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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

I prefer no ASI at character creation. If we have to have it, I would prefer it be based on player's choice not on the character's race.

A +2 bonus isn't really much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.

I play a lot of BRP games and the difference between a dwarf (4d6 STR) and a halfling (2d6 STR) is significant to be a defining characteristic of the races. If the ASI were larger, it would be more significant, but that doesn't work with bounded accuracy.

In case I sound like I'm arguing both sides of the issue, I would point out that ability scores are much less important in BRP than in D&D. I don't want to get into arguing the merits of the two systems. This is a D&D forum. I just wanted to explain the reason why I dislike racial ASI in D&D.
 

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G

Guest 6801328

Guest
None of them have skill, weapon, armor, or tool proficiencies either.
True.

Although, I could see those adding flavor, in appropriate cases.

For example, over in the Witch thread there has been a suggestion that maybe Witch should be one of these lineages. Not sure I agree, but let's say WotC does that. Herbalism would be a perfectly appropriate skill.
 



Hurin88

Adventurer
You seem to be under the mistaken impression that your paradox is somehow clever or insightful.
That's a great way to begin a post if you want to promote respectful dialogue.

As somebody upthread posted, what if two players both said, "I want to play the shortest halfing in the world!" That desire is perfectly in line with traditional halfling stereotypes, and yet it results in the exactly the same problem: two players have character concepts* that can't both exist.
If that's what you conclude from my comments, then you've misunderstood the problem, as well as the logic behind my example.

D&D measures strength primarily by the stat, and the racial bonus to strength primarily by the stat bonus. This is why we can say that an Elf with 19 strength is probably not the 'strongest Elf in the world' -- because a high level Elf fighter can easily get a 20. There is a clear starting value and math that all characters adhere to, as well as a clear cap (20).

There's no clear starting value or clear cap to how small a Halfling can be. There's no 'point buy' for height. So the situations are not analogous. This is not the central reason behind the 'strongest Halfling' example, but it is significant to note if you are trying to make an argument by analogy. The smallest Halfling might be 2'6", or 2'3", or 1 nanometer. But unless you are tying height to some game mechanics, it won't make any difference, mechanically.. This doesn't have anything to do with racial bonuses. It has no mechanical effect. There are no rules for it. And it makes no difference to gameplay. And thus that isn't really a rules question; it's a fluff question. And finally, if you get right down to it, you would I assume want to treat all players the same, and give both equal opportunity to set their Halfling's height at whatever low point they want. So let them say their Halfling's height is whatever they want. It makes no difference to me, or to the rules.

Stats work differently than height though. They have a mechanical effect. They do involve a rule question. The question behind the example about 'an Elf stronger than any Minotaur' vs. 'a Minotaur stronger than any Elf' is that in a point-buy and stat-bonus system, you have to answer which if any races get the stat bonus, and specifically how much of a + they get. Because if every race gets the same bonus, then no race is different than any other, and you've just eliminated the racial bonus from the game. So, exactly how strong is your Elf? What is his 'racial' strength bonus? Note Morrus didn't want to answer that question, and nobody else arguing his position has either. Is his racial bonus +2 or less? Then he's not stronger than any Minotaur. Is it +3 or more? Then he is stronger than any (starting) Minotaur, but how can you justify giving an Elf a greater 'racial' strength bonus than a Minotaur?

You have to answer that question if you want to answer this objection, because you have to assign a number.

So I'll ask that again: What specific numerical value should the 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' have as his racial strength bonus?

I can actually give a clear answer: Players who want to play the strongest starting character possible should choose Minotaur as their race, since Minotaurs get a +2 Strength bonus, while Elves do not. Please note this also eliminates for me the 'problem' of the question of what to do when one player wants to play an 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' and another player wants to play a 'Minotaur stronger than any Elf'. This question is not a problem for me because the answer is clear: Players who want to play the strongest starting character should choose a race that gets a strength bonus.

But the question remains a problem for those who would allow an Elf to be stronger than any Minotaur. What would you have as this Elf's racial stat bonus? Why should a player who chooses a race not known for its strength enjoy a starting strength stat higher than a player who chooses a race that is known for its unusual strength?
 
