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OD&D OD&D Design Choices... Why?

Is_907

First Post
Hey all,
I've not ever had a chance to play anything older than 3rd edition D&D. I have a broad exposure to all sorts of RPGs ranging from homebrewed to d20 games to Warhammer 40k and have read everything in between (dying to try Savage Worlds next.)

Anyway, I'm very intrigued by OD&D and can't figure out a few things, namely the WHY in some design choices. I'm hoping to find a group that can play OD&D or a "retro clone" of it at least one or two sessions, but until then, maybe some here can answer these questions?

- Why do non-Human races advance slower through levels and/or have level caps?

Actually, that about sums it up... why are non-human PCs seemingly gimped from the start?

I LOVE the freedom and lack of "there's a rule for every little thing" in OD&D, but this question is nagging me.
 

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Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
You're fairly close to where they hold the annual North Texas Role Playing Game Convention. It's been held in Irving and is loaded with old school gaming.

North Texas Role Playing Game Convention FAQ

You should drop by their forums and see if a local game can accomodate your curiosity for playing a few sesions of (O)D&D. I'm sure they'd be happy to have you.


As to your question, I am sure it stems from the idea that nonhuman races have other advantages but also largely because it is a humanocentric-inherent default setting where humans are supposed to be dominant. Other folks here or there might say something similar but that's been my take since taking up the game in 1974 when it was first released.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
- Why do non-Human races advance slower through levels and/or have level caps?

In original D&D - and I'm assuming you're talking about the original release here, not the Basic D&D line - all non-human races advance at the same rate as humans.

However, they also have a number of special abilities that humans don't have, so they are limited in level as a drawback.

It should be noted that this level limit was raised during every further iteration of the game that Gary Gygax worked on - in AD&D, then in Unearthed Arcana. (And it was raised further in 2e!)

The idea behind it was that the balance was over the period of a campaign, which - for D&D - primarily was from 1st to 8th level. Or thereabouts. So, Dwarves being unable to progress past 6th level (as a fighter) wasn't too much of a problem - especially once you factored in their bonuses on saves, find dungeon features (traps), and suchlike.

(Hobbits/Halflings weren't quite in the game as a serious choice, admittedly. Once Supplement I was introduced and the thief class made its debut, they became a lot better).

The Elf was rather unusual: they could act as either a Fighter or Magic-User for each session, using all the abilities of one or the other profession, and keeping separate XP totals and levels for both classes. Well, that's how it read, anyway. OD&D is rather unclear on the matter.

By the time AD&D came along, the Elf could now (properly) multiclass and have the XP shared equally between the two and use both functions at once.

In the Basic line of products, the Dwarf changed to have a top limit of 8th level, but a slightly slower advancement (to make up for their advantages). The Elf gained the ability to use both fighter and magic-user abilities at the same time, but had a punishing XP table (and a maximum level of 10). Eventually, the Companion set of rules gave the demihuman "faux" advancement abilities...

Cheers!
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
It should also be noted that a lot of the decisions came from either the literary point of view of the races - which explained why halfling (hobbit) fighting men were so restricted in level - or from desires to make the game more human-based.

As I recall, later Gary Gygax admitted that single-class dwarves probably should have been unlimited in level.

Cheers!
 

Is_907

First Post
Interesting. It seems to me, coming at it from a 3e-centric background, that a lack of level advancement balancing out racial traits/abilities is like... apples and oranges.

BUT... I see how it works and can support it ;)


@Mark CMG Thanks for the link! I've lived here two years and have barely found any good gaming communities... am part of a group trying to get some regular gaming going on at the library in Lewisville, hoping to get the novices into the hobby world.

I'll DEFINITELY check out the NTX RPG Con site and see if I can find some folks willing to donate time to run a game for a youngster! (=
 

Is_907

First Post
One of the biggest reasons I've started delving in to OD&D and the game's history is to see how tied to the time period and to the literature of the time the game was.
It's pretty obvious that most RPGs have evolved to be a more "all things to all men" deal, allowing everyone to have their cake, eat it, and not be "gimped" (as many would call it) by imbalanced mechanics.

