Posts Tagged ‘Rules Cyclopedia’

Not as I do: Organizing an RPG

“What’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.”
– The Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Devil”

I’m looking at the structure of game books right now, and I really think (especially as someone who’s been doing it a while myself), that there’s room for improvement.

The default model seems to be:

  1. Some kind of introduction. Maybe fiction, maybe bragging, maybe both.
  2. Maybe something about how special our unique branded setting is.
  3. Character types and creation.
  4. Combat rules (sometimes “conflict,” if you’re really abstract)
  5. Magic powers (possibly swapped with the previous).
  6. A whole bunch of not-entirely-combat rules almost everyone ignores. And which mostly consist of modifiers to combat.
  7. Some GM advice that’s probably terrible.
  8. Some monsters.
  9. Sometimes a sample setting providing most of the useful things that the setting information at the front completely failed to.

Dungeons & Dragons conforms to this model through most of its books, though it often leaves the terrible advice and monsters to subsequent volumes. The White Wolf games pretty much all work this way, though the nWoD shunts questions of combat back to the core.

Other models have been tried. For example, Tunnels & Trolls 5.5 uses an interesting “expanding” structure:

  1. Introduction
    • Creating a character (a simple fighter)
    • Equipment, how it works and is bought
    • Creating monsters
    • Getting XP
  2. “The Game as it is Played”
    • All the damn character types and variations
    • Leveling up
    • Magic
    • Detailed combat rules
    • More monster rules
    • GM advice
    • Sample dungeon
  3. “Elaborations” — a bunch of miscellaneous rules, and descriptions of weapons
So what you basically have is a simple example going through the first chapter, which nonetheless describes a complete model of the game. Then you get all the variations and exceptions. And then appendices of random additions you might or might not use.


Speaking of trolls, Ron Edwards’ brilliant Trollbabe mainly describes the components of a game session in order. Loosely:

  1. Introduction
  2. Characters
  3. Scenes
  4. Conflicts in scenes
  5. Relationships (which come from conflicts)
  6. Endings
  7. Multiple characters
  8. GM advice and a sprinkling of player advice (actually pretty good)
  9. Designer notes and other appendices

It’s remarkably clear, benefiting from three things:

  1. A game that produces a story can be explained in the order of a story.
  2. There was a previous edition with years of playtesting.
  3. It was designed as a teaching text.1

As a gamer, I prefer the latter two models, personally. While the “top down” manual style is a great way to do a design document, I’m not sure it’s much good for teaching a game.

As a designer, it’s unlikely that my game is going to be the one that teaches anybody how to game (if they learn on my game, it’ll probably be from an experienced player). But I am teaching the game to existing roleplayers.

The first structure is pretty good for existing gamers, because they’re usually looking for content and twists they can introduce into an existing gaming style. They already know if they’re going to do a dungeon crawl,2 a railroad,3 or an investigation game.4 Because that’s how they roll. They just need to know whether they’re calling the magic user a Tremere.

Okay, that sounds a little harsh, but I think it’s true. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing. A lot of gamers pick up new roleplaying games to provide content for playing in a structure they’re already set on.

That’s why a game like Trollbabe, whose major innovations relate to structure5 almost need to be structured as tutorials.

That said, as an existing gamer, I find it a lot easier to get through Tunnels & Trolls on a read than the Rules Cyclopedia.6 On the other hand, it’s rather a pain to go back through the “expanding” structure looking for particular references.

I’d like to see the rules treated multiple ways within a single book: the rules explained in expanding fashion, with explanations, examples, and designer notes, plus a quick reference in the back, covering the basic gameplay structure and procedures.

This is, in fact, sometimes how I run Trollbabe: with a “teaching copy” of the current edition and a “reference copy” of the original.

How do you like your gaming books organized?


  1. I have this confirmed by Ron.
  2. A game in which an imaginary space filled with deathtraps is explored.
  3. A game in which the sequence of events is predetermined and players must find their way between them.
  4. Like a railroad, except the player characters go insane at the end.
  5. …and trollbabes.
  6. And the regard in which I hold that latter book is well-established.

The First Estate

“Vatican II led to many changes in the Catholic Church, notable ones being the use of mother-tongues – instead of Latin – for parts of the mass, the empowerment of the laity, and allowing priests to use bladed weapons in combat.”

