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View Full Version : Has anyone thought about separating races into biology and culture?



Eldan
2015-01-19, 04:35 AM
I was thinking about homebrew worlds. Specifically, homebrew cultures and racial traits. Looking at 3.5, as an example I'm most familiar with, a lot of the races in the player's handbook and other sourcdes, it seems, have a lot of traits that seem to be mainly down to culture. Elves, I'd like to assume, aren't born knowing how longbows work, dwarves aren't born with the knowledge of how to dodge giants specifically or to hate orcs.

And indeed, in some worlds, those traits would make little sense. What if there are no orcs in a world? What if the setting is modern and doesn't feature longbows? The normal response seems to be to rewrite the races.

How about, instead, races worked differently? What if a player first chose a biological race, then a culture they came from? After all "backgrounds" or similar are a feature in a lot of games already, like 3.5.

So, for the classical elf, one would choose the "elf" race, which gave the usual immunity to sleep, nightvision and dexterity bonus and then a "forest warrior" culture/background, that gave longbow and sword proficiency, sylvan as a bonus language and probably ranger as a favourite class (not wizard, as elves normally do). Or for a dwarf, one would get a bonus against poison, constitution bonus, charisma penalty and stability, and a "miner" or "craftsman" culture/background, which gives stonecunning and a crafting bonus, or an "ancestral hatred" background, which gives a bonus against certain other humanoids.

It could even help to rebalance the races a bit. Dwarves, one of the stronger races or at least one of those with the most diverse features, almost seem to have two cultures. While half-orcs, one of the weakest and most boring, have no cultural bonuses at all.


Humans, I'm not quite sure what to do with. Give them two cultures, instead of one, perhaps?


What do people think? Worth a rewrite?

Alent
2015-01-19, 06:34 AM
I would say yes, it's worth a rewrite- that's kind of what I did in Exile with the factions, and for similar reasons.

I think faction-races are the primary reason that core D&D looks like LotR with the serial numbers filed off.

Grinner
2015-01-19, 09:06 AM
There's one game, based loosely on Babylon 5, I know of that does this, but I've never heard of it being done for D&D.

It's a good idea. I say go for it.

One catch I can see is that these details are going to be largely setting-dependent.

Zejety
2015-01-19, 09:29 AM
The Dark Eye does this with races and cultures and I always felt like is has a reasonable pay-off for the added complexity. However, the system has the benefit of a point-buy system for character creation including races and cultures.

If one were to implement this into 5e by, for example seperating the current racial bonuses by genetic and acquired (say, attribute bonuses and stuff like breath weapons is genetic, proficiencies and skills are acquired), the new races wouldn't necessarily be balanced against eachother and neither would the cultures be. Most likely, the more monstrous races would be stronger and so would the more civilized cultures.

Eldan
2015-01-19, 09:51 AM
The Dark Eye does this with races and cultures and I always felt like is has a reasonable pay-off for the added complexity. However, the system has the benefit of a point-buy system for character creation including races and cultures.

If one were to implement this into 5e by, for example seperating the current racial bonuses by genetic and acquired (say, attribute bonuses and stuff like breath weapons is genetic, proficiencies and skills are acquired), the new races wouldn't necessarily be balanced against eachother and neither would the cultures be. Most likely, the more monstrous races would be stronger and so would the more civilized cultures.

True, true. Balance would be quite difficult. As I said, it would need rewriting: in D&D 3.5, half-orcs have no culture, dwarves have half a page of cultural boni and everyone else is somewhere in between.


There's one game, based loosely on Babylon 5, I know of that does this, but I've never heard of it being done for D&D.

It's a good idea. I say go for it.

One catch I can see is that these details are going to be largely setting-dependent.

With a large enough list of cultures, the DM could just say "these are appropriate for this setting", or add more setting-specific ones of his own.
E.g.: "We're playing in Dark Sun. So, the "Marine", "Fisherman" and "Forester" backgrounds are out". "We're playing in antique times, technologically. The "Mercenary Warrior" background loses longsword proficiency and gains proficiency in all spears, shortswords and shortbows instead."

