The Crazy Straw of Race as Class

A Dwarf Wizard, from the "Duels of the Runelords" game by Realms Apart studios. In April, after watching some people play a board game called Small World for the first time, I was struck by what I considered to be a pretty novel idea. What if a character’s race, and a character’s class directly affected one another? Rather than having the two be mutually exclusive like some games have done in the past, or having them be completely independent from one another as some modern games do, what if there was a middle ground? I wrote a detailed post on the idea, which I titled A Twist on Race as Class. The idea is thoroughly explained there, so I won’t recap it any further here. If you haven’t read that post, it may help you understand where I’m coming from with this one.

I recently noticed that I have a lot of posts–such as that one–which deal with ideas and theory. That’s because I like ideas a lot! (I did major in philosophy, after all). But it becomes problematic when those ideas are never put into practice. I have a bad habit of thinking that once I’ve satisfactorily expressed an idea, I can set it aside and move on to something new. (Again: philosophy major). The truth is, though, that ideas don’t have a lot of value if you don’t follow through with them. So this is me attempting to build on my ideas. For the twist on race as class, I figure my first step is to draft a very simplified version of the system, and see if I can root out its flaws.

For this experiment, I’ve created four classes: Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, and Rogue. They each progress through five levels, and have abilities that are a cross between what you’d find in Pathfinder, and what you’d find in an oldschool game like first edition D&D. They are not what you would call ‘fleshed out,’ but they don’t need to be. They exist to provide a framework, not to be playable.

Fighter

1st level: Select a combat bonus.
2nd level: Select a combat bonus.
3rd level: Select a combat bonus.
4th level: Select a combat bonus.
5th level: Select a combat bonus.

Wizard

1st level: Ability to cast 4 first level spells. May select a specialization school, must select one ‘banned’ school which can never be cast from.
2nd level: Can summon a familiar. Ability to cast 5 first level spells.
3rd level: Ability to cast 2 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.
4th level: Ability to cast 3 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.
5th level: Ability to cast 2 third level spells, 4 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.

Cleric

1st level: Ability to cast 4 first level spells.
2nd level: Ability to turn evil. Able to cast 5 first level spells.
3rd level: Ability to cast 2 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.
4th level: Ability to cast 3 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.
5th level: Ability to cast 2 third level spells, 4 second level spells, and 5 first level spells.

Rogue

1st level: Move silently in any environment.
2nd level: Able to pick locks and disable traps.
3rd level: Can hide in shadows.
4th level: Able to climb sheer surfaces.
5th level: Backstab.

As I said above, none of this is fancy or well balanced. Though, I must confess, I am kind of in love with the idea of a rogue gradually gaining all of their sneaking abilities before they learn how to backstab. Teaches newbie rogues how to play correctly!

To combine with these four classes are three races: Human, Elf, and Dwarf. Again, little to no attempt has been made to balance these abilities, but I did make sure to utilize meaning-first design for each of them. My goal was first to envision what a paragon member of each race/class combination would be like, and then to design towards that. For example, an elven fighter is never going to be a brutish, axe wielding warrior. But elven grace lends itself well to a more refined fighting style. In some cases this was difficult, such as with the dwarven wizard, but I’m relatively happy with what I came up with there.

Elf (Medium creature, 30ft base land speed, Enhanced Hearing, Enhanced Sight)

Fighter

1st level: +2 Dexterity
3rd level: When using a ranged weapon, the range increments of that weapon are increased by 50%
5th level: The critical range of light weapons (such as a rapier) is widened by 1.

Wizard

1st level: +2 Intelligence.
3rd level: Able to cast one additional spell of each spell level known.
5th level: If a specialty school was selected, that school now casts as if the character were one level higher than they are. If no specialty school was selected, select any one school of magic to receive this bonus.

Cleric

1st level: +2 Wisdom
3rd level: Healing spells have their effects doubled in a forest environment.
5th level: A number of times per day equal to the character’s wisdom modifier, they may command any natural animal to obey them.

