Monstrous PCs in 1st Edition AD&D #ADnD #DnD #RPG

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A conversation started up (again) on Facebook about whether players could play monstrous races as their PCs. There’s a sharp divide between old-school and modern gamers on this topic, but I’m going to stick with 1st Edition AD&D (“1e“) for the purposes of this discussion. What does Lord Gygax say?

On occasion one player or another will evidence a strong desire to operate as a monster, conceiving a playable character as a strong demon, a devil, a dragon, or one of the most powerful sort of undead creatures. This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign. A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind.

ADVANCED D&D is unquestionably “humanocentric”, with demi-humans, semi-humans, and humanoids in various orbits around the sun of humanity.

1e Dungeon Masters Guide, page 21.

So, it would seem that monsters may not be PCs. But wait! There’s more! He later went on to say:

My Facebook friend, Benoist, opined that Lord Gygax’s views weren’t hypocritical but rather evolved as the game did. This is a compelling explanation, though for the reasons I state below, I don’t think I’d allow a Balrog/Balor PC.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me that I had the order in which these were written backwards.

In any event, as someone who hasn’t (really) played 1e since 1982, and is thus a “modern” player, I’m inclined to give players more options rather than fewer. However, I don’t want to upset the game as it was designed to be played, and I’m not going to create special rules for making, e.g., dragons playable. In other words, I want to find a more expansive answer that already exists within the system itself. So, where should I draw the line?

Not All Writeups Are the Same

There are several monsters that have write ups much more extensive than the rest, and not because they’re complex creatures. Rather, these monsters have cultural write ups, including use of “human weapons,” social structure, and sometimes even eligible class levels. Among them are elves, halflings, dwarves, and gnomes, all playable races. So why shouldn’t the other ones also be playable races? Those other monsters, with varying degrees of detail, are bugbears, centaurs, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, ixitxachitl, jackalweres, kobolds, lizard men, locathah (don’t even have a natural attack), mermen, nixies, ogres, orcs, sahuagins, tritons, troglodytes, and wererats. Surprisingly, satyrs are not among this group. (I may have missed a few.)

Some Practical Concerns

As I’ve written, I want to include alignment (and reputation), and evil campaigns aren’t the norm, so any gnoll PCs would have to be exceptions to the general rule. I have no problem with that. In fact, I think it’s naïve to think that all creatures of a given type are hard-and-fast stuck with a particular alignment. Rather, their inherent alignment will linger in the form of a particular temperament, so I can live with typically evil races being used as PCs even in a “good” campaign.

But what do you do with a centaur? Modern gamers handwave away the practical issues with centaurs adventuring in dungeons, but that’s not the way 1e works. “Horses (and ponies) are not sufficiently agile to take into dungeons” (1e Monster Manual, p. 53). As I’ve repeatedly said, for better or worse I want to work within that system, so I must give that one more thought. Mermen and other aquatic races are out, as I have trouble dealing with low-level aquatic adventures. I wouldn’t know where to begin with a low-level party of humans and tritons. (More on that tomorrow.)

Also, the write ups for kobolds (for example) don’t expressly contemplate class levels (though Ixitxachitl do!). Instead, they simply point out that there are more powerful versions of the monster. Perhaps those creatures should be excluded, which would knock out most that I’ve listed. Nixies certainly should be, if for no other reason than their built-in ability to charm. Again, I must think this through on a creature-by-creature basis, needing to come up with reasonable limits on class levels and ability scores just as playable races have. The wealth of experience that exists on social media will help me form my opinions or point me to resources where others have already done this. This post is just the start of my conversation, not the end of it.

But no, you can’t play a balor in my game. As always, YMMV.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

3 thoughts on “Monstrous PCs in 1st Edition AD&D #ADnD #DnD #RPG

  1. One of the first games I played in allowed monster PCs. How that DM worked it was that you would play as a first level PC, with the abilities and hit points and saving throws of first level human of that class, and that any monstrous abilities would be “pro-rated” so that you would have full abilities when you obtained the level equal to the hit die of the monster.

    For example, I had a character who was a wraith monk. Since wraiths are 4 hit die monsters, at first level I drained 1/4 of a level with a touch attack. My character was also incorporeal, which was both a benefit and a disadvantage, since I could only manipulate objects that were either silver-coated or magical. For purposes of damaging that character, pretty much any monster with a magical or spell-like ability was considered a magic weapon.

    Later on that same group got a mind flayer as a PC (the pre-monster manual version–from Eldritch Wizardry) but as I recall he didn’t live long–he would have had to make it to 8th level to have the full abilities of the monster.

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