Saturday, September 1, 2012

More Thoughts on Racial Specific Character Classes - How Many Does a Race Need?

Assuming you are going to go the ACKS route of introducing Racial Specific Character Classes to your OSR game of choice, how many do you need?

What I mean is this - humans cover all four compass points in pretty much every ruleset (with the exception of S&W White Box, which lacks a thief class, just like the the original D&D Boxed Set). A human centric party has access to a fighter, cleric, magic-user and thief class. You can leave out demi-humans and not have a hole in your party.

Most OSR games have PC clerics as human only (apparently demi-humans dont actively worship their own gods - or maybe carpet bagger human clerics come along to fill the niche?). Elves are usually the only option for a non-human arcane spell caster. Sure, they can all be fighters to a limited extent, but the only class offering unlimited advancement to the non-humans is thief.

Think about that for a moment. Thievery is the niche that was given to demi-humans to thrive in. Apparently it's the only thing they are good at, and they all make better thieves than humans if your game uses racial adjustments.

I know, the demi-races are balanced by their level limits, but what about the limited options? Isn't part of the fun of playing a game about imaginary fantasy to be able to be and do fantastic things?

3e almost got it right by opening up all classes to all races, but even that fails to capture the uniqueness of each race. A Dwarven Warrior and a Halfling Warrior draw upon different backgrounds, and especially in the case of the halfling, I'm pretty sure the human centric "Fighter" class is a poor fit.

Yes, this stuff is kicking around in my head and on my hard drive to some extent. We'll see if it bears fruit.

So, does each race need to cover all 4 corners to some extent? If you want an "All Halfling" campaign, or "All Elf" campaign, the answer is probably yes. Doesn't mean each race would be equally good at each of the four "class type niches", but they probably all should be covered.

This, of course, would lead to an insanely huge rulebook ;)

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts on this soon...


  1. All depends on the campaign really.

    Halfling Burglar, Halfling Borderer,Dwarven Rune Smith, Dwarven Shield-Brother, Dwarven Prospector, Elfin Lark, Elfin Knight and Elfin Savant definitely does some defining of the races and how they may fit in a campaign.

  2. Or, you know, separate Race from Class. I'm sure someone, somewhere, must have tried that.

    Then use allowable multi-classes to skew things the way you want it. e.g. No Elven M-Us, Illusionists instead. Maybe their top Spellcasters are Druid/Illusionists.

    The "everyone is good at being a Thief" is basic, if not inaccurate, cynicism.

  3. I played a bit with this back in my 3E phase. Expanded racial abilities so that each race became more archetypally dorfy/elvish/orky (and better suited to their preferred class) as they levelled up.

    It should be simple enough to write in substitute abilities that slightly tweak each archetypal class based on character race (should you elect to stray from the righteous path of race-as-class).

    Dw + T = Trapsmith (max L9) - crap at climbing, good with devices
    Dw + F = Battlecube (max L10) - more hp/level, no 2H weapons
    Dw + Cl = Stonepriest (max L9) - swap turning for ranger-style 'super racist against humanoids' ability
    Dw + Wiz = Scholar (max L8) - good with transmutation/alchemical stuff, crap w. enchantments/charms

  4. @SAROE: Well, you know how those thieving demi-humans are. (/snark)

    @ Chris Hogan: "'super racist against humanoids' ability."

    That's just pure gold, Chris.

    I do like your Dwarf classes, also.

    As for myself, I've never really played 2nd or 3rd ed. D&D, and I only played 4th one time (once was good enough, as I found it over-engineered and sort of confusing. Great for selling lots of books, not as great for getting to the gaming).

    I've played a good bit of Warhammer FRPG, though. Their class system is based on race-based careers, which assumes that all playable races have distinct cultural forms, and that such forms are different from each other. That's pretty concurrent with these examples.

    WHFRPGalso makes the assumption that someone in a particular career can move into other careers, but they need to sort of have something to do with each other. Not a lot, but something.

    With that in mind, let's look at Halflings:

    H+T: This is a no-brainer. Burglar. Good at all the thief things, but particularly good at sneaking. No max level.

    H+F: Warden (max lev 9)- this is the halfling version of the ranger. Limited to chainmail armor, though leather is more common. Can use shortswords, daggers, slings, shortbows. Has some tracking and woodcraft abilities, survival etc.

    H+C: This one is a bit tough. all I can think of is a wee little friar of some kind. Very rustic. What to call him? Might be a bit more like a druid than a traditional cleric, depending on what direction you take it.(max lev. 5).

    H+Wiz: I could see an Alchemist or Herbalist of some kind, or could be good at wards and defensive magics (max lev. 4).

    Another option would be to allow for Race-as-Class, but at a particular level (say, 3rd level), members of that particular demi-human group can choose to specialize in some "professional" area, with the attendant perks for doing so. This would be, in effect, a multi-class thing, but it would be in serial form, not concurrent. So, for example, I'm a halfling, and advance as Halfling until I reach 3rd level. At that point, I may (optionally) choose to specialize. I would no longer advance as a halfling (race-as-class), but in the particular class I've chosen, starting as if I was 1st level in that class.

    Under that pattern, it may not be necessary to place level limits on such characters, as they already are limited by having to achieve 3rd (or maybe even 4th) level to begin this other career path.

    I'd also want them to step the hit die used up or down depending on whether that career was tougher or wimpier. So, a halfling has d6 for HD, but specializes as a wizard. He would use d4 as HD from then on out.

    You'd also have to make some decisions about how the racial choice limits options available in terms of weapons and so forth. A halfling, for example, could be a fine warrior in some ways, but couldn't, as Erik suggests, be expected to fight as a human. He'd prefer to fight with missile weapons, and when up close and personal would have to rely on speed and agility. For this reason, he might be limited in armor choices. Sure, you can use plate mail, but don't expect to fight in a shield wall like a dwarf or human.

  5. Red Box Fantasy rpg does this, very thoroughly.

  6. I used to be very against race-as-class, until ACKS came along and gave us the tools to make our own race-as-classes to both fill the niches and make the special. Now that we can do that, I totally agree that the human foursome don't 'fit' the flavor of the races and they should have their own versions.

    Minus level limits 'cause they are just stupid... ;)


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