Monday, December 13, 2021

How to Read the AD&D Rulebooks Part III: Character Race and Class

The title sounds like a seminar offered by the sociology department, no? Rest assured, we're not getting into heavy topics here at Dicechucker Taverns. We will be looking at pages 13-17 of the Players Handbook; which deal with race and class selection. Why not pages 18 & 19? Probably because the cat was on my lap and I couldn't reach my PHB so I had to do this from memory. 

Let's hop right into Character Race Table I.: Character Class Limitations. This gloomy table tells you that no, you can't have a gnome Paladin in AD&D, and, yes, folks adhered to this. Sometimes someone would get papal dispensation to run an elven druid or a halfling ranger/assassin or something but it was rare in the extreme and usually limited to the first few months of your dungeon master's AD&D career. 

No gnomes, no halflings. Take it to heart.

This table also informs you of the alignment restrictions for each class. Yes, we adhered to this in as much as we wrote the appropriate alignment down on our character sheets, much as we wrote down weapon speed factors and encumbrance value of our gear initially. More on that later, but you probably get the drift.

Then there's the dreaded Table II Class Level Limitations. While the previous table limited the classes your demi-human could choose from, this one ups the ante by telling you that the gnome illusionist/assassin you settled on when you found out you couldn't be a paladin will be retired once it reaches 7th/8th level. That's insane, right? You'll also see in the footnotes under table II that even if your character did pick a class that was limited to a certain level--pretty much thief is the only class that allows unlimited advancement to non-humans--your character is furthermore restricted based on their ability score in the prime requisite for their class. So your ≤16 Str elf was stuck at 5th level for the last thousand years of its life! Even if she got a gym membership and bulked up to an 18/51 Strength, he was only squeezing 2 more levels out of their career. You'd think Rule 2 (common sense) would come into play again, but we usually a) rolled characters until we got one with at least one 18, and b) retired characters around 7th or 8th level, so level limits weren't really a big deal; see Rule 5. And demi-humans were almost always multi-classed either as F/MU and/or Thief--dwarven fighters being the big exception here, they could reach 9th level--so they still had room to grow in other directions. Also, every race except halflings is allowed to be an assassin.

For reference only.

Confusingly, according to this table NPCs of certain races can be members of classes that PCs can't. NPC dwarves, for example, can be clerics though PCs are denied such access to the divine class. While you might think folks would have incited Rule 2 Common Sense and ignored this nonsense, rarely did you see a PC buck the system on this one. Mostly because those NPC-only exceptions only applied to clerics and halfling druids; clerics in AD&D were henchmen 99.9% of the time--and therefore technically NPCs--and no one wanted to play a halfling, see below, so it's Rule 5 once again. 

Which brings us to Character Race Table III: Ability Score Minimums & Maximums. This stunningly unimportant table summarizes all the minimum and maximum ability scores mentioned in the Ability Tables we talked about in part 1. Let's move on.

Did I mention that there's a mini-psuedo table that shows ability penalties and bonuses for race? No? This subtle little table, more of a list really, tells you that races with Con bonuses also have charisma penalties (Dwarves, half orcs). Yes 5E-ers, ability score penalties were once a thing.

Sadly, there are no more tables in the Character Races section of the book; you're going to have to read the descriptions to get the rest of the info, but it's un-Gygaxianly concise, you can manage this. Gamers of the 80s didn't swing too far from the text here. Early on I remember a debate about whether halfling PCs should benefit from the +3 to hit with missile weapons that the Monster Manual ascribes to them--the ruling is not mentioned in the PHB. We allowed it initially--the poor little dudes are limited to 4th level fighter, at least let them shoot a crossbow like they're 7th level--but at some point it was ruled that since it's only mentioned in the Monster Manual then it only applies to NPC halflings (like the druid thing). As a result, no one ever played a halfling again. Problem solved.