Thursday, September 24, 2009

Level Limits

In pre-Greyhawk OD&D, dwarves were limited to 6th level as fighting men, halflings were limited to 4th as the same, and elves could progress no higher than 4th level as fighters and 8th level as magic-users. Supplement I loosened things up a bit if a demihuman character had exceptional ability scores. Dwarves with 18 Strength, for example, could reach 8th level as fighters, while Elves with 18 Intelligence could reach 9th level as magic-users. In general, though, the trend was to limit demihumans to 9th level and below (with thieves being a notable exception to this rule).

It's my belief that level limits were intended to serve two purposes. First, since demihumans got a number of abilities that humans lacked (infravision, improved saving throws, etc.), level limits were an early attempt at "balancing" their advantages against humans' lack of same. Now, as I think I've made clear over many months, I'm not a big fan of the balance ├╝ber Alles school of game design and find it almost always makes a RPG less fun rather than more fun. Moreover, OD&D already possesses a means of balancing the varying abilities of characters -- variable XP charts. If one believes that the abilities of elves, dwarves, and halflings are good enough that they ought to exact some kind of "penalty," why not use XP as a means of representing this?

This is the approach that Moldvay Basic opted for in its particular interpretation of race-as-class. Elves and dwarves -- though not halflings -- require more XP to gain a particular level than do their human counterparts. It's a decent solution, I think, although the treatment of halflings undermines the logic behind it somewhat. Halflings get a number of advantages, most notably excellent saves, and yet their XP charts are identical to those of human fighters. Their main drawback is that their advancement is capped at 8th level, the lowest level limit of all the demihuman races. The halfling thus throws a wrench in the notion that there was any kind of consistent philosophy behind the demihuman XP charts.

The second purpose behind level limits, I believe, was genre emulation. Most of the pulp fantasies that influenced Gygax and Arneson didn't include lots -- or any -- non-humans as major protagonists. Non-humans were rare, exotic beings, far more likely to be talked about but never seen. The idea of a largely demihuman adventuring party (Tolkien's works to the contrary) was likely seem as peculiar. By making demihumans more limited in their progression, I suspect it was hoped that they'd prove less attractive and thus less numerous. The limit of halflings to 4th level, for example, has always struck me as the authors' way of saying, "Well, sure, you could play one of those hobbit guys, if you really want, but they're not really cut out for adventuring."

As I've played OD&D more extensively, I've come to some conclusions about all of this. Firstly, I like race-as-class a great deal and see it as a good way not only to keep non-humans strongly archetypal but also as a way to more implement the variable XP idea that Moldvay didn't seem to have followed through with. Secondly, I don't think level limits are a good way to discourage people from playing elves or dwarves or whatever. If the referee wants to limit the number of demihumans in his campaign, then he should simply do that: limit them. That's what I've done in my home Dwimmermount campaign. Dordagdonar, for example, is the only elf the characters have ever encountered. Even in a large city like Adamas, elves are exceedingly rare and he often raises eyebrows when he meets people who've heard of the existence of elves but never had the occasion to actually meet one.

Of course, Dordagdonar's uniqueness cuts both ways. Elves in my game are generally reclusive and stay out of worldly affairs. For whatever reason, Dordagdonar is different; he breaks a lot of the stereotypes about elven behavior, spending all his time with "ephemerals," as he does. Consequently, I don't plan to limit his level. Like his human companions, he can continue to progress indefinitely, although I do use a different XP chart to represent his abilities. Mind you, in OD&D, level advancement is slow and I doubt the characters in the campaign will ever see much beyond 9th or 10th level anyway, so it's largely a moot point.

In the end, I can't say level limits do a lot for me. I don't hate them or think them an abomination against "good" game design, but I also don't see their elimination as necessarily problematic. Far worse in my opinion is the ubiquity of demihumans, which destroys a lot of the flavor I associate with OD&D's literary influences. Having a party consisting largely of, say, elves bugs me more than the possibility that the single elf allowed in a campaign might one day reach higher than 8th level. But then I'm weird that way.

53 comments:

  1. The WHFRP rules have a similar feel. They don't necessarily discourage demihumans mechanically, but the setting makes it clear that demihumans are rare and a party of elves will not get very far in the human world.