Critical Miss #8

I suppose I’d know who the cleric was, if I’d started with her. I understand girls you can’t save, no matter what god they work for.

Aleena, D&D Red Box

You couldn't save her. Just like all the others, a million little boys who couldn't. Forgive yourself.

As it happens, though, I didn’t. I started here.

Ultima 3: Exodus Character Creation

Ultima 3: Exodus Character Creation

Actually, let’s zoom in a bit…

Ultima 3: Exodus Cleric

Ultima 3: Exodus Cleric

There. See. Now, what I knew in… 1988… sounds right… was that a cleric was another word for priest, and a priest was someone who worked for God.

Just one problem. Fantasy didn’t have God. Oh, sure, there was a cross on Link’s shield, but there’d been one on He-Man’s armor, too, hadn’t there? Just a device, a heraldic symbol.

Now, in 1989, someone conveniently introduced me to the pagan gods1, and they found their way right into my world of magic and elves2. My carefully envisioned narrative-driven side-scroller had elves and Greek gods.

But those gods didn’t have priests, did they? I mean, you read the Bible, there are priests all over the place, and usually mucking things up. Got Jesus hanged, I’d been told, and that’s why we couldn’t let the Church have undue influence on the state.3 But the Greek myths, nooo… people prayed, maybe there were some burnt offerings, but pagan gods didn’t need priests. They did things themselves.4

Yet, Ultima had priests. Briefly. I was very glad when the next Ultima came around and got that fixed. Shrines, virtues, no gods. Very sensible, and I could continue being a bold maverick having Zeus meet the elves. I’d played Hero’s Quest by now, too, and read Lloyd Alexander, and while there were certainly hints of greater supernatural forces5, there was hardly a celestial hierarchy.

Even King Arthur, well, God occasionally popped up in his life, but no priests. I’m not sure what they were all doing at the time, but he had a proper wizard to cast his spells for him, just like Pharoah had had.6 Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser had gods, and Lankhmar had a whole street devoted to them, but both the priests and the gods were more than a little silly.

The holes filled, gradually — I was a weird kid, but hardly a dumb one, but my fantasy worlds never really had need of magic priests, even as they developed pantheons of their own. Even reading Moorcock and Lewis, the gods all took care of their own business.

The idea that a whole class of adventurer might need to be priestly never really occurred to me until I got my hands on the Rules Cyclopedia. Even since then, I’ve never been sure why clerics weren’t just a sort of mage, and seeing fantasy through the eyes of D&D hasn’t really helped that at all. In gaming, I came to understand, clerics were somewhere between fighters and wizards… but so were elves, and for that matter, there were paladins. And some paladins had gods, too.7

But in the better sort of fantasy video games, there never were priests. The Ultimas were neatly atheistic, and when they got around to coping with gods, in Pagan, it was in a very Star Trek way. Gods, fantasy said to me, better off without ‘em, and their priests are all liars and idiots and just occasionally Theleb Kaarna.

D&D Arcade Cleric

Badasses, like this guy.

Yet, for some reason, there was always someone who wanted to play one in my games. Sometimes, they weren’t very serious — I’d heard of Bob, the God of Donkeys out there in another campaign. But all too often, they were devout worshipers of gods who never seemed good for anything except a daily spell allotment. Sometimes they were badasses.

D&D Arcade Thief

And he hung out with this hottie. Just saying.

And there seemed to be roleplaying games that shared my indifference. Tunnels & Trolls had no clerics, and Stormbringer certainly didn’t go out of its way to suggest the idea.8

The first time I ever encountered a proper cleric adventurer was in college, as it turned out. Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish officer who got lost in Florida, made his way to Mexico casting out demons and disease in the name of God, gaining and losing fellow soldiers and native adventurers along the way. And around that point, through that lens, the cleric started making sense to me.

The cleric? He’s Moses. He’s Samuel9. He’s Martin de Porres. She’s Joan of Arc.

