D&D General how are stories infused with a race?


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For my part, there are two approaches, one of which has already been discussed. The one everyone's talked about is "top-down," where you look at the high-level themes or at literary, mythic, religious, etc. source material and draw forth stories that way. The other approach is "bottom-up," and it's...well, a lot more speculative, less likely to be instananeously grabbing, but more likely to be very natural and well-suited to the specific thing you've created. Actual D&D races have had both.

Since it's sort of my traditional topic in this sort of thing, I give the example of dragonborn, viewed through each lens.

From a top-down perspective, dragonborn are pretty obviously reptile-like humanoids. That means you can potentially tap into a whole host of lizardy-boi stories across sword and sorcery, myth, legend, you name it. But because they have a connection to dragons, that kicks things up a notch--and also enables some really interesting connections specifically to several Greek myths. See, there are several Greek myths that involve something surprisingly similar to dragonborn (minus the breath weapon, since that's a more modern invention WRT dragons). You have the obvious direct parallels like the Spartoi, the warriors literally sown from dragon's teeth, or the ophiogenees, literally the "serpent-born" who were the descendants of the Mysian Dragon or Drakon Ophiogeneikos (literally "the dragon of the serpent-born") and Halia, a woman who had come to worship at the sacred grove of Artemis that the Mysian Dragon guarded.

But there are other myths too, like the story of Erikhthonios (often rendered "Erichthonius" or "Erechtheus," as these were different names but the earliest attestations use them interchangeably): Hephaestus came to desire Athena after Aphrodite had spurned him, but Athena rejected his advances; he tried to have his way with her but she fought him off, and wiped his...seed...off of her thigh with a bit of wool, causing a child to be born from the earth--but this child was either "a serpent intwined around the babe" or actually himself "half-human, half-snake," to the point that some myths explicitly call him a "drakon." He's also considered Athena's son (since she raised him and...participated...in his conception) even though she remained forever a virgin--a lovely example of mythic contradictions resolved. There's also multiple references to drakaina, female dragons or half-human half-dragon women, some of whom produce lineages of kings, e.g. the Scythian drakaina, who struck a deal with Hercules, that he become the father of her descendants.

So there's actually an awful lot of heroes, tribes, and royal lineages that could have been drakogenes, "dragon-born," in Greek myth. Perhaps dragonborn have the quirk that they are always born from an actual dragon's teeth (maybe dragons are like sharks in this setting, so loose dragon teeth are more common than one might expect), adult and fully formed. That creates one hell of a distinct story: what's it like for a culture where there are no children, no mothers, and no need for marriage or partnership except as a choice? Alternatively, perhaps dragonborn in this setting take cultural cues from the culture that the Greeks called "Scythians," a broadly successful culture from around 900 BC to ~500 BC (though remnants lingered well into the first millennium AD). The Scythians were noted for their excellence in war (Herodotus claimed the Scythians could not be stopped by anything less than an alliance of several states), rich artistic tradition particularly in metalwork (some of which survives to this day), and participation in the early Silk Road. That's a lot of cultural toys to play with, just gotta find a path that works.

Alternatively, you can build bottom-up. Dragonborn (at least in 4e...) have a bonus to History skill, high Charisma and either Strength or Constitution (meaning, overall high fortitude no matter what), and tend to heal from injuries more quickly. They also need less time to develop: female dragonborn are only "pregnant" (carrying an egg) relatively briefly compared to human pregnancies, then the fetus finishes maturing inside the egg in a hatchery of some kind. (In this regard, they are like hairless monotremes, or as I like to phrase it, "reptile-like mammals" rather than "mammal-like reptiles.") They mature extremely quickly, reaching the equivalent of a 10-year-old human child at merely 3 years, finishing their growth spurt by about 12-13, and being fully physically adult by 15; their maximum age is approximately the same as a human's. Most adult dragonborn have a breath weapon (though some have dragonfear instead), and although they are not dragons, they have a blend of draconic pride and more mortal-like desire for social companionship, which tends to drive them toward pursuit of excellence and clannish/reputation-heavy behavior. Their diet is heavier on protein than a human's, but otherwise the same, and they can tolerate the same temperature ranges as humans do (thanks to their wide mouths, which allow substantial heat transfer).

