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Does Your Fantasy Race Really Matter In Game? (The Gnome Problem)

sim-h

Explorer
What irks me is that Gnomes can have as high strength as half orcs! Should be capped at 12 or something, in my opinion
 

MGibster

Explorer
I’m always flummoxed by folks having a hard time seeing a place for Gnomes.
In my particular case it was gnomes this time. It could have just as easily been dwarf, elf, or tiefling. A tiefling assumes certain metaphysical truths that may not apply to every fantasy campaign.

I’m curious. What is your general conception of the identity of the Gnome race?
If I'm kicking it old school they were thief/illusionist. But thanks mostly to World of Warcraft I see them as tinkerers who engineer mechanical wonders.

im also curious about your conception of the races in
general. Do you simply view halflings as “the game’s main short race?” And half-orcs as “the big tough/‘savage’ race”? Ie, do you view them primarily as a what niche they fill narratively?
Dwarfs are the main short race. But I pretty much view everything in the game as having the purpose to fill some narrative importance otherwise it doesn't matter if it's in the game or not.
 

ad_hoc

Explorer
We did a skit about that in last week's podcast, with a player suggesting more and more outlandish races, starting with deep gnomes and tieflings, through aaracokra and minotaurs, to mind flayers and dragons, to daleks and Borg Queens, to, eventually, V'ger.

The idea of somebody playing V'ger as a PC still cracks me up.
Non-stop orifice jokes I'm sure.
 

MGibster

Explorer
Sure. Anything other than human and race tended to loom large.
In what way? It doesn't loom large in most of the published adventures. Keep on the Borderlands, Ravenloft (up to and including Cruse of Strahd), and Ghosts of Saltmarsh aren't a substantially different experience for those who play an elf or a gnome from those who play a human. I'm starting to think that the most important facet about race in D&D is how it shapes the perception a player has for their character. Which actually carries a lot of weight with me.
 

dnd4vr

Explorer
I just don't think having a plethora of available races necessarily adds much of anything to the setting. Anyone with me or am I out on a limb here?
Completely agree. I've run many games when a player wanted to be a certain race and I told them no. I don't have any problem enforcing that or if a DM tells me I can't play something in their game. In our current game, a player wanted to make a Goliath or something not in the PHB, and the DM just said the race won't fit in the current setting. He did explain that such a character might be allowed later on after the players had left the region we were starting in.

Personally, for my next game I was thinking about running an all-human game, something more based in a swords & sorcery setting than fantasy. As long as everyone knows the setting and such at the beginning and agrees to play, any restrictions should be okay IMO.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
When it comes to world building the DM RULES. The DM does not have to give a great reason why a race is banned. Just say it is banned. Then the whiners will whine either “BUT BUT BUT it is an official race in an official book. “ Or “You are a rotten DM, I can’t player my character if you ban X race. Whimper Whine.”
In my homebrew gnomes have cornered the market on gems. All gnomes are suspect of belonging to the Gem Gnomes Group. Think of them as the Big Three Industrial Leaders of gem market. It is rumored they assassinate people who undercut their prices.
But what I thought this topic was going to be about was how race does not matter in most games. In organized play it does not matter what your race is. If you are a PC you are welcome inside the castle to get your orders for the adventure. Does not matter if you are Orc , the plot and npcs totally ignore the fact the orc raids from last week.
Ok DMs, Have you made any race a scape goat/unwanted in certain towns?
 

Jer

Explorer
I want you to step in the way back machine and think about all the Dungeons & Dragons games you've participate in. Did it really matter what fantasy race a player chose for his or her character? Obviously there were mechanical reasons to chose one race over another for attribute bonuses, special abilities, and access to kits or prestige classes but what difference did it make in the campaign? Would there be a noticeable difference in the campaign had your human Fighter been a goliath, an elf, or a dragonborn?
100% yes, because I make it matter. In fact, I consider it one of my primary jobs as the DM to take the story hooks that the players have given me for their characters and figure out how to use them. If a player is playing an gnome in my game, then gnomes are somehow going to be in the foreground of my game. If nobody is playing an gnome, then it doesn't matter and gnomes will regress into the background and maybe never show up at all because some other collection of people are going to be taking center stage.

