Friday, December 18, 2020

Elven Beef

More thoughts on the AD&D game...

My son's character is an elven fighter. Not a multiclass character, just a fighter.  

He is a beast.

Back in the day (ah, the days of youth) such a character would never have existed in our campaigns. Never did exist...not even as an NPC. Oh, I think my half-elf's elven father was a general in the elven military (if I remember correctly) which would probably have made him a "straight fighter," but he never made an appearance except for a note on my character sheet. They were estranged after all.

[yes, backstory. We were dumb kids back then...and anyway, it ended up having zero impact on the game, except perhaps explaining why my character was out adventuring]

Certainly, we would never deign to use an elf fighter as a player character.  For multiple reasons: level restrictions first and foremost. Limits to the race's strength score is another (how can you fight if you can't hit?). And there was definitely a bad taste left over in our mouths from our B/X days, which we played prior to AD&D: the "elf" class is paper-thin (1d6 hit points per level) despite being expected to melee, and it takes twice as long to advance as a "normal" (i.e. human) fighter.

But level restriction was the main issue. When we sat down to the table, our intention was to be in the game for the long haul...thoughts of death or retirement were far from our minds! And none of us considered our D&D play to be a short-term, passing fancy thing... SO, any character "type" (race-class combo) that didn't allow unlimited level advancement was deemed as wholly undesirable. Ours was a human-centric game (as Gygax fully intended), though there were of course halfling thieves and half-elf bards, too.

My kids, though, don't think like least not yet. The game is far too new for them still. Images and ideas fire their imaginations, not the raw heft of mechanics. My daughter is playing a halfling because, when I was toying with the idea of running a Dragonlance campaign I told them about kender; now, she insists her PC is a "kindr halfling" (pronounced "kinn-der"). She is, at once, both the most cowardly and most foolhardy example of a PC I can ever remember seeing in a game, and certainly deserves a post of her own.

The boy says his
character looks
like this dude.
Meanwhile, my boy prefers the fighter class (chip off the ol' block there) but wanted to be an elf. Unlike his sister, Diego did have an idea of the level restrictions...with only a 17 strength, I made it clear that the character would be limited to 6th level. However, I'm not sure he had all that much faith in his ability to reach such lofty heights; I don't recall any of his past characters making it past 4th level.

[reading over my shoulder, Diego just corrected me...he never had a character go past 3rd level]

Welp, as I wrote the other day, AD&D is far more survivable than many folks (including myself) give it credit for, and the kid has managed to amass nearly 27,000 x.p.. Fast approaching 6th level (at 35K), the end of his career is in sight, and I would not be surprised to see him hitting his limit after 2-3 more sessions, depending on what treasure they discover.

How? How does a lowly elven fighter, with a constitution penalty and a lack of exceptional strength manage to survive and thrive? This is a character that didn't even achieve proficiency with a longsword until 4th level (choosing short sword, hand axe, dagger, and short bow as his initial weapons), a character who eschews armor heavier than leather and shield, a character whose "party" has, for the most part, consisted of a halfling and two or three hirelings. How does he make it work?

Turns out, the elf has a lot of advantageous features for the player who doesn't have preconceived notions of the fighter's "role" in an adventuring party. Elves in non-metal armor move almost silently, surprising monsters on a 4 in 6 chance most of the time. Elves' +1 bonus with bows relates to any bow, not just the long bow, and the racial dexterity bonus makes them even better sharpshooters (especially given their infravision). The boy's character, in fact, has a dexterity of 18 because of the bonus, meaning he is almost never surprised himself (reaction bonus of AD&D) and enjoys an armor class equivalent to plate armor when using a shield...and that was before he found leather armor +1. Against goblins and giant rats...not-unusual-monsters for low-level adventures...he makes a number of attacks equal to his level, and the +1 to hit and damage from his strength made him a killing machine against such creatures...much more so after the party recovered a hand axe +1 from a goblin chieftain. 

But it's the staying power that has really impressed. A 90% resistance to sleep and charm spells is nothing to sneer at when these are the exact types of spells low-level sorcerers generally employ against  parties of invaders. And with a 16 constitution and d10s rolled for hit points, the character can take more damage than the average B/X elf of twice his level (34 at 4th level; currently 40 at 5th). That's huge. 

Of course, there're the bonus languages as well...being able to speak gnoll, goblin, orc, and hobgoblin has enabled the character (with stealth and the demihuman hearing bonus) to effectively spy on humanoid opponents and understand the tactics and commands they communicate in pitched combat. Good intel is always valuable, as is the ability to speak with foes (and potential foes) negotiating both terms for surrender and deals to preclude bloodshed. 

All of which has gone a long way to proving the basic elf fighter is an extremely viable character type. Which I wouldn't have thought possible before. 

Right, so...that's all I have time for today. Need to clean the kitchen so I can bake some gingerbread cookies.
: )


  1. I always noted those sneak rules and wanted to run an all-elf group to take advantage of it, but I could never convince anyone to do it for precisely the reasons you mention. It is good to know that someone finally took advantage and proved the concept could work. Awesome!

