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D&D 2E Looking back at the leatherette series: PHBR, DMGR, HR and more!

Voadam

Legend
Given that there are parenthetical notes allowing elves, dwarves, and gnomes to be NPC clerics in AD&D 1E, I'm wondering why that was allowed? Was Gygax trying to slice it both ways, letting them be clerics but not as PCs? And why is it that halflings are disallowed to be clerics in any regard, but are allowed to be druids (NPC only), something no other demihumans (notwithstanding half-elves, who are able to be PC druids) can do?
There is also the change on page 7 in 1e Unearthed Arcana where everybody but wild elves can be PC clerics and all elves (excepting drow) and halflings can be PC druids.

The only explanation for the change is "As will be evident from the tables and text that follow, new opportunities abound for player characters in the AD&D game."
 

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Consider that in 1st edition, only humans and half-elves could be player character druids, and only humans, half-elves, and half-orcs could be player character clerics. The game was still enforcing a very human-centric perspective in 1st edition, and having adventuring priests was very much a "human" thing, likely as a way of channeling some of the literature that D&D was based on (e.g. Poul Anderson and the whole humanity = Law, faerie = Chaos thing). Some of this (such as Druidry being a Celtic-inspired, specifically human belief system that only humans and half-elves engaged in, not "generic nature-worship"; and paladins being human-only warriors for Good and Law) held over into the 2nd edition. There was no reason to allow elves to be druids or dwarves to be paladins, because elves and dwarves weren't supposed to be human enough to belong to those classes.

Yes, and it's still nonsensical. As I said, it was a profound flaw in 1e and 2e to put wholly arbitrary restrictions on classes like that. It was hard-coding very specific setting presumptions into the game, far more specific presumptions about the game setting than we have seen in later editions.

So, there are only a handful of character classes in the world, and only humans can be all of them, many of them are human-only, and only humans can go to 20th level or above (or half-elves can be unlimited as bards, and in 1e races had ONE class they could have unlimited progression in).

Yeah, uh huh. It was always a profound design flaw in AD&D. It's one reason that every AD&D game I played in used the optional "exceeding level limits" rules in the 2e DMG to raise the level limits, and almost every game I knew waived or at least relaxed the racial restrictions on classes. Humans couldn't multi-class, but they could dual-class. . .but only humans could dual-class, and even then only if they had extraordinarily high ability scores. It was just a total mess of inconsistent rules.

When I was getting involved with D&D in the 1990's, every group I knew had a collection of their own house rules in how they changed the game from RAW to rewrite things like that, because even at the time D&D was seen as archaic and outdated, and those setting-presuming rules were part of it.

The idea that druids were more-or-less just generic nature priests and not very specifically locked to human Celtic tradition, and that Paladins are general Lawful Good holy warriors instead of a human-specific class was pervasive in the D&D fanbase (at least from my experience) by the 1990's.

Tossing out level limits and arbitrary and nonsensical racial restrictions on classes was one of the many reasons pretty much every D&D player I knew rushed to adopt 3e when it came out, because 3e dispensed with those rules and felt like it was written to reflect the game we were playing (or wanted to play) and not Gary Gygax's humanocentric setting worldview from the mid-to-late 1970's that was a mix of Lieber, Anderson, Vance and Tolkien.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
Yes, and it's still nonsensical. As I said, it was a profound flaw in 1e and 2e to put wholly arbitrary restrictions on classes like that. It was hard-coding very specific setting presumptions into the game, far more specific presumptions about the game setting than we have seen in later editions.

<snip>

Tossing out level limits and arbitrary and nonsensical racial restrictions on classes was one of the many reasons pretty much every D&D player I knew rushed to adopt 3e when it came out, because 3e dispensed with those rules and felt like it was written to reflect the game we were playing (or wanted to play) and not Gary Gygax's humanocentric setting worldview from the mid-to-late 1970's that was a mix of Lieber, Anderson, Vance and Tolkien.

Calling AD&D's restrictions flawed or nonsensical—when you yourself (quite correctly!) point out that they were put in place to enforce a genre convention, namely a flavor of fantasy that mixes the likes of Lieber, Anderson, Vance, Tolkien, and others—strikes me as not making much sense. You can see why the restrictions are there: it's because AD&D is a mélange of specific inspirations drawn from pulp, epic, and heroic fantasy; not a generic fantasy game where anything goes.

Clearly, most people wanted that generic, vanilla-flavored fantasy, and that's what's prevailed since 2000, but I would consider that to be a profound flaw—or at least a profound loss. I do get it—it doesn't strike me as "nonsensical"—but it does leave modern D&D tasting rather, well, flavorless.
 

You can see why the restrictions are there: it's because AD&D is a mélange of specific inspirations drawn from pulp, epic, and heroic fantasy; not a generic fantasy game where anything goes.
No, I don't see why they were there.