Having said that - nobody in any of my current games is playing a gnome, and honestly nobody in the last 20 years I've DM'd has expressed an interest in playing a gnome, so gnomes don't have a real role in any of the three games I'm running and only ever mattered in one game that I ran decades ago that used some vague stuff about gnomes from the Basic Set as a springboard for a few adventures. OTOH, one of my games has a dwarf in it so the dwarf kingdom is very important in that game, while my other two groups that have no dwarves haven't had a single reason to interact with dwarves at all and have been going down different paths. All of my groups have elves in them, and honestly every game I've run ever has had at least one elf or half-elf in it, so in just about every campaign I've ever run the elves have some kind of recurring influence that I've had to think out (and in two out of the three current games, elven dynastic politics is a major plot point because they both contain players who are elven nobility of some kind - kids love their elven princes and princesses, I guess). One group has a dragonborn in it and another has a warforged (or "forgeborn" really, since it's the 13A game), and so dragonborn are "important" in the former but not in the latter and warforged are the opposite.

If you've got a setting where demons don't mate with demi-humans then tieflings probably won't work. At least not as written and then why bother having tieflings in the first place?
As an aside - tieflings do not have to be half-demons. When I've had them in the game, we've played them as the descendants of some other group whose ancestors were "blessed/cursed" with demonic power (which IIRC was the 4e explanation of them). No actual demon in their heritage, just a visible mark of the foul things their ancestors did.

Similarly, "half-orcs" in any game I runs never have any actual orc in their heritage - because orcs in my settings are never naturalistic creatures that breed with each other let alone with humans. They are always supernatural infections of some sort that reproduce through some suitably horrific means (which varies from campaign to campaign where orcs matter, but often either something like how the aliens in Alien do it, or a spawning pit if I want something less nightmare inducing). I use this background for orcs in all of my games - even if I'm running them in a published campaign setting - partly because I like to have something to distinguish hobgoblins and orcs from each other, but mostly because I like there to be some things that my players don't have to have any moral qualms about slaughtering (having been scarred by old-school modules where you enter a cave with 50 orc women and children, I suppose). When I had a player who wanted to play a "civilized goblin" we used the half-orc and he was a hobgoblin with a unique background, because if I have a player who wants to try out something for its mechanical benefits but isn't interested in the story aspects of it, or if the story aspects conflict with our established lore for a game, we work together to reskin it to something that both of us will enjoy having in the game.

I just don't think having a plethora of available races necessarily adds much of anything to the setting. Anyone with me or am I out on a limb here?
My attitude is always "see what kind of world my players want to play in, then shape the world around that". But I have a strong preference for gonzo worlds where anything goes, so I know other folks' mileage will vary.
 
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DEFCON 1

Hero
It's a question that I've struggled with on occasion as well. Every time I decide on a new campaign and I start going through the lists of races, backgrounds and classes the list keeps getting larger and larger with more and more overlap in identity and ideas until it just becomes the Mos Eisley Cantina again. And I keep trying to find ways to shrink things down but it never seems to work.

Quite honestly, I think my best bet in the future is to try and actually just run a Basic Rules game one time. It scares the crap out of me because I like the idea of the various clerical domains for all the gods, and the eight wizarding schools, and the larger number of backgrounds found in the PHB and so forth... but at the same time jumping in feet-first into a game where there are just one type of only Humans, Dwarves, Elves, and Haflings, there are only four "non-subclassed" Classes (I say "non-subclassed" because we are supposed to consider the Champion, Thief, Life, and Evocation as generic parts of the generic class) and a few basic backgrounds to select from (which is the one place where I'd probably add in a few ones from the PHB that aren't in the Basic Rules because at the very least Outlander should be included so you could create the Core Four version of the ranger-lite and druid-lite.)

Whether or not I ever actually try and run a game using these rules I don't know, but the idea does keep tugging at me as a way to make things simpler on both ends of the game for both players and myself.
 

Doug McCrae

Adventurer
It's just kind of expected, isn't it? If I invited you over to play some D&D it would not be unreasonable of you to expect to play any one of the races from the Player's Handbook.

...

I just don't think having a plethora of available races necessarily adds much of anything to the setting.
You're right, they don't really add anything, and you're also right that the only reason they exist is tradition, going all the way back to OD&D (1974). And the reason they were in OD&D is simple - Tolkien.
 
I like gnomes, but this is definitely a problem. There’s such a palimpsest of identities to the gnome that it can be hard to say what a gnome actually is.

