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

Bolares

Hero
Being serious now... I find it really hard to create "inhuman" lineages and cultures, because well, I'm human. So What I try to do is look at the lineage and the kind of story I'm trying to tell with it and ask myself, how would a human culture behave under this set of features and characteristics. How would a culture be different if everyone lived for hundreds of years... how would it be different if everyone had a cantrip, how would people behave if there were no genders?

Every lineage is humans with some differences IMHO, so instead of pretending they are not I try to embrace it and start from that assumption.
 

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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Why the hate for ASI? Its just common sense that different creatures with, sometimes vastly, different biology would have different attributes.
ASI should stay and penalties should come back. And those should be part of their culture too.

It's not so much hate, it's that it's very .... contentious. And it seems to derail threads a lot, because then the conversation shifts into real-world stuff.

And, for some reason, orcs. So it's probably best to avoid it, especially on the second page, given that it will probably pop up again and kill the thread at some point later.
 

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.
For the space vacuum we got SpaceX, but it won’t solve the problem.
A DM could try to emulate more flavorful race by forcing a match between Class-sub class and race.
for example
you want to play a fighter battle master, you play an half orc,
a paladin oath of ancient your must play an elf eladrin or any gnome.
and so on.
Just need a list of Race-Class match. Some subclass may be accessible by more or fewer race.
With the actual rules, it is the best shot.
 

Micah Sweet

Legend
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.
SO this! You need a proper setting to differentiate the standard races. They have to have histories and relationships with each other. Once a setting has been established, even different cultures from the same race (even humans) are easily differentiated, because they already have narrative weight. Actual mechanical differences, of course, make this process even easier.
This is why, as has been said in other threads, D&D needs a new default setting that using modern assumptions. Much harder to complain when its built from the ground up.
 

D1Tremere

Adventurer
I think a lot of the discussion and debate melt away with specific framing of the intent behind Ancestry instead of race. For example, I think the intent is not to remove common tropes entirely but instead to differentiate player characters from those tropes. There is also a desire to move away from tropes that are tied to real world prejudice, such as we see with the Vistani.

I think of it like this. A hill giant may be dumb but incredibly strong compared to an elf when we look at stats, but that doesn't always have to be the case. Whenever you have a species that is more defined by sociocultural forces than biology you get a lot of variance. A hill giant may be medium instead of large due to magical intervention, or simply having an ancestor who was from a shorter lineage. They may be smart due to living in a group that favors reading and learning, but not physically gifted.

The question of how to keep everything from appearing as "humans in funny hats" is a framing problem. Any species driven by culture is highly fluid. That is why there are so many differences in appearance and talents within humans. In other words, they really are just humans. Or, humans are capable of great diversity. This only increases when you add more lineages into the mix, and add magic. One dead giveaway is that, in D&D, humans can reproduce (in theory) with any other "species". In fact, we have seen that pretty much all of the different "species" in D&D are capable of true reproduction with one another over the years. This would mean that they are not separate species at all, but different members of the same clade.

I know we can't really turn to human evolution in a fantasy game like this, and that magic makes it even more explainable, but that is precisely the point. A village of Halfliings in D&D can still be a village of typical halflings, or not as the DM sees fit. A player character can come from such a village, and be vastly different or not. It reminds me of the Adams family or the Munsters.
 

Undrave

Hero
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.
Can I just put this as an aside:

WHY does everything ALWAYS have to justify its existence with you people?! Justify this class, justify this race... Why can't something just be cool and fun mechanics with a nice name on top and a little fluff?! Why is everything always this whole song and dance?! It gets exhausting!

Anyway...

Elves and their relatives do not sleep. They trance. That means they probably don't have bedrooms and beds (trance chairs maybe?), and like the Minbari of Babylon 5, they probably see 'laying down' as a thing dead people do. They're probably creeped out by other folks sleeping and the concept of dreams must sound insane to them. They probably have a way different daily schedule compared to races that need lengthy sleep and coupled with darkvision might have activities that goes on 24/7 in different shifts. This also means you can walk into a Elven settlement at any time of the day or night and find random activities going on that you wouldn't associate with that specific time: day drinking revellers, kids playing in the street at night, classes etc. No proper bedroom and beds would probably also impact reproductive "activity" (Elven Kama Sutra?) compared to what we normally do.

This 24/7 culture, added to their long lives, might blend into a loose sense of scheduling where things happen when they need to happen, not because of a traditional schedule. They probably find the concept of specific meals for specific time of days to be quite funny. Pancakes were not invented by Elves. Add their mystical connection to nature and they probably always harvest at the perfect time without needing to really schedule it. I can see an Elf farmer getting up from a discussion at 1 AM and going "Well, time to harvest the apples!" simply because they 'heard' them be ready.
 

tommybahama

Adventurer
What do you guys think? Do you think D&D is up for changes to racial cultures like this?

