Wednesday, December 3, 2014

AD&D vs. D&D5: Class Prerequisites

Ever since the turn of the century in The Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand, Dungeons and Dragons (starting with 3rd Edition) has dropped the Class Ability Prerequisites that were so prolific in previous editions. They also took away racial restrictions for classes, so now Halflings could be Paladins and Dwarves can be Wizards. This was done all in the name of game re-balancing and a general movement in the industry towards "game balance." Now any shlump with all 6s and 8s could be a Paladin or a Ranger! Isn't that great?!

No, not really.

I've given it a lot of thought, and I've come to the realization that I prefer ability prerequisites in D&D. I like to explore a D&D setting where if I encounter a Ranger in the wild, I know that he's automatically pretty bad-ass. Because rolling up a Ranger was super hard in AD&D, and if you did it you felt like you won the lottery. Let's not even consider the Paladin, who needed a freaking 17 Charisma to be rolled. I've never played with or met someone who actually rolled up a Paladin (legally) in 2nd edition AD&D.

But first, a little honesty: I was just as excited as everyone else back in the early days of 3e to mix and match races and classes with impunity. I had just spent ten long years in campaigns where the roll of the dice at the outset of character creation was something to be both excited about and feared, so being able to make a Half-Orc Paladin seemed like the freedom I'd always wanted.

In 2nd edition AD&D (the edition where they really went nuts with prerequisites), we were still rolling 3d6 in order for our stats. If you had a Monty Haul-style DM then they might let you roll 4d6 drop-the-lowest (still in order) for stats. Each class had minimum ability requirements to enter it.

Here's the list from ye old Table 13 in the 2nd edition AD&D Player's Handbook:
Just look at what being a Ranger required! Now you know why they got ambidexterity for free.

Now, if you've only had experience with 3e+ D&D character generation mechanics ('point-buy,' '4d6-drop-lowest-place-in-any-order,' or that weird 'all start at 8 and add d10' one) you'll likely say that those stats in Table 13 don't look too difficult to pull off. But when you consider you're supposed to roll 3d6 and assign them in order (Str, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha), now you can see where luck has a huge roll in your first character. Many a time a hopeful Paladin ended up a lowly fighter or thief.

But with hitting those prerequisites came significantly more powerful classes. The Paladin had a ton of useful save bonuses and immunities, not to mention full fighter hit dice and attack bonuses as well as healing powers. But not everyone could be a Paladin, only those (un)lucky enough to have their highest roll be in Charisma (and decent Str, Con, and Wis) had the option to do that. If you got to play a Ranger or Druid, you cherished that character (and his animal companion).

Even more so, in 2e when you ended up having to create a Fighter because your rolled stats were too low, but really wanted a Paladin, you roleplayed it as such, and actually got more invested in your 'devout Fighter and Sword-arm of Justice' than you would with just making a vanilla Paladin at the outset. I can speak from experience, as my favorite PC of all time, Quinn (the Fighter), just barely missed out on the rolls to be a Ranger. I had just read Lord of the Rings back in '92 and really wanted to create a Ranger. I got out my hottest dice, said my prayers to Tymora, and rolled some of my best rolls ever. My rolls were excellent (with an 18 Dex to boot!), but my Con roll was just too low to hit the Ranger minimum of 14. And while with the stats I had rolled I would've had an excellent Thief, the archetype I was going for was Ranger, so instead I made a Fighter who used both bows and longsword, and he hated and hunted Undead (like a Ranger's favored enemy).

But when the game was re-balanced in 3e, the designers wanted to make all classes of equal power. However, they couldn't downgrade the classic Ranger, Paladin, or Druid abilities. The ones everyone who rolled one up remembered, such as the Ranger's Two-Weapon Fighting or the Druid's Pass Without Trace ability. So instead they kept those powers and leveled all the other classes up in capability to compete with them. Fighters got a ton of Feats, Thieves got extremely generous Backstab, er, Sneak Attack opportunities, Clerics got Domain Powers and free spells, and so on. This raised the level of capability of all other classes so much a Ranger became a class you just 'dipped' into (get 1 level in it) to get the Two-Weapon Fighting and Track abilities, and then you went back to leveling your Thief or Fighter or Magic-User.

He's actually a Thief 6/Ranger 1/Mage 5/Cleric 4
A travesty, to say the least.

"So back to the good old days of class exclusivity!" I say!

I guess I need to put my time where my mouth is and see if re-establishing exclusivity in D&D serves me as well in present day as it seems to through my nostalgia-colored glasses. So for the next campaign I run it will be 5e, but I will enforce the AD&D ability prerequisites and see how it goes. But since the 'advanced' classes no longer have a clear game benefit in 5e over their standard class counterparts, I'll have to make sure that they are minimally represented in the NPC hireling market. Wanna hire a thief? Sure, dime a dozen! Wanna hire a Ranger? Hmmm, It'll cost ya!

I think it'll be fun. And if a player actually rolls up one of the 'advanced' classes, why, they'll be the toast of their village (...well, more like hamlet? We are talking level 1 here).

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