On Race as Class

I'm excited about the new DCC RPG. One of the biggest caveats I see that people have about the system is race as class.

They have this caveat because they are ignorant self-centered speciests.

Race as class is AWESOME. I wanted to get that out of the way first. The reason why it is so spectacularly good is because non-humans are not just humans in funny hats. Elves aren't the forestey humans - *Humans* are the foresty humans.

We've only been on this planet in our current form for about 10,000 years, and only at all for a little while longer than that. I get that we murdered to death the other last sentient species that we shared the planet with around 7000 years ago, and that was bad on us. (Word is they were stronger and smarter than us anyway). But the way we are is not the only way that things could be.

Let's take the 3.5 system example to the extreme, and say I wanted to play a bumblebee. Well, I've got to give him a class right? Why not fighter?

This is the lousiest sword and board fighter ever. Maybe he uses a really tiny shield?

Wizard?

Really small spellbook filled with dances and scent codes?

Priest?

GOD OF HONEYCOMB.

Thief?

Well, flying is an advantage, maybe he could come back and let the party know where the treasure is? It's what his limited ganglia are good for. However when they kill the monsters and find only flowers and pollen, they might be a little dissapointed.

Dwarves, elves, hobbits, gnomes, are not human. IRL I've done work with native cultures who's baseline assumptions and knowledge were drastically different then my own, and non-humans are even more different then that.

Dwarves are carved from the literal earth. They are the physical embodiment of greed and craftsmanship. They aren't people who are good at those things - they are literally those things made manifest. They don't wake up and go, "I think I'll go adventuring!", because as a general rule, they are physically incapable of doing so. Their mindset is bizarre and seen through the filter of their own twisted vision.

The reason why most dwarves are incapable of adventuring is that their unique nature physically prevents them by mental compulsion. They have to complete their own tasks because there is no other option. They can't leave, because they'd spend the whole time in acute psychiatric crisis, over the fact that the gold is un-mined, and they are not fulfilling the weighty responsibilities of their clan.

The dwarf that is in the party is that unique, rare breed; cast out through circumstance and fortune to walk among the lands of men. He can't be like "let's pick up a spellbook!" He is dwarf and with all that entails: hardy, good with an axe, knowledgeable about construction and stonework, drinker of ale. Their differences between them are subtle, in their nature and their character (you know, the role-playing part - fallen by the wayside in the modern 'my precious encounter' play-style) not in the way they defend themselves or the way they adventure.

The same goes for the other races - elves are spirits and sprites, playing in eternal youth, living in the moment, powerful in magic and unconcerned about the future (or whichever variation, what have you). They are not HUMAN+, like they get played as in so many campaigns. One elf lost in the world of the men, where actions have consequences and existence is weighty, does what the elf does - fights well with light weapons, and uses magic and stealth in the natural realm. Gnomes are the spirit of trickery, misdirection, and contraption, lovers of gems. One banished or geased sets out, approaches life the way he always has, using illusion and ingenuity.

There is an excellent long form piece of fiction (and film) on the hobbit if anyone is interested in that particular example.

So whenever I see someone saying "I think race as class is stupid" or "I don't like that". What they are saying is "I don't have enough imagination to conceive of a world without me in it". Considering that this was the actual physical case for several billion years (and by all accounts, in the grand scheme of things, we won't be here that long at all - maybe trillions of years into the future) that is a small petty imagination indeed. And this from a person in a hobby that requires a lot of imagination to begin with!

So one should look at race as class as an opportunity to make the game truly interesting and memorable. Instead of the more common option which is a bunch of people sitting around the table playing humans in funny hats, with a minor difference in which stat gets a bonus.

14 comments:

  1. I also considered:

    Syrup Light Wounds

    and

    Glucose strike

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  2. Bravo!

    Even though I do like to play demihumans as humans in funny hats, I do like race classes. And I very much appreciate your point-of-view here. You may have even convinced me to give this a more serious try.

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  3. Well said -C. Compare the worldview of a 20 year old American with an 80 year old from Japan and you have only touched the tip of the iceberg compared to Human vs. Elf vs. Dwarf.

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  4. Boy, and those 20 year old Americans are something else. I work primarily with teens, and to think that this is the same species as my elders who fought in world war II or vietnam is astounding.

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  5. Great post, I agree with the concept of keeping non-human races non-human. I have devoted a lot of theorizing to answer the "whys" of the differences between humans and demi-humans, confronting such issues as class limitations, and so on. It is fun to explore those concepts, running with and developing an idea that was largely abandoned in later editions, but was clearly a stratum in the early game.


