Tuesday, December 27, 2011

*Basic* D&D? Race as Class? You MUST be kidding... Nope, I'm not.

This post was inspired by two things:

  1. Dubious looks and/or eye-rolling from players when I mention my preferred gaming system and
  2. A recent re-reading of this post and this post from JB of the B/X Blackrazor OSR blog. 
JB has some very cool in-game rationales for why race-can-be-class and vice versa in B/X (and by extension BECMI) D&D.  To boil it down, he basically argues that the "human" classes (cleric, thief, fighter, magic user) are human archetypes (and European human archetypes at that!).  Demi-humans (dwarves, elves, halflings), on the other hand, are completely inhuman, alien species. Thus, the same kind of archetypes don't apply for them.  

To wit:
The only reason to “snub” the B/X-LL-BECMI “Race As Class” concept is because you consider the various species of D&D to be the equivalent of humans in rubber masks. Or real cultures thinly disguised in fantasy tropes. Or some other human equivalent. 
To me, keeping the races as separate, different, ALIEN actually increases the feeling of “fantasy” in the game. It makes humans AS A SPECIES really stand apart from the other species…their high levels, their variety of class/careers. It also makes humans more dangerous than other species.
Admittedly, while I think he raises a great point (especially the part about increasing the fantastic elements of the game), my rationale is probably a little closer to the "gamist" side of the spectrum.

See, I've been in this hobby a LONG time.  Not as long as others, but within a decade of "as long as possible."  When I rolled up my first B/X D&D character (a fighter whose name I can't remember), we were only a year or two into the first Reagan administration.  The DM, our babysitter, then ran my brother (a cleric, I think) and I through an adventure into a haunted tower where we had to rescue some relatives from goblin kidnappers.

In the few decades since that adventure, I've played a lot of different RPGs:  every version of D&D from BECMI to 3.5/Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu (a favorite), Buffy (another good one), Rifts (ugh, too much crunch), GURPS, Marvel (aka FASERIP), and more.  And you know what all of those hours of geeky dice-rolling have made me realize?  I like things simple.  For me, playing RPGs is as much about the social, hanging-with-smart-friends experience as the game itself.  More so, in fact.

I don't want to do spend an hour assigning skill points, doing more than single-digit math, or figuring out if my character really is 5% better at something than another character.  Boooring.  For me, anyway.  Your mileage may vary.

What I want to do is quickly sketch out a character (s/he's gonna change as the game progresses anyway... if s/he lives that long) and then start chasing monsters and having adventures.  If we get into a fight, I don't want it to turn into a three-hour game of Risk.  (Again, nothing wrong with Risk... if that's your thing).  I want it to be like a fight scene in a movie--fast, in-the-moment action that has as much of an emotional impact (ugh! didn't see that goblin with the spear coming so fast!) as a mental/tactical one.

Ok, fine, you say.  You like things fast-paced.  I get it.  And you hate math.  Well, duh.  You were an English major, after all.*  But basic D&D?  Isn't that the one where you can't be a halfling thief or an elf wizard?  Instead, you're just a halfling or just an elf?  And fighter, cleric, thief, and magic user** are combined race (human) and profession?  That's too simple.  And not realistic.***

True, I suppose.  But here's the thing: to me, it's mainly Just A Game.  Pretending to be a thimble, shoe, or iron in a game about real estate acquisition isn't terribly realistic, either.  But it's still fun because you're hanging with your pals and doing something together.  And for what Monopoly is, it works.  Same thing for D&D.  In the words of an immortal sage--it is what it is.

* Yes I was. But I still put in way too many commas.

** Ok, a less-than-colorful class name.  I'll give you that.  What was wrong with "wizard", Mr. Gygax?

*** I know, right? The irony of discussing realism in a game with goblins, gelatinous cubes, and fire-breathing lizards is not lost on me.

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