The Order of the Stick: Utterly Dwarfed
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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Location
    Iceland
    Gender
    Male

    Default Race Identities - Top-Down Design

    Races are one of my favorite things to houserule. The opportunity I get as a DM to really bring a race alive in the hands of a player by simply adding encouragement and incentives to portray a race in a certain manner is something I really enjoy. For this reason I'm taking another look at my races, but with a top-down perspective.

    Top-down design means I look at each race's identity, and try to think of a feature or mechanic that helps the player portray his race in accordance to that identity.

    The goal is to have the features simple and flavorful, and work as tools for the player to show others what his chosen race is capable of. I also don't use racial ability score, since its in my opinion that every race should be viable as every class. A race might contribute to a playstyle, bot not class selection.

    I'd love to get your opinions on what you feel is narratively iconic to each race. I will then use this to re-evaluate each of my races to make sure its identity is portrayed clearly.

    Human
    - Determined
    - Can become good at anything
    - Ambitious
    - Single-minded

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
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    The human's single-minded determination and ambition would work best as a customizable bonus. In practice this feature would become problematic, as we have seen with level 1 feats, so we'll instead choose a floating bonus. This makes the feature much simpler, whilst still allowing the player to choose where to include it.
    .
    Human Determination: When you miss with an attack, or fail an ability check or saving throw you can choose to reroll the d20, but you must use the second result. Once you use this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a short rest.

    This is very similar to 4e's Heroic Effort, but applies before the roll is made instead of after. It also reinforces the action-hero identity most commonly associated with human heroes.

    Making human a canvas for any character archetype, a single expertise is probably more helpful then a bonus skill, but I can see how that is debatable.
    .
    Ambitious: Choose one skill. You gain proficiency with that skill. If you are already proficient, you can double your proficiency bonus for that skill instead.



    Halfling
    - Stealthy, easy to overlook, easy to underestimate
    - Lucky
    - Resistant to mind-altering attacks

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    This set of characteristics is a tricky one. We could combine it into one effect and use a coin flip to represent luck.
    .
    Hafling Luck: Once per long rest, when you fail a dexterity ability check or a saving throw, you can use your reaction to reroll the check as an unmodified d20 against a DC of 10.

    Combining the luck and stealth into one features is good, since the halfling can use it even in a campaign that doesn't offer many opportunities for stealth.
    This applies to stealth and dodge-able attacks, but doesn't really get the flavor across of stealthy. For that we can add a minor feature.
    .
    Lightfooted: You gain Stealth proficiency. In addition, you do not make a sound when walking.

    Now there's only the mind resistance. Advantage against frightened implies they are brave personalities instead of naturally resistant. I'm not sure where the idea of brave or strong-minded halflings comes from, but it might be the general public's misunderstanding of why Hobbits from LOTR were resistant to the effects of the Ring, which in truth had nothing to do with the Hobbit's biological traits.
    4.
    Strong-Minded: Before you roll a Wisdom saving throw you can choose to gain advantage on the roll. Once you use this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.

    This all makes sense, but as a package I'm more fond of the following set of features for the Halfling:
    .
    Stealthy: You can roll a stealth check to move between covers without being seen, up to half your speed. In addition, you donít make noise while walking.
    Lucky: When you would fail on a Dexterity ability check or saving throw you can choose to automatically succeed. Once you use this feature you cannot do so again until you finish a long rest.
    Brave: Advantage against frightened



    Half-Elf
    - Social, diplomatic
    - Fey heritage

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    Fey Heritage is a generic feature, so no need for creativity here. Diplomacy is a bit tougher, since we have already established such a high base-line of power with the Halfling and the Human. A simple social-skill proficiency is not enough. To give the player some tool to actively portray his Half-Elf as a diplomatic mediator we can use the spell Calm Emotion.
    .
    Half-Elf Diplomacy: You can cast Calm Emotion at will, with a casting time of 1 minute.

    In earlier edition Half-Elves increased group diplomacy and were good at finding secrets. This has mostly been overwritten by players, who now mostly use Half-Elf for party-face purposes such as Bards and Rogues
    .

    Dwarf
    - Can really hold a grudge
    - Stout, heavy, broad, generally durable
    - Craftsmen
    - Axes and hammers

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    Being a durable race is a huge combat bonus, so we need to find a way to represent this feature mechanically without adding too much power.
    .
    Dwarven Durability: You gain the following features:
    - Resilience: Advantage on saving throws against poison, resistance against poison damage.
    - Stout: Advantage on Strength saving throws
    This should add ton of flavor without using up too much design space. We can now move on to the culture-based features. To represent the craftsman we can give the dwarf a tool proficiency, but since that doesn't always see much use will add something that will get more frequent use:
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    Artisanís Eye: You gain 1 tool proficiency of your choice. In addition, you can add your proficiency bonus to intelligence checks made to identifying craftsmanship. You can discern simple facts regarding the maker, such as race, alignment and origin, as well as the itemís age, frequency of use and market value.

