Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Rethinking demi-human classes

So now that I'm on my last semester as a physics undergrad (and it's an easy one, thank goodness: I made sure to knock out of my labs, projects, and physics classes last semester, and all that's left for me to mop up on this last go-around are the math classes I need to pick up my mathematics minor), I've actually found myself with a bit of time to get back into working on E&E 2nd edition again.

Before I got back into the nitty-gritty of drafting chapter 5 and all those monster stats, though, I thought that this might be a good time to go back over chapters 1–4 with fresh eyes and proofread, revise, and edit.  Some sections needed it badly; others, not so much.  But one of the big actual changes I wound up making to the rules was to implement yet a new take on how demi-humans work.

Actually, I might be exaggerating there: it's actually not a big change.  It's really just an easy and idiotically obvious simplification to the XP tables that has me wondering why I didn't think of it before—or why I've never seen it anywhere else.  Anyway, to cite and example of what I mean, I'm going to show you a few XP tables.

First, here's how standard Basic D&D handles the elf class (equivalent to a fighter/mage):

Level … XP … Equivalent ability
1 … 0 … 1st level fighter, 1st level mage
2 … 4,000 … 2nd level fighter, 2nd level mage
3 … 8,000 … 3rd level fighter, 3rd level mage
4 … 16,000 … 4th level fighter, 4th level mage
5 … 32,000 … 5th  level fighter, 5th level mage
6 … 64,000 … 6th  level fighter, 6th level mage
7 … 120,000 … 7th level fighter, 7th level mage
8 … 250,000 … 8th  level fighter, 8th level mage
9 … 400,000 … 9th  level fighter, 9th level mage
10 … 600,000 … 10th  level fighter, 10th level mage

This is certainly simple and easy, but it has two flaws.  First, the 1st level elf's only real disadvantage is the XP needed to reach 2nd level.  A 1st level elf is just better in every way than, for example, a 1st level human magic-user.  If you happen to be playing a short campaign where the prospect of leveling up once is up in the air, this won't do at all.

Second, of course, would be the litany of problems that always come along with the race-as-class system.  You have to invent one or more classes for every race you include in the campaign, they each have their own XP table and other details, etc.  It very quickly spirals out into needless complexity, when you can save yourself a lot of trouble by just letting demi-human characters use the base human classes or combinations thereof.

Next, here's a quick look at an AD&D-style elf fighter/mage:

Level (F/MU) … XP
1st/1st … 0/0
2nd/1st … 2,000/2,000
2nd/2nd … 2,500/2,500
3rd/2nd … 4,000/4,000
3rd/3rd … 5,000/5,000
4th/3rd … 8,000/8,000
4th/4th … 10,000/10,000
etc. … etc.

This has the same problem as the basic D&D elf (at 1st level, you have the powers of two classes, plus demi-human special abilities, making you instantly better than any 1st level human), in addition to being quite complex and kind of a pain to work with at the table.  I used split-XP for multi-classed demi-humans in my last campaign, and I've since promised myself that I wouldn't do that again.

Now, in that campaign, I at least tried to fix the 1st-level balance problem by starting demi-humans off in one class only, such that the bottom of that chart up there wound up looking like this:

Level (F/MU) … XP
0th/1st … 0/0
1st/1st … 1,000/1,000
2nd/1st … 2,000/2,000

…but otherwise, the rest of the table worked pretty much like AD&D, and boy is splitting the XP between classes ever an annoyance to have to deal with when actually playing.

So, why not just combine approaches?  After all, the basic D&D elf mostly gets along okay with only one XP table.  My problem with that approach is that it's a custom table used only for the one class, not in the precise implementation.  And, since AD&D-style split-class characters effectively wind up one level behind for most of the game (since XP doubles until 8th level), it's practically the same thing to just use a single XP table but set it one level behind a human, the way the basic D&D elf does.  I can add my single-class-at-level-one fix to patch over that, and voilà:

XP … Level
0 … 1st level mage only
2,500 … 1st level mage and fighter
5,000 … 2nd level mage and fighter
10,000 … 3rd level mage and fighter
20,000 … 4th level mage and fighter
40,000 … 5th level mage and fighter
80,000 … 6th level mage and fighter
150,000 … 7th level mage and fighter
300,000 … 8th level mage and fighter

A few considerations:
• In E&E 2e, human characters are limited to 10th level in one class; demi-humans are limited to 8th level in two classes.  The old AD&D style implementation would've had an elfin fighter/mage requiring 150,000 + 120,000 = 270,000 XP to reach 8th level in both classes.  Using a single table makes the value 300,000 which is not too far off of that mark (and, in fact, I don't mind making multi-classing a little more expensive; I've discovered that when it doubt, it's usually the best policy to be tougher on the players, not more lenient).
• Thanks to that very line of reasoning, it actually becomes quite easy to construct split classes: just use the slower of the two XP tables, with the demi-human character becoming "1st/1st" level when a single-classed human would ordinarily be reaching 2nd level in their class.  (Among the four basic classes in E&E 2e, the fighter and the mage of course use the traditional fighting-man and magic-user XP progressions; the expert uses the thief table; and the tech uses the cleric table.  Since the game caps out at 10th level, the expert's progression is consistently slower than the tech's: in basic D&D, the cleric only started to overtake the thief above 11th level, which both classes required 400,000 XP to attain.)


  1. You're aliiiiiiiiiiiive.

    Are y'all still gaming at DL? I saw a poster for a 1st edition game and thought it might be you.

    1. Yeah, we're all still playing there on Saturdays; but I guess they haven't changed the poster yet.

      We finished our second E&E campaign and I've started running the players through a Retro Phaze adventure (which is turning into kind of a mini campaign in its own right).

    2. The poster was for a 5-9 game and it was the red book cover from the ol' B/X set.

      Glad you're all still playing.

      Retro Phaze is your rework of Elegia, isn't it?

    3. Who are you gaming with these days? Is there anything left of the original Shade Isle crew?

    4. All of 'em, plus a new player who joined up on the day the Shade Isle campaign finished up.