Just The Rules: Kreshtar, Dwarves, and Other Races

Yesterday’s post was a bit weak because I didn’t know quite where I was going with it. Today I’m on more solid ground.

D&D and its descendants have long had the idea of race, of human and non-human characters. It’s been handled in different ways in different editions and in different games.

Existing Implementations

Let’s look at how different editions of D&D and family have handled races.

Race as Class

One of the first ways many of us saw race in D&D is as a separate class. In BECMI and B/X, ‘dwarf’, ‘elf’, and ‘halfling’ were classes you could pick instead of cleric, fighter, magic-user, or thief. They had ability score prerequisites to qualify and gave some extra abilities humans didn’t have.

They were also limited in maximum level, and could not advance as far as humans could. They could still gain other abilities as they gained experience points, but no more levels.

This is the model used in Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Split Race and Class

Starting in AD&D, a character had a race and a class. In AD&D there were still level limits, and not all races were allowed to be members of all classes, but there was a split.

In D&D 3e, they level limit and race/class restrictions were removed. This is the model used in most descendants of D&D 3.x.

Of special mention, Adventurer, Conqueror, King System has different classes for the various races (so no ‘dwarf fighter’), but they have multiple classes per race (‘dwarf vaultguard’, for example).

Keith’s Choice

Split race and class, of course. But from there, what?

For a long time, I’ve thought races were given short shrift in the game. They can be an important decision at low level and eventually fade to irrelevance by late game. Sure, +2 Dexterity can be a big bump at first level, but as time passes it is buried under other bonuses gained.

This is why I was excited by the Dawnforge setting from Fantasy Flight Games. Each level (up to level 10) a character would gain a trait or talent from a selection specific to their race. Most races were fairly consistent with D&D 3.x at the time, but these additional abilities allowed greater variation to the characters of a race, and increased the power of the PC to fit the mythic setting of Dawnforge.

I’d like to do something similar, and it turns out there’s a pretty good place for it.

3 X/F  
6 X/R  
9 X/F  
10  M/F 
12 X/R  
13  M/R 
14   C/F
15 X/F  
16  M/F 
17   C/R
18 X/R  
19  M/R 
20   C/F

At character creation, the character has a basic path and a race.

At each level the character gains a path ability appropriate to the level. a level 11 character gains an ability based on the character’s basic path, but it is a level 11 ability. Basic abilities are not necessarily weaker than expert or even master path abilities.

At each odd path level (i.e. the first, third, fifth, and seventh level of each path) the character also gains a feat, at the tier of the path. That is, at levels 1, 4, 7, and 11, a character gains a feat at the basic tier; at levels 3, 9, and 15 a character gains a feat at the expert tier, and so on.

Here’s the new part: at each even level, a character gains a ‘racial feat’ that expands on that character’s racial abilities. This feat otherwise acts the same as a regular feat: at level 12 a character gains an ‘expert racial ability’ (racial feat at the expert tier), at level 13 a character gains a ‘master racial ability’ (racial feat at the master tier), and so on.

Racial and non-racial feats are implemented in much the same way, but not interchangeable. That is, a character cannot use a non-racial feat slot to gain or upgrade a racial feat, and vice-versa.

What Does This Mean?

Over the course of a 20-level career, a character gains:

  • 7 basic class abilities: 3 realistic, 3 larger than life, 1 superhuman.
  • 4 feats at the basic tier (realistic abilities)
  • 3 racial feats at the basic tier (realistic abilities)
  • 6 expert class abilities: 1 realistic, 1 larger than life, 2 superhuman, 1 superheroic, 1 legendary
  • 3 feats at the expert tier (larger than life abilities)
  • 3 racial feats at the expert tier (larger than life abilities)
  • 4 master class abilities: 1 larger than life, 1 superhuman, one superheroic, 1 legendary
  • 2 feats at the master tier (superhuman abilities)
  • 2 racial feats at the master tier (superhuman abilities)
  • 3 champion class abilities: 1 superheroic, 2 legendary
  • 2 feats at the champion tier (superheroic abilities)
  • 1 racial feat at the champion tier (superheroic ability)

This is a total of 40 abilities gained. This is, I must admit, quite a lot. Many more than I was hoping for.

However, it’s not as bad as it looks because with the expert, master, and champion paths there aren’t really many choices to be made by the player.

Looking at the cavalier expert path presented a few days ago, the player has one choice based on the path: what order? All six abilities gained from the path come from that once choice. Master and champion paths are likely to be similar.

Fully half of the abilities (the feat or racial feat gained at each level) requires a choice, and I don’t see a way around that if I’m going to allow feats and racial feats as I’ve described. In a D&D 3.x-based game this might scare me because of the prerequisites and whatnot, but the way I’m planning feats to work should reduce that problem quite a bit.

I’m going to need some concrete examples pretty soon, I think. Especially since I just realized I didn’t actually present anything about kreshtar or dwarves.


  1. Steve Gunnell

    The big problem I have with Tolkienesque unaging races is “why are all elves not 20th level Fighter/Magic User/Thief/Clerics?” You might occasionally meet a young elf but most would be monsters far beyond beyond mortal ken. Pretty much the same goes for dwarves too. The big question you haven’t mentioned is what feats (if any) do humans have that are not available to other races?

    • I actually did an analysis of this a while ago (Longevity and Level Limits, February 2012) and concluded that as long as advancement comes from adventuring, longevity is unlikely to really come into it. If the long-lived races don’t adventure, they don’t advance. If they do adventure and have similar outcomes, they get used up about as fast as humans. If you take relative population size and fecundity into account, humans — as a whole, not individually — have a huge advantage.

      • Steve Gunnell

        Nice analysis! But only applicable if ordinary adventuring is the only way to advance (true if this is a pure D&D world). If you have training and practice then that may not be the rule. Even in real world human terms there is the accumulation of technique from experience. I would also expect losses to be non-uniform like pre-20thC death rates. Deaths would be concentrated in the lower levels and once you get past the first half dozen levels your chances of dying are vastly reduced. In that case the accumulation of people at high levels becomes noticeable.

        • The analysis is indeed limited by its assumptions. Regarding reduced risk at higher levels, I have seen this is often the case… but I’ve also seen bigger risks taken at higher level, keeping the mortality rates fairly consistent.

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