Monday, October 10, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Beta Rules: The Demi-Human Classes

For my final installment of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG races, I will look at all three of the "demi-human" races. In DCCRPG, we see the retroclone-classic race-as-class construction. In other words you can be a cleric, a fighter, a thief, a wizard... or an elf, halfling, or dwarf. Apparently all elves, halflings, and dwarves act the same, much like how in science fiction humans are incredibly diverse, but all aliens have monolithic, undifferentiated cultures. Additionally, with the "character funnel" mechanic in DCCRPG, if you want to potentially have a dwarven, halfling, or elven character, you need to preselect those races for your 0-level characters, because, as far as they're concerned, dwarves, halflings, and elves have no job prospects besides their prescribed roles.

As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the ways in which the character funnel fails most utterly. You're supposed to start with generic townspeople sort of characters, which you then assign a class to should they survive, but dwarves, halflings, and elves don't get this option. You already know what their class is going to be; it's a dead end situation, no different than if you had just simply chosen, without the character funnel, that you wanted to play a dwarf, halfling, or elf. In fact, you can easily abuse the character funnel by just making all your 0-level characters dwarves, halflings, or elves. Or you can just skip it. DCCRPG seems very dedicated to making everything random, which is just not something that everybody playing it is going to want.

Dwarves themselves do not have much to distinguish themselves. As a class, they are remarkably similar to warriors, having the same attack die mechanic, as well as also having access to Mighty Deeds of Arms. In fact, under "Mighty Deed of Arms" in the dwarf section, it doesn't even bother describing it, referring instead to the description under the warrior entry. Dwarves have a racial ability of "shield bash," which deals negligible damage against a harder threshold (d14 instead of d20 to hit), as well as the ability to see in the dark. However, they are slower than humans. Of course, it also says that dwarves can smell gold and gems, and can navigate underground flawlessly without a compass. While this would likely be pretty handy in a dungeon crawl, it seems a bit... strange. Dwarves are limited, lastly, in their ability to spend Luck.

Like warriors, dwarves have to specialize, at character creation, with one weapon, and then can only use Luck towards attacks with that weapon for the rest of their lives. Overall, dwarves are very similar to warriors in skills and mechanics, only they are slower, weaker, and spend a lot of time sniffing gold. They have +1 on Willpower saves compared to the warrior at any given level, but that is basically where they distinguish themselves. Dwarves only crit on a 20, use a lower crit die per level compared to the warrior, and do not have access to most of the abilities that make warriors really stand out. Additionally, they have fewer hit points and gain fewer hit points per level, but I suppose this is supposed to be balanced out by the fact that they all are running around with shields and are therefore marginally more difficult to hit. Dwarves, at the end of the day, are just a crippled version of the warrior class. They are described as being "demi-human," and one must assume that is in abilities as well as appearance.

Elves are described as being older than humans, yet also as "demi-humans" (but wouldn't that mean that humans are demi-elves?). It is said that they can cast spells as competently as human wizards, but that they will usually wear mithril armor, despite the fact that it gimps their spellcasting ability. Elves can see in the dark like dwarves, but in fact also have all other senses heightened as well. Elves can only spend Luck on one specific level 1 spell, no matter how long they live and no matter what all their other abilities are. They can't be magically put to sleep or paralyzed, but also can't touch or wear anything made of iron. This doesn't matter though, because it says that at character creation, elven characters can just buy mithril armor instead of steel armor at no additional cost. Elves are sort of like thieves in their mechanics, only are better at casting magic (and have an innate magical ability). They favor lighter, longer weapons, don't deal much damage and have very limited critical hit abilities, but are also much better at fighting than wizards, so overall are a much more balanced class than dwarves are.

Halflings are small, good at sneaking, can see in the dark, remarkably lucky, are great at fighting, and are the only other class in the game that can recover spent Luck. In fact, Luck is where halflings shine, since they can spend luck on other party members, as well as act out of initiative to do so. Additionally, halflings get a +2 bonus on spending luck, rather than a +1 bonus (although it is still +1 when spent on other characters). The problem with halflings is that only one halfling in the party gets all of these special Luck features. If there are any other halflings in the party, they don't have access to any of this. It doesn't say what additional halflings' Luck features are, but, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, one has to assume that they will still recover Luck, get the +2 modifier on their own rolls, but can't help allies. Halflings are said to excel at two-handed fighting, but not in any way that is very far superior to warriors fighting two-handed. I don't see any modifiers for halflings or dwarves being any more difficult to hit on account of their small stature, so there doesn't seem to be any advantage, as far as combat is concerned, to being short. One only gets a penalty in speed.

In short, there is no reason in DCCRPG to play anything besides a warrior. Wizards get transformed into tentacle beasts, sweat excessively, and grow tails and gills and have to cut large pieces of flesh out of their bodies in order to continue casting magic. Clerics have to destroy all of the party's possessions in order to keep getting boons. Dwarves are like wizards with chronic fatigue syndrome and bad knees, elves are like wizards suffering an identity crisis, halflings are particularly incompetent thieves who have a tendency to come after you with two knives. Thieves and clerics end up getting off the easiest, but there is absolutely no reason in DCCRPG to play a magic user, or any sort of demi-human. Warriors get a whole extra chapter to describe all of their incredible abilities, but wizards end up looking like pustule-covered frog-octopus versions of Peter Pettigrew, finding it harder and harder to cast spells or read scrolls on account of the fact that their hands turned into flippers several weeks ago, and they are constantly exuding large amounts of sweat from all parts of their bodies. While this could all potentially be ripe material for roleplaying in a zany, off-the-wall one-off adventure setting, DCCRPG makes it difficult, in my opinion, for players to become too attached to their characters, because there are too many random penalties for playing any class besides warriors (who all look like Conan the Barbarian and get laid every night, or so it seems).

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