    In my own theory, one of the big differences is that humans have an astral body, while the demihumans do not.

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  6. I'm fine with the idea of race as class in some games but if all other races and their cultures are sufficiently monolithic to make this "realistic" then logically shouldn't "Human" be a class as well?

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  7. if all other races and their cultures are sufficiently monolithic to make this ‘realistic’ then logically shouldn’t ‘Human’ be a class as well

    Perhaps, but not necessarily.

    1. Humans may be different. It is not an uncommon theme in fantasy or sci-fi literature that humans are more adaptable or diverse than other sentients.

    2. The limited options for non-humans may reflect that the PCs hail from a human dominated area. If the campaign started in a different area, perhaps there would be a human class and multiple classes for another race.

    3. The available classes are not necessarily a representative cross-section of anything other than PCs.

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  8. Other races and cultures are monolithic in the same way that arachnids, swords, or stones are. Lots of individual variation, little capacity for adaptability.

    Humans are human - special, by definition not monolithic. That's why the universes are human-centric.

    Humans do have a class, just multiple options for one, which is how they are special compared to the non-human races.

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  9. I agree wholeheartedly with your points about demi-humans. I always strongly advocate "race-as-class" in D&D, for pretty much the same reasons. I like to emphasize the uniqueness of non-humans. And, hey, elves & dwarves &al. probably have some very different (and narrower) cultural ideas about what makes a hero/adventurer.

    But, talking from the perspective of an anthropology geek, I just have to speak up and point out that your dates concerning the age of humanity are off by a whole order of magnitude (assuming, that is, that you're referring to the real world and not a campaign setting; if that's the case, my mistake for not understanding). Humans with our present, modern anatomical form have been around for roughly 200,000 years. Our close cousins, neanderthals (which were certainly stronger and had bigger brains, but probably *weren't* smarter: there's no evidence that their material culture ever approached the complexity of early H. sapiens sapiens), went extinct ~30,000 years ago. (And there's also H. foresiensis, the so-called "hobbit" subspecies, which went extinct about ~12,000 years ago; but that was a pretty isolated situation, and I'd guess that you weren't referring to them.)

    I'm not trying to be a jerk or a know-it-all or anything; it's just a personal pet peeve, is all.

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  10. No worries, thank you for the information! Better to be well informed.

    However, I'm sticking the whole "Current Form" thing to mean early developmental changes resulting in agriculture. (7000BCE -> 2000CE=~10,000 years). I was totally pulling that number from memory as when we drove them extinct, should have checked those numbers. Also, I communicated this IN NO FUNCTIONAL WAY in the article above. Awesome. Obviously 'little while longer than that' refers to geological time. :-)

    As far as "smarter", I was specifically referring to the squad tactics they would use to bring down large game animals. Clearly not the right word. And since we were managing to run various game and wildlife to death in teams, I don't actually know that they had anything up on us, now that I think about it. But Orcs Versus Humans - most players I know don't work well as a team. ;-p.

    I think this is a marvelous conversation to have in the comments of the article. Thank you again for taking the time to share. P.S. I do not think you are a jerk or know-it-all the littlest bit!

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  11. Just wanted to chime in and say that this post inspired me to take up a similar line of thinking for my game, even though I did diverge on the resulting conclusion. Thanks!

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  12. What was the final conclusion you reached?

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  13. ace as class is incredibly appropriate to fantasy games, and races selecting from the "human" classes strikes me as very mundane and not fantastic at all... and dare I say, not "realistic" for such a world.

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  14. I'm pretty late to the party here, but I want to point out that The Hobbit is anything but an example of an immutable racial archetype.

    In The Hobbit, and more so in LotR, Tolkien stresses that the Shire has been very lucky to be isolated for quite some time from the troubles that have wracked Middle Earth, which allowed its inhabitants to grow accustomed to the easy life of a gentleman farmer.

    Reading Tolkien's broader histories of ME, we learn that the hobbits have dealt with forced relocation (the "poor man's genocide"), fought off orcish invasions and generally struggled to survive at all until the Shire was long established.

    Further, Tolkien is quite specific that hobbits are a variety of Man, rather than one of the races innately tied to the ways and forms of the living world, as elves and dwarves are (and are very well described as such in the above H&S post).

    The weathered perception of halflings as fundamentally lazy, gluttonous and reclusive is both established and thoroughly refuted by Tolkien, and there is no reason to deny them the full range of human vocations and values in that context.

    That said, D&D halflings aren't necessarily hobbits, and may well conform to any archetype the DM pleases.

    I really like race as class, but the Tolkien roots of hobbits don't support the conclusions above.

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