Monday, August 5, 2013

Diversity Quotas and the Traditional Adventuring Party

It's interesting to me, as a Pulp Fantasy fan, that the "traditional adventuring party" of D&D (and its attendant offspring) has been so thoroughly "multi-racial". Not only does the well-balanced party contain the (hopefully) optimum range of character classes to overcome the various challenges they will traditionally face, it is also standard to have many different player races represented.

Obviously (and I'm using "obviously" here because it seems obvious to me, perhaps I'm wrong) this must be some sort of holdover from the composition of the Fellowship presented in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Representatives of each "good" race band together to take on the Dark Lord.

How much sense does that make, however, in the treasure hunting / mercenary role most adventuring parties play? Also, to what extent did the mechanics of the earlier systems influence the "multi-racial" party. For a long while, only demi-humans could multi-class. If you wanted to wield sword and spell at the same time, you kind of had to play an elf. Similarly, if you wanted your 1st level thief to have more than a 10 or 15% chance to pick a lock or whatever, it helped to play a halfling and soak up all those sweet bonuses. Then there are things like seeing in the dark, never growing old, etc, etc.

Without all those mechanical differences (or, to be fair, "advantages"), would the multi-racial party still be as common? What if only humans could be warrior-mages, or got much better thieving abilities than halflings? To be honest, I can't really remember anyone playing an elf or dwarf much different than they would a human, personality and mannerism-wise, aside from the usual strereotypes (arrogant elf, grumpy dwarf, mischievous halfling). Where was the real depth, the sense of playing or interacting with what should have been wholly alien personalities and mannerisms.

Then there is the question of human diversity - why have D&D and its offspring shied away from presenting more mechanical variety for different types of humans. This was something I thought Rolemaster did admirably, with "Rural", "Urban", "High" Men and so on. As a Pulp fan, I'd rather see a party of Mystic Easterners, Savage Southrons, Unkempt Northmen, and Sneering Imperials than yet another munchkin convention. But that's just me?

What are your thoughts on the "traditionally diverse" adventuring party?


  1. If the GM isn't sleeping on the job, seeing in the dark is an enormous advantage that's really hard to pass up even for players who have absolutely no interest in min/maxing or otherwise gaming the system. Just having humans there seems to put the others' lives in jeopardy. I if I was an demihuman that would be my overriding consideration. The dwarf's speed is also a considerable drawback, however, leaving the elf and half elf. And yes, if the advantage wasn't there the temptation to play them would diminish in kind.

  2. In the hands of many GMs, cultural differences devolve way too easily into racist caricatures, especially when mechanical bonuses and penalties come into play. It's one thing to say non-humans all fall into certain stereotypes, but it feels very different when you're talking about humans.
    I'm not necessarily going to call him a klansman if a GM tells me that all the dark-skinned humans in his world come from primitive warrior cultures and therefore get -1 to Int and +1 to Str, but it's certainly going to put me on guard.

  3. ...and if the GM doesn't do it, some thoughtless min-maxer is likely to push it over the edge into really uncomfortable territory with his roleplaying.

    1. He could have a field day:

  4. I recently went back to the original rules, because I'd had too many people insisting on being Dwarven clerics. They just seem wrong. I admit I prefer using an actual "real" world myth system to an invented one. (I'd also dropped multi-class in using 2nd ed Players Option rules.) I also stepped away from the idea of a "mixed" city. It's mostly humans with an elvish corner, a dwarf ghetto, and halflings are rare enough they get called lad. The more I consider Elves as a long lived race, the harder it is to justify most casual interaction.

    As for races of humans,I find myself usually using celtic myths and norse myths and drawing heavily on creating a Norman (Norse) Lord vs. Saxon (Celt) Peasant vibe. So I can mix in a class struggle. I added in a race of Henotheist traders, who dressed distinctly, followed a different magic path and were the occasional victims of riots (to be fair one of a dozen groups who get rioted against.) I'd thought I was making Phoenician beaker people, only to have someone say "oh Jews" the first time I trotted them out. I hadn't really made the connection.

    Truthfully, once you've read Mein Kampf or had a heavy dose of nazi ideology for a class or paper, Tolkien gets a little creepy with his men of NĂºmenor and the inferior easterners. R. Howard's racism was pretty open, but Tolkien's subtle form just makes you feel a bit wrong for not noticing.

    I've avoided the black/white dynamic entirely, despite having had a mixture of races in cosmopolitan empires, more than a bit because I've only played D&D with one black person over the years and he'd made a few remarks about the only black guy in the manual being in a leopard skin. I also remember him being pretty happy when Conan the Destroyer came out and Wilt Chamberlin was in it.

    I wrote something on whetehr D&D is white game here,

    which is why I avoid it more often than not.

    They avoided it at TSR as well. Oriental Adventures was out by 1985, yet Al-Qadim didn't come out till 1992 for the black kid looking to play a Moor.



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