Race and Class, Part 1: A History

Four months since my last blog post?!

Apparently the new job — which is going wonderfully — has been taking more out of me than I anticipated. However, now that I’m getting my feet under me it’s time to get back to some game design.

Races and Classes in Dungeons & Dragons

There has always been an association between race and class in Dungeons & Dragons, to help encourage alignment with ‘racial archetypes’.

In OD&D, humans could be ‘any’ class (there were only three), dwarves and halflings could only be fighting-men, and elves could be fighting-men or magic-users (and could even switch back and forth between adventures).

In B/X and BECMI, humans could be ‘any’ class (there were now four!), dwarves and halflings were basically all fighters, and elves were now functionally ‘fighter/magic-user’ at all times.

In AD&D (1e and 2e) things opened up a bit and demihumans could choose between classes. However, the choices were restricted — many classes were only available to humans — and they were almost always had a maximum level in the class. Demihumans had the option of multiclassing, though, gaining the benefits and restrictions of more than one class.

In D&D 3.x (3e and 3.5) any race could be any class, and anyone could multiclass by taking levels in other classes when they gained levels. There was an experience point penalty for multiclassing if the class levels were too far apart. However, levels in your race’s ‘favored class’ didn’t count for this calculation: a dwarf could always add levels in fighter without the experience point penalty, or an elf could add levels in wizard. In principle this would encourage taking levels in the favored classes, but only if you multiclassed: single-class characters gained nothing.

In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game they dropped the experience point penalty. Instead, when you took levels in your favored class you gained a small benefit: one additional hit point or one additional skill point for each level in your favored class. Far from overpowering — over the course of your career it amounts to approximately a feat’s worth of benefits if you only take levels in your favored class — but an encouragement nonetheless. They later added ‘favored class options’ for many more combinations of race and class (which makes me question how they can be ‘favored classes’, when these options exist for all classes) such as additional spells known, extra rounds of rage per day, and so on. This does make the various race and class combinations a little more different — an elven barbarian and a half-orc barbarian have different favored class options — but I think this is better done using archetypes.

In D&D 4e and 5e, the idea of ‘favored class’ has been dropped altogether. Some races simply work better in particular classes, leading to a more natural selection. Half-orcs are often barbarians because they’re good at, and less often wizards because they’re not so good at it, while halflings make much effective rogues than half-orcs do (“YOU NO SEE KROD!” notwithstanding).

None of these exactly matches what I want. There are some closer matches in my next post.

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