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

MGibster

Adventurer
Players don't want to play "one of the races". They want to play "whatever race you've not included." :)
Me: I'm running a game of Vampire. Who wants to play?
Player: Can I be a werewolf?
Me: :rant:

My thinking is that just because a race or class or option is in a book, that doesn't mean it's necessarily allowed in a game. The people crafting the game world should only add the classes, races, etc that fit the game world, and no more.
Sure. But I've never participated in a D&D game where one of the main races from the PHB wasn't available as a player choice. I would personally find it odd if someone told me I couldn't play a dwarf in a D&D game.
 

GreenTengu

Explorer
Me: I'm running a game of Vampire. Who wants to play?
Player: Can I be a werewolf?
Me: :rant:
Can I be a member of Clan Tzimisce without the Vicissitude curse that is cool with the Camarilla but maintains the general "mad scientist" concept?
Or how about a Lasombra Antitribu?
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Gnomes became the Jews, and it was all too obvious if you know negative Jewish stereotypes in 1st and 2nd edition.
Big noses? Check.
Obsessed with gold and gems? Check.
Intellectual with little physical power? Check.
Could in many ways be described as rat-like? Check.
Insisted on constantly wearing funny hats? Check.

I am sure there are many other traits that could be added to this when the race was even further expanded on.

Which makes it all the more ironically unnerving that the Gnomes are the first race that people want to exterminate from the game because they don't see what benefit they bring and can't figure out what to do with them.
I'm glad somebody mentioned this before I got to the end of the thread. Gnomes originally were D&D Jews, and not a particularly flattering depiction. I'm actually surprised there isn't a reference somewhere to gnomes making golems.

As for how I use gnomes I like to play up the idea of natural inquisitiveness. They're curious to the point of nosey, over familial with everybody, constantly want to know how things work, and work hard to make new things. I liken them to Leonardo da Vinci meets Nosey-Old-Lady-Down-the-Street. They just have to know what is going on and how things actually work and then use that information for something new. That's why they can speak with animals, they learned how to do it by just continuing to poke at that thing until they figured it out.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Ahhh, V:tM. From a while back:
I was part of a GURPS: Vampire playtest in which my character was a detective who was "embraced" by a powerful Brujah. He arose, superhumanly fast and strong, and impervious to most damage. He went mad, mad as a Malkavian.

Clearly, he was a superhero...and thus, Major Mosquito was born...
 

oreofox

Explorer
Speaking of negative stereotype origins of dwarves and gnomes, I noticed a bit of a trend about 15 years back when I started to really get into making my D&D world. All the PHB races were "civilized" and lived in cities and villages, and were rather European. The evil races (such as orcs, goblins, gnolls, ogres, etc) were uncivilized brutes that were typically stupid and lived in small groupings of huts with a chieftain as leader, being "savages" that the Europeans called the non-Europeans.

Noticing this, and that they were kill on sight monsters, made me change things around. I don't have "enemy races" that are kill on sight with no guilt (except for humans, but they are functionally extinct in my world), but instead take a bit more Eberron take, where not all orcs and goblins are bad, while not all non-dark skinned elves and dwarves are good.
 

Kurotowa

Adventurer
The PC's tried to get entry into a certain large town. One character was a half-elf with a very large bear companion. The customs officer cheerfully told the character that they would be responsible for all damage inflicted by their pets and to not leave it alone in public, but no big deal.

One of the PC's was a hobgoblin. Entry positively refused until one of the other PC's told the customs agent that the hobgoblin was his man-servant with very excellent references and name dropped that formerly he had worked for a very prominent wizard. At that point the customs official agreed to allow the hobgoblin entry, but angrily complained about what this thing might do to their lovely town and the consequences that might happen if it did.

At which point one of the PC's leaned over to the hobgoblin and whispered, "They consider you lower than the bear."
Kudos to you for doing this. What the DM chooses to give narrative attention does so much to determine what's important and what isn't in a game. For all those times when a player doesn't play a non-human any differently, how often was it because the NPCs never bring it up and the DM brushes off any attempt to play it up as a minor side detail to be handwaved before getting back to the main action? Race can only matter if the DM makes it matter.

As for the issue of fitting all the PC races options into the setting... why do you have to? Not every race has to be a significant, or even local, factor in the featured region. Maybe the race has a low population, with only a few tiny villages in a remote location. Maybe the PC is far from home, a stranger in a strange land from across the ocean. Maybe the PC is really far from home and isn't even native to the plane or time period. If the player and DM are able to concoct an acceptable backstory that doesn't violate the campaign concept, the sky's the limit.
 

