log in or register to remove this ad

 

D&D General No More "Humans in Funny Hats": Racial Mechanics Should Determine Racial Cultures

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
Sorry if the title is a bit unclear, but I think that it gets the basic premise of the thread across.

Okay, the topic of this thread relates to many recent discussions that have occurred on this site's forums and similar spaces, and even some ongoing ones (particularly the more recent racial ability score increases thread, but also my now closed halfling and D&D race design thread). This topic is, basically, how do we stop people from reading a fantasy race's cultural behavior (likely once the problematic racial elements have been removed) as just "humans with silly hats/rubber foreheads"?

There is a common saying; that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. The same applies to an extent for fantasy races in D&D, especially with the recent removal of racial ability score modifiers and cultural proficiencies in racial stats. If it looks and acts more or less like a human, it may as well be a human.
(Disclaimer: I know that there is a variety of opinions on this matter, where some feel that if a race is capable of cultural diversity, it might as well be a human, while others believe that even minor cosmetic differences are more than enough to differentiate the many D&D races. I personally am in a sort of middle-ground area on this argument. I certainly believe that most D&D races are different enough from the others to fulfill their niche and justify being different races, but there is a line that you have to draw in order to preserve the individuality of different races/lineages. I'm not trying to say that Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and the many different races of D&D past and present are basically just humans that might as well be replaced by humans, I'm merely trying to point out that races should try to avoid being labeled as "just another duck".)

There are a few different ways to further differentiate the D&D races from one another, like granting more mechanical differences between the various races, making the races have more alien/bizarre psychologies, and just creating more in-depth cultures for the vast swath of D&D races, but those all have their own issues with them. Certain people will argue that mechanical effects aren't enough to fulfill the feeling of being an "Other" species, some will argue that if other races/species/lineages have alien psychologies that it's practically impossible for us human players to properly roleplay them (thus diminishing the enjoyment of playing one of those races), and that if a culture can just be transplanted from one race to another (typically onto humans) that their culture doesn't "justify their existence as a race/lineage, as any other race can just have that culture", and others will question/debate the validity/importance of any (or all) of these criticisms. To put it simply, there's no perfect solution, and our differing tastes, preferences, and opinions will act as a roadblock to universal acceptance for any of these proposals.

However, there is a solution: Have racial mechanics impact a race's/lineage's culture.

This isn't a even new concept. However, it is often a rare one, and it can also be difficult to design cultures based on racial abilities. However, it's possible, and can be done in compelling and unique ways. Notably, Eberron often does this, through the Warforged, Changelings, Kalashtar, Dragonmarked Races, and plenty of other examples. Try taking the culture of Warforged and applying it to Humans. It doesn't work. Try it with Changelings or the Kalashtar. It doesn't work. Keith Baker (and the other designers of Eberron's cultures) largely succeeded in creating races that have cultures that can't be straight up transplanted onto Humans or any other race. It just plain doesn't work. Kalashtar won't have the same culture without their psychic abilities and bond with refugee Quori, Warforged can't be Warforged if they weren't Forged for the Last War and then set free through the Treaty of Thronehold, and Changelings can't be Changelings without being shapeshifters. They're unique, they're interesting, and most importantly, they're racially dependent.

I did something similar with the two homebrew races of mine that I mentioned in the Halfling thread; the Vezyi and the Felshen. The Felshen were basically a race of lab-made sentient Flesh Golems that became fully independent, could reproduce as the other races could, and their alchemically and magically altered/engineered brains granted them innate psionic powers (which then caused them to go to war as a goblinoid society of psionic-hating mages tried to eradicate them from the world). They've even discovered how to make psionic innovations, like Dream Hubs, "telephone poles" that increase the range of their telepathy, mental libraries stored in giant crystals, and similar creations. The Vezyi are death-touched Vecna worshippers that get "free" resurrections from their Death Priests (called Iremongers), which is largely dependent on their racial ability that lets them be resurrected after the normal amount of allotted time that resurrection spells allow (it's actually 10x the normal duration, so revivify works on Vezyi that have been dead for 10 minutes, raise dead works on Vezyi that have been dead for 100 days, and true resurrection works on Vezyi that have been dead for 2,000 years). They live in the Underfell (the Underdark of the Shadowfell), not eating, drinking, sleeping, or breathing, their only purpose in life is to serve Vecna, and once they run out of free resurrections (called "pardons", which they get 9 of), their bodies and souls are turned into undead thralls in Vecna's fell army. These race's intricate cultures are dependent on their racial abilities, and their cultures even accept races that have similar enough racial features to function in their societies (Felshen accept all benevolent psionic races/subraces/lineages/monsters; such as gemstone dragons, dragonborn, and golmeng, dragonborn, verdan, ghostwise halflings, flumphs, gnome ceremorphs, and so on. The Vezyi accept Reborn, Dhampir, and Fehntüm (incorporeal-undead-touched humanoids) that worship Vecna and his pantheon of demigods).