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  2. If we are actually talking about respecting the rules of of 1st ed, everyone had a level limit around "name level". Monsters and challenges had a hard cap on XP while the XP level requirements grew enormously. Unless you liberally interpreted the "GP = XP" rule, it was very hard to go up after 10th level because monsters and challenges were worth so little. I think I spent a year playing every weekend to take a 1st ed character from 11th to 12th.

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  3. Personally, there is nothing I hate with a passion in D&D as Level limits for demihumans.
    There is so many other ways of dealing with an excess of demi humans.
    An increase in XP costs to gain new levels seems more appropriate mechanically speaking.

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  4. Yes, that used to bug me - the attack of the Mary Sue Half Demi Elves. At early levels - and lets face it we tended to all get killedoff before leve 4, or the gaming group would implode - the non humans were the best.

    QUESTION: What's the simplest Fantasy RPG these days? Is there a AD&D Lite?

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  5. Level limits have always left me cold. We dropped them pretty early in the process (about 1981 or so) when my brother's dwarven fighters got to 9th level and we were only halfway through the D-series. I can't say it's had a single negative effect on gaming in the decades since then, and we haven't had parties of adventurers consisting of all elves or half elves and dwarves...good gamers generally play a type of character they want and don't worry about the min/max aspect of special abilities.
    What's funny is most of the most vocal proponents of level limits are the ones whose campaigns don't normally have characters that high a level anyway! They spend a lot of time and effort arguing a point that has very little effect on their game...why not just say "No level limits" and kill the elven bugger at 2nd level like they were going to do anyway? :)

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  6. "I think, although the treatment of halflings undermines the logic... . The halfling thus throws a wrench in the notion that there was any kind of consistent philosophy behind the demihuman XP charts."

    Halflings had a 1d6 for H.P. instead of the 1d8 of Fighters. It certainly made a difference in the good old days.

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  7. I'm pretty sure that Level Limits are the single worst game element of the earlier editions of D&D. As James said, they're just terrible tools for achieving their intended purposes. I've never used them based on my sheer loathing of them.

    Echoing Badmike, I once asked a grognard's forum for actual play experience with level limits and the response was exactly as badmike said: those who "used" level limits never leveled up their parties enough for it to matter! So really, NO ONE uses them.

    I like Jim's rule of "one elf per party", which is a good (transparent) method of achieving a desired genre emulation. I also like the idea of giving humans some racial benefits of their own to "balance it out" and encourage more human PCs. I'm not a slave to game balance, but I want at least a veneer of fairness between players.

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  8. zornhau: You might want to try Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. It's a VERY simple version of D&D, and easily houseruled to add in anything you might think it needs.

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  9. QUESTION: What's the simplest Fantasy RPG these days? Is there a AD&D Lite?

    I just posted about this elsewhere. Check out the Swords & Wizardy Quick Start, probably one of the best introductions to the hobby I've ever read. Consider it "OD&D Lite and Smart". 26 pages and includes everything you need for chargen, DM advice, a dungeon and good advice sprinkled throughout. I sent it to a group of kids (parents are family friends) with some dice about a month ago, and now they're hooked.

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  10. Unless you liberally interpreted the "GP = XP" rule, it was very hard to go up after 10th level because monsters and challenges were worth so little.

    Correct and that's one of the reasons why I think level limits, though I don't abhor them, are a very poor mechanism for "balancing" demihuman racial abilities with humans' lack of same. Unless you're playing a halfling, chances are you'll never get high enough to notice the limits anyway.

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  11. Halflings had a 1d6 for H.P. instead of the 1d8 of Fighters. It certainly made a difference in the good old days.

    I'd somehow forgotten that, but you're right, of course. Must be getting old :)

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  12. I also like the idea of giving humans some racial benefits of their own to "balance it out" and encourage more human PCs. I'm not a slave to game balance, but I want at least a veneer of fairness between players.

    My experience is that the only real "balance" necessary is to ensure that every character, regardless of his class and/or race, is given a fair chance to survive and advance. Most of the people I've played with over the years have chosen to play the characters they chose purely for the fun of it, without regard for the mechanical advantages or drawbacks. Some even played mechanically "crippled" characters because they thought it'd be fun to play a magic-user with only 9 Intelligence or a Fighter with only 8 Strength.

    Perhaps I've just been lucky.

