Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Snappy Answers to Trollish Questions

These are in response to Random Wizard.

(1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no? — Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times yes. Multi-classing and race/class splits are pretty much a horrible kludgey hack. Switching to race-as-class forced a designer to actually sit down and think about how things should actually work most of the time, rather then getting caught up in tinkering with an unworkable mess. If you have a better idea, then go make a real class for your game… but you probably don’t need to. The core archetypes are pretty well covered with the standard range of classes.

(2). Do demi-humans have souls? — This has never come up in my games. While this is an interesting footnote to gaming history, I can’t imagine D&D actually having the sort of design where one choice or another could damage the way it works. A choice on this is more interesting from a setting design standpoint than any “balance” it could supposedly give to the various classes and races.

(3). Ascending or descending armor class? — I have no idea about the controversy that has emerged over this one. Armor class starts at 9 or so and then does down from there. It’s always been that way. I see no reason to change it. This is sort of like where 5th edition Car Wars had to switch everything  to roll under.  Just completely idiotic! The confusion and arguments engendered by these sorts of changes do not make up for the supposed efficiency improvements that they purportedly add to the game. The fact that Swords & Wizardry takes the time to allow for both approaches is a huge waste of page space and is just one more thing to explain when picking up the system. Every time I look at a stat in that game I have to wonder what’s being used and whether or not it matters. It’s just a stupid waste of brain cells.

(4). Demi-human level limits? — This was more of a thing in AD&D, I guess, but yeah, sure, why not…? I can’t imagine that there are too many groups that will get to the point in their campaign where this matters, so this is really sort of a non-issue at this stage. If it did matter in a game, I agree with the guy that said that the limits are cool because the dem-human will get to the end-game winning big-wheel stage sooner, and that’s just frabjous.

(5). Should thief be a class? — Yeah, sure. But they can suck up the fact that they only have 1d4 hit points. Sure, they’ll get to level three faster than anybody else and it won’t be a problem forever… but they can sweat a little until they get there as far as I’m concerned. It makes them act a little more thief-like.

(6). Do characters get non-weapon skills? — No. Your class description covers most of what you will do in the game. If you want some sort of skill system, you’re playing the wrong game. Zork provides a better model for running the game than just about anything else– and you don’t need an elaborate system for that style of play.

(7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)? —  It depends. The classes are designed to complement each other and to also allow different players to take charge as circumstances evolve. So while the magic-user can be a sort of artillery piece in the game, he still has to be supported by the other classes in order to be effective. Likewise, the fighter will be more powerful when the magic-user runs out of spells. This dynamic is a key factor of D&D’s genius and a big part of why it is so compelling at the table.

(8). Do you use alignment languages? — Technically, yes. They make no sense to me, but I guess they aren’t so bad if there’s only three alignments to choose from. I think the guy that said to treat them like a Dune-style battle language had the right idea… but if you lose the language in the event of an alignment change…? What then…? I have no idea. I sort of dare this to ever matter and trust in my capacity to rule on the spot based on what the players are doing.

(9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)? — XP for gold is pretty much all you need, but a little bit tossed in for killing monsters is okay, I guess. XP for objectives sounds like a great way for someone to define just exactly how people are “supposed” to play, which I think is anathema to very idea of role playing games. Far better to have a primary objective that is both clear and broad… and then get out of the way of the players as they choose their own way in the wide, wide world.

(10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ? — ODD is wild, wooly, strange, unkempt, and freakish. Holmes was a step in the right direction. Mentzer is mass market D&D, sure, but the idea that anyone would go to level 36 twice is just preposterous. Rules Cyclopedia merely compiles something that had already gone on too long. AD&D is incomprehensible and unplayable. 2E AD&D is bloated and sanitized. 3E D&D tends to focus on a linear set of tactical combats that the players are supposed to win with their last hit point, which is not really D&D when you get down to it– it’s My Precious Encounter™. 4E attempts to implement World of Warcraft on the tabletop without leveraging any of the real strengths of role playing games. “Next” looks like it may succeed in providing the worst of all worlds when it comes to D&D games, but who knows? Really, the Moldvay game is the purest, most refined, best designed iteration of the game. Combined with the Cook/Marsh Expert set, it provides for all of the D&D experience that anyone should ever need.

Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class? — Definitely individual XP tables by class. It is interesting to see the different characters increase in power in a staggered way depending on their class and prime requisite bonus.


21 responses to “Snappy Answers to Trollish Questions

  1. Chris Mata July 30, 2013 at 7:03 am

    2 cents incoming:
    (1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no?
    Sure. If you want. I have favored simplicity as a rule in my growing years.