If a race/lineage's culture is dependent/influenced by their racial abilities, you can get some awesome and diverse cultures that aren't possible through replacing them with humans.

What do you guys think? Do you think D&D is up for changes to racial cultures like this? What issues with this could you see happening? Are there any other issues that this solution also solves? Have you done stuff like this before, and how did it go? Also feel free to discuss possible changes to the cultures of the main D&D races to make these even more apparent (there is a bit of this built into the core game, like dwarves drinking lots of alcohol because of their poison resistance and elven lifespans influencing their behavior, but I feel like it could/should be much more in-depth for many/most of them).

Thanks for reading, and hopefully the discussion stays constructive and interesting below.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
What do you guys think? Do you think D&D is up for changes to racial cultures like this? What issues with this could you see happening? Are there any other issues that this solution also solves? Have you done stuff like this before, and how did it go? Also feel free to discuss possible changes to the cultures of the main D&D races to make these even more apparent (there is a bit of this built into the core game, like dwarves drinking lots of alcohol because of their poison resistance and elven lifespans influencing their behavior, but I feel like it could/should be much more in-depth for many/most of them).

Thanks for reading, and hopefully the discussion stays constructive and interesting below.
D&D is an old RPG. There’s lots of accreted expectations. So I think the further removed your setting is from default D&D tropes, the easier it will be for you to do this.

Put differently, somehing like this would be easier in a homebrew, or a setting like Eberron, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape or Ravenloft than something like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance or Mystarra.
 

AcererakTriple6

Autistic DM (he/him)
D&D is an old RPG. There’s lots of accreted expectations. So I think the further removed your setting is from default D&D tropes, the easier it will be for you to do this.
Which is difficult, as the default tropes are baked right into the core game, including mechanics that are contradicted by other worlds' versions of those races/lineages (particularly when it comes to Gnolls and Orcs and how they're presented in Eberron and Exandria differing from their depiction and treatment in the original printings of Volo's Guide to Monsters).
Put differently, something like this would be easier in a homebrew, or a setting like Eberron, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape or Ravenloft than something like Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance or Mystarra.
Agreed. A new world for a possible 6e could do something like this. However, many of the previous worlds have had revisions in their updates through the editions (I'm looking at you, Forgotten Realms), so I don't think that changing/elaborating on certain racial cultures in one/multiple of these settings would be that big of a deal, both in the amount of work that it would take and getting the community to accept it.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Here you go, Acererak. The work that inspired my post on age being important to understand a given society.


It's also based on the assumption of a world with unreliable narrators, an intentionally hidden race of people (Orcs), and the precept that Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, and Orcs were the four "Firstborn" races who divided the world amongst themselves long before halflings, goblins, and humans ever existed leading to a "Tenant State" for humanity in a painfully pointed political allegory to modern Millennial/Zoomer life expectations. Complete with a heavyhanded Climate Change allegory in the ever-increasing titular "Aetherstorm" of the setting, which used to be minor magical winds that would add whimsy to people's lives, but with the continuing abuse of magic by the older races they'd grown into powerful storms...

Maybe it'll help.
 

I think adding ribbons that help differentiate the original races would be pretty helpful, since those are the ones usually complained about. It wouldn't be too hard to pick a core concept of each to focus on, such as dwarves being very tightly clannish, and make a ribbon or two that emphasizes this.

Part of the issue is specific vs generic. Eberron's races work because they're specifically designed to work within Eberron. Most of the races are designed to be generic enough to fit into any setting, and a lot of the original races have been watered down even further.
 

Minigiant

Legend
This is one of the ideas I hope for in one of the new official D&D settings. Going hard on the base racial tropes to make the core races feel more separated from humanity.

For example, I always pondered a race age system where old races get more starting skills in but young races get bonus skills as the level up or age. And ancient races like elves get bonuses to skills they are proficient in and penalty to other skills. So elven culture ends up being eras behind in looks and values as elven elders are litterally born in another era and idolize dead but close family members born 1000 years ago.