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mockman1890

Explorer
The key is to separate the culture from the species. “Dwarves are like this” gets stereotypey and weird. “The people of Gauntlgrym are like this,” or better yet, “These factors affect the predominant culture of Gauntlgrym in these ways” isn’t uncomfortable in the same way.
I am not trying to be obnoxious but genuinely want to ask: in what way can one have made-up 'races' at all in fantasy (or science fiction) without cultural stereotypes that would be unacceptable when talking about real races?

Sure, you may want to leave open the option that all dwarves are not like X. But your setting might be real small, and all the dwarves really are from Gauntlgrym, where (most) dwarves are like X.

Most players are attracted to races because of the cultural stereotypes/traits and not just the appearance. Like, in a Star Trek RPG (and Star Trek does try to consider these issues), how would you even describe "Vulcans" if you didn't use any cultural signifiers? "They're humanoids with long ears"? Not very exciting roleplaying material. You at least have to get into "Most Vulcans are culturally like X..." territory.

Now, if you were saying "RPG races shouldn't have echoes of real-world negative racial stereotypes", that makes more sense, but I'm hearing something that's considerably broader, to the point that I can't even imagine how RPG races would work in this context.

I mean, if we were to really apply the same standards of sensitivity to describing RPG 'races' that we did to describing real races... not only would no cultural generalizations be acceptable, but even generalizations about physical appearance would be REALLY problematic.

So given this, how can fantasy or sci-fi races work at all? Isn't it futile beyond a point to apply 'real' standards of sensitivity?
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
That's a great way to begin a post if you want to promote respectful dialogue.
True. I reacted poorly to the disrespectful way you were pestering Morrus with a trap question. (Reminds me of the old Bloom County question posed by Milo the intrepid reporter, "Yes or no, Senator: have you stopped snorting cocaine?")


If that's what you conclude from my comments, then you've misunderstood the problem, as well as the logic behind my example.

D&D measures strength primarily by the stat, and the racial bonus to strength primarily by the stat bonus. This is why we can say that an Elf with 19 strength is probably not the 'strongest Elf in the world' -- because a high level Elf fighter can easily get a 20. There is a clear starting value and math that all characters adhere to, as well as a clear cap (20).

There's no clear starting value or clear cap to how small a Halfling can be. There's no 'point buy' for height. So the situations are not analogous. This is not the central reason behind the 'strongest Halfling' example, but it is significant to note if you are trying to make an argument by analogy. The smallest Halfling might be 2'6", or 2'3", or 1 nanometer. But unless you are tying height to some game mechanics, it won't make any difference, mechanically.. This doesn't have anything to do with racial bonuses. It has no mechanical effect. There are no rules for it. And it makes no difference to gameplay. And thus that isn't really a rules question; it's a fluff question. And finally, if you get right down to it, you would I assume want to treat all players the same, and give both equal opportunity to set their Halfling's height at whatever low point they want. So let them say their Halfling's height is whatever they want. It makes no difference to me, or to the rules.

Stats work differently than height though. They have a mechanical effect. They do involve a rule question. The question behind the example about 'an Elf stronger than any Minotaur' vs. 'a Minotaur stronger than any Elf' is that in a point-buy and stat-bonus system, you have to answer which if any races get the stat bonus. Because if every race gets the same bonus, then no race is different than any other, and you've just eliminated the racial bonus from the game. So, exactly how strong is your Elf? Is his strength 18? 20? 22? Note Morrus didn't want to answer that question, and nobody else arguing his position has either. But you have to if you want to answer this objection, because you have to assign a number. You have to give an answer.

So I'll ask that again: What specific numerical value should the 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' have as his strength stat?

I can actually give a clear answer: Players who want to play the strongest starting character possible should choose Minotaur as their race, since Minotaurs get a Strength bonus, while Elves do not. Please note this also eliminates for me the 'problem' of the question of what to do when one player wants to play an 'Elf stronger than any Minotaur' and another player wants to play a 'Minotaur stronger than any Elf'. This question is not a problem for me because the answer is clear: Players who want to play the strongest starting character should choose a race that gets a strength bonus.

But the question remains a problem for those who would allow an Elf to be stronger than any Minotaur. What would you have as this Elf's starting strength stat? Why should a player who chooses a race not known for its strength enjoy a starting strength stat higher than a player who chooses a race that is known for its unusual strength?

