Monday, January 5, 2009

Simple Love

My experience with putting together a two-page dungeon level last week has had an unintended side effect. Quite unexpectedly, I started to find myself captivated again by the simple beauty of the older editions. I used Labyrinth Lord to cook up Level 1A, but this retro-clone reminded me of why I fell in love with the game in the first place.

I suspect that part of the attraction I feel for the simpler form of the game comes from the character fatigue I’m still suffering from. Saturday evening was game night again for our group, and when I found myself faced with the decision of starting a new character from scratch or bringing in an older one, I decided to play the one that I had already rolled-up. My decision in this regard stemmed largely from having little desire to go through the whole 3.5 process of making a new character, especially one that would jump in the game at 4th level. I just wasn’t up to doing the build. It was much easier to upgrade the older character to make him more appropriate for established party level.

Whenever I flip through the Holmes, Moldvay/Cook, or Mentzer editions, or even its modern cousin, Labyrinth Lord, I always find myself thinking that this is the system that I should be running. While I love AD&D and all the wonky, creaky and baroque rules that accompany that edition of the game, sometimes the lure of the simple pleasure is too much to deny. Despite this siren song, there’ always one aspect of these rules that rises up to ruin my fun: Race as Class.

I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I just can’t get past the idea that every elf is a fighter/magic-user or that every dwarf is solely an axe-wielding warrior. For better or for worse, AD&D let that genie out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back. Knowing my own quirks as a player, I can’t help but project that people coming to play at my theoretical gaming table are going to feel the same way, and it will only be a matter of time before someone wants to play a devout dwarven cleric or a wizardly elf without all the melee nonsense.

I’m quite aware that this hang-up goes against my own cardinal rule of “Stop worrying and love the dungeon.” In theory, I should just be able to say, “Them’s the rules,” and press onward. But I’ll be first in line to admit that the rule of “Stop Worrying” is easier to apply to the dungeon itself than it is for those who venture into it.

I’ve been thinking rather hard on a way to move past this stumbling block, but answers are not readily forthcoming. I’ve little desire to try and recreate AD&D is D&D format – one of the faults I found with Mentzer as those series of rules progressed. But at the same time, I’d like to accommodate the desires of the players, hopefully without a lot of "away from the table" design work if possible.

I thought that I might have found the answer in an article in Dragon #109 called “Customized Classes”, which give a streamlined method of building D&D classes. With a little math, I thought that making a Dwarf Cleric – for lack of a better class name for the moment – with these rules might be the answer. Unfortunately, after looking over the method detailed in those rules, I find that the math doesn’t quite add up to match the established classes presented in the earlier editions of D&D. Since I possess a lack of aptitude in matter mathematical, I’m not sure how to go about rigging that method to generate results closer to the original classes as presented. I’ve given the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game rules a once over, and while that system is indeed closer to what I have in mind, I’m not quite sold on them right now. Another look might be in order, but I suspect that a solution that would appeal to my own aesthetics lies somewhere in between the two.

I wonder if anyone has any suggestions, anecdotes, or other advice to help me overcome this mental stumbling block?


Gamer Dude said...

Hi Mike, I doubt I have a "solution" per se...but I do have a similar love / dislike (not strong enough to call it "hate") of the race as class situation in LL / Mentzer.

I cut my teeth on an amalgamation of AD&D and the Holmes rules way back when...but we definitely used most of what we found in the AD&D PHB in regards to race / class parameters. Fast forward a couple of decades and I found myself in the same mental place as you; I'm just not into the character creation process required of 3.x and even (to a bit lesser extent) 4E.

So I started looking for a racier, sleeker, more elegant rule set. And I eventually landed on Labyrinth Lord. I'm currently running a game for my daughters, and occasionally my wife with this rule system and we're all in love with it. My "regular" group is still mucking with 4E though...."sigh".

Anyway, on to the point, my youngest REALLY wanted to play an elven cleric. Which, as you know, is pretty much "impossible" in LL. Well what to do? I thought about it and in the end it was my youngest who came up with the "solution".

She was sitting at the dinner table one night and telling me about her character's background when she mentioned that her mother is elven and her father is human. Aha! I thought. Here's the opening I was looking for. So in the end I gave her elven vision, and she "appears" elven, which is really what she was driving towards, and allowed her to run a cleric of Freya.

Now, I know that this isn't much of a solution, but in game it's not a hindrance what so ever. She's the "first" 1/2 elven and is treated a bit differently by a few of the common folk, but she appears elven for the most part and many treat her this way. She doesn't have ALL of the elven attributes but certainly enough to appease her desires.

The game runs so "well" due to its loose rules that no one notices a few anomalies. Experience and leveling is kept simple for these first few levels and I currently run it on a per session basis (1 level for every 6 sessions played so far.).

