Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Character Love From B/X

One advantage B/X (and BECMI and LL) has over other, later versions of D&D is its relatively lax class restrictions. While certainly high Prime Requisites are desirable for fast character advancement, nothing precludes one from playing, say, a scrawny fighter whose Strength is 7 or a fumble-fingered thief with a 4 in Dexterity.

In Moldvay’s rule set, the only restrictions are for demi-human classes: Dwarf requires a minimum Constitution 9+, Elf needs Intelligence 9+, and Halfling requires both a Dex and Con of 9+. But most would admit that a rolling a 9 or better for one attribute (or 2 for those wanting to play Halflings) is a fairly easy task, definitely not requiring more than one or two “re-roll” attempts.

What this loose class restriction does, is it allows more freedom of choice in the class available to a player.

I believe that the main reason for “attribute inflation” in AD&D is the restrictive entry requirements for character classes. Illusionists seem pretty cool…but you need a 15 in Intelligence and 16 in Dexterity. Paladins require a 17 in Charisma? That’s less than a 2% chance on 3D6 (4 in 216 chance of rolling a 17-18). And don’t get me started about the Bard….

See, the thing I’ve found about D&D is that most players tend to gravitate towards a particular class. Perhaps not in D20 as much (so many different choices!), but definitely through all earlier editions, most players tend to be pretty loyal to a particular class. Here’s a list of the D&D gamers I’ve personally known and with whom I’ve gained:

Jason – always played thieves
Kris – always played thieves prior to D20
Scott – almost always played magic-users, though at least one illusionist, a couple of MU multi-classed
Matt – mainly played clerics, once a "healer" (from Dragon); later (with UA) played some Drow women (cleric multi-classed I believe)
My brother – always played fighters, barbarians, dwarves…this was actually “little brother syndrome;” as an adult frequenter of WoW, he ALWAYS plays mage characters.
Mike – always played rangers
James – DMs generally, but has told me he always plays fighters (he’s an ex-marine)
Michael – known to play magic-users when supported (otherwise might play a fighter/ranger type); even played Tremere (the “mage” vampire) in our VtM saga
Alex – always played paladins, regardless of edition (believe he started with AD&D2)
Brandon – always played clerics, when we weren’t playing ElfQuest, which he loved (!)
Jocelyn – another DM, main characters were bards (two different ones), or fighters
Brian – always played clerics (loved that blade barrier spell)

As a guy who spent a lot of time DMing, I created many characters over the years, both NPCs and “potential” PCs, of all different stripes and persuasions (this was true as well of Jocelyn, the co-DM of my original gaming group). However, as a player I generally played a bard in AD&D campaigns. Later on when dabbling in AD&D2 and D20 I always played some version of a fighter type (see my post on Bards if you're wondering why).

I find it fascinating how quickly players gravitate towards a particular role in D&D. Whether it is an illustration in one of the game books, or a character from a novel they’ve read, or just a concept in their head, most every D&D player I’ve known eventually settles into their own “favored class” (to borrow a term from D20). And more than anything else, the attribute restrictions on class in AD&D are what led to attribute inflation in the game. There were more fudged dice rolls or use of system VI (in the Unearthed Arcana) due to players wanting to fit their favorite class-race type than because they really needed an extra “+” on a saving throw. Other players that enjoyed characters with less stringent requirements simply followed suit…otherwise, their characters would have looked weenie in comparison (and as a gamist role-playing environment, part of the challenge often involves looking good, not just playing good).

People returning from later editions to B/X will need a paradigm shift of perspective to wrap their head around “oh, I can play pretty much whatever I want…and not need high ability scores.” I know I did. But the attribute bonuses in B/X really aren’t all that much to crow about. There are no “bonus spells” for high Intelligence or Wisdom…and no minimum requirements for casting/learning high-level spells (yet another thing that causes attribute inflation in AD&D). Constitution bonus end at level 9. A Strength bonus to hit isn’t any more valuable than an enchanted weapon; ditto with Dexterity and magic armor.

Just for fun I rolled approximately 30 sets of stats for B/X D&D the other day using the simple, straight 3D6 method (actually I used a random integers program found on-line…quite time-saving for mass character creation). With a few exceptions (I whittled the list down to 24), these stats created a fine group of potential characters. The B/X method of “dropping 2 to add 1” insured that most every character has at least a 5% bonus to earned XP…there are one or two that didn’t, but their high Constitution, Charisma, or starting gold insures they’re still viable characters. I don’t think there was a single fighter with a Strength over 15, but all are ones I’d be willing to play. One particular stand-out is a Dwarf with a Dexterity of 3! I call him “Cyclops” Man-Hammer…I figure he’s one-eyed (no depth perception), and totally Chaotic, having been a pit-fighting slave prior to his adventuring career.

B/X…so darn cool.


  1. Cyclops Man-Hammer is a perfect example of why I don't like stat requirements (or lots of bonuses for high stats making them effectively required).

    Trust me to not be a min/maxing weeny. Let me play what I want. In return I'll trust you as a DM and not require bunch of crap rules to "protect" me from you.

    Increasing lack of trust (both ways) it what characterizes RPG(esp D&D) development over past 30 years.

  2. I alternately wince or roll my eyes when I look at my AD&D character sheets from my Junior High School days, around about 1981. 16/16/15/18/17/17? Really?

    I have recently realized that B/X was the most fun I've had playing D&D, and I wonder if what you mention here isn't one of the reasons. I do recall playing a Dwarf with a 3 Charisma (I figured he didn't have a beard and wasn't able to grow one, which of course made him an outcast...)

  3. Wow...the idea that a shaved dwarf is even uglier than one with full facial hair...and probably grumpier, too, because of it...yeah, I'd say that warrants a 3 Charisma.

    Your attributes are nothing compared to some. MY best character started with a 17/14/16/15/12/18/22, but finished his career with a 19/16/18/17/16/19/24 or thereabouts. But that was AD&D1e, not B/X.

  4. Well, to be honest I only posted an example I could bear to admit to in public--I did have an archmage with 15/20/18/17/16/17, oodles of magic items, a cloud castle, and a Barrier Peaks Blaster Rifle with lots 'n' lots of power disks to boot.

    Still,Ya got me beat. ;-)

  5. Oh, trust me I do.

    I haven't blogged much about my own pet characters so far, though not because I'm embarrassed or disgusted by them. Frankly, I'm far more embarrassed of actions I took as a DM then anything on my character sheet(s) (and let me assure you, I DID roll an 18 comeliness for my 18 Charisma bard...that in and of itself is an interesting anecdote, as I was NOT the first person in my gaming group to purchase the Unearthed Arcana).

    No, I just haven't got to "him" yet...nor to one or two other prominent PCs in my old campaign(s). But if this blog continues, I'm sure that eventually I'll get around to embarrassing myself and disgusting you all!
    ; )