The core 4 character races: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magician. Each has special skills that are needed for dungeon crawl or traditional fantasy game. Fighters have great combat ability and strength while Clerics are primarily healers, can turn undead, have decent fighting ability and spell casting. Thieves have a variety of skills from finding/disarming traps, picking locks, sneaking around and Magicians get powerful spells. Missing one of the core 4 classes in your party will usually result in alot of pain or not being able to advance in the adventure at a steady pace. Depending on the type of adventure that you are in, some of the classes may feel like ‘support’ classes as you have fixed list of skills or abilities.
I have found in some long dungeon adventures that the core 4 classes can start to get boring when classes become very functional. There isn’t much for a thief to do in a dungeon except when they need someone to check for traps or pick locks or for a cleric except to heal people. Just searching for traps over and over makes the game a bit tedious. yes, you can get involved in other activities like combat, but you aren’t going to be very good at it and may die quickly. A good game has elements of role-playing, combat, and investigation / problem solving. Some OSR dungeons are just grinders without all three elements. eg. mostly combat and traps. Making sure that your game includes all characters in the game and their skill sets is important, and you need to pay attention.
Characters don’t gain new abilities within their class unless they advance levels. There are several systems that allow you to pick skills or add/learn new skills as you advance. Chaosium Basic Role Play system is an example of one system that allows you to pick your own skills with a limited point buying base. You can be a jack of all trades/master of none or a ‘specialist’ and put more of your points in one area and create the classic core classes. I like having the flexibility to make my own unique character. You have some occupation / profession skills as well as personal skills that you can pick yourself in Basic Role Play system.
The Black Hack game: By this Axe, I Hack* has an interesting (optional) system for adding on skills as you advance levels. It has a list of all the skills for the character classes and more that you can buy with character points. You gain character points as you level up and can buy skills outside of your core class. There are also rules for creating your own custom class which is pretty cool. As Black Hack is OSR based, its easy to port over to any of the other OSR game systems.
Having all the additional ‘advanced’ classes add alot more variety and flavor to the game for those that like old TSR style OSR.. I remember getting the first Unearthed Arcana 1E (still have it) and loved it for all the new classes that it had. (yes, there may have been some issues with that release) Having additional classes added some new skills and things that you could do with your character. or you could multi-class as well to get some of those skills. for example, Conan was more a barbarian – thief type character. Probably has high STR and DEX scores for D&D type system character but probably wouldn’t have the climbing and sneaking skills of a D&D thief.
*disclosure: we game with the author of ‘By this Axe, I Hack’. I bought the game and received no compensation from the author for this article.