    The Dwarven weapon training feature doesn't really matter, since players who intend on using a weapon will already gain proficiency from their class. I see no reason to include it, but might do so just for consistency with official material. No reason taking something away from the player that is more of a ribbon anyways.

    In most fantasy, dwarves have a favored enemy. Trying to make a consistent bonus against a type of enemy was hard to balance, but I think this sits at a good place on the spectrum:
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    Dwarven Enmity: Choose one monster race. When you roll initiative against a creature of your chosen race, you gain advantage on the initiative roll.



    High-Elf
    - Magic affinity
    - knowledgable
    - Trance, fey heritage
    - extremely long life, elegance, patience
    - Longsword and shortswords

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    Trance and Fey Heritage are general features, so they are easy.
    The magical affinity is easily dealt with by the wizard cantrip and arcana proficiency.
    The knowledge-able is hard to do in terms of RAW, since I don't think the term "Knowledge check" is a thing in 5e. If it is, then I suggest giving advantage to a knowledge check a certain number of times per day. If your game is more selective with what kind of knowledge is reasonable for your character to possess you could instead use what I use in my game:
    .
    High-Elf Knowledge: Once per long rest you can make a knowledge check as if you had the appropriate field of study.
    .
    This basically means that even if your character has no reason to know a bit of information, the High-Elf makes an exception and can roll for it normally.
    I don't really care for racial weapon proficiencies, but like with the dwarf there is no real reason to remove it either.
    I don't know of patience and elegance is something that could (or should) be translated into game mechanics. If you think so I'd love to hear your suggestions.


    Half-Orc
    - Instigator, aggressive, confrontational
    - Bloodlust, refuses to give up, scary

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    Making a race who's identity is mostly combat oriented is tricky, since I'd like a balanced spread of races chosen by players. If I make the Half-Orc obviously superior in combat, which it pretty much should be, I'll end up with only one race being used by players. What we can instead do is create some flavorful features that push players engage in the confrontational in-your-face playstyle.
    Intimidation proficiency is just a no-brainer.
    I've always liked the Relentless Endurance, we'll keep that.
    We just need a tiny little push to make sure we fill up all our identities. We can bundle almost all of them together with a single feature.
    .
    Bloodlust: The first time you become bloodied after taking a long rest, you gain advantage on attack rolls until the end of your next turn. In addition, you can make a contested Charisma vs. Wisdom ability check as a reaction against one creature that can see and hear you within 30 feet of you. On success, the target is frightened until the end of your next turn.
    .
    Now it would be nice to give the aggressive instigator archetype some more features, but any type of charge-mobility type feature either becomes martial-only or is used so much it stops feeling like a Half-Orc thing.
    .

    Wood-Elf
    - Fey heritage, trance
    - Bows and archery
    - Wood-dwellers

    Spoiler: Creating the Features
    Show
    Wood elves are particularly tricky, since most of their abilities are based on their 'favored terrain'. You can give them a hundred benefits while in a forest that never see play in some campaigns. Looking at the Forgotten Realms wiki there are a few general traits we can start with before moving on to the wood-specific traits.
    .
    Wood-Elf Crafting: You gain one tool proficiency related to wood, leather or stone.
    .
    Wood elves don't normally keep pets, but instead form a close relationship with the beasts in their homeland area. This is perfectly represented with an existing mechanic; Animal Friendship.
    .
    Bond with Animal: As a part of a short or long rest, you can cast Animal Friendship without expending a spell slot or material components.
    .
    The last thing we need to touch on before moving to wood-specific stuff is the Archery. This could easily be a reroll feature, but that would most likely mean the wood elf would never be picked unless you intend on playing a ranged character. If we make the feature more minor wood elves are more likely to be picked as melee characters, which lines up with our design goal of every race should be able to be any class.
    .
    Elven Accuracy: Your ranged attacks are not affected by partial cover.
    .
    Not typing this as a weapon attack also helps with making it a general feature, working with a larger array of classes.
    Now we just have to create the woodland feature.
    .
    Homeland Benefits: When in a wood or a forest, you have advantage on stealth checks, can move stealthily at a normal pace, and are unaffected by natural difficult terrain. In addition you can spend 1 hour foraging to provide food for up to 5 creatures.
    Tree-Climber: You and are considered having climb speed equal to your speed when climbing trees
    .
    Planetouched
    - Themed, usually a monster type or damage type
    - Innate spellcasting

    OG Firbolgs
    - Giant-kin
    - Pacifist, kind hearted,

    Kobold
    - Are generally weak and use wits and tactics to overcome enemies, such as traps, ambushes etc.
    - Sunlight sensativity
    - Cold blooded.