From the above, we can do all sorts of stuff. Dragonborn are bright fires, stars that flare hot rather than fading away--they may unfortunately embody the "live fast, die young" mentality, just with "glorious" replacing "fast." Their early lives are extremely brisk; most dragonborn are full adults a year or more before human high school students begin thinking about their college prospects, and their infancy/childhood is incredibly short, cramming into three years what humans take 10 to work through. This is likely to lead to a society that looks a lot more like what seems to occur so often in anime: prodigies of (what we would consider) shockingly young age yet superlative skill nonetheless; to them, Alexander the Great would have been something of a late bloomer, not the ridiculous military prodigy he is to us. They also likely prioritize herding and grazing over farming, so their communities may look different--and they're a lot more likely to need preservatives or to have a more complex dietary regime (e.g. incorporating dairy, eggs, complete-protein pairs, or other similar things into most dishes).

This gives the idea of a culture where pride and legacy are dominant, where leaving your mark on the world is incredibly important--"going off to seek one's fortune" is extremely common in their society, not something only callow youths with no family ties pursue. It's also one where building to last matters (since, y'know, a single big argument could lead to burning a place down if you aren't careful...) and where "go big or stay home" is likely deeply-ingrained. In other words, it's something like a hybrid of "fairy-tale farmer's sons" and "the idealized Romans of legend."
any idea on what to do with mine as I got some stuff to work with?

A truly ancient race having long left the far realm for the prime material and the shadowfell, they are normally found in the far reaches of the worlds from forgotten swamps or far peaks to the depths of the Underdark or desert oasis. Since time immemorial they have been seekers of truth, knowledge and enlightenment both to their great success and other times to their great dismay They are now a divided people some seeking a way back to relevance and powers (dawnborn) and to restore what they lost for both good and ill, others wish to transform the material plane into a paradise(duskborn) but have a long slow grind to first perfect themselves into something even able to have a hope in achieving such a feat.

Relations with the common and uncommon races.

They find halflings utterly alien and gnomes to be useful but far too chaotic for long term partnership. dwarves to bound to tradition but good workers and excellent crafters and elves to unreliable but good for trade and excellent for learning magic from, humans useful but are all over the map in temperaments. Dragonborn they get on with well with, certainly well with the gem strain and they just lump tieflings in with humanity seemingly disregarding the hellish heritage.

Relations with the aberrations.

Aboleth can be great sage assuming you wish to risk your skin, Beholders are crazy, avoid or kill at your discretion. Mindflayers are competition but we are useless to them so chilly relations, Neogi just kill them as they hate everything and will enslave everything.

2 paragraphs detailing appearance and physical qualities

three - eyes stare out from an oversized cranium it’s w shaped pupils scan the world rapidly, six tentacles surround its wide mouth writhing when the creature is pleased.

It lacks a nose or any trace of nostrils. Its mouth brings to mind a skeleton with the sight of its teeth and fierce appearance. a body covered in clammy skin, possessing four arms with six digits, and long legs ending in wide splayed toes that form a crescent shape.

They possess bony armour over their torsos and parts of their heads with what resembles gemstones set in them, this bone armour has parts of it the call to mind seashells and in other parts the leaves of ferns in its latticework. their bone plating comes in a variety of metallic shades, highlighted by bright flourishes of flesh.
 


toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Also consider when introducing a non-traditional race: how do they contribute to the market economy so as to have these perceptions and relations with other "player races." For example, the alien Dark Sun thri-kreen intermixed with other races because they were the only ones who could create kreen weapons and tools using their special saliva, a valuable commodity in a metal-deprived world.

The kreen also have an innate urge for the "pack" (a hierarchy system of a group led by a superior). This urge would lead them to feel natural working with creatures who don't have the same anatomy, who sleep, who live longer, who don't lay eggs, etc.

It seems your race has opinions on other races, and not "kill them all" opinions, which suggests they have relations with those. If this is intended as a player race too, you'll need to answer many questions.

How does your race not immediately cause the peasants to cry "monster?"

What happens when they enter an Inn? Have they become such a part of the culture that special seats or tables have been made for them?

Same with gear. Does anyone make things for them? What do they need and contribute?

What drives them, being so alien, to hang out with other humanoids?

And so on.
 

Bluebell

Explorer
When I come up with a creature or race that has animal features, the very first thing I do is research that animal and borrow less obvious aspects of it and think about the implications of those aspects.

