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D&D 5E Unearthed Arcana: Gothic Lineages & New Race/Culture Distinction

The latest Unearthed Arcana contains the Dhampir, Reborn, and Hexblood races. The Dhampir is a half-vampire; the Hexblood is a character which has made a pact with a hag; and the Reborn is somebody brought back to life.

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Perhaps the bigger news is this declaration on how race is to be handled in future D&D books as it joins other games by stating that:

"...the race options in this article and in future D&D books lack the Ability Score Increase trait, the Language trait, the Alignment trait, and any other trait that is purely cultural. Racial traits henceforth reflect only the physical or magical realities of being a player character who’s a member of a particular lineage. Such traits include things like darkvision, a breath weapon (as in the dragonborn), or innate magical ability (as in the forest gnome). Such traits don’t include cultural characteristics, like language or training with a weapon or a tool, and the traits also don’t include an alignment suggestion, since alignment is a choice for each individual, not a characteristic shared by a lineage."
 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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I still want to know how we're supposed to represent cultural traits in character creation going forward. You can't put everything into class, and expanding background to accommodate it creates two different kinds of backgrounds. Throwing it out entirely, as WotC seems to be doing, limits character concepts mechanically.
Cultural traits are way more of a potential minefield than racial ones.
 

I think if WotC/Hasbro directed the RPG team to do that, they'd probably replace much of the RPG team.
Which would be incredibly risky. The last thing WotC want to do is dis-employ an entire team of developers who could make a 5E rival which was probably more in-tune with the RPG zeitgeist than anything WotC could do, and they'd get massive publicity from the whole affair, so could probably do something like a multi-million-dollar Kickstarter even if they couldn't get funding elsewhere.

Again even if it was a small success it could eat a really noticeable chunk of 5E's profits for WotC which currently seem to be very high (given WotC is making Hasbro like $400m+ in profit (not turnover or gross, profit) right now. If it was acrimonious enough, esp. if a 6E wasn't very compatible, the whole thing could snowball, Paizo-style, which would be particularly unfortunate.

So I think, weirdly, we're safe from any large-scale changes like that. They might try and do the same by stealth over the next three years, but I'd honestly be surprised if the attitude to D&D over there was anything but "Don't kill the golden goose!". Not an attitude anyone has really ever previously had to D&D - not even TSR.
I will venmo you a dollar if there is a 6e in the next 10 years, and I'll venmo you 5 if it's as soon as 2024.
Noted! :)
 

Cultural traits are way more of a potential minefield than racial ones.
Granted, but if my halfling was raised by elves, I want that to be more than a role-playing thing. If I grew up in a culture that prizes physical prowess, or magical knowledge, or martial training, I should be able to represent that on my character. I refuse to believe that the concept is so problematic that it needs to be tossed wholesale and replaced by...?
 

JEB

Hero
I think you're reading a lot into some lazy NPC design.
Actually, now I kind of want to do a comparison and figure out what baseline racial traits were common to the species generally, vs. "PC exclusive", vs. "NPC exclusive". Could be illuminating. But that's probably something for another thread.

I still want to know how we're supposed to represent cultural traits in character creation going forward. You can't put everything into class, and expanding background to accommodate it creates two different kinds of backgrounds. Throwing it out entirely, as WotC seems to be doing, limits character concepts mechanically.
The way I'd go about it for a 5.5E or a 6E would be to take the existing "subraces" and make them "cultures", and shuffle around the current traits accordingly so they're either on the species side (for stuff that really is part of the genetic baseline, emphasizing physical traits) or the culture side (for learned stuff, emphasizing but not exclusively mental traits).

I'd also require every core race to have at least two cultures. (And I might retire the half-elf or half-orc from the core, with regular orc replacing the latter.)

(This might be similar to how Ancestry and Culture handled it, but I haven't actually read it yet.)

IMO, the only existing problem with the new changes is how unplayable it makes Humans. It's like 5e has fully adopted the OSR aspects and made Humans outclassed by literally every other available option.
Yeah, that's one of the big questions they'll need to address whenever they revise the core races for the new paradigm. (I assume at least theoretical discussions have already happened, since this is a company full of game designers.) I suppose you could make the variant human the default human, but that requires making feats no longer optional, which changes some assumptions of the base game.
 

