What does the demi-humans do for the game? (in your opinions)

i am making my setting for an ACKS campaing, and thinking what demi-humans if any keep in the setting and wondering: What does the demi-humans do for the game? why we use them? how they affect a setting?

so i ask to the great forum. what do you think? what are your expirences and opinions?

I’ve read Gary (Gygax) wasn’t too keen on demi-humans, and he was cajoled into adding them by his players. World-building aside, that’s your first practical challenge. I know I’ve had players who always play a dwarf or always play an elf. Aside from that, their really, really good players that I’d not casually say “good riddance” to.

Considering world-building, I’d say they tend to add depth and wonder to a setting. Just thinking about dwarves’ and elves’ impact on a world can lead to interesting conclusions, like Alex’s post here:


Humans can stand in for any imagined culture, but it takes a little more work (and might stress verisimilitude) to explain why human group A is resistant to magic.

Then there’s the “No elves!” route of Talislanta. You don’t have the same ol’ demi-humans, you have a bunch of other demi-humans. Definitely can be cool, definitely a lot of work.

There is also the option “all almost human” for example in ACKS we have Nobirian, Zaharan and humans but the first two are very human… so one could chose this route to represent demi-humans

They let me be start off from level 1 as a wizard wearing full plate armor and firing an arbalest. Most games I’ve played in focused on dungeoneering and hauling around sacks of silver than socializing at court or the like.

Elf definitely fills some archetypes (wizard/fighter and wizard/thief) that are otherwise not available in Core ACKS. Dwarf is much harder to make a similar case for; having great saves and a bonus to proficiencies is nice, but nothing archetype-shifting. Their flavor is good, though - reclaiming lost dwarven fortresses is near and dear to my heart (as are general dwarven fatalism and masculine virtue), whereas ACKS’ elves don’t give you any such hooks. ACKS’ elves feel like a primarily mechanical construct, whereas ACKS’ dwarves feel like a primarily flavorful construct to me.

Mechanically, demihumans offer a few things.

Firstly, they can multiclass in the old-school (pre-3E) style, in which you get all the abilities (or at least the majority of them) for two or more classes. Humans can multiclass in 3E style where they split their total abilities adding up to 100% of a single class; the demihuman ability to spend more than 4 points total allows them to get 100% of more than one class.

Secondly, they offer the ability to trade maximum power for early power. They can spend more than 4 points total, but doing so reduces their maximum level, pretty significantly if you want to end up with a lot of points. An elven spellsword begins the game with a lot more power than either a human fighter or a human wizard, but their level cap of 10 means that they will never reach the heights of power that either one will gain in their bailiwick. (And arguably this will make them weaker at maximum level than either of the human classes, an argument that is relatively easy to make when comparing them to a 14th level wizard and harder to make when comparing to a 14th level fighter).

Related to the second point, their ability to spend a lot of points gives them the ability to create classes with very high XP costs. A class with a very high XP cost starts off very strong at 0 XP, but gains in power very slowly compared to other classes. Consider again the elven spellsword (which wins the prize for ‘highest base XP cost’ in ACKS, although the Thrassian gladiator’s continuing to double after 8th allows them to win the prize for ‘highest XP cost to max level’); an elven spellsword at 5th level has just learned Fireball (or is about to research it) and is very excited about it. The party wizard learned Fireball 12,000 XP ago and is almost 6th level; he’s been casting it for ages.

In terms of setting, the things offered by demihumans will of course vary based on the specific setting. The primary trick they enable is multiculturalism. Having different demihuman races stand in for different cultures, instead of having different subspecies of humans do it, makes it easier to have fantasy racism without it also being real racism. It also lets us imagine what sort of cultures an alien race (demihumans are basically aliens, in the sense of intelligent beings who are not human and might have different ways of thinking or cultural mores based on the differences between them and humans) might have.

Dwarves, for example, who are all hardy people and skilled craftsman, would be a lot more likely to start the Industrial Revolution earlier than humans. They don’t need the level of safety precautions that humans do, because dwarves can breathe asbestos and coal smoke all day and be fine, which means they would be more likely to do it earlier as they could survive it at a lower technology level.

Elves are more likely to end up with a geriocratic society, because elven bodies do not decay as they get older. ACKS elves remain hale and healthy their entire life (barring sickness or injuries), while continuing to gain in knowledge and experience. This means that they’re more likely to end up with a society where the older you are, the more status you have than humans are.

And so on. The actual physical differences between the demihumans can be used as springobards for figuring out what kind of cultural differences they’d have from humanity.

I’m not entirely convinced that the second mechanical point (trade early power for eventual power) is necessarily a good thing, however, because it’s only a tradeoff in campaigns where characters will actually reach max level, which is something I’ve never seen in nearly 40 years of actual practice. Whether it’s because the campaign is short or because XP is slow in coming (I’ve seen people in OSR discussions online saying that they’ve been playing weekly for two years and the highest-level characters are just getting to level 5 or 6) or because of characters constantly dying, if nobody ever gets past 6th level, then choosing “more powerful at level 1” over “ability to reach level 14” is a no-brainer.

That’s true, although this is ameliorated in ACKS by Reserve XP, along with taking over a Henchman. However, the Classes that have lower max level also generally have high XP-thresholds to level-up. To me, that’s the real penalty one is paying, and it’s very apparent once people advance beyond Level 1.

Whether or not it’s a good thing is left as an exercise for the reader :stuck_out_tongue:

But they do offer you that option. (And remember that not all campaigns need to start at level 1. I’ve never tried it, but one thing that I want to try, is the one-PC-at-each-tier campaign, so each player begins the campaign with a 1st level character, a 5th level character, and a 9th level character. Or, more accurately, XP values selected to approximate those levels, as in the back of the ACKS book.)

Any other campaign starting at higher level will more rapidly see the effects of the tradeoff.

Elves have a great implied flavor: 2 out of 5 elves with class levels are magical assassins.
Let that sink in for a bit… :smiley:

Heh…that is kinda cool when you put it that way. Is that based on only the Classes in ACKS Core? How’d you derive the number?

You guys don’t run your campaigns to max level? Man.

I got a character from 1st to 18th level in 2E once. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to making it to max level (from 1st).

(If anyone who wasn’t a wizard had survived as long as my character did, they would have reached max level, but they kept dying. At the end of the campaign, the active PCs were 18th level mage, 17th level psionicist, 14th level fighter.)

It took almost ten years.

Sounds like a good excuse to double all treasure hoards and leave a lot more caches of riches stashed away in secret doors!

“What does the demi-humans do for the game? (in your opinions)”

Uhm…sanitation? Irrigation? Roads…?

(I hope humor is allowed.)

Yes, yes… but, aside from those, what have demihumans ever done for us?

monty python is allways allowed

Yes just by using the chance on the NPC party encounter table. Just compared the the chance of rolling a 3-4 for the Nightblade against the 5 for the Spellsword.

In my experience, they tend to break the verisimilitude of the setting. Unless the DM and players make the effort to make them seem like they really are from another culture, they tend to just come across as funny-looking people that no one bats at eye at living in these amazingly cosmopolitan iron age cities.