Friday, December 29, 2017


One area in which AD&D (and 2E and 3E and 4E and 5E) exceeds B/X is the number of different classes it offers players from the outset, ensuring a large variety of possible character types, and thus distinct variations in players' party composition.

Which is a good thing, because that makes for interesting play.

Now I can quibble over how good, or useful, or redundant, or necessary each available character type is (and I have in the past), but I've come to the conclusion that this doesn't change the end result: a little extra variation is a good thing to encourage long term interest and engagement, and the seven B/X classes might not provide sufficient options.

Hell, I probably already knew this (deep down somewhere in my subconscious) I not the guy who published The Complete B/X Adventurer, containing some 17 new character classes for B/X? Certainly, I allowed these new classes to appear at my B/X gaming table (and they did), spicing up the rather staid parade of fighter, fighter, dwarf, fighter, elf, etc. For all the benefits inherent in the streamlined B/X design, it remains a BASIC game, one that needs tooling for long-term engagement. That's no joke.

My longest running campaign, in which I was involved both as a player and as a DM, lasted from circa 1982 to 1988...close to seven years. That may not seem like all that long...and it isn't, compared to some long running campaigns spanning decades. But it represented a significant number of hours, considering how much available time we had to play as children. Homework was light in those days (or easily ignored), and what extracurricular activities we practice, piano lessons, Scouts, whatever...only took a couple hours a week. At school, after school, weekends, vacations, we were planning or playing our game.

During that time we had six to eight regular players, with a couple other visitors showing up for the odd game or two. Among the seven I'd consider to be real contributors to the campaign...who actively participated and around whom our various adventures resolved...we had a total of 29 original characters whose names and specs I can readily recall. Remembering that we started with B/X, only gradually converting to AD&D as we acquired books (and grandfathering in old B/X characters when necessary), I can tell you that:
  • Not counting henchmen (of which there were few), only ONE race-class combo was repeated (there was a human fighter, created during our B/X days, and a second created a few years later. Interestingly, both were played by female players, despite AD&D strength limitations based on sex).
  • Of those 29 characters, 21 were race-class combos found in the first edition Players Handbook.
  • Of the eight characters that were not "standard" PHB characters, six were made using rules found in  the Unearthed Arcana (three were Drow, one was a human barbarian, and the other two incorporated the thief-acrobat subclass in their design).
  • The remaining two characters were created using rules found in Dragon magazine or 3rd party sources.
  • None of the characters were gnomes or (if I remember correctly) half-orcs.
  • None of the characters were druids, paladins, monks, or cavaliers.
Race-Class combos for years, y'all.
That's a lot of mileage out of a single book. The total number of race-class combinations found in the first edition PHB are 34, not counting dual-class, multi-class, or bard characters. As we tended towards "optimal" configurations (no half-orc clerics or elven fighters, for example) it's unsurprising we only used a portion of the possible character types available.

But we did create a large number of characters...and there were NPC druids and monks, etc. who found their way into the campaign, representing their individual character types. The sheer number of possibilities permitted by the AD&D system provided plenty of grist for the imagination mill, allowing us to churn out a thriving campaign world of class/race-based factions, colorful characters, and adventures equivalent to any cheap-ass, knock-off fantasy novel.

Which isn't said to be harsh, by the way. We weren't authors trying to create "great literature;" we were kids playing an adventure game. The play of the thing, and our engagement with it, was la cosa mas importante...the most important thing (sorry, still in Mexico). Having that variety...occasionally supplemented by a Dragon mag, or the UA, or whatever...allowed us to remain engaged, and play the hell out of the game, for many years. Our game group fell apart for reasons of social dynamic, not any lack of interest or inspiration. We weren't failed by the system...certainly not the way (I believe) later editions failed their players...we were failed by issues that arose outside the game.

[folks who continue to play and enjoy later editions of D&D...2nd to 5th...are welcome to disagree with that last sentiment. And, yes, I guess the jury IS still out on 5E (people are playing it and loving it, from what I gather). But from my own experience, 2nd and 3E both failed to retain the interest and engagement of myself and those I played it with (due to their system design "features") and it appears evident that 4E failed a majority of players on a pretty large scale]

Anyway, as I consider the system requirements of my own redesigned campaign world, I find myself remembering things that worked well in the past, and this particular aspect of the AD&D game was one of those things. Wholesale availability of class and race combinations isn't desirable (I've seen the madness of that in my 3E days), but I'm a lot less opposed to the idea than I was a few years ago.


  1. You could consider the idea from Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's article "Customized Classes" in Dragon 109 of creating classes, setting their XP scales by the abilities they have.

  2. Wasn't the madness of 3E that the players ran the game, DM as servant? Power levels were out of control. I am a fan of lots of classes, we are using B/X Adventurer and Class Compendium. They are examples that respect B/X design. The caveat is that not all are initially available, we unlock through play.

    1. That’s actually pretty sound strategy, IMO. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “unlocking content” within a many ways it artificially echoes the (slow) development of the game and the introduction of new content over time.

      MY caveat would be that there are at least some initial/available rumors of possibilities, not having races/classes/cultures spring fully formed out of nothing. That calls to mind too much of the mentality of a flagging TV series, where suddenly a new character is randomly injected (for example, “Hawk” in Buck Rogers, “Hard Rock” in Johnny Quest, etc.).

  3. The pendulum swings - the desire for fewer combinations is always followed by the lust for way too many.

  4. "failed by issues that arose outside the game..." Oh man, I hear you. Our middle-school turned High School game group went to shit as soon as females entered the picture.

  5. while i like the idea of the class for every occasion, i prefer the less is more approach, that is that there's a small list of classes, and the classes themselves are just a core concept/doctrine, for example a player can choose to play their fighter as a traditional knight or a less traditional guerrilla fighter, a thief could be played as the regular stealer or a more combat-ready scout