So, your creature has a squid-like head. Do they lay eggs like squid do? Some squid attach their eggs to a surface, and sometimes they will lay them in big community clusters. So what would it look like for an entire sentient species to raise its young that way? Maybe they need to either build their communities near the sea or have the means of transporting seawater in order to build artificial community spawning grounds. Maybe rather than hospitals or midwives they have some sort of holy order that is placed in charge of caring for eggs.

The other thing is that if you want some factions to be religious zealots and others to be more moderate, you simply create multiple interpretations of the same religious tenets. Their religion revolves around seeking truth? Perhaps one faction believes that truth must come at the expense of all else and that any "lies" (what is interpreted as a lie is where the zealotry comes in -- is it obstruction of truth to wear clothes? Or to live a normal life that is not in service to what is seen as the Universal Truth?) must be obliterated. Another faction sees truth as an ideal that must be strived toward but not to the point of destruction of any perceived flaw.
 
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Also consider when introducing a non-traditional race: how do they contribute to the market economy so as to have these perceptions and relations with other "player races." For example, the alien Dark Sun thri-kreen intermixed with other races because they were the only ones who could create kreen weapons and tools using their special saliva, a valuable commodity in a metal-deprived world.

The kreen also have an innate urge for the "pack" (a hierarchy system of a group led by a superior). This urge would lead them to feel natural working with creatures who don't have the same anatomy, who sleep, who live longer, who don't lay eggs, etc.

It seems your race has opinions on other races, and not "kill them all" opinions, which suggests they have relations with those. If this is intended as a player race too, you'll need to answer many questions.

How does your race not immediately cause the peasants to cry "monster?"

What happens when they enter an Inn? Have they become such a part of the culture that special seats or tables have been made for them?

Same with gear. Does anyone make things for them? What do they need and contribute?

What drives them, being so alien, to hang out with other humanoids?

And so on.
do you have any suggestions as it is late here and great thoughts are slow on my end lately more exactly I have writer block?
 

Stormonu

Legend
On the opposite end of the scale, you might just want to start with for now "they exist". Just the barebones description and mechanical abilities.

As the race appears in your game, either as PCs or NPCs, you can then build on their racial attributes, culture and place in the world. A reason to do this is that many folk make the mistake of stereotying their custom races and it can become difficult to expand them beyond that narrow definition. By starting with a Schrodinger state of existance, you can build outward in directions to fit the story without too much worry of butting up against pre-existing lore. As an alien species, the lack of knowledge about their culture beyond a few simple tidbits creates a mystery that might appropriately fit the race. As things happen in the campaign, you can backtrack to include those details into the racial write-up.

An example of this is the Klingons. When Star Trek first started, they started as Warmongering Soviets - very little was intially revealed about them other than they were Bad Guys (mostly). As they showed up in more episodes and the movies, their culture and society was fleshed out (and went through many a revision). They are much unlike the original depiction that came out in the TOS, with significant developments in TNG and even more refinement in DS9 (and Enterprise).

This was also very much the way the Al'Galue and Tyres Haul (variant dragonborn for my homebrew) developed. I started with a couple mechanics and built backward into their culture through campaign events (the Al'Galue now come "from the stars" as maligned invaders, and the Tyres Haul are half-elf, half-polymorphed dragon bred true).
 

On the opposite end of the scale, you might just want to start with for now "they exist". Just the barebones description and mechanical abilities.

As the race appears in your game, either as PCs or NPCs, you can then build on their racial attributes, culture and place in the world. A reason to do this is that many folk make the mistake of stereotying their custom races and it can become difficult to expand them beyond that narrow definition. By starting with a Schrodinger state of existance, you can build outward in directions to fit the story without too much worry of butting up against pre-existing lore. As an alien species, the lack of knowledge about their culture beyond a few simple tidbits creates a mystery that might appropriately fit the race. As things happen in the campaign, you can backtrack to include those details into the racial write-up.

An example of this is the Klingons. When Star Trek first started, they started as Warmongering Soviets - very little was intially revealed about them other than they were Bad Guys (mostly). As they showed up in more episodes and the movies, their culture and society was fleshed out (and went through many a revision). They are much unlike the original depiction that came out in the TOS, with significant developments in TNG and even more refinement in DS9 (and Enterprise).

This was also very much the way the Al'Galue and Tyres Haul (variant dragonborn for my homebrew) developed. I started with a couple mechanics and built backward into their culture through campaign events (the Al'Galue now come "from the stars" as maligned invaders, and the Tyres Haul are half-elf, half-polymorphed dragon bred true).
that might work
 

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