Like humanity is in the high middle ages but the elves are still rocking the Early Classical era looks and debates. And the dwarves think the elves are old fashioned but still idolize their old empire long after it fell.
 

Yora

Legend
D&D is an old RPG. There’s lots of accreted expectations. So I think the further removed your setting is from default D&D tropes, the easier it will be for you to do this.
Yes, return to monke.
I mean, to Basics.

D&D has been adding and modifying elements to the AD&D 1st edition for 35 years, but rarely has anything been removed. It's just growing and growing into something unrecognizable that is pretty much impossible to untangle or straighten out. When you're unhappy with having 15 updates, adding a 16th update isn't going to fix things.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
There is a common saying; that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. The same applies to an extent for fantasy races in D&D, especially with the recent removal of racial ability score modifiers and cultural proficiencies in racial stats. If it looks and acts more or less like a human, it may as well be a human.
Welcome to the latest iteration of 5E! Everyone is the same mechanically. All races... wait... sorry ancestries... whew feel much better, I felt the thought police closing in... anyhow, yes I would agree.

I wonder, however, if the newer generation of players will allow racial mods to ever creep back in. Or will we hit the Singularity - where every PC race and class are so similar, everyone plays a martial that can cast spells and has darkvision.

This is so true: If a race/lineage's culture is dependent/influenced by their racial abilities, you can get some awesome and diverse cultures that aren't possible through replacing them with humans.
 



Nefermandias

Adventurer
Indeed. Maybe I should stop posting as the threads are so similar? Glad to see the OP's thoughts though!
It's funny because it started as a thread about racial bonuses in a game, but someone upthread has already posted something about "How age is important to understand a given society"

Man, you guys are too big brained for me. I swear to God, it's virtually impossible to talk about games today without the conversation becoming something "profound"
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
It's funny because it started as a thread about racial bonuses in a game, but someone upthread has already posted something about "How age is important to understand a given society"

Man, you guys are too big brained for me. I swear to God, it's virtually impossible to talk about games today without the conversation becoming something "profound"
"Someone Upthread"... There's 11 posts, here, Nefermandias. Was it too hard to glance up half a page to see a name?

Acererak liked my post from another thread talking about how long lived races should likely exists in cultures that reflect their longer lives relative to humans and 20 minutes later posted this thread. So I gave him my previous work that inspired my post in the other thread.

'Cause, y'know, Racial Mechanics don't mean "Racial Bonuses".

The disrespect, I swear to god...
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
That’s a nice idea, but it require to build another game to implement it.
Racial features are pretty weak compared to class features, and if we want to change that, we will need to rewrite all the character progression.

Eh, I think we need to go GALAXY BRAINED on this one.

I like the direction @AcererakTriple6 is going, but it needs to go farther.
Problem 1: Too many races are humans in funny hats.
Problem 2: Tasha's and the evolution of D&D when it comes to race/ancestry/lineage has turned race into a choose your own adventure / mix & match at the yogurt stand, not a meaningful choice.

Snarf's Superior Solution: Swerve hard into differentiation both in crunch AND lore. Get rid of 'default' races in the PHB. All races should be campaign- or setting-specific. Get rid of ASIs for races completely (as that seems to be the alpha and the omega of complaints) and differentiate all races by abilities and/or gated racial feats. Races should have a rich tapestry of culture and fluff to pull upon (or to play against, as need be, but will still help place them in the world).

Also? No more dead-eyed elves. The whole lot of 'em. What we do is we take them all, the wood, the grey, the high (it's 4:20 somewhere), the sea, the sun, the valley, the wild, the desert, the dessert (twice as sweet), the jungle, the whatever elves. We say they're all space elves and send them to space. BUT ELVES CAN'T LIVE IN A VACUUM!* Problem solved, you're welcome. :)


*Contrary to the existence of the 3.5e supplement, "Elves, Elves, Elves, and Even More Elves!" which contained the non-canon Hoover Elves. ....boy, they sucked. I'll show myself out now.
 
