[AD&D and me] On the Origin of Races

Posted on September 28, 2011

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(previous posts in this series: one, two, three, four)

Today we cover pages 15-18 of the 1978 AD&D Player’s Handbook.

After the ability tables, the book gets deeper into what characters are about, starting with Character Races. I really wish Gygax had picked a term like “species” or something, but he didn’t, and it’s stuck with us ever since. I read through the race descriptions, and while each individual sentence and paragraph made sense, I couldn’t get a broader picture of why you’d want to play a Dwarf and not, say, a Gnome or a Half-orc. Again, it’s that endearing/maddening stream-of-consciousness organization.

Gygax was following the rules of good writing in some cases–think of novel ways to re-phrase things–but when it comes to writing a game, that rule of good writing is awful. If a game rule is the same for a Dwarf, an Elf, and a Gnome (like Infravision), then for God’s sake, copy and paste the thing! O well, he was busy helping to formulate a new game medium. He can be forgiven.

Anyway, as I was saying: I couldn’t get a grasp on the broader comparative picture of the races, because of the organization. So this week, instead of dropping into analysis-mode, I switched on organization-mode, which funnily enough in the end seems to be a kind of analysis. I broke down the races into a (fairly) easily digestible format and gave abilities flavorful names that are easily referenced and normalized across the races.

I don’t talk too much about the fictional stuff behind each race, because the book itself mostly doesn’t[1] and because the rules for each race are its culture, in a way. System is setting, right?

Here are your race options, all spelled out, for the next time you play AD&D:

DWARVES

Classes: Fighter* / Thief / Assassin / Multi-class

Perks:

Stout & Gruff: Dwarves get +1 Constitution and -1 Charisma.

Magic Resistant: Dwarves get a bonus to saving throws against attacks by magic wands, staves, rods, and spells. This bonus is +1 per 3.5 points of the character’s Constitution score.

Toxin Resistant: Dwarves get the same bonus to saving throws against poison.

Infravision: Dwarves can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making them able to see up to 60 feet in the dark, and noting varying degrees of heat radiation.

Blood Enemy (ATK): Dwarves get +1 on rolls to hit half-orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, or orcs.

Blood Enemy (DEF): When being attacked by ogres, trolls, ogre magi, giants, and/or titans, dwarves force their enemies to take -4 on rolls to hit them.

Miners of Great Skill: Dwarves are able to detect the following facts when within 10 feet of the phenomenon (determination of approximate depth can be done at any distance):

  • Detect grade or slope in passage, upwards or downwards (75% probability – d4, score 1-3)
  • Detect new construction or passage/tunnel (75% probability)
  • Detect sliding or shifting walls or rooms (66 2/3% probability – d6, score 1-4)
  • Detect traps involving pits, falling blocks, and other stonework (50% probability – d4, score 1-2)
  • Determine approximate depth underground (50% probability)

Languages: Dwarves are able to speak dwarven, gnome, goblin, kobold, orcish, and the “common tongue” of humankind. In addition to their alignment language, they are able to learn two more languages maximum.

*Max 9th level

ELVES

Classes: Fighter* / Magic User** / Thief / Assassin*** / Multi-class

Perks:

Wiry: Elves get +1 Dexterity and -1 Constitution.

Charm Immune: Elves have a 90% chance to resist sleep and charm spells (d100, score of 1-90).

Weapons of My Ancestors: Elves get +1 on rolls to hit when using a short sword, long sword, or bow (not a crossbow).

Infravision: Elves can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making them able to see up to 60 feet in the dark, and noting varying degrees of heat radiation.

Quiet & Sneaky: If alone and not in metal armor, elves will surprise a monster 66 2/3% of the time (d6, score 3-6). If a door must be opened to confront the monster, the chance drops to 33 1/3% (d6, score 5-6).

An Eye for Secrets:

  • When passing within 10 feet of a secret or concealed door, elves have a 16 2/3% chance of finding it (d6, score 6)
  • When actively searching for secret doors, elves have a 33 1/3% chance of finding them, and a 50% chance of finding a concealed door

Languages: Elves are able to speak elvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, orcish, gnoll, the “common tongue” of humankind, and their alignment language. Elves are able to learn one additional language for every point of Intelligence above 15.

*Max 7th, **11th, and ***10th level

GNOMES

Classes: Fighter* / Illusionist** / Thief / Assassin*** / Multi-class

Perks:

Magic Resistant: Gnomes get a bonus to saving throws against attacks by magic wands, staves, rods, and spells. This bonus is +1 per 3.5 points of the character’s Constitution score.

Infravision: Gnomes can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making them able to see up to 60 feet in the dark, and noting varying degrees of heat radiation.

