You will remember from my post on Making Characters, that I intend to treat character races in much the same way as fourth edition. All races are balanced because all races get the same bonuses: +2 to two attributes, +2 to two skills, +1 to one defence and two feat-like racial traits. While this works from a mechanical point of view, does it break the suspension of disbelief. Shouldn’t a dragonborn PC be stronger than a hobbit?
In this post, I’ll do my best to explain (and to justify) my current stance. If I don’t convince you, then please do your best to convince me of a better alternative. We’ll also examine the role of racial traits, and look at the races I want to convert into HD&D to begin with. Obviously, the seven third edition races (Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Halfling, Half-elf, Half-orc and Human) are the priority, but I would also like to give time to the fourth edition dragonborn, tiefling and genasi. If there’s time we can eventually cast the net wider, but we’ll concentrate on those ten races to begin with.
The differences between third and fourth edition in the way they deal with character races is profound. In third edition everything is built from the same base. NPCs, Monsters and PCs use the same mechanics. The result is a system that at least gives the illusion of being consistant. In fourth edition monsters and NPCs are built with a shorthand system, with abilities that player characters can never aspire to. PCs use more indepth and complicated rules.
I think the third edition method is much better. As I have said before a minotaur NPC shouldn’t have abilities that a minotaur PC can never hope to acquire. Neither should things like hit points be different for NPCs simply because of the way those characters function in combat. I can see why the rules work that way in 4e, but this is not the goal for HD&D. Everyone starts on a level playing field, and there are no abilities or powers out there that player characters cannot eventually gain.
However, if we are going for a degree of ‘realism’ and consistency in HD&D then what am I doing mucking about with a 4e-like bonuses and abilities for character races? A half-orc is strong. He gets +2 to strength. A minotaur is stronger. He gets +8 to strength. Surely that’s more realistic?
The Need for Balance
On the whole I am not a great believer in game balance. I’ll happily set a couple of angry wyverns on a party of 1st level third edition characters because I know they’ll have to be creative to get out of the situation. But one area where I think there has to be balance is between members of the same party. If nothing else, HD&D has to achieve a better level of PC parity than third edition. I don’t aspire for it to be as balanced as fourth edition, as that level of balance actively works to the detriment of the game.
Part of my proposal is to give all starting races +2 to two skills, +1 to one defence, knowledge of four languages/scripts and two racial traits. Vision, speed and mundane natural attacks (claws, not breath weapons) don’t really matter in the great scheme of things. A dragonborn might be able to do 1d6 damage with his claws. So what? Every other member of the party will have a weapon that can inflict that, and the circumstances when using a claw offers an advantage over using a weapon are remote.
I don’t think that anything I mention in the above paragraph is objectionable. This is just a formalisation of all many of the benefits that races have enjoyed in all editions. The main bone of contention (I believe) is doing this with attribute bonuses. I don’t think it matters too much, but I sense that some of you will need convincing. Let’s do just that.
Attribute Bonuses: The Minotaur
The Minotaur is more powerful than a normal PC race, and likely to have exceptional attributes (largely in its Strength and Constitution). We also have stats for the minotaur as both a monster and a PC race for both third and fourth edition. This is therefore a good example to take.
The Third Edition Minotaur
In third edition the Minotaur was a published in the original Monster Manual. He’s also in the SRD, and you can find his full stats online here. In third edition the minotaur was a 6 HD (sixth level) creature with the following stats:
Str 19, Dex 10, Con 15, Int 7, Wis 10, Cha 8
Third edition assumed that the stats of all the monsters in the Monster Manual were average for that race. They assumed that those were the stats you got if you took the average of a 3d6 roll (10.5) for each attribute. By that principle, a PC minotaur with the above stats would be the same as a PC human having Str 10, Dex 10, Con 10, Int 11, Wis 11, Cha 11: i.e. incredibly average.
So for the PC version, the above “average” stats were converted into attribute modifiers. The way this worked in third edition was to subtract 11 from every odd attribute, and subtract 10 from every even attribute. This gave the minotaur PC the following attribute modifiers:
Str +8, Dex +0, Con +4, Int -4, Wis +0, Cha -2
Obviously stat modifiers like that gave a PC minotaur an horrendous advantage over his fellows party members. Anyone playing the minotaur in its idiom would play a fighter-type, and undoubtedly put their highest stat into Strength. If that was an 18 then the minotaur PC would have a Strength of 26. An extra +4 to hit and +4 damage beyond the beefiest human fighter.
Of course, this is not the whole story in third edition. The minotaur is 6 HD, so it immediately has to be a sixth level character. Additionally the rules state that the minotaur is more powerful than your average sixth level character. In fact a 6 HD minotaur is about as powerful as an eighth level character. Therefore the minotaur was given a +2 level adjustment, and an Equivalent Character Level (ECL) of 8th.
Basically, a standard 6 HD minotaur should only be fielded with an eighth level party. The minotaur would still only have six hit dice, but his ECL meant that he would have to earn enough experience for 9th level to advance to level seven.
I’m not going to get into a discussion about how broken and unnecessarily complicated the ECL system was. However, there is one thing I would like to underline. There was little provision for playing a minotaur from level one. This basically meant that everyone who had an idea for playing a minotaur (or any monstrous character) had to wait until an appropriate point in the campaign, or they had to break down the minotaur into eight racial levels. This was messy, time consuming and rather annoying. And it didn’t work very well either.
