Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Gamer ADD: Monster Manual II Part 4

Demi-Human Player Characters

Unlike my experience with the FF, which had no halflings, dwarves or playable elves in its monster list, the MMII has a more traditional D&D demi-human feel. There are, however, a couple of twists.


In the MMII there are two types of elves: wild and valley. While valley elves function as normal elves for the purposes of a character class, they are chaotic neutral which would place them firmly in the Chaotic alignment category in the three-alignment system of Basic D&D. This would make them monsters, not PCs.

Wild elves do not use arcane magic. Rather, multi-class wild elves are fighter-druids. Necessarily (according to 1ed rules) they have a true neutral alignment.

In other words, while elves are available as a PC class, they do not use arcane magic (unlike their Chaotic and monstrous brethren). Instead, they have a unique spell list that only elves are able to use.


There are several dwarf and dwarf-like entries in the MMII: the derro, duergar, and the spriggan. Derros are chaotic evil (thus monsters) but interestingly use arcane magic in a limited form. The same is true of spriggans, though they only are able to cast spells in their giant form.

Duergar function as psionic, lawful evil dwarves. For the purposes of this thought experiment (and my own understanding of the three-alignment system), lawful evil can translate as Lawful. Thus, the duergar can be a stand-in for the Dwarf class.

Since psionics do not exist in Moldvay’s Basic, it is easy to dismiss most of the psionic abilities; however, duergar do have some interesting psionic disciplines that have to be discussed: reduction, molecular attraction, invisibility and expansion.

Reduction, as a power, is actually quite limited. A user can only reduce their height by 1’ until middle levels and then only 50%. While it does become more useful at high levels, and it strikes me as something a creative player could find beneficial occasionally, it is not the type of ability that would see regular and consistent use. Therefore, I feel quite comfortable just ignoring it.

Molecular Attraction is a typo. There is no such power in the psionic section of the 1ed Player’s Handbook. While I could make an educated guess as to what was intended, I feel more comfortable ignoring it.

Invisibility as a psionic power is weaker than the spell. It only affects creatures of HD equal to or less than the user. Therefore, I would rather express this ability as an increased skill at hiding or surprise.

Expansion is a power that allows a user to grow in height and strength. This increases with experience levels to a maximum additional damage of +6 — the bonus for an 18/00 strength in 1ed. In addition, the user gets extra hp. Due to the fact the spriggans have a similar power, I feel it is important to give a duergar PC class this ability, because it seems to be a part of a MMII understanding of “dwarfishness.” To simplify the ability, I took the mechanics of the psionic power and compared it to what I have in Ye Auld Skool Spell Creator and came up with a 3rd level spell with a duration of 6 turns +1 per level. When grown, the duergar doubles their size and their strength bonus. In addition, they take half damage from all non-magical attacks. This can be used once per day.


There are no halflings in the MMII. Therefore, in order to round out the number of demi-human race-as-classes to three, it is necessary to look at other possibilities. The MMII present several:

  • Buckawn: Neutral, 2’ tall fey with a 1-1HD. Curiously, they are given various illusion magics at “6th level” but no information as to how they attain 6th level or what that otherwise looks like.
  • Hybsil: Lawful good 3’ tall antelope centaurs also with a 1-1HD. This would allow folks to play a centaur without many of the problems that a normal centaur would have while dungeon delving.
  • Mongrelmen: Lawful neutral creatures with 1HD and are a mixture of “humans, orcs, gnolls, ogres, dwarves, hobgoblins, bugbears, elves, bullywugs and others.” They can pickpocket as a thief and have two special abilities: camouflage, and mimicry.
  • Swanmay: A good-aligned and female-only creature that can transform into a swan and has ranger-like powers.

All of these are interesting and (with the possible exception of the hybsil) are something more than a fighter with some cosmetic extras. Therefore, despite the fact I am most drawn to the Buckawn and the Mongrelman, I am torn as to which of these should be the halfling stand-in.

Regardless, there is an interesting undertone suggested by this selection of race-as-class. Arcane magic is dangerous and is associated with Chaos. Elves and dwarves that use arcane magic are all Chaotic. Even if Buckawn make the cut as the last race-as-class, they don’t use arcane magic until higher levels, suggesting that the race actually discourages adventuring because it tempts buckawns to learn things they shouldn’t.

Speaking of which, this all plays into a fascinating blog post by Jeff Rients on the suffix -ard in the word “wizard” and the implication that they know too much.

Of all the halfling stand-ins, which would you most like to play?


Kuseru Satsujin said...

I think I would go with the Pech, they always interested me the most. Of course newer fiction means there would be a lot of "Outta the way, Pech," and "Dig a tunnel, dig, dig a tunnel," jokes.

FrDave said...

That's one of the many reasons I didn't go with the Pech. Their basic abilities are really powerful. Stone Shape is a 5th level spell. For a 1st level PC, that should be available once a week, not 4 times a day. On top of that, the average Pech has 4HD. How does one explain how a PC only has one?

Ifryt said...

I think that from those four races, mongrelmen would be the best replacement for handling as a PC class. It would be some variation on a thief and quite different from elves and dwarves. Camouflage and mimicry are interesting abilities, so I can imagine that playing mongrelman would be fun.

Ifryt said...

"replacement for halfling" - I hate this autocorrect.

Macallan Lehane said...

I'd go for mongrelmen too. I've always liked them - they feel like they've got that ugly outsider thing going (like the halforc) but with less baggage. And the hideous but vulnerable (Quasimodo, Frankenstiens monster) is a good archetype.

Also, with your necromantic undead and chaotic arcane magic, mongrelmen mad wizard origins complement the theme.

FrDave said...

@Ifyt @Macallan Lehane
I think I am settling into the idea of using the mongrelmen, for many of the reasons you suggest. The main reason I was interested in the Buckawn was due to the "at 6th level" artifact. I still want to fill that in.

porphyre77 said...

Of course, pecks are stand-ins for HAlflings !

porphyre77 said...

Swanmays could also be a replacement of more traditionnal elves

FrDave said...

Hmmm...and there is the possibility of diversifying this concept of elf beyond just swans, especially since the MMII gives us so many normal animal stats...

FrDave said...

:) It really is too bad that Willow doesn't hold up very well over time. My friends and I saw this in the theater multiple times because it was the only D&D movie we really had...

FrDave said...

The name "wild elf" could then take on a whole new meaning...