There was a HUGE gulf between the setting presumptions that were written into AD&D and what most D&D players wanted, which was a generic fantasy game where "anything goes". D&D was always treated by players as a toolkit to play out the fantasy worlds they imagined or the various historic or fantasy scenarios from books and movies. . .while it was written with a very specific genre of fantasy in mind that isn't shared if someone wasn't reading the same set of fantasy novels Gygax was.

D&D was picked up by players, and later writers, who saw it as a toolkit to build fantasy worlds. . .and didn't share the same unwritten assumptions about the game world that the early editions were written with, so hard-coded restrictions meant to enforce a specific genre that made sense if you were writing it to specifically mimic a certain style or genre become arbitrary to the vast majority of later players and authors.

I don't think I ever met a D&D player who seriously read Poul Anderson, Fritz Lieber, or Jack Vance, other than maybe reading them WELL after being a D&D player just out of curiosity to see where Gygax got his inspiration. They certainly didn't go into D&D wanting to make their games like those novels.

When AD&D is used to play everything from historical re-enactments, to gritty sword and sorcery, to a wild variety of fantasy settings, it's clear that the setting presumptions it was written with in the 1970's were not shared either by the player base, nor by the writers in later years.

So, placing arbitrary rules there to enforce genre restrictions of genres the players don't know or care about didn't make sense to later players. It certainly didn't make sense by the time 2nd edition rolled out and it was clear that there was a huge disconnect between those design presumptions and what players would actually do with the game.
 

Calling AD&D's restrictions flawed or nonsensical—when you yourself (quite correctly!) point out that they were put in place to enforce a genre convention, namely a flavor of fantasy that mixes the likes of Lieber, Anderson, Vance, Tolkien, and others—strikes me as not making much sense. You can see why the restrictions are there: it's because AD&D is a mélange of specific inspirations drawn from pulp, epic, and heroic fantasy; not a generic fantasy game where anything goes.

Clearly, most people wanted that generic, vanilla-flavored fantasy, and that's what's prevailed since 2000, but I would consider that to be a profound flaw—or at least a profound loss. I do get it—it doesn't strike me as "nonsensical"—but it does leave modern D&D tasting rather, well, flavorless.
If that's what the restrictions were meant to achieve, then it's not the best way to do it. Alternatively they should have a had a whole bunch of "race specific classes" - ie, elves can't be druids but they can be, i dunno "treesingers" or somesuch. The way it is in AD&D is just compressing the options available to the non human races and in ways that sometimes didn't even factor into most games. (The level limits didn't really factor into anyone's games).

In a way, Basic D&D better achieved this, since only humans had classes. The other races had an unlimited advancement in their own racial class.
 

(The level limits didn't really factor into anyone's games).
I saw them factor into pretty much every long-running game. If the game was one session or only a few weeks or few months, then it wouldn't come up. If it was a long-term game that would run a year or more, those level limits tended to appear, and tended to hurt, bad.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
In a way, Basic D&D better achieved this, since only humans had classes. The other races had an unlimited advancement in their own racial class.
I vaguely recall that, in BECMI, the demihumans actually didn't have unlimited advancement; the halfling "class" was limited to 6th level or thereabouts.

I think it was in the Master Set (the "M" in "BECMI") where it was noted that demihumans kept gaining experience points even after hitting their level limit, however, which were used for determining their gaining the various attack ranks, and for determining when they were eligible to try and achieve Immortality.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
I vaguely recall that, in BECMI, the demihumans actually didn't have unlimited advancement; the halfling "class" was limited to 6th level or thereabouts.

I think it was in the Master Set (the "M" in "BECMI") where it was noted that demihumans kept gaining experience points even after hitting their level limit, however, which were used for determining their gaining the various attack ranks, and for determining when they were eligible to try and achieve Immortality.

Halflings 8th, elves 10th, dwarves 12th. The Companion Set introduced the clan relics and attack ranks (and the Elves of Alfheim gazetteer added rules for elves to advance their magic-user abilities up to approximately 20th level if they forewent advancing their attack ranks).

Later, of course, the Rules Cyclopedia added optional tables for regular advancement of demihumans up to 36th level, and the XP requirements were suitably harsh that given the choice most players would stick with the level limits and attack ranks.

So, placing arbitrary rules there to enforce genre restrictions of genres the players don't know or care about didn't make sense to later players. It certainly didn't make sense by the time 2nd edition rolled out and it was clear that there was a huge disconnect between those design presumptions and what players would actually do with the game.

Hence the vanilla paste that is modern D&D. Fortunately there's also a whole Old School Renaissance now for folks who do appreciate Appendix N and the rules that Gygax &al. wrote.
 

Hence the vanilla paste that is modern D&D. Fortunately there's also a whole Old School Renaissance now for folks who do appreciate Appendix N and the rules that Gygax &al. wrote.
We have very, very different expectations and attitudes about D&D and setting expectations.

