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Elf is a Class?!
One major difference between Basic and 1st Edition Advanced D&D is the race/class dichotomy. In Basic, the races are promoted to classes, eliminating the concept of race all-together and making the major classes of Basic: Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric, Thief, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling. It's an unusual concept, and I think unfortunately, a much maligned one.

The fact is, for many of us Basic was the gateway to Advanced (as I think TSR intended it to be) and in our memories Basic becomes an 'earlier version' of D&D we played. We forget, or just don't know, that Basic and Advanced were two different products that lived side-by-side. In fact, the basic line continued even alongside Advanced 2nd Edition, and the last printing of Basic (19th printing) hit shelves as late as 1999. Basic only vanished completely with the introduction of 3rd edition.

Our collective memory of Basic as the earlier version of D&D tends to see the idea of races as classes as a quaint oddity, as though we just didn't know better to separate the two back then. Of course this isn't true either, as the earliest versions of D&D (Whitebox or Original D&D) back in the early 70's had races separate from classes. The authors of Basic clearly made a choice to join the two.

Was this done just to simplify the number of variables the player had to deal with? Perhaps. As we see the complexity of D&D increase with each edition, the idea of simplification by any means is somewhat attractive. However I think there's another force at work, one rooted in the canon of the genre itself.

Nobody can deny that J.R.R. Tolkein's influence is heavy in D&D. The modern game seems to wish to distance itself as much as possible from this original influence, but I think that's a mistake. I liked Lord of the Rings, and based on the success of the movies I'd say I'm not the only one. And in Tolkein's books, a Wizard and an Elf were two very differnet things. Were their Elven Wizards? Well, Elves had some magic, that you couldn't deny. But clearly the Wizards had their own organization, and perhaps could even be seen as their own race separate from man.

I like this about Basic D&D -- an elf is an elf, not a wizard or a fighter or even a wizard/fighter. It feels more appropriate to the canon of the genre. I think it makes the non-human races that much more special, and the human classes as well. It's a matter of identity. You hear it at the gaming table all the time: 'the elf searches for secret doors, while the fighter stands guard'. The characters have names, we know their names, but we still refer to them as 'the dwarf', 'the thief', etc. Do you ever hear 'the human fighter' or the 'the elven wizard'?

As long as that's how we're identifying the characters, why not play to that? Why not make each as unique as possible, so we're proud to be referred to by that single identifier, rather than feel we're being trivialized?
June 11th, 2009 - 01:55 pm | Comments (1) | PERMALINK

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