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  13. Level limits were one of the first things I tossed out when I began running AD&D in the mid to late 70s. It just seemed to me too artificial a way to make the campaign humanocentric, which is what I wanted. It didn't occur to me to alter the EP tables. Instead I removed level limits and imposed EP multipliers to limit the demihumans. I can't recall the exact numbers, now, except that Halflings had a multiplier of .75 and were the least penalized.

    Maybe it's because I'm so heavily influenced by Tolkien, but I haven't a problem with "all demihuman" parties. In fact, played right, I think they can be an interesting change-up. Never did get to try one in practice, however.

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  14. What's funny is most of the most vocal proponents of level limits are the ones whose campaigns don't normally have characters that high a level anyway! They spend a lot of time and effort arguing a point that has very little effect on their game...why not just say "No level limits" and kill the elven bugger at 2nd level like they were going to do anyway? :)

    The problem is that we need lower level limits. Maybe Halfling 2, Dwarf 3, Elf 4.

    And even if we can agree that level limits are a lame mechanic, what about player choice? If a player wants to play a sucky halfling I support that decision.

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  15. "Elves and dwarves -- though not halflings -- require more XP to gain a particular level than do their human counterparts. It's a decent solution, I think..."

    I'm sympathetic, but any time I think about going in this direction myself it occurs to me that you need at least a 50% XP penalty to see a tangible difference (one level behind) due to the way geometric XP charts are set up. I feel like I'd have a riot on my hands if I announced that.

    I'll say that level limits do make a visible difference on the one-off high-level games I run, with players avoiding demihumans except for maybe a single dwarven thief (thereby satisfying the "second purpose" in James' post). Not remotely perfect, but it has had a tangible beneficial effect on some of my one-off games.

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  16. Whether as a DM or a player, I can't stand demi-human PCs. I never play them as a player, and I ban them as a DM.

    My cardinal problem with demi-human adventurers is that they seem like nothing more than funny-looking humans with some powers. If you want an adventurer who acts like a human, why not use a human?

    In chapter 8 of The Two Towers, Gimli (speaking of the Glittering Caves) says to Legolas: "No dwarf could be unmoved by such loveliness. None of Durin's race would mine those caves for stones or ore, not if diamonds and gold could be got there. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap--a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day--so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock."

    The above quote illustrates my conception of dwarves. They spend their lives in stonework. Elves would spend their lives tending meadows or forests. Halflings spend their lives eating, drinking, and smoking.

    Yes, on great occasion a demi-human might go on an adventure in extremis. But going on adventure-after-adventure, year after year, is far too much a human trait for me to take seriously in anyone but a human.

    Of course, all the above is only my opinion, and everyone is entitled to his opinion.

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  17. Personally, I find the notion of ENFORCING a Sword and Sorcery type world via rules is a poor design choice anyway.

    So much is made of the "sandbox" nature of early role playing supplements, but these "sandboxes" have to take place within a universe which was to be forever tied to the sort of fantasy settings that Gygax preferred? Meh.

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  18. In Mentzer D&D, its notable how banal the demi-human races are. They're not rare or wondrous living mysteries of the old world, they're just another ethnic group, a minority but common enough that encounters with them are never described as remarkable.

    Mentzer's also the iteration that introduced the rather strange work-around to level limits, the Attack Rank, perhaps the less said about that the better.

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  19. One interesting idea, which I liberally stole from T&T 6th edition, is to allow human PCs to have 3d6 rolled six times and then assigned to attributes as desired, whereby non-humans roll their attributes straight down the line. This does you no good if you have everyone roll straight anyway, but it can help mechanically reinforce that humans as a race are different, and perhaps more suited to adventuring.

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  20. I dont think I have ever played with anyone who used such a rule. When I got into AD&D, I did not even noticed that rule. I cant even think of a good reason to use it!

    The only time I played a balancing act to encourage more Humans, is to allow them to roll 5d6 (dropping the lowest two) for each Ability. It had the effect of making them like larger-then-life heroes - which I really like. This idea came from my years of playing Gamma World.

    I do like your idea about XP adjustments. It simple and elegant.

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  21. I don't understand the amount of virtual blood, sweat, and tears spewed over the Internet regarding level limits. Personally, I kind of like them. I don't see them as balancing, but rather a disincentive to play races of certain classes.

