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D&D General The Tyranny of Rarity

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Stormonu

Legend
This is something that I have seen cast about by various DMs over the years - sometimes even by myself. D&D is filled with a menagerie of races and creatures. Sometimes, too many. This can often lead to the DM’s knee-jerk reaction “Not in my campaign!” or “That doesn’t fit my world!”, generally with the modern thought of “if I allow one, there has to be others like it.” or that there needs to be whole backstory of a race/culture for how it came to be in the game.

So, not wanting to squeeze in, say, a Dragonborn city/culture into one’s campaign, the whole race is banned from the campaign. I do think that can be a mistake (on these grounds), and it comes from a bit too modern understanding of our world.

Monsters - and most especially player characters - don’t have to come from a species. From acts of the gods, magical experimentation, cross breeding or accident the creatures of D&D and its races can range from being unique to a mere handful, instead of a globe-spanning race.

That means a variety of things, primarily that you can allow an element into the game - a player race, a monster, magic item or whatnot once, and you don’t have to change your entire game world to allow it exist.

An owlbear, could, for example be a singular, unique magical crossbreed that exists only in that one dungeon you run rather than a race scattered across your game world. Just because the MM stats it up like a “it must be a Tuesday” encounter does not mean that such creatures run rampant everywhere. Perhaps Mort the Mage has the only version kept in status in his basement. Maybe, he made a couple and they got loose, running around in the woods near his dungeon. Perhaps they’re all male, and will die out from old age. If its able to mate, maybe the result is only a (giant) owl or a bear - not an owlbear, so the species can’t propagate.

You could follow mythology with some monsters; there might be only one Medusa in your world, or one chimera or even (gyno)sphinx - and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a super-high level threat; its uniqueness can play out in other ways besides sheer power. Sometimes, things stand out just because there IS only one of them in the world. It could even be that there’s only one in existance at a time, and only when the current one die does another come into existance, rise from the corpse of the old one or reincarnate some time down the road (and seek out its killer…). Mayhaps, even at some point during its life cycle (or death) it morphs into something else that no one has ever seen - or ever will see again.

You could let the one player who wants to play a lizardfolk in your party by having the PC’s background be that they were once an elf, but after crossing a hag in a swamp, she transformed the unfortunate individual into a “hideous” lizardfolk for their insult. Even if there are NPC/evil lizardfolk in the game, the PC has no connection to them, and might very well be treated as an outsider to a “native” of those races. As above, it might not be able to carry its traits on to any prodigy it happens to create, or such prodigy may be sterile leading to a species dead end (or perhaps an epic quest to allow their species to continue and grow…).

The warforged someone wants to play could have been a unique wizard’s construct who outlived their master, and gained sentience - in a sort of Frankenstein’s monster or I, Robot (the Will Smith version) or Full Metal Alchemist scenario for that matter. Likely, it can’t create others of its kind, and it will fade from the world when it passes on, never to be seen again.


As a last note, there’s nothing wrong with not putting a creature or race into a campaign because its doesn’t fit the theme the DM and players are looking for - Kender in Dark Sun, for example, would seem quite absurd. The idea though, is to relax the grip a bit on the purity of the “world” the campaign is set in. There’s nothing wrong with one-offs, and you don’t need to twist an established world to work in something out of the ordinary. Heck, sometimes you don’t even need to explain it - and just let it happen and let it either be a mystery or let someone else come up later for a reason why it happens/works.
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
That means a variety of things, primarily that you can allow an element into the game - a player race, a monster, magic item or whatnot once, and you don’t have to change your entire game world to allow it exist.

Indeed, I have, from several sources, seen a major piece of advice that aligns with this - "Do not over-write - don't initially specify that which you do not need to specify to get started." Doing so leaves you painted into a corner, unable to flex when reality fails to align perfectly with your plan.

You have an entire world to work with. You don't need to pre-specify all the races that exist over its entire surface!

Or, heck, just start your world design by asking the players what races they'd like to play, and build them in from the start.
 


Smackpixi

Explorer
I go with fork it, whatever. In my next game one of the players has decided that his warlock will have received its power by being possessed by a demon that had it’s personal realm collapsed by a god that nearly killed him, but at the last second, he saved himself by jumping his soul into his Character. Ok whatever. Oh by the way, that demon realm he was in charge of is now a floating island off the coast of the Moonshae s, oh and btw, here’s a map of the city, also, here’s some maps of the dungeons, and also, here’s a list of the leaders of this city, oh and also, there’s a new race, they can fly, but they’re actually from the ocean and….

yeah, ok, fork it, whatever, we’ll go with that. Now, I’m super tolerant of that because the source is my 9yr old kid, but I mean, it doesn’t matter, just do whatever.

