Friday, October 19, 2012

So What's With the Basic D&D Classes?

OK, I've found some time to blog today, the eve of my birthday! Seems appropriate that I should have this little bit of luxury today, eh? Anyway, some thoughts occurred to me last night and I wanted to put this out there for the gaming blogosphere think tank, to get some comments back (I hope). I'm looking for people more steeped in D&D's creation lore than I am.

So, it seems the common wisdom regarding the Classic/Basic D&D classes is that there was no attempt to give them balance. Is this something that was confirmed by Gygax/Arneson? This whole thing seems counter-intuitive to me. It appears that, when looking at the classes, a party should really have a mix of classes, including the demi-humans. I mean, sure, you have the human classes that all serve distinct purposes. But I have to think that the demi-humans were in there for a reason other than to give people more fantasical character choices.

The inclusion of demi-humans, to me, takes away from the argument that Gygax wanted a human-centric game. I'm not as familiar with all the ins-and-outs of the demi-human classes, but I think they generally have better saves (especially the halfling), right? And the elves are the ur-version of the fighter-magic user combination in the D&D system, correct? Sort of the first occurance of dual-classing in the game, right? And sure there's the ability to see in the dark, being better at finding hidden doors, etc.

I guess what I'm saying is that I think the game's creators wanted players to see ALL the Basic classes as viable options, and therefore all the classes can play integral roles in a party. Some blog posts I've read over the last couple of years seem to poo-poo the demi-human classes as being bastardized versions of the human classes (with the exception of the cleric, which doesn't have a demi-human counterpart) that were shoehorned in so that the game would have more "fantasy" to it. I find it hard to believe that Gygax/Arneson would put the demi-human options into the game if they weren't intended to be of equal value during play. I think seeing the non-human classes as being second fiddle to the human classes is wrong-headed.

Now, I could be totally wrong. Maybe there's a Gygax interview out there where he explicitly states that the demi-humans were sort of bolted onto the game at first (in OD&D/the LBBs?) and then became solidified as the system was edited/revised.

So, there's my bit of rambling for the day. Sometimes I shock myself with how little I know about D&D lore. Any insight is appreciated. If there's a good blog post that someone's already written about this, please let me know. Don't want you all to have to reinvent the wheel to answer my questions.


  1. Happy B-day eve Drance! I've never been a fan of races being a class, but never had a problem with race specific classes. But most campaigns I've been in classes were not race specific or exclusive. Sorry I can't answer any of your questions or direct you to a great post, but thought I would comment any how. :) Have a great b-day!

  2. I think that Gygax called for a 'human-centric' game in the sense of the campaign world, not in terms of the PCs.

    Sure all the player options are viable, but for the players to share an imaginative universe it has to have strong real-world analogues. Suspending disbelief on these analogues in the game is much easier if they are products of human culture in the game world as well.

    I know my ability to take "wild-west elves" or "Marxist ursoids" seriously is pretty limited.

    So while a party of all dwarves (and I've DMed for several such) can kick ass in the Caves of Chaos as well as any mixed team of humans, it's still the case that The Keep is a human stronghold and the civilized lands off the map are human lands.

  3. I recall some discussion where one of the original players explained that most people played humans and that demihumans were more often sidekicks and henchmen. Then again there's the whole Sir Fang thing where it appears players played all kinds of crazy stuff.

    I'm not sure about something as specific as why B/X handled classes the way it did. From what I can see in the game itself, as a growth out from the LBBs, we have Dwarves and Halflings who can be only Fighters, and Elves are a weird two-class F/M. Again, only three classes available in F/M/C. It makes sense to package race and class together if the choices have all been made for you.

    If AD&D was meant to assemble the 3LBB+Supps into one game, and B/X was supposed to be a branch version, I guess it makes sense to offer fewer choices.

    After all, in AD&D, Elves can be only F,M,T,Ass; Dwarf can be only F,T,Ass; Halfling only F,T. Essentially you could create a faithfully AD&D race-as-class by giving Dwarves and Halflings F/T abilities and Elves F/M/T, with additional Assassin perks if evil.

    Of course, Half-Elves screw everything up and are terrible. As in, watch the entire 1E AD&D party roll up Half-Elves because of the multiclassing oportunities.

    Anyway, back to 3LBB, you can play a Halfling but you can only be a Fighter and then only up to level 4. That's intentionally gimped and I don't know who would play a 3LBB Halfling with those advancement prospects. Written into the rules are Halflings who suck as adventurers, but who could be just fine as henchmen or NPCs. I see the same thing in the Elf and Dwarf: play one if you like but the Humans will eventually outshine you. That's the tone of the game from the level limits given. Lords and Wizards are Human. Demihumans can be heroic and important, but the most important people will be Humans.

    In B/X, the Human level max is 14th, so the demihuman advancement limits don't seem so bad. In BECMI you're looking at max 36th level Humans and the demihumans are still stuck in the teens. They have to write in special exceptions for paths to immortality for demihumans because they can't qualify otherwise, and optional rules give fighting rank advancement to demihumans after their primary level limit.

    Anyway, I see it as intended and appropriate that demihumans circle the sun of humanity. That's the Human racial benefit: high level (if you survive to see it).

  4. The level limit for the human classes is 36 in BOTH B/X and BECMI. Refer to page X8 in the Cook edited Expert set, under the headings "levels beyond those listed" and "level progression beyond 14th".

  5. The multi-classing UR-elf isn't the ELf class of Basic D&D. The 1st elves could go on an adventure as a fighter or a magiguser, choosing which they wanted to be each time.
    The Elf of Basic D&D (2nd version on) is kick ass as they can cast spells as well as a MU and wear any armor or weapons they want, have infravision, find secret doors like nobodies business and aren't paralyzed by ghouls... why play a magic-user?

  6. why play a magic-user?

    The elf XP requirements for advancement are very steep in the beginning, the elf has a level limit of 10, the elf can never prepare spells above fifth level.

  7. Given the halfling level limit of 4 in OD&D, I'm pretty sure it was not intended to be equal in power to the other options. If anything, halfling characters are sort of "hard mode" in OD&D. I think this quality went away as the game developed and people began to care more about "fairness" of options.