Last edited:


Remathilis

Legend
This isn't a even new concept. However, it is often a rare one, and it can also be difficult to design cultures based on racial abilities. However, it's possible, and can be done in compelling and unique ways. Notably, Eberron often does this, through the Warforged, Changelings, Kalashtar, Dragonmarked Races, and plenty of other examples. Try taking the culture of Warforged and applying it to Humans. It doesn't work. Try it with Changelings or the Kalashtar. It doesn't work. Keith Baker (and the other designers of Eberron's cultures) largely succeeded in creating races that have cultures that can't be straight up transplanted onto Humans or any other race. It just plain doesn't work. Kalashtar won't have the same culture without their psychic abilities and bond with refugee Quori, Warforged can't be Warforged if they weren't Forged for the Last War and then set free through the Treaty of Thronehold, and Changelings can't be Changelings without being shapeshifters. They're unique, they're interesting, and most importantly, they're racially dependent.

I'm going to poke holes in your examples a bit.

The reason those three races so that is because they have a unique innate fantastical quality to them. They are shapechangers, living golems and innately psionic people. They have an obvious hook. The farther you get from human, the easier the hook. Aarakroca and tabaxi are easier to design a culture around than halflings or gnomes because the former have a unique element (mimicking an animal's behavior) and the latter not much beyond "short and quirky".

That magical element is much more interesting if expanded on; when eladrin were a Core race, there was a lot of discussion about what things would look like if you had a race that could teleport every 5 minutes. Would they need ladders and stairs? What would thier prisons look like? The obvious magical hook is easier to create something unique, compared to the rather stock blandness of dwarves, elves and orcs.

Second, I noticed you left out the fourth Eberron race: shifter. My guess is that their culture isn't as focused on their shifting and for the most part could be replicated with another race that is rural/tribal, has a reputation for violence and infatuation with the moon.

The last reason why these three races so this is they are tied to a specific setting, rather than being generic enough to go on any setting. Warforged culture works because the Last War, the Cannith creation forges, the Lord of Blades, the Treaty of Thronehold, etc. Strip all that out and your get "generic robot" PC race. As a better example, read the fluff on 4e's tieflings and dragonborn built for Nerath vs the generic muck in the 5e PHB.

So I think your idea is an interesting one, but for it to work, you'd need a fixed default setting to make the races work and/or clear fantastic hooks to base the cultures around. Attempts to do the opposite (generic elves suitable for any setting or homebrew) would create races no better than humans in masks.
 

Dragonsbane

Proud Grognard
Please refrain from the insults
Problem 2: Tasha's and the evolution of D&D when it comes to race/ancestry/lineage has turned race into a choose your own adventure / mix & match at the yogurt stand, not a meaningful choice.

Snarf's Superior Solution: Swerve hard into differentiation both in crunch AND lore. Get rid of 'default' races in the PHB. All races should be campaign- or setting-specific. Get rid of ASIs for races completely (as that seems to be the alpha and the omega of complaints) and differentiate all races by abilities and/or gated racial feats. Races should have a rich tapestry of culture and fluff to pull upon (or to play against, as need be, but will still help place them in the world).
Our table has this. There are sub-ancestries for humans (8), elves (6), and the other races as well, without ability mods but with abilities determined by where they evolved, their culture, and even their slightly different bodies! Works really well, but we have no players who want soft serve yougurt.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Welcome to the latest iteration of 5E! Everyone is the same mechanically. All races... wait... sorry ancestries... whew feel much better, I felt the thought police closing in... anyhow, yes I would agree.

Works really well, but we have no players who want soft serve yougurt.
Well, you seem to be on a roll. If you can't talk about people who play differently to you without insulting them, please refrain from posting.
 


Bolares

Hero
Sorry if the title is a bit unclear, but I think that it gets the basic premise of the thread across.

Okay, the topic of this thread relates to many recent discussions that have occurred on this site's forums and similar spaces, and even some ongoing ones (particularly the more recent racial ability score increases thread, but also my now closed halfling and D&D race design thread). This topic is, basically, how do we stop people from reading a fantasy race's cultural behavior (likely once the problematic racial elements have been removed) as just "humans with silly hats/rubber foreheads"?

There is a common saying; that if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck. The same applies to an extent for fantasy races in D&D, especially with the recent removal of racial ability score modifiers and cultural proficiencies in racial stats. If it looks and acts more or less like a human, it may as well be a human.
(Disclaimer: I know that there is a variety of opinions on this matter, where some feel that if a race is capable of cultural diversity, it might as well be a human, while others believe that even minor cosmetic differences are more than enough to differentiate the many D&D races. I personally am in a sort of middle-ground area on this argument. I certainly believe that most D&D races are different enough from the others to fulfill their niche and justify being different races, but there is a line that you have to draw in order to preserve the individuality of different races/lineages. I'm not trying to say that Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and the many different races of D&D past and present are basically just humans that might as well be replaced by humans, I'm merely trying to point out that races should try to avoid being labeled as "just another duck".)