As to race mattering in my campaigns, I think much of that falls to the player. Is the player really into their dwarven identity or is it just a collection of bonuses and abilities to them? My players definitely impact my DMing style, and I react to what they’re putting out.

In most of my worldbuilding, I tend not to restrict what people can play. I have very few ideas that I can justify restricting people’s choices for. My cool homebrew idea will be fine if I allow goliaths in it, even if I didn’t originally plan for such.

Are they shorter dwarves that specialize in engineering? Halflings who live in the woods and do illusion magic? Both? Neither? D&D couldn’t seem to make up its mind about what the heck Gnomes were supposed to be, so I did it myself. Now I like them, but they’re not really any of the many disparate things D&D calls “gnomes.”
 

GreenTengu

Registered User
I am surprised that it is the Gnome that is the OP has trouble with.

To me, it seems like it is the Halfling that is lacking any identity. Sure, Gnomes have a somewhat confused identity split between being techies and hippies, but at least there is something to say about them.

But Halflings? Basically just humans who don't grow to full height. You go back to Tolkien and it seems like they were stand-ins for the simple, rural country folk of the British Isles-- and he made them small in stature as well as in status. But in D&D, such people are just common humans-- and anything else that has attempted to slip into the Halfling identity has pretty much fallen flat. All their racial traits and such are simply based on the idea of "a human, but smaller-- so what might someone be able to do if they were smaller?" But it isn't as if the Halflings have a monopoly on being small size and thus get racial abilities that seem like they should just be general rules of the game such as "you can hide behind a creature twice as big as you" or "you can run between the legs of something twice as tall as you"

None of that speaks to anything particularly unique or iconic or interesting for them. So while the Gnome identities might contain some level of contradiction, at least there are some iconic Gnomish traits and concepts to play with. Even if it boils down to being scientists, talking to animals, using illusions and wearing pointy hats. It is a lot more than what the Halfling has going on.


But, that aside, sure... there gets to be a point where one needs to ask "do I really have to have everything in my game?"

Do I have to have Aasimar, Tieflings, Aarakocra, Goliath, Dragonborn, Genasi, Kenku, Grung, Bullywogs, Tabaxi, Triton, Gith, Shifter, Warforged, Kender, Minotaurs, Changelings, Firbolgs, Eladrin, Deva, Shardmind, Kalashtir, Thri-kreen, Hamadryad, Pixie, Satyr, Revenant, Shadar-Kai, Shade, Vryloka, Bladelings, Hengeyokai, Jerren, Vasharan, Korobokuru, Nezumi, Spirit Folk, Vanara, Synad, Illuman, Mongrelfolk, Sharakim, Centaur, Raptorian, Killoren, etc., etc.

Apparently everything that anyone has ever thought up and stuffed into any published D&D book needs to be a common, recognized, regular sight and occurrence within every world that the system is ever used to represent?

Honestly-- that just seems crazy. A world is going to be as much defined by what is not there by what is.

That being said, I am a big advocate of what D&D has thus far completely failed to do.

If there is a sentient, true-breeding race that generally pops up as villains within the setting and that race has lived in that setting for more than 100 years, then there should be a properly made, properly balanced racial stat block for playing that usually villainous race. And, no, not "Half-"-- just an outcast or exile or traitor or imprisoned and reformed or adopted and raised member of that raise.

And, no, giving them intentionally crap stat block that puts them half a level to an entire level behind the rest of the entire party does not count as a "properly made, properly balanced" racial stat block. Nor does making them a few traits short and then making up for that by giving them a super broken ability that violated the core design principles of the game.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
You're right, they don't really add anything, and you're also right that the only reason they exist is tradition, going all the way back to OD&D (1974). And the reason they were in OD&D is simple - Tolkien.
Heh. Who can forget those iconic gnome characters in LotR…?

What were their names again?


In what way? ... I'm starting to think that the most important facet about race in D&D is how it shapes the perception a player has for their character. Which actually carries a lot of weight with me.
That's probably a big part of it, yes. Any race other than human can tend to fall into racial stereotypes, the character becomes about the race (either conforming to or challenging stereotypes), rather than about the character.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Obviously there were mechanical reasons to chose one race over another for attribute bonuses, special abilities, and access to kits or prestige classes but what difference did it make in the campaign? Would there be a noticeable difference in the campaign had your human Fighter been a goliath, an elf, or a dragonborn? At the risk of sounding presumptuous I'll bet the answer is probably no.
It matters to my play experience. It probably impacts the choices I make in play. So, by that measure, it makes a difference in the campaign.

