Evolution of Role-Playing Games
been part and parcel
of every child's life from the games of let's make believe.
Role-playing games are just make believe with a framework of rules to
handle random events and prevent "yes I did!" "No
you didn't!" arguments. Live action role-playing if anything
is closer to the form we played as kids back in the days before video
games and computers. A towel pinned to your shirt made you Batman, a
baseball cap a ball player, and a hat and tin pistol a cowboy. As a
child 80% of my summer was spent outside. The rest was curled up to
a book. Make believe was our most important game and I never really
got over it.
I grew up as the
before video games and home computers. We didn't wear helmets when
riding our bikes. We spent most of our time unsupervised and
unscheduled by adults. We made up our own games, invented our own
fun, and were expected to amuse ourselves.
How do I explain an
I made a great many of my favorite toys? My father had an extensive
set of tools and taught me to use them. What I didn't have money to
buy I made. I was encouraged to find my own solutions. As a result
I learned carpentry, metal work, sewing and needle work, drawing,
painting, and model building. Not just assembly of kits, but taking
an idea and making a model reality of it. I learned the tools and
respect of the tools. It has made me unafraid to tackle anything I
put my mind to. I've taught myself everything from building
computers to pewter casting. I built the machine I'm typing this
has added an
extensive reading list, cartography, and other arts to my repertoire.
While it isn't much for keeping you active (unless you LARP)
role-playing is a good mental stimulant and social grease.
One of the standard
trops of fantasy
role-playing is the idea of races other than Human. Sources derived
from Norse myth, the Fairy Faith of the Celtic regions, Greek myth,
and frankly everyone's myth. D&D historically has mined
omnivorously for anything and everything, with little regard for
anything resembling accuracy to the source.
One attraction of
the game is the
ability to play something other than yourself, role-playing at the
most basic. D&D reaches mainly into the primary source for
player races, The Lord of the Rings
As before we are
looking primarily at
the core books. I realize that other races were available in
supplemental books, but that isn't the subject here.
Zero edition: You are
presented with four races. Human is assumed, Elf, Dwarf or Hobbit. Yes
the Lord of the Rings connection is that obvious. The Tolkien
estate had a few choice words over the matter. What you don't get
however, is so much as a single word as to what that means for you
character; it's a label. There is no description, no abilities, no
adjustments. This paragraph says more about the matter than does Men
Last is the vague
sentence that states
that any creature can potentially be played as a PC. You are on your
own Bucky. Have fun.
goes into a little descriptive
prose about the
appearance of the various races. Half Elves are seen for the first
time. Greyhawk goes into more prose about how
anything but a Human is. To me at least, ridiculous things like
restricting the maximum level of Dwarves as Fighters, and Elves as
Magic Users. What? Fighting is what literature Dwarves are all
about, and Elves are magical by nature? Level limits were the first
thing house ruled out of existence in my house. This is where
begins to show its bones as a "No" system. The thing that
fully comes out in AD&D, "That which is not permitted
forbidden". From a total openness to hemming you in with
restrictions from the get go. I was not the only one to buck the
system and simply say no to no.
selection widens and changes. Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half Elf, Half Orc,
Halfling (a result of those few choice words), Human. We now have
some charts and at least a few paragraphs of description. In most
cases you are referred to the Monster Manual for physical and
heavy on you can't. Races other than Human are hobbled out of the gate.
permitted only a couple of the classes, and with level limits at
A Dwarf can't be any
class but fighter, thief and assassin, and has limits on the level of
fighter they can be. The Hell? Dwarves are the fighters of high
fantasy. To me that is like telling people over 7 foot they can play
basketball, but not at the professional level, but can advance as far
as they want as jockeys. Lastly Dwarves are tossed the bone of minor
special abilities regarding stonework.
mystical magical race
of Elves. Classes available? Fighter, magic user, thieves or
assassins, and level limits on all classes. They live 1500 years and
the best they can do is 11th level magic user. However they get to
multi-class. A matter of dubious value. Often described as the
worst features of two or more class combined to absolute uselessness.
(I'll go into the wonders of multi-classing in the next section.) Elves
get the small advantage of being 90% resistance to charm and
sleep spells, but cannot be resurrected. (Note this restriction is
not in the race description, but under the "raise dead"
spell description. Oh and you get to see in the almost dark and find
the average non
fantasy fan thinks "Gnome", that stupid spokes-sculpture
for Travelocity is doubtless the thing that comes first to mind. In
literature the Gnome is an Earth connected creature; some times a
miner or a hoarder of gold. In general (a dangerous thing to use)
small fairy folk of well grounded nature closer to the domestic
spirits such as brownies and not as flighty as Elves. Gnomes are
seen as workers and inventors. It appears to be wholly the invention
of the 16th century.
fairly close to this
view. They make them a lot larger that the usual depiction of Gnomes
in folklore. Class-wise the Gnome is again restricted. Fighter
(6th level maximum), Illusionist, (7th level maximum), Thief or
Assassin (8th level maximum). Gnomes can also multi-class. Ability
wise they are very close to Dwarves both in resistances and stone
They get to see in the almost dark. In addition
they get a favored enemy +1 bonus against Goblins and Kobolds. There
is no small guys club. And a -4 on the to hit roll of a raft of
larger creatures. A very substantial bonus for AD&D which gives
out plus ones like a miser.