    I like how the level limits interact with the allowable classes in 1e to lead players to pick more archetypcial demi-human characters, but allow for some flexibility to play less common types of demi-humans.

    In B/X D&D, level limits are simply not all that relevant as a 10th level elf, for example, has about as many xp as most 12th or 13th level characters... the campaign's winding down by that point anyway.

    For players who don't like level limits... it's not like they're one of AD&D's ambiguous rules that no one can figure out. If your DM enforces it and it bothers you, play a character not subject to limits.

    For DM's... if you don't like them, change them. Nothing in any of the rules says otherwise. For all the admonishments given by Gygax in the rules, not once is level limits talked about. If it interferes with your ability to craft the npc you want to put together or just doesn't feel right to you, ignore them.

    Personally, I'd probably just not allow demi-humans before removing level limits. I think most of the 10% type xp penalties are silly based on the AD&D xp charts, having no real effect.

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  22. One of the nicest things about older D&D's slow levelling up (which JM has sort of pointed out before) is that it makes it so that each stage in a character's career is sort of a different game:

    -At low levels, characters are kind of like us--even a hit with an arrow can kill them and they have to be careful around anything hostile, no matter how weak it is.

    -At medium levels the characters can readily make use of special skills and abilities, but have to match them against the special skills an abilities of weirder and more dangerous foes.

    -At high levels, the characters are legendary heroes who face demons and eldritch horrors in apocalyptic battles.

    -At the highest levels, there was that elusive "end game" where you built a keep and all that.

    It seems like putting level limits on demihumans just makes it so those characters get to play less of the different games that make up the overarching game of d&d.

    It seems just kind of anti-fun.

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  23. Regarding Halflings in B/X play...also remember they have a limited weapon selection based on their size in the Moldvay rules (unlike the Holmes edition which allows "cut-down" versions). This is another reason NOT to jack up their XP per level.

    Just by the way...glad you're coming around to the "race as class" concept. I know I feel fairly liberated having embraced it myself!
    : )

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  24. So much is made of the "sandbox" nature of early role playing supplements, but these "sandboxes" have to take place within a universe which was to be forever tied to the sort of fantasy settings that Gygax preferred? Meh.

    While I'm sympathetic to this point, it's important to remember that D&D is an attempt to 'simulate' the feel of certain stories (storyworlds, really). If the goal was to make a good 'pure' adventure game, OD&D's success is certainly arguable. If the goal was to make a game, good or bad, that interestingly recalled the vibe of pulp fantasy and other storyworld-types, the clumsiness and ludic inadequacy/misguidedness of level limits are just the manageable costs of conjuring up the feeling.

    Optimizing for both 'accurate pulp feel' and 'compelling improvised story-play' is difficult enough today, and that's with the benefit of 35 years of pen-and-paper RPG evolution. Gygax's game had few precedents (and no commercial ones), so its incoherencies, while certainly open for criticism, are to be expected.

    QUESTION: What's the simplest Fantasy RPG these days? Is there a AD&D Lite?

    Savage Worlds is essentially D&D 3.0 with the stupid crap stripped away. It's not AD&D-like, but it's a strong pulp-gaming engine. And Risus is a cartoony but highly-adaptable game.

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  25. If a player wants to play a sucky halfling I support that decision.

    More to the point, sometimes a sucky halfling is a far more interesting and fun character than a very capable human with suspiciously good ability scores.

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  26. I'm sympathetic, but any time I think about going in this direction myself it occurs to me that you need at least a 50% XP penalty to see a tangible difference (one level behind) due to the way geometric XP charts are set up. I feel like I'd have a riot on my hands if I announced that.

    You raise a very good point. Hmm.

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  27. So much is made of the "sandbox" nature of early role playing supplements, but these "sandboxes" have to take place within a universe which was to be forever tied to the sort of fantasy settings that Gygax preferred? Meh.

    They don't have to, but experience teaches me that the farther one gets from the literary inspirations of Gygax and Arneson, the less suitable D&D is as a rules set. I've long argued, not uncontroversially, that D&D was never intended to be a "generic" fantasy game at all and attempts to treat it as such, especially by TSR, inadvertently lent ammunition to those who saw the game as "broken" in various ways.

