An Essay on Race-As-Class for 5th Edition and Other Modern Games

On Race-As-Class (this is a long essay):

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TL;DR: Classes are too vague right now for Race-As-Class to work in 5E; redefining classes for humans to be about skills and races to be about inherent abilities solves this issue. READ BELOW FOR MORE.

So I been thinking on it. A lot of people ask me things like "Why can't an elf be a wizard?" or "Why can only humans be thieves?" In certain rivers of thought, these people are right, but I've been thinking back to my times before gaming, back when I was all about that fantasy lit, and it made me wonder.

In the Lord of the Rings, elves aren't wizards or sorcerers. They aren't fighters either. Magic and war come to them like breath does to a human--for them, weaving a spell is no different then us swinging a sword or talking shit. Yeah it might still take effort, but it's a virtually effortless process. Dwarves, on the otherhand, can create magical objects with no problem, but no dwarf can cast a spell--it is beyond their reckoning to do so, because as a creature they are not spellcasters.

This, I think, is the reasoning I use for Race-as-Class for being a thing. An Elf is a natural born warrior and spellcaster. A Dwarf is a naturally hardy creature with the ability to create magical objects. Thee are things that change and evolve for the individual as they grow; Legolas clearly focuses on his martial side, while someone like Galadriel is clearly spending her eons mastering her magic.

HOWEVER there is a problem with this, and that is the idea of Classes.

What a Class is, is not written in stone. For some people, classes are real things in world--people refer to others as clerics and bards and what not. To others, they're just an idea represented differently in their world, like skalds or chosen priests. The only thing these two share in common is that there is a bundle of mechanical features called a class that players can choose from. By making this separate from race, you can both create more classes, and also streamline things, making the game still have moving parts but ultimately easier to pick up and play.

This is mainly because of what the classes are. Wizard, fighter, rogue, bard, warlock--these are things that have been made universal or otherwise cobbled together just for the sake of making 5E easier to manage. This is not a bad thing; it has worked, given how popular the game is.

In order to make Race-As-Class work, the classes have to be different. There can't just be a Fighter class; the Wizard class can't be something you can multi-class into; things have to be one step more defined, and that means sacrificing a bit of the genericness in order to compensate for having Race-As-Class function.

This leaves one question unaddressed; why is there no human class? I've thought about this too, and my ultimate answer is: humans aren't special enough to have a class built around them. To be human is to be the baseline--it's where all points of reference both in game and out of game start and end. Humans aren't defined but what innate powers they can cultivate and master, but instead by what skills they can pick up. You can almost make this argument for Elves, who master many things in their near infinite lifespans, but ultimately I feel that the things Elves most focus on are the things unique to them, and the other skills (poetry, smithing, etc) aren't the same skills a human has to master (thievery, animal handling) because Elves are magical and already have these inherent abilities.

To put it another way, Elves are to thieves as humans are to pixies; they are totally different in all ways, and don't share the same mindset biologically or spiritually for there to be a cross between the two. This road goes two ways; there are things the Elf will learn that the human never will or never wanted too.

So, in modern games, I propose that for Race-As-Class to work, in the terms of the ubiquitous 5E, you have to redesign the classes from the ground up as something different. Classes for humans need to be focused on the skills they pick up; classes for races are focused on the skills they're mastering. Your Elf character, over their adventure, is mastering the magic inside of them and their own natural abilities and also learning some new things over this relatively short period of time. But for a human, for who this period of time is more significant as they are not immortal, they are trying desperately to polish their skills in order to survive and overcome the next challenge. This slight nuance creates an interesting dynamic in the party, in the roleplay it spawns, and in the mechanics themselves, and helps diversify things without adding any burdening complexity and instead creates a different type of game altogether. Maybe--I have to test it out first.

So then, how do I plan to apply this?

My goal is to make classes that work on this paradigm. 4 Race-As-Classes, 4 Human-Skill classes.

The 3 Race-As-Classes I want to explore right now are:

- Elf
- Medusa
- Tiefling
- Dwarf

There are only three Human-Skill Classes I think I need to make. The reason for this is because the ROGUE class in base 5E is probably the game's best designed class for what I want to do.

So in addition to ROGUE, I want to make:

- Warlord
- Witch
- Narcosa


A lot of this I already put a lot of work into; my Warlord, I think, is done and relatively balanced, and my Witch and Narcosa are written and in need of playtesting. The race-as-classes I haven't touched.

In theory, if this works, I'll probably just make like a 5.5E or something in the way I envision it. But if it doesn't, either because I fail as a game designer or because no one wants to play this, well at least I learned a lot from it.

Thus, Race-As-Class.