Wednesday, February 4, 2015

AD&D 2nd Edition House Rules: Removing multiclass restrictions and bumping humans up the food chain

Humans: generating XP for elves who hit them hard enough since 1974

My Saturday group is now rotating with me running D&D 5E (or 13th Age after the 5E scenario concludes) one week and my long time friend and host running AD&D 2nd edition for the first time in ages. It's been a lot of fun, but as I have been perusing my nice Premium edition AD&D 2nd edition books I was reminded of the key issues I always used to have with the game. Even more amusing than the rules with problems was the fact that --let's face it-- they were problems even back when 2nd edition released, enough so that the authors spent some time in the DMG or PHB explaining why the rules were there, with what amount in retrospect to some pretty amusing rationales.

The rules I refer to, of course, are multiclassing (and the even more restrictive dual-classing rules), level limits and the implicitly squishy nature of humans. If you're not an OSR fan or you are somehow under the age of 30 you might not be old enough to have jumped into the hobby at a time when multiclassing was a thing and the idea of a non-human paladin was anathema. Here's a summary of the rules that I have never particularly liked:

Racial Class Limits: Paladins as humans only; dwarves are never mages....stuff like this

Racial Level Caps: demihuman player races have hard level caps for most classes

Multiclassing: demihumans alone can multiclass

Dual-Classing: humans can only dual-class, and even then only if you are rolling exceedingly well for stats to begin with; almost statistically improbable you would ever see a dual-classed character in play without using a lot of trickery of cheating to get the numbers you want

All of the above were wiped out in 3rd edition and will never return. Going back to AD&D (either edition) requires either accepting these as given or hacking them off like the weird barnacles they are.

The 2E DMG provides optional rules for allowing various demihumans to advance past their level limits, but warns at length that being overly kind here will make humans obsolete....literally!....and turn the game into not just a story about elves, but the entire fantasy world. It's a weirdly amusing piece of logic because it implictly assumes that you can't or wouldn't be able to impose in-game restrictions (such as low birthrates) for species like elves who would then by default still find themselves at a disadvantage of the rabbit-like humans of fantasyland. But I suppose it's not worth arguing....this was a contention presented in the DMG in 1989, and its interesting because its clearly there to reinforce the design parameter set out by AD&D which survived to 2nd edition, and is not actually aimed at seriously considering all the implications of a fantasy world that is literally run by physical laws defined by the game rules as presented (cherry picking, if you will).

So what would be the harm in ditching these four limitations in AD&D 2E? As I see it, there are no real arguments that support the issue. You have the multiclass guidelines allowing any class combination you want, you know humanity's greatest threat is not elves unlimited but quick-breeding orcs and goblins, and as DM you can continue to enforce design limits on players like I used to.

I once had a methodology for player guidance that worked like this: I'd give the players 10 points to spend as a group on their racial options. Humans cost 1 point, dwarves, halflings, gnomes and half orcs cost 2 points and elves cost 3 points (elves were fabulously popular in the 90's, there is no contesting that nightmarish fact). 10 points was what could be spent among 6 players, typically. This meant that they could all play humans (6 points), but with 4 points left over up to four of them could upgrade to a demihuman choice. If the group wanted to be elf-heavy this meant that no more than 2 of them could be elves, meaning you could have 4 humans and 2 elves instead (total 10 points).

That method was how I kept my 2E games from being elf-heavy from 1990 to roughly 1994 when I stopped caring and let people play parties 100% comprised of entries from the Humanoids Handbook JUST BECAUSE.

Today, I'd do it like this:

Eliminate the Restrictions: No more class restrictions for any race. No more multiclass restrictions for any race. No more level restrictions either. Dual-Classing is allowed because if you meet the qualifications and want to, then more power to you.

Human Bonuses: Humans, however, should get some sort of compensation for being so awesomely human, though. As a result, humans can get a bonus proficiency slot, a +1 bonus to an attribute of their choice for being so awesomely human (but they still have to meet ability cap maximums) and, most importantly, I'd let humans multiclass. I know the DMG explains that humans are woefully short-lived creatures who can't absorb the lifetimes of discovery necessary to juggle two or more classes simultaneously, but alas for that logic the 2000's happened and now those arguments make no sense.

So, the advantages? Now you can build almost anything you like in AD&D 2E without restriction, which might not fly well for certain worlds and styles, but in settings like I run where my world of Chirak has seafaring dwarven hydromancers and minotaur ranger-wizards it should greatly facilitate the style of world that allows such madness.

Removing all those multiclassing restrictions as well as pumping up humans will go a long way toward providing an easier model of the actual weird fantasy that D&D always stemmed from....maybe not the Gygaxian way, but Appendix N will thank you.


  1. Hey Tor, it's Ben (Notoriously known for the goblin known as Jewd), I moved back to Burque, and might be available to jump into a campaign of yours. You still doing campaigns at A.I.? Let me know man, I miss your campaigns. Send me a text @ 221-3275

    1. We are! Every Wednesday at 5:45 PM at AI, like clockwork, you've got a seat ready for you!

  2. I'll see about showin up sometime XD