I see D&D as something that should be a flexible toolkit that most readily lets a gaming group play a game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world but can be readily adapted to pre-industrial historic roleplaying or a variety of other fantasy settings rooted in other historic eras, with restrictions on things like available player races and classes to be specific to the campaign setting and decided by the individual DM, not written directly into the rules.

While 5e is certainly not my preferred edition (3.5e is), my objections to modern 5e come from the rules seeming to be oversimplified, not due to a so-called "vanilla paste".

The idea that the core rules of D&D should reflect a very specific set of setting presumptions including a strongly humanocentric game setting rooted mostly in pulp fantasy books of the 60's and 70's left the mainstream of D&D gaming thirty years ago. By the time that official settings included things as diverse as Spelljammer in 1989, Dark Sun in 1991 or Planescape in 1994, we'd clearly moved beyond simply imitating Vance, Anderson, and Lieber. . .and calling D&D a "vanilla paste" when you've got such wildly diverse settings as Eberron, Spelljammer, Planescape, Dark Sun, and Ravenloft in D&D seems silly.
 

Jack Daniel

Engines & Empires
I see D&D as something that should be a flexible toolkit that most readily lets a gaming group play a game set in a pseudo-medieval fantasy world but can be readily adapted to pre-industrial historic roleplaying or a variety of other fantasy settings rooted in other historic eras, with restrictions on things like available player races and classes to be specific to the campaign setting and decided by the individual DM, not written directly into the rules.

I see D&D the same way! (As do most OSR fans, given the sheer volume of white box and B/X conversions for every genre from sci-fi to steampunk.) AD&D is a different story, though.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
The next book in the series is one that exemplifies a debate that's sprung up here: is D&D a toolkit used to design campaign worlds, or does it come with its own implicit world with all of the inherent assumptions and preexisting determinations therein?

The answer, of course, is both.

Even as far back as Original Dungeons & Dragons, the game has simultaneously presented itself as being a set of tools by which you could create your own setting, while also presenting itself as something that could be used for a campaign out of the proverbial box (the map from Outdoor Survival not included). In fact, I think a lot of debates over what D&D is and should be - as well as the philosophies that went into revising the game for each edition - can be defined as nodding in one direction or the other.

While it sounds like a complete cop-out to say, I've come to appreciate both. For me, the apex of the "toolkit" approach was in 3E in general, though I'm of the belief that it only reached its perfect form with Distant Horizons Games's Eclipse: The Codex Persona, a d20 book that not only eschews character classes altogether in favor of point-buy character (and race) generation/progression, but also presents ways to alter each listed ability by introducing a weakness in exchange for either increased power or a price discount. Of course, that requires the GM to proactively determine what's available and if/how abilities are altered (since otherwise you're letting players use the functional equivalent of every d20 book ever made; the system is that flexible), but that's what the checklist on page 197 is for.

By contrast, I likewise find a seductive beauty in what's implied when choices are restricted. While a blank sheet of paper certainly presents freedom, for me it quickly results in analysis paralysis, whereas only having certain avenues of options stimulates my imagination. If elves can't become druids, and can only become NPC clerics, I want to know why. I want to know what effect that has on how elven society and culture would develop, and how it would impact their relatonships with their neighbors. I want to know what prompted the game designer(s) to come to that decision, and how that reasoning informed related decisions. I want to know how it potentially impacts PCs when visiting elven settlements. There are so many questions, and they draw me inexorably into the implications they present.

Which, on that note, brings us to PHBR10 The Complete Book of Humanoids.

I loved, and still love, this book for what it presented. Over two dozen "monstrous" races given PC stats! The possibilities that this opened up sent me on a whirlwind when I first read it. While AD&D 2E technically had variant monsters from the very beginning in MC1 Monstrous Compendium Volume One, these were along the lines of "for every fifty goblins present, there'll be one goblin chieftan who has 1+1 Hit Die and has the THAC0 of an orc" or thereabouts. Here, you could actually advance the monsters with PC class levels!

Insofar as I know, this wasn't really something that you could do in AD&D 1E. I'm sure there were options and exceptions out there (probably in the pages of Dragon magazine), but all I can remember is the section in the 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide where Gygax said that, while some players might want to play a monster, they were either powergamers or looking to role-play something wildly different, and that the DM shouldn't worry, because the former would find that playing a monster sucked because they couldn't really advance beyond their MM entry and the latter would soon get bored of the experience and play something else.

