for the classes that manage to be entirely about being a group of people. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but I think that if anyone should get a +1 to hireling loyalty, it should be the fighter. I’d go so far as to call that a Defensive Feature.

Designer Note 3: I do think that having at minimum 3 skills to pick from for starting skills is important. On the player side, it’s a way of customizing your character in a campaign where two or more people play the same class. On the GM side, variable skills help you to spotlight different players at different times (on the ship the Sailor skill might see a lot of use, but when navigating city bureaucracy a Town Guard skill might come into play). And finally, on the Designer side, variable skills help you see if your concept has some breathing room with the different skills it can offer, or if it’s a bit too narrow in scope.

Designer Note 4: I think that the meta-component of Template C that requires the template to build on a previous template is somewhat underrated. Having an existing ability get better, rather than gaining a new ability altogether, is to me a very powerful design tool for game designers. It not only drives home character improvement, but it also pushes a designer to think of the abilities in stages.

Taken to extremes, this becomes a Feat Tree or something to that effect, which most nuOSR gamers dislike on the grounds that it’s not particularly elegant. But I do think that having a feature progress can still be neat, done in moderation.

The GLoG Thief

Slumbering Thief
From the adventure Assault on Raven’s Ruin, art by Terri Dykstra

The GLoG thief occupies an interesting niche within the game – whereas the fighter almost seems to explain itself, the thief has poor memetic stability in D&D. For those who don’t have time to read another essay-length blog post, what I mean is that the thief’s identity changes from edition to edition, from hack to hack.

An Aside About Thieves in Canonical D&D

I want to compare and contrast the D&D thief with the D&D fighter first.

From a naive player standpoint, the fighter and thief both fulfill important narrative niches. The former evokes Heracles, Aragorn, Boromir, Conan, Fafhrd. The latter evokes Odysseus, Locke Lamora, Cugel the Clever, the Grey Mouser, Inej Ghafa.

Once you understand game mechanics, the player standpoint shifts. The fighter is better at surviving and taking to the front line, while the thief…well the thief kind of sucks in combat, with their 1d4 HD and their middling Attack/Save progression. They are able to however circumvent a lot of dungeon trappings with their Thief Skills. So we come to understand the thief as more of a proficient dungeoneer than really any of the genre-evoking identities from earlier.
There’s also a separate story about the thief that comes up in many player experiences: when a character dies, the Thief gives them a way to level up more quickly than playing any other class. And since players often have to rejoin the party at a much lower level, this is often how they justify playing the thief.

From a GM perspective, the thief is an odd spotlighting challenge. Because the thief can pick locks, this implies that locks are important, or at least relevant, to your game. Because the thief can pick pockets, this suggests that at least some pockets might have things worth picking. Because the thief can climb remarkably well, it suggests that some verticality might better allow the thief to better show off their talents. This isn’t necessarily the case of course – you can design your world without any of this in mind at all. But it’s the nature of “skills” in games that a player expects those “skills” to be at some point relevant – something that all good level designers know. So it presents some soft pressure on GMs.

As D&D progressed, the thief somehow managed to adopt a glass cannon archetype in how it dealt damage, and became (rather than a specialist in a very specific, thief-only field) a jack-of-all-trades character in terms of skills.

From a designer perspective…well it’s hard to say what the thief offered that Gygax found so appealing. It’s not clarified in any interview I know of, and I tend to think of the thief as an ill-advised play-test of a poorly conceived skill system more than anything else. We can see that he course-corrects a lot of the thief skill numbers in AD&D 1e, and we can see that Wizards of the Coast takes a totally new direction with it…so it’s hard to nail down any one “OSR” element that the designers committed to.

Returning to GLoG

So, having established that the thief’s mechanical identity is somewhat slippery, what does GLoG offer us, with the Thief?

Designer Note 1: The thief is able to affect dice rolls with Luck and Mastery mechanics. This is similar to the halfling race in 5th Edition D&D and to the way the thief functions in Beyond the Wall. Even in Dungeon Crawl Classics, where everyone has access to Luck, thieves have a larger scope within which they can use it.

