Sunday, November 14, 2010

Race As Class

Because I love the occasional hot-button topic, I'll be weighing in on the "race as class" debate.  For those of you unfamiliar with the debate, there are two schools of thought in the D&D community: 

One favors the idea of "race as class," that is, if you're a non-human such as a dwarf or an elf, your character type is automatically accounted for and the ability to fight or cast spells is a racial ability.  There is no selection of Elven thief, as you are automatically either a mage or a warrior. 

Another favors selection of race and class.  That is, you can take a Dwarven Cleric, you're not automatically a warrior-type simply because you chose to play a Dwarf.  This would be the more familiar type to modern day players. 

We will now contrast how the various editions handle races and classes:

The LBBs (little brown books)  seem to indicate that if you were one of the non-human races, then you were already in a "class:" 
There are three (3) main classes of characters:

Fighting Men includes the characters of elves and dwarves and even hobbits. Magic-Users includes only men and elves. Clerics are limited to men only. All non-human players are restricted in some aspects and gifted in others. This will be dealt with in the paragraphs pertaining to each non-human type.
It is interesting to note that OD&D never defines the term "class." The LBBs also do not use the term "race." The only idea of race that creeps in is that the non-human player's choice plays differently depending on whether you select Elf or Dwarf, and the Dwarf has a level limitation.

D&D (Holmes Blue Book)
In Eric Holmes' edition of Dungeons & Dragons (blue book, cover by David C. Sutherland III), the trend of using race as class appears to continue.  I say *appears* because the one reference to race on page 7 reads: "the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish)..."  But the classes and races are all lumped together in the experience tables, and page 6 says "any human character can be a fighting man and all halflings and dwarves are members of the fighter class, unless they opt to be thieves." 

The terms "class" and "race" are not defined.  There is a third way Holmes refers to characters, and that is "character type" (page 7), indicating class and race, which perhaps is the term that should have been used in later editions.    

AD&D hardcover Player's Handbook, first edition, is the first clear delineation between class and race.  There you can be one of quite a few races, and you first select your race, then you select your class.  There's also quite a bit of fiddly bits that make little sense, like level limits for non-humans.  But this has been torn apart in many, many magazine articles, so we won't tackle this here.  The interesting thing about the classes is that they now had "minimum ability scores" that you had to roll to be certain classes (like the Paladin).  If you didn't roll it, you had no chance to be that class.   

Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay) & BECMI (Mentzer)
The simple race as class structure can be seen here, hearkening back to the LBBs and Holmes.  The trend continued in Mentzer's BECMI.  In contrast to AD&D, Moldvay had a "prime requisite," which meant the highest ability score you had was used to help determine class selection. 

AD&D2e was, for the most part, a cleaned up revised version of AD&D1e, and the final nail in the coffin for any royalties Gygax might have received.  Race and Class are separate entities, and for the most part resemble their 1e counterparts.  The main difference was in the fantastic settings created for 2e, introduced "Kits" which could be special classes designed for a specific race (like Elven BladeSinger or Dwarven Chanter). 

D&D 3.X
The 3.X naming convention is strange, since its simplified ability bonus tables remind one of B/X or BECMI, but Race and Class are distinct and separate, like AD&D.   Eventually 3.X would ape 2e by doing "racial kits" (like the Dwarven BattleRager).    Dropping the "Advanced" moniker sent a clear message that this was the only Dungeons & Dragons we would see from WotC, and that B/X and BECMI were effectively unsupported.

D&D 4.X

Does the same thing as 3.X, races and classes are discrete groups, and one must select a race and a class. 

My take:
I never had a problem with "race as class" because I'm aware of one of the dictionary definitions.  From
27.  to place or arrange in a class; classify: to class justice with wisdom.
28.  to take or have a place in a particular class: those who class as believers.
The word comes from the Latin "classis," which meant class, fleet, division, army, etc.  So we can infer that the D&D "class" is merely a grouping, and the only thing in the dictionary that implies profession is class as social standing or caste, hardly an ironclad case.  So the snarkiness that I have observed (and been the target of) could have been avoided simply by cracking a dictionary. 

Do I prefer race as class?  For some things it works well.  It gels nicely with the simplified structure of B/X.  In the "clone" I'm working on, I have them separate as of this writing, though I'm thinking of leaning toward the race as class model and giving them different "builds" for race-specific classes.  Time will tell...

1 comment:

  1. I lean towards neither, but that's only possible in certain point-buy games, so it's not much help.

    Done right, Race As Class can be palatable to me. In Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader, the Orkz are a race as a class, except that in the 40k RPGs, classes are just tables that tell you what stuff you can buy with your XP, set your starting equipment, and give you your starting skills and talents. I'm not much for the D&D conception.