D&D General The Tyranny of Rarity

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Sure. But why is this all decided ahead of time?

I'm assuming you take a very top down approach to world building, is that correct? You start broad and then begin to zoom in. So something like what races are available is something that you as DM are deciding ahead of time. And probably pantheon and classes and backgrounds and most other elements.
Yes.

But why not involve the players? Why must you be deciding all these things before play actually begins? "Hey, I've started the world building for our new campaign....any requests on available races? So far I'm sticking with only a few, but let me know your thoughts."
Because I don't want to do it that way and I don't think it would improve the quality of the setting. Simple as that. If you like quickly improvising setting around random species the players happen to choose, go for it. It simply is not how I work.

The answer would seem to be because you've already decided ahead of time, and not much else. And while that may be perfectly fine if everyone agrees (I almost always play humans myself, so such restrictions tend not to actually interfere with my choices as a player), my point is just that it is restrictive. It actively reduces the number of choices, the amount of input, the players have on the setting.

Again, if players are indifferent to this, then it's not an issue. But if they are, I don't think that suggesting that GMs loosen their sphincters a bit and let someone play a dragonborn is a crazy idea, regardless of how it contradicts the many paragraphs the GM has written alone that no one else will read.
Right. And I can't remember it ever being an issue. And it is not any more restrictive to the players than playing in some published setting, and people do that all the time. You don't get to play a minotaur in Vampire the Masquerade either. And sure, not every player will find every setting appealing, be it published one or homebrew. That's fine.
 

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hawkeyefan

Legend
Yes.


Because I don't want to do it that way and I don't think it would improve the quality of the setting. Simple as that. If you like quickly improvising setting around random species the players happen to choose, go for it. It simply is not how I work.


Right. And I can't remember it ever being an issue. And it is not any more restrictive to the players than playing in some published setting, and people do that all the time. You don't get to play a minotaur in Vampire the Masquerade either. And sure, not every player will find every setting appealing, be it published one or homebrew. That's fine.

Right, and ultimately if everyone's cool, then it's fine. But the example of a Minotaur in Vampire isn't really apt because it's not offered in the rules. There's no place for them in the setting as designed and it's not a choice that any player is going to suggest.

In D&D, on the other hand, a Minotaur may be something a player would suggest because they're detailed to some extent, even if not typically as a PC. And then the races that are offered as PCs are going to be even more likely to be suggested.

So saying "No Elves" is actively removing something that many may expect by default in D&D in a way that "No Minotaurs" in Vampire or "No Klingons" in Conan is not.

But I do want to focus on one thing in your post....the idea of "quickly improvising setting around random species the players happen to choose" is not really what I've described. Why would their choices be random, but a GM's not random? That's an odd bit of phrasing that I think hints at some of the concern about the matter.
 

Oofta

Legend
yranny. In so far as it relates to RPGs. Which is really more like "control freak" or similar. And I'd say @Lanefan displays my point perfectly below. He uses the "slippery slope" of race choice (first quote below) but then later goes on about how the DM controls everything (second quote).

So the "slippery slope" isn't really the issue. It's that the DM must be in control of all things at all times. THAT'S the crux of the issue, in my opinion.

We're dodging tyranny? That's an interesting assertion. I'm quite open about what I do and that while players have a lot of input I have the final say. If having input into and veto power over things like backgrounds and world altering details makes me a tyrant, so be it.

But I reject that any of that makes me a control freak about anything other than the stage the players play on. Their actions are their own, I don't railroad, campaigns regularly take twists and turns I don't expect. Like some other people you seem to think that just because I have a certain vision of how my world works and I expect people to play in that world that somehow that extends to removing autonomy from the PCs.

As far as slippery slope, what can I say. If I allow one kenku then there will always be kenku in my world. If you rest the world with every campaign it doesn't matter, it matters for my style.

In any case I'm not arguing that my style is any better, it's just what works for me and always has for my players.
 

Right, and ultimately if everyone's cool, then it's fine. But the example of a Minotaur in Vampire isn't really apt because it's not offered in the rules. There's no place for them in the setting as designed and it's not a choice that any player is going to suggest.

In D&D, on the other hand, a Minotaur may be something a player would suggest because they're detailed to some extent, even if not typically as a PC. And then the races that are offered as PCs are going to be even more likely to be suggested.

So saying "No Elves" is actively removing something that many may expect by default in D&D in a way that "No Minotaurs" in Vampire or "No Klingons" in Conan is not.
I simply do not see it this way. My world building is not dictated by what WotC decides to publish, except in the sense that if I would need to do too much homebrewing it might be wiser to use some other system to begin with. D&D has a lot of stuff, and I see it as a toolkit. I pick the building blocks I need. Consider GURPS. It has rules for basically everything. Yet it should not be expected that you can use everything in one game running on GURPS, and I don't really see using a limited selection of things as 'removing' anything. To me the fiction comes first. We don't have elves in the setting because D&D has rules for the elves. We use rules for elves because the setting has elves in it. If it had no elves, no rules for elves would be needed.

