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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Race As Class

Man, what's wrong with me? Three posts today?

Over at B/X Blackrazor, JB is talking about race as class. Since I just recently threw in with the race as class camp (sort of,) I wanted to talk a little about it.

I was never exposed directly to race as class. My first introduction to D&D was a (modified) white box; my later experience was Holmes, AD&D 1e, and white box mixed together. Original D&D doesn't really have race as class, although it sort looks like that; I'll say more about that later. I never even read the B/X or BECM editions, so I only learned about race as class later, via the Internet.

My first reaction to the concept wasn't a strong dislike, more of a disinterest. I didn't care that dwarves couldn't be clerics and halflings couldn't be thieves; I just like the idea of having more variation. That's why I settled on the pseudo race-as-class solution that I did: by replacing one class ability with a racial ability, you maintain the variation option while guaranteeing that dwarven Fighters aren't like human Fighters, and halfling Thieves aren't like human Thieves.

So, do I agree with JB? No. At least, not exactly.

Sure, there's a substantial group of gamers who interpret fantasy race as if they were real-world cultural races, and these gamers tend to reject race as class. And sure, those who support race as class probably for the most part interpret races as species and thus not human.

But I don't think fantasy races in gaming are really either cultures or species. They are classes, or ways of modifying classes. This is tied into my feelings of class as an attitude or archetype rather than a profession. The Fighter solves problems by fighting, the Magic-User solves problems with magic, and the Dwarf solves problems by ... being a dwarf. The original LBB dwarf is a variant fighter who can find traps and is at home underground; the LBB halfling is a variant fighter who is stealthy; the LBB elf is a merged fighter and magic-user, for those who'd like to do both.

It sort of works that way in fantasy literature, too, at least the pre-RPG stories. Elves are either a wise archetype (Tolkien) or a fey, magical archetype (Zelazny, Arthurian romance,) or a nature-loving archetype (Merritt, also a little Tolkien.) Dwarves are a practical, materialistic archetype; they are associated with mines and underground stonework because they love the solid and well-crafted.

So, my preference is to make both profession and culture (including fantasy race culture) part of backgrounds instead of either class or race, and reserve class/race to define archetype and personality.


  1. I tend to agree with what you have posted, though honestly the wording of the last paragraph kind of confuses me. Anyway, I tend to think of 'races' as modifiers to a class (or archetype if you prefer) and not as an equivalency. The issue, I believe, comes from lack of options. What I mean by this is there are only 3-4 Classes, depending on what version of old D&D you play. For simplicity, and based on my current experience with S&W:WB, let us assume there are only Fighting-men, Magic-users, and Clerics. Those are ALL the classes. There are various races that modify these archetypes; Human Fighting-man, Dwarven Fighting-man, Halfling Fighting-man.

    The issue, as I see it, is do to the lack of options and people dropping the 'Fighting-man' off the end because a Dwarf or Halfling, for example, can be no other. So, the assumption is that Dwarf = Fighting-man Class. Not so.

    If you where to make a Dwarven Cleric available. Is Dwarf still the 'Class'? No, not in my book. Dwarf is the 'Race', if you will. That is at least my take on the subject, FWIW.


  2. Personally, my favorite solution to the race-as-class "problem" can be found in the Advanced Edition Companion for Labyrinth Lord. It gives lots of freedom for those on both sides of the issue (it even has rules for multi-classing with a race-as-class class). Since it's all compatible and portable (even with the Original Edition Companion and Mutant Future) it does a beautiful job of making everybody happy.

  3. @FrDave: Of course, the AEC solution is really "use whichever you prefer", which is certainly a polite way to handle it. But I'm thinking more of the different feels of race+class vs. race=class.