... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Dwarves Are Level Capped

Richard of the Dystopian Pokéverse asked yesterday for people who support level caps to explain why they are correct without sounding like a crazy racist. I didn't answer in the comments of his post, because although I use level caps, I don't know that I can claim to support them. But I do have an answer.

D&D is biased in favor of humans. This is not "racism"; it's a side effect of the fact that only humans play D&D. We haven't made contact with aliens, we're still struggling to communicate with chimps and dolphins, and no one took up my previous challenge to create a D&D game for dogs. So, humans are the only example we can use as a baseline for playing a fantasy game, and sentient beings which are different enough to be considered "non-human" must be played as freaks. Any class available to humans is thus defined from a human perspective, and any member of that class who is not human must be described in terms of exceptions to the norm. A dwarven fighter is a fighter in the context of human culture, but with certain exceptions.

Now, in my game, I take this further and make dwarves and elves rare (and halflings even rarer.) So, a dwarven fighter is literally a dwarf operating in a human context. Since the fighter class is linked to the human feudal structure, you have to ask "if a non-human fighter reaches 9th level and establishes a barony, how will the human population react to this?" For that matter, since "level" is partially a matter of reputation, would a short dwarven fighter get the same amount of respect as a human fighter?

For this reason, the fighter class is capped to 8th level for any non-human in the game as I run it; dwarves, being 3/4ths human size, are capped to 3/4ths of 8th level (i.e. 6th level.) Halflings, being half human size, are capped to half 8th level. That's as far as either race can get without extraordinary measures. The reason why I say I don't support level caps is because I am open to in-game solutions to get around the level cap; if you want to be a dwarven baron, figure out an in-game way to make the human population see you as worthy of the title.


  1. as far as social capital goes this males perfect sense to me. Do you also increase hit points with levels, though? And attack chances and spell availability and the probability of thief skill success? Are these also consequences of social sanction (and if so, how)?

    (I have a partial answer for that, actually, related to the concept of "prowess" or "mana," but I'm curious to know how you work it).

  2. "makes perfect sense," sorry about that.

    Freudian slip?

  3. @richard: Ability advancement is sort of a feedback loop. To a certain extent, in a game about characters becoming heroes, gaining reputation as a hero (and confidence in yourself) does improve your odds of winning in combat or surviving magical effects.

    But also, intangible experience improves ability, which in turn improves reputation and confidence. So it's not that you gain the ability to cast an extra spell or a higher level spell when you increase in level, but that you gain the spell after gaining so much experience, and as a consequence you also increase in level.

    I say "intangible experience" because I distinguish this from training. I don't see the fighter's increasing deadliness as a result of increased knowledge or practice at all, but more like a honing of instinct, combined with that afore-mentioned confidence.

  4. Good post.

    Re: Halflings &c... using your rationale it would seem acceptable to slow level progression rather than cap outright. Then all the demihumans can sit around talking about how hard it is to break through the glass ceiling in the Fighter profession.

    I generally take anything rules-related that threatens to break the surface into discussion-of-play and ask 'what about the campaign created the table manifestation of this rule?' as opposed to 'this rule doesn't make sense in the campaign, so I am changing it'.