And don’t worry. Someday Aleena will come back.10


  1. The Greek ones, and boy did that set me up for some issues on down the line.
  2. Where’d the elves come from? Not sure. I’d only read The Hobbit at that point, so elves should have been assholes. I think I picked up from a friend that link and Zelda were elves on account of the ears, so elves were cool.
  3. Got that from my grandparents. Very good Catholics and fearlessly determined liberals. Did I mention my upbringing was weird.
  4. Well, apart from that Trojan War mess.
  5. Who was Baba Yaga? And Arawn, he was certainly a suspicious character.
  6. There’s that Bible again. Colored my whole view of the genre.
  7. Or, in dear old Paksenarrion’s case, a saint.
  8. Notably, it suggested priests got their magic powers by sorcery, same as everyone else.
  9. David was a rogue. Don’t let the instrument fool you, he was just playing at multi-classing while waiting for the next big score.
  10. Just don’t be surprised if she has two kids and is married to some 3rd level IT Expert AND DOESN’T LISTEN TO ANY MUSIC THAT’S COOL.

Little Hearts Like the One in Me

“Hello, my name is Jimmy Pop and I’m a dumb white guy,
I’m not old or new but middle school, fifth grade like junior high.”

– The Bloodhound Gang, “Fire Water Burn”

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

Jeff and I

1984. My uncle leaves a party. I ask my Mom where he went.

“To play Dungeons & Dragons,” she says. I ask her what that is.

“A game like Conan,” she tells me, barely, I think, understanding herself. “Your uncle’s the Dungeon Master. He decides what monsters the heroes fight.”

1985. On a trip to Barbarian Books and Comics, my father buys me a set of polyhedral dice, cast in translucent red plastic. To me, they look like magic gems.

1989. My friend Jeff and I are rapt in front of the secondhand EGA monitor. We are being asked to make the most important choice of our lives.

Hero's Quest character class selection, 1989

Jeff's upstairs room, 1989

We pick thief, and give him a little bit of magic. Just like that guy in the books I found in the back of Barbarian.

1994. Wheaton Plaza, the food court, half mall and half strip. We’re deep in the midst of planning our great fantasy novel, about a city at the center of time. We start to talk about how to make a roleplaying game out of Dune, and Jeff passes something amazing across the table to me.

D&D Rules Cyclopedia

D&D Rules Cyclopedia

I’ve seen it before, of course. Ads in the back of comic books. Maybe when I helped my uncle move, and he gave me his Uncanny X-Men comics. I open it, and there’s a girl, there, dark hair and a bandanna. The heading says “thief.”

Rules Cyclopedia Thief

Rules Cyclopedia Thief

1994. Barbarian Books has moved into an abandoned Photon Battlefield.1 The D&D books are in the back, now. But there’s something else. Different. Softcover, green marble, with a single red rose.

Vampire: The Masquerade

My Future

I open it, and fumble around. There are a lot of dark-haired girls. And then I’m reading, flipping, and there’s a kind of vampire for every book I’ve read. For Interview with Vampire. For The Dracula Tape. For Doctor Strange.

I spend the entire night trying to recreate the art in my precious hardcover sketchbook.

And when I sleep, I see the city. No longer Lankhmar of the shattered temples nor Imryrr in its opium dreams. I see wet asphalt and grainy reflections and the stain of blood.

Jeff doesn’t even recall that book the next day.

2000. Elkton Hall, the University of Maryland. In the underground garden of a mafia boss, Marek the thief-mage triggers a trapped door. The ornate pipework fountain behind him bellows steam and rises, revealing itself to be the apparatus on the back of a gigantic robot.

“You bastard,” Marek says, or maybe Jeff does. He and Mike put down tiny d6s to show where they’re standing on the map. I put down the red d20 my father gave me so many years ago.

“That’s where he is,” I smile.

2005. My apartment, after she left. After I made her leave. It’s dark, and we can hear the Georgia Avenue traffic. Jeff and Angela and I are crouched around a red-foil book, exploring rain-slick streets not so different from the one outside. Tori Amos is on the stereo.

Vampire: The Requiem

My Present

“Who was she?” Angela says, as Frankie the waitress, hungry young vampire and terrifying lost girl.

Her only friend, London, smokes his cigarette. Jeff shows us he’s doing that by sucking on the end of a Pepperidge Farm Pirouette.

“She played bass,” London says. Frankie’s eyes don’t leave London’s. Angela’s don’t leave Jeff’s. He coughs. “She had dark hair.”

2007. DC, anywhere. Pick a spot and I’m there, saying goodbye to someone, something. Those books, green marble and red foil and always with the roses, they’re leading me away. I kiss Jeff. I kiss Angela. I stare at Hope a long moment and I don’t kiss her. I pack two dark-haired cats in the back of a rented SUV and I drive away from everything I knew and towards everything I’ve been imagining.

