Monday, June 4, 2018

Old is Gnew

Following on from my previous post about gnomes and dwarves, further work has led to further thought. As I am wont to do, I was meticulously combing through the original Dungeons & Dragons booklets (including the Supplements), for the purposes of assembling the text therein into a single thick Men & Magic volume. The idea was to make something a bit like Mothshade's "Men & Magic Compilation", except in print-friendly digest format and using the original words almost exclusively. Doing so led me to discover rules details I hadn't noticed before, including this little tidbit from page 5 of Supplement I: Greyhawk.
Dwarves are about four feet tall, stocky of build, weigh 150 pounds, shoulders very broad, their skin a ruddy tan, brown or gray, and are of various types (hill, mountain, or burrowers) (such as gnomes).
There it is, in Olde Gygaxian - a statement that gnomes are just a type of dwarves. Gygax would change his mind later with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and future authors would continue to have gnomes as a separate but similar species. But in Duemerus? This is my setting, and my game, so I can do whatever the heck I want. And I want to have gnomes just be dwarves again.

Spot the difference? (Images originally from Men & Magic)

This also extends to allowing dwarves to be illusionists, once I finalize that class and get it plugged into my campaign. It might seem odd to allow even mountain dwarves to be illusionists, but if I split classes among subraces in addition to races, I may as well make them entirely separate races (like The Elder Scrolls series does with its elves and humans). Not to mention, an illusionist doesn't have to be energetic and mercurial; Jason from X2: X-Men United implants illusions in others' minds in spite of being confined to a wheelchair and displaying no outward emotion. Stryker even (bitterly) calls him "the great illusionist."

But consider this: when one thinks of an elven ranger, one almost invariably pictures a wood elf - and yet, high and gray elves aren't forbidden from becoming rangers. It might be a bit odd, but it works.

The other advantage of collapsing gnomes into dwarves is that dwarves can be properly Small. My rules are based on Basic Fantasy, but with a lot of additions from AD&D 2nd Edition - one of which is the specific size rules as they pertain to weapons. Medium creatures like humans and elves are best suited to wielding Medium weapons (such as longswords and maces) or Small ones (such as daggers and hand axes), while Small creatures like halflings cannot wield Large weapons (such as greatswords) at all.

But dwarves in Basic Fantasy and its ancestors are in an odd position. They can wield some Large weapons but not others, sometimes receive an Armor Class bonus against Large attackers, and in AD&D have the same reduced movement rate as gnomes and halflings. As long as I'm editing the rules myself, though, I'll just make dwarves Small, flat-out. This does mean that they might have fewer hit points than their fellow humans and elves (due to my rules on hit dice), but it's fairly easy to get even a slight Constitution bonus to hit points - and I'm considering adding AD&D's racial modifiers to ability scores, which would give them a bit of a boost.


  1. I'm doing something similar in my present (B/X) campaign, with three classes of "elf-kind" (wood elf, high elf, and orc) and three of "dwarf-kind" (dwarf, hill gnome, and forest gnome).

    1. Makes sense. Are halflings subsumed under one of the types of dwarf-kind, or are they separate (or nonexistent in your setting)?

    2. In my current B/X game? The "forest gnome" is just the standard halfling class by another name, and the "hill gnome" is a halfling cleric.

      A decade ago, I was very firmly in the camp that said dwarves, gnomes, and halflings all had distinct identities and could easily exist side-by-side in any fantasy setting, particularly an AD&D-style kitchen sink. But somewhere along the line, I started to feel that hobbits should stay in Middle Earth, and that led me to usually merge gnomes and halflings (and to call them "gnomes" because it sounds better and more folkloric) into a single race in my game settings.

      Nowadays, if I want a game to feel like "generic D&D fantasy," I'll have two small races: your standard-fare Alesmith MacAxebeard type dwarves; and gnomes which are just halflings that wear shoes.

      But if I want to give the game a more "fairy tale" feel, I'll instead have conniving, greedy "goblins" doing the mining and smithing under the mountains (because sometimes you just want a bit of a reprieve from those players who can't run a dwarf as anything other than a drunken brute) and either "gnomes" or "dwarfs" as the more pastoral, burrow- or forest-dwelling little people.

  2. What spurs you towards this particular direction, when comparing to other games you've run or have considered running?

    Basic Fantasy RPG is something you've mentioned comfortably using, AD&D2e is something you've mentioned looking forward to, and DCC is on the table too. Does the OD&D compilation sit as a fourth competitor to those?

    1. I was actually just about to write a post about that when I saw your comment; it should be posted by the end of the day.