Posted by : David Guyll April 29, 2012


I find Rob's proposal and reasons for adding race frequency to the game very...odd, to say the least, especially with 5th Edition's purported goal of unifying all the editions. Tagging races as common, uncommon, rare, or whatever does nothing to inform the DM how these might fit into her campaign. It just sets a bar. A bar whose only purpose seems to be passive-aggressively enforcing someone's idea of what races we "should" be using.

What makes this proposed mechanic even more bizarre is that 2nd Edition saw the introduction of numerous campaign settings that included more exotic races, such as: half-devils, half-angels, half-elementals, half-organic walking shapes, bug-people, half-dragons, bird people, hippo-men, and more. This begs the question, if tieflings are rare, but I am running Planescape, do I tell players that the common and uncommons are okay, plus tieflings? I guess I could just say common, uncommon, and rares are all good...but then what about warforged? Kalashtar?

And then there are the DMs that create their own campaigns. What if I create a world where tieflings and dragonborn are the most common races to be found, doing that whole war between Bael Turath and Arkhosia bit? What about a campaign that is largely restricted to mountains, with dwarves, minotaurs, genasi, and the odd warforged here and there (built by dwarf artificers I guess)?

I get that Rob grew up being exposed to certain media, and so prefers his game one way. Other players did not, or do not like the same things. Arbitrarily labeling races that he was "shocked" to see as being in 4th Edition's first Player's Handbook--while still ignoring the gnome write up in Monster Manual, I might add--as rare seems like he is both pushing an agenda and making assumptions about the game world, as opposed to the 5th Edition mantra of giving us the tools and then getting out of the way.

Ultimately this rule has no purpose or benefit. At best it is harmless; good DMs are just going to ignore it and give their players footnotes on what they can and cannot play in a homebrew campaign, and if issues arrive then hopefully they will come to a mutually fulfilling conclusion. Even in published campaigns DMs might still just ignore racial restrictions, such as if a player provides a compelling reason or the group comes to the realization that it is their game and they can do what they want. At worst it is hazardous for new groups, whose DMs might needlessly enforce it in a misguided attempt to "play by the rules".

I think the only thing that needs to be done is to add a footnote somewhere in the rules, that gives DMs that for some reason need it the "go-ahead" to ban/create content for their table.

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I didn't think he meant common/uncommon/rare in the game world. I thought he meant common/uncommon/rare across campaign settings: commons appear in most settings, uncommons in a bunch, and rares in several. (If it appears in only one setting, obviously it can be provided there.)

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  2. That is exactly the problem, though: not all settings are equal (nor should they be). Lets say that the PH states that humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings are common, while tiefling and dragonborn are rare. This implies that, by default, tieflings and dragonborn should not be as frequent humans and dwarves...but why? By whose standard?

    In a more Conan-esque game, I can see humans being very common, but in Lord of the Rings elves and dwarves would also be featured, and while halflings exist are probably fairly rare. On the other hand, in a Planescape campaign you have a lot of half-something races, while in Dark Sun gnomes do not exist by default, but thri-kreen are commonplace.

    It should fall to the individual campaign setting and/or DM to define what races exist, and of those how common they are. By doing so with the default ruleset, they designers are getting in the way.

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  3. I think the idea of categorization is good, but having those categories be rarity is bad. I do like the idea of not assuming that all races are available everywhere, as that leads to bland mush settings. I think better categories would be something like "traditional" (human, elf, dwarf, halfling), "expanded" (half-elf, half-orc, ?), "bestial" (dragonborn, orc, ?), "planar" (tiefling, aasimar, ?), gothic, etc.

    Basically, highlight the idea that it is good to pick a limited subset of races to fit campaign tone, but don't privilege one style over another (other than perhaps the core four, which does seem to deserve some privilege so that new players are not overwhelmed by choice to satisfy the availability of everyone's favorite).

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  4. In 2nd and 3rd Edition, tieflings were assumed to be the result of a human and devil knocking boots/hooves, while aasimar were half angel. Despite that, 3rd Edition referred to them as "native outsiders", so they really were not extraplanar at all. 4th Edition made it so that tieflings were the result of people bargaining with devils (no fiendish blood), and devas (the new aasimar) were just reincarnated angels.

    I think that rather than try to categorize races, which still lends itself to the whole passive-aggressive "you are doing it wrong" mentality, just make it known in the PH that the DM may disallow certain options (including classes), as well as change others as she sees fit.

    Make it in big bold, Comic Sans font so that no one can unsee it, and also put guidelines and examples in the DMG.

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  5. I think a lot of this is psychology. In trying to unify the editions, they have to settle the grognards that only want the Tolkien races, and the modern players that want exotic options. This way they include everything the modern player would want while giving grognards an shorthand for a limited set. While it won't help everybody, I can see that a lot of games can be described in terms of the categories. Worlds with a specific set of races will need to list the available races either way.

    As for me, I'm not going to get upset at this terminology. I'm sure there will be other parts I'll be more upset at and I want to pick my battles.

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  6. From the standpoint of approachability, I think the core books should have relatively limited options. I've had new players who were too scared of the complexity of base 4E to give it a try, but were willing to try B/X with its more limited menu of options. All the races and classes and powers and feats that make up the newer editions are just overwhelming. There are good game design reasons to include less in the core, even though some more experienced players may decry such an approach as a plot to sell more books. Most of the experienced players who want all these options are going to be buying more than the core anyways. For example, the elf/eladrin difference is too subtle for a core product, in my opinion.

    If you accept that idea of a limited core, one does have to make choices about what to include, and the traditional Tolkien 4 seems to be reasonable, though it is not necessarily my favorite collection, especially in the more flexible AD&D system of race being separate from class (in my experience, people rarely play humans in such systems, even ones that make humans mechanically competitive like 4E).

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  7. @Philo: I think that the modular rules will be sufficient for grognards, especially if it allows them to strip things down to the bare bones and still play. Trying to hedge out other races as "untraditional" just sounds like it gives them grounds to look down on the players who are "doing it wrong", even though most of those races have been in the game since 2nd Edition. While its not enough to make me not play the game, it does make me wonder what is going on in Rob's head.

    @Brendan: That is what I think the goal of the whole background/theme scheme is; players don't pick individual skills and feats, but instead pick two things that tell you what you get instead. Like you get to see the big picture of a fighter with a two-handed weapon, with a closer look informing you of what it took to paint it, and other players who want that complexity can just try to paint their own. Personally I cannot stand the 3rd Edition fighter's execution of "make basic attacks forever", but I can see its appeal for other players.

    I would like D&D to have its own style and theme. If that means cleaving to Conan or Tolkein, fine, I guess, but things like gnomes talking to animals, half-dragons, and people mentally shaping weapons out of their bodies have become ingrained in the game since 2nd Edition, and I would to see the game strike out and create its own identity.

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