Also, as a GM, I take the player choices to be indicative of things they want to see. If you play a gnome, we're probably going to see a lot more gnome culture and social role in the game than if nobody chose to play a gnome. That probably means there will be plot differences, as well, since to see that culture you're probably going to have to go to parts of the world where that culture is present...

And, in most of my games, if the player wants it I give them a lot of leeway in building the culture of their race. If you are the one player to play a half-orc, you get a lot of say in what being a half-orc actually means, and that changes the character's interaction with the world.
 

Kobold Avenger

Explorer
I feel that Halflings have less of an identity than Gnomes in D&D. The only thing they have going for them was that they were there at the start and named Hobbits, before the Tolkien estate stepped in and brought up trademark concerns that forced them to become Halflings. The only setting where they're actually interesting is Dark Sun, and that's quite a departure from the standard Halflings.

Some people feel that Gnomes might be an antisemitic caricature, so they have that thing going against them. But there's certainly been attempts to move away from that stereotype.
 

Doug McCrae

Adventurer
You go back to Tolkien and it seems like they were stand-ins for the simple, rural country folk of the British Isles-- and he made them small in stature as well as in status.
Yes, and they also represent children. The Hobbit is a child's fairy tale, in the tradition of Alice in Wonderland, The Princess and the Goblin, and The Marvellous Land of Snergs, which all have child protagonists. Bilbo is short so children can identify with him.
 
Galadriel was a gnome. :D

No, really. At the risk of "well, actually'ing" you, in some of Tolkien's earlier drafts, the Noldor were referred to as gnomes. Galadriel was of the Noldor, ergo...

Heh. Who can forget those iconic gnome characters in LotR…?

What were their names again?
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
in some of Tolkien's earlier drafts, the Noldor were referred to as gnomes. Galadriel was of the Noldor, ergo...
Let's take it to the Pedantic complaints thread, and get you some XP to go with that laugh. ;)


Hey, and that explains why Gimli was so into her. Well, makes it at tad less creepy.




Edit: wrong thread...
...cross-posting...
(please don't take it the wrong way)
 
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oreofox

Explorer
Personally, yes the race matters. However, in many games I have played in, it doesn't really seem to matter to the DM. Right now I am playing a gnoll paladin/barbarian/warlock (backstory reasons), who uses "mask of many faces" to appear as a dwarf (she was raised by a dwarf paladin) even though she appears 6.5 feet tall. When I first joined in (came in when everyone was level 7), the DM had some NPCs react to such a tall dwarf, and when taking damage in combat she rages (which I have remove the disguise), there's been a couple reactions from opponents. But now? Nothing. I might as well just be playing a human.

As for the comment about gnomes: In my setting, gnomes are changed. They started as the offspring of humans and water fey creatures, breeding true, and having the typical illusionist trickster faerie schtick common in default D&D for the past few decades. I got tired of that, so they changed over the centuries. They were nearly wiped out because of their more happy-go-lucky attitude, but one of their own helped rally them and saved them from extinction. This gnome ascended into deity status, and became the new God of War for the setting. The mortal gnomes renounced their trickster faerie heritage and, with the blessings of their new god, fundamentally changed. They are now a mix of the Spartans from the 300 movie, mixed with steampunk tinkerer artificer types. As a whole, they worship their war god, with a traditional reverence for their elemental goddess of water. Gnomes live in a water-logged nation where it rains perpetually, and have a higher percentage of water genasi than any other race (planetouched, including tieflings and aasimar, can be from any race).

Halflings, as mentioned earlier, I didn't really know where to put them amongst the other races (having 3 small races in goblins, gnomes, and ratfolk), so I killed them off, though they existed once. They used to be nomads on my world's area known as the Plains of Everlight (a flat expanse where the world is lit up as if it was day 24/7 [or 24/8 in my world] due to the bleed over from my setting's Plane of Light), and live on in the planetouched of Light. But other than that, I just couldn't figure anything out that wasn't stepping on toes, which is a pretty BS reason as I am sure one of my multitude of other races (which I have many) probably step on another race's toes, but I just never really liked halflings as a whole.
 

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