But I do want to focus on one thing in your post....the idea of "quickly improvising setting around random species the players happen to choose" is not really what I've described. Why would their choices be random, but a GM's not random? That's an odd bit of phrasing that I think hints at some of the concern about the matter.
Presumably because they're choosing characters independently, nor they have idea of the greater context in which those characters exist, as that context doesn't even exist yet.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Wow.

I can't believe I read this entire thread.

Well, I did skip several of the sidetreks to discuss how to adjudicate levitation, the efficiency (or lack-thereof) of authoritarianism, some other stuff I have already forgotten, and various opinions on smurfs (side note: I forgot twi'leks were a Star Wars species and my mind filled in Twiki from Buck Rogers :ROFLMAO:). I also browsed past all the snarky replies when I could identify them fast enough (but some of ya'll are pithy AF).

I stuck with the thread because this is a topic I have given some thoughts in relation to my tendencies as a DM and worldbuilder. Not that long ago, I probably would have had responses a lot more like @Lanefan and @Oofta but part of the reason I stopped running games in my 30-year old homebrew when I took up 5E was so I could have more freedom as a DM and incorporate stuff new players may want to include and stuff I want to include but did not fit. As it turned out, I was immediately tested when two players ignored my no tieflings and no half-orc notes in my two sides of one-page handout. The former, as an "old school purist" I was just not down with, and the latter I had eliminated - making orcs the equivalent of Neanderthals, a competitor with the other Free Peoples who went extinct through genocide 40,000 years ago.

Rather than say no (and not having he baggage of 30 years of precedent anymore it was harder to make an excuse for doing so), I talked with the first player about what it'd mean to be a tiefling, hiding her identity, assumptions people might make about her, etc. . . and she was down with it. In fact, just two days ago in our last session we touched based on it again, modifying our understanding of this to make it clear for her that most of the NPCs the players have had private or intimate interactions with know what she looks like and seem to accept it without concern. On the other hand, they had a rival try to make trouble for the party by spreading rumors about her "clearly demonic heritage." When she has met other tieflings (has happened three times now), it a cause for role-playing and plot developments and discussions on navigating a world that assumes they are evil - and I have no regrets about that exception. Nor does she for asking for it.

For the half-orc, we decided that they are basically humans who have whatever the fantasy equivalent of a recessive gene coming to the forefront after countless generations because humans and orcs once intermingled quite regularly before the former genocided the latter. These "orcish" people are complex figures who run the gamut from being treated like second hand citizens to using the rumors of their heritage as part of the fearsome reputation. But also explains why there aren't very many around. In fact, where the PCs come from all goblinoids are basically extinct, as are most monsters and humanoids that are not "The Free Peoples" (humans, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and elves) - but now the PCs are exploring the parts of the world where there are remaining pockets of these assumed extinct people (including a hobgoblin empire - though in my world hobgoblins and goblins are the female and male version respectively of that lineage and at some point I plan to open both goblins and hobgoblins as PC races now that they have been "discovered"). If a player had wanted from the outset to play one of those, I might have tried to talk them out of it, or hepped them to what I had in mind and see if that still appealed to them, and if not work on other possibilities that would work for them.

Still no dragonborn though (I replaced them with Lizardfolk since I am running a variation on Ghosts of Saltmarsh). I just don't like the idea of dragon-people and feels it cheapens dragons. Even in Dragonlance the appearance of dragon-people was a shock and tied closely to setting lore and the central theme. If they want someone can play a lizardfolk and make the common lizardfolk claim that they are descended from dragons and we could or could not explore that possibility as a campaign theme.

The player of the tiefling always jokes that if her character dies she is going to make a Tabaxi because she loves cats and knows it'd annoy me. But the fact is, while I probably would prefer she didn't, if she really wanted to - well, I designed this setting as a bunch of islands for a reason - so an island kingdom of cat people could still be out there undiscovered, perhaps under the yoke of the hobgoblin empire. Who knows?

On the opposite end, I am occasionally playing in a West Marches style remote game that I am having a hard time getting into because it is a kitchensink by design and there are a wide range of "weird" character types some of which bring with them certain assumed things about the game and setting tone that interferes with my fun. I could imagine another setting where different sets of limited choices would work (I have long had an idea for a setting of anthropomorphic animal people), but have a hard time with settings that includes them all because I think just tonally different races (and classes and monsters) can clash. The other folks seem to be having fun and I would not going to complain about it or try to get them to stop, I may just have to bow out from playing - but when I am playing I do my best to make it work. And none of this is not a knock against the DMs who run that game, they do a great job, and the successful community they've built around the game is a clear result of that.