Does anyone besides me remember "The Bandits of Bunglewood"? Written by Chris Perkins in Dungeon #51, it involved a group of dwarven farmers who were being menaced, but who all insisted to the PCs that the threat was something different, with one saying it was lycanthropes, one saying it was ghosts, etc. It turned out to be a couple of kobolds who'd been trained by a human fighter, and now had fighter levels of their own. The dwarves were just too ashamed of losing to kobolds to be able to admit it. Boom, just like that, the possibility of humanoids with character classes practically writes the adventure by itself. Don't even get me started on how much I love Lisa Smedman's "To Bite the Moon" from Dungeon #48, where the PCs are turned into gnolls.

Lest this sound like a paean to more options, I'll restate that it was the restrictions that made these beautiful to me. Firbolgs could only be fighters or shamans, for example (or fighter/shamans). What does it say about them that there are no firbolg thieves? How does that inform our vision of larceny in their culture? Centaurs can be druids, but only up to 14th level; that's the rank of Great Druid. How does it inform the centaur view of druidism that they can't become a Grand Druid (15th level) or a hierophant (16th+ level)? Questions like these fascinated me as a kid, and they continue to now, because they tease the vision of a campaign world that can only be read between the lines.

A few other notes on this book: the kits for the shaman and the witch doctor play a big role here, to the point where the tables of restricted classes and level limits present them right after cleric and druid, as though these were alternate classes. I have a vague recollection of digging out The Complete Priest's Handbook and The Complete Wizard's Handbook to see how their shaman and witch doctor kits compared to the ones here; I seem to recall that they were surprisingly consistent, but I confess I was too lazy to follow up on it now. As it is, I remember that witch doctors seemed better than shamans, since shamans were limited to divine spells only, whereas witch doctors got arcane and divine spells both (though I think they were limited to lower spell levels as a compensatory mechanism, but don't quote me on that).

Of course, there'd eventually be a Shaman sourcebook all its own, but that was a completely different one (technically brought over from Mayfair Games, for that matter). Besides, the shaman wouldn't give us Alvin and the Chipmunks the way that the witch doctor would, so there you go.


And if you think that's bad, be glad I didn't mention how the term "wemic" (which I've always pronounced "wee-mick"), along with their leonine forms, always made me sing "ah-wemic-way ah-wemic-way ah-wemic-way ah-wemic-way, in the jungle, the mighty jungle, the wemic sleeps tonight..."

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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cbwjm

Hero
I do like looking back through the old 2e books, the complete book of humanoids I recall enjoying, I think I wanted to play a minotaur but I'm not sure if I ever did as I was almost always the DM.

Like you I do look at available classes and use them to determine how a race fit into the world, it's one of the reasons why I liked the bladesinger from the elf handbook. Humans have the shining knight in the form of the paladin, the elven knights were the bladesingers, nimble warriors with access to magic and a weapon style so elegant as to appear like they're dancing.

I've just been looking through the planeswalkers handbook and have found a rare multiclass combination, an aasimar could be a multiclass bard! They could be a fighter/bard, mage/bard or priest/bard. I wonder how that would have opened things up back then with the bard's faster levelling, it might have been more beneficial to be a fighter/bard instead of a fighter/mage since they'd quickly gain spellcasting ability and have the rest of the bard abilities to boot.
 



My son ran a centaur PC in an AD&D 2E campaign using the rules from The Complete Book of Humanoids. He didn't last long, but he was a fun character while he lasted.

Johnathan
 

Voadam

Legend
Lizardmen were the ones I was most interested in seeing PC stuff for. I thought having them as a standard spelljammer race crew option was neat.
 

Mannahnin

Adventurer
I never found a campaign which would support it, but I really wanted to play a kobold for a while. Make an attempt at seeing him go from pathetic sniveling little thing to badass out of all proportion to his size.
 

Voadam

Legend
I never found a campaign which would support it, but I really wanted to play a kobold for a while. Make an attempt at seeing him go from pathetic sniveling little thing to badass out of all proportion to his size.

One of the four guys in the Iron Gods game I am running is playing one. A Thundarr the Barbarian type setting with a lot of tribes of humanoids so as a racial choice it fits well with the setting.

I've played in a few 3e games where there were kobold PCs in the party.

Kobold paladins who are essentially modelled on being tiny metallic dragons is a concept that works pretty well too.
 

As much as everybody knocks on the Complete Book of Elves, I really dig the concept of the Bladesinger, how important they are in the elven community, and the fact that Evermeet felt like the land the Middle Earth elves would journey to once they got tired of the world. For all the other elves, its like this elven holy land.
 

Orius

Adventurer
The rest of the race books were fairly average.

Elves is the most well known of all of them, because it has a reputation for being bad. It's not as bad as some say, but there are balance issues. And the bladesinger is a good concept at least on paper.

Gnomes and halfling is alright, but it's not really that memorable.

Humanoids is a good reference for building more unusual characters, but because so many different racrs are covered, none get a lot of dedicated space.

All three books are good for a DM if he wants to create an NPC that isn't a standard PHB race. I don't really regret having all three of the books.
 

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