Fine, then both of them want to be "the most dextrous halfling in the world."

Basically, "I want to be more of X than any other player" is not a valid character concept. If the other players all agree to it, then fine. I expect you wouldn't accede to a character concept of "I want to be the only starting character with a magic weapon" so why "I want to be stronger than any other starting character"?
 

Remathilis

Legend
One thing I take away from this UA is that each of the three options have very distinctive flavor. We can quibble about the mechanical details, but in play these lineages give the player a great toolkit for representing these archetypes. The abilities, combined with some of the fluff, do a great job at evoking an appropriate image.

And yet...none of them have fixed ability score increases.
Without that sidebar, I'd have assumed there were two sets of rules: races and lineages.

A race is a normal, true-breeding* species that has a distinct culture, society, language, biology, and appearance. Examples of them are basically every race in the PHB. These races have set ability scores, languages, and proficiencies, but those can be modified per Tasha.

A lineage is a species that is descended from another species, but biologically unique. They may share looks or culture from another group, but they are something different and have unique racial traits. They lack certain fixed traits (ASI, languages, size) because they are not true-breeding but basically mutants of their parent race. The custom lineage, dhampirs, hexblood, and reborn are lineages, and you could probably retrofit things like aasimar, hollowed ones, or simic-hybrids as lineages.

It would open two different areas of design; classic fantasy races and unique lineages. However, they are going to go forward with one set of rules for both, rather than support both.
 


G

Guest 6801328

Guest
I am not trying to be obnoxious but genuinely want to ask: in what way can one have made-up 'races' at all in fantasy (or science fiction) without cultural stereotypes that would be unacceptable when talking about real races?

Sure, you may want to leave open the option that all dwarves are not like X. But your setting might be real small, and all the dwarves really are from Gauntlgrym, where (most) dwarves are like X.

Most players are attracted to races because of the cultural stereotypes/traits and not just the appearance. Like, in a Star Trek RPG (and Star Trek does try to consider these issues), how would you even describe "Vulcans" if you didn't use any cultural signifiers? "They're humanoids with long ears"? Not very exciting roleplaying material. You at least have to get into "Most Vulcans are culturally like X..." territory.

Now, if you were saying "RPG races shouldn't have echoes of real-world negative racial stereotypes", that makes more sense, but I'm hearing something that's considerably broader, to the point that I can't even imagine how RPG races would work in this context.

I mean, if we were to really apply the same standards of sensitivity to describing RPG 'races' that we did to describing real races... not only would no cultural generalizations be acceptable, but even generalizations about physical appearance would be REALLY problematic.

So given this, how can fantasy or sci-fi races work at all? Isn't it futile beyond a point to apply 'real' standards of sensitivity?

I can't speak for @Charlaquin, although we have expressed similar sentiments on this topic in the past, but for me the real problem with racial ASIs as a broad category is not that it promotes racism or whatever, but that it has an observable effect of suppressing the range of race/class combinations seen in the wild. Not that I particularly want to play an orc wizard, but if somebody else does I don't want them to have to decide between that desire and having a wizard as good as wizards of other races. To me, racial ASIs are just cruft from D&D history and don't really add any flavor; all they do is result in the same race/class combinations appearing over and over again.
 

Arial Black

Adventurer
If Tasha's approach to race is optional, this lets DMs keep (say) the halfling's +2 bonus to Dex OR allow the player to move that +2 to a different ability.

The new lineages are following this design philosophy. This means that the DM can choose to keep the new race's (lineage's) ability bonuses where they are, OR allow the players to move those bonuses to other ability scores.

Cool.

I, as DM, want to keep the Dhampir's ability score bonuses where they are. I don't want the players to have the option to move those bonuses to other ability scores.

That IS one of the two options, right?

So....what ARE the standard ability score bonuses for Dhampir's?

And going forward, every new race should come with those standard bonuses, AND the option to switch them.

If the standard bonuses don't exist, then that option has been taken away. Therefore, it is not optional any more.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
If Tasha's approach to race is optional, this lets DMs keep (say) the halfling's +2 bonus to Dex OR allow the player to move that +2 to a different ability.