Lets let everyone do what they want, you only have to balance one player’s ideas against the others…too many dms are weirdos about “well, in my world…”. Forkit, your world has whatever the players want.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This is something that I have seen cast about by various DMs over the years - sometimes even by myself. D&D is filled with a menagerie of races and creatures. Sometimes, too many. This can often lead to the DM’s knee-jerk reaction “Not in my campaign!” or “That doesn’t fit my world!”, generally with the modern thought of “if I allow one, there has to be others like it.” or that there needs to be whole backstory of a race/culture for how it came to be in the game.

So, not wanting to squeeze in, say, a Dragonborn city/culture into one’s campaign, the whole race is banned from the campaign. I do think that can be a mistake (on these grounds), and it comes from a bit too modern understanding of our world.

Monsters - and most especially player characters - don’t have to come from a species. From acts of the gods, magical experimentation, cross breeding or accident the creatures of D&D and its races can range from being unique to a mere handful, instead of a globe-spanning race.
While I see what you're getting at here and to some extent agree, the inherent risk is that you'll run aground* on table mechanics: "Hey, she's got one of those to play, I want one too!", meaning that thing that until a moment ago was a complete one-off either a) suddenly has to be duplicated or b) is liable to cause resentment at the table.

More broadly, I also very much want to avoid the end-result effect where an adventuring party resembles the Star Wars cantina on feet.

* - I speak from experience here, and have had these discussions. Perhaps fortunately for me, the player of the one-off character was a real Leroy Jenkins type and ran it straight into its grave, whereupon the desirability of playing that species dropped considerably... :)
 

Another approach to races I've seen someone advocate on there forums, to reconcile the apparent conflict between giving the players the full range of character options and not wanting your campaign world to look like the Mos Eisely Cantina, is to ask the players what races they want to use at the beginning of the campaign, and then design the world such that THOSE races are the primary intelligent peoples of the campaign world. Not to say that nothing else CAN exist, but that more limited pool is the prominent ones.

Similarly, I like how BigFella Games made a couple of campaign settings for Labyrinth Lord (or B/X) a few years back, and for each setting/world, he swapped out the "standard" demihuman race/classes, and replaced them with a suite of three which fill similar rolls but specifically fit the setting. So for his Thousand Year Sandglass Arabian Nights-themed D&D world, that's Jann, Kedai, and Largoman, and for his Creepy Crawl it's Dhampir, Grimling and Humanculous.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I figured that would be your stance @Lanefan, and I respect it - I have on occasion been rather heavy-handed about the inclusion of certain things in the games I run (no PC drow in 1E/2E being one that comes foremost to mind), but after having also raised my kids to play D&D, I’ve opened the gates quite a bit (similiar to @Smackpixi ’s experience with his “players” ;) ).

I can understand the head-desking when the group goes full Cantina, but I also understand the desire to play or be something you just can’t in this world. While I try to make playing a human in my home brew desirable, I’ll allow just about anything - so long as the mechanics aren’t unbalanced. The big thing I keep in mind is that I don’t let myself worry about how to make it fit into the game - players willing enough to play strange things are fonts of ideas themselves, and when it comes to monsters player’s ability to imagine the worst scenario possible for its origin or how it fits into the world arc often exceeds my own.
 

TheSword

Legend
I really like unusually NPCs but like @Lanefan I too have a human-centric preference for the game. To me, the unusual races only stand out successfully when they are set against the more standard races. I include tieflings, Dragonborn, half-orcs etc as those unusual races.

So while I am more than happy to have a tiefling or Dragonborn or Goliath etc in the party. They get one… two tops… out of four players. I aren’t interested in DMing for the D&D equivalent of the Dorothy Gale, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly lion. It’s not my kind of fantasy. Luckily my players are cool with that.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I can understand the head-desking when the group goes full Cantina...

I can understand it, but it indicates an issue - the GM having an intent for the game (say, human dominated with a small number of others) that the players haven't embraced - a Session Zero problem, if you will.

It is an indication that intent doesn't seem valuable to the players. So, one should ask - what value should it give to the players? Did the GM actually make it valuable to them? Were they given a reason to embrace it beyond, "I, the GM, want it this way?"

There should be some things the player accept because the GM wants it that way, and vice versa, in the name of compromise and mutual fun. But the GM ought to ask themselves if this is one that really matters.
 


Li Shenron

Legend
I am with the OP but unfortunately the books always make it sound like each playable race added to the game must be a big deal and get the same treatment as humans. I especially hate when a book has to tell for each and every class, what is the rarity level or their particular take on it, and 99% of the times there isn't a single really original idea in them, but they immediately imply there's plenty of individuals of that race to the point you can draw statistics.
 

