Or perhaps ‘historical alternates’.
In my last post I described how race and class were linked in various editions of Dungeons & Dragons (and family). In this post I’ll expand a little on these connections, and a couple of alternatives to them.
Later-era D&D 3.x presented ‘alternate class features’, where members of a class could replace certain class features with others. These were typically done on a case-by-case basis, and were a bit disconnected. The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game implemented the same idea in a more structured and tidier manner with archetypes, bundles of alternate class features that were somewhat more coherent. Either way, they can be used to provide race-specific variations to base classes. I like this better than the ‘favored class options’ currently used in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.
There are other approaches to consider.
Adventurer Conqueror King System does not have a multiclassing mechanism in the core rules. However, there are race-specific classes that fill a similar purpose, such as the elven nightblade. This harkens back to the AD&D rules where only demihumans can multiclass and are limited in the maximum level in their classes, but gives more ability to the designer to tune the abilities.
In Blood & Treasure, still my favorite retroclone, races get ‘knacks’ (+3 bonus to certain skills, basically) and can be any race. Demihumans are still the only ones that can multiclass, but each demihuman race can multiclass only in certain combinations (dwarves are fighter/something, elves are magic-user/something, halfings are thief/something, gnomes as illusionist/something), and there is an increased experience point cost to advance.
13th Age shows a great deal of D&D 4e influence. Each race gives a +2 bonus to one of two ability scores, each class gives a +2 bonus to one of two ability scores, and you’re not allowed to apply both to the same ability score. Each race has a special ability that can help encourage certain race-class combinations, but it’s not absolute.
The Dawnforge setting (late D&D 3.x era, it was beaten out by Eberron in WotC’s “campaign setting competition”) retains the D&D 3.x multiclass rules (potential experience point penalties and favored classes) but presents an option that intrigues me. At each level up to level 10, each race gives a ‘racial talent’ or ‘racial transformation’ (and periodically specific ability score adjustments). These are not fixed, they are selected by the player when gaining a level. As with racial qualitative benefits in other systems, these do not enforce race-class combinations, but the options chosen can make a character more effective in a particular class.
And, as one of my players put it, “your dwarf gets more dwarfy”. Who can’t love that?
My next post in this series will describe in more detail how Dawnforge makes a dwarf more dwarfy.