    Are there any traits you feel are missing or don't fit?
    Last edited by Bjarkmundur; 2019-10-14 at 07:55 AM.

    Spoiler: How to Make Custom Monsters
    Show

    The damage column shows total damage output on hit over an entire round, and is modified based on factors like recharge, AoE etc.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    DwarfFighterGuy

    Join Date
    Oct 2018

    Default Re: Race Identities - Top-Down Design

    I like what you've done here.

    Only quip about the dwarves is the hit die increase. To make it more fair, I'd increase the hit die by one level regardless. 1d6->1d8->1d10->1d12->1d14(1d10+1d4 or 1d8+1d6?)
    This is effectively the same as the PHB dwarf's +2 CON, but prevents a dwarf wizard from having as much HP as the fighter/ranger/pally.

    Goliath
    Tough/strong like their mountains
    Competitive

    Gnome
    Cunning
    Good natured trickery
    Small elves?

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

    Join Date
    Feb 2019
    Location
    Iceland
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Race Identities - Top-Down Design

    I'm glad this got some traction! Yeah, I like the hit die increase. This is mostly just an exercise, and I like your suggestions :D

    I'm going to move on to the High Elf now.

    Spoiler: How to Make Custom Monsters
    Show

    The damage column shows total damage output on hit over an entire round, and is modified based on factors like recharge, AoE etc.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Barbarian in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jul 2018

    Default Re: Race Identities - Top-Down Design

    To expand on your Half-elf, since it feels a little thin at present:
    Half-elves (and half-orcs) are innately people of "two worlds." This doesn't just manifest in a diplomatic way; people of dual heritages, both in-game and IRL, are often confronted with contrasting cultural norms, values-systems, languages, etc. This creates a natural bent toward, at the very least, considering multiple sides of every story, and often leads to either thoroughly committing to one set of values (consider Worf and his over-the-top focus on "Klingon values" etc.), or challenging whether there is any singular/over-arching set of values. You could take this in several directions (bonuses to observation or motive-sensing? getting a skill proficiency from a different class?), but something related to that inherent "multiple views" thing seems to fill the remaining gap.

    And of course, my favorite race, Dragonborn:
    Proud/dignified and ambitious
    Bound (and driven) by honor and respect
    Cultural emphasis on remembering history & past glory
    Industrious and stoic

    Long ago on a different forum I wrote some fun off-the-cuff short fiction, from the perspective of a (presumably human or at least non-dragonborn) "self-proclaimed 'scholar of the world' and priest of Ioun," Aran Neylis. The two posts captured much of what I feel is vital to the Arkhosian legacy and "Dragonborn culture" overall, particularly the former. In brief, there's a certain dignity that dragonborn put into everything they do, and the best way to piss one off is to spit on the respect they offer. Though it's entirely possible to have petty dragonborn who don't live up to the reputation, there's a strong instinct toward it: anyone who returns respect for respect is a worthy opponent or a valued ally, and anyone who genuinely understands the weight of history and pride/ambition they carry is emotionally close, regardless of their status as opposition or ally.

    They don't generally shy away from most things we would call "uncomfortable truths," and conduct their business with efficiency, pragmatism, and even zeal. Work hard, play hard. Be serious about life--which doesn't mean being a severe and humorless person per se, it means "mean what you say, mean what you do, don't accept half-measures, always put your full self into your choices." This then has complex interactions with the various social bonds they collect: one's family/lovers/clan, profession and education, religion and other elective societies, friends and enemies. All of these intersect with that "seriously live, DO, don't just be" attitude and can make for either very happy or very fraught (or both!) social connections.

    That may be kind of long and rambly, but I hope it communicates what I, as a dieheard Dragonborn fan, really value about them. Well, that and the fact that they're a "proud warrior race" that is explicitly NOT ugly and/or stupid, but in fact very cunning and (perhaps dangerously) charismatic. I was drawn in by their draconic appearance and stats that dovetailed with my preferred classes, but I was really hooked by the culture and values ascribed to Arkhosia and those who try to keep its memory alive.
    Last edited by ezekielraiden; 2019-10-14 at 03:42 AM.

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