This is something that I have seen cast about by various DMs over the years - sometimes even by myself. D&D is filled with a menagerie of races and creatures. Sometimes, too many. This can often lead to the DM’s knee-jerk reaction “Not in my campaign!” or “That doesn’t fit my world!”, generally with the modern thought of “if I allow one, there has to be others like it.” or that there needs to be whole backstory of a race/culture for how it came to be in the game.

So, not wanting to squeeze in, say, a Dragonborn city/culture into one’s campaign, the whole race is banned from the campaign. I do think that can be a mistake (on these grounds), and it comes from a bit too modern understanding of our world.

Monsters - and most especially player characters - don’t have to come from a species. From acts of the gods, magical experimentation, cross breeding or accident the creatures of D&D and its races can range from being unique to a mere handful, instead of a globe-spanning race.

That means a variety of things, primarily that you can allow an element into the game - a player race, a monster, magic item or whatnot once, and you don’t have to change your entire game world to allow it exist.

An owlbear, could, for example be a singular, unique magical crossbreed that exists only in that one dungeon you run rather than a race scattered across your game world. Just because the MM stats it up like a “it must be a Tuesday” encounter does not mean that such creatures run rampant everywhere. Perhaps Mort the Mage has the only version kept in status in his basement. Maybe, he made a couple and they got loose, running around in the woods near his dungeon. Perhaps they’re all male, and will die out from old age. If its able to mate, maybe the result is only a (giant) owl or a bear - not an owlbear, so the species can’t propagate.

You could follow mythology with some monsters; there might be only one Medusa in your world, or one chimera or even (gyno)sphinx - and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a super-high level threat; its uniqueness can play out in other ways besides sheer power. Sometimes, things stand out just because there IS only one of them in the world. It could even be that there’s only one in existance at a time, and only when the current one die does another come into existance, rise from the corpse of the old one or reincarnate some time down the road (and seek out its killer…). Mayhaps, even at some point during its life cycle (or death) it morphs into something else that no one has ever seen - or ever will see again.

You could let the one player who wants to play a lizardfolk in your party by having the PC’s background be that they were once an elf, but after crossing a hag in a swamp, she transformed the unfortunate individual into a “hideous” lizardfolk for their insult. Even if there are NPC/evil lizardfolk in the game, the PC has no connection to them, and might very well be treated as an outsider to a “native” of those races. As above, it might not be able to carry its traits on to any prodigy it happens to create, or such prodigy may be sterile leading to a species dead end (or perhaps an epic quest to allow their species to continue and grow…).

The warforged someone wants to play could have been a unique wizard’s construct who outlived their master, and gained sentience - in a sort of Frankenstein’s monster or I, Robot (the Will Smith version) or Full Metal Alchemist scenario for that matter. Likely, it can’t create others of its kind, and it will fade from the world when it passes on, never to be seen again.


As a last note, there’s nothing wrong with not putting a creature or race into a campaign because its doesn’t fit the theme the DM and players are looking for - Kender in Dark Sun, for example, would seem quite absurd. The idea though, is to relax the grip a bit on the purity of the “world” the campaign is set in. There’s nothing wrong with one-offs, and you don’t need to twist an established world to work in something out of the ordinary. Heck, sometimes you don’t even need to explain it - and just let it happen and let it either be a mystery or let someone else come up later for a reason why it happens/works.
I see one flaw what if they explicitly want their character to not be a one off but you are already at maximum believable species?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I can understand it, but it indicates an issue - the GM having an intent for the game (say, human dominated with a small number of others) that the players haven't embraced - a Session Zero problem, if you will.
That's the bigger problem: trying to somehow arrive at "a small number of others" when by the published guidelines the only real limiting option a DM has pretty much amounts to all or nothing, i.e. it's allowed or it's banned. That said, gating oddball stuff behind very-low-odds dice rolls can be done and keeps the wacko PC species to a minimum in play while still having them appear now and then; but this has to be homebrewed as the rulebooks don't support it.

I mean, I prefer a mildly Human-centric game; yet the party I'm running right now consists of a Dwarf, a Part-Orc, three Elves, and a 7-foot-tall Hobbit-Ent disaster arrived at after someone got behind the "oddball" gate* during char-gen. (think a Hobbit that drank WAY too much Entdraught and you'll kinda get the picture)

* - and quite legitimately, I might add; I happened to see the rolls.
 

That's the bigger problem: trying to somehow arrive at "a small number of others" when by the published guidelines the only real limiting option a DM has pretty much amounts to all or nothing, i.e. it's allowed or it's banned. That said, gating oddball stuff behind very-low-odds dice rolls can be done and keeps the wacko PC species to a minimum in play while still having them appear now and then; but this has to be homebrewed as the rulebooks don't support it.

