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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

Arial Black

Adventurer
Let's say you are invited to play a new fantasy RPG, whose rules you don't yet know, but you are familiar with the standard fantasy races.

You choose to play a human.

Because you are new to the game, the DM hands you a pre-gen. The sheet says your Strength score is 35.

Is 35 strong? Weak? Average?

Without context, it is impossible to know!

If you joined a D&D game in similar circumstances, and your pre-gen's sheet said Str 16, how would you know if that is weak, average or strong? Again, without context you could. Not. Know.

But we D&D players DO have context. That context is that the bell curve of normal, unenhanced human strength is modelled by 3d6: minimum 3, maximum 18, average 10.5, with a bell curve favouring the middle 9-12.

Then life happens and that strength can increase or decrease.

If we want to know if humans in general are weak, strong or average, we compare them to that 3d6 bell curve. 16 is pretty strong!

And we can judge if other fantasy races are, on average, stronger or weaker than humans. Humans are the average, per game design; we judge all other races (really: species) against the human norm.

By that metric, minotaurs in general are stronger than humans in general. How do we know? Because minotaurs get +2 to strength.

That makes sense. Conceptually, minotaurs are stonger than humans (on average), and we want our game mechanics to make sense.

This has nothing to do with individuals! The strongest human is stronger than the weakest minotaur!

How is this modelled in the game? Is it by taking away the +2 Str bonus from minotaurs?

No. It is modelled by rolling a low strength score on 3d6 (or 4d6k3 or point buy or whatever) so that even after adding +2 the minotaur still has less than the 10 on the bell curve by which we measure these things.

Saying your halfling is stronger than the strongest minotaur is fine....once you've earned that through play. At first level? Not so much.

Saying that you want your starting halfling to have 24 Str, or 20 Str, and claiming that anyone saying different is wrong, is like saying that your halfling starts at eight feet tall. It doesn't make sense.

If you want it to make sense, create a goliath and re-fluff it as a mutant halfling, with your DM's permission. I'd be cool with that.

For me, things have to make sense. I can fluff my PC how I want as long as a.) I don't alter game mechanics without permission, and b.) it makes sense!
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
None of them have skill, weapon, armor, or tool proficiencies either.
And that’s fine, in these cases, because these aren’t concepts that would benefit from them.

But just like Halflings should have sling proficiency and I’ve houserules that they do since day one and will always do so, because they’re halflings, at some point there will be a new (to D&D or at least 5e) lineage that does benefit from proficiencies, and it’s entirely possible they won’t get made at all because of this direction.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
This is overwrought, melodramatic, hyperbole, of the most preposterous order.
 

And that’s fine, in these cases, because these aren’t concepts that would benefit from them.

But just like Halflings should have sling proficiency and I’ve houserules that they do since day one and will always do so, because they’re halflings, at some point there will be a new (to D&D or at least 5e) lineage that does benefit from proficiencies, and it’s entirely possible they won’t get made at all because of this direction.
This is precisely what I was getting at. The new paradigm doesn't allow for any mechanical weight to culture, and that throws out a LOT of concepts.
 

I'm fine with decoupling races from culture, but it seems a bit hard to implement when there are also lots of races and no actual game world.

If there are lots of races then they need some kind of convenient shorthand for description. Goliaths are presented along with their culture as one and the same. So are Drow and Mountain Dwarves. (Putting subraces in the the PHB always seemed like a bad idea to me - I don't need two different sets of ability scores to make different Dwarf cultures - and it leads to the implication that if I want to make a third culture I need a new subrace as well.)

The ideal would be to present a handful of races in the context of a specific game world that can showcase those races with a number of different cultures each.

But that's not really what D&D does.

However, if WOTC really does want to move forward maybe the should consider whether it's time to develop a new campaign world for real.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.



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.
I feel like it is self-evident that the same solution can be applied in the elf/Minotaur situation. Make them equally strong. Yes, technically means they each have one example of someone of the other species who isn’t weaker than them. But this solution clearly satisfies what both players want, which is for their characters to be superlatively strong. Heck, maybe it becomes a fun roleplaying thing that these characters are rivals for the title of world’s strongest, and take any opportunity to engage in contests of strength against each other.
 

Hurin88

Adventurer
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.
The new edition of Rolemaster (RMU) does this too, and I though it might help to explain how Rolemaster successfully separates race from culture.