The new lineages are following this design philosophy. This means that the DM can choose to keep the new race's (lineage's) ability bonuses where they are, OR allow the players to move those bonuses to other ability scores.

Cool.

I, as DM, want to keep the Dhampir's ability score bonuses where they are. I don't want the players to have the option to move those bonuses to other ability scores.

That IS one of the two options, right?

Nope. I mean, you're DM you can do whatever you want. But that's not one of the options in this UA.

So....what ARE the standard ability score bonuses for Dhampir's?

There aren't any.

And going forward, every new race should come with those standard bonuses, AND the option to switch them.

If the standard bonuses don't exist, then that option has been taken away. Therefore, it is not optional any more.

These new lineages are optional. Two wrongs don't make a right, and two options don't make a...non-option.
 


Dausuul

Legend
For me the real problem with racial ASIs as a broad category is not that it promotes racism or whatever, but that it has an observable effect of suppressing the range of race/class combinations seen in the wild.
YES. This, exactly. Fixed stat mods punish unusual or offbeat class/race combos by making them mechanically less effective. And that's pretty much all that they do. They were always a bad mechanic.

I don't know if a commitment to inclusivity is really WotC's main reason for eliminating them, or if it's just a convenient cover for slaughtering a sacred cow, but I'm cool either way. I'd like to see them go after class-based stat dependencies next, but that's probably not in the cards.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I am not trying to be obnoxious but genuinely want to ask: in what way can one have made-up 'races' at all in fantasy (or science fiction) without cultural stereotypes that would be unacceptable when talking about real races?
Easily? I’m not really sure how to answer this. I think you and I must have such fundamentally different understandings of what a fantasy race is that we’re going to have a hard time communicating here, because I don’t see how what I said would in any way prevent the inclusion of fantasy races in a fictional setting.
Sure, you may want to leave open the option that all dwarves are not like X. But your setting might be real small, and all the dwarves really are from Gauntlgrym, where (most) dwarves are like X.
Even in a very small setting, I find the idea that no dwarf ever has been or could be born outside of a particular ethnically homogenous community to strain suspension of disbelief, to the point I might not be able to take such a setting seriously. I mean, we have an example in Dragon Age of a setting where there is only one dwarf city. There are certainly things you can say about the culture of the city. But not all dwarves are born there, and not all dwarves who are born there conform to the dominant culture. Yes, Orzammar is very traditionalist and has a caste system, and what have you. But dwarves are not Orzammar.
Most players are attracted to races because of the cultural stereotypes/traits and not just the appearance.
I disagree that cultural stereotypes are what attract most players to races, and I can’t get behind the notion that races are made up only of appearance and cultural stereotypes. Again looking to the dragon age example, dwarves have inherent traits that distinguish them from humans other than just their appearance. They have different bone structure, different muscle structure, they don’t dream, and consequently can’t use magic (because of the way magic works in the setting). They are naturally immune to the toxicity of the magical mineral lyrium. They have an inherent sense of direction underground called stone sense (although admittedly surface dwarves lose this sense). These things are not cultural, they are, for lack of a better word in a fantasy context, biological.
Like, in a Star Trek RPG (and Star Trek does try to consider these issues), how would you even describe "Vulcans" if you didn't use any cultural signifiers? "They're humanoids with long ears"? Not very exciting roleplaying material. You at least have to get into "Most Vulcans are culturally like X..." territory.
I mean, I would call that a flaw in the writing of Star Trek. An alien species that is only biologically different from humans in that their ears are pointed? Talk about uninspired. Though, if you really care to get into the reeds here, that isn’t actually the only biological difference between Vulcans and Humans. Vulcans also experience emotions far more intensely than humans do, and they have some low-level psychic ability in the mind meld.
Now, if you were saying "RPG races shouldn't have echoes of real-world negative racial stereotypes", that makes more sense, but I'm hearing something that's considerably broader, to the point that I can't even imagine how RPG races would work in this context.
Again, I’m not really even sure how to explain to you that fantasy can be different from each other in ways that aren’t cultural.

