Saturday, November 21, 2015


And then I look at half-elves and I what the hell am I going to do with them?

As I mentioned way back when, I wanted to do a Holmesian write-up for half-elves the same way I did for the various subclasses mentioned in his Basic text. Unfortunately, while I can understand why such a player race might exist (and it provides interesting role-playing possibilities in elf-human relation scenarios), mechanically, it's kind of...meh.

At least, when you consider it in light of my decisions on demihuman classes, level limits, and the absence of multi-classing. I mean, here's what a half-elf gives you:

Infravision (as an elf)
Extra languages (as an elf)
Secret door spotting (as an elf)

Aaaaannd...that's it.

Now, in a game of OD&D or AD&D, there's some incentive to play a half-elf. Additional class options not available to elves (including the cleric, ranger, and druid). Additional multi-classing opportunities (which I'm not using). Higher levels to be gained in some classes...well, really only fighter and assassin (+1 level each). If one uses the optional bard class in 1E AD&D you also have a great incentive to be a half-elf (my long-running AD&D character was a half-elf bard).

I'll probably end up going "off-book" again when it comes to this hybrid species. Considering my current race-class restrictions:
  • All elves are combo fighter/mages (no, there are no "elven thieves")
  • Dwarves may be either fighters or thieves
  • Halflings may be either fighters or thieves
  • No demihuman may belong to a subclass
...the best mechanical incentive I can probably include is the loosening of class restrictions for half-elf characters. However (as usual), it has to make sense within the setting of the campaign.

Furthermore, if I decide to include half-orcs (a strong temptation) I need to apply some consistency to how a semi-human hybrid functions. If the half-elf's human nature gives him the ability to participate in human-restricted classes, the same should be true of half-orcs, right? But while the original PHB rules provided a bit of parity (similar levels and classes) there were some inconsistencies (cleric for both, yes; druid, no...and no ranger or magic-user options for the half-orc).

ALSO, I really dislike the idea of giving a character the ability to be a subclass but not the class. For example, I'm tempted to allow half-orc witches (that "earthy magic" thing) but half-orc magic-users? I guess I'm stereotyping the fantasy subhuman here, but I don't see half-orcs scribing scrolls like a Holmesian mage.

Less viable than a half-elf
What to do, what to do. Thing is, do hybrids get "the best" of both species? Should they? The typical Old School D&D response would be "no" to both these questions, but I'm not sure that's right. Certainly humans of mixed race have a tendency to be healthier (less chance of genetic duplication and defect). But we're talking about mixed species, here, not races within the same species. A mule is a good example: combining a horse with a donkey gives you an animal that is:

"more patient, sure-footed, hardy, and long-lived than horses, and...less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than donkeys."

However, that's not to say they're as fast as a horse, nor as tough and easy to care for as a donkey. They aren't and they aren't. But what they are is their own thing...their own hybrid species.

Tolkien half-orcs were taller than (normally squat) orcs...which could simply mean they had better posture...and no fear of sunlight. Tolkien half-elves were required to choose whether to live as elves or humans, though those who chose humanity were still blessed with abnormally long lifespans (well, abnormal compared to a normal human). In Tolkien, half-orcs were inherently "bad" and half-elves inherently "good," unlike humans who might go over to either side...and until 3rd edition D&D, I never did see a half-orc of good alignment (probably because they were so often multi-class assassins, with an evil alignment restriction).

*sigh* Have I ever mentioned how little I like infravision?

All right, I'm going to have to chew on this for a bit...I'll try to get something written up tomorrow (either for one or both). Later.

[EDIT: while I did "write up something tomorrow" this post was written several days ago, as was its subsequent follow-up. I have half a dozen posts scheduled to roll out on the blog in anticipation of my writing restrictions while traveling. However, I am still looking for comments and feedback on these thoughts.]

1 comment:

  1. It always bugged me that half-elves in AD&D (including 2e) had certain elven abilities part-and-parcel, and others only somewhat. For instance, they have the same strength of infravision - which, conceding to one of the good decisions 3e made, I always just call "darkvision" - as elves and dwarves, but only one-third of their demihuman parent's paralysis/sleep resistance. It'd make more sense to have such abilities be uniformly reduced (maybe in the way that halflings have a chance at good darkvision, poor darkvision, or none at all), or removed entirely.

    Getting back to OD&D/Holmes, it would make sense to allow half-humans to have some expanded choice in their class, but not to the extent of full humans. You're spot-on about half-orcs being better suited to 'earthy' magic (in fact, pretty much all of the supplements I've read for other editions have orc shamans rather than clerics), so maybe they could choose to be either a fighter, thief, witch, or fighter/witch. Granted, my knowledge of pre-Moldvay D&D is limited, but from my skimming of the LBBs and Holmes, this might seem like a good fit.