Hated Foes (ATK): Gnomes get +1 on rolls to hit kobolds and goblins.

Hated Foes (DEF): When being attacked by gnolls, bugbears, ogres, trolls, ogre magi, giants, and/or titans, gnomes force their enemies to take -4 on rolls to hit them.

Miners of Exceptional Merit: Gnomes are able to detect the following facts when within 10 feet of the phenomenon (determination of approximate depth can be done at any distance):

  • Detect grade or slope in passage, upwards or downwards (80% probability – d10, score 1-8)
  • Detect unsafe walls, ceilings, or floors (70% probability – d10, score 1-7)
  • Determine approximate depth underground (60% probability – d10, score 1-6)
  • Determine direction of travel underground (50% probability – d4, score 1-2)

Languages: Gnomes are able to speak dwarven, gnome, halfling goblin, kobold, the “common tongue” of humankind, and their alignment language. In addition, they are able to communicate with any burrowing mammal (moles, badgers, ground squirrels, etc.). They are able to learn two more languages maximum.

Max *6th, **7th, and ***8th level

HALF-ELVES

Classes: Cleric* / Druid / Fighter** / Ranger** / Magic User** / Thief / Assassin*** / Multi-class

Perks:

Charm Resistant: Half-elves have a 30% chance to resist sleep and charm spells (d100, score of 1-30).

Infravision: Half-elves can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making them able to see up to 60 feet in the dark, and noting varying degrees of heat radiation.

An Eye for Secrets:

  • When passing within 10 feet of a secret or concealed door, half-elves have a 16 2/3% chance of finding it (d6, score 6)
  • When actively searching for secret doors, half-elves have a 33 1/3% chance of finding them (d6, score 5-6), and a 50% chance of finding a concealed door

Languages: Half-elves are able to speak elvish, gnome, halfling, goblin, hobgoblin, orcish, gnoll, the “common tongue” of humankind, and their alignment language. Half-elves are able to learn one additional language for every point of Intelligence above 16.

Max *5th, **8th, and ***11th level

HALFLINGS

Classes: Fighter* / Thief / Multi-class

Perks:

Small & Slippery: Halflings get +1 Dexterity and -1 Strength.

Magic Resistant: Halflings get a bonus to saving throws against attacks by magic wands, staves, rods, and spells. This bonus is +1 per 3.5 points of the character’s Constitution score.

Toxin Resistant: Halflings get the same bonus to saving throws against poison.

Infravision: Halflings can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making those of pure Stoutish blood able to see up to 60 feet in the dark. Those of mixed blood have Infravision up to 30 feet.

Tunnelers: Halflings are able to tell if a passage is on an up or down slope 75% of the time (d4, score 2-4), and can determine direction 50% of the time (d4, score 3-4).

Quiet & Sneaky: If alone and not in metal armor, halflings will surprise a monster 66 2/3% of the time (d6, score 3-6). If a door must be opened to confront the monster, the chance drops to 33 1/3% (d6, 5-6).

Languages: Halflings are able to speak dwarven, elven, gnome, goblin, halfing, orcish, the “common tongue” of humankind, and their alignment language. Halflings are able to learn one additional language for every point of Intelligence above 16.

Max *6th level

HALF-ORCS

Classes: Cleric* / Fighter** / Thief*** / Assassin / Multi-class

Perks:

Brutish: Half-orcs get +1 to Strength, +1 to Constitution, and -2 to Charisma.

Infravision: Half-orcs can see radiation in the IR spectrum, making them able to see up to 60 feet in the dark, and noting varying degrees of heat radiation.

Languages: Half-orcs are able to speak orcish, the “common tongue” of humankind, and their alignment language. They are able to learn two more languages maximum.

Max *4th, **10th, and ***8th level

HUMANS

Classes: All, except Multi-class: Cleric / Druid / Fighter / Paladin / Ranger / Magic User / Illusionist / Thief / Assassin / Monk

Perks: None. Humans are given neither penalties nor bonuses, as they are established as the norm upon which the subtractions or additions for racial stock are based.

Languages: Humans are able to speak the “common tongue” of Humankind. They are able to learn additional languages as their Intelligence allows (1 additional at INT 8, 7 additional at INT 18; for all details see INTELLIGENCE TABLE 1).

And that’s it for your racial options. As usual, humans are the most boring but the most versatile–there’s a whole heap of classes that only they can be. And oh yeah, the classes. We’ll get to that soon. See you next time!

[1] i.e., “The race of dwarves typically dwells in hilly or mountainous regions. For more info, see THE MONSTER MANUAL”.

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Posted in: Old-school, Readings, rpg