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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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Laurefindel

Legend
Thats like saying the presence of an LG Orc Paladin of Torm PC in a game, leads to the perception among the players that the other NPC Orcs in the game world are somehow not generally all CE Gruumsh worshipping savages.

Which I wholly refute.

Racial stat mods dont affect max ability scores anyway so while in general Minotaurs might be stronger than Elves, the strongest Elf is just as strong as the strongest Minotaur - and that's under the 'old' racial rules of 5E.

If a PC wants to start play with an Elf that is already a fair way down the track as being a ridiculously strong Elf, that doesnt change a thing about the in game reality that (in general) Minotaurs are stronger than Elves.

As with any such rule, there are always exceptions, and this PC is that exception (just like the LG Orc Paladin is an exception).
Good point.

This is however a cultural reference which, as it seems, is getting ejected from the lineage package. Establishing a lineage as "strong" or "agile" isn't. I think the two can (should?) be handled separately and differently, but it doesn't make your point less valid.
 

Assuming these rules make it out of playtest, any PC created using a race in a subsequent sourcebook can put their +2/+1 anywhere they like, and choose Common and another starting language. Whereas any 5E race before this has their ability score adjustments locked to two (or fewer) stats, and (in most cases) only specific languages available. But in your view, having two sets of PC races operating under two different premises, one of which is now explicitly obsolete, would represent no significant or practical change to the game? What would you consider significant or practical, then?
No, I do not consider that to be a significant change to the design of the game because, practically speaking, it only applies to race options provided in future sourcebooks, which is guaranteed to be a significant minority of all race options that will ever be officially published in the current edition of the game. There are over 40 right now without even going into the subraces so assuming that there isn't a sudden deluge of new race options from Wizards, these "future" options would be the objective minority for the next 5+ years given the existing rate of new race options.

What I would consider a significant change would be Wizards saying that the new, flexible approach to be the official, required design retroactive to every book that has been published, but that won't happen unless Wizards does an about-face on what they've been saying over and over and over again about not wanting to make rules in the original core three books obsolete.
 

This implementation is bad.
I'm seeing responses ranging from "cautiously optimistic" to "absolutely enthusiastic" from the creators I'm following on social media; from the D&D hype-men/shills, yes, but also from some of WotC's fiercest critics on this issue. A lot of these people were let down by Tasha's minimal treatment of the subject, and at the very least are happy that WotC is presenting a more coherent and less vague direction that they're planning to move in.

From the Wired articles I linked in one of my earlier posts:
Matthew Gault said:
Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, WtC’s new book that launches with alternatives to using race, opens with a page and a half that outlines new rules for using races. “The new supplemental rules in Tasha’s are nice in that they encourage more player choice and freedom in the character-creation process. However, players and DMs have been encouraged to change rules as they see fit for a long time in D&D publications—it’s the nature of the game,” Kwan says. “While players are now explicitly encouraged to swap ability score bonuses and languages in Tasha’s, this really doesn’t address the root problem—essentialism in how D&D races are portrayed. They simply tell players and DMs to ignore the problems without actually solving them.”

Cecilia D'Anastasio said:
Days after the supplement was released, Barber penned a blog titled “Tasha’s Cauldron Of No Change.” “I think a lot of people were really disappointed with it because they were expecting something concrete,” says Barber. “It didn’t address anything. It just made these minor, superficial changes. Meanwhile, a whole bunch of stuff in the game remains.” Optional rules are optional, he says. Lots of D&D groups were already offering the opportunity to be exceptional within a flawed system. It didn’t address the game’s deep-rooted racial essentialism.

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The PHB presents the core cultural presentation of the races, it does not tell you how every elf thinks and behaves. Assigning alignments and mental ability score boosts to races is racist. Saying “most elf cultures in the default and basic D&D worlds use longbows and long swords, but you can swap those to other weapons or even to tools for your elf, either individually or their particular Elven culture.” Is not racist.
It's not racist (or intentionally racist, depending on how wide a net you're casting with your definition of "racist", YMMV), but it's still setting an overly broad and calcified framework for what is expected of members of that race, both in terms of the stereotype and the expected "exceptional" ways to buck it. And the framework that they mandate might not be true in certain worlds, or cultures within those worlds at that.

I disagree that there has to be a "core cultural presentation" at all. In fact, I disagree that there should be well-defined ethnocultures, one to a (sub)race at all, except perhaps as historical footnotes. With that in mind, best leave the worldbuilding to the setting guides.

