Friday, September 14, 2012

Rule of Law: Halfbreeds, Quadroons, and Octoroons in D&D

D&D has had half-elves for much of its life, and the archetype has a history in fantasy literature. But I'm also interested in adding some more variability in terms of race into my games.  I'm curious about how best to implement some similar racial options. So following some earlier thoughts I have on race and racism, I'm still thinking of this. I'm not talking about half-dwarves, half-goblins, and half-halflings. I'm talking about what happens to the children of half-breeds: the quadroons and octoroons.

D&D 4e Half Elves
Why bring up these antiquated terms? Well, its not like the quarter-breeds or eighthbreeds are a mysterious concept these days. I'd like to think that the world cares less about one's parentage than they did 50 years ago, but there's probably places where it is still quite important, and not just for acceptance in certain religious or cultural communities. As far as the terms go, there's really no 100% politically correct or even 100% unoffensive term to describe people of mixed origins like this. I'm going to use these two because they seem relatively inoffensive (You don't imagine that's the last word anyone hears as they're being murdered) and are somewhat descriptive such that someone, given the context, could reasonably guess what a quadroon or octoroon is.

I think these "races" also bring up issues of family history, potentially more than just the regular half-elves and half-orcs. Sure, you can spin a great tale about someone never knew his orc father, or the illicit love-child of an elven princess. But what about their children? What prejudices will they face? Not every character needs to deal with issues of racism, but I like the fact that it could be there and the game might address it, if not including rules for it. It also expands these niche races a bit. If the elfborn include not just those with an elven parent but also an elven grandparent... well, now you have more options that are mechanically distinct. You have another option for playing a character with elven heritage than the standard half-elf. And it keeps the racial mixing, unlike the reimagining of half-orcs that we see in D&D 4e.

I'm not quite sure how to implement this in the game though. The easy thing is to call quadroons the same as the half-elves, half-orcs, or half-ogres. Octoroons, then, would be functionally humans. Its a quick and elegant rules solution, but it doesn't address character background either.

In the realm of game balance, it would make sense if Octoroons would gain some benefit since they'd suffer in-game prejudices. Likewise, Quadroons should lose a bit of their halfbreed advantage for being able to "pass" better. But this "complex" solution is dependent on the social situations as well. I'm not sure if that quite balances things. Another way would be to let each halfbreed character choose a racial feature of the parent race(s), but then you need to divy those up into a number of balanced options.

The simple solution isn't bad though. I'd still like a mechanic tied to their background a little. Maybe they could have background options somehow. Being raised in one culture might give a benefit, having a relationship with both parents might be a different benefit, as would being an orphan/outcast.

Beyond the issue of the depth of ancestry, I'm also not quite certain which halfreeds work best in the game. Clearly half-elves are good. Half-orcs fit my own setting well. Half-ogres are the other half-breed that came from AD&D. I also like the now ubiquitous Tiefling or half-demon. Half-dwarves, half-halfings, half-hobgoblins, elf-orcs, elf-dwarves... it gets a bit much. In the Rule of Law setting, however, elves are not part of the human empire, and Orcs are similarly marginalized and potentially rare. Ogres are citizens, meaning they might actually be a more common halfbreed race if they're in the game. Half-demons are basically unique anyway. So four half-breeds... this could be enough. I'm not sure if the half-ogre does much work in advancing the setting though.

My own Rule of Law setting is very human-centric. There are in-game reasons why humans are dominant (or, at least, its brewing on the back burner). So elf-orcs don't seem like a necessity at the moment, and I have no reason why every racial half-breed combination needs to be possible. But I like the idea of thinking a little further than the canonical half-elf to potentially include the quadroon and octoroon.

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