Granted, but if my halfling was raised by elves, I want that to be more than a role-playing thing. If I grew up in a culture that prizes physical prowess, or magical knowledge, or martial training, I should be able to represent that on my character. I refuse to believe that the concept is so problematic that it needs to be tossed wholesale and replaced by...?
Indeed, and if the character's ability score distribution, skill, background and class choices, and attitude are insufficient, there are suggestions for the DM to swap around some stuff for the character in some books.

There is nothing wrong, per se about culture rules. However while D&D race rules have no (or shouldn't) have any reflection on human races, cultures do.
Frankly, just allowing a mix-and-match of skill choices and similar would probably be better than trying to codify different cultures and their attributes.
 

Indeed, and if the character's ability score distribution, skill, background and class choices, and attitude are insufficient, there are suggestions for the DM to swap around some stuff for the character in some books.

There is nothing wrong, per se about culture rules. However while D&D race rules have no (or shouldn't) have any reflection on human races, cultures do.
Frankly, just allowing a mix-and-match of skill choices and similar would probably be better than trying to codify different cultures and their attributes.
So are you saying that we should just abandon creating fantasy cultures, because it can't be done without referencing real cultures? We're getting dangerously close to waging war on fiction in general.
 

So are you saying that we should just abandon creating fantasy cultures, because it can't be done without referencing real cultures? We're getting dangerously close to waging war on fiction in general.
No, I'm pretty sure I did not say that.

I'm saying that assigning attributes to cultures is going to be tricky, because outside of "magic cultures", there will be parallels with real cultures.
Particularly if those attributes include set ability score bonuses.

And if they don't include set ability score bonuses, and are just skill and tool proficiences etc, why do they need to be codified? Rather than try to dictate what someone from a "merchant culture", "urban culture", "tribal culture" etcetera should get, why not just allow free choice from a list of options for players? That way, they can build their character as being from any culture, even one not listed.

Does that help?
 

Zardnaar

Legend
No, I'm pretty sure I did not say that.

I'm saying that assigning attributes to cultures is going to be tricky, because outside of "magic cultures", there will be parallels with real cultures.
Particularly if those attributes include set ability score bonuses.

And if they don't include set ability score bonuses, and are just skill and tool proficiences etc, why do they need to be codified? Rather than try to dictate what someone from a "merchant culture", "urban culture", "tribal culture" etcetera should get, why not just allow free choice from a list of options for players? That way, they can build their character as being from any culture, even one not listed.

Does that help?

More complications though.

Floating ability scores and backgrounds about the best you can hope for.

Pathfinder 2 has all sorts of feats, left me cold trying to make sense of it all and checked out.
 

No, I'm pretty sure I did not say that.

I'm saying that assigning attributes to cultures is going to be tricky, because outside of "magic cultures", there will be parallels with real cultures.
Particularly if those attributes include set ability score bonuses.

And if they don't include set ability score bonuses, and are just skill and tool proficiences etc, why do they need to be codified? Rather than try to dictate what someone from a "merchant culture", "urban culture", "tribal culture" etcetera should get, why not just allow free choice from a list of options for players? That way, they can build their character as being from any culture, even one not listed.

Does that help?
But as soon as you do have fantasy cultures, which if you have dwarves, elves etc at all you have to, they have aspects of them that make then distinguishable from others, and therefore signposts indicating what proficiencies a member of that culture should have. I just want a mechanical option to add those proficiencies to my character, and the current direction of character creation is saying no.
 

But as soon as you do have fantasy cultures, which if you have dwarves, elves etc at all you have to, they have aspects of them that make then distinguishable from others, and therefore signposts indicating what proficiencies a member of that culture should have. I just want a mechanical option to add those proficiencies to my character, and the current direction of character creation is saying no.
So, you're envisioning determining cultures across racial lines? Why?
 


Faolyn

Hero
You certainly don't have to do it that way. But can you envision a setting where the elves have their own nation and they're culturally distinct from humans or dragonborn?
That leads to another question: would all elves in this setting belong to the same nation?

It's certainly possible, especially if you decide that there are very few elves in the world. But it's also possible you have several distinct elven nations/cultures, and a nation that has a racial mix but only one culture. Or, of course, a nation that has several different cultures within it because it's highly stratified.
 

That leads to another question: would all elves in this setting belong to the same nation?