Seramus

Adventurer
Can I be a member of Clan Tzimisce without the Vicissitude curse that is cool with the Camarilla but maintains the general "mad scientist" concept?
Or how about a Lasombra Antitribu?
Those are not even clans anymore. You’re 15 years out of date. 🤪
 
The problem with the "nobody plays gnomes" argument, of course, is that play experiences are completely subjective. Gnomes are and have always been fairly common in games I play. The races nobody ever plays in my personal (recent) slice of experience? Half-orcs; with comparatively few dragonborn and halflings. Goliaths, humans, dwarves, and sometimes elves are the common "warrior-type" races amongst the games I play. The people I interact with tend NOT to go for the extremely exotic, possibly (and I'm just guessing here) because it's harder empathize with the alien. Contrastingly, half-orcs were quite popular amongst my playgroups back in the days of 3.x and Pathfinder.
 
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Did it really matter what fantasy race a player chose for his or her character?
I have to say no in at least 80-90% of the games I've played.

Most of the times IMXP a PC race has only a minor and very occasional impact on the story, such as providing some benefit in character interaction (e.g. you have an Elf in the party so you can try ask support from local elves for a shortcut through the forest) or otherwise an impediment (you can't really take a half-orc into the city here, he'll have to wait outside).

But these rarely change the story in major ways. It takes a very willing DM to do so, but most DMs either have their own agenda for the story or they care mostly for the gamist aspects. Even a more open DM is IMXP more often likely to tailor adventures around PC classes than races.
 

Hussar

Legend
Players don't want to play "one of the races". They want to play "whatever race you've not included." :)

If you allow all races, no-one will play a gnome. If you say, "Allowed races are human, elf, dwarf" then that guarantees someone will want to play a gnome. They will complain bitterly about how unfair you are at not including gnomes. Then if you allow them to play a gnome, and people in the game world comment on this member of a rare race, the player will then complain about how you are picking on them. :)

My thinking is that just because a race or class or option is in a book, that doesn't mean it's necessarily allowed in a game. The people crafting the game world should only add the classes, races, etc that fit the game world, and no more.
There is far too much truthiness in this post. :D

But, the point about the Star Wars Cantina is well made. And it's funny because if you actually play Star Wars, no one plays aliens that are just humans with funny ears. No one plays a Wookie and doesn't play up that fact. Or a whatever race. Star Trek as well. You don't see Vulcan characters that are just identical to the humans. People play Vulcans because they want to play VULCANS, not just a really smart human.

As soon as the D&D books come out though, all that goes out the window and far, far too many players are playing whatever race happens to fit their power gaming needs. Like others above, I'd far rather just use Variant Humans than the constant nails on the chalkboard of having yet another human that can see in the dark with pointy ears. :(
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
I think you are correct that the gnome as presented in core DnD is a ill conceived mish mash that lacks a viable niche, but thats because no race in DnD is given a real culture. You could play most DnD characters as straight humans with the right stats and feats.

So my two points of advice are YOU DO NOT NEED TO SHOE IN EVERY RACE. I've run campaigns with only Humans, Half-giants and Gnomes - No Dwarfs and Elfs as vampiric sidhe, certainly no Tieflings

Nonetheless gnomes are my favourite race. GIVE YOUR RACES REAL CULTURES, they arent just bundles of stat bonuses they need to have a purpose in the world.
 

GreenTengu

Explorer
There is far too much truthiness in this post. :D

But, the point about the Star Wars Cantina is well made. And it's funny because if you actually play Star Wars, no one plays aliens that are just humans with funny ears. No one plays a Wookie and doesn't play up that fact. Or a whatever race. Star Trek as well. You don't see Vulcan characters that are just identical to the humans. People play Vulcans because they want to play VULCANS, not just a really smart human.

As soon as the D&D books come out though, all that goes out the window and far, far too many players are playing whatever race happens to fit their power gaming needs. Like others above, I'd far rather just use Variant Humans than the constant nails on the chalkboard of having yet another human that can see in the dark with pointy ears. :(
I can hardly disagree more about the point regarding Star Wars.
Pretty much any Twi'lek or Rodian or Zabrak or Chiss or Cathar or Tagrata character, outside of a minor note here or there, could just be human and it wouldn't make one bit of difference.
The cultures in Star Wars are extremely poorly defined and even the personality traits expected of each species or their differing abilities aren't even particularly iconic to the franchise. I mean generally it is just "whatever character from this species first got a speaking role in a movie or novel, you are expected to emulate that character-- even though such a character was more defined by their role than their species."
Beyond that it is just skin color and some sort of head ornament.

Now, within Star Trek, it is kind of the opposite in terms of culture. Because humans have all been merged into a rather bland communist bureaucratic goody-goody culture, to have anything that has a culture anything beyond that has to be an alien. But then each alien's culture generally has precisely one trait that they do and everything about them has to somehow tie directly back into that singular trait.

Klingon do war, so everything about them has to tie back into war in some regard. And they aren't even alone in this as there are half a dozen other races within Star Trek that just "do war" and are therefore indistinguishable from the Klingon as far as culture goes.

The Ferangi to capitalism, so everything about their culture has to tie as directly back into capitalism as possible.

Maybe the Vulcan have a bit more to them, but only because one of the main characters of the original show was a Vulcan and so any random plot they wanted to do regarding his alieness became part of the Vulcan culture. And since he was a main character, perhaps the most popular character, they did a lot of plots or plot points regarding the various odd traits about being a Vulcan.

