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

MGibster

Explorer
From a gaming standpoint, I think the myriad races serve an important and valuable role. In some ways BECAUSE of the stereotypes: They provide a scaffold (much like Class and in 5e, Background) with which to develop a personality.
I would certainly agree with that assessment. As D&D is written, the races in the book are designed to be dropped as is into any campaign setting but I think that's part of the appeal of D&D. I can expect to join just about any D&D game and know what the elves, halflings, dwarves, and all the classes are all about. I can hit the ground running without having to look up a bunch of background information.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
The philosophical question is.

Kender genocide is a good act? Alignment repercussions?

They are a clear and present danger to the multiverse.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
I created a setting and one of the defining points was that it's planar boundaries were thin and various deities had used this land over the age to deliver their faithful from other material planes where they were going to be wiped out. Both PC races but also intelligent monster ones. And there were things like two different, geographically separated orcs who had completely different traditions and cultures. The only original inhabitants were underdark halflings (that had spawned normal halflings)

In other words, the same thing bothered me. WHY would there be so many intelligent races sharing a world?
 

Laurefindel

Explorer
Looks like the discussion is still relevant to the OP (which at 100+ posts is a feat in itself), so I'll add my two coppers worth...

Do fantasy races really matter? I'd like to say that they don't and that I can play whatever as a player, and have whatever played when I'm the DM, but that'd be a lie.

While I can easily attribute many cultures to a single PC race, I have a hard time dissociating these races from their respective cultures (which even if they diverge a little, remain very archetypical). I'm still debating whether this is a bad thing or not.

I don't like playing a gnome, or a half-orc, or a dragon born, or a dark elf, mostly because of cultural reasons (or how others perceive your culture). I actually like their racial abilities a lot. Allow me to reskin my gnome as a lighter-frame human from the city, or my half-orc as a human Viking-like culture, or my dragon born as a tribal human from the southern plains, and I'll be they happiest man around.

actually, I made a setting based on that concept...
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
In other words, the same thing bothered me. WHY would there be so many intelligent races sharing a world?
Such a thing pretty much implies the existence of meddling by intelligent beings.


(Except, in a fantasy setting, that would be deities, not aliens.)
 

oreofox

Explorer
Such a thing pretty much implies the existence of meddling by intelligent beings.
/snip

(Except, in a fantasy setting, that would be deities, not aliens.)
Aren't they kinda the same thing, at least in D&D? They are extraplanar beings, not part of the "material plane", which would make them aliens. :p
 

Tonguez

Adventurer
In other words, the same thing bothered me. WHY would there be so many intelligent races sharing a world?
In our own World there was once a time when the planet featured more than one Homonid species - besides our own Homo Sapiens. It is know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons*, Denisovans and Homo Florensis, possibly Homo Erectus all lived on Earth at the same time, overlapped, killed and interbred until only one species remains.

If we imagine a fantasy world that is bigger and more fertile- allowing races to develop further in isolation - and touched by magic (giving each race its own special advantage/niche) then why not a situation where Many advanced races share the world.

Maybe something like Homo Florensis - Gnome (fey-touched niche), Neanderthal = Dwarf (endurance advantage and subterranean niche), Cro-Magnon = Orc (Toughness advantage), Denisovans = Elf (arcane advantage). Then of course you have Fey and Extraplanar races rounding out the group
 
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billd91

Earl of Cornbread
What irks me is that Gnomes can have as high strength as half orcs! Should be capped at 12 or something, in my opinion
Lowered caps aren't a good rule choice, if you ask me. I'd rather go back to having a penalty to Strength on small characters as in 3e/PF. The PCs aren't outright barred from having as high a strength as the half-orc, but it's gonna cost them more.
 

billd91

Earl of Cornbread
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 think that's true... for some like Vulcans, Klingons, Wookies, Aslan, Vargr, K'Kree... but I also think that's because they're relatively distinctive in development. They have strong stereotypes to play on. Ill-defined races like Duros, Orions, Nautolans, Vilani - not so much. The same's true in D&D - dwarves, elves, orcs, halflings (as long as you hobbit them up) - all are pretty distinctive. Gnomes have been through so many different iterations they've become a kind of gray wash... until a player picks one up, chooses their behavior hook, and strongly plays it.

I also think there's an element of community size. D&D can be figured to have, by far, the largest community of players. It takes someone with the next level of interest to branch from there into other RPGs. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a certain amount of selection bias going on with players with just a skosh more willingness to play out a character's behavior.
 
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billd91

Earl of Cornbread
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.
Yeah, the more distinctive the culture you attribute to them, the more picking a different race will matter and be playable in a campaign. Gnomes, at the 1e timeframe, are just a little too like both dwarves and halflings to be distinctive. So they ended up getting Dragonlanced up a bit. And so the taffy-pulling began until it was hard for any one person to say what a gnome was without referring to a specific edition source. Me - I like the Pathfinderized gnomes with their bright colors - assuming they don't suffer the Bleaching.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
In our own World there was once a time when the planet featured more than one Homonid species - besides our own Homo Sapiens. It is know that Neanderthals, Cro-Magnons*, Denisovans and Homo Florensis, possibly Homo Erectus all lived on Earth at the same time, overlapped, killed and interbred until only one species remains.

If we imagine a fantasy world that is bigger and more fertile- allowing races to develop further in isolation - and touched by magic (giving each race its own special advantage/niche) then why not a situation where Many advanced races share the world.

Maybe something like Homo Florensis - Gnome (fey-touched niche), Neanderthal = Dwarf (endurance advantage and subterranean niche), Cro-Magnon = Orc (Toughness advantage), Denisovans = Elf (arcane advantage). Then of course you have Fey and Extraplanar races rounding out the group
You are hypothesizing specific attributes of a setting - larger world, more fertile, develop in more isolation (geography? magic?) but close by now (standard situation), common ancestors, and using extradimensional travel to bring in more races.

You just detailed out another valid route to adjust the setting in order to make multiple sentient races in proximity to each other make sense. There are plenty of them.
 

Krachek

Explorer
There is also the possibility to make all races look like human, and explain there abilities by some magical effect or taint.
So a gnome may be an human, not very tall nor very strong, with some some special abilities to be explained.
these unusual human may be seen as mutant, blessed or demon according to different culture.
 
I think that's true... for some like Vulcans, Klingons, Wookies, Aslan, Vargr, K'Kree... but I also think that's because they're relatively distinctive in development. They have strong stereotypes to play on. Ill-defined races like Duros, Orions, Nautolans, Vilani - not so much. The same's true in D&D - dwarves, elves, orcs, halflings (as long as you hobbit them up) - all are pretty distinctive. Gnomes have been through so many different iterations they've become a kind of gray wash... until a player picks one up, chooses their behavior hook, and strongly plays it.

I also think there's an element of community size. D&D can be figured to have, by far, the largest community of players. It takes someone with the next level of interest to branch from there into other RPGs. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a certain amount of selection bias going on with players with just a skosh more willingness to play out a character's behavior.
This is very true. Running a group right now, and it is clear that although the players like the concept of playing another race, they're not actually very good at playing up the behavior of the race.

For example, got three players, an elf, dwarf, and succubus. It is very rare for them to actually behave like either of them, but they still like the idea of being themselves, but something else.

They are new players though, and didn't take much time to create a unique character beyond "this race, this class." The one I made for a really new player, a 16-year old half-orc pirate fighter, is the most into roleplaying because the whole concept speaks for itself.
 

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