Races and Ability Scores

In a comment about how races should impact a character mechanically, Brian suggested that races should have minimal impact, saying:

I think that this would help to diversify race/class combos away from what may be “optimal”.

On one hand, I agree with this sentiment.  I don’t want players to feel like they need to select a specific race in order to play the class they have in mind.  Do we really want all the thieves to be elves and halfings?  On the other hand, sometimes this stretches my imagination.  Should halflings really have 18 strength?  Why shouldn’t elves be more agile than dwarves?  So, if race has nothing to do with vitals, it seems as though we’re trading some consistency for options and balance.  While on the face of it, this trade might be worth it, I worry that these are the kinds of trades 4e made that individually don’t seem like much, but when taken together start making the system difficult to immerse in.

I’m not sure what the answer is on this.  My first thought is to place what I think are truly “realistic” vital changes for different races.  This could be extreme, for example, a Halfling might have a strength capped at 14 (or -4 to STR).  If I do this, there would need to be a way for a Halfling fighter to compete and play a role approximately as well as a human fighter or a half-orc fighter.

Another option is to have races that are not all that different from a “vitals” perspective.  Different variation of humans may have only slight, if any, differences in vitals and would be mostly a flavor choice in initial setup.  How much different in terms of stats would a Lannister have than a Stark?

One possible compromise is to adjust scores at point by using a minimum bump.  For example, if the point buy from a score of 1 to 2 is a point, and the point buy between 2 and 3 is 2 points, maybe a particular race might start with a score of 3 in their prime attribute, and never go underneath it.  If the point buy costs go up exponentially (or by Fibonacci or some other escalating pattern), then the point gain from a minimum jump isn’t as drastic as a bonus on top of an already maxed stat (not by a long shot if you’re using some sort of exponential growth in points), and the savings could be spent on any of the other stats.

Maybe that’s even too minimal to be worth doing.

5 thoughts on “Races and Ability Scores

  1. Andy

    I think the obvious way is to get away from that altogether. See me previous post. Especially if everyone is effectively a human to start until other rare races are “unlocked.” All the humans should be effectively the same from a stat perspective but they’d likely all have various abilities and relationships (factions) built in just from their race and also may have abilities built in because of their RACE/CLASS combo. If I’m a Lannister fighter I may have trained very differently than a Dorne fighter. The difference likely isn’t that one is “stronger” than the other from a stat standpoint, but they may fight better in different situations (basically they’ll all have homecourt advantage when fighting in the situation that most benefits them). The Tyrells might have some advantage while jousting, etc

    The Mountain isn’t so strong because of his race, he just rolled the max when he rolled for str!

    Once you start with humans as the “base,” then I think it is ok to add in some non-humans with stat modifications. I agree you’d still want to have most classes be viable to most races (which is why we need to work hard to balance the stats, that’ll be very important imo). If you have to unlock these other races first then it is still more interesting than just min-maxing when you begin the game to make sure you have an elf wizard or a half orc fighter.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      Yeah, I think the non-human races will basically be like playing “monster races” now, in that it’s a matter of getting GM approval and having a good reason for wanting to do it. It’s relatively rare to see (although I let someone play a Minotaur once a long time ago…) and I think most people are going to be satisfied playing humans.

      I find it’s very hard to role play non-human races and relate to my character (how can I really get into the head of someone who lives 1000, etc) – so I tend to play humans when I do play. The problem was that the non-human races were SO much better in 3e than humans, every party had whichever non-human race was best for their class paradigm.

  2. Pingback: First Draft: Ability Scores | Lost Worlds

  3. connorbros

    I’m actually really glad you bring up the 4th edition trade off here. While I like everybody to be able to do whatever they want without calculations being made for them, my current world has benefited a lot from imagining what small stat differences between races ultimately means for the culture. Races that are more dexterous than strong have developed a heavy skill-oriented blade-wielding fighter culture, rather than a more brute force approach (as one broad example). Some races/nations have completely shirked magic, but make up for it in other ways. Sometimes those restrictions are the beginning of great choices and stories.

    I guess the thing that has been commented and that you’ve mentioned yourself is that it should probably just not be such a major difference that anybody is ‘forced’ to pair up certain classes with certain races… but then again, it can be really flavourful if a class, say something like a dark paladin, is only found in one race. There can be history and motivation to that (as long as it’s not true of all classes), and even the player who asks ‘But can’t I be an elven dark paladin?’ is filling out a character. All of a sudden there are questions to answer: who taught them? How is this practiced outside of the normal race? What drove them to the lengths necessary to acquire these skills?

    Balance balance balance. I’m sure you’ll figure it out, of course =)


    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      From a macro-perspective I agree that these kinds of changes lead to interesting world-building. From a micro-perspective, I’m not sure it’s fun if, for example, a half-orc fighter is substantially better than any other fighter build.

      I don’t mind if a race ends up being a very bad fit for a specific class or two, because that still leaves us with a lot of options and a lot of flavor from a world-building perspective. What I don’t want though is for each class to have 1-2 clear best choice races – which starts to be inevitable IF you’re using ability scores heavily in the math of the game and IF races modify different ability scores.

      So I think I’ll end up going with Andy’s suggestion, which is that most of the races simply end up without major modifiers to stats, and instead get flavorful racial powers.

      Except for “NPC” races that could be “unlocked” during play that seems fun for everyone at the table…!


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