    (2). Do demi-humans have souls?
    Just TODAY ever even heard of this. We always let them be raised by spell. It was kinda quirky in the 70’s and 80’s.

    (3). Ascending or descending armor class?
    To me, doesn’t matter either way. If you learned THAC0 then the other is easy, if you can’t wrap your head around basic math on the fly. Playing RPG’s isn’t your problem.

    (4). Demi-human level limits?
    This did come up more than a few times but not often enough to matter. I think we let them grab another level or three depending on their prime requisite.

    (5). Should thief be a class?
    I like the idea of Thief as a class. Having said that, after enough GM’ing everyone should throw off the yoke of modern rule systems and really practice adjudicating on the spot, on the fly, with as little rules as possible. That way everyone can be a thief as circumstances dictate. I didn’t really learn this skill well till I ran NWoD with its loose framework.

    (6). Do characters get non-weapon skills?
    Same as 5. Use as many rules as you need to make it work then learn to use almost none. You will be a better GM and player because of it.

    (7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)?
    Again these questions are so situational. I think at 5th and 7th level we always considered to be the sweetest spots for MU’s. EVERY class is necessary. Our groups, until later years, always looked for balance. When they bored of that, they just picked what they wanted and made it work.
    (8). Do you use alignment languages?
    nope but the idea of the Atreides battle language has come up from time to time.

    (9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)?
    I give XP as I see fit. PERIOD. Always for gold, 1:1 basis. Monsters I just eye it. I have developed my own XP system and it works very well for me and the players.

    (10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ?
    This one I tend to ignore when asked. My favorite at the moment? Moldvay Basic. Most fondly remembered? 1E. Most well versed? 2E. Most likely to house rule the sh*t out of? 3.5E(which I actually call 3.75) Most likely to never play? ODD. Big enough and with so many rules I would rather just play 1E? Rules Cyclopedia. and of course 4E the Devil himself as far as many are concerned. I only played once and really liked it for what it was, a tactical framework which you could use when you werent roleplaying and needed to resolve combat.

    Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class?
    It worked for the old systems. Unified works for the new. Who cares really? (there is a trolly question)

    I think at the ripe old age 38 (39 next week!), I have settled on this to sum up my thoughts on gaming. Play what you want, how you want, and hopefully find some like minded people to join you. Good God, have fun. Otherwise why play?

    see how much you get for 2 cents these days?

  2. Bill Barnes July 30, 2013 at 8:27 am

    (1). Race (Elf, Dwarf, Halfling) as a class? Yes or no? — No! I support diversity, so I think there can be such a thing as a Dwarf Cleric, Magic wielding halfing, etc. Race + Class is a cool “flavor”

    (2). Do demi-humans have souls? — yes. They have to be able to be clerics.

    (3). Ascending or descending armor class? — THAC0 forever! (did I just type that????)

    (4). Demi-human level limits? — non-issue. you never live to the level cap anyway….

    (5). Should thief be a class? – Yes, 1d4HP…

    (6). Do characters get non-weapon skills? — No.

    (7). Are magic-users more powerful than fighters (and, if yes, what level do they take the lead)? – Situational…. Balance… Never really came up in the past when we played…

    (8). Do you use alignment languages? – No, No, NO…

    (9). XP for gold, or XP for objectives (thieves disarming traps, etc…)? – Both. If gold is “rare,” like it was originally visioned, XP for gold works well. Likewise, if the DM gives our XP for objectives and “cleverness of the players in a situation”, that rewards players to do something other than sit there.

    (10). Which is the best edition; ODD, Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, Rules Cyclopedia, 1E ADD, 2E ADD, 3E ADD, 4E ADD, Next ? – My most memoriable experiences came with 2E ADD. Was that the best? I don’t think so. I’ve come to accept that there really isn’t, nor will there ever be, a “best” version of D&D. (or that the “best” version is called GURPS, and we’re all in denial…)

    Bonus Question: Unified XP level tables or individual XP level tables for each class? – XP by class… Why is this even a discussion?

  3. Jason Packer July 30, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Okay, Mr. Trolly-pants. Your answer to 9 isn’t even internally consistent – if you’re giving XP for gold, then surely you’re telling your players how to role play as well? And on number 1, if Elf is a class, why isn’t Human?

    • jeffro July 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

      XP for gold is essentially a scoring system for an adventure game. It gives a clear indication of what the game is about and what the overarching goal is, but it does not tell people how to go about accomplishing it. XP for “role playing” is about the dumbest pretension ever to blight the face of gamerdom.

      As to number 1… it you want a hundred permutations of class and race, with maybe feat chains and prestige variants thrown in… then I submit that you don’t actually want to play D&D. You want to play either Car Wars or (more likely) GURPS. The basic chassis of the D&D system is not really designed for that kind of special snowflake munchkinry and it breaks down quickly if it is turned loose.