I sometimes wonder if this attention to Thievish Luck in nuOSR makes any sense at all. On the surface of it, you can look at those earlier literary thieves I mentioned – Odysseus, Locke Lamora, Cugel the Clever, the Grey Mouser, Inej Ghafa – and see that they are indeed lucky. But if you think more deeply, it is not enough that thieves be lucky in stories to justify their luck in games. They need to be uniquely lucky, in a way that the fighters and mages in stories are not. And on this second count, most literary thieves fail.

The quality which causes literary characters to be lucky is not their thievishness, but rather their status as protagonists. So personally I think the design direction of “being able to trick fate” is wrong-headed at best. Nonetheless, dice manipulation has become a big part of the thief/rogue in the OSR. It’s sometimes possible for more recent precedent to have greater momentum than what came before.

Plus, I will say that dice manipulation helps players better understand the game. Players must consider what dice are being rolled. Players must consider why the dice are being rolled. These are both positives!

Designer Note 2: The “backstab” feature of the B/X thief has become “opportunist” in the transmutation into a GLoGblin. This ability rather elegantly straddles the space between backstabbing, which was a nerve-wracking process in the B/X protocol, and the idea of sneak attacks that Wizards of the Coast built into their rogue. I’m a big fan, and I think that whether you think of the thief as a glass cannon or not, some variation of backstabbing needs to exist as part of the thief’s “game identity” at this point.

Designer Note 3: The idea of “unexplained expertise” is a major aspect of the GLoG thief. The Unmarked Package is an example of the thief that is such an expert when it comes to adventuring that they knew in advance what to bring without explaining the purchase. The Great Escape is an example of a thief that is such an escape artist expert that they are able to get out of situations without explaining it. We could also call this “quantum bounded success“, in that the success is guaranteed within tight parameters (for instance, the dimensions of the Unmarked Package). Or we might call it “authorial power“, in that the thief gets to author a small part of the world, be it the faulty rope that tied them up or the nature of their unmarked package.

I think classifying these as “unexplained expertise” features is perhaps a bit too broad to be useful for designers, but I do think it’s an important classification to fall under. Other examples might be “you can infiltrate any situation so long as it is plausible” or “when an obstacle arises, you can have a flashback sequence where you sabotaged the obstacle in some way” or “you’ve got a space in your boot where you store useful knick-knacks no larger than your thumb. You can pull out such a knick-knack at any time, and it can be a lockpick, marble, coin, or other small object.”

This, then, is my proposed chassis for a GLoG thief:


Each level of Thief gives you +1 Mastery & +1 Stealth

Mastery: A character can spend 1 Mastery Point to alter an adjacent ally’s roll to any other possible rolled value you wish. The roll must reflect some action in the world – magic dice or character progression rolls do not count. You cannot affect natural 1s or 20s. Change a failure to a success, or change a damage roll to the maximum or minimum possible value.

Starting Equipment (baseline): armor, weapon, thief tool of some sort (often lockpicks)
Starting Equipment (addenda): cultural, religious, or problem-approach signifiers

Starting Skill (baseline):  roll or pick between 3, each further expanding on the identity

A| Thief-emulating ability, be it related to Thief Skills or to Dice Manipulation
A| Thief-emulating ability, be it related to Thief Skills or to Dice Manipulation

B| Some variation of Backstabbing. Use “Opportunist” if you have no creative spin here.
C| Unexplained Expertise OR Quantum Bounded Success OR Authorial Power Feature
D| A capstone for the class, whatever that means to you

The GLoG Fauna

What I mean about fauna is “any living creature that is not human”.

really good dog

April Prime’s Dog Wizard

So. We’ve been talking about Fighters and Thieves and how to design them, because they are “core classes” of “D&D-like” games.

But one thing that really intrigued me about GLoG, always has, is the existence of the Really Good Dog in the Goblin Guts presentation of GLoG classes. Frequently I’ve been told by people that the Really Good Dog is an example of how creative and wholesome the GLoG is, but I don’t actually see it being used as a template for creating other classes.

The most relevant fauna classes in GLoG, I would argue, outside of the Really Good Dog, have basically been various geese inspired by the Untitled Goose Game.

So I’ve taken it upon myself, despite being an outsider, to attempt to break down how to make a good GLoG Fauna class.


