Friday, May 11, 2012

Races for different flavors of fantasy

D&D has always emulated Tolkien's fantasy, for the most part. Elves (of many different sub-species), dwarves, hobbits halflings and men fight against goblins and orcs and trolls. Tolkien emulation isn't bad in and of itself: there's probably a reason that this stuff is so iconic.

But it does get tiring after a while. One can only reimagine elves so many times. So I'd like to see some early options for the new D&D, as a generic game, to fill more aspects of fantasy. Humans should still probably be the most commonly played races, but most fantasy settings these days have some diversity in terms of sentient species. In terms of races, having a broad variety that can accomodate many distinct fantasy worlds is going to require quite a few additions.

The Men of D&D 3.5.
Assume that the basic game has your standard selection of races:

Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half Elf, Halfling, Half Orc, and Human.

Add in a couple more that seem to have become basic races:
Dragonborn, Drow/Dark Elves, Eladrin/High Elves, Tieflings

Now we've got 11 races already and we still need more in order to satisfy returning D&D players! We need a number of races need to be added from some of the basic campaign settings that people might expect to be able to portray. I'll try to keep the list focused and assume that some reflavoring can be done so that Planescape Tieflings can be largely identical to the generic ones, just like Dark Sun elves can resemble regular elves.

  • Generic Humanoids: Gnoll, Goblin, Hobgoblin, Kobold, Lizardfolk, Orcs
  • Planescape: Bariur, Genasi, Githzerai
  • Dark Sun: Goliath/Half-Giant, Mul, Thri-Kreen
  • Eberron: Changelings, Kalashtar, Shifter, Warforged
  • Kara-Tur: Hengeyokai, Korobokuru, Spirit Folk
Just covering some of the basic from established worlds, that's almost 20 additional races! Maybe a setting can get by (at least initially) without all of these races (though some overlap, such that the Goliath might fit as the Dark Sun Half-Giant, Dragonborn fit as the Dark Sun Dray, Warforged might cover for Rogue Modrons in Planescape, and many "generic humanoids" are legitimate options in Eberron or other worlds.

Leonal and Avoral: Are manbirds and mancats too much?
Adding in a few others might make some other thematic settings possible. An animorphic setting where humans represent sentient mammals/apes but are not the only sentient being that evolved from its ancestors could also include Thri-Kreen, Gnolls, and Lizard folk, but might do well with Aarakocra (Bird-folk) and Tari (Rat-Folk), both of which were marginal races in the old Dark Sun setting and might also work well in an Oriental Adventures game. Mycanoids or another plant-race could fit, and you could add to the number of mammal-races with something in area of  antelope, cats, and badgers (to steal from the Feral race from Dragon Dice). Anthropomorphic turtles, cats, and dogs played a decent role in the Savage Coast or Red Steel setting as well as lizardfolk. While not traditional fantasy really, a set of animorphic races gives us a lot of options and might hit the spot for some people's sense of simulation in the game, as these sentient races all evolved from distinct species initially and roleplaying might be based on some general traits of that animal species (real or percieved).

Some double-dipping or refoavoring advice might be useful as well, with suggestions that Gnolls take on the role of dog-like people, Tieflings might fit an Oriental half-demon in general, and Gnomes could be reflavored as Jozhal in Dark Sun or even catfolk of some kind due to their curiosity.

The list above even ignores a number of "new classics" like the Shadar-Kai, Asimar, Deva, Shardmind, Wilden, or Minotaur. The races of Dragonlance or Spelljammer are likewise missing.

I don't think that any specific game needs to have 30+ race choices for PCs, nor even 30+ sentient races in the game. But if we're going to escape the realm of only portraying Tolkien, we should be able to have some options, and possibly make many of those options official. A game doesn't need to present these as standard by any means. I'd be relatively happy with an appendix, or web-exclusive play tests.

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