Thursday, February 13, 2014

Warlock Week, Day Two: Race, Class, Racy Classes, Classy Races and Race-as-Class

Ladies and gents, it's time for us to rock the Warlock once again! (There's a really good story about "rockin' the warlock," but this is neither the time nor the place since it wasn't a gaming-related story. Ask me for the details some time if you meet me at a con or wherever.) Today, we'll be taking a look at The Complete Warlock and one of the chief areas of its legacy: its approach to character classes. Remembering that TCW was being written for a pre-1e world (remember that the original version appeared in 1975 but the first edition printed was in '78), there are two distinct problems that TCW tries to solve as regards classes.

What's The Deal With Elves, Anyway?

If you're familiar with OD&D in general, you're familiar with the problem of how to handle elves and class that the LBBs present. If you're not familiar, it works like this: OD&D's Men & Magic states that
"[e]lves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game."
Different kind of elf problem
The imprecision of that sentence seems obvious to us gamers of today, but probably less so the two guys who were writing this stuff back in '73 or so. How do elves switch class? What changes? How do you track experience points for that? What does "during the course of a single game" mean? A game session? A whole adventure? What's the deal, Uncle Gary?

TCW takes a stab at solving this problem by looking at the stuff that seems to be a relative constant for all elves. While not all elves choose to spend a chunk of their time as both Fighting-Man and Magic-User, any elf is capable of functioning as either at more or less any time. And so, TCW unites both classes, Fighter and Magic User into one class, a racial class and, near as I can figure, the first one. In TCW, if you're saying "elf," you're describing both a class and race. Sound familiar?

In '77, Dr. Holmes's Basic D&D (obviously written to clarify OD&D) uses the same logic as that applied by TCW (that elves get to be both Fighers and Magic Users at the same time) and clarifies slightly what this means for experience points. Nevertheless, elf characters are always "elf Fighter/Magic Users" when they really could just be elves. In '78, Uncle Gary's brand-spankin' new Players' Handbook famously keeps the distinction between race & class, adding to this distinction by allowing elves to be of classes other than Fighters and Magic Users (and adding in the possibility of being merely one class, not necessarily two!).

In 1981, however, Tom Moldvay's new Basic takes a page from TCW and goes ahead and makes elf a class.

Fancy that.

While we're at it, says Mr. Moldvay, why not make dwarves into a class? What about halflings? Sure, it makes sense, and that's why TCW did it years before. TCW even allows for the possibility (per Greyhawk) of dwarven and elven Thieves (though not, for some reason, halfling Thieves), but here, they're treated as mutliclass characters (or "combination characters") although they're not given any sort of XP penalty for multiclassing in this way (see below).

All in all, TCW solves the "wtf is up with elves?" problem in an elegant way that worked so well that TSR itself ended up copying it a few years later.

Which Issue Has That Class In It Again?

One of the reasons, I firmly believe, that Warlock was written was to put all the necessary rules in one place. Before even Dragon magazine (sorry, "The Dragon") or White Dwarf, new classes, rules and monsters would show up in the pages of The Strategic Review, TSR's in-house newsletter. This is where the ranger first debuted, as did the illusionist. Until Greyhawk, one had to have a particular issue of yet another fanzine (the name of which escapes me) to have rules to play a Thief (or at least a Gygax-written Thief). And Paladins? They barely even get a write-up even when they finally show up in the pages of Greyhawk. Bards? Again, hidden away in The Strategic Review (and actually, the Bard that appears there is, I think, much cooler and more logical than the one in the 1e PHB).

And so, TCW endeavored to put all that stuff in one place and make it make sense. Experience tables for everyone! Ones that make more sense than those in the LBBs! It's fairly easy to see the appeal in this stuff for OD&D players. "How many XP does it take for my Fighting-Man to become a Swashbuckler from Hero? And how many Men and/or Heroes does he fight as? There was no class level nomenclature in the LBBs, and that could be confusing.

Other than elves and the other iterations of multiclassing demi-humans (let me just go on record for saying how much I dislike the term "demi-human"), it was pretty hard in OD&D to play any sort of character that combined the aspects of any two character classes. TCW presented options for players who thought of their human characters more as Fighter-Thieves or even Clerical-Magic Users. Or Clerical-Fighter-Thieves or even Quadruple-classed. It is notable that, much like in later forms of D&D (assuming these multiclass distinctions occurred in the original '75 version of the Warlock rules), multiclassing in TCW is reserved for the "core four" classes (Fighter, Cleric, Thief and Magic User) but not the subclasses like Assassin, Druid, Ranger or Paladin. Mainstream D&D/AD&D would steer clear of this concept for a long time; it wouldn't be until 3e that your human could be multiclass (and even then, it was the watered-down 3e version of multiclass).

It is interesting to note that in TCW, there is little to no penalty for multiclassing. You don't have to pay XP for each of your levels in each separate class, divvying it up between however-many totals you'd have, but rather accrue on one total amount. Rather than apply an XP tax, TCW instead rewards good rolling and places an Ability Score requirement: if you've got a 17 or better in the Prime Requisite for any class, you can multiclass into it. Thus, to multiclass at all, you'd have to have 17+ in two different scores. Not very likely. (And by the same token, if you're using TCW, you'd almost be taking a penalty if you had two 17+'s and you didn't multiclass.)

In many ways, the multiclass system in TCW feels like a "build your own class out of these building blocks ... if you're good enough" approach, which is fine. Not how I'd do it, but it's serviceable. The endeavor to put everything in one place and create a common intelligible common language and format for class information is really quite admirable, especially since TCW does so within the framework of OD&D, rather than try to turn it into something new, which makes much of the chapter feel a lot like Swords & Wizardry. Well, more like Swords & Wizardry's cool uncle that would buy him beer and smokes.