Design Note 1: A fauna character introduces the potential to have a symbiotic relationship with another animal, without it being inaccessible. Stuff like “you are a person with a space maggot in your eye” or “you are a Rat Nest, your body a nest for many rats that will do your bidding” – cool, but squick and hard to get into for someone new to role-playing. Admittedly there are ideas like Falconer and Kennelmaster that could fulfill this to some extent too, but this is definitely a worthwhile design space to explore for the fauna.

The relationship between dogs and fleas is well-characterized. So this is an opportunity for starting equipment to be based off of recognizable commensal/symbiotic relationships, or even just memorable animal-animal relationships. A cat can start with “a mouse it is still playing with and has not killed yet”. A giant hermit crab can start with “giant anemones”. You could have an ox and and ox pecker. You get the idea.

Design Note 2: The starting skill can be a lot more abstract than with human classes. A cat’s starting skills could be Lion, House Cat, Caracal, for example. You can have role-based skills. So an elephant might have the skills of Circus Elephant, War Elephant, Wild Elephant.

Design Note 3: Cuteness!

This is an odd tangent, but hear me out.

The Really Good Dog class allows players to express what they find cute about dogs. It changes the tone of any game, and it’s very effective – people view GLoG as more whimsical than B/X and less gonzo than DCC because there is a Really Good Dog that is often talked about.

“Cuteness” is perhaps an oversimplification. More formally, I might say that the fauna acts as an effective tone-establishing class. The purpose of a fauna class in your GLoGhack should be to cement the setting in a novel fashion from classes such as the Anti-Paladin class or the Speleomancer or whatever. A Mangy Mongrel class makes the genre gritty fantasy. An Albino Penguin class evokes Cthulhu. A War Ocelot class brings everything closer to Troika.

Design Note 4: I want to talk more about the class role of the fauna class, because I think this area is a bit counter-intuitive. My expectation is that a lot of the people who enjoy playing “dumb barbarians” or “stupid orcs” will have a meta-level attraction to a class like the Really Good Dog.

The fauna class doesn’t have a clear-cut combat role or dungeon-exploration role. There are too many animals and not enough similarities between them to really cover this.

However, the animal is a great standard-bearer for the “handicapped yet competent character”. Plenty of players wish to play someone highly competent, yet still limited in some fashion. People will play a “dumb barbarian” or “stupid orc” precisely to explore this role-playing space. In doing so, however, there is potential for discomfort in play. Such play can (sometimes inadvertently) portray real-world stereotypes against marginalized cultures and races. The Really Good Dog offers that same role-playing space, with a lowered risk of leaning into real-world axes of oppression.

In the same way that the cleric was one of the first classes that pushed role-playing into the limelight, with philosophy, heresy, fanaticism, conversion, and religious tension, a fauna introduces the challenge of playing a truly min-maxed character. You have the keen senses of a dog, which no human could ever come close to…but you are also restricted by the fact that you are, in fact, a dog.

Design Note 4: Finally, regarding the capstone ability: I think a fauna’s capstone ability needs to link to either an in-world animal of great renown, to an animal deity, or otherwise to some particularly great entity in the world. There is just no other way to have the animal character keep up in power or influence with the other characters unless you do something like this. The Dog Barons for the Really Good Dog are excellent examples of this, and their example should be followed.

This, then, is my proposed chassis for a GLoG fauna:


(aim for an animal that evokes your setting or genre best)

Each level of Fauna gives you +1 HP & +1 Initiative

Starting Equipment (baseline): item & other animal, linked biologically or otherwise iconic
Starting Equipment (addenda): cultural, religious, or problem-approach signifiers

Starting Skill (baseline):  roll or pick between 3, each further expanding on the identity

A| Animal Nature – establish how being this particular animal works. This probably covers enough text to feel like 2 template features, but being an animal comes with enough disadvantages that they should still get another feature anyway
A| Animal Feature – feel free to pull from pop culture as well as biology. If the Animal Nature doesn’t provide you anything for combat, this feature should be combat-related
B| Animal Feature (Utility or Support)
C| Animal Feature (Combat-Related)
D| A capstone for the class, related to some greater entity

Some Examples I Guess

Iron Salamander (Fighter)

The Iron Salamanders were formed to fight back the encroaching sahagin threat from the Bloodied Sea. Each Iron Salamander wears armored suits of cold iron, and bears a large salamander-skin bags of air. Now that the sahagin have been defeated, these iron hulks roam the land in search for mercenary work and fresh salamander skin.