It would be bad for the growth of the hobby. New players can understand a dwarf or an elf. They won't get the nuanced stuff you propose.

But if you think your ideas have merit then start publishing stuff. Do the groundwork to show it can work and that players will accept it. Earn your million dollar Kickstarter and change the hobby that way.
 

Scribe

Legend
I think the issue (or one of many) is that yes, this could be done, but there is a segment of the population that actually wants 'humans with funny heads'.

This was brought up in the other thread before we even got to page 2.

There are multiple levers that can be used, from mechanical/crunch, to lore/fluff, and yes Age, ASI, and special rules play a part, but people have to buy in.
 

Remathilis

Legend
WHY does everything ALWAYS have to justify its existence with you people?! Justify this class, justify this race... Why can't something just be cool and fun mechanics with a nice name on top and a little fluff?! Why is everything always this whole song and dance?! It gets exhausting!

ENworld in particular has a climate that rejects expansion and thrives on limitation. For some reason, "kitchen sink" is looked down on and "carefully curated" is highly praised as peak DMing. Thus, every option must justify it's inclusion into the walled garden or into the rubbish bin it goes.
 

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.
I think you would have a hard time for some races. Halflings are especially difficult, since they were intended to be short humans without any powers. The biggest difference is a higher metabolic rate (so they eat more). From what I see of your previous work, you gave them a completely different origin story, which certainly makes them different, but might change them too much. I like what Dark Sun did to them. They don't have special powers, they just have a very different culture.

The greater the difference between a race and humans, the easier it is to make them different. In LotR, elves were actually very different from humans. It's even easier for newly created species since there's no legacy interfering with them. But that brings up a game balance issue. Humans don't have special powers, while any race with lots of abilities like not needing to eat, drink, or sleep, are going to be simply more powerful.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Your central premise is flawed.

Humans have tremendously varied cultures, despite being mechanically identical. You are 100% correct that some elements of culture will be affected by some racial mechanics. A race that can levitate at will will not use stairs, for example, but rather have vertical shafts people float up and down. However, I don't think "stairs" is a defining aspect of human culture... in other words, mechanics will give us elements, but not the whole.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Can I just put this as an aside:

WHY does everything ALWAYS have to justify its existence with you people?!

...who are YOU calling, "you people"?!?!?!"

Anyway...

Elves and their relatives do not sleep.

Oh, Elves? Nevermind. Totally cool. Carry on!


This 24/7 culture, added to their long lives, might blend into a loose sense of scheduling where things happen when they need to happen, not because of a traditional schedule.

2091909090752306602efe61df49caf95df8f13d.gif


I am an elf. I am a 24 hour party person. I like to cruise and swing successfully in tight slacks.
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
Can I just put this as an aside:

WHY does everything ALWAYS have to justify its existence with you people?! Justify this class, justify this race... Why can't something just be cool and fun mechanics with a nice name on top and a little fluff?! Why is everything always this whole song and dance?! It gets exhausting!

The more elements there are in design, the more things can go wrong, and elegance/simplicity can be lost.

I'll give a mechanical example that really doesn't doesn't apply to this thread but should be easy to understand: feats. Feats have to be balanced - a feat that gave you +100 damage for a -1 to hit penalty is clearly broken. That's not too hard to balance. But they also have to be balanced when taken in combination. Some feats have great synergy, and the combo of the two is much more powerful than their sum.

So as a designer, when making a new feat, you have to ask yourself "will this be broken in combination with another feat?". If there are 10 feats in the game, you have to do 10 "pairs" with your new feat when testing. Now there are 11 feats in the game to balance a newer feat against. So with each new feature, the number of possible combination grows...
 

Undrave

Hero
ENworld in particular has a climate that rejects expansion and thrives on limitation. For some reason, "kitchen sink" is looked down on and "carefully curated" is highly praised as peak DMing. Thus, every option must justify it's inclusion into the walled garden or into the rubbish bin it goes.
And they have to justify their existence by being unique fiction element and can't just be a fun new mechanic to express a concept that already exist.

Personally, when it comes to races, my style is to wait until the players have picked their races and use those as the common race of my game world. If nobody plays a Dwarf... well there might just NOT be any Dwarf.

I think you would have a hard time for some races. Halflings are especially difficult, since they were intended to be short humans without any powers. The biggest difference is a higher metabolic rate (so they eat more). From what I see of your previous work, you gave them a completely different origin story, which certainly makes them different, but might change them too much. I like what Dark Sun did to them. They don't have special powers, they just have a very different culture.

The greater the difference between a race and humans, the easier it is to make them different. In LotR, elves were actually very different from humans. It's even easier for newly created species since there's no legacy interfering with them. But that brings up a game balance issue. Humans don't have special powers, while any race with lots of abilities like not needing to eat, drink, or sleep, are going to be simply more powerful.