At risk of treading too close to the waters of real life politics, this falls into the same vein as broad strokes statements such as "Black people are good at sports" or "East Asians are good at maths". That's certainly an impression one might draw from an anecdotal observation, but with it comes the risk of mistakenly assuming that those qualities are something intrinsic to those ethnic groups, rather than a product of historical and socioeconomic factors. This creates the stereotype that puts pressure on people who either try but fail to live up to the artificial standard imposed on them from outside, or who simply aren't interested in whatever field is expected of them in the first place. And these stereotypes may be internalized by the groups they're imposed on, sometimes in a humorous way/with good intentions (Subtle Asian Traits anyone? ... Just me? Okay...). But even that can lead to undue pressure on members of these ethnic and cultural groups to conform, potentially facing mockery and ostracism if they don't.
 
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They clearly stated that future products will design races in this new way. So when they consolidate existing content in this hypothetical 50th book, why would they not update the older races to match this design philosophy? Otherwise, they'd have some character races operating under 2014-2020 character creation rules, and others operating under 2021-2024 character creation rules; such an approach seems very unlikely. There are other options (leave out any new race option created since 2020, or retrofit said newer options to work under PHB 2014 rules with fixed ability score adjustments), but why would they, when this consolidated edition provides a prime opportunity?

It's a business decision. They don't need to do that because the current "here are a bunch of optional rules you can use to do that thing that you want to do" approach enables different tables to play they want to using officially released rules using the existing books.

3.0 and 3.5 played fundamentally the same, but that was clearly a significant and practical change.

Wizards has been clear that they don't want to go down that route and that providing optional new rules is the strategy they're going to use. They'll change their tune and start working on a new edition once they see this edition's success plateau.

Also, if Wizards doesn't see this design decision as game-changing, why did they bother telling us about it in that sidebar?
Because it's a half-measure they can take to try to further appease people for whom identification of Tasha's new approach as "optional" was not good enough.
 

I disagree that there has to be a "core cultural presentation" at all. In fact, I disagree that there should be well-defined ethnocultures at all, one to a (sub)race at all, except perhaps as historical footnotes. With that in mind, best leave the worldbuilding to the setting guides.

What you refer to as the "core cultural presentation" is useful for people who do not have the time, inclination, experience, and/or confidence to come up with them on their own or the means or desire to purchase setting guides for this information.

What I see as the crux of the problem is the implication that these particular configurations are actually "core cultural presentation." The way I'd personally approach it is to have a callout that says something along the lines of "For example, the typical high elf in Faerun has +2 DEX and +1 INT and speaks Elvish," leveraging the fact that Forgotten Realms is the edition's home setting but clearly identifying it as just a particular setting among the infinite number of settings the game can be played in.
 


I believe there's a way to honor the history and foundations of the brand while also building a bridge to newer ideas.
Those two goals are increasingly coming into conflict with each other. This reverence of tradition has hamstrung previous attempts from WotC to move the game forward, as well as why these initiatives are few and far in between in the first place. I'm not just talking about racial sensitivity here; its also manifests in how the 5e design team seems allergic to the idea of updating their game to fix the jank that's been exposed after 6 years, as well as explaning some of the questionable decisions that have been in the game from the very beginning CHA Warlocks, amirite?

It's something of a problem with WotC's corporate culture, judging from a few testimonials that have popped up.

Matthew Gault said:
Black says that working on D&D was like attempting to make changes to a fundamentalist religion. “On a business level, Jeremy Crawford and Chris Perkins [D&D’s senior story designer] make all the decisions,” they say. “Those two praise this god of D&D, and the image they have of this god is very specific and they can not anger this god. Anything they can change, they have to work through their concept of faith and do some mental gymnastics.”

Crawford is gay and has fought to make sure men are represented in varied forms in D&D’s books. “This doesn’t interfere with the doctrine of D&D,” Black says. “It doesn’t interfere with the lore, because nothing that exists already has been changed. You’re not saying ‘no’ to anything that existed prior.”

Black says that Perkins and Crawford, in the real world, are ethical people who know right from wrong. “They know that things in D&D, if you take them out of that specific context, are wrong,” they say. “But because it’s inside of D&D, they will not touch it. Because, in that world, that’s the way things are, and it has to be right because it’s the deity’s world.”
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This is something which has been tough for a franchise like Star Wars. The race to throw out the old and kill it, rather than learning from it and using the knowledge gained to inform the direction forward is something that worked well for immediate box office but had an overall negative impact on how the franchise was viewed. (Arguably, Star Trek is having a similar problem, with STD's ratings appearing to struggle.)
I'm very much not interested in a Star Wars argument, but against my better judgment I feel the need to comment here anyway, so I'll say this (which I hope shouldn't prove too controversial): a lot of what went awry with the Sequel trilogy came down to the studio not having a clear vision of what they actually wanted to do with the movies, instead writing by the seat of their pants. If there was a more robust story outline from the outset, if the directors and producers better communicated with each other, and if the studio stuck to their guns rather than collapsing at the first sign of fan backlash, we might have gotten a more coherent series of films than... whatever it was we got.
 