I guess I am a weirdo D&Der who finds that "being in the world" trumps story beats and emulating the cinematic as a goal for my games, both as player and DM (which is not to say that story beats are totally unimportant) and curating what is included is the way to get there for me.

EDIT:
The above is brought to you by philosophy and the slogan for my D&D zine and forthcoming newsletter, HOW I RUN IT:

"I can't tell you how to run your game, but I can tell you how I run mine."
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I simply do not see it this way. My world building is not dictated by what WotC decides to publish, except in the sense that if I would need to do too much homebrewing it might be wiser to use some other system to begin with. D&D has a lot of stuff, and I see it as a toolkit. I pick the building blocks I need. Consider GURPS. It has rules for basically everything. Yet it should not be expected that you can use everything in one game running on GURPS, and I don't really see using a limited selection of things as 'removing' anything. To me the fiction comes first. We don't have elves in the setting because D&D has rules for the elves. We use rules for elves because the setting has elves in it. If it had no elves, no rules for elves would be needed.

Sure, but don’t you think that folks will typically expect elves over say pixies as playable races? Because the PHB labels them as a core race.

And I’m not advocating for allowing all races, or even allowing all races in the PHB. I’m fine tailoring a list of races to suit a campaign. I just think it’s a good idea to involve everyone in deciding what’s on the list.

Presumably because they're choosing characters independently, nor they have idea of the greater context in which those characters exist, as that context doesn't even exist yet.

Well I’ve been talking a lot about collaboration, so I’m not sure why they’d be doing it independent of each other. Bit even if they did, I don’t think it’d be any more random than whatever list a GM comes up with.

Certainly from a player perspective, the GM’s list of what exists on the world may seem random.
 


Cadence

Legend
Supporter
But I do want to focus on one thing in your post....the idea of "quickly improvising setting around random species the players happen to choose" is not really what I've described. Why would their choices be random, but a GM's not random? That's an odd bit of phrasing that I think hints at some of the concern about the matter.

I'm assuming the DM either has a setting they've worked on for a while, or is using a published setting they've read over and liked enough to want to run in particular, and presents that to the players as something they'd like to run. If that's the case I don't know how it would be described as random.

If the initial premise is agreed to, I'm used to the player then coming up with the idea in response to that. I'm not sure the players choice is random either, but if the idea isn't in response to the DM pitch in some way, it kind of feels that way. If they wanted something way outside the pitch it feels like they should have brought it up before agreeing to it.
 
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Sure, but don’t you think that folks will typically expect elves over say pixies as playable races? Because the PHB labels them as a core race.
I don't know. Maybe? I wouldn't. Why would it matter? I can just tell them that this setting has no elves but has pixies instead. Then they know.

And I’m not advocating for allowing all races, or even allowing all races in the PHB. I’m fine tailoring a list of races to suit a campaign. I just think it’s a good idea to involve everyone in deciding what’s on the list.

Well I’ve been talking a lot about collaboration, so I’m not sure why they’d be doing it independent of each other. Bit even if they did, I don’t think it’d be any more random than whatever list a GM comes up with.

Certainly from a player perspective, the GM’s list of what exists on the world may seem random.

First of, of course races chosen independently by several people without considering the big picture is more random than a selection made by considering the whole holistically. And yes, you can make the setting as a group effort. And it could work if you happen to have a group of people who are really into it and gel with each other creatively. Or it can just become incoherent design by committee. In any case, it is not what I prefer, so I won't do that.
 


Oofta

Legend
Sure, but don’t you think that folks will typically expect elves over say pixies as playable races? Because the PHB labels them as a core race.

And I’m not advocating for allowing all races, or even allowing all races in the PHB. I’m fine tailoring a list of races to suit a campaign. I just think it’s a good idea to involve everyone in deciding what’s on the list.
What if that list was last modified a decade or more ago?
 

But the example of a Minotaur in Vampire isn't really apt because it's not offered in the rules. There's no place for them in the setting as designed and it's not a choice that any player is going to suggest.

In D&D, on the other hand, a Minotaur may be something a player would suggest because they're detailed to some extent, even if not typically as a PC. And then the races that are offered as PCs are going to be even more likely to be suggested.

Also, another point regarding this: If I say "I'd like to run Vampire the Masquerade, are you interested in playing?" or "I'd like to run D&D in setting X (which has no minotaurs,) are you interested in playing?" The situation is the exactly the same. The minotaurs were never an option. That some other setting could in theory have minotaurs is totally irrelevant, regardless of whether that setting would be designed for D&D or Storyteller system.
 