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  28. In Mentzer D&D, its notable how banal the demi-human races are. They're not rare or wondrous living mysteries of the old world, they're just another ethnic group, a minority but common enough that encounters with them are never described as remarkable.

    I'm not sure Mentzer's edition was the only edition to be guilty of this particular sin, but I do agree that "demihumans are just another ethnic group" isn't a philosophy I particularly like.

    Mentzer's also the iteration that introduced the rather strange work-around to level limits, the Attack Rank, perhaps the less said about that the better.

    No disagreement on this score. Attack Rank was a terrible innovation.

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  29. I dont think I have ever played with anyone who used such a rule.

    Truly?

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  30. I don't understand the amount of virtual blood, sweat, and tears spewed over the Internet regarding level limits.

    I think, like ascending armor class, level limits are a rallying point for people who want to emphasize their connection to "the way things were." I'm very sympathetic to that, as you know, even when I don't necessarily agree with each and every jot and tittle held up as "essential" to "true" D&D. But I do think a line needs to be drawn somewhere and attempts to against foundational game mechanics run the risk of making "D&D" so vague a term as to be meaningless.

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  31. Just by the way...glad you're coming around to the "race as class" concept. I know I feel fairly liberated having embraced it myself!

    I still have my qualms with it from time to time, but, more and more, it just seems right -- mechanically elegant and strongly archetypal, which is exactly what I drew me to OD&D in the first place.

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  32. As I've grown older, I've come to really appreciate race-as-class. As James points out, it helps make the demi-humans archetypal and it emphasizes the variability of humans. In this regard, the benefit of being human is that you can be any class.

    In this context, the Cleric becomes important — it is the one class from early versions of D&D that only humans could be. Again, within this context, as one adds more classes — Thief, Paladin, Ranger, Bard, etc. — these should only be open to humans. This is the "balancing" factor that makes playing a human vs. a demi-human attractive. Variable XP and level limits then become secondary and optional.

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  33. I haven't read through the comments so maybe this has been said, but:

    Sir, you do Moldvay a disservice! Look at the hit die for Halflings - d6. Compare it to that for Fighters - d8. *This* is why both classes have the same XP progression.

    Personally halflings IMCs always use shortswords, the d6 damage is again 1 step less than the Fighter's d8 sword.

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  34. I've come to be all about race-as-class. You can easily rebuild a class or class-combination to make a race class as well. I reworked the AD&D Ranger to make a Cactus-man race for a player that requested it. I am all about "keeping the nonhumans down" however.

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  35. "There is so many other ways of dealing with an excess of demi humans."

    The point isn't neccessarily to cut down on the number of demihuman PCs, but to make it clear that, in D&D, humans are the stars. The greatest magic-user in the campaign world is going to be a human, and so is the mightiest fighter and the most potent cleric. Humans are number one and demihumans simply can't match them in terms of the potential for truly epic heroism (or anti-heroism). Demihumans are sidekicks, guest stars, second bananas.

    This is the in-game "reality" that level limits are intended to enforce, and they do a great job of it, IMHO. I wouldn't call a game D&D without them.

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  36. To further emphasize the point, how many famous demihuman PCs were there in the Lake Geneva Greyhawk campaign? I can't think of many. Instead, they seem to have appeared more as NPCs and henchmen. Sidekicks and extras, in other words.

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  37. I NEVER used level limits based on race; however, I would limit max level by PC's primary ability

    It defies logic to believe an elf with a life expectancy of 400+ years and an 18 intelligence could only become a 9th level mage; while a human with a life span of 85 years could achieve an unlimited level in a discipline that requires a tremendous committment of time, research and study . . .

    “The common belief that medical science has greatly lengthened life is a misconception, arising from the failure to distinguish between life span and life expectancy. Life span is the average duration of life in persons who have avoided all disease and accidents. . . The span of life is fixed biologically and has been so for millennia. For most persons, the clock runs down by the 85th year, and it seems to make little difference whether one inhabits a luxurious urban apartment or a primitive hut. . . actuaries have shown that a maximum life span of 115 years is an extreme rarity, occurring only once in 2.1 billion lives.”
    Adams & Victor, Principles of Neurology, p.526, 1993.

