Wednesday, March 18, 2009

an alternative to race+class

In Labyrinth Lord elf, dwarf, and halfing are classes. This fact annoys the people who like to play a certain race but want some more class options. It also annoys people who feel versimilitude is underserved by having all members of a race use the exact same rules. That second group can be wished away by telling them "the rules only apply to adventurers, not typical members of the species". But I'd like to meet the first group at least halfway.

The problem is that I don't always dig the AD&D solution of picking a race from column A and then a class (or more than one class) from column B. More and more I envision the classes Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief as specifically Human classes. Those four classes say something about human society in the gameworld and opening the classes up to non-human races muddles that message.

Instead, I think a better solution would be to add more demihuman classes. These would be unique classes that might overlap the Human Four in some ways but aren't the same. Here's my current list of ideas:

Dwarf Alchemist
Dwarf Engineer
Halfling Merchant
Halfling Spelltwerp
Halfling Jester
Elf Poet
Elf Toymaker
Elf Baker

Do you see how just looking at the classes available to each race tells you something about how they fit into the setting?

Each new class would have the same level limits, saving throws, and racial abilities of the normal racial class. Everything else would be up for grabs. Some of the basic work of building the classes could use the material from Paul Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" (Dragon #109). I've already got a rough draft of a Spelltwerp using Crabaugh's numbers. Other classes could benefit from the adaptation of existing classes. The Elf Baker produces cookies with potion-like effects, so one of the zillion existing alchemist variants could probably be made to work. The Dwarf Alchemist, on the other hand, actually makes all sorts of magic items, in the vein of the Rolemaster version of the Alchemist or the norse dwarves that can whip up things like Mjolnir.


  1. But I don't want to make toys. I want to be a dentist!

  2. Filthy elves don't deserve cookies.

  3. Carry this to its logical conclusion, and you are in Talislanta playing a Zandir Charlatan teamed up with Marukan Dung Merchant.

    Which is awesome.

  4. Man, you just can't stop coming up with ideas for more Fight On! articles, can you?


    Maybe after a few more issues you can publish Jeff's Compendium of Awesome Additions, or something like that. I'll give you a free ad if you do. :-)

    - Cal

  5. The idea that the standard classes are human only is very interesting Jeff! That opens up a whole world of possibile classes for the non human races. You could create four standard classes for each of the demi humans to counter weight the human, fighter, cleric, magic-user,theif. If each of those classes was assumed to portray a specific aspect of human endevour, they what would be the defining characteristics of each of the demi-human races that they would refine into classes? Humanity has war/combat,spirituality, the urge to manipulate reality, and avarice. What then do Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and gnomes want and invest their energies in that would become classes in game terms?

  6. In one of my old games I decided to introduce a number of Race specific hirelings, and retainers. My favorite was the Halfling Baker, which created rations and sweet cakes. After eating a sweet cake NPC's moral would be raised by one for the remainder of the day.

  7. Heh, ok, I started reading this post and said, damn! that's the coolest idea I've ever heard of...then I read Halfling Spelltwerp and Elf Baker and can't tell if you're serious or kidding.

    Either way it's still a really neat idea. I'd rather see what E.G.Palmer is suggesting; each species gets four class choices just like Humans. I would go further and say every species is unlimited in level in their respective classes, though the alternate experience points/level rules you suggested in an earlier post would be used to make it take longer for Elves, Dwarves, etc. to reach the levels of their Human counterparts.

    Best D&D concept I've heard of in forever.

    Barking Alien

  8. Is Mr. Paul Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" article present on any of the Best of the Dragon's or is it necessary to hunt down a copy of Dragon #109 to read it?

  9. Sadly omitted from the Best ofs, you need the actual issue or the CD-ROMs. Outlaw copies might be at large on the torrents. I dunno. I own a perfectly legit CD-ROM set.

  10. That's a darn shame...from the way you describe it it seems "Customized Classes" it so useful it should have been added to the Rules Cyclopedia.

  11. Paul Crabaugh died years ago, so he may have passed away before reprint rights could be negotiated. Or some idiot at The Dragon/TSR didn't like that his number didn't sync up exactly with the official XP charts.

  12. This is a great idea that neatly sidesteps the whole argument of racial classes. Nicely done.

    I assume Elven Bakers wear chef hats?

  13. Anonymous5:50 PM

    Dragon 109? Cough!

  14. This idea has been rattling around in my head as well. Having at least two class choices per race would be a nice thing.

  15. Anonymous7:53 PM

    Note that the Dwarf Alchemist could make magical toys. Remember that the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain were noted for such.

    Great ideas as usual, Jeff! :D

  16. Anonymous8:38 PM

    "In Labyrinth Lord elf, dwarf, and halfing are classes. This fact annoys the people who like to play a certain race but want some more class options. It also annoys people who feel versimilitude is underserved by having all members of a race use the exact same rules. That second group can be wished away by telling them "the rules only apply to adventurers, not typical members of the species".

    First of all -- WTF? In LABYRINTH LORD, dwarf, elf, and halfling are classes.

    What. The. Fuck.

