May 3, 2012 by deadorcs
There has been a lot of talk lately, particularly in recent Rule-Of-Three posts by WotC, regarding a thing called “rarity” when speaking of races and classes in Dungeons & Dragons. There is some thought that races and classes should be split up and classified according to how common they are in the default game rules. It’s an interesting topic, and I thought I share my thoughts about it here. However, before I get started, there’s one little thing I want to clear up when speaking of rarity of races or classes:
Rarity refers to the frequency a race appears in the WORLD, not within a GROUP at the gaming table. I’ll cover that last statement at the end of this post, but for now, when I speak of rarity, it’s the former meaning. Let’s take a gander at this, shall we?
I guess I should clarify something before speaking of race. It’s an easy term to use, but a more accurate term would be “species”. In common usage we refer to, human, dwarf, elf, halfling, gnome, etc. as being races, when actually they’re different species. I’ll be using the term “race” in that fashion only.
Where was I? Right. Race and rarity. There seems to be a consensus with those that play DnD, that certain races in the game should be more common than others. It’s a well established (even ingrained) trope that four major races have always held sway over the default game setting – Humans, Elves, Dwarves, & Halflings. Other races, such as Gnomes, Half-Orcs, Half-Elves, Dragonborn, and Tieflings are either uncommon or rare. There’s a certain logic to this, as DnD has long established the existence of certain races and added others as the game progressed. But does it have to be this way? Who’s to say that the default race isn’t Gnomes and the rest of us (Dwarves, Humans, etc.) are just interlopers in a Gnomish world?
Still, I think for a default setting, using the established tropes is a good idea. Yes, not everyone knows what an Elf is, but it really is safe to say that most people have some idea. Same with Dwarves. More people might not get what a Halfling is at first, but if you say, “Hobbit”, the light bulb will go on. That’s not to say that other races aren’t invited to the party. However, adding a rarity component adds to the story possibilities of the character with that race. Maybe Gnomes are an ancient race, nearly extinct, but a few hold on in a corner of the world. Maybe Dragonborn come from an entirely different continent, far away from the developed world. Or perhaps Tieflings are actually from another plane altogether, stranded here by a terrible curse and unable to return. The possibilities are endless.
For my own two cents, I’d allow for DnDNext to maintain an understanding that certain races should be more common than others. Doing so establishes a certain familiar baseline and is expandable by using additional supplements or specific campaign settings. If I were pulling the strings, here’s how I’d break it down:
Common – Human, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling
Uncommon – Gnome, Half-Elf, Orc*, Goblin**
Rare – Dragonborn, Tieflings, Everything Else
*You read that correctly. I’m in favor of dropping Half-Orcs and just going with full on Orcs. Give them a barbaric lifestyle that may or may not directly compete with civilization.
**I think Goblins should be elevated as a standard PC class. I believe Pathfinder has already done this, but I could be mistaken. Time to jump on board the Goblin train. You can read about how I think Goblins should be treated HERE.
Like race, class can also be thought of in terms of rarity. This subject is a little trickier, though, because who’s to say what heroic professions (character classes) exist in a basic fantasy campaign? While it may seem to some that Paladins are much rarer than say, Fighters, it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe every town has a unit of Paladins that protect the local church. Perhaps every Wizards’ college has a section devoted only to Illusionists. Maybe Thieves’ Guilds and Assassins’ Guilds work hand in hand, equally preying off of the rest of society.
I have to admit, I’m neutral on this issue. While I can see how the basic four classes of Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, and Thief could be seen as more common than other classes, I can imagine campaign settings where other types of classes are more common, instead. Since the 4th Edition of DnD was launched, there have been 25+ classes (many more when you include sub-classes and hybrids) released in various books and settings. It would be easy to take just about any eight of these classes and build an entire campaign setting. Thus, assigning rarity to class is probably a weak methodology.
How would I do it if I were in charge of DnDNext? Well, I’d launch the product with the four basic classes mentioned above, plus 4 more based on play testing input. Likely candidates include Paladin, Ranger, Bard, Barbarian, Assassin, Sorcerer and Warlock. Even better might be a plan to reinstate sub-classes. Ranger becomes a specialized Fighter, Paladin becomes a specialized Cleric, etc. As I participate in the public play test coming in May, I’ll be looking forward to what my choices in this area will be.
At The Table
I want to reemphasize that all of this talk about rarity has to do only with rarity IN THE GAME WORLD. Some folks confuse rarity to mean how many of a certain kind of race or class can play at the table at the same time. For me, this is never an issue. While it may not make for a diverse group, if every player at the table wanted to play a Dragonborn Illusionist, I’d allow it. It might be a pretty short adventure, but you never know. I don’t believe DMs should limit a player’s choices unless it conflicts with their established campaign setting. A flexible DM should allow just about any combination, in order for the players to experience the game as they want to play it.
My name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game