D&D General I think the choice of Species / Race / Ancestry has more to do with Story than Rules...


He / Him
Let's say you sit down to play D&D, and the DM has introduced a house rule... There are no mechanical differences between the species. Whether you choose to play an Elf, a Human, or a Tortle, you gain no mechanical benefits. (Let's ignore flying races for right now and say this DM has come up with a way to boost character stats and powers in another way.)

What species would you play?

How would that house rule impact the choice you make?

I have an untested theory that lots of players would still choose to play the same species they would have with the mechanical benefits. In other words, if you wanted to play a Dwarf Fighter, you would choose Dwarf whether there was a mechanical benefit or not.

This is because, in my opinion, the choice of species has more to do with the story a player wants to tell (or experience), and less to do with mechanical benefits. A player who wants to be an elf is going to play as an elf whether they receive a +2 to Dexterity or not. A player who wants to be an Ooze is going to play as a Plasmoid even if they don't have explicit rules about sliding under doors.

Now I think mechanical benefits can help tell that story too. But I really do wonder if they are secondary to the narrative power of the species.

What do you think? Do you think players are more motivated by the mechanical benefits of a species, or by the story potential? What kind of choice would you make in the given scenario?

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I suspect most players choose their species because of both ways. Many will choose based upon story or species idea-- elves have been popular for so long due to their essence of the race and people just like it, the half-races are often chosen because players either appreciate the mixed ancestry concept or the "being between two worlds" idea, tieflings and dragonborn have that esoterica that just seems fun to play.

But at the same time, there are those players who want Darkvision at all cost because they believe the game will be easier having it. Those who can get flying will take it because they can beat encounter roadblocks easier. Some want the extra speed, some just want the 1st level Feat.

So species choice really comes down to what a player finds important when playing the game-- telling a character's story, or trying to "win" the game the DM places in front of them. And choices will go both ways.

Yes and no.

Definitely, the vast majority of players come to the table with a story concept in mind and pick the best mechanics to fit that concept.

On the other hand, there's already a tendency to treat all sapients as just "pointy ear humans" or "short humans" or "humans with a tail" etc. If there's nothing to differentiate different people's, then they may as well end up... forgetting different species altogether.

At which point, we probably put more emphasis on classes pulling the weight. If my dragonborn can't breath fire by virtue of being a dragonkin, then people will do it by being a dragon monk.

And that's fine, plenty of games do things that way. But mechanics are meant to support and uplift story elements.


It's entirely player dependent. After a few decades and at least hundreds of players, I can only say that any given player is just as likely to decide on their character's race for story over mechanical reasons, and vice versa. Some players can't stop minmaxing, and some never start. Most are somewhere on the continuum between the two.

Does the same thing apply to class choice? I think it does.


Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
I don’t know. I usually start in one place and move to another. For me it’s interdependent and my group is pretty traditional—-we don’t use floating ASI.

Since 5e, I often pick variant human for the feat and only sometimes the esthetic of being a human.

I like duergar and their appearance and story. I like their psionics tendencies (story) ability to go invisible mechanics.

When I think up characters it’s a dynamic interplay of one thing sparking another.


I mean sure, I care about the concept first, but the purpose of mechanics is to help to represent the concepts, and I would be rather disappointed if that was not happening.
I agree. The "G" part of RPG is just as important as the rest. Now, those mechanics don't necessarily need to look like they do in 5E. There are lots of ways to mechanically support the fiction, from Shadowdark's usually singular minor trait, to PF2E's robust set of species specific options even as you level.


One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
sure, many people would continue to play species without mechanical benefits as many species carry certain stories and connotations inherent to them, BUT that doesn't mean there SHOULDN'T be mechanical properties to each species as this is a game and mechanics are important, and that includes for the story telling, as having mechanics that reflect the narrative of the story increases the validity of the story,

i can say my t-shirt is plate armour all day long, but the moment someone comes along and tries to put that to the test the illusion shatters like the lie it is and i'm left with with an injured gut, and i don't want an injured gut, i want my dwarf to have darkvision and my red dragonborn to have fire resistance.

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