07
Jun
10

Red Box Workshop: The Berserker PC

BERSERKERS

These barbarian warriors practice the art of the berserkergang, or battle trance. This state imparts great strength and fearlessness in battle, but makes it difficult to distinguish friend from foe.

The prime requisites for a berserker are Strength and Constitution. A berserker character whose Strength or Constitution score is 13 or higher will receive a 5% bonus on earned experience. Berserkers whose Strength and Constitution scores are 13 or higher will receive a 10% bonus to earned experience.

RESTRICTIONS: Berserkers use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may use any type of weapon or shield, but they may not wear any armor more protective than leather.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: A berserker enters the berserkergang by spending a full round working himself up into frenzy. (Starting at 4th level the berserker may enter the trance state instantly.) In this state, he gains +2 to hit and damage, 2 additional hit points per hit die (which are lost when the frenzy ends), +1 to individual initiative and a 10’ bonus to his movement rate. However, he suffers a +2 penalty to AC, and he may take no actions when not in melee other than moving into melee. If a berserker engaged in melee finds that he has no opponents left but is in melee range of an ally, he must save vs. spells or attack an adjacent ally; this save may be repeated each round until it succeeds. Terminating the berserkergang before combat ends also requires a successful save vs. spells. Upon leaving the battle trance, the berserker is fatigued for the next hour, suffering a -2 penalty to hit and damage and a +2 penalty to AC.

SAVING THROWS: As dwarves.

ATTACK PROGRESSION: As fighters.

ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.

* * * * *

NOTE: The author recommends that any group which restricts PC-on-PC conflict should not use the Berserker class, as it may be seen as a tool for evading such restrictions.


21 Responses to “Red Box Workshop: The Berserker PC”


  1. 1 nudist
    June 7, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I look forward to gnawing my sheild and beating my head with the back of my axe!

    1. How long does the bezerker frenzy last? Longer at later levels?

    2. Does a higher level bezerker have a better chance of not attacking allies?

    3. Historically, viking bezerkers were FREAKISHLY TERRIFYING. How about a penalty to opposing creatures’ morale upon first sighting and half killed, etc.? Historically, I believe they often fought naked, right? I recognize the armor deficiency, but a morale penalty would be fun.

  2. June 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    1. How long does the bezerker frenzy last? Longer at later levels?

    It lasts until the end of the encounter.

    2. Does a higher level bezerker have a better chance of not attacking allies?

    Yes, insofar as a higher level berserker has a better saving throw vs. spells.

    3. Historically, viking bezerkers were FREAKISHLY TERRIFYING. How about a penalty to opposing creatures’ morale upon first sighting and half killed, etc.?

    Thanks, I’d forgotten to include morale. I’d probably give opponents a +1 penalty to all morale checks while the berserkergang is in effect, or a +2 penalty if the berserker’s side wins surprise. Or something along those lines.

    Historically, I believe they often fought naked, right?

    That appears to have been a historical error; they appear to have fought wearing clothing made from bear pelts. (I equate this with leather armor.)

  3. 3 nudist
    June 7, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    4. Greater immunity to mind-altering/controlling effects? The berserker has given away his mind for the time being; how can it be controlled?

  4. June 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm

    I can easily see that argument going either way — after all, one could say that without self-awareness the berserker is more vulnerable to psychic suggestion. But I don’t think it’s unbalanced to give a +4 to saves against sleep and charm while in the battle trance.

  5. June 7, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Love the idea but to me this class seems just a bit too good.

    It’s only disadvantage compared to a fighter seems to be the inability to wear extra armour, and in return for this it recieves both the berserkergang power and dwarf saving throws.

    As is, I think it’s a little overpowered to use the fighter XP chart. In particular, dwarven spell saves are so good that making the berserkergang related saves seems like it’s going to be pretty easy most of the time.

    For balance, I’d kind of prefer to either have them save as fighters (maybe with a bonus against fear?) or to take a -10% XP hit compared to a fighter.

  6. June 7, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Theoretically, the negative effects of berserkergang should serve as a strong limiting factor: no archery or other non-melee activities, a good chance of attacking fellow PCs if you’re not careful, and if you’re forced to drop out of berserkergang you’re fatigued. And I suspect that the reduced armor is more significant than you suggest, especially factoring in the +2 penalty from berserkergang.

    I gave them the dwarf’s saving throws because the class looked a bit underpowered in the initial draft. I’m not strongly attached to that, and if playtesting demonstrates that the class is too strong, they’ll drop back down to using the fighter’s saving throws.

  7. 7 Scott LeMien
    June 8, 2010 at 12:42 am

    This reminds me: I remember a really cool writeup for Berserkers, ninjas (save vs. damage), Anti-paladins, in Best of Dragon Vol. 2. Also, the blueprint for a Lich was awesome, as was the politics of hell. I think I read that issue about 50 times…

  8. June 8, 2010 at 1:05 am

    Best of The Dragon vols. 1 & 2 were awesome in every conceivable way.

  9. 9 Bargle
    June 8, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Brilliant class. No gimmicks, just really nice details and straight forward abilities!

  10. June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    Thanks! It was the fastest of the RBW classes to go from idea to completion — just a couple of hours.

  11. June 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Great timing! We have a new “Northman” PC who eschews armor, and his player is psyched to convert him to the Berserker for his next session.

  12. June 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    I can’t remember if I asked you this already, but are you using the Building the Perfect Class PDF/Spreadsheet (http://breeyark.org/node/112) to make these new classes?