I find when players are choosing a race for a campaign it's a far more organic process than internet arguments would suggest (at least in my experience). There's usually a bit of give and take, a player suggests a race that doesn't find the DM's concept and the DM tries to sell them on a couple of options they think are a good compromise or that the player might still enjoy. Just as a player that wants something outside the box will make a case for how it could fit and concessions they're willing to make.

I can't remember the last time I had a choice rejected, despite always picking exotic races. It just comes down to open communication. Actually, the only thing I can think that a DM turned down was when I wanted to play the rogue sub-class 'Mastermind', so I went with Swashbuckler. He wouldn't tell us any campaign details, so was hard to argue or try to make the idea fit better.

Curating a list of options is great, all that is being suggested is not to discount your players ideas off the bat if they come up with something you hadn't considered.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Still no dragonborn though (I replaced them with Lizardfolk since I am running a variation on Ghosts of Saltmarsh). I just don't like the idea of dragon-people and feels it cheapens dragons. Even in Dragonlance the appearance of dragon-people was a shock and tied closely to setting lore and the central theme. If they want someone can play a lizardfolk and make the common lizardfolk claim that they are descended from dragons and we could or could not explore that possibility as a campaign theme.
That's why I abolished Dragonborn. It's the one race that I have an out and out ban on. There are some others that will require some background justification to play, but most races are just available.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I'm assuming the DM either has a setting they've worked on for a while, or is using a published setting they've read over and liked enough to want to run in particular, and presents that to the players as something they'd like to run. If that's the case I don't know how it would be described as random.

It depends, for sure. An Athas campaign will have different options than a Middle-Earth campaign.

But what about a homebrew? What about a world where a GM has determined a list of available races ahead of time and then sends them to the players; won’t that list very likely seem random to the players? Won’t whatever context is shared just seem like justification for the GM’s choices?

If I start a campaign and I tell players to make characters, and then I take the races they’ve opted for their PCs and any related background details, and then I use that to build a world, what makes this more random?

Do you mean from the GM’s perspective?

If the initial premise is agreed to, I'm used to the player then coming up with the idea in response to that. I'm not sure the players choice is random either, but if the idea isn't in response to the DM pitch in some way, it kind of feels that way. If they wanted something way outside the pitch it feels like they should have brought it up before agreeing to it.

Of course. But maybe they had an idea that occurred to them out of the blue, and they want to run with it. “Maybe the GM will be cool with this; it seems like a pretty cool idea”.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
That's "tyranny"?

In so far as anything in this conversation could be labeled as such, sure. Arbitrary use of power or authority.

What if that list was last modified a decade or more ago?

Make a new list? Or ignore the list?

Again, the list exists to appease your sense of verisimilitude, right? For the world to make sense. But if it’s placed ahead of player concerns, then yeah, I think that’s where it’s a problem.

As a player, I’m not really interested in playing through a GM’s uber-detailed homebrew setting. Or at least, not in exchange for my ability as a player to contribute to the game.

What should I care if my playing a drow renders some paragraphs you jotted in a spiral notebook 8 years ago moot?

Again, though, if your players aren’t concerned about this, then it’s not an issue.
 

An Athas campaign will have different options than a Middle-Earth campaign.
Yes, exactly. You seem to get it just fine.

But what about a homebrew? What about a world where a GM has determined a list of available races ahead of time and then sends them to the players; won’t that list very likely seem random to the players? Won’t whatever context is shared just seem like justification for the GM’s choices?
Not any more than those of Athas and Middle-Earth. It is part of the creative choices made by the setting creator. Literally the exact same thing.
 

Greg K

Hero
As a player, I’m not really interested in playing through a GM’s uber-detailed homebrew setting.
What should I care if my playing a drow renders some paragraphs you jotted in a spiral notebook 8 years ago moot?
In my case, because Drow are one of the races on my banned list along with Dragonborn, planar/elemental races, and several others. A DM has no obligation to cater to your particular preferences just because you happen to also like D&D and don't like the options presented.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Yes, exactly. You seem to get it just fine.


Not any more than those of Athas and Middle-Earth. It is part of the creative choices made by the setting creator. Literally the exact same thing.

Right. Again, I'm not against a tailored list.

There are just means of tailoring a list that don't default to "Because I wrote it down that way ten years ago".

Designing a home brew world? Simply ask the players "hey, what playable races do you want to see? What classes? How about the pantheon, if there is one?"

Or, if someone comes up with some kind of exception, then see what you can do to make it work without disrupting the setting.
 

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