I know, I know, other posts have been promised (about combat in The Grind and the RC light character sheet variant) and I assure you, they will happen very soon. But this one has been long coming: me entering the fray about the decades old discussion if "race as class" is a good concept or not. It is not really a phenomenon solely associated with the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, but AD&D was long done with the idea when the D&D RC set the exclamation mark for 1e. So let's talk about that for a second or two ...
Race as Class?
See, I never got the argument that Race as Class is restricting, because the whole idea that humans are more diverse than the other races never was the main focus to begin with. It's rather about giving a DM a vanilla assortment of choices and the fiat to make his own campaign out of it. So if anything, by not seeing the possibilities you'd not only end up restricting yourself, you'd also missed the point of making the game your own.
The flood of material back then, with all the variant classes and what not, could have given you a hint or two and one argument that comes up very regularly (justifiably so) is that you could just as easily exchange halfling with, I don't know, pygmy or mushroom people, getting a new option for your game just like that and just as your campaign needs it. It's a nice exercise if you haven't done it yet, rename all the classes and change from default to, I don't know, weird.
|Or why not make it a Blinkling? [source]|
Or go one step further and experiment with the advantages. So the halfling gets a great advantage hiding in natural environments and I'd keep that for the mushroom folks. Maybe the indoor advantage, too, because they are as small. But I'd make Constitution and Wisdom the main ability scores and give them a +1 for saves versus magic instead of that attack bonus (and keep the bonus to AC and initiative. It's little things, but they make a difference.
For the next stage after that you will need some experience with the system or at least some major play-testing. But it is possible to make that dwarven cleric or an elven barbarian as class options and at it's base not that different to taking the bonus a class gets and relabeling it (like with the bonus to saves versus magic above), only now you take a close look at what other classes do and extrapolate it towards what you want.
You'd have to test a bit with the xp range here to keep it balanced, but you'll usually find out fast enough if it works or not. D&D can take a lot crossfire like that as a system and as nice as it is to have it all balanced, I'd always prefer to tinker with it and re-calibrate if it doesn't work.
But you don't actually need to do that if you are reading this right now, because there is a guy out there who did all the heavy lifting, broke all the classes into little pieces and made a huge LEGO kit for you to build your own stuff with. That guy is +Erin Smale and you'll not only find all you need for
on his blog Breeyark!, he also went ahead and revised his (perfectly working) concept recently with the post Building A More Perfect Class, at least streamlining it a bit and working on some of the problem he saw with the original (which I've used for years without any problems, so YMMV). Seriously good stuff. Guy needs to get an Arneson Award for that, or something. Genius.
It illustrates two major points for the Race as Class concept rather well, in my opinion:
1. It's not about what you play ...
... it is (and this is really important) about how many xp you need to get to the next level (and how many levels there are). It's a part of D&D that really got the boot from D&D 3e onward, but I think it's a brilliant design choice. Capable characters don't just need more xp to achieve their next level, they need experienced players, too, if it was to work at all.
See, this is crucial. At least in our campaign it was. You sure could play an elf or a barbarian with all their special abilities and what-not, but you really should be up to the task. Conversely, if a very able player chose to play something like, say, a thief, he'd get very powerful very fast (if you award player skill as per pages 127 to 129 of the RC, that is*), as they gather xp for role playing and exceptional actions with ease and help gathering more gold and kills on average while needing less to advance further ...
So the xp-range of a class gave, to some extent, the level of player skill needed to play a class effectively, getting more difficult the higher it was and made it easier on the other side for inexperienced players the lower it got. I think that's brilliant. In the end we had some very low entry classes that proofed too easy on experienced players and just about right for newbies (the Noble, the Pilgrim and the Goblin Soldier) and some very high end classes (not as high as the classic D&D elf, though) like the Barbarian, The Dwarven Elite or the Prince Charming (who is at the end of this post) and they worked very well for the experienced players at the table.