It's certainly possible, especially if you decide that there are very few elves in the world. But it's also possible you have several distinct elven nations/cultures, and a nation that has a racial mix but only one culture. Or, of course, a nation that has several different cultures within it because it's highly stratified.
There can absolutely be multiple cultures with elves, or one culture if that suits the campaign. There can also be multiple cultures with multiple peoples. I know this because there are myriad examples of this in D&D settings alone, never bothering with fantasy in general. All of cultures can and should be distinct from one another, and value different things. I just want those cultural aspects to be reflected in character creation, and I refuse to believe that defining them mechanically is no longer possible. How exactly are you supposed to describe elves, dwarves, etc. in a hypothetical reprinting or new edition PH? Just a dry physical description, because every other aspect of the lineage has too many variables to generate an expectation?
 

MGibster

Legend
That leads to another question: would all elves in this setting belong to the same nation?
Maybe? There are a lot of different ways you could do it. I've got my own setting that, like Greek mythology, pretty much every playable race shares a similar culture, worships the same gods, speak the same language, etc., etc. I've got another idea where the elves will be all from the same place, a high fantasy medieval kingdom, but they're going to be the antagonist of the series with the PCs being from more of an early modern European setting. You could also have a setting where Drow have a culture, Wood Elves have their culture, and High Elves are still different. In Al-Qadim from 2nd edition, the races largely shared the same culture with people being separated into city dwellers and nomads.

It's certainly possible, especially if you decide that there are very few elves in the world. But it's also possible you have several distinct elven nations/cultures, and a nation that has a racial mix but only one culture. Or, of course, a nation that has several different cultures within it because it's highly stratified.
Sure. And it makes sense for the designers of the setting to make their decisions based on what they're trying to accomplish.
 

Faolyn

Hero
How exactly are you supposed to describe elves, dwarves, etc. in a hypothetical reprinting or new edition PH? Just a dry physical description, because every other aspect of the lineage has too many variables to generate an expectation?
First, I'd do the ancestry/culture split. I'd decide which aspects of the elf were really inborn. Darkvision (well, in a new edition, I'd go for Low Light Vision or nothing at all), Fey Ancestry, Trance. As you know, I strongly dislike racial ASIs, but if I had to do them for race, I'd just do a +1 for each race, not a +2/+1. The other bonuses would be floating or tied to class or background.

For cultures... well, I'm liking how Level Up is doing it. They have both the "High Elf Culture" or "Wood Elf Culture" which is the other parts of the elf trait, and more generic cultures, like Villager. Personally, I'd rename the racial cultures, but IIRC Morrus said they were doing it for legacy purposes.
 

First, I'd do the ancestry/culture split. I'd decide which aspects of the elf were really inborn. Darkvision (well, in a new edition, I'd go for Low Light Vision or nothing at all), Fey Ancestry, Trance. As you know, I strongly dislike racial ASIs, but if I had to do them for race, I'd just do a +1 for each race, not a +2/+1. The other bonuses would be floating or tied to class or background.

For cultures... well, I'm liking how Level Up is doing it. They have both the "High Elf Culture" or "Wood Elf Culture" which is the other parts of the elf trait, and more generic cultures, like Villager. Personally, I'd rename the racial cultures, but IIRC Morrus said they were doing it for legacy purposes.
I'm actually with you on racial ASIs; they're unnecessary. I just wish they hadn't said that they were never meant to represent the race's traits, when it is very clear to me that they were and had been for quite some time.

Out of curiosity, what would you name the cultures to?
 

Faolyn

Hero
Out of curiosity, what would you name the cultures to?
Oh, I'm terrible at naming things. For the High Elves Culture, that's where you get your cantrip(s)*, so I would make it into the idea of a Fae Woods Scion (or something like that). The Wood Elves Culture had all the foresty survival stuff, so I'd go for a simpler Forest Native or Woodland Survivalist.

*Actually, I might have a few options per culture, so for this one, there'd be one option for a cantrip and maybe higher spells when you hit 3rd and 5th level, one for Fey Step like an eladrin, etc.
 


OK. So what would a culture actually grant? (I'd really suggest shying away from ASIs.)

Skills, tools and weapon proficiencies etc?
Yeah, exactly. Skills, tools, and weapon/armor proficiencies. Maybe specialty abilities like stonecunning, or the lizardfolk ability to make weapons and armor.
 

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