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  38. In the late '90s, I started an "old school" AD&D game using just the core 2nd edition rules, which were current at the time. The first rule I tossed out was level limits. To encourage a more humanocentric game, I granted all human PCs a 10% XP bonus. I didn't even think of penalizing the demi-humans instead.

    We ended up with about half the PCs being human, I think -- far more than I'd experienced in the early 1980s when playing AD&D 1st ed. with no level limits.

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  39. Here's an alternative to enforced level limits: simply double the experience current experience target for demi humans to advance beyond the normal limits. Human classes flatten out in the amount of XP required at the top end of the levels, simply keep doubling the demihuman's targets and allow them to keep advancing. This makes very high level demihumans extraordinarily rare, while still allowing a player to keep his favourite character.

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  40. The advantage of humans to play any class is a metagaming advantage. Once you choose a class, a demihuman of the same class (if it exists) will practically always be "better" than the corresponding human (i.e. with some mechanical advantage). You do not play "any class", you play just ONE class. So, either the correspondence is one to one (i.e. you want a Paladin or Ranger, then you are human), or the advantage may be pointless.
    Any mechanic which does not enforce "balance" from level 1 is IMO useless, since it either relies on potential choices (e.g. humans may choose any class) or it may never see the light of the day (e.g. dwarves are limited to 8th level fighter).
    One of the advantages of Classic D&D is that a player pays the cost of his choice from the start. True, there are level limits, but at least in Mentzer there is an attempt at getting rid of them.
    I quite like Castles & Crsuades idea of using Primes to give advantages to humans.
    For my next AD&D 2e games, I will give humans more slots to devote to weapon proficiencies and nonweapon proficiencies (luckily in 2e level limits are almost nonexistent, and they can be optionally removed with increasing XP cost).

    Antonio

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  41. What Zak said: Level limits always bother me because if balance is their goal, they don't provide it: they just shorten the game for some players. Likewise the notion that powerful high-level MUs are "balanced" by the class's powerless low level experience is clearly false: instead you have a game where one character is mismatched vis-a-vis the rest of the party almost constantly, except for a sweet spot around 6th level.

    Don't get me wrong: I'm not a balance-fetishist. There's nothing inherently wrong with having mismatches (although I prefer mismatches of kind to those of degree of effectiveness), I'm just pointing out that the balance argument doesn't work.

    Level limits bother me on another front, too, though. They place explicit limits on a character's potential, which seems like anathema to the whole concept of level advancement: I'd've thought you'd either want characters and adventures to scale up or not.

    But then, I may be in a minority here in not agreeing that humans have to "win." I rather like games where you can play a machine, or something outright alien, and I don't see why you shouldn't, or why those characters shouldn't come out on top. The PCs are the heroes of their adventures: I simply don't buy the idea that some of them are the "sidekicks" of the others on mechanical grounds, and really, if you were running a cowboy game would you limit the potential of native American characters because "Tonto's a sidekick"?

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  42. What I forgot in that last long comment:
    1) yes, I love race-as-class, and I think it "fixes" whatever problem might be here. Races should have both advantages and disadvantages WRT each other (and if they don't, they can be imported through gameworld social behaviours). I would support more class-as-race, actually, and some classes (barbarian, for those that use them) seem to edge in this direction anyway - especially when you incorporate stuff like "chaos taint" for MUs.
    2) don't the advantages of race kind of iron out at higher levels anyway, with magic items that mimic infravision, the strong effect of higher hit dice on character effectiveness, the effects of leveling up on saving throws etc? I at least don't see racial mechanical advantages increasing as levels go up.

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  43. I’ve never really cared about level limits. For one thing, I hardly ever play demihumans. For another, I’ve never actually seen a PC reach their limit.

    I’ve read many of Gary’s explanations about them, but the way they were steadily increased—even under Gary’s leadership—tends to make me think that they weren’t really effective no matter what the point was.

    I just have to grin at the “400yo elf vs. 85yo human” kind of thing, though. As if time were the only possible factor. (Although, personally, I know a longer lifespan would tend to make me less ambitious, and I’m human.) As if humans in the game have to have “realistic” lifespans (which one could argue 85 years is not) and demihumans have to have much longer than human lifespans. The great thing about fantasy is that you can change and rationalize just about anything. ^_^

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  44. I just finished reading the D&D Rules Cyclopedia this week. (Found at a yard sale for $1). I found the level limits on demi-humans absurd. Humans can play until 36th level, but a Dwarf tops out at 12th? Yeah, that's fun for the player of the Dwarven character.

