"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Race = Class

One of the biggest complaints I hear about B/X D&D is how race equals class for non-human PCs. The fact that race is class for demi-humans has never really been an issue to me for a few reasons:
1. In play it turns out to be identical to the earliest versions of D&D. Using the 3 Little Brown Books (LBBs), a dwarf could only be a Fighting Man so in effect Dwarf=Fighter.
2. If I met with real resistance or someone REALLY wanted to play a halfling thief it is not like it is terribly difficult to make up the combo.
3. Earlier versions of D&D (including B/X) were human-centric. There weren't suppose to be many elves or dwarfs running around exploring ancient tombs.

But likely the main reason for me not minding all dwarfs are basically fighters or all elves are a unique blend of fighters and magic-users was my earliest interpretations of these races. I began playing B/X before I read Tolkien, Moorcock or Howard. My baseline for what elves or dwarfs were from Moldvay's Basic rulebook and encyclopedias. My understanding of what an elf was therefore was basically the norse mythical version fit into the rule's description. One of the interesting things that first struck me and has always remained in the back of my head through later D&D description of elves and dwarfs is that they were related - something that I have often incorporated into my homebrew settings.

Often in my homebrew campaigns elves are a magical race of minor nature and fertility spirits, who are often pictured as youthful-seeming men and women of great grace and delicate features living in forests and underground places and caves, or in wells and springs. Being semi-divine they have no deities themselves. As such all elves are the classic D&D combo Fighter/Magic-user. Another interesting thing I sometimes incorporate is the Norse idea that famous men could be elevated to the rank of elves after death. Kill a player's famous fighter and let the party encounter an elf that is the elevated spirit of the former PC gives a real connection.

Dwarfs are the non-magic using brethren of elves (the mythological Dark Elves - this was before the Drow are mentioned in the first Monster Manual). I often make the creation of dwarfs the product of some cursed elves or some catastrophe. These non-magic using elves are outsiders to typical elves and either through self-exile or enslavement end up underground (think Morlocks). Therefore, as non-magic using cousins to elves, dwarfs cannot be magic-users and do not have deities so cannot be clerics.

Halflings are a bit different in that there isn't the same depth of mythology about them as there is for elves and dwarfs. I really just relied on the description in the rulebook but since elves and dwarfs were their own classes I never questioned it for halflings.

Only humans have the lust and greed to be thieves.


  1. I really like the race/class connection of late, which is odd as in my abortive "Swords of the Red Sun" I used BFRP over LL to avoid it.

    Now, though, with unique classes you can really add flavor to your world. For example, there are good odds the first PC available non-humans in "The World After" will be the werewolf whose default version is also a skald (both due to source material and it's an interesting way to make a packless werewolf valuable to packs).

  2. I'm with you in Moldvay presenting my first look at what demi-humans were supposed to be like in gaming. I don't have any opposition to expanding the options available to the little people, but I think we're missing a vast opportunity to develop new character types that humans don't have access to.

  3. I like that having Dwarf, Elf and Halfling *adventurers* being of one class each is a way to encourage the party to have more humans in it. I don't mind racial level-limits for the same reason.

  4. I agree completely with the level limits. In fact, if I do have to make a dwarf cleric for a player the level limits are even more severe. After all, if a dwarf is limited to level 12 (B/X) and that is their archetype, they are going to be far more limited if they try something else.

  5. I always loved the B/X handling of Demi-Humans. Regardless of having a class in AD&D dwarf characters were always a fighter,Elves tended to be archers with spells, and halflings were burglars. So that is why we stuck with basic, all the multi-classing rubbish and such seemed like needless chrome. We'd just lift abilities and add them into someone's character concept if appropriate. Besides-monk's sucked, half-orcs and half elves were lame, but bard's were good...for me to poop on!

  6. I actually used that dwarf illustration as one of the visual references for Blacklung.

  7. I'm actually not a fan of the 'Race as Class' concept for several reasons that date back to my earliest memories of gaming. It was fine when I had no other game to compare D&D to back in 77' but once I played AD&D and Traveller it didn't make much sense anymore.