[Edit:] Another thought supporting this theory just occurred to me: You can't earn more xp than you need to gain your next level and that's a great benefit to a skilled player going for a huge xp range. In other words, the huge amounts of xp a skilled group could gather is no use to those playing with a lower xp range, since they'd have advanced just as easy with less ... And if you look at the numbers, you can see what Gygax meant when he said the character gets a soul (or some such thing) beyond level 6, because that's around the time where playing the character will net you more xp than killing and looting!
But level limits are another important aspect. This is not about finding reasons to make them work in a game, it's about math. With a lower level range (or in other words: other classes being able to get higher in level) the average xp needed for the next level will also be lower, because the class is actually weaker than others.
So it is very well possible to have human character classes with level caps. The Noble, for instance, would travel the world until he reaches name level to assume his title and the Pilgrim would end his pilgrimage at name level (with an option to become a saint, but that's another story).
But back to the original point. Level limits allowed players to have characters with lots of powerful abilities (those saves alone!) with acceptable xp ranges by limiting the level range. I honestly admire that design. And it's one argument less against Race as Class.
|Think about it! [source]|
2. It's also about customizing your campaign
I have to thank +Edward Ortiz at this point for pushing me in the right direction here (he's also doing a tremendous job in world building over at his blog Dungeons and Dutch Ovens ... highly recommended). Race as Class, or really all the vanilla options you get as basics in the D&D RC, are just options to expand upon.
You got the first prestige class with the Druid, there is a Mystic to loot for abilities and a complete bestiary of humanoids to loot for ideas, with guidelines how to give them magic and what they'd be able to cast. And that's just going by the book. Add Mystara or Hollow World options or whatever the (still striving, btw) fan base came up with and you'll have hundreds of options.
But do it yourself and the sky is the limit, really. You customize your campaign from the very beginning, just like described above, and you'll have the very individual voice of the game supported by the system you use.
You could say now that you'd be just as able to do that with later editions (or other games, for that matter). And I agree. But, as always with the generic versus the specific, when everything is possible, you'll have to limit options to get a specific result and that's never popular (also thousands of splat books from AD&D onwards would try so nonetheless, often by allowing way too powerful options to make it appealing**).
Seeing race as another LEGO piece, on the other hand, just opens up lots and lots of options. You add instead of limiting and you add within the terms you set. We had a gimmick of "unlocking" classes in our game. One day the group managed to befriend a tribe of goblins and goblin warriors where willing to join the group from then on, so the Goblin Warrior class was unlocked.
You make it as you go along in the campaign and the result will always be more personalized than anything you could have bought. Your players will thank you for it.
So: Race as Class? Yes, please!
It seems like an odd thing to have in a game and I'm pretty sure there aren't many games out there doing that the way they did it here. Actually, it got changed because it wasn't popular, not because it was bad design and I think it's, to this day, one of the most underrated and misunderstood system choices in early D&D.
The more I get exposed to this version of D&D, the more I appreciate the thought that was put into the designs here. I know, all of this is a matter of taste and some of it a matter of debate. But you'll have a hard time arguing that this isn't good design.
If you liked this post, you might want to check out the other oddities in this series. Comments are, as always, very welcome. Especially if they praise the Rules Cyclopedia :)
* Player skill would have a capable player score far more often than not multiple times per session in all categories. Here is another oddity for you: a character will earn 1/20 of the complete sum he needs to reach the next level every time he scores in those categories. So a great player should be able to achieve another level with ease within, say, three sessions (maybe faster), even without gold as xp and killing monsters. Furthermore (and this is where it really gets interesting) having the value they earn not as a fixed rate but depending on the level a character is on, shifts the game on higher level dramatically from killing and looting to, I kid you not, role playing. How about that ...
** Damn, this fits very well into the whole frame of mind that is commercializing the hobby: rather break the game to make another splat book than to actually think about a proper design. I think it explains a lot.