Gnomes come off as
with more restrictions. They have never been popular in my game. I
can only recall two PC Gnomes in 34 years of playing.
A classic Tolkien
invention. A word on the "half" this and that if I might. Why Elves and
Orcs? No Half Dwarves. There are no crosses between
two things that are not human, a Halfling-Gnome for example. When
you see a "Half'" race you know that one half is Human, it
is automatic. Humans are the worlds greatest sluts and will cross
breed with anything. Or is it that because Humans are the golden
race everyone wants one? I don't know, but that is the case in
Half Elves have
similar class and
level restrictions as Elves, They can multi-class in many
combinations. They do get to be 30% resistant to sleep and charm,
see in the almost dark and detect secret doors.
Again something I
have to refer to the books. I never had half Orcs in my own game. It is
a matter of Orc culture. Half Orcs have the cosmic kick me
sign. No one "prefers" them. The restrictions are telling
as well. The classes are Cleric at a crippling 4th level, fighter at
10th level, thief at max 8th level, or assassin with no limit
given. They can multi-class these as well and see in the almost
The reimaged (ahem)
Hobbits (lest TSR be sued) are the most restricted race of all. They
can be thieves and fighters, but no greater than a 6th level fighter.
Don't despair however, they can be fighter/thieves too! They get a
dexterity bonus, gain a Constitution bonus on saving throws vs magic.
They get a resistance to poison and see in the almost dark.
The Golden Race, the
people that can be anything and can advance without limit. The
problem with making the Humans special is that they limit all the
other races in order to make Humans shine. They don't shine, they
are normal. Everyone else is subnormal, or demi-normal if you
2ed: The races given
are Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half Elf, Halfling, Human. The half Orc was
thrown under the bus.
historically the point in
time in which TSR had decided that the best answer to those shrill
and uninformed voices that claimed the game was Satanic and evil was
to totally cave. The aggressive "family frenziedly" make
over was in force. D&D's own Cultural Revolution. About as
successful to this writer as the mistake of the same name in China. The
idea that PCs could be or do evil was, if not expressly
forbidden, strongly discouraged. Devils and Demons got renamed lest
sensitive ears and sensitivities get bruised. The writer's agreement
of the time had restrictions that made the comic code of the 1950s
look permissive by comparison. No sex, slavery, inequality, or evil,
at least from non-player characters that are considered admirable or
player characters. This was so repugnant in terms of making what I
saw as a world with some teeth and conflict outside of the artificial
"alignment" that I decided I would never submit a thing to
TSR. My ego would like to think it led to the death of TSR, however
reality is quite different.
The abilities and
restrictions on the
various races are similar in most respects to AD&D. While the
introduction to the races mentions level limits there are no limits
in either the racial descriptions or the class descriptions. The
phrase must be an editing orphan.
get more page
space. You are no longer referred to the Monster Manual,
Monstrous Compendium now, for descriptions of
the races. They
are a bit better in describing what the races can and cannot do. I
personally found the Dwarven restrictions on magic items a fair way
on the stupid side. That generally means it didn't get used.
AD&D Second Edition is
a better organized and presented AD&D. the rule changes as per
the races are not great or remarkable save the mentioned but vanished
D&D: With the
change from TSR to Wizard's of the Coast there was a change in the
basic philosophy of the company running the show. Times had again
changed and the kow-towing to hysterical extremists stopped.
The races are Dwarf,
Elf, Gnome, Half
Elf, Half Orc, Halfling, Human. For every race except Human we see
ability score adjustments. This balances out. -2 here is equaled by
+2 there. Instead of restrictions on class we have the favored
class. We also see some nice graphics of what the various races look
like in all major genders, abet G rated. We get information on
personality, society, and even naming conventions.
3e D&D used
the philosophy "few
rules, many exceptions". Absolutely maddening at times. The
races are no different. A run down of all the abilities and
exceptions would require use of a good deal of the SRD chapter on
races. The themes of the previous editions get repeated, but in 3e
terms. Dwarves work stone, Elves don't sleep and so forth. What you
do see for the first time is that Humans get something special. Instead
of limits on the other races to make Humans special they get
something that showcases their generality; extra feats and skills.
Indeed, 3e doesn't pound the drum of Human superiority. Each race
has things they are are good at. Humans are good at being flexible.
D&D doesn't change
anything about the races. And I'm not even starting on 4th Edition.
Other books in every
edition give one
options other than the core races. Some are good some not so good
and some frankly break the game. I have my own races particular to
my world and still do. Some effort has been made over the years to
balance them out. I believe I have succeeded in that respect.
The evolution of the
has mainly been in the direction of more information, from none, to a
decent amount in the limited space available. The abilities, outside
of class, of the core races have not changed significantly from the
time of AD&D forward. The game terms have as have the rules
themselves. Next time we look at the evolution of the Character
of the Character Class
is a work of Opinion. Opinion is that of the writer and site
owner. If you don't like it, find another opinion.
Garry Stahl: 2010
unless other Copyrights apply. All rights reserved, re-print only with
Return to the