Reading OD&D from cover to cover: The races

So next up in our tour through the OD&D rules in the LBB are the character races. Specifically mentioned are dwarves, elves and hobbits. Additionally there are some remarks concerning arbitrary other races. Men are not explicitly explained probably assuming that they mostly equal their real world counter parts.

Dwarves are fighting-men limited to 6th level. They enjoy the following benefits:
  • High resistance to magic (saving as if they were four levels higher)
  • they are the only characters that can use the +3 magic war hammer to full effect. This benefit is one I find very curious as it might be of advantage in extremely rare situations and thus I wouldn't have expected it in the racial description for the race but rather as a side note for the item. One wonders what might have driven the authors to add such a strong reference to this obscure rule. Bewildering, as are many parts of the OD&D rules.
  • They note slanted passages, traps, shifting walls and new constructions in underground settings. Regarding this benefit I already am very curious if the rules to follow will remark in any way of the chance for successfully doing so, because the rule - as it has been written down so far - according to my reading would imply that dwarves always are successful in doing so. Which would be an appropriately powerful benefit nicely balancing the rather limited level advancement.
  • They are able to speak the languages of goblins, kobolds and gnomes for free. With interest I notice that the racial hatred of orcs does not seem to be an original streak with dwarves but was added later on.
Next in the list are elves. Elves provide a lot of food for thought as they present several special rules in the benefits they enjoy:
  • They begin as either fighting-men or magic-users and can switch freely between the two classes between adventures. 
  • They gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. Now this sentence raises some concerns regarding my earlier statement concerning the usage of arms and armor for magic-users. It might be interpreted as "magic-users may normally not combine spells and arms". Which still could imply that they would be allowed to wield any weapon and wear any armor, but would lose their spell casting ability while doing so. The next sentence again refers to being allowed to wear magical armor while casting spells which does not really help to clear up the issue. I will have to give it more thought.
  • Elves are limited to 4th level as fighting-men and to 8th level as magic-users. As their are no more explanations concerning the handling of this dual class mechanic, there is quite a bit left for discussion in a future post.
  • Elves are able to note secret and hidden more ably This seems to strengthen my impression about dwarves - barring further rulings in our exploration dwarves might always be successful with their abilities while elves just enjoy a better chance of success.
  • Elves enjoy a number of special abilities as defined in the Chainmail miniature rules. This statement if the first (of many to follow) that lead me to believe that I want to use the Chainmail combat rules for 'The Fantasy Game' instead of the alternative combat system. Using Chainmail would be another strong argument for using nothing but six sided dice.
  • Finally elves speak the languages of orcs, hobgoblins and elves for free.
Due to the various questions raised above I will write another future posting just about the interpretation of elven special abilities,

The final specific race are halflings (yes, my LBB have already been fixed - no more hobbits there). In 'The Fantasy Game' I probably will call them Hurthlings as a nod to my own game ADOM. Halflings are very briefly described having the following special rules:
  • They are limited to become fighting-men and can't rise above level 4.
  • They have magical resistance equal to dwarves.
  • They possess deadly accuracy with missiles. Again Chainmail is referenced, yet another reason for going with the Chainmail rules as anything else would require more speculation than I'd prefer. And why would anyone in 1975 omit the many cool rules concerning mass battles, jousting, sieges, etc. in Chainmail?
With halflings I found one sentence pretty funny: "Should any player wish to be one..." does not imply much respect for halflings. But such is life for the little ones.

Finally other character races are mentioned. The rules here are extremely open: Basically the referee can allow any race as a player race provided that the character begins relatively weak. Considering the fact that non-men usually will be limited to be of the fighting-men type this allows for very flavorful campaigns. Later editions added so many special rules that inventing new character races is a science in itself... OD&D is so lean (and mean) that it is almost trivial to introduce arbitrary races. Which IMHO is a great thing considering the fact that many fantasy books include all kinds of non-humand characters.

This brings us to the end of the races section. In summary a couple of questions are left to be discussed. I personally find the level limits pretty tough (especially for halflings) and definitely will scour Chainmail for a few extra benefits to throw at non-men, but all in all this is pretty decent stuff. Elves require further discussion, though.


  1. I'm really enjoying reading these Thomas, thanks a lot for writing! I've never had the good luck to gaze upon these sacred tomes with my own eyes ;)

  2. I can't wait for this game to be out already!
    Thank you for sharing the creation process with us.

  3. Gavin the pdfs are very easy to find on the internet.

  4. Ah of course! I've never thought to look...

  5. I much prefer dwarves being able to automatically spot odd stonework features rather than calling for a die roll; that's the way I play on the rare occasions dwarf-types appear in my game.

    Agreed, I've often wondered about that dubious +3 hammer rule. I imagine it came about something like this:

    Gamer A: "Man, dwarves are dull and they can only get to level 6, who would want to play a stuntie?"

    Gamer B: "Um... I guess you're right... No hang on! Look, they get to use this +3 hammer."

    Gamer A: "Shut up dude."