Leaving DC

Leaving DC

2008. I don’t measure time in years anymore. I measured it in word counts, and now books.

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser

My uncle and my father

My uncle’s just died. I’m stuck in an Atlanta suburb but I spend a lot of time on the phone. My Mom reminisces about how he and my Dad used to play in the woods, calling each other Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

2010. Books have given way to stories, features, something called “sprints.” Every day I walk through a dusty warehouse past the original proof for that old green book cover.

I go home, I mess with the necessities of life, and then with my partners. And we sit down side by side to work.

I’m writing my own little book about fantasy roleplaying, and the concept art’s coming in. Fighter, magic-user, combat scene… I leaf through it.

There’s a woman with a bandanna over one eye, dark hair flowing behind her shoulders. She’s got a reckless grin on her face and a knife with three eyeballs skewered on it.

I crop, it, clean it, and I do the only next thing. I send it to Jeff.


  1. A Lazer Tag arena by any other name.

What makes a thief?

(In which, as a remedy for an unquiet mind, I begin designing a thief class for my Swords & Wizardry/Labyrinth Lord/Rules Cyclopedia game.)

The thief is my favorite fantasy character class. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are my favorite fantasy heroes. My definitive edition of Dungeons & Dragons is the Rules Cyclopedia, which prominently features the class, along with a really nice illustration. (Wearing all her clothes, too!)

I loved the thief in Hero’s Quest and Quest for Glory. I love Thief: The Dark Project and Assassin’s Creed, and I’ve been making sneaky bastards in The Elder Scrolls games the whole way through. I adore sneaking around ruins by night in real life.*

This is all by way of saying that I don’t care if the thief wasn’t in D&D until Greyhawk, there’s going to be one in my old-school D&D game. You know why the thief wasn’t there in 1974? Too busy looting shit, probably. Or selling ill-gotten booty to some slim, dark girl who wanted coffee afterwards. Or the thief was there the whole time, but so fucking stealthy even his saving throw matrix was invisible.

Mm. Unfortunately, that leaves me with a problem. I love the D&D thief, but I don’t actually like the D&D thief. The class’s skills are all calibrated to fail wildly if you roll them at low levels.**

This is fine if you’re running a long term game, where the thief will gradually grow into his role. (Particularly with some clever interpretations.) It will not do for the next D&D game I’m scheduled to run.

That game’s only going to be a couple of sessions long, and while I’m looking forward to low-level characters that can die easily in drunken*** accidents, they also need to be able to accomplish things right off the bat.

So let’s write a new thief, shall we?


First, we need inspirations, and that means first, the Gray Mouser.

(I’m skipping Quest for Glory, for the sake of brevity.)

The Gray Mouser

When asked to assemble a crew of junior heroes to save Rime Isle (Swords and Ice Magic), Fafhrd assembles a crew of “berserks” and the Mouser a crew of “fighter-thieves.” Fritz Leiber probably wasn’t talking in D&D terms, but he was certainly aware of the vocabulary.****

Our thief class, then, represents a “fighter-thief.” This is a guy who’s sneaky when he needs to be, and brash when there’s a hottie involved. The thief becomes a subclass or cousin class of the fighter, brother to the berserk.

Both Fafhrd and the Mouser were accomplished second-story men. In “Ill-Met in Lankhmar,” they do this badass Assassin’s Creed shit while trying to escape Thieves’ House with their precious hit points. In “Claws from the Night,” they again go climbing the roofs and shattered towers of Lankhmar.

So. Climbing, with a dash of parkour. Probably slightly more Daniel Craig than Altair, but that’s the general idea. Cool.

The Mouser’s a skilled swordsman, so this isn’t going to be the kind of thief who shies from a fight. He’s a swashbuckler, through and through.

The Mouser loves to collect magical paraphernalia, but this seems to be mostly a pose. (“Adept’s Gambit.”) He has some training in white magic, which he never uses. He performs some impressive black magic, but only once. (“The Unholy Grail.”) He casts a spell from a scroll Sheelba gives him, and the outcome is either that he’s a badass wizard and doesn’t know it, or that Sheelba’s safety instructions were accurate. (“The Lords of Quarmall.”)

As much as I adore this aspect of the Mouser, and as much as it’s an aspect of Greyhawk‘s thief, I think I’ll leave it aside.