To be sure, I feel most rulesets have their own inherent flavour, and it definitely seems that the older D&D games are more in line with what a lot of us grew up reading--the Tolkien-esque worlds.

Incidentally, I read a book a few months back called "The Elfish Gene--Growing Up Geek" by Mark Barrowcliffe. Good book, though I think he was part of a subculture of gamers that I have always avoided (rules lawyers and immature brats), so has always thought of D&D as an immature game.
BUT... the book gives some great insights into how the game was received back then.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Supporter
To be sure, I feel most rulesets have their own inherent flavour, and it definitely seems that the older D&D games are more in line with what a lot of us grew up reading--the Tolkien-esque worlds.

Gary Gygax downplayed Tolkien's influence a lot later, but it's quite obvious from the races & classes available that Tolkien was a major influence.

However, the style of adventure and the mechanics of early D&D weren't all that influenced by Tolkien. Instead you have Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, R.E Howard and other authors who really influenced the early game.

See here: Appendix N - Gary's D&D Book Inspiration List

Cheers!
 

Is_907

First Post
Gary Gygax downplayed Tolkien's influence a lot later, but it's quite obvious from the races & classes available that Tolkien was a major influence.

However, the style of adventure and the mechanics of early D&D weren't all that influenced by Tolkien. Instead you have Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, R.E Howard and other authors who really influenced the early game.

See here: Appendix N - Gary's D&D Book Inspiration List

Cheers!

Yes, absolutely. I was referring only to the flavour of race/class choices there. (Didn't specify though--I shouldn't post when I'm up at 1:30am trying to work and browse forums haha.)

Vancian magic definitely flies in the face of Tolkien's world ;)
Thanks for the link--good reading.


Thanks for all the comments guys. I really appreciate it. Now, if I can just find an OD&D game to play in... *hunts*
 

In the Basic line of products, the Dwarf changed to have a top limit of 8th level, but a slightly slower advancement (to make up for their advantages). The Elf gained the ability to use both fighter and magic-user abilities at the same time, but had a punishing XP table (and a maximum level of 10). Eventually, the Companion set of rules gave the demihuman "faux" advancement abilities...

Cheers!

IIRC the basic D&D dwarf could advance to 12th level, the elf 10th, and the halfling 8th.
 


Storminator

First Post
@Mark CMG Thanks for the link! I've lived here two years and have barely found any good gaming communities... am part of a group trying to get some regular gaming going on at the library in Lewisville, hoping to get the novices into the hobby world.

I'll DEFINITELY check out the NTX RPG Con site and see if I can find some folks willing to donate time to run a game for a youngster! (=

If you're gaming in Lewisville you're not too far from Reaper Minis in Denton. Check out their place - they have a lot of gamers over there!

Reaper Miniatures :: TheAsylum

PS
 


Is_907

First Post
Thanks for moving the thread, Umbran! Didn't think at all before posting in General.

If you're gaming in Lewisville you're not too far from Reaper Minis in Denton. Check out their place - they have a lot of gamers over there!

Reaper Miniatures :: TheAsylum

PS

Yeah I've been hearing a lot of good stuff about Reaper lately. I'm actually in Keller, so Lewisville is a bit of a drive, but that group is talking about doing some Reaper stuff.
 

nedjer

Adventurer
As I recall, later Gary Gygax admitted that single-class dwarves probably should have been unlimited in level.

Cheers!

Just working over a clone right now - don't want to mess with the core elements, but I'll take GG's updated view as license to dispense with that longstanding injustice :)
 


TanisFrey

First Post
Most people I played with used a soft cap. demihumans advanced as normal to their level. the level cap could be pushed up for high ability scores. Then they would have to earn twice the normal amount of xp to advance.


OUR reason was that demihumans have such long life span that they take a different out look at the world and do not rush things like humans do.
 


howandwhy99

Adventurer
There are a number of different theories on racial level limits. I think many of them may even be more or less right too. I like how extra racial abilities are balanced over the length of the campaign by limited class abilities. It's sort of how aging via spells works too. Most balancing of this sort is predicated on each PC being equivalent in ability, but I don't think that is how early D&D is balanced except rather loosely. It isn't quite Palladium, but each race and class changes the difficulty of the game (not to mention the ability scores rolled).

