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Is there an in-game explanation as to why some races can multi-class and others can dual-class? For example, is there an explanation in an article or book somewhere saying that It's the will of the gods or whatever that a half-elf can be a druid/ranger and an elf can't?

I am aware (of and unconcerned with) the game balance concerns raised by the Player's Handbook. I know about those. I'm looking for narrative reason rather than a mechanical one.

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The Player's Handbook (1989) for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, 2nd Edition says

The human race has one special ability:… Humans can choose to be of any class… and can rise to great level in any class. The other races have fewer choices of character classes and usually are limited in the level they can attain. These restrictions reflect the natural tendencies of the races (dwarves like war and fighting and dislike magic, etc.).…

The limits also exist for play balance.… The demihuman races have other powers that make them entertaining to play—including the ability to be multi-classed…. (20)

The Dungeon Master's Guide (1993) for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, 2nd Edition says

[H]umans are more motivated, indeed, driven by ambition and the desire for power, than the demihuman races. Thus, they advance further and more quickly than others.…

Demihuman characters are limited in how high a level they can achieve both to preserve internal consistency (humans are more flexible than non-humans) and to enforce game balance. (14)

Conclusion

So the ability to multi-class is, in essence, paid for mechanically through demihuman class and level limits and justified narratively by saying that humans possess greater ambition and drive than demihumans. This can be lumped together: human drive limits humans to dual-classing rather than multi-classing because humans throw their all into things.

(Going into this, I'd thought at the time that the humans' short lifespans were part of the the reason that they couldn't multi-class, but that detail's absent from the Dungeon Master's Guide and goes unmentioned in the entries for shorter-lived races in the Complete Book of Humanoids.)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nothing like this appears in the PHB nor the DMG. The PHB at p.20 talks only about level limits reflecting the tendencies of races (narrative justification) and how it improves play balance. Each race's description discusses which MC options they have (usually around para. 4), but nothing as to why (in-game). The multi- and dual-class sections (pp.44-45) just describe the mechanics, with flavorful worked examples that don't address in-universe reasons. The DMG says nothing about multiclassing. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 12 '17 at 4:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60... Yes, you appear to be correct; I was recalling the level limits and lumping them with the multi-classing restrictions that they paid for. \$\endgroup\$ – Chemus Apr 12 '17 at 5:14
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I don't know of any in-game narrative reasons for these limitations, and quite frankly, I would be surprised if any existed. For one thing, if there were narrative reasons for the limitations, then that would be something the setting(s) would have needed to address when the limitations were removed in later editions of the game and - again, to my knowledge - there was no such in-game upheaval about various races suddenly learning to multi-class.

Not within the scope of your question, but I think this is just a byproduct of the game evolving over time. The earliest editions of D&D had non-human races as Classes with specific, proscribed roles. Then AD&D came along and created a division between Race and Class, subject to some limitations. Later editions removed these entirely, and the previously subjugated masses rejoiced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you sorely underestimate how much ink was spilled on these and other topics in early D&D; I'd bet money there's something specifically from Gygax or Lakofka in Draon about this. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 6 '16 at 15:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've never seen anything in the many many years of playing and reading about 2e. \$\endgroup\$ – Protonflux Nov 7 '16 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of particular note is that the OD&D elf was effectively a fighter/mage. I think the OD&D halfling may have been a fighter/thief, but I'm not so certain on that one. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Barden Apr 12 '17 at 5:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BenBarden you are correct. And a dwarf was just a short fighter, iirc. \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Apr 12 '17 at 23:57

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