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D&D General How many mechanical features does a race need to feel "right"?

ART!

Legend
Prompted by the discussion/debate over in the List of All 33 Races in MMotM thread, I'm curious:

For your tastes, how many mechanical features does a race in D&D need to feel "right", worthwhile, not-oversimplified, or whatever? One? Three? Five? More? None?

Does it matter what the features are? Do they need to include ASIs? Do they need to include movement? Save modifiers? AC modifiers? Proficiencies? Advantage or Disadvantage? Languages? Feat-like abilities? Innate spellcasting?

Do the races need to be balanced with each other, insofar as the rule system allows?
Do the races need to be balanced with themselves, i.e. do drawbacks like "this race has a slower-than-average movement speed" need to be balanced by an extra bonus or feature?

As a not-D&D-but-very-D&Dish example, races in 13th Age have ASIs just like D&D 5E, plus one racial feature. That's it! Well, there's also racial feats that are available when the character reaches each tier of play. But that's all there is. In fact, races are so simple in 13th Age that to some I added damage resistances, save bonuses, AC bonuses, etc.
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
How many? A few to several depending on what they are
What should they be? Various - might be ASIs, might be movement, might be save mods, proficiences, etc

Ultimately, it depends on the race you're trying to present. If it makes sense for a particular race to have a lot of minor ones, they should have a lot of minor ones. If it makes sense for the race to have a single major one, they should have a single major one. You just want to try to keep an eye to balancing the options so no single race is always the go-to mechanical option for anything other than the player wanting to play a member of that race.
 

Stalker0

Legend
It’s never about the number of mechanics, it’s whether the mechanics create a race that is “different” to play than other ones.

if a race just plays the same as another, than what’s the point of having it? So you want to ensure that differentiation in mechanics.
 


Willie the Duck

Adventurer
From zero to massively multiple, depending on the aim. If we are talking a D&D-esque game, I think for me there needs to be at least one specific, concrete reason why I am playing this instead of a human. It does not need to be mechanical, but it can.

For something like GURPS or Hero System, where races are mechanically just templates (and aspects of personality and similar are part of the build process), I would generally want more little bits and bobs (else why make a race template in the first place?).
 

Frozen_Heart

Adventurer
To me it's not the quantity of features they have. It's the quality.

You could give a species 5 languages, 4 proficiencies, 6 cantrips, darkvision, and a 35 foot movement speed. It would be overpowered af, but it would still feel bland and boring. Generic features like this are fine as a small part of the whole, but don't make a race in themselves.

One extremely impactful, unique, and thematic feature would be worth more than tons of generic features.

My ideal player species selection would not include cultural traits (put that in background instead), would use floating ASI's (but include suggested 'typical' ASI's), and would have a small amount of very impactful abilities more akin to a minor class feature. Additional things like planetouched and dhamphir would be then added at the end.
 



Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
Picking a race could be more interesting if such a decision actually had more influence on the player's choices and options beyond character creation. For example:

Players choose their own traits and abilities based on the race they have selected. This would eliminate the need for defined sub-races to telling us how one elf culture may be different from another elf culture, yet there is still no difference between elves of the same sub-culture.

One of the things I really liked about Pathfinder were the options that allowed you to swap the standard features and traits for something else. Players could substitute specific racial abilities rather than accepting the standard package that applied to all elves, or dwarves, etc. Maybe your elf wizard never used a bow and sword because she focused more of her time on arcane studies, or something else entirely.

And perhaps if there were advanced traits that only your race had access or capability to learn, but only once they reached a certain level. Or your abilities actually improved as you got more powerful. Does your character not grow in other ways besides what their class gives them? Why not make your decisions matter more than only at the character conception?
 

Scribe

Hero
For your tastes, how many mechanical features does a race in D&D need to feel "right", worthwhile, not-oversimplified, or whatever? One? Three? Five? More? None?

Age
Size
Speed
Alignment
ASI
2 or 3 Special Rules
Racial Feats
Backgrounds
Language

And every one of them should have mechanical impact in some capacity.
 

ART!

Legend
Age
Size
Speed
Alignment
ASI
2 or 3 Special Rules
Racial Feats
Backgrounds
Language

And every one of them should have mechanical impact in some capacity.
Would those racial feats be like feats in 5E and available only at certain class levels that allow feat picks? Would any of the feats listed with a race be available to other races?

Would any of the backgrounds listed with a race be available to other races?
 