Here's my take: D&D is based upon human as the metric of everything else in the world. D&D classes are human social roles, so demi (or semi-)humans performing them are at a disadvantage. Other races may have their own classes, but these are all for NPCs. Each PC class racial level limit is set according to the capabilities of the race attempting to perform it. These are all human classes, so humans have unlimited advancement possibilities. For other races think of a halfling engaged in a sword fight with a human. The average halfling is at a disadvantage against the average human because the former are smaller and weaker in combat.

Because of racial disadvantages upon performing human/PC classes other race's level advancements are based upon meeting thresholds on a bell curve of human ability. This is like limits on their ability scores too in some games. Each particular race's ability is also mapped out by bell curve and level limits are checked for by laying it over the human norm. Halfling STR and therefore F-M limits could be in blue below:

wMDUwNGE3MmM5N2RjMzlhMTM3ODNlNzkzYzIzYTE.jpg


So a powerful halfing would top out at 6th level as a fighter. He's in his races top sector, 18, for the prime requisite, but he could still go further. It will simply cost the halfling more. Think of it like exceptional strength, but for any ability. Advancement to a 7th level fighter would require a 16 strength (perhaps a halfling's18:50). The XP required is more as well to cover the training and experience required for the race, which are considerably more for a halfling just to meet the human level threshold of 7. The progression may go on like STR 17 for 8th level, and 18 for 9th, but eventually it becomes too much of a burden to play. Typically this is because the XP requirement is more than double compared to human PCs in the same class or training time is beyond the racial lifespan played. Humans have outdistanced the other race. Sure, that 9th level fighter halfling is demographically beyond most any in history and far more of an outlier than any class level equivalent human F-M. But they still aren't making it to 10th level.
 

GreyLord

Hero
Gary Gygax downplayed Tolkien's influence a lot later, but it's quite obvious from the races & classes available that Tolkien was a major influence.

However, the style of adventure and the mechanics of early D&D weren't all that influenced by Tolkien. Instead you have Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, Edgar Rice Burroughs, R.E Howard and other authors who really influenced the early game.

See here: Appendix N - Gary's D&D Book Inspiration List

Cheers!

This won't be popular...but I blame Arneson for that. Arneson was much of the brilliance behind the original, inclusive of HIS default combat system which eventually became the Default combat system for D&D...But NOT before it was the optional system with Chainmail as the primary.

Arneson's influences came from everywhere and everything. If someone had a good idea, well...why not simply toss it into play. So you get this Vancian magic with some Sci-Fi elements, and Naval combat systems with medieval warriors.

Gygax was the economic and purpose driven genius who got things done. If Arneson was the soul, Gygax was the brains. Chainmail came into the picture because Gygax wanted it in the picture...the optional system (AC vs a roll) took over because players decided differently. I actually think Gygax was heavily influence by Tolkien as was everyone else.

However, a lot of the other players read a LOT of fiction and had zany ideas of their own...inclusive of other writers. Of course everyone else would read those writers eventually, and so I suppose could claim that influence, but in truth...that original source of why it came in could be pinpointed to a particular person probably. Some of them may not have even realized they were the original source...as it probably came up that they asked if they could do something or whatever...and maybe said where the idea came from...and there you go.

So, it became a mish mash...but Arneson's stuff was always more humorous in ways and campy then Gygax's. Far more outlandish and evolving based on what players brought in.

Just take a look at what became of Blackmoor and all it's elements in relation to GreyHawk.

I think there were more Grey Hawk fans in the long run though.

Just my opinion...and a very minor opinion amongst everyone here I suppose...but just my two coins on what was happening during the origins of it all.

Then again, I think the main complaint that could be levelled against me was that I was always more of the wargamer than the RPG player...and dealt more with the Wargaming sides of the coin than the RPG's...so what would I know anyways!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I actually think Gygax was heavily influence by Tolkien as was everyone else.
Someone with a clearer memory can either correct or confirm this, but wasn't there some issue with the Tolkein estate not allowing D+D to use any of their material? EGG was thus forced to downplay the Tolkein influence, at least in what he said, to avoid problems here.

Lan-"what you call halflings I call hobbits"-efan
 

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