The Fool, a new Thief subclass

Fools or Jesters have a fairly long history. The first court jester to be appointed in England dates back to the 13th century, but buffoons, clowns, and similar entertainers seem to go back quite a bit further, and we read of leaders taking in people with various disabilities for their amusement in antiquity. While Thieves and Assassins are perfectly serviceable as character classes for campaign set in the Middle Ages, I have been kicking around other subclass ideas for an eventual follow-up to the Poor Pilgrim’s Alamanack, not least because one criticism I’ve gotten about it was that it so cleric-centric.

The major thieves’ “guilds” I’ve seen in my reading so far (Argotiers and Coquillards, as well as some assorted outlaw gangs) seem to be well-represented by the Thief class more or less as it is. Similarly, the Hashashins are an obvious precedent for the Assassin class. Professional killers appear in a lot of places. Looking for other thief-like archetypes in history, a recurring theme was the scoundrels and rogues who traveled a lot on various pretenses, which ultimately made folks suspicious of all travelers and strangers — by the 14th century licenses were required for pilgrims in England because so many criminals used pilgrimage as a pretense. This is all well and good, but I wanted to add something else that was fun, and started riffing on the idea of traveling entertainers. Oddly buffoons or jesters were not limited to the royal court but also roamed from town to town as entertainers. It’s a bit of a stretch but I liked the idea, the more I thought about it. So here’s a draft.

Laughing jester, unknown Early Netherlandish artist (possibly Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen), circa 1500

A jester circa 1500. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Fools (or jesters) are a subclass of Thief. The Fool class represents an exceptionally capable specimen of the profession, just as a Fighter is an exceptional fighting man, the Cleric is an exceptional clergyman, and so on. Some Fools or jesters were employed by the nobility as entertainment, while others performed for the commoners at fairs and markets. Traveling fools could work both at courts and markets. Fools employed as permanent members of a noble’s household enjoyed relatively comfortable lifestyles, but could be called upon to serve in war, entertaining the troops and antagonizing and provoking foes. Player character Fools would likely be the itinerant sort with no patron, or part of the retinue of a noble on pilgrimage or crusade.

Minimum scores: CHA 9, DEX 9

HD: d6

Fighting ability: as a Thief

Saves: as a Thief

Weapons and armor allowed: as a Thief 

Experience: as a Thief

The Fool class has most of the usual Thief skills, operating as a Thief two levels lower (like an Assassin). However they do not have the ability to Open Locks, Find/Remove Traps, or Read Languages. They also do not have the Thief’s Backstab ability, and do not gain the ability to use spell scrolls.

Fools have the following special abilities, gained at first level unless otherwise noted: 

Acrobatics: Fools gain a bonus of +2 AC versus missile attacks, and a +2 to save versus directed (but not area effect) spells. 

Juggling: Fools attack as Fighters of the same level with thrown weapons, and may attempt to catch weapons thrown at them (such as spears, axes, daggers, and so on; not arrows, bolts, or sling stones). They can also Save vs Petrification to catch a thrown item. Rocks thrown by giants and similarly huge thrown weapons will simply be deflected, landing 10’ away in a randomly determined direction. 

Jesting: This represents a Fool’s clowning and joking. Note that because a Fool uses broad gestures and expressions, having a language in common is NOT necessary to use these Jesting abilities, unless otherwise noted.

Fools can add ½ their level (up to a maximum of +5) to reaction rolls when performing for NPCs or monsters (who have not yet attacked). 

At 5th level, they may attempt to distract an intelligent foe that can understand their language or see them. Have the creature save vs. Spell; if they fail, they lose an attack that round. This is a non magical effect.

At 8th level, the Fool can shift the pertinent Reaction table column to the left or right, as desired, when making a Social or Encounter reaction roll, providing the encountered NPCs or creatures are intelligent.

Note that I’m thinking of reaction modifiers as using 2d10 (like 2nd edition AD&D and using the chart with separate outcomes for friendly, indifferent, threatening, and hostile attitudes. I would invert the table though so that high is good and bonuses are added rather than subtracted.

Busking: A Fool can use story-telling, joke-telling, and sleight of hand tricks to busk like a Palmer — use the Palmer’s storytelling rules in B&B Trinity. [Essentially, this is a way to gain food & lodging while traveling in exchange for entertainment.]

Jester’s privilege: Fools have a widely recognized right not to be punished for what they say in civilized lands, even if they insult nobility or say something treasonous or blasphemous. The fool’s marotte (scepter) and crown (cap and bells) are symbols of this power, and must be carried to invoke the privilege. Wearing the Fool’s crown makes Moving Silently impossible.

The Fool can establish a school at 10th level, and will attract 2-12 students. The Fool who establishes such a school may face the enmity of a rival school, but these conflicts are much less lethal than the similar rivalries between Thieves Guilds, and take the form of rude graffiti or broadsides, mocking ballads, and occasional brawls.


Published in: on February 27, 2023 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is pretty good. How about some sort of feint mechanic, or bluff in combat, especially on the first round, to reflect underestimation of the jester by opponents.

  2. If you’ve never read this one, it has something similar. Might be of interest

    • Thanks! My brother had that supplement. I remember the “Harlequin” picture though I don’t recall the stats. I’ll take a look.

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