The basic spirit of Old School Hack is permissive. If you want to do something cool, we’ll figure out a way to make it fit into the game. So what do we do when someone comes to play and says “I want to play a dwarf cleric!”?
All three approaches I list here are valid, and may be applied even within the same group to really get at what the player wants and what the player is willing to give up for that flavor and functionality. The approaches are compatible.
- Rules As Written Approach. “No. You have to pick one template and play it. Maybe you can branch out as we go.”
- Give and Take Approach.“Okay, pick one to be primary and you’ll have that inherent ability, then I’ll let you pick from the other with your off-template talents without extra training.”
- Pureblood. Must have the race inherent ability. Start with a race template, with the first talent from another template, representing an unusual background. Gain DM permission to buy from the other template without training and asking each time.
- Halfish. Mixed heritage means you have traits from one of the parent races, but are not full-blooded. Start with an occupational template, but you can take the first talent from a race template. If you get 5 talents of the other race as you level, then you can buy its inherent ability as normal.
- Spellcasters.If a character wants spells without the inherent ability of the spellcasting template, then with DM permission the character can be a sight-reader, sounding out notes, a reflexive instinctive talent, empowered by a dip in magic goo, or some similar explanation. These spellcasters cannot cast non-template spells with Awesome Points.
- The Chosen. A possible exception is if a god is well-disposed towards the character and grants access to spellcasting flexibility for a Chosen One who is not a cleric.
- Multi-Template Approach. “Use the Fictive multi-template system for that.”
The Fictive Multi-Template System
The character starts with access to the inherent abilities of a race template and an occupation template, and talents from both count as template talents.
- Delayed Talents. The character does not gain a talent at level 1 or 2 (but can spend Awesome Points to access talents from either template as normal.) Attribute points are granted normally.
- Delayed Leveling. The character must spend 15 Awesome Points to level instead of 12 for the character’s whole career.
- Clerics. Clerics also access their canticles, gaining access to 15 talents at first level. (And they must follow the god’s strictures.)
This is very powerful because it is an immediate route to having a character with two inherent abilities and access to 10 talents (right away by using Awesome Points, gaining them [at levels 3+] without needing training or DM permission.) Spending 3 Awesome Points for each talent used will accelerate point spending. Basic use of attributes and basic combat are not affected by restricting access to talents, so the character is useful right away even without talents.
The power is limited because the character must go through the first two levels with no acquired talents at all. Also, for the rest of the character’s life leveling costs 3 more Awesome Points than for everyone else.
The game may be better with elven wizards, dwarven clerics, kiskov knights, shokoro assassins, and so on. This can be done by taking cross-template talents–that’s encouraged and just fine. I think this provides some extra room for those who want race and profession in a character from the beginning.
Breeding is not the only way to borrow from a racial template. In one of my games, I have a player character who purchased cheap healing from a goblin and got fungal unguent; I told him if he wanted he could buy a goblin talent next time he leveled, but there would be consequences. Delighted, he bought a goblin talent, and now his body odor has changed, and the flesh around the wound is changing… If he keeps buying cross-template talents from goblin, he will look more and more goblin-y.
Maybe fruity elven healing potions turn people elvish, or months of breathing spores deep underground impart dwarf-beards (for all genders!) and related issues, trampling that gypsy camp with horses results in a curse that turns you all orcish, etc. Have some fun with it!