Admiral Squish
2015-01-19, 10:01 AM
I have most definitely considered it. I implemented something similar to what you describe to add some variety to human characters in my crossroads setting, but I've got some cultures for non-human races in there too.
If you wanted to pare it down to the core concepts, you just have a couple culture feats that they can select as a bonus feat, a handful of skills which they can select three from to treat as class skills, the native language of the culture, the bonus languages of the culture, and any special effects of the culture (such as aforementioned bonus to X against Y). I like to have a little thing with some cultural taboos and mandates, and give the PCs action points or hero points or roleplay XP or whatever you're using if they follow the cultural norms even when it would be detrimental to the character.
The long version can get... rather long and involved, and is by its nature very setting-dependent, but I think it really can help add some depth.

Zejety
2015-01-19, 10:14 AM
Like I said, I think seperating these things degfinitely makes sense if you can balance it. It's not even that rare that it can matter.
One of my players (in Pathfinder) plays a Vishkanya that grew up among humans in Ustalav. Where did he get Proficiency in shurikens from. Heck, why can he even speak Vishkanya? I suppose stuff like that can easily be house rules on a case by case basis but that doesn't change that it can be relevant.

Eldan
2015-01-19, 10:22 AM
I think I'll make a 3.5 attempt, then. Expect something later this week.

Mark Hall
2015-01-19, 10:47 AM
I did something similar with my 3rd edition (that I wrote before WotC admitted they were working on a 3rd edition). Every race (except humans) had a core set of abilities that all members got, and a selection of optional abilities that represented what they got culturally. So all elves could see in the dark and resisted sleep and charm spells, but not all got bonuses with longsword and longbow.

http://editors-wastebasket.org/nexx/indep.html

There's a lot I would change if I were doing it today, but I still like my basic ideas.

Eldan
2015-01-19, 10:48 AM
Okay, a bit of help, please. I've started to make a list of racial traits (biological only) and I've divided them into classes of "Major Bonus", "Minor Bonus", "Major Drawback" and "Minor Drawback". This list is based on the core races and their variants in the MM, plus goblins and kobolds. I may add more later. However, would you generally say this division is okay?

Attributes:
Strength: minor as a bonus or drawback
Dexterity: minor as a bonus or drawback
Constitution: major as a bonus or drawback
Intelligence: major as a bonus or drawback
Wisdom: minor as a bonus or drawback
Charisma: major as a bonus, minor as a drawback

However: +/-4 is always major

Major bonus:
Darkvision
Save bonus against all spells
Higher save DC for illusion spells
+1 bonus on all saving throws
Major spell like ability (2nd level or higher, or very useful first level)
Elemental resistances (total 10 or higher)
Type other than human (generally)

Minor bonus:
Stability
Immunity to sleep
Bonus against enchantment or illusion
Low-light vision
Save bonus against poison
Minor spell like ability (gnome trickery, speak with animals, etc.)
[race] blood
Small size
+1 bonus with certain type of weapon
All classes favoured
Aquatic subtype with amphibious
Swim or climb speed
Light sensitivity
Spell resistance
Has more than one set of ability changes (i.e. has +2/+2/-2/-2. This is in addition to having two minor bonuses from just having those).
+1 natural armour (higher natural armor may be major.)

Minor drawback:
Aquatic subtype without amphibious
Light blindness

Major drawback:
Reduced speed


I may have some considerably rebalancing to do with races. Especially dwarves. They gain too damn much. And I'm still not sure what to do with humans.

thethird
2015-01-19, 11:27 AM
Been there done that. Although in my case I ended making cultures work similarly to organizations, so it was possible to switch them and to get more benefits if you were more involved.