Bilbo Baggins

The bravest little hobbit of them all posed as an “expert treasure hunter.” Bilbo’s main thing was being clever, and to a lesser extent, quick. His most thiefly actions were his various deceptions, against his party members and his enemies alike.

These, unfortunately, don’t translate well to a mechanic in a game without social mechanics. I might allow a Charisma check, but that’s for an individual character, not a class.

Bilbo did, however, have a knack for finding treasure. Sting, the arkenstone, the One Ring… pretty good, all told. So that’s what my thief inherits from him: a better chance of finding treasure.

Altair and Ezio

The aforementioned parkour and pickpocketing… plus, sneak attacks. My favorite thing in Assassin’s Creed is the stealth kill. This is an argument for keeping backstab. As if I needed one.


Alright. So we want our thief to sneak, climb, roof-run, find treasure, and sneak attack. All of these are abilities that we can implement without stealing the thunder from other classes, or from clever player description.

The cardinal rule of these abilities is that a thief can do them under conditions where no one else can. So, every character can climb some things, but the thief can climb sheer surfaces. Anybody can surprise an enemy, but the thief can surprise more often, and exploit the opening better. Anybody can find treasure, but the thief finds caches where no one else would think to look.

Climbing and Running

The thief can cross broken terrain, rooftops, or any kind of other obstacle course at full speed. With a saving throw, the thief can also pass an enemy or group of enemies who would otherwise block the character’s path.

(Inspiration in part from the obnoxiously capable Rules Cyclopedia mystic.)

Surprise Attack

Most characters surprise on a roll of 1 or 2 on a d6 (LL p. 50, RC p.92). If this fails, the thief may make a saving throw to surprise anyway. Further, any hit a thief scores in a surprise round is a critical.

(I thought about giving thieves the Advanced Edition Companion Assassinate ability, but it seems a little much.)

Find Treasure

The thief has very good instincts about where people and creatures keep their valuables. I’m keeping it simple, for now, and following Labyrinth Lord‘s version of the elf secret door mechanic:

On a roll of 1-2 on 1d6, the thief can find a hidden cache of treasure.


* This is a horrible idea, I know.

** It’s my argument that the Greyhawk thief’s skills, as well as many other percentages in OD&D, aren’t meant to be rolled, but I have to do more research to back that up.

*** Likely both players and characters. Company retreat.

**** Leiber and gaming! A perfect subject for a future post.

Race, Class and type in the evolution of D&D

Today’s familiar model of class in fantasy games works like this:

  • Pick a race, determining base characteristics and/or available classes.
  • Pick a class, determining the majority of your character’s abilities and advancement path.

That’s the model Gary Gygax created for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the late 1970s. Although there have been variant models over the years, the race/class model has stayed dominant. We need look no farther than AD&D’s most popular successor, World of Warcraft, to see the influence.

The AD&D character model can be described thusly:

  • Character
    • Common attributes
    • Race
    • Class

However, not all earlier models of D&D character construction work that way, and looking at the evolution can be enlightening.

OD&D, Dwarves and Elves

The original D&D Men & Magic booklet describes characters principally in terms of their class. Taking a nonhuman race grants a couple of bonus abilities, but limits the character’s growth in levels. We might infer that this was meant to limit the playable lifespan of nonhuman characters. Take, for example, the dwarf:

Dwarves may opt only for the fighting class, and they may never progress beyond the 6th level (Myrmidon). Their advantages are:
  1. they have a high level of magic resistance, and they thus add four levels when rolling saving throws (a 6th level dwarf equals a 10th level human);
  2. they are the only characters ableto fully employ the +3 Magic War Hammer (explained in Volume II);
  3. they note slanting passages, traps, shifting walls and new construction in underground settings; and
  4. they are able to speak the languages of Gnomes, Kobolds and Goblins in addition to the usual tongues (see LANGUAGES in this Volume).

That’s pretty close to the AD&D race/class model: choosing dwarf limits your class selection to fighting man and provides some innate abilities. It’s easy to envision two discrete entities that make up the character: dwarf and fighting man. The elf, on the other hand, changes things around:

Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game.

In this case, being an elf becomes an exception to the entire class scheme. The elf can, between adventures, change class. They apparently also have separate levels in each class:

However, they may not progress beyond 4th level Fighting-Man (Hero) nor 8th level Magic-User (Warlock).