    Recently an RBV player asked for a ruling on a M-U wearing armor when out of spells, and it opened up a big can of worms about the relative capability of the M-U class. After reading that article, I’m seriously considering adjusting the xp requirements of the M-U and/or giving them more abilities to justify their by-the-book xp cost.

    Anyway, the article has an analysis of the RC classes that is fascinating. Well worth a look.

  13. June 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Excellent, cr0m! Let us know how it goes. Consider yourselves playtesters!

    I recommend scrapping the movement bonus, btw, and simply allow the Berserker to take a “run” action for free while in berserkergang without being fatigued.

    Also, general rule: the Berserker cannot enter berserkergang while fatigued.

  14. 14 Rick
    June 8, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    The negative needs to be greater to help balance out its strengths.

    1) No raising dead or resurection. You die while in a battle trance and your dead. It explains the great saves and higher HP because if you die there is no save.

    This is a great risk reward option.

    P.S. An animate dead spell or necro spells will still effect the deceased berserker body/ skeleton though.

  15. June 8, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    I can’t remember if I asked you this already, but are you using the Building the Perfect Class PDF/Spreadsheet (http://breeyark.org/node/112) to make these new classes?

    Nope. I’ve read many similar breakdowns over the years, and while I appreciate the effort that goes into them, I disagree with their underlying principles. I don’t think that the core classes are entirely balanced from the get-go (e.g. cleric vs. fighter), and many of their imbalances aren’t congruent with their development rates (e.g. the magic-user), so I feel that any system based on their relative power levels is doomed from the start.

    Recently an RBV player asked for a ruling on a M-U wearing armor when out of spells, and it opened up a big can of worms about the relative capability of the M-U class. After reading that article, I’m seriously considering adjusting the xp requirements of the M-U and/or giving them more abilities to justify their by-the-book xp cost.

    The magic-user is very much the “hard mode” of OD&D. Magic-users start out too weak for their XP cost. This, however, is meant to balance out their power at higher levels, largely by winnowing their ranks at low levels. If you cut back on the magic-user’s XP requirements across the board, then they survive too easily and get too strong too quickly, and you have fifth-level casters tossing fireballs while the fighters are still only fourth level. To balance things out, you either need to completely restructure the M-U’s XP ladder to slow their progression down at high levels, or you need to neuter their high-level spells. (Or you can just accept that your game will be full of high-level M-Us.)

    If a magic-user wants to wear armor while out of spells, I’d treat them as both heavily encumbered and fatigued. It may still be worth it, but they’re probably better off keeping their full movement rate and running from danger rather than trying to lumber away in armor they can’t use comfortably.

  16. June 8, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    The negative needs to be greater to help balance out its strengths.

    While I appreciate the desire to avoid an overpowered class, I remain unconvinced that being compelled to run into melee with a base AC 8 is an inadequate negative. Frankly, I don’t expect the playtest berserker in cr0m’s game to survive more than two sessions! But that’s what playtesting is for, and if the “Northman” in his game turns out to be a universally superior option to the fighter, then I’ll gladly rejigger the class.

    I’m more likely to remove benefits than add further negatives. The dwarven saving throw is closest to the chopping block.

    It explains the great saves and higher HP because if you die there is no save.

    To clarify, the bonus HP aren’t 2e/3e “temporary hit points” that provide a buffer before the character’s actual hit points are touched. The bonus hit points are lost when the fight is over. Thus, they don’t greatly increase the character’s survivability; they mainly allow the berserker to keep fighting after he should be dead. (A cleric could heal the berserker mid-battle, but at the risk of being attacked by the berserker.)

  17. 17 nudist
    June 8, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    Since the berserker is forced to keep fighting until melee is over, plus the AC penalty, I can imagine why Quendalon expects most of them to die pretty rapidly. I’m kind of seeing how this is a major disadvantage, not being able to fight tactically.

  18. June 8, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    What is the mechanical effect of fatigue in RB?

  19. June 9, 2010 at 12:31 am

    -2 penalty to hit and damage and a +2 penalty to AC, as noted in the class description.

  20. June 9, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Thanks. I need to read more carefully.

  21. June 10, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    We ALMOST had Naroia run one of these guys last night. But instead he just decided to play a suicidal fighter with a 2H sword.

    The loss of control, AC penalty, and armor restriction are pretty daunting to anyone who’s spent any time in an old school dungeon. Doubly so when combined with the hour of fatigue. I wonder if bumping their armor up to chain (no shield) would mitigate this somewhat.

    Personally, here’s how I’d do it:

    BERSERKERS

    RESTRICTIONS: Berserkers use eight-sided dice (d8) to determine their hit points. They may use any type of weapon or shield, but they may not wear any armor more protective than CHAIN.

    SPECIAL ABILITIES: A berserker enters the berserkergang by spending a full round working himself up into frenzy. (Starting at 4th level the berserker may enter the trance state instantly.) In this state, he gains
    +2 to hit and damage
    +2 additional hit points per hit die (which are lost when the frenzy ends),
    +2 to individual initiative
    +10’ bonus to his movement rate.
    +2 penalty to AC
    He may take no actions when not in melee other than moving into melee. If a berserker engaged in melee finds that he has no opponents left but is in melee range of an ally, he must save vs. spells or attack an adjacent ally; this save may be repeated each round until it succeeds. Terminating the berserkergang before combat ends also requires a successful save vs. spells. Upon leaving the battle trance, the berserker is fatigued for the next hour, suffering a -2 penalty to hit and damage and a +2 penalty to AC.

    SAVING THROWS: As FIGHTER.

    ATTACK PROGRESSION: As fighters.

    ADVANCEMENT: As per the fighter advancement table.


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