Each level of Iron Salamander gives you +1 to your attack bonus

Starting Equipment: Iron Salamander Suit (as plate armor, but allows 1 hour of water breathing, 5 fishing spears, 1 anchor flail, bounty book focused on sahagin sightings

Starting Skill:  Roll or pick. 1) Search & Rescue, 2) Squidbagger, 3) Lighthouse Keeper

A| Strong-arm
A| Vent Brine
B| Touched by the Deep
C| Creature of the Deep
D| Iron Salamander

Strong-arm (Defensive Feature)
You trained to fight underwater, and became strong enough that water would not hinder you. Vines, webs, and any form of mundane resistance has no effect on you. You can save twice against magical hindrance or hold effects.

Vent Brine (Offensive Feature)
You can jettison freezing-cold briny water around you, dealing 1d6 damage to any and all who are engaged with you in melee. If you do this in reaction to an incoming attack, you can resolve this damage before the attack resolves. Requires Iron Salamander Suit to do. 1/day.

Touched by the Deep (Niche ability)
The armor has changed you. You can speak the secret language of marine life, asking them to perform minor tasks for you, and the secret languages of deep sea creatures, so that you can tell them you are coming for them.

Creature of the Deep (Build on previous template)
If you took your armor off you’re pretty sure you would see piscine features in your reflection, so you’ve stopped taking it off. Creatures hit by Vent Brine must save or begin to drown as their lungs fill with conjured water. It takes 3 failed saves (including the initial save) to drown, during which time they should act as appropriate for a creature whose lungs are filling with water.

Iron Salamander (Capstone)
Your armor is your exoskeleton. You can breathe both air and water just fine. Your mind is alien and strange. Neither magic nor artifice can touch it. You are strong, you are unrelenting.
But in the war against the sea, you are lost.

Bride of the Wild (Fighter)

Brides of the wild take many forms, ranging from the tribal Amazons of the world-turtle Zem to the wine-flushed maenads of the Cult of Dionysus. Their love of the hunt and their attunement to the forests and jungles of the world unite them, but their differences are otherwise many and varied.

Each level of Bride of the Wild gives you +1 to your attack bonus

Starting Equipment: leather-and-bone armor, a wineskin filled with the blood of a lover, 3 javelins, and a war spear

Starting Skill:  Roll or pick. 1) Bison Rider, 2) Falconer, 3) Dryad-trained seductress

A| Arrow Snatch
A| Pilum
B| Mistress of the Hunt
C| Spearsinger
D| Favored Enemy

Arrow Snatch (Defensive Feature)
When a missile attack would hit you, you can test dexterity to snatch it out of the air. If your hands are full, you may do so with your teeth.

Pilum (Offensive Feature)
Brides of the Wild have a special aerodynamic adjustments they can make to any spear or javelin, making it fly twice as far when thrown and hit for +1 damage. These altered spears are called pilum, and can be made within 10 minutes (1 turn).

Mistress of the Hunt (Progressive ability)
Mark 1 point for each notable enemy you bring low with a missile attack. At 5, 20, and 50 points, you gain a +1 increase to AC, +2 increase to Missile Attacks, or +5 animal species you can speak to and command with their full obedience, in any order that you wish.

Spearsinger (Build on previous template)
When you slay a beast with a spine, you can sing 1 pilum into creation from its spinal cord. Whether you sing a pilum out of a javelin, spear, or spine, it takes no time at all – reality becomes a blur of wild music, and the pilum forms before you. They now deal +2 damage, glow bright as a torch on command, and count as magical.

Favored Enemy (Capstone)
Name one entity that you shall vow to slay for your deity, or for the divine energies of the Wild if you have no deity. You are immune to all harm that comes from that entity, and you are resistant to all harm (half damage, save twice, etc.) that comes from creatures under the direct command of that entity.

Once-Dead Liar (Thief)

You lied so much that someone killed you. You kept lying, and now you’re back in the world of the living, somehow. This cycle is rather morbidly fun, you find.

Each level of Once-Dead Liar gives you +1 Mastery & +1 Stealth

Mastery: A character can spend 1 Mastery Point to alter an adjacent ally’s roll to any other possible rolled value you wish. The roll must reflect some action in the world – magic dice or character progression rolls do not count. You cannot affect natural 1s or 20s. Change a failure to a success, or change a damage roll to the maximum or minimum possible value.