So, in this case, being an elf changes the structure of the character. An elf is built like this:

  • Character (Elf)
    • Class 1 (Fighter)
    • Class 2 (Magic User)

What we can see here is that race is really an entire set of optional rules applied to a character, not an element of a consistent structure. Those rules vary with the race chosen.

Greyhawk and multiple class composition

The first supplement to Dungeons & Dragons, Greyhawk, clarifies and rewrites large sections of the rules, including those on race. In Greyhawk, dwarves again follow a model that looks like AD&D. Player character dwarves are again limited in levels, and again restricted to the fighter class.

(As a side note, NPC dwarves may be clerics, but also have level limits and can only resurrect other dwarves.)

Elves… well, elves are complicated.

Elves of 17 or 18 strength can work up as high as 5th level (Swashbuckler) and 6th level (Myrmidon) fighters respectively. Elves with an 18 intelligence can work up to as high as 9th level (Sorcerer) magic-users. Among the elves there are clerical types as high as 6th level (Bishop) who interact only with their own kind. These clerics (fighter/magic-user/cleric types) have magical ability limited to the 6th level (Magician).

Elves, then, are fighter/magic users whose progress is dictated by ability scores. However, they may also add cleric to their portfolio. But what about elven thieves?

Elven thieves work in all three categories at once (fighter, magic-user, and thief) unless they opt to never be anything other than in the thief category. Thus, experience is always distributed proportionately in the three categories even when the elf can no longer gain additional levels in a given category.

So elves have the option of being pure thieves or tri-classed fighter/magic user/thieves or tri-classed fighter/magic user/clerics. The drawbacks are levels and substantial XP drain. Half-elves look more like Men & Magic elves, being hybrid fighters/magic users. No mention is made of changing from adventure to adventure.

Hobbits must choose to be either fighters or thieves, but as thieves they get extra bonuses. The famous “halfling thief” is born, taking his heritage from luminaries like Bilbo Baggins.

With Greyhawk, then, race affects the entire way that a character is composed. It affects how many classes a character can have, what those classes are, and, arguably, how quickly the character advances in each. It also represents the first emergence of choices in character creation besides race and class: an elf player must choose whether to include cleric or thief in his portfolio, and whether to focus exclusively on thieving.

What we’ve seen so far is that D&D characters which add a race can change their composition entirely. Class itself has remained a neatly contained concept. That is, until we meet the paladin.

Greyhawk and the Paladin

With a strength of 18, a fighter may choose to be a paladin. (Whether fighters who have multiple classes due to race may choose to be a paladin is unclear.) “Paladin status” confers a host of additional benefits, with one restriction: the character must be Lawful and act lawful.

The paladin is essentially a “fighter plus,” with healing abilities, extra sensory abilities, and better saving throws. Paladins thus become the only “status” add-on in original D&D. You can see the roots of the prestige class there, but it will be many years before the idea appears again.

Holmes doesn’t weigh in

The Holmes Basic version of D&D simplifies a lot of these rules, but stops short of creating a formal relationship between race and class, or defining race as a discrete rules construct.

In Holmes, a dwarf or a halfling must be a fighter… unless, as the text suggests, you buy AD&D. (The assumption of compatibility there is interesting, suggesting that AD&D really was the advanced game, rather than an entirely separate one.)

Holmes also hints at the tantalizing possibility of the sub-class, something basic D&D will flirt with in different contexts for the rest of its run.

Moldvay and race as class

Finally, after AD&D, the Moldvay basic set decided to simplify things by making races into classes. A dwarf, then, was a fighter-like class. An elf was a class that combined elements of the fighter and the magic user. A character is composed very simply:

  • Character
    • Common attributes
    • Race or class

This carries through subsequent versions of non-Advanced D&D, including my beloved Rules Cyclopedia.

Honestly, this is my favorite approach. The AD&D route leads to the boring mini-game of race/class optimization, or to making race an essentially meaningless choice. There’s also nothing preventing GMs or supplement authors from creating variant or sub-classes of the racial classes. Gygax himself did it with the dwarven craftsman before race/class or race-as-class, and TSR would turn the concept into a running feature in the Gazetteer series.

The video game heirs to the Moldvay model include Gauntlet and, more recently, Warhammer Online.

Next: Yeah, but how did Arduin do it?