Race in Rolemaster gives you a range of mechanical advantages and disadvantages, including stat and save (RR) bonuses, hit point bonuses (more for large size, less for small size), and also inherent racial abilities (such as Dwarves getting Darkvision).

Culture provides ranks in various skills -- e.g. if you come from a Cosmopolitan background, you get more language ranks, while those who come from a Reaver background get more ranks in weapons skills (Combat Training). Note that since Rolemaster is mostly skill-based, these ranks can have a bigger in game effect than DnD players might think of when they see 'skill ranks'. Attacking with a Broadsword is a 'skill', for example, so more ranks in a weapon means a higher 'to hit' bonus (what Rolemaster calls 'Offensive Bonus').

This system works very well and successfully decouples 'race' from 'culture' while still retaining racial stat bonuses. This is what I would prefer to see in D&D.

The problem for me with D&D races was not that there were racial stat bonuses; it was that races that were defined as 'evil' bore more than a passing resemblance to real world cultures, thus perpetuating noxious stereotypes about real world people.

The solution is not to do away with racial stat bonuses altogether. It is to decouple race from culture and to stop defining fantasy cultures in all too familiar and stereotypical ways.
 

TrickyDUK2

Villager
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.
But I believe that the race/class combinations, and the related mechanical elements, are part of what makes up D&D’s identity. If I want to play a game where I can create anything, then I would look at GURPS or Cypher System or Genesys.

But I guess WotC are free to take D&D in whatever direction they choose and will be expecting certain players to move away and new players to join.

Maybe, I’m just of a generation that liked a particular game for the game that it was, and chose to keep separate, real world issues (and not allow such issues to creep in under the disguise of fun) from my own little personal world of escapism with a few friends.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm fine with decoupling races from culture, but it seems a bit hard to implement when there are also lots of races and no actual game world.
Which begins to get at why I find the Tasha’s floating ASIs and proficiencies an awkward kludge that doesn’t really address the underlying problem. It makes orc wizards and halfling barbarians playable without penalty, which is a good step forward, but it does nothing to address the problem of D&D conflating race with culture. Saying that, moving forward, races will no longer grant languages or proficiencies... addresses the problem... By removing culture as a mechanical element of the character. Which may be more culturally sensitive, but I would argue isn’t great for gameplay.

What’s really needed in my opinion is something more like what Morrus is doing with A5e: making race and culture separate character creation choices, which grant different traits.
 

NaturalZero

Adventurer
Let me explain more clearly why the questions are not analogous.
I see you spending a lot of time spinning your wheels on this example. What you're talking about has absolutely nothing to do with character building mechanics and everything to do with players wanting a thing that forces other people to submit.

What if two players want to be the world's only wizard?
What if two players want to be the world's shortest halfling?
What if two players want to be the world's strongest goliath?
What if the halfing player and the minotaur player want to be the strongest?
What if two players want to be the only character in the world who owns a green shirt?

None of these have any bearing at all on the mechanics of character building. It's completely a table issue.

Which is a mistake, IMO. Though I love the direction D&D is going based off of this UA, WotC broke their promise. They said Tasha's was going to be optional, and it was, until just a couple months later when they say that it is now going to be the base.
Of course it's still optional.

If you have a race with ability score increases, swapping them is optional. No promised broken, nothing changed. People in the thread are acting like WotC is coming to their house to rip the pages out of their books and replace them.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
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.
I disagree. I, personally, couldn’t care less about the supposedly "political" aspects of this change, they're irrelevant to me. I like the change because, as @Elfcrusher said, it makes more race-class combinations more appealing to play.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
But I believe that the race/class combinations, and the related mechanical elements, are part of what makes up D&D’s identity. If I want to play a game where I can create anything, then I would look at GURPS or Cypher System or Genesys.
Some of us like D&D, with its class system, distinct lore, exploratory play framework, etc. but merely don’t want combination of race and class to be restricted or penalized. There’s a lot of daylight between D&D without racial ASIs and GURPS, and I really don’t want to play GURPS.
But I guess WotC are free to take D&D in whatever direction they choose and will be expecting certain players to move away and new players to join.

