Clones · D&D/AD&D

Race as class and back again


I’ve been talking with my old group recently about starting an on-line game of some sort. Naturally, the topic of conversation has largely centered on schedules and game systems.

At the moment, I’m vacillating between Labyrinth Lord and Traveller (the new retro-clone from Mongoose). For the most part, I’m leaning towards Labyrinth Lord for two reasons.

First, it’s fantasy. I’ve had an urge to do something with fantasy lately, as I’ve actually not worked with it much over the last decade. Tied to this is the reality that we’ll likely be dealing with a small group of three or four players, and survival will be easier if there is magic in the game. Not to mention, since the format is likely going to primarily consist of email exchanges, it would be convenient to design small dungeon adventures that work well with the kind of pitter-patter rhythm that naturally develops through this format.

Second, the fantasy urge I have is largely tied to old school mechanics. I’ve been considering all three of the big free systems — Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, and Swords & Wizardry — and the former has been winning out because of its well manicured simplicity.

The truly strange part that’s emerged during this process is that I’m not leaning towards OSRIC because of its distinction between class and race, but that I’m leaning towards Labyrinth Lord because it combines them. To be honest, by the time I began playing AD&D back in the 80’s I was thrilled to see the possibilities unfold when you differentiate the two.

Now, I’m looking at the system and seeing it in a slightly different light. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to choose one flavor and never see the other again I’d certain go with the AD&D method. It’s just that I’ve developed an appreciation for the combination of class with race, even beyond the nostalgic underpinnings.

For one thing, it fits a certain J.R.R. Tolkien and Terry Brooks idea of non-human races. While it might not be 100% accurate, both of these literary figures, which inspired a lot of my early gaming, treated races in “stereotypical” ways. Dwarves were gruff warriors or Hobbits (excuse me, Halflings) were fun-loving agrarian figures; it wasn’t as if we were seeing a huge pattern of diversity within the races.

While a certain amount of this was merely an attempt to create common traits across an imaginary racial divide, coming back to an old school game that treats races in a similar way is suddenly making a little more sense to me. Even though I understand why people have a problem with it, especially once they’ve played AD&D, I’m feeling much more comfortable entertaining the thought of using Labyrinth Lord with those kinds of examples as the imaginative backdrop.

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4 thoughts on “Race as class and back again

  1. I split the difference. Dwarves, Elves, and Hobbits are not cosmopolitan races, the way humans are, and their cultures actively discourage specialization and non-traditional roles. An Elf who specialized in magic to the exclusion of his warrior heritage would be disdained, perhaps not even able to pass as an adult. Ditto for a Dwarf who attempted to learn magic. On the other hand, those are features of the culture, not biological imperatives of the species, so you can get oddballs with unusual outlooks or backgrounds.

    So: Any character, regardless of Race, can be any Class. That means they were raised by the appropriate Race for that class, and they get all the class features of that Race, and none of their own. A Human raised by Elves would advance as an Elf, with the same special abilities and level restrictions. An Elf who rejected his heritage and went to study magic with the humans would advance as an MU and would not get access to his Elven racial abilities such as immunity to Ghoul’s touch and ability to wear armor (which are assumed to be the result in part of long training). The one caveat is that I keep Low Light Vision as a species ability, so even an Elf Fighter would have it, while a Human raised as an Elf wouldn’t get it.

    This gives what seems to be a nice self-consistent approach, while eliminating any need for changes to other rules or re-balancing.

  2. If I were playing AD&D I generally allow any race to play any class assuming it makes some kind of sense in the character background. But being a retro-clone of Basic D&D, Labyrinth Lord approaches Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling as classes, which surprisingly enough, I’m actually coming around to appreciate in a certain way.

  3. When we first started playing S&W, I was a tad uncomfortable with the notion of race-equals-class too, but one of the beauties of beign the DM, especially in a rules-lite gaming system, is that you can tweak the rules to your heart’s contentment so long as you don’t chase off your players in doing so.

    House rules are fun..and if you have a dwarf that wants to be a mage…or a wife that wants to play a half-orc (yeah, it happens), it can be done..and without breaking the game.

    For what it’s worth, LL and S&W are both darn fine systems..though I’ve been playing S&W primarily. Both systems have seen their own fan-offerings of alternative character classes if you’re willing to have a look through the S&W or LL forums.

  4. Spike, I’ve not used either LL or S&W yet, but obviously used to play OD&D and Basic D&D back in the day. I did take a look at the additional race/class combinations at Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope, and while I think he did a fantastic job, I’ve kind of made my peace with the idea of race as class.

    On the other hand, I do appreciate how easy it might be to modify the system. While I’ve not really been thinking of tinkering with classes or races (except maybe adding a druid), I’ve certainly been thinking of different magical items and monsters that I’d like to throw into a campaign if I use it.

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