Also, like, having distinct cultures in your fantasy settings is fine. In fact, it’s a good thing. The more culturally diverse a setting, the better! The problem comes when you tie that culture inextricably to a race.
I mean, if we were to really apply the same standards of sensitivity to describing RPG 'races' that we did to describing real races... not only would no cultural generalizations be acceptable, but even generalizations about physical appearance would be REALLY problematic.
Well, that’s not what I’m suggesting, so I don’t know what to tell you.
So given this, how can fantasy or sci-fi races work at all? Isn't it futile beyond a point to apply 'real' standards of sensitivity?
I don’t know what to say, other than “no.”
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I can't speak for @Charlaquin, although we have expressed similar sentiments on this topic in the past, but for me the real problem with racial ASIs as a broad category is not that it promotes racism or whatever, but that it has an observable effect of suppressing the range of race/class combinations seen in the wild. Not that I particularly want to play an orc wizard, but if somebody else does I don't want them to have to decide between that desire and having a wizard as good as wizards of other races. To me, racial ASIs are just cruft from D&D history and don't really add any flavor; all they do is result in the same race/class combinations appearing over and over again.
And on this, I agree. My issue with racial ASIs is only tangentially related to my desire for a separation between race and culture, and is mostly about making non-stereotypical race/class combos more mechanically viable.
 

Hurin88

Adventurer
True. I reacted poorly to the disrespectful way you were pestering Morrus with a trap question. (Reminds me of the old Bloom County question posed by Milo the intrepid reporter, "Yes or no, Senator: have you stopped snorting cocaine?")
I honestly don't see expressing my opinion as disrespectful. I personally think that Morrus does occasionally show more disrespect towards posters than I ever do to him. Take a look back through my posts -- I'm not someone who really flies off the handle or starts insulting people. I never go low unless someone drags me down first. I try to show others respect.

But in the spirit of respect, I'll just say thanks to him for all his hard work in providing us with this forum, and thanks to you for acknowledging that we could all treat each other a little better.

Fine, then both of them want to be "the most dextrous halfling in the world."

Basically, "I want to be more of X than any other player" is not a valid character concept. If the other players all agree to it, then fine. I expect you wouldn't accede to a character concept of "I want to be the only starting character with a magic weapon" so why "I want to be stronger than any other starting character"?

Let me explain more clearly why the questions are not analogous.

The question of what to do when two players both ask to play ‘the smallest Halfling in the world’ is easily resolvable because they can in fact both be that at the same time. It is not an either/or question. I can inform them that the smallest Halfling currently in the world is 2’4”, and that if they want to be smaller they can choose to be 2’3”. Both of them can be that at the same time. They are now both literally ‘the smallest Halfling in the world’, in much the same way that if two sprinters just ran a 100m dash in 9.3 seconds, they would both share the title of ‘Fastest Man in the World’.

The question of what to do when one player asks to be ‘an Elf stronger than any Minotaur’ and another asks to be ‘a Minotaur stronger than any Elf’ is logically distinct, however. The Elf/Minotaur question IS an either/or proposition because they can’t both be what they want to be. The Elf can't be stronger than the Minotaur if the Minotaur is stronger than the Elf, and if they both have the exact same stat, then neither is what they want to be.

This is why the objection about the ‘smallest Halfling in the world’ has no bearing on the Elf/Minotaur question.
 
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Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
It's very difficult to me to consider Ability Score Increase as CULTURAL. I strongly believe it is physiological. These are aberration of common sense twisted to... ok I stop myself. But truth is more important than... ok stop.
Ability Scores are not cultural. They are inherent traits that are supposed to represent the character's race natural, raw, inborn nature.

Decoupling racial ability score mods from the race itself is one way of stripping away from what truly defines the race as that race.

It also negates what defined humans in the game, which was humans innate versatility.

Now, instead of many different races... We just have a bunch of variant humans.

Other games have done this inclusion of Culture a lot better. HARP and Against the Darkmaster, derived from Rolemaster, have Races still being Races while also using Culture as Culture to represent upbringing and it's done masterfully.

These changes in D&D are disrespectful to the game, disrespectful to the history of D&D, and to all designers who worked on the earlier editions of the game.

People claim that 4e wasn't D&D. 4e never made changes to the game for political reasons. Sure they focused 4e in a different, more tactical way, but it was more D&D than what 5e is turning into.

5e is not D&D anymore.
 

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