Thursday 9 August 2012

Advanced Labyrinth Lord: Equalising Humans

It's an old conundrum of AD&D: the balance of humans vs demi-humans. If you look at a mixture of 1st level characters of various race/class combinations, the demi-humans are clearly way more powerful with their infravision, huge saving throw bonuses, and the ability to potentially have the complete abilities of up to three classes. All these things give them an enormous advantage compared to their full-human brethren. In a dangerous old-school campaign, 1st level demi-humans are way more likely to make it to 2nd level -- that's the fact.

And what do humans get as a balance? No level limits.

So that's the traditional state of play. Now, in my experience this is not a balanced situation, not at all. The problem lies in the fact that no campaign I've ever played or run has reached the levels of experience where demi-human level limits kick in. And I think this is a common experience. (This is with the exception perhaps of long campaigns when I was a kid, but then we were playing BECMI, not AD&D, so it an wasn't issue.) Thus, players of demi-humans basically get all this cool stuff "for free" as it were, leaving their human comrades feeling a little under-par.

I have to say at this juncture that I don't care about balance purely for its own sake, in mechanical terms (for therein lies the road to 4e). The only reason I'm drawn to consider this is my observations of how players of "lesser races" (i.e. humans) feel overwhelmed by their "do anything, +4 on saves, see in the dark, oh and by the way I speak 7 languages" counterparts.

A novel remedy to the situation came to my mind the other day, which I shall describe.

1. Remove Limits
No level limits for demi-humans. Gone. They're rarely relevant anyway, and do nothing to create a sense of balance. Limits of class by race could also optionally be removed, if you want to go all the way.

2. Remove Some Benefits
Firstly multi-classing. As I've discussed before, that's the real killer for me, resulting in characters who can "do anything" -- honestly, who needs a thief when you have a multi-classed magic-user / thief at hand?

As a second reduction in demi-human power I'd suggest the removal of infravision from all playable races. It seems like only a minor perk on the face of it, but in practice is extremely useful (depending on how lenient the DM's interpretation of its precision is). I just find it more atmospheric when PCs are venturing into dark places with naught but a feebly flickering flame to guide them.

3. Boost Humans
In order to make humans attractive, all that remains is to give them a few perks in the same order of magnitude as the demi-human racial abilities (things like the dwarven stonework abilities, extra languages, saving throw bonuses, etc).

Here's what I thought of, though of course many other things would be possible.

  • +1 to any two attributes (player's choice).
  • No attribute limits (min 3 / max 18 for all scores).
And then, to mimic the traditional idea that humans are "more flexible" (odd that they were the ones who couldn't multi-class...), how about giving them the choice of some small bits and pieces of other class' abilities. Choose one of the following:
  • Use any weapon without penalty. (Magic-users only.)
  • Wear one better armour than usually allowed. (Thieves or magic-users only.)
  • One thief skill which advances with level. (Non-thieves only.)
  • Ability to cast one 1st level magic-user spell, chosen at random from the list in LL. (Non-magic-users only.)
  • Ability to cast one 1st level clerical spell, chosen at random from the list in LL. (Non-clerics only.)
  • Turn undead once a day as a cleric of equal level. (Non-clerics only.)
  • +4 to one saving throw (player's choice).
I reckon that should roughly equalise the field.


  1. Not the infravision! Think of the ratmen!

    1. They love their fatty tallow candles though, just think about that...

  2. I have always been okay with doubling or tripling XP requirements for demi-humans and nixing level limits. Especially for the multi-class options and extended age. So double xp for the triple classed and triple for double and single classed. I have a F/M/T languishing at 2/1/2 while other players are already at 5th level. It does make one pause in the short term. Conversely in a long campaign, the humans would be long dead...

    1. Yeah I think in the long run a greatly reduced advancement speed can definitely work. One thing I had in mind when writing this post, which I didn't explicitly mention, was that I'm thinking about short campaigns or one-shots involving low level characters. In these cases I feel that multi-classing is just unfair.

    2. One idea I had (never tried), was to have an equal share of experience fall into the cracks between each class. e.g. If a M-U/Thief earns 300 experience points-100 goes to M-U, 100 to Thief, & 100 falls into the cracks and is lost. A triple multiclass has experience divided by five and 2/5ths is lost; with 1/5th going to each class.
      But, yeah, this doesn't help with one shots.


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