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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Yeah, exactly. Skills, tools, and weapon/armor proficiencies. Maybe specialty abilities like stonecunning, or the lizardfolk ability to make weapons and armor.
OK. There are guidelines about swapping these around. Why would these need to be codified into "Culture X gets these, culture Y gets these" rather than just allowing a free choice of "pick one from each of these categories".
 

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Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Well, there are those abilities that are cultural and still tied to race, like Stonecunning. Also, ASIs are weighted differently in different lineages, but all treated the same under Tasha's. That would need to be recodified for balance. Basically, this is all future-proofing.

It is important to note that, if all future lineages are going to excise culture traits as WotC has suggested, then any lineage they make for the remainder of 5th ed that doesn't easily map to the "fundamental character change" narrative that the three in UA do is going to lack any proficiencies at all, in a noticeable way, regardless of whether or not they end up balanced in some other fashion. I definitely find an issue with that.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
OK. There are guidelines about swapping these around. Why would these need to be codified into "Culture X gets these, culture Y gets these" rather than just allowing a free choice of "pick one from each of these categories".
You can easily do both: have a free-range "make your own culture" as well as a bunch of typical cultures that provide guidelines and can be used to avoid the "of course my Podunk farmer knows how to use a greatsword and three cantrips!" issue.
 

JEB

Legend
OK. So what would a culture actually grant? (I'd really suggest shying away from ASIs.)
I think ASIs are less potentially problematic for cultures than they are for species, actually, since the implication is that those adjustments very definitely are from training/learning rather than innate. So I don't see why they couldn't at least suggest defaults for your +1, as with the base race.
 

Scribe

Legend
Culture should inform language, and potentially skills, but it does step on background.

It almost gets to a point where Culture is redundant.

Lineage, Background, Class.

Those can easily cover ASI, Language, Skills, Tools.

What would culture be needed for mechanically at all.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
Culture should inform language, and potentially skills, but it does step on background.

It almost gets to a point where Culture is redundant.

Lineage, Background, Class.

Those can easily cover ASI, Language, Skills, Tools.

What would culture be needed for mechanically at all.
6e could (and probably should) fold culture into background. Both cover similar ground. I personally like lots of little pieces to make my character out of, but ease of use is a thing.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Culture should inform language, and potentially skills, but it does step on background.

It almost gets to a point where Culture is redundant.

Lineage, Background, Class.

Those can easily cover ASI, Language, Skills, Tools.

What would culture be needed for mechanically at all.
Ish. It really depends on how they do backgrounds.

I think we both would agree that no elf is born knowing how to use bows and swords. This is something they learn, from their culture. But should that culture be a background?

Currently, backgrounds, even backgrounds like Solider, don't grant weapon proficiencies. So you'd have to decide whether or not you'd want to rewrite backgrounds to include such things--and how a background like Soldier would then balance against something like Acolyte. Would you give Acolyte a cleric cantrip? I mean, you could, obviously, but then you'd have issues like now Soldier is kind of useless if you're going to play a Fighter (since Fighters already get those proficiencies), so all Fighters should be Acolytes to get that cantrip. Which is weird, from a background sense.

By having both Backgrounds and Cultures, you can make Cultures that grant all sorts of abilities--if you're from the Highwater Kingdoms, you learned how to use swords and bows from an early age--while still allowing for Soldiers to be mechanically different from Acolytes.
 

Scribe

Legend
I think we both would agree that no elf is born knowing how to use bows and swords. This is something they learn, from their culture. But should that culture be a background?

That's the distinction.

I come from the Frozen North. Does everyone from there have Survival? Maybe. Does everyone have Sword or Bow Training? Less so. Do we have a shared language? Probably.

Culture to me, is more 'soft' skills, less crunch.

I see a need to break out or redefine Background a bit, but I also believe Culture is setting specific. If it's not, it's a background.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
I see a need to break out or redefine Background a bit, but I also believe Culture is setting specific. If it's not, it's a background.
Personally, I like the Background/Culture divide. But if they had to get rid of one, I'd say Background. Maybe provide a list of generic special abilities, instead. "Because you belonged to X (where X is guild/noble house/university/whatever) you have the ability to gain access to buildings owned by and higher-up members of X," or "because of your ability to deal with people (because you're an entertainer/con-artist/merchant) you are capable of getting free room and board or discounts on stuff." And then allow people to take the extra proficiencies, skills, and languages.

In the last post, I mentioned "Highwater Kingdoms," which is clearly setting-specific. But if I turn it into "Militarized Nation," with the idea that you'd take this if you belonged to a nation that frequently waged wars on others, is always under threat of invasion, has to constantly defend itself against monster attacks, or emulates a war god; thus, everyone over a certain age learned how to use weapons. So that would justify allowing for certain weapon proficiencies. Maybe a couple of options: a sword and a bow; a spear and sling; an axe and throwing axe; or a sword and lance. EDIT: to represent different types of Militarized Nations, I mean.
 

Micah Sweet

Level Up & OSR Enthusiast
That's the distinction.

I come from the Frozen North. Does everyone from there have Survival? Maybe. Does everyone have Sword or Bow Training? Less so. Do we have a shared language? Probably.

Culture to me, is more 'soft' skills, less crunch.

I see a need to break out or redefine Background a bit, but I also believe Culture is setting specific. If it's not, it's a background.
I agree, culture is setting-specific. But, given that the Player's Handbook is never going to have more than a passing reference to any specific setting (since homebrew is a major thing), how do you incorporate cultural aspects into character creation? Do you require that every DM buy a setting book along with the core three? Or, on the other end, do you not provide any cultural examples at all, requiring DMs to make them up from whole cloth? Like Faolyn above, I think Level Up's idea of making general cultures, some very generic and others fitting racial archetypes, is a good middle ground to shoot for.
 

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