One of the things I find most liberating about OD&D is that there is no true setting beyond the suggestion to use Avalon Hill’s Outdoor Survival map as a basis for wilderness adventures. The whole game has a toolbox feel, and the tropes that would begin to solidify in later editions are still in their infancy. You get the feeling that you can do anything with these rules. However, the default races bring a distinctly Tolkien flavour to the game that I find off-putting, and frankly, kind of boring. So, I’ve developed an alternate approach to species creation that I hope will add more flavour to your game, and more prompts for world building.
Before we get rolling, I think it’s important to cite precedent for this kind of hack.
“Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as, let us say, a “young” one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.”
Men & Magic, pg.8
My hope is that this approach preserves that spirit, without completely tilting the game into a power gaming free for all.
Creating a new player character species
The default assumption is these species are humanoid in appearance. There is a non-humanoid result possible, but for simplicity’s sake I’ve limited the scope.
Level Cap: 6th level
In keeping with the racial caps in the 0e, I’ve chosen this as an average. Whether you choose to enforce a level cap is entirely up to the referee, but for tradition’s sake I’ve included it.
Roll once on each table
These tables are an amalgam of bonuses assigned to races in Men & Magic, but also draw on later supplements and editions, as well as some things I happen to think would make for interesting characters.
Ability Bonus (Roll once)
- No bonus
- +1 STR
- +1 INT
- +1 WIS
- +1 DEX
- +1 CON
- +1 CHR
- Roll twice
Ability Penalty (Roll once)
- No penalty
- -1 STR
- -1 INT
- -1 WIS
- -1 DEX
- -1 CON
- -1 CHR
- Roll twice
Species Bonus (Roll once)
- No bonus
- Delver: Infravision 60’
- Small: -4 to hit rolls by large monsters
- Linguist: +3 languages
- Magic Resistance: +4 levels to saving throws vs magic
- Sneaky: Hide in shadows/cover on 1-3 when not moving
- Tough: +1 HP per HD
- Natural enemy: +1 to hit vs a specific monster
- Sharp: Notice secret doors, slanted passages, traps and shifting walls on 1-3
- Accurate: +1 to hit with missile weapons
- Vicious: +1 to hit with melee weapons
- Armoured Caster: can cast spells while wearing magic armour.
- Dual class: Fighter/Magic user as per elves (Men & Magic, pg. 8)
- Amphibious: can breathe underwater
- Natural armour: unarmoured AC is 8
- Construct: does not breathe or need to sleep, immune to sleep and charm person spells. Fighter only.
- Undead: does not breathe or sleep, immune to sleep spells, takes 1d6 damage per turn from sunlight. Fighter or magic user only.
- Charmed: immune to ghoul paralysis attacks
- Non-humanoid: cannot use weapons, shields or armour. Natural weapons (claws, teeth) do 1d6, natural AC: 7. Fighter only.
- Roll twice
Species Description (Roll twice)
These do not grant a mechanical bonus and are primarily to add colour, and possibly suggest an origin or backstory for the species.
- Unusual skin colour (silver, green, etc.)
- Unusual eye colour (gold, red, etc.)
- Unusual limb (tail, three-fingered hands, etc.)
- Unusual features (sunken eyes, nostril slits, two mouths, etc.)
- Unusual hair (hairless, furry, feathers, etc.)
- Unusual communication with own species (barking, song, body language, etc.)
Species Type: The player should work with their referee to come up with a name for their species, and some notes about their culture and behaviour which may be useful for world-building. Once established, these details can be used to set precedent for future characters and NPCs.