Rogue

1st level: +2 Dexterity
3rd level: The character gain the ability to camouflage themselves perfectly. They can hide in a natural environment as effectively as they can hide in shadows.
5th level: +10ft to movement speed. The range of the character’s hearing is doubled.

Dwarf (Medium creature, 20ft base land speed, Darkvision)

Fighter

1st level: +2 Constitution
3rd level: The character is much more difficult to knock over. Any attempt to intentionally knock the character over are made at a -6 penalty.
5th level: +2 to any attack roll made with hammers, axes, or other heavy weapons.

Wizard

1st level: +2 Constitution
3rd level: The character is able to resist spells as though they were a wizard 2 levels higher.
5th level: The character is able to craft magical items as though they are 1 level higher than they are.

Cleric

1st level: +2 Wisdom
3rd level: Healing spells have their effects doubled while underground, or in a mountainous environment.
5th level: Dwarven clerics may smite characters of the opposite alignment, adding their wisdom modifier to attack rolls, and their cleric level to damage rolls made against such creatures.

Rogue

1st level: +2 Strength
3rd level: The range of the character’s darkvision is doubled. Additionally, they can sense vibrations through the ground. This allows them to detect footfalls up to 20ft away, and they can detect more substantial disturbances to an even greater distance.
5th level: The dwarven rogue eventually develops a kind of sixth sense for precious minerals and stones. The character can detect the presence, and the direction, of gold, silver, or gems, up to 10ft away.

Human

Fighter

1st level: +2 Strength
3rd level: Any time a combat bonus requires the fighter to select a type of weapon for the bonus to apply to, the human fighter may select two types of weapons.
5th level: Human fighters recruit followers as though they were 2 levels higher.

Wizard

1st level: +2 Intelligence
3rd level: If the human wizard chose to specialize, they can still cast spells from their blocked school as though they were 1 level lower.
5th level: Human wizards gain one additional spells slot for each spell level known.

Cleric

1st level: +2 Wisdom
3rd level: +2 Charisma
5th level: Human clerics recruit followers as though they were 2 levels higher.

Rogue

1st level: +2 Dexterity
3rd level: +2 Charisma
5th level: The character is able to charm their way past many social obstacles. NPCs start react more favorably to the character than they otherwise would.

A Gnomish Warrior. World of Warcraft fan art, artist unknown. And that’s what I came up with on my first attempt. Conclusions? Well, as with all things, making it work in practice is more difficult than simply coming up with the theory was. Some race/class combinations just seem preposterous. I have no real archetype to draw on for elven clerics or dwarven wizards. I actually reconsidered whether such unusual combinations should be ruled out entirely. But I stand by my belief that players should be able to choose any race/class combination they want.

The biggest problem, surprisingly, turned out to be the humans. In retrospect it makes sense. Elves and dwarves are each an archetype unto themselves, while humans can fall into a wide array of archetypes. That’s why race as class existed in the first place: because humans could fill many roles, but non-human races each fill a specific role. I’m not quite sure how to work around this issue yet, but I think it can be done.

I would very much like any criticisms my readers have to offer. As it stands, I know this is not ‘good,’ and it would be helpful to be told precisely why it’s not good.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

15 thoughts on “The Crazy Straw of Race as Class”

  1. Hmmm~ A simple experiment with 3 Races and 4 Classes with Caps Level 5. But the human is too…. weak…. How if the humans get [Medium creature, 30ft base land speed, +1 to 1 status(Str, Int, Dex, Wis, Con or Cha)]?

  2. Some possible drawbacks:

    – N x N structure (adding a class requires an entry for every race, adding a race requires an entry for every class) so might be impractical unless you keep the number of races and classes low (which is fine for me, but not everyone).

    – Not a big fan of the ability bumps, they seem too similar between the races. For example, all the races have the same cleric bump at level 1, no? Also, simple mechanical ability bonuses seem like vertical power increases rather than horizontal power increases, which can sometimes be more interesting, if that makes sense. Something like: Elven wizards can journey into people’s memory to help them remember things (mini dungeon inside someone’s mind!) or something similarly odd. Or maybe make the ability score bonuses one of the higher level bonuses, to represent learning and development, if you wanted to keep them?

