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

It's necessary to understand that the portrayal of Orcs in 5e isn't actualy a conservative (in the basic sense of the word) portrayal. It's actually reactionary. The treatment of Orcs in 3rd Edition Eberron (which was already late then - go back to the 90s and read Earthdawn - although you can also find portrayals of non-evil orcs and goblins tucked away in some 2e products). There was also as already discussed the Kingdom of Obould Many Arrows in 4e.

For some reason, WOTC decided with 5e to try and put the genie back in the bottle and that Orcs (and other things like Gnolls) needed to be evil again (Why? Who can say for sure - no doubt they saw it as part of restoring the 'feel' of D&D). It was never going to work.

It's interesting that despite the fact that WOTC took inspiration from the OSR in some ways, if you look at all the best and most influential stuff from the OSR there's nary an Orc to be seen. (maybe in some of the duller more nostalgic stuff). That's not necessarily because Orcs are viewed as 'problematic' in a political sense, but because they are just fundamentally uninteresting.

The village is being attacked by Orcs who are evil because they evil - boring! Almost anything is better than that. Bandits who are cultists who need sacrifices to take to their high priest who lives in a mountain cave complex? It may be cliched but you've got something to work with.
 

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Chaosmancer

Legend
Agreed.

And I'd extend that to, "It's tribal, therefore evil" is equally not a motivation.

Therefore, 'tribal' is not insulting, just descriptive. Nothing wrong with tribal cultures.

So why can't orcs be 'tribal' again?

Tribal can be fine. A few examples of them are very interesting.

But, Tribal is often paired with a lot of other tropes and misconceptions that aren't fine. A lot of assumptions about how these people operate and what they believe that can end up being pretty heavily wrong.

Just for an example from real world history, the US Congress, the combination of the ideas of the House of Representatives and the Senate? That idea was in part inspired by a Native American government system that worked in a very similar fashion. But, while so many of the sources of inspiration for the US Government are celebrated, this one isn't, in part because people don't tend to believe it. Because there is a perception that Tribal people can't have a complicated system of government and laws.

I'm not trying to say things are bad one or good, but there are patterns, and the patterns tend towards the bad more than they tend towards the good.
 

Just for an example from real world history, the US Congress, the combination of the ideas of the House of Representatives and the Senate? That idea was in part inspired by a Native American government system that worked in a very similar fashion. But, while so many of the sources of inspiration for the US Government are celebrated, this one isn't, in part because people don't tend to believe it.
It certainly would be unfair to blame the Native Americans for that mess.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
I'm not trying to be obtuse here, but is that NOT how pretty much everyone runs their games? I'm very far from being any kind of paragon of wokeness, but that's how I've run humanoid monsters since I've been a teenager (which was 25+ years ago). If you want something the PCs can kill with no discussion, you use undead, elementals, constructs, demons, or creepy alien monsters (like illithids).

No, honestly it is not.

I still remember in one discussion I had on this forum just within the past year, we got to the point that giving birth to a goblin baby was an evil act, because goblins are born evil, and bringing evil into the world was an evil act.

It likely is an outlier, but there are still a lot of people who advocate for races being born evil.
 



doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I'm not trying to be obtuse here, but is that NOT how pretty much everyone runs their games? I'm very far from being any kind of paragon of wokeness, but that's how I've run humanoid monsters since I've been a teenager (which was 25+ years ago). If you want something the PCs can kill with no discussion, you use undead, elementals, constructs, demons, or creepy alien monsters (like illithids).
You’d think. According to what I see on these forums, there are still some folks who use humanoids as kill on sight due to thier race.
 

Arial Black

Adventurer
Good for you? Did you learn about forced re-education and state schools where kids were beaten for speaking their native languages, in Canada, within living memory? Most Canadians I know only learned of those things when the internet helped them see stories from First Nations folk who lived it.

No, that isn't what people are saying. I don't understand how it is possible to not understand that "the language used in this book is almost word for word the same langauge used to describe Indiginous people by the people trying to annihilate and/or enslave them, and thus makes people very uncomfortable, especially when the language is being used to describe a people that the author knows players want to play as a character" is not the same thing as "orcs=Natives".

It's genuinely hard for me to even fathom how a person could manage to not understand the difference.

This is absurd on it's face.

That's literally what most of the people you're railing against are asking for.

You come across with these hyperbolic nonsensical queries as if you are intentionally just trolling the conversation.
Literally no one is suggesting anything remotely similar to "no groups can be villainous".

Well, no. Not portraying them as exclusively tribal, yes. Not including tribal communities at all, no. We don't fix racism in a game by whitewashing it.

They did, until 5e came along and the Kingdom fell apart because orcs are savages who can't build a proper society, apparently. Not at all an uncomfortably familiar thing to read for someone whose people have been described that way in texts books they were forced to read as children in schools where they were punished for speaking their native language.

And yet, it is very very clear that Volos and other parts of 5e and older lore does so.

But it isn't. I've literally never seen a single group play that way, I can't think of any actual play shows that do so, I've seen no traffic on social media that suggests that the wave of new players who are defining the game for themselves now play that way. DnD is becoming, year by year, a game about playing heroes.