    I mean, if I wanted Tolkienish fantasy, I'd play... The whole attraction of LL over, say OD&D, is the classical greek flavor. I distinctly fail to remember any halflings in Homer.

    Second -- I don't really see the dichotomy you have proposed. Those who want more PCs options for demihumans have a 99% overlap with those who feel that "race==class" lacks verisimilitude. On which side I firmly sit.

    But I'm also totally into having race-specific classes, as you have proposed. I sooooo want to play a Dwarven Trapmaker.

    OTOH, race-specific classes sound rather like work. So it goes.

  17. Huh...buddy, I think you may have gotten Labyrinth Lord and Mazes and Minotaurs mixed up there...

    Just a thought.

  18. Anonymous8:56 PM


    Teach me to go to a wine tasting before posting.

  19. Anonymous8:58 PM


    Teach me to go to a wine tasting before posting.

    But, really, how much can I be blamed for confusing Mazes and Minotaurs with Labyrinth Lord?

  20. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay does this in a way. I always hated and loved the dnd race + class system. It's fun, but at the same time I always feel either generic or pigeonholed by class and racial archetypes. Background options sort of alleviated this problem but it always just felt like a patch. I always liked the idea of generating a character based on their culture, talents and upbringing.

    But anyways, check out warhammer fantasy roleplaying, or the mmo warhammer: age of reckoning. Rather than having human fighter, and dwarven fighter you get norse berserker and dwarven trollslayer.

  21. “Good players will always recognize that you (the DM) have ultimate authority over the game mechanics, even superseding some-thing in a rulebook. Good DMs know not to change or overturn a published rule without a good, logical justification.”
    Monte Cook, July 2003

  22. Anonymous12:28 AM

    Elf Hairdresser
    Halfling Paperweight
    Dwarf Lawn Ornament

    There are so many ways to go...

  23. Anonymous1:08 AM

    This is a fantastic idea. In addition to retro-games, I play Burning Wheel, and I love their careers for the flavor they give to the game.

    Men have Sorcery, Elves have Spellsongs and Dwarves have their own Arts of crafting... but no Dwarven Wizards there!

    It's a great way for a DM to give his world a unique flavor. Cool!

  24. Anonymous3:34 AM

    It might be worth looking at an old article by Erin Smale for creation of Classic D&D custom classes:

  25. Elf Shoemaker, surely?

    Top stuff Jeff. Especially good for introducing new players to the archetypes used in a game.

  26. This looks to me like exactly what 3.x did in the long run. Not so much slipping down the slope as leaping off of it.

    The classes (i.e., magic user, thief (if you include it), fighting man, etc.) are archetypes of characters, and I don't see the need to multiply them out like that.

    Instead, I've been putting together a much simpler solution that involves basic XP% penalties. A Dwarf, for example, could become a cleric, but with a 5% XP penalty, or become a Thief with a 10% penalty. I've even thoguht that it might be plausible to say that he could become a magic user, but would suffer a whopping 25% penalty for pursuing a career that runs so against the grain of what it means to be a Dwarf.

  27. Instead of new classes, what about just having class-flavoured feats (sorry about the new school term). Give these out every 5 levels or so.

    For example: animal companion, rage, martial arts, etc. Details would only be 2-3 sentences long.

    This way a fighter with 'animal companion' would feel different than a fighter with 'holy warrior'.

    Mixing and matching feats would get the players (and DM) close to any class they could think of - without writing up tonns of classes. For example a 'tracking' feat and 'dual wield' would make a fighter feel like a ranger, etc.

  28. Anonymous4:43 PM

    I got to say I prefer the different race specific classes rather than just adding modifiers to existing classes.

    Psychologically, it makes them seem like different things, rather than just variations.

    It is very similar to Talislanta, which is by no means a bad thing, though it does have a advantage of being a bit more accessable I think. I mean, a Zandir Charlatan does not have the mythic resonance that a Dwarven Alchemist does. Which is not to say that Talislanta fails because of that, just that the play experience is different.

  29. My "solution" to the problem is to provide other "multiclass" combinations for dwarves and halflings which work like the Elf. So, we have Dwarven Warcasters which are a combination of fighter and cleric (with a different spell progression, analogously to the BECMI Elf). And the Halfling Adventurer, which combines fighter and thief. And just for fun and completeness, a Warrior Elf, which is basically a fighter like the standard Dwarf and Halfling. It has worked perfectly, and it sort of respects the classical AD&D archetypes.


  30. Anonymous8:07 PM

    I was reading through this, and from over my shoulder heard a little voice say, "I want to be a Spelltwerp!" Is that going to be in Fight On, or is it to be posted here sometime?

  31. I'll probably put most of these classes here if I develop the idea further. I don't want to make Calithena have to choose between publishing my cookie-making elves and something swordish & sorcery-esque!

  32. Anonymous9:29 AM

    Thanks, now I absolutely want to play an Elven baker in a LL campaign.

  33. I am not in favor of expanding classes to demihumans generally, although I can see how it might be used to garner a little more interest from players if there's a whiff of burnout in the air. That being said, I'm torn now, having considered the words "halfling spelltwerp" for a few moments. The mind reels!