Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Demi-Humans and Level Adjustments

Gary Gygax once commented that the purpose of limiting demi-human level advancement in OD&D was to promote a human-dominated world, as was seen in most fantasy literature. Humans were the only race that could advance to any level in any class, and that was intended to be the incentive to play the over the front-loaded powers of the dwarf or (in the extreme case) the elf.

When 3rd edition came along, the limits on the demi-humans were removed, but they were also brought into line with the power level of the human. I think that was a bad move from a fluff standpoint (although it made the game simpler to learn and had more variety of play).

The ancient demi-human races of legend had strange supernatural that made them creatures of wonder to the humans that met them. These were the dwarves that crafted Thor's hammer or turned to stone in sunlight. These were the elves that drew men into strange and unknowable realms, or cast a thousand-year sleep on a helpless king. They should feel supernatural, not just different.

At the same time, as far as Galadran is concerned, these ancient races ruled in the Days Before Days, the unknowable length of time before the Age of Broken Dreams and the creation of the human race. They were masters of magic and weird technologies, the secrets of which have been lost in the intervening centuries of strife and war. They should feel powerful but fallen, their time forever replaced by the flexible and innovative human race, despite their incredible natural advantages. Their fall from grace should feel like a loss to them as well.

But how to represent them? How to make the demi-humans more powerful, but at the same time keep the world human-dominated, as Gygax originally intended?

The answer is simple: make all the demi-human races have a Level Adjustment of at least +1.

This solves all the problems: A Level Adjustment allows for more front-loading of a supernatural being, while penalizing them by slowing the rate at which they advance in level. It allows human to have greater levels of skill at the same "level," representing their mental flexibility and the ease at which they learn.

This lets my demi-humans have vastly different supernatural abilities, while keeping them playable, making them appear more than just "different" humans, and maintains game balance.

I'm off to build the adjustment - next play session will be updated in 2 days.