I mean, I prefer a mildly Human-centric game; yet the party I'm running right now consists of a Dwarf, a Part-Orc, three Elves, and a 7-foot-tall Hobbit-Ent disaster arrived at after someone got behind the "oddball" gate* during char-gen. (think a Hobbit that drank WAY too much Entdraught and you'll kinda get the picture)

* - and quite legitimately, I might add; I happened to see the rolls.
what makes a race an oddball to you anyway?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I'm may be a bit unusual in that I run all my campaigns in the same world and always have. What happens in one campaign carries on to the next, some things that happened (or didn't happened) long ago in a campaign far far away can still have an impact. So, no, I don't want to have a singleton race or monster because eventually it adds up. A warforged here, a kenku there, a tabaxi over yonder and suddenly the exceptions become the rule. How many "unique" creatures can you have before "unique" becomes "Oh, it's a Tuesday again?"

That, and I want my PCs and NPCs to be more grounded. I know where they come from and while I don't always tie in a PC's origin into the overall story it's more likely that I'm going to than not.

There's nothing wrong with having every race under the sun. There's also nothing wrong with having a limited list.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I see one flaw what if they explicitly want their character to not be a one off but you are already at maximum believable species?
There’s many ways, but at the least will probably require some DM-player discussion.

In the last campaign I ran, for example, the Kenku in the group rolled on the Xanather’s guide tables and rolled up a family consisting of around 23 members, and wanted them to be somewhat nearby for RP interactions. Working with the player, we came up with a background that they were semi-nomadic and it turned out they had inadvertently plane-hopped to the campaign world. Outside the family (which had been in the campaign world for the entirety of the PCs life), there were no others of their kind, and they had no established place in the current world. Effect on the campaign world was negligible, but let the player do their family-based RPing, and a neat reveal later in the game.
 

Smackpixi

Explorer
I think DMs care way more about things making sense than players do. sure, depends on players, and DM happiness is important too, but if someone must play a race in your world that doesn’t exist in your world, it’s fine, they’re from over the hill, what hill, that hill over there that your players aren’t going to Ever go over. Or their parnts are, or whatever.

I just don’t get reality. Why does a fantasy world have to be real? Or fixed? Fantasy worlds with unbelievable magic, even if you players can’t do it, some mythical wizard can, and whee, whatever, whatever.

I love storm struggling with this, like everyone that cares, and all DMs should, but then, unclench and just go with it. Relax and take my hand as it were.

no you can’t do that is lame.
 


Stormonu

Legend
I'm may be a bit unusual in that I run all my campaigns in the same world and always have. What happens in one campaign carries on to the next, some things that happened (or didn't happened) long ago in a campaign far far away can still have an impact. So, no, I don't want to have a singleton race or monster because eventually it adds up. A warforged here, a kenku there, a tabaxi over yonder and suddenly the exceptions become the rule. How many "unique" creatures can you have before "unique" becomes "Oh, it's a Tuesday again?"

That, and I want my PCs and NPCs to be more grounded. I know where they come from and while I don't always tie in a PC's origin into the overall story it's more likely that I'm going to than not.

There's nothing wrong with having every race under the sun. There's also nothing wrong with having a limited list.
I’ve run the same campaign world for years as well (well, actually two - one Greyhawk, one Amberos - with planar travel between the two). It can be done, races fading in and out over time (especially if between groups years have passed since the last campaign).

It’s a point for consideration, not a hill to die on.

For some examples, I’ve had one-off Warforged in Greyhawk, the one-off Kenku on Greyhawk (from Amberos), a one-off Minotaur (a former human, in fact - on Amberos), the D&D gorgon being unique in Amberos and a few others over the years. Both worlds have pretty established backgrounds, but I made allowances so the players (or me as a DM) could have a bit of fun, even if it meant expanding the gate a bit more than I was comfortable.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I am with the OP but unfortunately the books always make it sound like each playable race added to the game must be a big deal and get the same treatment as humans. I especially hate when a book has to tell for each and every class, what is the rarity level or their particular take on it, and 99% of the times there isn't a single really original idea in them, but they immediately imply there's plenty of individuals of that race to the point you can draw statistics.
As a thought exercise, let's look at the alternative and suppose that a player's character is a racial one-off and nobody is like them - what does that imply for the setting or their interactions with other people? Maybe the differences are subtle and wouldn't have an impact. But if you want something really different looking (or smelling/sounding/whatever), shouldn't that be notable and affect how people interact with the character? And does that get old after a while?
If you tie the character to an in-game race that is reasonably well known, at least then you have some justification for people not batting an eye at them.
 

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