      • jas July 30, 2013 at 12:13 pm

        But if “Elf” is sufficient to describe not just a race but a career, why isn’t “Human” similarly inclined?

        And you’re right – I’d not last a single hour of playing D&D anymore.

      • jeffro July 30, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        “Elf” maybe isn’t, but “High Elf” is a specific enough archetype for the system. As is “Wood Elf”, “Dunedain”, and “Wizard.” (Wizards were not born, they arrived on a ship sent to middle earth by the non-denominational creator-God.) A close look at hobbitry reveals that hobbit classes break down on racial lines as well with Stoors being more fighterish, Fallohides being more scholarly, and Harfoots being good for carrying lanterns and cooking gear.

        All joking aside, for what it is, D&D is more easily tuned on a class-by-class basis. Splitting race and class, multiclassing for demi-humans, and dual-classing for humans… I mean… just think of all that. It makes no sense, it corresponds to nothing, and implies things about the system that just aren’t true. It’s the same thing as reading too much into what hit points really are and aren’t. The type of abstraction we have here just can’t handle this sort of mucking around.

  4. Alex July 30, 2013 at 9:48 am

    B/X!!! :: high fives ::

  5. earlburt July 30, 2013 at 10:49 am

    Boy, even just reading these questions, let alone answering them, realy brings into focus how bad a match every iteration of D&D is to what I’m looking for as a GM for my idiosyncratically-faithful-to-Tolkien world. Still, I’ll chip in.

    1. Race as Class. I love it, partly because it one of few D&D artifacts that actually does reinforce my gaming worldview. Hobbits are Hobbits. They’re basically all peasants or landed gentry. They’re not warriors and magicians. Race as class reinforces in-world cultural limitations on a character, and I’m all about that.

    2. Demi-Human souls. Has to be setting specific, doesn’t it? I mean, that’s a really important metaphysical question, and I just can’t imagine any GM not having an opinion on how this has to work in the game world. And since I’ve never ever had it come into play mechanically, I’ve had no reason not to make the answer subordinate to the setting.

    4. Demi-human level limits. Hate it, always have. In D&D race/class balance, such as it is, is accomplished in lots of other far more immediate ways (HP, different xp per level). So, why bother with such long-term balancing. Especially since it’s so arbitrary and out of keeping with virtually every fantasy world tradition. Tolkien or otherwise, Elves and Dwarves are generally bad-asses. It’s weird to me that D&D resists that so much.

    5. Thief Class. In a good game, with a well designed skill system, yes thief/scout/assassin/whatever class is cool. In D&D, not so much. I am persuaded by the school of thought that says the Thief class undermines descriptive play. Old school D&D is best when players describe how they search for traps and whatnot. The Thief class really does tend to replace description with rolling dice.

    8. Alignment languages. Even though I do try to use rules as written, I don’t use them. I just can’t swallow it. They’re weird and arbitrary. And to the extent that alignment languages facilitate communication between different races, they undermine the value of knowing actual languages.

    9. XP for gold vs. other. This is so integral to Moldvay, I can’t really imagine running it otherwise. But it is chintzy and I kind of hate it. I do like very general xp systems, where xp is assigned, say, at the end of an adventure (Warhammer Fantasy RP advances for example). And I also like xp for each and every little action (Rolemaster). Arguably, xp for behavior/action does channel players into certain activities and limits RP. But xp for gold pretty much does the same thing, and is also just… gross.

    • jeffro July 30, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Also, note that in Tolkien’s setting, wizard is effectively a race, not a class. Ranger is also a race.

      • Alex July 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

        I’d argue that Dunedain is the race, with Ranger as favored class. Also, most elves would be rangers.

        I think in the 1st Age, everyone starts out as a level 1 Ranger and dies a level 2 King.

    • Alex July 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

      Demi-Human level limits make sense in a game where everyone is expected to retire their Dukes, Kings, Queens & such between levels 10-14 in favor of new characters. Having demi-humans cap out at the low end of feudal lord scale makes perfect sense for balancing. The problem arises when you imply that these lords of the realm should have another 22 levels worth of adventuring in them.

      • jeffro July 30, 2013 at 11:42 am

        Which is what Cook/Marsh is all you need for high-level play! Dialing things down to a max level of 14 or so was a good move.

  6. Chris Mata July 30, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    I think 3.X meant well with letting everyone level up in different classes. It could most likely be balanced if and only if they were 3 core books. It’s all the chrome, which I understand they need to sell, that mucks it up. It requires a ton of vetting by the DM to keep it from being to munchkin like. Again, to each their own desires of course.

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