    More of a SciFi fan I always say Species instead of Race. I also thought of creating characters who were a thing and a job - A Human Pilot, an Alien Merc or a Robot Engineer. Humans could be Mercs instead of Pilots so why can't a Dwarf be a priest or an Elf be a warrior? I mean, who handles Dwarven marriages and protects Elven roads? If every Elf is a wizard why don't they kick the tar out of Humanity? Yeah...I was one of those kids...


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  9. In short: racial classes represent the few demi humans who do have the drive to leave their homeland and adventure. They are more akin to human than their own kind (it would seem), since the qualities needed for an adventurer (ambition, drive, a small amount of recklessness, caution, courage, and etc.) seem to be mostly absent in the demi human races at large.

    Sure, there are dwarven clerics, elven magic-users, and halfling thieves, but they are NPCs who remain within their racial communities.

  10. Strangely both Orion and Patrick mention halfling thieves...

    "Sure, there are dwarven clerics, elven magic-users, and halfling thieves,"

    "2. If I met with real resistance or someone REALLY wanted to play a halfling thief it is not like it is terribly difficult to make up the combo."

    Isn't the Halfling Race/Class already a thief? I think what hurts the race as class concept for me is playing against type in the old school games was not really considered by the game but it was by the players (at least in my circles).

    Barking Alien

  11. "Sure, there are dwarven clerics, elven magic-users, and halfling thieves"

    Not in my campaign if I can help it.

    "Isn't the Halfling Race/Class already a thief? "

    Not in B/X. They are a little unique in that they have good saving throws, get a bonus using a missile weapon, are difficult to hit when fighting large creatures, get an bonus to initiative and can hide. Really I use them as the baseline for any faerie-type races.

  12. If considering the elves and dwarfs as based on the Norse mythology folklore of lios-alfar and svartalfar, I'd suggest two changes:

    1) Dwarfs may not be able to practice magic in the course of adventures, but they should have the advantage of greater access to enchanted weapons, and perhaps other magic items, either because they are smith-enchanters themselves or because they know/are related to a good one back at home. Not sure exactly how it should work - maybe just let them be the only ones with connections good enough to purchase such items for their list prices. Likewise, both elves and dwarfs should be better able to identity items crafted by their respective races than even high-level magic-users. Yeah, another added ability

    2) Even if taking off from the original folklore more than Tolkien, I'd suggest removing the level limits in favor of an increased XP cost/level, especially at the lower levels where their extra abilities really make a big difference. Reason being, the King of the Dwarfs or the Queen of Elfland should ideally be awesome and terrifying encounters, even to higher-level characters. True, we don't need to use the same rules for such NPCs as for PCs, but there's also nothing wrong with having a point at which elves or dwarfs can also set up their own strongholds and retire from adventuring in that fashion, rather than always being stuck at the same level as their human compatriots keep advancing.

  13. RE #1: In my previous homebrews most magic items do come from dwarfs. However, as adventuring PCs dwarfs are usually outcasts and don't have any greater access to magic items but may have a chance of identifying one.

    RE #2: I agree that the Queen Elf - being the queen of a bunch of semi-divine beings - should be alien and terrifying but as you say, NPCs and PCs don't follow the same rules:

    (Moldvay B29) "Any creature that is not a player character is called a monster. Monsters may be friendly or unfriendly, wild or tame, normal beasts or fantastic. the DM will choose, from these monsters, the friends and opponents of the players."

    Also, dwarfs, elves and halflings can establish there own strongholds in B/X. Dwarfs at 9th level, elves at 9th level and halflings anytime (page X7). I don't know if you might be thinking of OD&D level limits but B/X level limits are higher and do allow for the establishment of strongholds and retirement.

  14. Dwarfs and elves should be treated differently than humans because they are different. They are NOT thin humans with pointy ears or short humans with beards. They are alien and bound by the forces that humans do not understand.