Violence isn't the problem, the direction and nature of the violence is. 5e tried to go more old school than 3.5 and 4e with the depiction of "monster" races, resulting in the fall of Many Arrows in FR and a return to talking about orcs like Custer talked about Native Americans while trying to genocide them, and that is the problem. Not the fact that the game features combat a lot.

Balors are elementals. Even a djinn is a creature that has parents and can have children. Demons are spawned from the abyss fully formed. Devils are created by erasing the indivuality of a damned soul and then torturing it into a new form as a devil, I think? Something like that. The other fiends are dumb, and the game would be better without them.

The solution to which is fairly easy, as you yourself point out later, quoted below.

Yes. That doesn't interfere with the game at all. If you replace every creature with a human in every 5e adventure (I haven't read any reprints, as I don't experience nostalgia and thus couldn't possibly care less about them), the adventure works fine. Evil person does evil thing, good guys stop them.

Absolutely. As the same people who have a problem with how orcs are written about have been saying, how dwarves are written is also not great. Dwarves and Elves are pretty....model minority, in depiction, for a start, and like with orcs the way to fix that is to not define a race as having a defined personality and nature that they can't really change or deviate from.

A quick shorthand for this would simply be to treat Elves as "people who grow up speaking French" and treat them as having something like the number of cultures as French speakers do IRL.


They're not living creatures. Demons especially are literally elementals whose element is Destructive Evil That Seeks To Annihilate All Things.

But I also have no problem with a setting where fiends can be more complex than that. It would hardly be the first fantasy world wherein that is the case.
Alright, we seemed to have converged to the point where we agree that orcs (and other natural sentient beings), because they can be any alignment (unlike, say, devils) can and should be portrayed with nuance. Some can be good, some evil, most probably neutral, but each with coherent motivations and drives.

And we agree that tribal (and other cultures) are not inherently better or worse than other cultures, and should also be portrayed with nuance.

So what are we arguing about?

What has this got to do with elephants (or goliaths) being naturally stronger than mice (or halflings)? That the difference is NOT merely cultural! That a mouse (or halfling) raised by elephants (or goliaths) will not be stronger (on average) than an elephant (or goliath) raised by mice (or halflings)?
 


Faolyn

(she/her)
What has this got to do with elephants (or goliaths) being naturally stronger than mice (or halflings)? That the difference is NOT merely cultural! That a mouse (or halfling) raised by elephants (or goliaths) will not be stronger (on average) than an elephant (or goliath) raised by mice (or halflings)?
OK, but that has nothing to do with allowing people to assign their +2/+1 as they wish.

1: There's a max cap on attributes in 5e anyway, which means that even if all goliaths started out with +2 in Strength and no halflings did, they could still both end up with 20 Str anyway. Just not at the same time.

2: Strength, the ability score, is not a direct comparison to strength, the effect caused by muscles. It's an abstract ability to determine how much extra damage they do with weapons. Also, Small creatures can't use heavy weapons without a hefty penalty, which means they're limited in the amount of damage they can do anyway.

2a: In the real world, many small creatures are actually proportionately stronger than larger ones. I've read that a mouse can lift up to twice its body weight and can easily support its weight with one paw, while an elephant can't. Mice can also jump and climb--both functions of Strength in D&D--while elephants can't.

3: Goliaths (and firbolgs, bugbears, orcs, loxodon, and centaurs) are always going to be naturally stronger than halflings (and gnomes, goblins, and kobolds) because goliaths can lift and carry things like Large creatures and Small creatures get a penalty to lifting and carrying things. So even if a halfling has a higher Strength than a goliath, it still won't be able to out-lift a goliath. And most people in the real world consider lifting capacity to be a better indication of innate physical strength than the ability to hit people, which is seen as a learned skill.

3a: Lots of tables barely even care about encumbrance or lifting abilities anyway, except at those in-game times when they have to lift a gate or bend a bar. And that's an Athletics roll, which is a skill that all goliaths have.

4: These rules apply only to PCs, of which there are usually no more than 4-6 in any given world. Assuming that any of those PCs actually are halflings (when there are so many races to choose from), then having one halfling be a muscle-bound steroid user among the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of halflings in that world isn't going to hurt anything--nor will that one 198-pound goliath weakling.

5: Assuming a player even wants to be a a super-strong halfling, of course. Like the game-breaking influx of mountain dwarf wizards that never happened, there aren't likely to be that many players who desperately want to play a super-strong halfling. But there are going to be a few, so is it really that big a deal to let them?

6:. A bucolic halfling rarely has to carry a lot of heavy things at all, besides the occasional keg of ale or particularly large wheel of cheese. A halfling raised in a more strength-based society would develop a more muscular frame than one who wasn't. Likewise, a goliath raised in a culture that didn't require a lot of physical activity would be much more physically weak than one raised in a "traditional" goliath culture.
 

Scribe

Hero
OK, but that has nothing to do with allowing people to assign their +2/+1 as they wish.