Halflings do have a power now: Luck! If Halflings are supernaturally lucky, then they would automatically be more bold because things tend to work out. And you know that 'Luck favours the Bold' so the more bold they are, the more opportunities they can seize, creating a self-enforcing loop. They're naturally lucky, so they take more chances, they find more opportunity, so they feel even more lucky and so on.

I think Halflings should be great explorers and be found everywhere. They'll look at the horizon and think "Let's go over there! Maybe there's something cool there" and there will always be 'something cool' because to them everything unexpected is cool and they'll go "Maybe there's something else over there!" and so forth.

Oh, Elves? Nevermind. Totally cool. Carry on!




2091909090752306602efe61df49caf95df8f13d.gif


I am an elf. I am a 24 hour party person. I like to cruise and swing successfully in tight slacks.

Three words: Elven Las Vegas.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
What if Backgrounds were expanded to include cultural elements and traditions? Hear me out.

Your classic D&D dwarf lives in an underground city. Their Ancestry and sub-ancestry ("dwarf" and "mountain," for example) would give their bodies all of the physical adaptations for that environment: shorter, stockier, darkvision, that sort of thing. The things you are born with.

Your classic D&D dwarf also has a clan-like society, a strong sense of honor, and is handy with an axe. So let's put all of these cultural expectations, traditions, and folklore into a "dwarven soldier" (or whatever) Background where they will make a little more sense. The things that are learned and taught, like languages, weapon proficiencies, and skills, should be in the same category as other things that must be learned and taught (like manners, political opinions, and religions.) A person isn't born with this knowledge pre-loaded into their brains.

I think it's reasonable to assume that the dwarves who fled their mountain homes to live in the jungles of the Sword Coast would develop vastly different lifestyles and cultural expectations than their cousins who fled deeper into the Underdark. So what if these cultural elements were determined by Background, instead of by Race?
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Three words: Elven Las Vegas.

I mean, on the one hand ... that sounds terrifying. Las Vegas is already dead-eyed and soulless.

Then again .... wasn't this the plot of that Netflix movie, Army of the Dead? Las Vegas filled with soulless, dead-eyed zombies elves?

Hmmm... what are the D&D stats for a chainsaw? Asking for a friend ...
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
Publisher
I will admit I will never understand the argument that getting rid of racial modifiers waters down the races into the same thing. The game is much more than any stat. Flavor and fluff matter, because it literally tells you the differences between the races. Anyone who says getting rid of the ability modifiers for an elf just makes them no different than any other race is completely ignoring this, which absolutely is unique from humans or other races:

Elves are a magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world but not entirely part of it. They live in places of ethereal beauty, in the midst of ancient forests or in silvery spires glittering with faerie light, where soft music drifts through the air and gentle fragrances waft on the breeze.

Slender and Graceful

With their unearthly grace and fine features, elves appear hauntingly beautiful to humans and members of many other races. They are slightly shorter than humans on average, ranging from well under 5 feet tall to just over 6 feet. They are more slender than humans, weighing only 100 to 145 pounds.


A Timeless Perspective

Elves can live well over 700 years, giving them a broad perspective on events that might trouble the shorter-lived races more deeply.


Exploration and Adventure

Elves take up adventuring out of wanderlust. Since they are so long-lived, they can enjoy centuries of exploration and discovery. They dislike the pace of human society, which is regimented from day to day but constantly changing over decades, so they find careers that let them travel freely and set their own pace.


*Edit When we read books or watch movies, we have no idea what stats those characters have, and yet the various races all feel unique, flavorful, and memorable. Therefore, stats shouldn't matter all that much when differentiating races to make them feel unique.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
SO this! You need a proper setting to differentiate the standard races. They have to have histories and relationships with each other. Once a setting has been established, even different cultures from the same race (even humans) are easily differentiated, because they already have narrative weight. Actual mechanical differences, of course, make this process even easier.
This is why, as has been said in other threads, D&D needs a new default setting that using modern assumptions. Much harder to complain when its built from the ground up.
6e really needs to have an entire chapter on setting-building built into the DMG. My preference would be one that provides step-by-step guidelines, perhaps with random tables because, well, it's D&D. A chapter that covers everything from climate/terrain to culture, government types, and religion to choosing races, monsters, and factions. Even if the chapter only provides broad strokes instead of fine detail, that would be very helpful, especially since there are so many worldbuilding guides online already and you know that people would expand upon these tables.

And then the example setting that is built, step-by-step in this chapter, becomes the default official setting that is referenced everywhere else in the main books.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
I mean, on the one hand ... that sounds terrifying. Las Vegas is already dead-eyed and soulless.

Then again .... wasn't this the plot of that Netflix movie, Army of the Dead? Las Vegas filled with soulless, dead-eyed zombies elves?

Hmmm... what are the D&D stats for a chainsaw? Asking for a friend ...
I have to say, whenever I see you write something like this, it makes me want to create an elf character.
 

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