There are a few different ways to further differentiate the D&D races from one another, like granting more mechanical differences between the various races, making the races have more alien/bizarre psychologies, and just creating more in-depth cultures for the vast swath of D&D races, but those all have their own issues with them. Certain people will argue that mechanical effects aren't enough to fulfill the feeling of being an "Other" species, some will argue that if other races/species/lineages have alien psychologies that it's practically impossible for us human players to properly roleplay them (thus diminishing the enjoyment of playing one of those races), and that if a culture can just be transplanted from one race to another (typically onto humans) that their culture doesn't "justify their existence as a race/lineage, as any other race can just have that culture", and others will question/debate the validity/importance of any (or all) of these criticisms. To put it simply, there's no perfect solution, and our differing tastes, preferences, and opinions will act as a roadblock to universal acceptance for any of these proposals.

However, there is a solution: Have racial mechanics impact a race's/lineage's culture.

This isn't a even new concept. However, it is often a rare one, and it can also be difficult to design cultures based on racial abilities. However, it's possible, and can be done in compelling and unique ways. Notably, Eberron often does this, through the Warforged, Changelings, Kalashtar, Dragonmarked Races, and plenty of other examples. Try taking the culture of Warforged and applying it to Humans. It doesn't work. Try it with Changelings or the Kalashtar. It doesn't work. Keith Baker (and the other designers of Eberron's cultures) largely succeeded in creating races that have cultures that can't be straight up transplanted onto Humans or any other race. It just plain doesn't work. Kalashtar won't have the same culture without their psychic abilities and bond with refugee Quori, Warforged can't be Warforged if they weren't Forged for the Last War and then set free through the Treaty of Thronehold, and Changelings can't be Changelings without being shapeshifters. They're unique, they're interesting, and most importantly, they're racially dependent.

I did something similar with the two homebrew races of mine that I mentioned in the Halfling thread; the Vezyi and the Felshen. The Felshen were basically a race of lab-made sentient Flesh Golems that became fully sentient, could reproduce as the other races could, and their alchemically and magically altered/engineered brains granted them innate sentient powers (which then caused them to go to war as a goblinoid society of psionic-hating mages tried to eradicate them from the world). They've even discovered how to make psionic innovations, like Dream Hubs, "telephone poles" that increase the range of their telepathy, mental libraries stored in giant crystals, and similar creations. The Vezyi are death-touched Vecna worshippers that get "free" resurrections from their Death Priests (called Iremongers), which is largely dependent on their racial ability that lets them be resurrected after the normal amount of allotted time that resurrection spells allow (it's actually 10x the normal duration, so revivify works on Vezyi that have been dead for 10 minutes, raise dead works on Vezyi that have been dead for 100 days, and true resurrection works on Vezyi that have been dead for 2,000 years). They live in the Underfell (the Underdark of the Shadowfell), not eating, drinking, sleeping, or breathing, their only purpose in life is to serve Vecna, and once they run out of free resurrections (called "pardons", which they get 9 of), their bodies and souls are turned into undead thralls in Vecna's fell army. These race's intricate cultures are dependent on their racial abilities, and their cultures even accept races that have similar enough racial features to function in their societies (Felshen accept all benevolent psionic races/subraces/lineages/monsters; such as gemstone dragons, dragonborn, and golmeng, dragonborn, verdan, ghostwise halflings, flumphs, gnome ceremorphs, and so on. The Vezyi accept Reborn, Dhampir, and Fehntüm (incorporeal-undead-touched humanoids) that worship Vecna and his pantheon of demigods).

If a race/lineage's culture is dependent/influenced by their racial abilities, you can get some awesome and diverse cultures that aren't possible through replacing them with humans.

What do you guys think? Do you think D&D is up for changes to racial cultures like this? What issues with this could you see happening? Are there any other issues that this solution also solves? Have you done stuff like this before, and how did it go? Also feel free to discuss possible changes to the cultures of the main D&D races to make these even more apparent (there is a bit of this built into the core game, like dwarves drinking lots of alcohol because of their poison resistance and elven lifespans influencing their behavior, but I feel like it could/should be much more in-depth for many/most of them).

Thanks for reading, and hopefully the discussion stays constructive and interesting below.
TLDR: Do it like Eberron di it. :p
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top