Sunday, June 20, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 2

Today I'm going to take a look at the races and classes in the Basic Set, and how they differ from their presentation in OD&D. The classes included here are Fighting Men, Magic-Users, Clerics and Thieves. The races included are Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. The first thing to note is that a whole bunch of classes and races have been dropped. From the classes we have Paladins, Rangers, Monks, Illusionists, Druids, Assassins and Bards, and from the races we lose Half-Elves. Obviously Holmes wanted to simplify the game, and cut the options back to the core. I find it interesting that he has kept the Thief, when it was a later addition to the game. It's certainly a strong archetype in sword and sorcery fiction, and one not covered by the three original classes. I think its inclusion here, and thus its subsequent entry into the later Basic Sets, helped cement the class as one of the core elements of the game.

For my campaign, the classes and races not included here will no longer be available to PCs. That's not to say that those types will vanish from the game. On the contrary, they'll still be around as NPCs, and the older PCs may still be out there. But until I get to the AD&D Player's Handbook, there won't be any new characters with those classes, as they become estranged from the Adventurers' Guild.

Fighting Men: The Fighter is probably the most stable class in the history of the game, and that holds true here. Basically nothing about it has changed from OD&D, except to note that the hit point method from Supplement I is being used (meaning that Fighters roll 1d8 per level for hit points instead of 1d6). I also can't find a reference to Fighters getting multiple attacks against creature of 1 Hit Dice, but that could be concealed later in the rules. The stuff about high-level Fighters being able to build strongholds is also omitted, but that's more because the Basic Set only covers levels 1 to 3.

Magic-Users: The basics of the Magic-User remain unchanged, but there are a few minor changes. As per Supplement I, M-Us roll 1d4 per level for hit points. Their spell progression is slightly slower, with a 3rd level M-U being able to memorize just two 1st level spells instead of three. The magic item creation rules are gone, but again that's because this set only covers low levels.

Clerics: Clerics are also mostly the same, but it is interesting to note that they are now specifically said to dedicate themselves to one or more gods. Previously Clerics had been dedicated to Law or Chaos, and nothing further was needed. The switch to actual deities is a significant moment. Their weapon restrictions are also clarified, with edged weapons being specifically disallowed. It's not a change, but it was a vaguely stated rule in the original booklets.

Thieves: Thieves are much the same as presented in Supplement I, except that only humans can take the class. It's mentioned in places that Elves, Dwarves and Halflings can be Thieves, but readers are directed to AD&D for those rules. The alignment restrictions change slightly, mostly because the expanded alignment from The Strategic Review #6 is in use. One thing that hasn't changed, but that I never picked up on before, is that in OD&D Thieves can use every weapon there is. They're still restricted to swords and daggers for magical weapons, but as far as regular weapons go they can wield everything.

Dwarves: Although nothing about Dwarves has changed from OD&D, the restriction to the Fighter class and the presentation here is important. Later editions of the Basic Set have the demi-humans as classes in their own right, and that's a direct result of the simplification done here. Oh, and their infravision is specifically mentioned here, whereas before a little detective work was required to figure that out (it was only mentioned in the monster entry for Dwarves, and in Chainmail).

Elves: The main difference with Elves is that their ability to operate as Fighters and Magic-Users is clarified. Rather than choosing a class to play at the start of each game, Elves can now use the abilities of each class at all times. The compromise is that they split their experience points between the classes, and thus advance more slowly. This is in line with the multi-classing rules from Supplement I.

Halflings: Like Dwarves, Halflings are now restricted to the Fighter class. Their ability to become nearly invisible in forests is stated here, whereas before it had been only detailed in the Chainmail rules. The bonus they get to missile fire is also clarified to be a simple +1 to hit. In the earlier rules this had been stated in terms of Chainmail, so it wasn't clear how it worked in D&D. There's also a note that they can only use weapons and armour that have been cut down to their size, but no mechanical disadvantages are detailed. I suppose it would put a serious crimp on the use of magical arms and armour, though. Lastly, despite being Fighters, Halflings only get 1d6 hit points per level now. I'm pretty sure this is a new development, and a further gimping of the race.

At this point I should note that we are well into the period where the word Hobbit can no longer be used in TSR products, due to legal action from the Tolkien Estate. So from this point forward, they are halflings. I'm going to run with this, starting by using it as an insult from other races, and gradually just having it become an accepted term. The wee beggars will still call each other Hobbits, but for the most part the name won't come up.

The classes are followed up by a brief discussion of hit points. The one thing of note here is that the rate of healing has changed. In OD&D, characters regained no hit points on the first day of rest, and 1 hit point per day after that. Now they regain 1-3 hit points per day. It's a big change that will drastically reduce time spent recuperating. I guess the Guild in my campaign just has better facilities and better training in self-healing now.

That's it for today. Next time around I'll be getting into equipment, NPCs, and maybe alignment if time permits.

1 comment:

  1. Really nice post.
    I acquired parts of OD&D in PDF form and quite recently bought the Holmes rulebook - it really is wonderfully concise. The transitions between the rulesets are fascinating. It was S&W Whitebox which drew my attention to Thieves not being in the original game whereas Clerics were. When I was younger the "Cleric" seemed much stranger than the Thief. But no hobbit thieves?! (then I'd have to remind myself that Bilbo pretended to be a thief to impress the dwarves). Even the term "Fighter" and "Magic User" seemed very strange, clumsy, even. "Fighting Men" makes so much more sense now.
    "Halfling" also felt strangely formal in my games - I liked the fact that D&D wasn't tied to Middle-Earth (I was a slow reader). ;)
    Interesting list of differences. Nice one.