Starting Equipment: tattered yet functional leather armor, a grave-digging shovel, a coffin-opening pry bar, your death certificate

Starting Skill:  Roll or pick. 1) Afterlife Knowledge, 2) Grave Robber, 3) Grand Conspirator

A| Dead Liar Skills
A| Fate Abhors Those Who Die Twice
B| Opportunist
C| Snake Oil Deadman
D| Twice-Dead Liar

Dead Liar Skills (Thief Skills)
Gain the Feign Death and Deception skills at Rank 1. These skills always advance when tested. Feign Death allows you to both pass as Undead or Dead, depending on what you need. For what it’s worth, you are also actually Undead, but you normally do not seem so to laypeople, who just see you as sickly or unwell.
Deception covers situations where you tell lies. If your lie is plausible, no roll is needed. If your lie is difficult to believe but convincing tone of voice, widening of eyes, or other such theatrics lend it credibility, that’s what this skill is for. If your lie is utterly implausible, no roll is needed.

Fate Abhors Those Who Die Twice (Dice Manipulation)
Without spending any points, if an effect would take your HP down to 0 (or in systems with other Health-like tracks, if an effect would take those down to 0), you can alter the dice roll as you wish.

Opportunist (Backstabbing)
Whenever you have a situational bonus on an attack roll (surprise, elevation, etc), you deal an additional +1d6 damage.

Snake Oil Deadman (Quantum Bounded Success)
Given an amicable conversation that is at least 10 minutes long, you are able to convince any undead of the false worth of any object, even going so far as to convince vampires or liches that a clod of dirt is worth 10,000 gp. The details of the lie are so convoluted that they are not able to disbelieve it for a number of months equal to your level. However, this does not determine their attitude upon believing this false worth. For instance, a lich may not treat the dirt with reverence upon believing this lie. They may blast the dirt to smithereens for daring to be so presumptive.

Twice-Dead Liar (Capstone)
If you die, your soul simply swaps with some hapless other soul in the world, close to any location you wish. This lie can’t last forever. Death will take at least a number of months equal to your level to discover this trick, and then he will discover that you’ve tricked him twice, and then yes, Death will very much Come After You in a Ticked-Off Manner.

Hungry Goat (Fauna)

Each level of Hungry Goat gives you +1 HP & +1 Initiative

Starting Equipment: goat bell, half-eaten spellbook, pair of oxpeckers

Starting Skill:  Roll or pick. 1) Fainting goat, 2) Mountain goat, 3) Wolf in goat’s clothing

A| Goat
A| Spell Eater
B| Petting Zoo
C| Greater Spell Eater
D| Blessing of the Sabbatic Goat

Goat (Animal nature)
You are a goat, with all that this entails – depending on your starting skill, you and your GM should discuss what your abilities are and (if you are a wolf in goat’s clothing) who is fooled by your brilliant disguise.

Spell Eater (Animal feature based on goats eating paper)
Whenever you eat paper with a spell on it, you “learn” that spell, as a magic-user or cleric would. None of the divine magicks work for you, because you are a goat. But goats have long been used for pagan rituals, and so arcane magic responds to you readily even if you can’t quite get all the words right with your bleating.

Petting Zoo (Animal feature, utility)
Any creature that touches your must save as if vs. charm person. Whether this is because your wool has a fine luster, is impressively durable and resilient, or is woolly and soft is between you and your GM.

Greater Spell Eater (Animal feature, combat)
In addition to eating the pages of spell books, you can make an Intelligence test to eat a spell that is cast, so long as it targets you. Doing so is tricky, but negates the spell and has similar effect to eating a page of a spell book or a deliciously chewy scroll.

Blessing of the Sabbatic Goat (Capstone)
You are blessed by Baphomet for your exemplar showing of goat adventuring prowess. Among other things, you are granted bipedalism, wings, and opposable thumbs. Nobody is happy about this except you. You are not granted speech.

Baphomet will expect great things from you, giving you either quests or responsibilities even as he blesses you. Success or leal service shall earn you both the adulation of goats and the support of demonic cultists of Baphomet.

3 thoughts on “GLoG Fighters, Thieves, and Fauna

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