Thursday, January 3, 2013

Class Warfare

I’ve been going over the player character options available for Basic/Expert and there are more than you might think, the OSR has opened more than a few doors in that regard.  I’m even crafting a class or two of my own and I feel that I should touch on a topic which has been controversial since its introduction, or its comparison to Advanced D&D at any rate.  Perhaps the biggest, single issue most players seem to have with the Basic/Expert model of D&D is the way Moldvay decided to handle the demi-humans: the so-called “Race as Class.”  This topic has been discussed exhaustively on the internet and analyzed by minds keener than my own, following any of the links included below will lead you to excellent discourses about the pros and cons of this method.

However, I don’t feel that any of them necessary touch on the rationale behind the thinking that produced the Race as Class model.  The reason for racial classes and even level limits in earlier versions of D&D is because of the biggest conceit in the mind of the game’s originators: Humans are the best.  Even if only in terms of level limits humans clearly rise above all other races in that they have no level limits except for the limits of the game itself, whereas in the Little Brown Books, Basic/Expert, BECMI and AD&D Elves, Dwarfs, Gnomes, Halflings, half-whatevers are specifically limited to the number of levels they can advance (pre-Unearthed Arcana), limiting their proficiency in all professions relative to humans.  Admittedly this is changed in the last couple of versions of the Grand Ol’ Game, but is still a valid point of view on earlier versions.

For human characters, class is all about their professional identity.  Be it Farmer, Banker, Fighting Man, Thief; class is about what you as a character can do and do well.  The classes for humans, while archetypal, are not rigidly defined.  Are you a foppish rake for hire with a wit as sharp as your foil?  You’re a Fighting Man (sorry, I should say Fighter but I really prefer the LBB terminology in this instance).  Are you a sullen-eyed Hillman from the North possessing panther-like reflexes with a destiny to trod on the jeweled thrones of the southern Kingdoms?  Fighting Man.  Are you a stout-hearted man-at-arms defending the realm; courteous, brash and fiercely loyal?  Still a Fighting Man.  See where I’m going?  Not so for demi-humans.

For demi-human characters, class is quite another thing all together.  I think in Race as Class that it’s more accurate to say that the class is about how the race is thought of and understood by humans.  Classes for demi-humans and/or humanoids tend to be rather strict in the definition of the race they attempt to portray.  There are no doubt Dwarves that are just as devout as any human cleric, but to uneducated human eyes they still fight with axes and in the same manner as their brethren.  There are undoubtedly Elves just as capable in the ways of woodcraft as any Huntsman, but because they still cast spells and wear chainmail rather than leather they are “Elves.”  One of the more interesting prejudices built into the Race as Class system seems to be that all the races are more or less equivalent to the Fighting Man class for humans.  Makes a certain kind of sense, the other races need fighting capability; indeed as frequent opponents of the characters the various demi-humans and humanoids are seen, through the lens of the game, as capable fighters.  The only real exception to this are the Elves, allowed in the LBBs to also level as Magic Users or in Basic/Expert (and BECMI) where they are the only real multi-class.

So there you have it, my insights into the Race as Class model as used in Basic/Expert.  I’m not so deluded as to think that this will have players of other editions abandoning their version of choice in droves, but I do think that revealing the biases and prejudices behind the system will help others better understand the rules as they are.

Presented for your edification (These are just some of my favorite opinions of the Race as Class model):

Some additional thoughts…

Of course many have sought to circumvent the restrictions of the Race as Class model and truth be told I’ve even tinkered with separating race from class, like in this article here, at times in the past but I’m now inclined to think in different terms.

If, for example, a player really wanted to be Dwarf Cleric, I think I’d rather allow that Dwarf character to be able to cast cleric spells at the cost of advancing in fighting prowess as a Cleric rather than a Fighting Man with no additional change in experience requirements or other restrictions, especially weapons.

No comments:

Post a Comment