    Some of the benefits could be social maybe, and tied to campaign locations? Like, dwarven fighters can get free access to the weaponsmiths in dwarven towns to improve their weapons or access to mithril weapons (not sold to any non-dwarves). Similarly, elves could buy lembas or armor that doesn’t cause encumbrance.

    I see no halflings in that list. Not sure if that was intentional, but I approve. :-)

  3. I really liked your original idea of “Race as Archetype”; less keen on this idea, but it may just be that it’s still rough around the edges. Generally agree with Brendan to N x N doesn’t scale well, but I don’t see anything wrong with capping one or both (capping Race feels harder to me, but both could be done). Also agree that the Race bumps don’t quite feel right, but again, that’s probably a “rough around the edges” thing.

    Going back to the Archetype idea, I like the idea that instead of “Elves get +X” and “Rogues get +Y” we would have “Elven Rogues get +Z”.

    1. Also, I see nothing wrong with “Dwarves can’t be Wizards” if it can be explained away. Something like “their nature is inert and they can’t manipulate magic.” Explaining away other classes is harder, but you could say “Dwarves recognize no gods, and the gods return the favor,” or “Dwarves don’t have the finesse required to be Rogues,” but it gets harder to justify.

    1. Are they like Paragon Classes from D&D 3.5? (Dwarves can take levels in “Dwarf Paragon” to become more like an archetypical dwarf, etc)

      Regardless, I’ll take a look.

      1. Eep!

        Oh, hey. I’ve gotten so accustomed to commenting on blogs whose authors are too busy to read the comments, I actually failed to expect you to reply. :D

        Erm, no. They’re specialized versions of each class that only a certain race has access to – sort of a synergistic sort of thing. So, for example, dwarves have access to specialized forms of the Inquisitor (the Exarch), the Fighter (the Foehammer), the Cleric (the Forgemaster), and the Paladin (the Stonelord). I thought that was a good example of blurring the line between class and race.

        http://www.d20pfsrd.com/races/core-races/dwarf/exarch-inquisitor-dwarf
        http://www.d20pfsrd.com/races/core-races/dwarf/foehammer-fighter-dwarf
        http://www.d20pfsrd.com/races/core-races/dwarf/forgemaster-cleric-dwarf
        http://www.d20pfsrd.com/races/core-races/dwarf/stonelord-paladin-dwarf

        They went ahead and did a handful of these for each of the Core races, and for a good number (all?) of the “playable” races in the Bestiaries, too… so for example we now have a Goblin Alchemist archetype, and a Merfolk Ranger, and all sorts of things like that.

        1. Huh, that’s really interesting.

          I’ve been debating whether or not I want to pick up the Advanced Race Guide. I guess this settles it. Thanks for the thoughts!

      2. I have the Advanced Race Guide, and their racial archetypes are closer to what you mentioned in your other post, where they’re a dwarfish kind of Cleric or a Dwarfish kind of Fighter. I haven’t taken the time to really look at them, but there’s only a few per race.

        1. Ya know, I actually don’t know what you mean when you say there’s a difference between what I’ve done here, and what I wrote about in the original post. This is pretty much exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the original post.

          Apparently I’m not as good at communicating my ideas as I thought…but apparently my poor communication gave you a pretty good idea! =P

          1. Yeah, I guess I’m keying in on your last paragraph where you talk about Pathfinder Archetypes. It’s not so much that the intent is different as the execution is; Archetypes are an in-system structure for making variations on a theme, whereas what you have here feels a lot more like rebuilding 1e race-as-class (not that I have an experience with 1e).

            1. To be clear, this post has absolutely nothing to do with Pathfinder. Though it does make use of familiar terminology occasionally, just to make it easier to express concepts which are not important to the goal of the post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *