Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dwarf Racial Class Question

Here's something I've never quite figured out: why is it that Moldvay included both increased XP costs per level for his dwarf racial class and level limits? I can see it in the case of the elf, because it's effectively a multiclass fighter-magic-user, but why should it cost more XP per level to be a dwarf, when he's basically just a fighting man who can only reach 12th level? The halfling, for example, requires exactly the same XP per level as a human fighter, but a dwarf, meanwhile, requires more. As I see it, if you're already penalizing demihumans by limiting their advancement, then why penalize them a second time by requiring more XP per level because they possess a handful of racial abilities of limited utility?

(There's also the issue that there's no precedent for this approach in the LBBs but that's another matter).


  1. I do think its meant to say "Humans are Better". Or it might be niche protection, to encourage Human fighters over Dwarven ones. As you say, Elves are F/MUs, but Dwarves are really just short fighters with a couple of abilities...

  2. For me, this really gets into the question of why level limits at all - but that's a huge, sometimes unpleasant can of worms. I mean, as you point out, dwarves and elves both already have to earn more xp to level (halfling progression is indeed the same as a human fighter's, though the halfling only gets a d6 hd so that's the drawback there).

    Jvustin's guess about niche protection is as good as anyone's I guess, coupled with the age old argument about human-centric worlds (which should really be a dm's decision, based on the style of campaign s/he wants to run, but that is neither here nor there). And I'm sure (it's explicitly stated in Moldvay, I think) that the racial abilities played into the decision, even though, as you point out, their utility is limited.

    Fortunately, in b/x at least, the level limits don't seem to matter much; with name level at 9th (followers, domain building, etc.) it's sort of the endgame anyway - and most campaigns I've played in or ran seem to lose steam around then anyway.

  3. (I don't have the book in front of me, but) I always assumed it was because of extra abilities like trap detection and noticing sloping passages. But I've never fully understood level limits as a design decision. I guess you could call steeper XP a matter of class balance, while level limits are a way to make demi-humans less attractive in order to encourage a human-centric game.

  4. And then there's the markedly better saving throws...most decidedly NOT of limited utility. FWIW.

  5. For the longest time level limits on the demi human races really irritated me, and although I still find the crippling aspects of he game mechanics bothersome it dose make sense. Simply put, if your campaign includes elves and dwarves in a world were humans are the the most prevalent race on the planet, chances are the non-human races our at the very end of their "life cycle" as a society and their days are numbered. That also includes orcs, goblins, dragons, magic and even the gods themselves--except for maybe the ONE god.

  6. And, to the comments about Saving throw and skills, it's the only way to "limit" the class given the level limits of the basic box rules. The cap is otherwise irrelevant to the play of game.

  7. I think perhaps this is just of a case of conservatively changing only one thing at a time.

    Or it may be that Gygax mandated that the level limits had to stay. I suspect he wouldn’t have considered the higher XP costs a direct or sufficient replacement for level caps. Holmes had mentioned how Gygax had put the kibosh on some of the changes he’d tried to make, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar thing occurred with Moldvay’s book.

  8. I think the level limits were included for a couple of reasons. First to offset those amazing saving throws. Second, to ensure that the racial mix of "characters" matched the racial mix of "society."

    It should be noted that the level limits are essentially eliminated by the ranks system of subsequent (non-Moldvay) expansions to the Basic and Expert sets.

  9. High saves and trap detection makes the dwarf something else than a shirt fighter - in some way, he acts as a fighter-thief.

    But, reading Moldvay's works, it don't seems he really took care about non-human. They barely appears in his scenarios (I should check, but I think this is the same for David Zeb Cook). A truly Moldvayan D&D would probably not have any as PCs.

  10. It's the saving throws. But it's another good example of how poor a method level limits are for adjusting for non-human characters' advantages. If they're put in to solve the "Elder Problem" why have xp penalties? If the extra abilities are the problem, why have level limits and xp penalties, particularly if the limits are above the level most parties reach?

    A process of near-arithmetic xp requirements up till level 9, then geometric after that, with appropriate penalties on non-human races, would solve the problem of balancing for abilities and the elder problem and it would reduce the incidence of high-level monty hall campaigns. Although a better approach still would be to balance non-human abilities with weaknesses.

    I think the handling of non-humans in early AD&D is inconsistent and occasionally incoherent or "unjust" simply because they were muddling through the problem of game balance for the first time.

  11. One other thing to support that level limits are related to extra abilities (as Nicolas said, in some ways dwarves are practically like thief-fighters): in Greyhawk it says "dwarves, elves, half-elves, or hobbits may be thieves, and in this class there will be no limit to their continuing to advance to the highest levels."

    I think it's reasonable to read that as meaning there are no level limits on demi-human thieves because the thief skills overlap with the extraordinary racial abilities.

  12. Maybe it’s not a game balance issue, but rather Moldvay is trying to emulate the literature. For example, Dwarves live longer, therefore they advance more slowly. Or, because they are known for their unbending stubbornness and pride which makes them difficult to teach.

    Or maybe he wanted Dwarf PCs to not “hit the wall” of their level limit as quickly.

    Anyway, even if XP requirements were doubled (which they are not), at most this would keep a Dwarf PC only one level behind a Human Fighter receiving the same amount of XP. So it’s really not a big deal.

  13. I agree with the "better saves;" dwarves and halflings have great saves compared to's pretty close to the the LBBs (the "extra four levels" generally equates to a constant +2 bonus across the board...which is what Moldvay gives 'em).

    When you consider dwarves are the equivalent of fighters (including hit dice) but with a +10% bonus to saving throws, a +10% experience needed (which is what Moldvay does) doesn't seem too crazy. They can't use two-handed swords or pole arms...but the default damage in Moldvay for ALL weapons is D6. Meanwhile the infravision, trap finding, and extra languages are useful at all levels making the 12 level limit quite fair if you take B/X "as is" (i.e. up to level 14...remember, Cook's dwarves get +3 HPs per level after 9th, while Fighters only get +2)...a bit harder to justify when humans are hitting level 30, unless you consider the "humanocentric/stagnant dwarf" theories.

    Halflings also have the 10% bonus to saves but, the reduction in hit points (D6 instead of D8) is reason enough to give 'em an XP break.

  14. "Why is it that Moldvay included both increased XP costs per level for his dwarf racial class and level limits?"

    I'd say: This is simply an example of not re-evaluating the old rule. Level limits are in the game at that point, copy-paste them forward. Separately Moldvay added an XP penalty, didn't think or have freedom to edit the pre-existing rule.

    As I've said before: When you add a new rule, you should see if you can take some other rule out. At this point they weren't much in the habit of rule-reduction.

  15. Amazing saving throws, same HD as fighter, ability to use most weapons: think of an halfling with most of the boons and practically no limitations.

    The halfling gets the same XPs as a fighter because it has many limitations which balance out its boons.

    I suppose the idea is that you "pay for what you get" from level 1, so even if the campaign stops at 4th level, long before level limits hit, there already is a "balancing element" in play.

  16. The small Dwarf XP penalty rarely leaves him a level behind the human Fighter - he's thus better, most of the time. Certainly I've never seen anyone deterred from playing a Dwarf because they need 10% more XP.

    With Elves, they will normally be 1 level behind the human Fighter. This gives a wonky sort of power curve - at 1st the Elf is much better, but the human Fighter gets to 2nd and the Elf is still 1st, making him usually much more durable, and 3rd when the Elf hits 2nd. The 1-level gap becomes less important at higher levels, Elf-9 beats Fighter-10, but then the human pulls ahead after the Elf-10 cap.

  17. I always explained it because Dwarves are better than fighters except that they can't get the same amount of levels- but once you reach name level, those levels don't matter so much. If you don't cast magic, Name level might as well be the end of your game, because you don't gain much power or health, and because the rules of the game have changed from being an individual badass to ruling a kingdom and trying to keep the world working the way you want it to work.

    Lording over others doesn't improve via a table, after all.

  18. Dwarves (as a racial class) have infravision, good saves, are expert miners (handy in a dungeon) and 4 extra languages.
    That's why the fellows need a few more exp per level over a fighter.

  19. Check out the saving throws for a dwarf in the Cook/Marsh Expert book.

    Except for Dragon Breath, his saves are at least six levels better for every category. A first level dwarf has the same poison save as a 7th-9th level fighter.

  20. I'd say: This is simply an example of not re-evaluating the old rule. Level limits are in the game at that point, copy-paste them forward. Separately Moldvay added an XP penalty, didn't think or have freedom to edit the pre-existing rule.

    That was my guess too. For my money, I can't see why there'd be both a level limit and an XP penalty. One or the other seems the way to go.


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