Races

I see races as a function of campaign setting, but it seems to me that a fantasy RPG needs to have some rules for the classics: humans, elves, dwarves, and maybe halflings.  Part of me wants to do away with this, because we’ve been doing elves and dwarves and halfings for a very long time.

Before I go too much further, there’s a good read on the topic here.  Read it and then come back to this discussion. I was considering custom campaign setting races when I came across Zak’s post.  Now, since I don’t have to design a game for the masses, I could probably get away with completely replacing the fantasy races in my core game.  Still, the group I’m playing with is mostly still new to RPGs, and I don’t want to rob them of the classic tropes that they are most familiar with.

So instead, I think I’ll focus on getting more specific with the races.  I’ll do away with “Human” as a race, and instead your “race” is more regional.  Instead of human you’re Helligfolk or Carcadian.  If I go that route with humans, I think the same could be done for the other races as well.  Traditionally this has looked like wood elf, sun elf, high elf, or dark elf.  In order to make it consistent with human-like races, I think I’d need to make these sub-race types regional as well, making “high elves” a singular and specific society.  Same with wood elves and dark elves.

This lets me create some investment in the campaign world, some create license with all the races, and still get to take advantage of many of the tropes people are used to.  I’ll sprinkle in a few non-standard races (without getting too bizarre) to let players who want to explore some options outside the standard tropes use if they want.

While not dictated by this combination of race and home-region, I think language now stops being “racial” at the parent race level, since I’m not using the parent races anymore.  I enjoy the idea of language giving some texture to the world.  I know that having everything speak “common” is a nice conceit for keeping the game moving, but I think without too much extra effort I can introduce some languages and get more of a multicultural feel of immersion in the game.  In fact, some “races” may speak the same language as completely different races due to their history.  Maybe one of the races threw off the shackles of slavery to another, and while they tend to have poor attitudes about each other, they speak the same language.

The next question is what mechanically a race should do.  I think I’ll tackle that one later, but I’ll list some of what they’ve done historically for thought:

  1. Ability score modifications
  2. Skill bonuses
  3. Weapon proficiencies
  4. Class pre-requisites
  5. Racial abilities
  6. Racial feats
  7. Languages
  8. Character speed
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10 thoughts on “Races

  1. Andy

    Honestly, I could have a lot of fun with a game that only allowed Humans as a PC race. As long as the humans had a lot of variety in terms of options (based on location I’d guess), plus maybe “build points” or something like that so that every human was different instead of every human getting a bonus feat and an extra skill point.

    To me, this actually makes a lot of sense in a “low magic” world. The setting becomes something more like game of thrones where elves might exist somewhere, and maybe you’ll see some when you’re adventuring, but they are rare and something to be discovered. To me the focus of this type of game is more realistic. If people (even heroes) mostly use regular swords and can be killed in a few hits by a commoner if they let their guard down, then having “halflings” and “half orcs” as playable races start to break the theme of that setting to me.

    Having said that, I’m just as ok playing high magic and lots of playable races but I know you prefer low magic. I think humans only makes more sense in that world and helps it flow better.

    Reply
    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I think we’re on the same wavelength here. You’re right, this would feel a lot more like Game of Thrones, or Memory, Sorrow & Thorn (although there are some non-human races in MS&T). I think I may have some non-human races available, or at least some rules for them, to encourage the modularity of the system. I want you to be able to create a race and plug it in, whether it’s an Elf or a Lannister. I think the list of races is very much a campaign setting issue, so for two campaigns, the available races might be completely different. For the core rules, we’re creating a fantasy game, and icons of the genre resonate with people and make the game more accessable. That being said, I’m not opposed to pulling them out either, or even “unlocking” them as a playable race once they’ve been encountered and interacted with.

      Reply
    2. Andrew

      I like this idea too. Makes encountering other races seem special and give the impression that your characters are really out there doing something special as opposed to just another group of aholes out looking to level and get loot

      Reply
  2. Brian

    I too like the idea of customizable humans rather than multiple races. You could incorporate regional differences and apply them to characters. I like the idea of build points too. You could pick a region of the world – and based on that region you have a number of different choices to apply to your characters – each choice would have a cost associated with it. Some would have a high “point” cost and would only provide benefits, while some might be lower cost and have some negative associated with it. Slow speed but no reduction in speed wearing armor for example…

    So I come from Delmar. Delmar is a kingdom that has flourished through trade and commerce (rather than warfare and violent expansion). Perhaps my choices would be mostly related to those types of skills (In pathfinder – maybe bonuses to bluff, appraise, diplomacy etc..) – or the build point cost would be less than say having my character be proficient with many types of weapons and armors….

    Reply
    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      So, I’m definitely having difference races be “regions,” but I haven’t completely decided on non-human races. Mechanically, I could have a race of humans be ‘long lived’ and have ‘short noses and sloped ears.” There’s something to be said for how much simpler “Elves, you know, like Lord of the Rings” is in giving everyone a visualization.

      I’d like to try and balance the races as much as possible. I can see a game where you could buy a more advanced race at the cost of attributes or powers. I’m curious as we go through these design discussions whether you’ll still like that idea, and if so, how you’d propose implementing it. I think going that route is a pretty big undertaking, but I’m open to considering it.

      Reply
      1. Andy

        I think “unlocking” things should be a definite keeper. Maybe even make it to a DESIGN GOAL. Once your group has met and interacted with elves then it is more believable that your next character could have come from that region. Maybe even someone you encountered? That takes out all the believability issues with “oh, this dude I just created is from the Jungles of XXX and has a dinosaur friend.” It also greatly encourages exploration. I wouldn’t limit “unlocking” as a goal to races either. Classes, Prestige classes, weapon proficiencies, spells (or spell schools). I think having all of this be unlockable makes for a MUCH greater sense of wonder and enthusiasm for exploration.

  3. JackOfHearts Post author

    I agree. Races and prestige classes are the most obvious to be unlockables, and then spell schools / divinities (since each region will have its own religions), and then weapons as well. At some point though it becomes a lot of work to add unlockables of every type throughout the campaign world. I’d need to set expectations of players appropriately (shouldn’t expect to find 4 new weapons, 2 ranged weapons, and new armor types in every civilization).

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Open Design – Races | Lost Worlds

  5. wylliamjudd

    I get that Elves and Dwarves give new players the ability to play a fantasy race they’re familiar with, but to me that’s not a good enough reason to include them. I agree with the other comments that having human be the only playable race is better for telling an original story. Another good option is inventing your own races. They may not be familiar to your players, but I think that the process of discovering unique races from the twisted imagination of their DM is far more valuable, than the ease of explaining what an Elf is.

    P.S. Are you reading my comments on your old entries?

    Reply
    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I’m definitely reading all the comments on older posts!

      Here are the initial set of races I’m playing with, although I’d like to get some player concepts as well to build into a race or two – kind of like an Easter egg for the players to give everyone a shared sense of creation over the game we play. Some players are more interested than others in doing that, of course.

      https://lostworldsdesign.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/first-draft-races/

      Reply

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