ReturnOfTheKing
2015-01-19, 09:21 PM
Yeah, I've been trying to make a Culture player option for 5e, though credit for the idea goes to the Crossroads campaign setting :smallsmile:

The idea of making Culture more related to Races, though, is a much simpler way to do it. I should use that. Thanks, I'll steal this :smallwink:

Eldan
2015-01-20, 02:32 AM
I did something similar with my 3rd edition (that I wrote before WotC admitted they were working on a 3rd edition). Every race (except humans) had a core set of abilities that all members got, and a selection of optional abilities that represented what they got culturally. So all elves could see in the dark and resisted sleep and charm spells, but not all got bonuses with longsword and longbow.

http://editors-wastebasket.org/nexx/indep.html

There's a lot I would change if I were doing it today, but I still like my basic ideas.

Ooh, haven't seen that. Looks quite helpful. Permission to steal some features if I need to boost some races?

Mark Hall
2015-01-20, 10:06 AM
Ooh, haven't seen that. Looks quite helpful. Permission to steal some features if I need to boost some races?

Go ahead. It's a long-fallow project (I think I dropped it about the time 3e itself was announced).

xBlackWolfx
2015-01-20, 11:29 AM
I have thought about this in the past. Race would determine/alter your attributes, while culture (actually cultural background) would determine skill set. For example, if you were an elf (or some other bizarre creature), you would likely have a very different skill set if you grew up in the city instead of the forest.

The main problem with this though is that I don't view fantasy settings as having all the races evenly distributed across the planet. Like how we have different ethnicities dominating different areas of our world, elves wouldn't be everyone on the continent, even if they did dominate part of it. Neither would dwarves or humans or w/e else. Basically, some race/culture combinations would just be impossible. And really, some would make no sense at all. If you're an elf, it makes no sense to have originated in a nation that hated elves (and thus gets a bonus to AB against them or w/e).

This could all get kinda complex. It might be better to just resort to the archetype thing Talislanta used to do. One thing that has always weirded me out about Talislanta is that each nationality looks significantly different from eachother, I mean you can easily tell what country someone is from based purely off of their skin color. And there's no real gradiants. What I mean is, the people who are various shades of orange aren't all in a single region, neither the red people or blue people or w/e, they're scattered everywhere across the entire continent! Now, I can understand one nation looking different from another when you're dealing with the less human races, but it makes no since for direct neighbors to look like they're not related to eachother at all! And some entries do imply that many of the humanoid races are inter-fertile, implying that despite their astonishing variation, they are in fact a single species. Which begs the question how on earth they could even maintain such wide a variation in color...

It can get insanely complicated if you want to make it realistic, which is probably why most settings go with the 'one race-one culture' scheme that's so overwhelmingly common, unrealistic as it may be.

Ziegander
2015-01-20, 01:04 PM
5th edition has something called subraces, which work a bit like 3rd edition's plethora of Elf races, and do not really do this biology//cultural split; however, the dynamic could quite easily be shifted to work that way. Give all the "core" Elf biological traits with the Elf racial traits and then offer subraces for different regional and cultural traits, which would, by necessity, vary with setting.

Seerow
2015-01-20, 01:18 PM
I would recommend just removing skill bonuses from races entirely. If you want, add them back in under a third category (Background/Profession), but if you're going to be trying to create Cultural Bonuses, you're almost never going to get a PC who says "Yes I want +2 to craft and Stoneworking over extra weapon proficiencies and bonus to hit and AC vs specific creatures"

Eldan
2015-01-20, 01:25 PM
You'd get several. But yeah, I'm putting a lot of skill bonuses in the "pure fluff" category. There's a handful of useful skills, those count as advantages.

I mean, you wouldn't have a choice of "+2 to Basket weaving, +2 to Swim" or "Longsword proficiency and weapon focus". You'd have "+2 basket weaving and net proficiency" or "+2 swimming and trident proficiency".

Admiral Squish
2015-01-20, 02:43 PM
Wait, are you trying to do cultures, or backgrounds? How narrow do you want the focus to be?