Keep in mind that this is basically a story based game for children (w/ my wife attending once so far...whole different story there.) who are unaware of the rules, but in the end I doubt very seriously that I'd run it a whole lot differently for adults. Everyone is having fun, and in the end that's what it's all about right?

James Maliszewski said...

FWIW, there's an article in one of the issues of Scribe of Orcus that describes how to detach race from class in Labyrinth Lord. It's pretty easily done, so you can get the best of both worlds without too much trouble.

Hamlet said...

For whatever it's worth, there's some info about this in the back of the Rules Cyclopedia.

*waits for the inevitable shouting about how terrible the book was to die down*

They essentially work out to "stop worrying and just let it go" kind of a thing, but it's an interesting way to work it. If I recall it correctly (having not pulled out my copy of that book for a few months) it amounted to just have them play a standard class and add in any abilities of the dwarf/halfling/elf that relate to biology rather than culture. For example, a dwarf cleric would, in effect, be a cleric with infra-vision and the ability to detect sloping tunnels etc.

It's very simple and probably doesn't address that buggaboo "balance," but it works. Sort of.

Christopher B said...

I may be wrong, but at a quick glance at the Moldvay/Cook XP progression, it looks like the Elf class is just a Fighter with an additional per-level XP raise of about 80% of the M-U class. Therefore, to make a Dwarf Ftr/M-U, simply add 80% of the M-U XP per level.

Want a Dwarf Ftr/Clr? Just add 80% of the Cleric XP per level. A Dwarf Clr only? Start with the Cleric base XP and add 10% per level. (Since the Dwarf class is just a Fighter with an additional per-level XP raise of 10% of the Fighter class, it makes sense that you can extrapolate these to the other classes - just add 10% to the XP progression).

To simplify this:

The base cost of each race is:

Dwarf: Fighter + 10%
Elf: Fighter
Halfling: Fighter

Swap any human class for Fighter above, just add the adjustment (which seems to only count for Dwarves).

Add a second class by adding a per-level XP adjustment equal to 80% of the second class.

Seems like it should work... but whichever way you go, best of luck!

David Larkins said...

I've actually come to like the "race as class" mechanic quite a bit. I like the simplicity of it, and I like what it implies for the game world. For me, it emphasizes the versatility of humans, which is supposed to be their big advantage anyway. Just think of the demi-human races as being terribly hide-bound and homogeneous.

Another way to interpret it is that far fewer demi-humans go adventuring than humans; most elf (or dwarf, or halfling) adventurers tend to come of a certain broad "type", as opposed to humans, which specialize more.

P_Armstrong said...

I have never had much of a problem with the Basic/Expert race = class thing. It was alway my assumption that the dwarves (for instance) were not limited as a race to just fighter-types but that the vast majority of the race (and therefor the PCs) were, due to cultural and other circumstances warriors. Dwarven clerics would exist but would be extremely rare and as part of the dwarven sense of duty or whatever not be adventurers.

If a player really wanted to play a dwarven cleric though, I would just make it up: "Sure you can be a cleric but..." and make sure they know that the "buts" will be slow advancement and a low level cap. After all, it is something that dwarves aren't very good at.

K. Bailey said...

I say roll a new class for this special kind of Dwarf who can heal, or make alterations to the existing Dwarf class that give it a smattering of Cleric spells (why not, considering Elves are Fighter/MU's, let Dwarves be Fighter/Clerics).

I like race-as-class (or rather, race-specific classes) because it says something about the game world. Those non-human races are special, damnit. I don't think D&D class concepts have ever really been that modular except for Fighters, and Clerics especially have a fair bit of weird Templar-ish baggage that people tend to not examine...

I say take this chance to make Dwarves more special, rather than allowing free combinations of races and classes that actually cheapen both.

Steamtunnel said...

Here is a solution- give the humans somthing to match the racial abilities of the other races. Then allow the player to take the class he wants and add the racial abilities of the selected race. This way there is no extra math, and you can forget about the other three "classes."

Michael Curtis said...

Thanks to everyone for kicking this around a bit. I was playing with the numbers in the "Customizing Classes" article last night and I think I might have found a method that works for me. I still have to run the numbers, and now that I've had a few suggestions here to compare those number with, but from a bird's-eye view I think it might work.

I plan on revisiting this topic on Wednesday, hopefully with a solution that works for me, so stay tuned.

The_Myth said...

Try this:

Building the Perfect Class.

The_Myth said...

The link malfunctioned in the previous post, so here's a url:

thekelvingreen said...

I just can’t get past the idea that every elf is a fighter/magic-user or that every dwarf is solely an axe-wielding warrior.
Simple answer: they're not, just the ones who go out adventuring are. After all, not every human is a fighter/cleric/thief/wizard...

The Badger King said...

I side with what commenter Mike said... just add a few of the racial abilities to the class they desire, and voila. Realistically, it doesn't sound like you're going to have to worry too much about "balance", and if that ever becomes an issue, I'm sure you will be able to fudge together something better in that time. 8)