Races as classes and Racial Level Limits

Perhaps the biggest difference between 1est edition and Classic versions of our favorite fantasy game was “race as class”. In 1e and its descendants, race was a selection made separately from class. You could choose to be an Elf, and then choose to be a Fighter, Magic-User, etc. In Classic (B/X, BECMI, and Rules Cyclopedia), the various races were actually classes - Elves were of the Elf class, Dwarves of the Dwarf class. These differences have manifested again in the various retro-clones.

In deciding how to structure ACKS, we found neither option to be ideal. Race-as-class is ultimately too limiting. Surely some elves are something other than fighter-mages? Surely some dwarves do things other than fight? But race-separate-from-class is too arbitrary. Surely entirely species have their own traditions, archetypes, and professions which are distinct from those of man?

In ACKS, the four base classes (fighter, mage, cleric, thief) represent archetypes of human adventurers. The playable demi-human races have their own archetypes, which we call “racial classes”. We offer four racial classes in the rules: The Elven Spellsword, the Elven Nightblade, the Dwarven Fighter, and the Dwarven Craft-Priest.

  • Dwarven Fighter: The dwarven fighter class represents a dwarf trained as a soldier in the endless underground wars of his people.
  • Dwarven Craft-Priest: A dwarf’s work is his life, and the spirits of great dwarven artisans are believed to live on forever in their masterpieces. The veneration of these relics falls to the care of a caste of dwarves known as craft-priests. While most craft-priests attend to the shrines and monuments of their clan, young craft-priests are sometimes sent forth to recover monuments to the glorious past from the ancient ruins and wastelands of the world. This class represents such a craft-priest.
  • Elven Nightblade: Elves are a subtle race, and never does their gift for finesse and subtlety so reveal itself as in the practice of death-dealing. Cunning, deadly, and rarely seen, the elven nightblade is an assassin and sorcerer trained to bring retribution to those who harm his people. Outside of the forests of their homeland, the nightblade is always in demand by adventurers, aristocrats, and others who value the arcane and deadly.
  • Elven Spellsword: Most elves dwell in the isolated forests of Northern Argollë; those that traffic in the kingdoms of man are both bold and remarkable. Normally a peaceful people that enjoy poetry and art, some elves become very talented fighters and skilled mages. The elven spellsword is one such elf.
Demi-humans have level limits based on how much broader their talents are than those of the human archetypes. For instance, Elven Spellswords, which have all the powers of both fighters and mages, cap at level 10. Elven Nightblades, which have only some of the powers of thieves and mages, cap at level 11. Dwarven Fighters cap at level 12.

Level limits are often unpopular, so it behooves us to explain why we use them. In Classic D&D, the leveling curve was extended to 36th level, so a level limit of 10 or 12 was absurd. In AD&D, the level limits were often very low (sub-10th level) while human characters were able to advance to 20th level or more. And in both games, emphasis of play was on the middle levels. In ACKS, the human level limit is 14th level, and the game is designed to play well right into those early teens. Because of its emphasis on late-game play, level limits serve as a very useful mechanism that keeps classes like the Elven Spellsword balanced but not crippled.


I don’t see how level limit help keep Demi human classes balanced.

Exactly. I understand why it isn’t unfair, but I don’t understand how it balances anything…

I figure it is for the very highest levels. If all classes/races could reach 14th level, then a level-cap Elven Spell-sword would be every bit the spellcaster a mage is, except with most of the advantages of a fighter. As it stands now, the Spell-sword will never reach the highest levels of power. A cap-level spell-sword finds that he has sacrificed 6th level spells and rituals for his fighting prowess.