But, at the end of the day, they are just humans with some extra head ornament and some singular aspect of their culture exaggerated. For the most part-- if the setting allowed for their to be diverse human cultures-- they could all just be humans.

Anyway-- there is no inherent reason why the races in any D&D world need to be any less interesting or developed than the aliens in Star Wars or Star Trek-- neither of which are particularly well developed anyway.

But within a game that uses stats, are players likely going to choose the stats that give the best advantage? Sure! After all, it is a game that uses numbers and those with the best numbers tend to "win".


But if you removed racial stats from the game entirely and simply said that everyone plays with the Variant human stats but can say they are any race they like, do you really think no one would play anything but human? I seriously doubt that.

If anything, I think you will get more Drow and Kobold characters than you do now.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Halflings and gnomes weren't created as PC race to play with all the classes, but they are more specialised in stealth classes, or in the case of the gnomes, illusory magic.

I see gnomes like the mixture of feys and dwarfs, not like fantasy Jews. I am Spanish, and in the first Christian century Jewish community was the 10% of the population of the Roman empire. This means if I have got Mediterranean blood, then I could have Jewish ancestors, and not only converted for the years of Catholic kings Isabel and Fernando. We suffered the tag of "dirty-blood" by the rest of European nations.

Sometimes I imagine halfling like a little version of Andalusians, people from Andalucia, the Spanish south region where I live. If I want a halfling with a comical vein, then I imagine them with the accent from Cadiz or Sevilla. (Search "Chiquito de la Calzada" in youtube). And my vision of the gnomes are like the characters of "Big Bag Theory" living in a steampunk civilization mixture of Warcraft and Pop-Pixie (spin-off of Winx cartoon). Yes, like the tinkerers from Dragonlance but more serious.


Sometimes I would like martial maneuvers like the ones from "Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords" to play a gnome swashbuckler or a halfling monk with a martial maneuver of super-jump to split the face of giant enemies, like in some videogames, fantasy wuxia or manganime fiction.

In the "Class Acts" article with the title "Martial Cultures" from Dragon Magazine #341 there were optional lists of racial traits to play barbarians or rangers, even as halflings, dwarves or gnomes.

Maybe gnomes and halflings need subraces with some little changes of the racial traits.
 
Which Gnome race? I have my own version of Gnomes that has a clear, consistent identity, which I’m quite fond of. But until I basically rewrote them myself, I was on the gnome hate train because I couldn’t tell what the heck they were supposed to be. 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.”
If you look at gnome portrayal in media, especially CRPGs, they are usually interpreted as the whacky/insane race. See Jan Jansen (Baldur's Gate 2), Grobnar Gnomehands (NWN2).

This is even lampshaded in Pathfinder: Kingmaker. (Paraphrase) "How could I have known he was a spy? Sure he was a sorcerer, sure he was a gnome..."
 
If you look at gnome portrayal in media, especially CRPGs, they are usually interpreted as the whacky/insane race. See Jan Jansen (Baldur's Gate 2), Grobnar Gnomehands (NWN2).

This is even lampshaded in Pathfinder: Kingmaker. (Paraphrase) "How could I have known he was a spy? Sure he was a sorcerer, sure he was a gnome..."
I largely agree with this take, especially when compared to halflings (or hobbits).

Halflings are usually considered to be living in the countryside, happy and content, and not too interested in adventure (you know, hobbits). The adventurer hobbit is the odd-one-out who is tired of that and goes out on an adventure to see the world; he's the exception, not the rule.

The gnome is similar in appearance, and sometimes in their environment (countryside and quaint homes), but that's it. The gnome is erratic, hyperactive, energetic. They are curious, inventive, and unfocused. Either they're tinkering away on a new invention, or devising a theater production that is dazzling in both sound and lights.

The problem with this isn't the cultures, which are actually pretty different. It's the adventurer, as the hobbit adventurer is usually depicted as the exception to his race, the gnome is the norm. And then they end up overlapping even more in behavior.

Tldr: Halflings are hobbits, gnomes are smurfs.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
You didn't go with "The Tick"?!? There's a missed opportunity for you.
He was actually quite clearly based on The Tick, right down to my lantern-jawed illustration thereof. Instead of a mask and antennae, he wore heavy rider goggles and a military style helmet (with “MM” on it), because SAFETY FIRST! He did most of his heroic patrolling while riding a bicycle (with a visibility flag) with cards in the spokes, a la:
[video=youtube;Ar2gMmBz0jo]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar2gMmBz0jo[/video]


I even took this scene from issue #1:


And gave him a signature surgical steel “crime straw”, which he used on his prey- miscreants all!

And among the evil he protected the city from? Other vampires.* To which end he equipped himself with an chainmail tunic reinforced with strategic Kevlar plates as per Batman & Captain America (SAFETY FIRST!) and used a heavy-duty repeating crossbow with ash bolts.





* never realizing he was one himself. I did say he was mad as a Malkavian...
 
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