Racially Motivated – Or Not?

Copyright J. Sloane 2012

Race issues. There’s a topic charged with energy.

Not in the way you think, but there is still a very enthusiastic debate going on among Dungeons & Dragons players on how race should be treated in the developing new version of the game. There have been several articles mentioning this topic, too many to post links here. A quick search of various DnD blogs will give you a great list to read from. Regardless of the article, most of them are trying to answer the following question: Should races be fixed, with specific bonuses and/or penalties? Or should races be more free form, treated like guidelines to “skin” your character into a particular shape or culture?

It’s a real issue, because for every player that wants to play a stereotypical Dwarf (for example, Gimli, from Lord of the Rings), you have a player that wants his or her Dwarf to be something completely different – a character that would rather shiv you with a dagger than hew you with an axe.

I’ve been watching the debate for several days now, and I think the argument boils down to the difference between species and culture. Race is a term Dungeons & Dragons has traditionally used to describe what amounts to a blending of both of these features. I’m wondering if for the next iteration of the game, this should change.

You see, I believe there’s a simple way to have that tasty Stereo-Dwarf cake and eat it too. What I propose is a little taste of how something like choosing your race (in reality, your species & culture) could be written into the game. I’ve done the example as though you’re actually reading a Player’s Handbook (or Guide) or whatever the new rules will be called.

Step 2 – Creating Your Character

Species

While humans dominate many parts of the world, there are several other species that call it home as well. Dwarves, Elves, & Halflings all share in the bounty that the world provides. Now that you have your ability scores determined, it’s time to choose a species. Each species has several traits. As you create your character, choose a species and then one of the traits of that species.

Dwarf

Elf

Halfling

Human

Dark Seer Night Seer Silent Walk Precious Eye
Long Life Green Heart Short Stuff Long Life
Earth Heart Long Life Animal Friend Trader Heart
Precious Eye Silent Walk Trader Heart Diplomat

Dark Seer – You can see in the dark as well as others can in bright moonlight.

Long Life – You live 25% longer than other members of your race.

Earth Heart – You know instinctively how to find your way around underground. It is difficult for you to be lost.

Precious Eye – You have an eye precious items. You earn an additional 10% on the trade of gems, jewelry, or art related items.

Night Seer – You can see in the moonlight as well as others can see in the daylight.

Green Heart – You know instinctively how to find your way around in the wild places of the world. It is difficult for you to be lost.

Silent Walk – You instinctively move more stealthily.

Short Stuff – You are considered small sized and can get into places others can’t. Others can fire ranged weapons over your head (you do not block their line of sight).

Animal Friend – Animals do not spook around you. It is easier for you to train them to perform simple tasks.

Trader Heart – You always no how to make a great deal. You gain an extra 10% on the sell or trade of ordinary goods.

Diplomat – You are really good at relating with other peoples and cultures. Their reactions to you & your party are 10% better than usual.

Culture

Now that you have chosen your species (and your species trait), you should pick an appropriate culture. Not all Elves are from the forest, just as not all Humans are from quaint towns in the middle of Happy Valley. Folks of all different types comes from different places. Find the location that most closely resembles the environment your character was raised in. Choose one trait from that environment.

Coastal

Plains

Desert

Forest

Mountains

Seafarer Distance Runner Distance Runner Tree Born Cliff Born
Water Born Long Sight Sun Born Forager Boulder’s Endurance
Beachcomber Forager Navigator Canopy’s Shadow Glacial Patience

Seafarer – You are 10% less likely to be lost while navigating the open ocean. While in sight of land, you can never be lost.

Water Born – You were born to swim in the surf and dive beneath the waves. You automatically know how to swim, and are 10% better at being able to endure rough swimming conditions.

Beachcomber – Your ability to find a useful item on any stretch of beach or shore is unsurpassed. Food, tools, or even improvised weapons can always be found.

Distance Runner – You can travel 25% further during a travel period than ordinary folk.

Long Sight – You can see 25% further over open terrain than ordinary folk.

Forager – You always manage to find food on the Plains, even if it’s nothing more that tough roots or a few berries.

Sun Born – Your body uses 25% less water that ordinary folk.

Navigator – As long as you have a cloudless sky at night, you can navigate true by the use of the stars in the sky.

Tree Born – You have a climb speed, and can travel 25% faster if moving through the canopy of a forest.

Canopy’s Shadow – While in an area of heavy vegetation, you are 10% less likely to be spotted.

Cliff Born– Your steady gait makes you 10% less likely to fall or trip.

Boulder’s Endurance – You are 10% heartier than ordinary folk.

Glacial Patience – You have studied the “big picture” and have received wisdom. You are 10% more likely to accurately perceive the world around you.

What Does This All Mean?

First, before anyone freaks out, the attributes or abilities shown above are JUST FOR SHOW. They’re not meant to reflect what I think real rules should read. However, they are designed to show the kinds of things that can be attributed to both Species and Culture identities.

A player selecting one ability each from a Species and Culture can pretty much customize his character as he or she sees fit. At the same time, those players that wish to have a character more in line with the historical stereotypes for a certain race, can choose those attribute that best fit that stereotype.

One of the advantages of this kind of division, is that different campaign settings can “bolt on” additional cultural categories. Eberron might have a category called, “City Dwellers”, Dark Sun might have “Slave Quarters”. You get the idea. The system is modular, but still allows folks to choose attributes in keeping with more traditional models.

What’s Left Out?

I’ve left off some things here. The first, is that I don’t think we need ability score bonuses or penalties for species anymore. PCs are exceptional in any event. Who’s to say that a Dwarf has a better constitution? After all, “Sleepy” (a pretty iconic Dwarf) would probably have a really low constitution. There are no combat bonuses here, either. I’m in favor of dropping them altogether. Every culture uses its own environment in which to evolve weapon styles. Why second guess whether or not Elves are suited for archery? Why?

Dropping those burrs allows for a more open way to apply classes to the species/culture you select. Min/maxing based on race is thus eliminated. A more level playing field.

And So…

As these discussion of what the rules for DnDNext might hold, let’s remember that at this point, it’s all conjecture. We (as of yet) have no idea on how Races will be treated in the next edition. Clearly, though, Race is an important issue, and the designers will need to be careful about what is truly desired by the community.

 

My name is Randall Walker and This Is My Game


Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.


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About DeadOrcs

R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.
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