A group of great friends and I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for a few years now, specifically 4th Edition. Over the years our group has grown, and it reached the point where I felt like the newest players would benefit from a comprehensive summary of the campaign. So as the ‘Dungeon Master’ in our group, I’ve been writing that document.
I began by describing the player-characters, but in the process I had an interesting realization.
Unused Race and Class Combinations
There are three Player’s Handbooks. Combined they present seventeen races and twenty-two classes. Off the top of your head, do you know how many possible race and class combinations that makes?
Yet I am willing to bet that no one who plays 4th Edition has seen more than twenty. This struck me as a waste of interesting possibilities. I started thinking about why I have never seen a dwarven sorcerer or a half-orc bard or an eladrin warden. Naturally I thought about the character creation process, and there I found the explanation.
There’s No Benefit to Experimentation
I always see players create their characters in one of two ways.
First they decide on what race interests them the most. Then they look at the classes whose key attributes are the same as their racial attribute bonuses.
Or they decide on their class first. Then they use the key attributes of that class to filter through the races, searching for one whose bonuses align with the class.
For example, one player-character in our campaign is a half-orc warlord. The most important attributes for a warlord are strength, charisma, and intelligence. Half-orcs begin with bonuses to strength and dexterity. The race and class complement each other, so the choice makes perfect sense; it is the best thing to do simply in terms of game mechanics.
But why have I never seen a dwarven sorcerer? Because the key attributes for sorcerer are charisma, dexterity, and strength. Dwarves get bonuses to wisdom and constitution. The racial benefits do not line-up with the class. I believe this is exactly what reduces 4th Edition to a small handful of race-and-class combinations despite the fact there are so many available possibilities.
Please don’t misinterpret me as implying that any player is wrong for choosing races and classes whose attributes complement one another. It is a great way to play the game. And I’ve had plenty of fun even though I have never seen anyone roll-up a half-orc bard.
Nonetheless, 4th Edition encourages players to match their races and classes in order to maximize the benefits. This cuts down a huge number of potential combinations that players could use. The more I think about it, the more I see it as a design flaw.
One Possible Fix
Every race gets a ‘+2’ bonus for two attributes. Those two attributes are fixed, with the exception of humans. They get to apply those bonuses to two attributes of their choice.
I believe players would be more willing to play unconventional race-and-class combinations if every race allowed the player to choose which attributes to boost, exactly like humans. Who says a half-orc cannot be charismatic enough to be a bard? Maybe he is more charismatic and intelligent because he is weaker (i.e. lower strength) than his half-orc peers, and so he had to develop a sharp mind and personality to make it through life.
If every race could apply their benefits to two attributes of their choice then I believe we would see a lot more variety in player-characters. What do you guys think?