I think the problem here comes from assuming that the Monster Manual contained average attributes. What if it didn’t? What if the attributes in the MM were a true reflection of the race specialised in one particular direction – mêlée combat on the part of the minotaur. This was the approach that fourth edition adopted.
The Fourth Edition Minotaur
The fourth edition minotaur is found on pp190-191 of Monster Manual 1. However, it doesn’t give us one version of the minotaur. It gives us three. They are as follows:
Minotaur Warrior (Level 10)
Str 23, Con 18, Dex 10, Int 9, Wis 14, Cha 13
Minotaur Cabalist (Level 13)
Str 22, Con 17, Dex 12, Int 13, Wis 17, Cha 16
Savage Minotaur (Level 16)
Str 24, Con 20, Dex 12, Int 9, Wis 19, Cha 12
These are obviously not average minotaurs. In fact, in 4e, there’s really no such thing as an average minotaur. The above tells us that a Minotaur Warrior of 10th level will have these stats. Now, in 4e 10th level for a Monster or NPC is not quite the same as 10th level for a PC. But what if it were? In HD&D we are going to assume that it is.
In fourth edition a Minotaur PC starts at 1st level with + 2 Strength and +2 Constitution (his racial strengths). Assuming you use the standard array (16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10) for his stats, and assuming you want to play a Fighter then the chances are the stats of Minotaur Fighter (Great Weapon Build) in fourth edition will look like something like this:
Minotaur Fighter (1st level)
Str 18, Con 16, Dex 12, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 11
Now, PCs get stat advances. They get +1 to two attribtues at levels 4, 8, 14, 18, 24 and 28; and +1 to all attributes at levels 11 and 21. If we take these into account, this is what this Minotaur looks like as he advances through the tiers:
Minotaur Fighter (4th level)
Str 19, Con 17, Dex 12, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 11
Minotaur Fighter (8th level)
Str 20, Con 18, Dex 12, Int 10, Wis 13, Cha 11
Minotaur Fighter (11th level)
Str 21, Con 19, Dex 13, Int 11, Wis 14, Cha 12
Minotaur Fighter (14th level)
Str 22, Con 20, Dex 13, Int 11, Wis 14, Cha 12
Minotaur Fighter (18th level)
Str 23, Con 21, Dex 13, Int 11, Wis 14, Cha 12
Minotaur Fighter (21st level)
Str 24, Con 22, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 13
Minotaur Fighter (24st level)
Str 25, Con 23, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 13
Minotaur Fighter (28th level)
Str 26, Con 24, Dex 14, Int 12, Wis 15, Cha 13
Look at the Minotaur’s stats during this advancement, and then compare them back to the stats of the minotaurs from Monster Manual 1. It is quite possible to see that by 10th, 13th or 16th level the PC minotaur can feasibly have very similar statistics.
It doesn’t quite work – but that’s because we’re looking at 4e. In HD&D it will work. In HD&D all races will start first level on a par. As they advance in level some races will “grow into” the stats as presented in the Monster Manual. The attributes of Monster Manual denizens are already exceptional for their race.
Coping with Ridiculous Stats
Well, that’s all very well and good I hear you cry, but what happens when you’ve got a race that doesn’t fit that model? There might be some races (such as dragons) where the magnitude of their attributes outstrips their level. Anything that has a attribute of higher than 28 falls into this category, but the attribute ceiling for low level creatures is less. If there is no way a PC can get a stat that high by that level (assuming they only start with a maximum of +2) then we have a problem.
My first response is that PCs don’t play those sort of races, but dragons are an extreme example. One can imagine that there are quite feasible races (perhaps yet to be published) that suffer from the same problem. My solution? Give the PC a stat boost by way of a racial talent. Maybe a PC dragon can choose a talent that gives them (e.g.) an extra +4 to one stat.
This gives the player character the choice (see below) to advance the race in a traditional manner. It also frees the hands of the games designers (that’s us, by the way) to give monsters whatever stats we think they deserve, without worrying too much what would happen if a player ever got their grubby little hands on the race.
My post on Monsters is a long way off. But when we get there, we’ll see how this works in practice. The important thing to underline is that character races and monsters are connected, and they must use the same inherent mechanics, resources and calculations otherwise the integrity of the game is diminished.
The Importance of Player Choice
Using a system of +2 to two stats (whether prescribed or not), and doing away with attribute penalties gives the player more freedom. Dwarves are normally gruff and dour, which is why they have traditionally had a penalty to Charisma. Doing away with the penalty doesn’t mean that most dwarves aren’t stll gruff and dour, but it does mean that we are no longer penalising the PC who wants to play a dwarven paladin.
Now it will still be quite possible for players to have attibutes of less than 10. Low stats are important – low stats can define a character as much as high ones. However, players will have to choose to have a low stat rather than being lumbered with one from their choice of race. Surely this is better?
Okay, time to climb down from the soapbox. This post is already 2000 words long, so we’ll draw a line here. Next time, I’ll post the stats for some of the ten races, as well as their racial traits (the things they get for free) and some of their racial talents. Until then.