Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Class Struggles: Race as Class

My love for D&D Basic era play is well known and well documented, but my love is tempered and not complete.  I have a confession.  I really am not a fan of B/X or BECMI style Race as Class.

In the D&D Basic rules Dwarves and Halflings are basically fighters with level limits.  Elves are multiclassed fighter/magic-users, also with level limits.   While this certainly works, it also seems rather, well... limiting.  I mean really, the archetypical halfling/hobbit is a thief.  This was one of the reasons I think so many people went over to AD&D.  I know it was true, partially, for me.
Over the years of game-play I have worked around this, but I never quite got used to it.

Now one thing I do like is the idea that different races should different class expressions.  So not a "theif" per se but a "burgler" would be cool.  Something special.

The ACKS Player's Companion does a great job of this really. This includes such new classes as the dwarven delver, dwarven fury, dwarven machinist, elven courtier, elven enchanter, elven ranger, and the gnomish trickster.  While these could, at the surface level, be viewed as mere renaming of the basic four classes, there is a little more to play with here in terms of special abilites.
As mentioned in the past, this is also the book you need when you want to create new classes.

+James Spahn's Barrel Rider Games has a number of demi-human classes in the Class Compendium.  These include various dwarven classes; Raging Slayer, Rune-Smith and the Warchanter. Some elves, Dark Elf, Greensinger, Half-Elf and the Sylvan Elf.  And as to be expected, Halfling classes, Burglar, Feast Master, Huckster, Lucky Fool, and the Tavern Singer.

I think there are a lot of options for race-specific classes or archetypes.

Back in the 2nd Ed days we had "kits" for various classes and some of these were racial archetypes. The Complete Book of Elves is a good example.  There is a lot of fluff and some backgrounds, but the real meat comes in when we get into the sub-races.  I was never a fan of the Drow-fetish that plagued much of post 1st ed D&D, but a sylvan elf or something stranger like a snow elf, would have been cool to play.  Heck I even created my own elf race, the Gypsy Elf, to fill this need.  We don't get to any of the class kits till Chapter 10. There are some nice choices but we also get the nearly 'broken'* Bladesinger.    *I say broken, but really I just don't like it all that much, and it was abused a lot in groups I was in.

The books for the Dwarves and the Halflings & Gnomes book are similar.  What gets me though is really how much we are lacking in race-specific classes.  Sure the entire idea behind "Fighting-Man" and "Magic-User" is so they can be generic enough to cover all possibilities. But I think after we got past 0e and certainly into AD&D we would be at a point where there should have been more race-specific expressions of class archetypes.
Something like what I did for the Dwarven witch, the Xothia.  Still a recognizable archetype (witch) but presented through the lens of a specific race (dwarf).    Honestly I would like to see a reason, given in a similar format, for the gnome illusionist.  Why are there gnome illusionists? What are they called?

The Companion Expansion from Barrataria Games does cover gnomes and wild-wood (sylvan) elves, half-orcs, half-ogres and half-elves as race-classes.  Wood elves share the same spell lists as do druids and gnomes share a list with Illusionists and bards.  All for the B/X system.  Maybe something +Gavin Norman and +Nathan Irving could look into for their updates for their respective spellcaster books.

I think in the end I would like to see more racial, or read that as cultural, applications of classes.

4 comments:

Tim Emrick said...

The race as class rules were one of my least favorite parts of B/X. I moved on to AD&D around the time the Companion Set came out, so only read a friend's copy once. The racial classes section of C seemed unnecessarily arcane, simply because it had to obey the existing rules that said each race was its own class, and was limited to Nth level.

Tim Emrick said...

The race as class rules were one of my least favorite parts of B/X. I moved on to AD&D around the time the Companion Set came out, so only read a friend's copy once. The racial classes section of C seemed unnecessarily arcane, simply because it had to obey the existing rules that said each race was its own class, and was limited to Nth level.

Woodclaw said...

If memory serve me well, there were some extra material in the various Mystara's book that tried to fill the lack of options for demi-humans as well (dwarf cleric in "Dwarves of Rockhome", elven fighter and wizard in "Hollow World", I don't remember about halflings), but still AD&D provided a much more interesting (albeit still limited) palette of options.
As for the kits, I think that like their dreaded grandchildren, the prestige classes, it was a good concept that got out of hand. When they were good, they were really good (the battle-rager and marksman from the Complete Dwarf are still personal favorites), but many were only half-done and provided less flavour than needed.
I think that the big issue here is how hard is to create a proper asymmetric balance, race specific classes are meant to either play hard on the strength of a specific race, or cover the weak spots, making them potential game-breakers. Building an elven ranger specialization that amplify the natural link between sylvain elves and the woods can create a character that is terribly limited, being a god in its own trade and a sub-par chracter in all the others. It can be argued that it's part of the RPG experience, but the key factor here is how wide that trade is. Make it too wide and the class is too good, make it too small and you have a character that can't hold his own.
I do love race specialties, but I think that most of them should be primarily flavour changes, not mechanical ones.

Matthew Skail said...

Just as an FYI, I've got several new racial-classes (made via the ACKS rules) for Elves and Dwarves on RPGnow under DYS Games.

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