    I did a review of the book on my YouTube channel today actually.

    http://www.youtube.com/user/tetsubo57

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  45. Attack ranks effectively extended the level limits to the range 24-27. Not very elegant, but they worked in practice.

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  46. richard:
    "and really, if you were running a cowboy game would you limit the potential of native American characters because "Tonto's a sidekick"?"

    That's a fascinating idea, an old school Western game where the 'Red Savage' (to paraphrase Burroughs) class tops out at 12th level?

    Hmm, one thing level limits do - with limits, you actually do get The Return part of the Hero's Journey, where the 8th level Halfling returns to his Shire to retire. It's ironic that it's the humans who never get to complete their journey.

    I note that in 4e, PCS don't 'return', after 30th level they 'transcend' into demigods and virtual demigods. BECMI of course was similar. But this is making me think that maybe if you want your game to be anything like a myth-arc, you need to have a level cap, for everyone.

    Maybe after the last battle, the PCs retire peacefully. Maybe they get called out of retirement for one final Gotterdammerung, like Beowulf and the dragon.

    I think Moldvay-Cook D&D could handle this nicely just by capping humans at 14th level, very similar to Dwarf-12 and Elf-10.

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  47. Even without capping humans at 14th level... Unless you expand on the ideas given in the Expert Set, levels past 14th don’t really mean all that much in the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh game.

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  48. the more I think about this business of level caps as compensation for a first level power mismatch between humans and demihumans, the more inclined I am to run a sword and planet game in which all the humans start out as James' Stranger class, with all its advantages, and can then advance in one of the usual 4 classes from 2nd level. From a minimaxing mechanical perspective, I suspect I'd get a party full of humans.

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  49. It seems to me it all comes down to whether your game world has a bias toward humans. The idea of stacking the deck heavily to push everyone into being humans is very clearly a cultural bias that's been pretty thoroughly copped to by Gygax in at least one interview. He was more into Thieve's World or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser books where so far as I remember there weren't >any< "demihumans". Our group was three guys and two girls, all teenagers who were high on Tolkien, Ursula le Guinn and others so non humans were well represented. Naturally the level limits were liberally interpreted.

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  50. My take on level limits is that is that if demi-humans were so drastically different, i.e. gray elves who live to 900 years and have different soul migration than do humans, then the consciousness and psychology of the demi-humans would be so drastically different, that it is impossible for a human PLAYER to adequately portray an elf character!

    For that reason, there are VERY few demi-humans in the game, and they are seldom seen (except the war-like ones), and I don't allow non-human player characters. I would relent if someone challenged me, and would allow a half-elf or a half-orc character, and I would put so much static along the lines of player being perceived as a "half-breed", stranger, rejected by both halves that it would take a dedicated player to run a demi-human charcater. But then again, given the racism and xenophobia of the middle ages, how would the Church, the men at arms and te local peasants react if there appeared among them a fairy being, with pointed ears, that talks like a castrato and can perform miracles (magic)! Would the local clergy tink that this being an angel coem down to walk among us or a dangerous witch sent by Satan to do mischief among the good people? Any guesses as to how the local inquisition will react?

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  52. @Brooze: given the racism and xenophobia of the middle ages

    I see what you're getting at here, and I know I'm being pedantic, but please be patient with me for a moment: (a) the whole idea of a mentally unfree, intolerant medieval period (the opposite of our "enlightened modernity") is starting to crumble in academia, and the inquisition is really more of an early modern entity... which doesn't mean the bulk of early modern people were mentally unfree. (b) trying to fit any "home" or "source" historical period to D&D is a miserable and misleading activity, even if EGG himself indulged in it sometimes. I think appeals to popular conceptions of "the medieval" are almost never helpful (and if I were to break my own injunction and try to assign a period, based on equipment and implicit attitudes about hirelings, monsters, wilderlands etc I'd probably go with early settler Americas - so early modern, actually).
    /pedantry.

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  53. To say that a human player can't roleplay a non human intelligence would seem to fly in the face of a tradition of science fiction that goes back (at least) to Johnathan Swift, or perhaps even Shakespeare' Faerie folk "what fools these mortals be."

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