Keefe the Thief

Adventurer
All I can say is "finally". My "allow all races" FR campaign preparation breaks down once I have to explain away why these races are mostly evil, most of them are really strong but if you want to you can play something else etc. Maybe this can save us from 70 elf subraces or other improvised solutions to stereotyped racial options.

And maybe my Minotaur-Nobles-only Thaladas campaign would be a possibility now withouth everybody being tempted to choose "racial stat-appropriate" classes.
 

You already could play a "Strong bodybuilding elf" or a halfling capable of beating a bodybuilding goliath in an armwrestle.
Your starting elf bodybuilder with a strength of 17 is stronger than even fairly strong goliaths. Your halfling titan with a strength of 20 is already stronger than the vast majority of goliaths, even goliath bodybuilders.
Yes, but you say I'm not allowed to play Zidi, the Halfling Titan, who is stronger than Bobo, the goliath bodybuilding champion. In your world, my character is not allowed to exist. You are telling me that my character concept is not allowed.
🤨 Wot?

I'm pretty sure I fairly explicitly said that character concept could exist.


It would take a goliath at absolutely peak strength - olympic level rather than mere bodybuilder to even match Zidi.

Zidi, the Halfing Titan MUST have a goliath stronger than her, otherwise your fantasy magical world of elves makes no sense. The rules must not allow my world.

Yet Zidi, the Halfling Titan remains, and beats goliath bodybuilders in arm-wrestles on a daily basis.
OK. Again: What?!?
I just said that Zidi can match the strongest goliath that can exist in strength. How do you read that and then claim I'm saying that "Zidi, the Halfing Titan MUST have a goliath stronger than her"?

Now, as a DM, I could make Zidi more powerful than any goliath simply by ruling that there are no NPC goliaths of a level high enough to hit the ability cap. But I do not believe that is what is being discussed.
 


Hurin88

Adventurer
I‘m not playing the average Halfling population. I’m playing one specific heroic player character.
Yes, but so are other players. If your strongest Halfling is stronger than the strongest Minotaur, then the player who wants to play the strongest Minotaur -- stronger than any Halfling -- does what?
No, because we’re grown-ups capable of talking to each other.
You're avoiding answering the question.

We are talking to each other. And I'm asking: if you want to play an Elf that is 'stronger than the strongest Minotaur', what do I say to the guy who just rolled up a Minotaur and maxed his strength, hoping to be the strongest character?

You can't have it both ways. You can't have an Elf stronger than the strongest Minotaur in the same party or game world as a Minotaur that is stronger than the strongest Elf, unless you just don't care about logic.

Someone needs to be stronger, or they both need to be the same. I'm saying the Minotaur should be stronger; you seem to be saying they should both be the same. But if they're both the same, then Minotaurs are not stronger than Elves, despite the fact that they are described as especially big and strong in the racial descriptions ('large sized', over 6' tall, 'barrel-chested', with an 'imposing presence', etc.), and despite the fact that they were in fact stronger in earlier editions. The mechanics don't any longer match the description, the physiology, or the lore.
 
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Cleric: I'll turn undead...
Dhampir/ Reborn: No, wait!

Also.. what happens if you strike a Dhampir with Blackrazor?

Anyone?

You're both an undead creature... and not an undead creature.

The text says:

So the "if the target is undead" effect of Blackrazor triggers. The Dhampir is healed and the wielder is harmed.

However, it doesn't say "the undead takes no damage" - they are both damaged and healed.

So assuming that the target is not unconscious when you strike them with the weapon, you effectively cannot knock them unconscious, no? Even if you do maximum damage with the weapon and then you only heal them for minimum HP, as per the rules for dropping to 0 hit points, the amount of damage is irrelevant except in the case of the leftover damage being more than their maximum hit points (excepting situations like polymorphed creatures, of course).

