Delver Evolution: part 1

What’s this?

I’ve got more system ideas in the works, but while I’m mulling over those I figured I’d do a tour of how classes have grown and changed over time in that most venerable of rpgs, Dungeons and Dragons.

This series was inspired by a post by David Noonan on character roles and how they’ve developed. This series will run also similar lines, but will focus on all editions of D&D in “Let’s Read” format.

Looking back should be interesting in itself, but it might also give us some solid ideas on where the game could go next.

Races of Chainmail

Before we get into D&D proper, let’s look at it’s ancestor. For those not familiar with it, Chainmail is a miniatures wargame created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren in 1971. Dungeons and Dragons started as a variant of this game with a stronger focus on individual characters. The first hints of what would become the classes of D&D can be found in the “Fantasy Supplement” section of chain mail.

In this post I’ll actually be focusing on the non-human races which would become classes of their own in D&D. I’ll focus on the remaining class ancestors next post.


Yep, this is before they tried renaming the race to Halflings. The humble hobbit is treated as fairly minor combatant, which makes sense if your familiar with Tolkien’s tales. Their special features are stealth and ranged accuracy. Basically they’re treated as being 50% more numerous for the purposes of missle fire. This being a wargame, accuracy seems to scale up with numbers so that mechanic makes sense.

They weight in at a decent 5 morale and seem to have no point value. I’ll try to keep my “pontless” puns down. Despite the null point value, I assume you couldn’t field and endlesss horde of halfling, but it’s an entertaining image.

Dwarves and Gnomes

It’s interesting to note that dwarves and gnomes use the same entry. Apparently they hadn’t split into their respective specialities yet. Speaking of specialities, some of the features that would carry over to D&D are already in place. Oddly enough the majority focus on quirky racial enemy issues. That actually fits the old “dwarf with a grudge” idea nicely.

  • They “operate equally well day or night”, making dwarves the first player race with darkvision.
  • They suffer only half the normal unit loss when fighting “Trolls, Ogres, and Giants”. This is attributed to being hard to catch due to their size. Oddly, this means halflings are easier to catch than dwarves. It’s also funny that no other large creatue has this problem.
  • Kobolds and Goblins are established as racial enemies. Amusingly enough, this grants them no bonuses. Instead when ordered to attack a dwarven unit will automatically target and charge toward those races.

Morale is the same as hobbits but they do have a point value (2).


In another combo move, elves are paired with fairies. It makes sense given how close the two were some stories. These would later split in tolkien style elves and more pixie style faeries. Apparently 4E is hardly the first time the elven race got split up.

Chainmail elves have a number of odd features. As far as I can tell, none of these got passed on to D&D elves.

  • They can “perform split-move and fire” which sounds like firing a shot midway through moving.
  • There’s a mention of “When invisible Elves (and Faeries) cannot attack”, implying some innate ability to turn invisible. I believe later faeries would keep this ability but elves would lose it.
  • They’re specially boosted when they have magic weapons, gaining an extra die in combat.
  • They gain an edge to attack “other fantastic creatures”, including: Goblins, Orcs, “Hero-types”, “Super Heroes”, Wizards, Wraiths, Wrights, Lycanthropes, Ogres, Balrogs, and Giants. It’s quite a list and there’s a different bonus listed for each of those creature types. Edit: On review it looks like they need a magic weapon to get these perks.

Their morale is stlightly better than dwarves and hobbits (6) and their point value is double that of dwarves (4).

That’s it for the non-human races. I should have the others up Thursday.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 8:29 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for this. D&D pre-history is a particular passion of mine!

    • You’re certainly welcome. I like seeing where the game’s come from and where it’s going. It’s funny that WotC seems to be doing something similar themselves. It will definitely be interesting to see where that takes them.

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