    1. Helpful when your partner is a halfling.
      ; )

  2. It is ALWAYS a good thing to have fresh eyes on a project, even if that project is as old as AD&D. I don't know if anyone I've ever gamed with would have guessed that a single-class elf fighter could be so awesome.

  3. Elves were always superior as a race in early D&D maddeningly so.

    Are you planning enforcing the level limit? It is the only way to prevent elf dominance and get people to play humans.

    Well the smart move if you have the stats is to dual class as a human and get through the awkward phase.

    1. I am enforcing class-race-level limits as they appear in the PHB. I am not using UA at this time. I fully expect players to gravitate towards humans as they hit “the wall.”
      ; )

      Not sure what “awkward phase” you refer to, with regard to humans.

    2. "Awkward phase" probably means that stretch where a dual-class human's second class is still below the level of the class they left behind, when they can't access any of the abilities of the first class if they want to earn XP. It's pretty awful, other than having extra HP and more items you perform much worse than the single-class PCs around you and it can take quite a while to get past it.

    3. The awkward phase of dual classing (when you dont get XP if you use your other classes abilities) not the awkward human phase.

      Dual class can result in some very powerful characters that dont have the level lag of multiclass charachters.

      Once we figured out the power of dual classing we played a lot less demi humans. But then we were power games.

    4. Yeah it can feel like a long time, but taking 3 levels of fighter is 4,000 ish xp and its only 10,000 more to get 4th level as a magic user. Then you have on average 9 extra hitpoints and can use a longbow.

      As magic users are already mostly sitting in the back cowering most of the adventure doing so durring the awkward levels isnt much diffrent than what you would be doing anyway, and you can at least take a hit or two.

      My last 1e campaign the dual classed cleric then magic user was twice as useful as a straight magic user with access to healing.

    5. @ Dick & 7B:

      Thanks for the clarification; I should have been able to figure that out.

      Huh. Yeah, I never saw many dual-classed characters in actual play, even "back in the day," partly (or probably) because players felt very locked in to their party "role" (the healer guy, the magic guy, etc.). Players who wanted the abilities of two classes were generally too impatient to work through any "awkward phases" and went the multi-class path instead.

      We did have multiple (1E) bards wander through our campaign, however, and we never treated them like dual class characters.

  4. Were level limits really a consideration for making characters? Like it was actually part of the thought process? I kind of find that amazing. I don't think I ever had a player think or worry about them when making characters for any of our campaigns. Pretty much you played an elf if you wanted to play an elf or a dwarf if you wanted to play a dwarf.

    1. I can say that, in my youth, it was always a consideration for *me*. I can clearly remember cutting the assassin and druid from consideration as character types because of their level limits. And it *seems* to me that it was a consideration for other players, because we saw no druids, no dwarves, no elves, no monks, etc. in our game, except as the occasional NPC. The only halflings that appeared were thieves or thief-acrobats.

      [when the UA arrived, we did see a couple-three Drow...briefly. One was used on a few side adventures, and one was killed by her own party for being incredibly obnoxious and evil. But Drow have pretty high level limits for multi-class characters, in addition to their bonus abilities]

      There *were* several half-elf PCs...all bards. Level 23 was judged to be fairly "unreachable," especially on top of the bard's earlier careers.

      And I wouldn't say we had a particular aversion to particular races (well, maybe dwarves). We were very big into elves in the 80s, being super-fans of Wendy Pini's ElfQuest and whatnot.

      As an adult, it hasn't been an issue for me...because I don't get a chance to play much and am (thus) not terribly concerned about long-term play. But if I *was* involved in a game that I expected to stick with for a while, and had evidence of high level characters in the campaign, then I would DEFINITELY take level limits into account. And PROBABLY I would play either a human fighter, human magic-user or human cleric, all of which have excellent role-playing potential (though I daresay the human cleric is pretty darn over-powered and too *easy* of a choice for me to give it serious consideration).

  5. Yeah, we never had halflings either. In fact we almost never had anything other than human. When ever I asked about it the general response was, "I'm human so my character is human." I suspect that part of it might also be that the vast majority of people I've played with got into table top games through video games like Final Fantasy where elves and dwarves are a rarity.

    As for the demihuman thing, is there an honest concern for elf dominance or just theorizing? If so, why?

    1. @ Monk:

      Does your last question (re elven dominance) refer to taking the level caps off?

      I think that...with regard to AD&D (which is what I'm playing at the moment) there are quite a number of special abilities available to the elf, and no real downside (assuming the removal of level caps) with the possible exception of resurrection limitations. While I don't think it would lead to ABSOLUTE "elven dominance" (there are still classes restricted to humans) I don't relish the idea of a campaign where the only PC humans are paladins and monks, etc. However, you could still make life hard on the elf characters by some heavy-handed social engineering...but again the main curbing of demihuman enthusiasm (and certainly the EASIEST, in my opinion) is retaining level caps.

      As I'm lazy, I usually default to the easiest solution.
      ; )