Of course, this is ultimately moot for most cases since RAW the standard is that monsters just outright die when dropped to 0. However, imagine a case where the player doesn't want to kill an enemy because they want to interrogate it... that vampire would just keep getting healed back to consciousness. ;)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yes, but so are other players. If your strongest Halfling is stronger than the strongest Minotaur, then the player who wants to play the strongest Minotaur -- stronger than any Halfling -- does what?

You're avoiding answering the question.

We are talking to each other. And I'm asking: if you want to play an Elf that is 'stronger than the strongest Minotaur', what do I say to the guy who just rolled up a Minotaur and maxed his strength, hoping to be the strongest character?
I guess we duel to the death then, since you reject the premise that I might have a conversation.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Yes, but so are other players. If your strongest Halfling is stronger than the strongest Minotaur, then the player who wants to play the strongest Minotaur -- stronger than any Halfling -- does what?
I think what it ultimately comes down to is that, as much as we (rightly) lionize the ability of the game to make any particular character concept playable (and ideally playable from level 1), there doesn't seem to be much recognition (at least in this discussion) of the fact that the rules necessarily disallow some character ideas, let alone the idea that that's not necessarily a problem that needs to be fixed.

Some time ago, I was asking a friend of mine if he wanted to join our D&D game. He wasn't much into fantasy, but loved comic books, and asked if he'd be able to play The Flash (or rather, a character with The Flash's powers). I hesitated, then started describing how a specialized build would - over a number of levels - let him move five or six times faster than most other characters, and even gain an extra attack or two every round. He just shook his head and said "that's not even close to what The Flash can do."

He was right. D&D doesn't really allow you to play that particular character concept, while other games do. That's not something that really needs to be fixed (or at least, I don't think so).
 
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I think what it ultimately comes down to is that, as much as we (rightly) lionize the ability of the game to make any particular character concept playable (and ideally playable from level 1), there doesn't seem to be much recognition (at least in this discussion) of the fact that not only will the rules necessarily disallow some character ideas, let alone the idea that that's not necessarily a problem that needs to be fixed.

Some time ago, I was asking a friend of mine if he wanted to join our D&D game. He wasn't much into fantasy, but loved comic books, and asked if he'd be able to play The Flash (or rather, a character with The Flash's powers). I hesitated, then started describing how a specialized build would - over a number of levels - let him move five or six times faster than most other characters, and even gain an extra attack or two every round. He just shook his head and said "that's not even close to what The Flash can do."

He was right. D&D doesn't really allow you to play that particular character concept, while other games do. That's not something that really needs to be fixed (or at least, I don't think so).
yeah that is a too high level concept.
 

So assuming that the target is not unconscious when you strike them with the weapon, you effectively cannot knock them unconscious, no? Even if you do maximum damage with the weapon and then you only heal them for minimum HP, as per the rules for dropping to 0 hit points, the amount of damage is irrelevant except in the case of the leftover damage being more than their maximum hit points (excepting situations like polymorphed creatures, of course).

Of course, this is ultimately moot for most cases since RAW the standard is that monsters just outright die when dropped to 0. However, imagine a case where the player doesn't want to kill an enemy because they want to interrogate it... that vampire would just keep getting healed back to consciousness. ;)
Well, evil DM might rule you where healed before the damage was applied, but I think it is the intent that Blackrazor can't kill an undead creature (PC or otherwise).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
One thing I don't understand - why the determination to keep using the term "race", but only for players?
So as not to have to replace the terminology that’s already in the books. Short of a new edition, there’s no changing the fact that the term “race” is used to refer to a certain package of PC features. What they can do though is stop using the term to refer to ethnic and cultural groups within the setting, the same way the game uses “class” to refer to a different package of PC features and not to in-fiction socioeconomic groups with shared interests and struggles.
 
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Hurin88

Adventurer
I guess we duel to the death then, since you reject the premise that I might have a conversation.
I'm really not sure where you're getting the sense that I am trying to deny you a right to a conversation. We're just talking about the rules of a game, and we each have a right to an opinion. You yourself express strong opinions at times; don't we have the right to express ours too?

I'm not questioning your right to a conversation. But I am asking a purely logical question: how do you have both an 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' and a 'Minotaur stronger than any Elf' in the same world without logical contradiction?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I'm really not sure where you're getting the sense that I am trying to deny you a right to a conversation. We're just talking about the rules of a game, and we each have a right to an opinion. You yourself express strong opinions at times; don't we have the right to express ours too?

I'm not questioning your right to a conversation. But I am asking a purely logical question: how do you have both an 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' and a 'Minotaur stronger than any Elf' in the same world without logical contradiction?
You don’t. It’s a silly question. I’m not going to continue with this line of conversation.
 

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