5: Assuming a player even wants to be a a super-strong halfling, of course. Like the game-breaking influx of mountain dwarf wizards that never happened, there aren't likely to be that many players who desperately want to play a super-strong halfling. But there are going to be a few, so is it really that big a deal to let them?

Neither of these are my concern. I'm 100% open to allowing Tasha's at your table, and I'm 100% open to allowing Halflings or anything else to be as strong as any other player character at Level 1. Neither of those things would impact me in the least unless.

I lose, moving forward, the framework where Halflings are NOT as strong potentially, as Goliath, which is what I want. Increasingly it will appear this will have to be managed on my own, or through a third party, and thats just the way it goes, but I wish my view could at least be acknowledged here without it being misconstrued or called racist, or whatever other intentional misinterpretation one wishes to apply to me, and the argument I've been making consistently across the entire thread.

Again, I dont care if people have options. I dont care if Tasha's becomes the default, unless, they cease to provide my option as well. That is the issue.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
3: Goliaths (and firbolgs, bugbears, orcs, loxodon, and centaurs) are always going to be naturally stronger than halflings (and gnomes, goblins, and kobolds) because goliaths can lift and carry things like Large creatures and Small creatures get a penalty to lifting and carrying things. So even if a halfling has a higher Strength than a goliath, it still won't be able to out-lift a goliath. And most people in the real world consider lifting capacity to be a better indication of innate physical strength than the ability to hit people, which is seen as a learned skill.
Actually, by RaW, small creatures/races have no lifting and carrying modifiers or penalties of any sort in 5e. Races with Powerful Built, such as Goliath and Loxodon (and Firbolg, Centaur (kind-of), and Bugbear), can carry twice as much as small or medium-sized creatures however.

So yes; Goliaths and Loxodons will always appear naturally stronger, but not because the halfling is "weak". Not that it changes anything to the argument...
 
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palikhov

Ukrainian
About orcs as savage... I thought that scro from Spelljammer setting is orcs too. And they are very civilized.

Maybe it's better to say that race is setting dependent thing?
 

So, sure we can have super strong halflings, but there's still the issue of smaller races suffering penalties(disadvantage) if they try to wield a heavy weapon. So if Hercules the Halfling can lift a mountain/is bench pressing as Mr. Faerun America, why is he having probs wielding a Fullblade, Buster Sword, or Gut's Dragon Slayer?

So they would have to technically errata that rule away if Hercules the Halfling can be stronger than an Goliath. Unless he's taking it easy on his Goliath roommate because he doesn't want to hurt his feelings when it comes to a muscle off.

Then again, you could also do a whole two can play that game by having big beefy bois like the Goliath suffer disadvantage for trying to use a "small" weapon like a dagger. Yet that would probably still feel a bit weird because you think a Goliath trapper, living out in the primal wilds, would use a dagger when it came to harvesting animal parts and what not.

Of course the real question is: holy jeez la mother of morte bella lunna guadalupe why is this thread discussing a halfling and a goliath when non of them are probably cosplaying as a Dhampir, Hexblood, or Reborn for the UA?
 

dave2008

Legend
@Scribe I was just thinking about you and racial stat modifiers at lunch and I had an idea that may or may not satisfy you. Would the following be acceptable to you for a future 5.5e or 6e:
  1. The basic rules have floating stat bonus similar to TCoE and the UA, but no racial stat bonuses.
  2. All setting guides allow you to use the default character generation, or the racial stat bonuses assumed in this setting. And then it gives stat modifiers for every race available in that setting.
Would that work for you? Personally I like the base game to be as generic as possible and then add flavor in the settings. Anyway, just curious what you thought.
 
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palikhov

Ukrainian
@Scribe I was just thinking about you and racial stat modifiers at lunch and I had an idea that may or may not satisfy you. Would the following be acceptable to you for a future 5.5e or 6e:
  1. The basic rules have floating stat bonus similar to TCoE and the UA, but no racial stat bonuses.
  2. All setting guides said you can use the default character generation, or the racial stat bonuses assumed in this setting. And then it gives stat modifiers for every race available in that setting.
Would that work for you? Personally I like the base game to be as generic as possible and then add flavor in the settings. Anyway, just curious what you thought.

I am not Scribe but I think it can be a possible solution to all.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
Actually, by RaW, small creatures/races have no lifting and carrying modifiers or penalties of any sort in 5e. Races with Powerful Built, such as Goliath and Loxodon (and Firbolg, Centaur (kind-of), and Bugbear), can carry twice as much as small or medium-sized creatures however.

So yes; Goliaths and Loxodons will always appear naturally stronger, but not because the halfling is "weak". Not that it changes anything to the argument...
Mea culpa.
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
So, sure we can have super strong halflings, but there's still the issue of smaller races suffering penalties(disadvantage) if they try to wield a heavy weapon. So if Hercules the Halfling can lift a mountain/is bench pressing as Mr. Faerun America, why is he having probs wielding a Fullblade, Buster Sword, or Gut's Dragon Slayer?
There's a difference between bench-pressing something and using it as a weapon.
 


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