Friday, September 14, 2018

Class Restrictions, Race Restrictions - Critical to OSR?

Every time I think about firing up an OSR game I run in to a wall with the tradition of restricting races to certain class level limits, excluding them from certain classes, and of course the old school limitations on multiclassing.

Back in the 80's I ran a looser version of D&D, sticking to class/mutliclass restrictions, but ignoring level limits for the most part. When 2nd Edition AD&D arrived it provided rules for ways to alleviate restrictions on demihuman leveling past the "cap," usually by increasing XP. D&D Encyclopedia somehow ignored the issue by adding a letter-based weapon class advancement in. In retrospect it seems amusingly ad hoc and reflective of a determination to stick with tradition by finding weird optional work-arounds for a problem that was inherently arbitrary. By the time D&D 3.0 arrived on scene, the reality of just how arbitrary it all was became blindingly evident.

As I was parsing out Swords & Wizardry Complete for considering an OSR game once more, I was reminded of this problem. Faced with the reality of traditional old school approaches, I was left with the following problem:

--Do I run the OSR game with my modern sensibilities and simply sweep aside racial/class/level restrictions? Would that really be very OSR if I did?


--Do I adhere to them strictly, and design a setting that expects and enforces them? No elven paladins, no multiclass humans, no 20th level halfling fighters.

Option 2 would make for some fun and highly specific world building....for a bit. But the arbitrary nature of the distinctions in classic AD&D not only don't jive with my world building interests now, I have to remind myself that they didn't back in the 80's, either; these are rules from the original game which I had to houserule out, and as such for me they were never very OSR; I never liked them then, and find it hard to like them now.

But....if I do option one above, then I am faced once more with a different conundrum....why not just run a more modern iteration of the game? And if it's D&D 5E, why not just use the optional gritty mechanics in the DMG to simulate the more restrictive magic elements?

So now I'm back to thinking about ways to use 5E to run the kind of game I want again. Or, of course, Cypher System....the game which caters most closely to my GM style these days, and a system which inherently rewards players with ingenious descriptor/type/focus combinations in a way that a traditional OSR game can't even conceive of.


  1. As for OSR games, ACKS does a wonderful job with demihuman classes... and of course it has its domain play, non-Vancian magic, etc.

    1. ACKS is interesting, and very provides "race as class" but then provides lots of specific classes for each race, which is an interesting take.

  2. My solution for B/X was to introduce 3e-style multiclassing but keep racial class level limits.

    The rule change is simple: upon attaining a new level, you can choose to add another class, but must henceforth split your experience points evenly between classes. A character only gets as many hit dice as their highest level class would grant, but can mix dice.

    Since hit chances and saves advance per class an level, there is (of course) no stacking.

    But while your 8th level halfling/9th level thief is just pouring half of his experience points into a hole, there's still some prospect for advancement on the thief side.

    Maybe not super-generous on my part, but demihumans have significant natural advantages and I think the level limits serve an important function in preserving human primacy.