Thursday, July 19, 2012

Random Thoughts (Because All My Thoughts Are Random Lately)

So, here we are in Day Whatever of my undefined mood. There is nothing good about it, but there are differences in how I think. For example, when I'm not particularly focused, I tend to think in the abstract/big picture sense. Case in point . . .

OD&D Classes

Being as how Mr. Gygax went to such lengths to stress that the LBBs were guidelines, isn't it possible that the classes given were: (1) Examples (2) Starting points (3) Some barebones to get things rolling? I know I have pontificated about using just the basic three classes. I was thinking about the Greyhawk supplement and the new classes in Strategic Review. It really occurred to me that the main three are starting points, they are the basic classes, the chassis, if you will. Look at all the variants and sub-classes of the fighter. It could be argued that they are attempts to power-up the fighter, but I don't buy that for two reasons: #1 - Why not just power-up the fighter? Why do you have to cook up a sub-type? #2 - The variants all have limits imposed upon them.

That bring me to another thought: How many referees out there stick to the book when it comes to limitations placed on classes? If a player wants to play a ranger, but his stat rolls don't quite measure up, do you fudge things in some way? I always did, mainly because players have always been in short supply and I didn't want to jeopardize the campaign before it even started by being inflexible during character generation. Now that I think about it, though, it's more than a little ridiculous. I'm from the time of Gygaxian Naturalism and my campaign design tends to bear that out. So, here I am trying to detail a consistent and internally logical world, but throwing consistency and logic out the window when it came time to roll up characters.

It is stated here and there in the books that certain classes are rare or uncommon. The rules support this notion mechanically by imposing restrictions on the classes. These restrictions make the class in question either more difficult for a character to take, and/or provide an undesirable counterpoint for the player to contend with. For example, the Paladin. This class requires a Charisma of 17 before it can even be taken. A 17 is a tall order, even if you roll 4d6, keep the best three and arrange to taste. Not to mention that the paladin is a fighter sub-class, so that 17 would be better served applied to Strength or Constitution. Then there's the fact that the paladin must be Lawful (we're talking Greyhawk here), and only associate with Neutral characters for brief, specific missions. If these restrictions are enforced, paladins would indeed be rare, because it would take a certain player and campaign to take the class.

Most of the classes outside the main three have such restrictions, that if ignored, can lead to them overshadowing the originals. I think that is the real strength of the original three classes; their versatility. If you do ignore the restrictions on the sub-classes and allow them to be more freely selectable it kind of wrecks the internal structure that supports the relative power balance between the classes.


  1. Gygax's approach always included a large dose of balance-through-rarity. 18/00 strength gives six times the bonus damage that 17 star does? No problem because a PC that strong will come along once in a lifetime and SHOULD be memorable. Problem is, through wheedling, bonuses, items or what have you,what was supposed to be super rare becomes routine and the whole thing spins out of control. But yes, the worse flaw in gygaxian balance logic is "the fatal flaw", the class whose powers are exceptional but are supposed to be balanced by some weird flaw. Paladins, and most everything in UA come to mind. Problem here is, like the superhero who is helpless at night (35 pt disadvantage), it presents the judge with very unappealing options--either the barbarian really can't function in a normal group with an MU, makings barbs useless, or you fudge things and ignore the supposedly balancing nature of the matter.

    1. I agree completely with your barbarian point. I made the argument in a post that certain classes were best left as NPC classes because of their restrictions, or design philosophy, or whatever. Rangers and Druids are two of my favorite classes (besides fighters, of course) but they have absolutely no place in a dungeon. So, that fact is conveniently ignored, along with the thief and paladin in the same party, and the barbarian and magic-user bffs.

      Racial level restrictions fall under this, as well. If we ignore the fact that elves can only progress just so far, then why not play an elf all the time. Immune to paralysis AND spots secret doors like a boss? Hell yeah.

      No, I have become of the opinion that the restrictions are there for a good reason and things veer to the dark side when they're ignored. I also believe anyone who wants to play certain classes had better be ready to explain why they're there.