Maybe, I’m just of a generation that liked a particular game for the game that it was, and chose to keep separate, real world issues (and not allow such issues to creep in under the disguise of fun) from my own little personal world of escapism with a few friends.
Again, the racial ASI thing is at best tangentially related to the racial/cultural sensitivity issue. I think both are important, but I think conflating them is muddying the discussion here.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
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’.

Ah, ok, now I see what you are saying. You are right: there is a very slight difference in language here.

So let me change it: Each player says "I want to be shorter* than any other halfling in the world." There, now it is impossible for them both to have what they want, even though what each of them wants aligns with the traditional conception of what it means to be a halfling.

*Or "more dextrous", if you feel it has to be mechanics based.

The other problem here (which I suspect is part of what Morrus was getting at) is that this is a totally contrived scenario.

First, who lets players define their "concept" as "I am the most X in the world"? The rules certainly don't support any such thing. Sure, the player is free to decide that their character's goal is to achieve X, or that their character believes X to be true. But that's different from actually granting it.

Second, even if you were to allow that, for another player to then say, "Well I want to play a character whose very existence invalidates your character concept" isn't a problem with the rules, it's a problem with the people.

And, despite all that, the example of "more dextrous than any halfling in the world" demonstrates that whether or not the scenario is valid, it has nothing whatsoever to do with rules that allow races to break stereotype.
 
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G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Maybe, I’m just of a generation that liked a particular game for the game that it was, and chose to keep separate, real world issues (and not allow such issues to creep in under the disguise of fun) from my own little personal world of escapism with a few friends.

So, I think this is pretty revealing. I honestly struggle to understand why people are so attached to racial ASIs, and so resistant to change, and the only reason I find persuasive is that it's just knee-jerk resistance to anything that smells of political correctness. Certainly none of the attempts at "logical" support for racial ASIs that I've read are very convincing.

Also, I don't think it's a "generational" difference. I can't be certain I'm older than you, but it's highly unlikely you're actually of an older generation. I agree with you: the reason I like 5e so much is that it's more like the game it used to be, compared to the intervening editions. But racial ability modifiers are not part of that feel; they are just cruft (like the requirement that Paladins are Lawful Good) that don't actually contribute to the game. Literally all they achieve is to give people a reason to not play unusual race/class combinations.

I swear, if the argument for getting rid of the "Weapon vs. Armor Type" table had included the word "race" I'm sure we would still be generating 100 page threads on the topic, with all kinds of rationales for why it is absolutely vital for immersion that Bohemian Ear Spoons get a +2 modifier vs. Splint Mail.
 

Even if the halfling and Golaith have equal Strength scores, the Goliath is still stronger by other metrics (eg a Strength contest to see how much they can lift) because he has Powerful Build.

This is the problem with size. You either represent it mechanically some way or you don't represent it all. And if you don't represent it at all, then you take away a lot of the fun of playing it.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
Even if the halfling and Golaith have equal Strength scores, the Goliath is still stronger by other metrics (eg a Strength contest to see how much they can lift) because he has Powerful Build.

This is the problem with size. You either represent it mechanically some way or you don't represent it all. And if you don't represent it at all, then you take away a lot of the fun of playing it.

Yes! A half-orc with Con 20 is tougher than a human with Con 20, because the half-orc has Relentless Endurance.

I would so much rather give the various races cool, unique abilities than boring ASIs.
 

Scribe

Hero
I don't know, personally I liked my Tiefling with a negative Charisma modifier, and a level adjustment and it certainly had nothing to do with anything to do with political correctness, but we can certainly continue to paint people who want this level of crunch with that brush...
 

Of course it's still optional.

If you have a race with ability score increases, swapping them is optional. No promised broken, nothing changed. People in the thread are acting like WotC is coming to their house to rip the pages out of their books and replace them.
It's not optional for future races/lineages. If they were "optional" like Tasha's is for the previous races, they'd give them alternative "automatic" racial ability score bonuses, not just automatic ones.

I'm one that loves this change and like the direction D&D is heading. However, I can see why people are upset that this is becoming less optional than TCoE's is.
 

Dausuul

Legend
It used to be, your race flat-out blocked you from certain classes. Want to play a dwarf wizard or an elf paladin? Nope. Denied.

If you don't want to see dwarf wizards in your game, that's the way to do it. But if a combination is allowed by the rules, it's silly to whack it with a mechanical penalty in an effort to make it unusual. PCs are unusual by definition. Either allow it or don't.
 

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