2012/02/27

Non-human Level Limits


The D&D rules are designed for human characters, in a worldview that assumes that humanity dominates among the intelligent races. The game mechanisms that enforce this dominion are the level limits applied to the other races, which are present in all of the editions of D&D that have been published. If human dominance is being sought, there should be a different way to slow down the other races rather than the mental block now existing.

This particular rule has been criticized on various grounds, but the worst thing about it is that it seems distinctly out of place in the second edition. The first edition had implied limits on the growth of human characters, since the original D&D rules made no provision for characters no
higher than about tenth level, and the racial level limits were set accordingly.

But the second edition specifically allows for humans reaching 36th level, and it might be said that the new rules structure with its basically open-ended attitude towards humans leaves the nonhumans too pitifully far behind in their development. As a practical matter, in D&D2 (second edition D&D), there seems little fun in playing a character whom you know you will have to abandon after your friends' characters reach the lower 'teens of levels, since at that point having no further development in the character's skills to look forward to is going to become acutely frustrating.

I would like to suggest a method of limiting the growth of nonhumans that would maintain the built-in assumption of human domination in the D&D world view while opening up the progress of nonhumans to higher levels to keep them interesting to play. The method is simple: Require nonhumans to progress at the rate of one level gained per two levels earned on the experience point scale.

This is not as unreasonable as it may sound at first. Consider both the design goal and the method chosen. The goal is to hold back the progress of nonhumans so as to keep the very high level characters limited effectively to humans, while at the same time keeping the nonhumans able to advance without theoretical limit in their chosen character classes. The system I recommend is to abandon arbitrary limits on levels, and limit advancement by increasing the cost of progress instead.

The mechanics of the system were developed after I had spent a lot of time working with scales that merely increased the number of experience points required per level. This was done in D&D2 for elves, using a scale that begins as double the experience points scale for fighters, and making elves both magic users and fighters.

The problem with doubling or trebling an existing scale is that you end up with the experience points numbers seeming very high, but without really improving matters. The method slows nonhumans down, allright, but only by about one level as compared with humans of that class. For a character getting the synergy that comes from enjoying the powers of two classes, the cost is far too low.

By making the nonhumans advance on the same scale as humans of their character class but at one level per two earned, you keep their rate of gaining skills at half that of a human of the same class. In D&D2 terms, this means that you won't see tenth level nonhumans until the average human reaches the mid-thirtieth levels, the average nonhuman will be in the upper 'teens, which is an improvement over the current rules in terms of nonhumans having a future.

But isn't it unfair for a nonhuman to be held back so much? The answer is no, if you accept a non-human frame of reference.
Remember that from the point of view of the Kindred Races, humanity is the short-lived new race, whose members are incredibly energetic.

They work hard, play hard, and they burn themselves out in their few scores of years. Each of them who lives long enough will rise briefly to a level of power and skill in their chosen field of specialization that few humans ever reach, but to what good? They give up breadth of knowledge for power in one narrow field because their drive for power does not allow them to relax and enjoy life. The elves, dwarves,and halflings (and their less savory counterparts) have relatively long lives and accordingly lack the urge to study as hard as the humans.
Indeed, they lack the attention span of a human, and will work on something for a while, then put it aside to go do something else.

The result is that it takes nonhumans twice as long to advance in a given field of knowledge (character class) as a human. A single-class nonhuman will waste half his or her time on enjoyments that produce no particular gain in life, but were fun while they lasted. Halflings,
for example, will spend incredible amounts of time sitting and smoking their pipes after a good meal, when a human would be studying tomes of learning or out exercising physical skills.
The more energetic nonhumans will spread their pursuits to two or more classes — and as a practical matter, most adventuring nonhumans will be multi-classed, simply because adventurers are more goal-oriented than the rest average member of their race.

These additional classes, however, may have little active effect on gaming. For example, a dwarf fighter may also spend a lot of time pursuing a side activity such as mining, smithing, or making and repairing weapons and armor, all of which would give occasional insights into things encountered while adventuring without requiring elaborate sets of rules as actual character classes. So the operating rules for such characters would be those of their specific character class, with side interests. Their only direct level-by level progress on the experience point scale would be for hit point gains, which is necessary for game balance to keep them playable.

Nonhumans who are actually multi-classed would alternate progress in each class. Their experience point scale would be determined by averaging the scales of their two (or more) chosen character classes into one experience point scale. They would start at first level with the first level of one class.

When they earned sufficient experience points to rise to second level on that scale, they would remain at first level in the first class and acquire first level status in the second class, When they earned sufficient experience points to rise to third level on their scale, they would go up one level in one character class, thus for three-class characters they would be Ll/L1/L1 in terms of skills available at third level,while for two-class characters they would be L2/L1 — the total skill levels between the classes chosen always equals the experience level on each character's personal experience point scale.

Each level gained would bring the appropriate hit die for that class gain, as well as all other applicable rules concerning skills acquired, improvement in savings throws, etc. In case of rules conflicts, the character would get the best results, so on the combat table the character would get better to hit odds every three levels gained as a fighter (meaning every six levels on the experience scale), instead of every five levels gained as a magic user (ten actual character levels), if the character is both a fighter and a magic, user.

However, physical limits would still apply, so a combination fighter and thief could wear plate
armor — only at the expense of not being able to move silently or climb walls handily.

This slow rate of advancement in levels will make non-humans less attractive to play than humans. This was one of the design decisions in D&D, and the purpose of this article is to provide an improved method for implementing the pro-human policy in the rules.

On the other hand, the improved method for split-class characters is so balanced as compared with single-class human characters that it would be reasonable to allow humans to operate as multi-class characters if their players are willing to accept the slow rate of progress that must accompany a multi-class character under this system.

This would provide better integration of nonhumans in the campaign, since multi-class operation would have both human and nonhuman examples in society.

The major difference would be that humans would tend to be single-class characters, reflecting their preference for specialization and rapid growth. Nonhumans would tend to be multi-class characters, reflecting their preference for breadth of experience and their disinclination toward hard work when taking your time will do. Nonhumans would get hit points just as fast as humans, thus making mixed parties viable in play.

Humans would still be the ones with the higher combat skills, and higher level spells at comparable levels of experience points.

2 comments:

Jason said...

Post-2E (3.x and 4) don't have demihuman level limits. In my AD&D games, however, I handle it just by removing level limits and compensating by giving humans a flat +5% XP bonus. This allows demihumans to advance as high as they like, while assuring that the shorter-lived humans, who tend to be tenacious and driven, advance in their chosen field faster.

David Macauley said...

My brain was mush yesterday and I couldn't get my thoughts in order and now I see you're closing the blog. I strongly agree with much of what you've said in this post. An XP penalty just doesn't do the job (no offence Jason) and even the double-up of XP for multiclass characters isn't enough to balance things.

With all that you've written above CL I can't help wonder if it were tied to the age of the race that might just do the trick. For example, if elves live 10 times as long as humans, then perhaps the XP they need to increase in levels should be x10.

My thinking here is that being an adventurer is like a career. A human fighter for instance might start in his mid-teens and as he ages and accumulates experience he increases in levels. Eventually he'll reach a point where his adventuring career will come to an end. Perhaps when he is in the latter stages of middle age. Logically an elf would follow a similar pattern but stretched out over centuries rather than decades. The need for the elf to accumulate 10 times as much XP as the human would not be a matter of it being harder for the elf, but simply that the elf would take 10 times as long to get there. This would take away the need for demi-human level limits.

I don't think I've explained this very well, so I hope you can get what I am trying to say.

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