Scribe

Hero
Would those racial feats be like feats in 5E and available only at certain class levels that allow feat picks? Would any of the feats listed with a race be available to other races?

Would any of the backgrounds listed with a race be available to other races?
Restrictions would ideally be present (Level, Attribute Scores, etc). Some feats would be race restricted, some open to a subset, same with backgrounds.
 


Sometimes, it's okay for a race to be really simple. Using 4e as an example, Humans were special because their features were powerful but simple: any single stat could get +2, you got a bonus feat (the only race which had this), a bonus at-will attack (or Heroic Effort later), a bonus skill training with no restrictions (e.g. not just a class skill), and a small bonus to all non-AC defenses. Nothing fancy, but something plenty of characters could leverage very well.

Turning to 5e, I think the default Dragonborn give us an excellent baseline for a not-quite-sufficient race. They've got exactly four things: +2 to one stat (Str) and +1 to another (Cha), Draconic as a bonus language, resistance to one chosen element, and a short-rest breath weapon. Thing is...that resistance is kinda bland and minimal as far as features go, and the breath weapon isn't much better.

Unfortunately, several other PHB races (dwarves, elves, and particularly half-elves) are rather above the curve instead of below it, so the original default dragonborn really stick out like a sore thumb. It's part of why they were the first race to get a true "complete replacement" thing, 'cause they kinda needed it.

For my part, if Dragonborn had had (a) some additional, skill- or utility-focused feature, and (b) some additional hardiness- or regeneration-focused feature, I would have been perfectly happy. As an example:
Proud History. Dragonborn have a knack for remembering the great deeds of the past--whether as something to measure themselves against, or as lessons to be learned from. You have proficiency in the History skill, or Expertise if your class or background provides History proficiency.​
Draconic Blood. In the heart of every dragonborn flows just a little of the resilience of true dragons. When you spend Hit Dice to recover HP as part of a short or long rest, you gain +1 HP for each hit die expended.​

There. Relatively small things, just a tiny bit of extra HP and training (or expertise) in a skill that might be useful...or might just be flavor, depending on the campaign.

And yes, the weight or impact of the feature matters. Variant Humans get only two distinct +1-to-a-stat, but they also get a bonus feat, something extremely valuable in 5e, and a bonus skill, something generally pretty nice to have (since most characters never gain more than 4 skills total). Despite having fewer (3 vs 4) and partially weaker features than Dragonborn (+1/+1 instead of +2/+1), Variant Human is one of the strongest races in the game, because feats are THAT good.
 

payn

Legend
Surprise, surprise, but I liked 3E/PF1 amount of features for ancestries, kin, species, etc. I didnt like how many shortcuts were added to get those features on ancestries that didnt start with them, but that can be made about every feature in the editions.

Basically, a few neat hereditary items mixed with cultural items to differentiate them.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
For your tastes, how many mechanical features does a race in D&D need to feel "right", worthwhile, not-oversimplified, or whatever? One? Three? Five? More? None?
As many as it takes. Different races are different. So there’s no set number of traits all races must have. If one race has more to cover everything that makes it different, then fine. If another race has fewer (or none) because it’s the default or baseline, then fine.
Does it matter what the features are? Do they need to include ASIs? Do they need to include movement? Save modifiers? AC modifiers? Proficiencies? Advantage or Disadvantage? Languages? Feat-like abilities? Innate spellcasting?
No, it doesn’t matter. Only what makes sense for the race. Humans will have different things listed than thei-kreen.
Do the races need to be balanced with each other, insofar as the rule system allows?
Because gamers are gamers, yes. If people would play to the world and character instead of only playing to the mechanic the races wouldn’t need to be balanced. A random roll for race would also solve the problem.
Do the races need to be balanced with themselves, i.e. do drawbacks like "this race has a slower-than-average movement speed" need to be balanced by an extra bonus or feature?
No choice should be all benefits and no drawbacks. That’s just boring.
As a not-D&D-but-very-D&Dish example, races in 13th Age have ASIs just like D&D 5E, plus one racial feature. That's it! Well, there's also racial feats that are available when the character reaches each tier of play. But that's all there is. In fact, races are so simple in 13th Age that to some I added damage resistances, save bonuses, AC bonuses, etc.
Race could be as simple as a tag that gives you dis/advantage on any appropriate checks. I’d prefer it be simpler and less open to cheese.
 




GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Zero. Race is fluff, not crunch.

But this guy would appreciate a mechanic or two:
The Wizard Of Oz Dancing GIF
 

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