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:
- Ability score modifications
- Skill bonuses
- Weapon proficiencies
- Class pre-requisites
- Racial abilities
- Racial feats
- Character speed