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Changing the World: Races

posted Thursday, June 14th 2007 by Jonathan Drain
Dungeon Mastering AdviceGame DesignThird Edition

A lot of cheapskate Dungeon Masters–myself included–like to make up our own campaign settings as we go along. It’s enjoyable, cost-effective, and gives you a lot of flexibility, plus you won’t have trouble with your players knowing the setting far better than you do. Before I decided to set my game in Greyhawk I was considering a few changes to my world just to keep things fresh. You might like to use these if you’re starting a new campaign.

  • Remove the elves. For reasons known only to the elven race themselves – perhaps the end of an era, or to avoid a prophecied cataclysm, or maybe they’ve finally had enough of mankind – the elves have left the world and retreated to some other plane. They have left behind their half-elven progeny, some of whom begin to take their place, and a host of empty settlements and lands which the humans are quick to plunder and war over. Game-wise, many homebrews take the opposite approach and add in too many silly elven subraces.
  • Add in the kenku. Taking the place of the elves as the game’s high-Dexterity race, the kenku (Monster Manual III) begin to grow in number now that the elves aren’t keeping them down. They’re somewhat distrusted by many other races and have a reputation as thieves, but their image is improved by several kenku heroes who have risen to prominent positions in society. Statistically, kenku make good player characters as rogues and spellcasters, with +2 Dex, -2 Strength and a few rogue-beneficial special abilities.
  • No more half-orcs. Orcs in this setting are wholly evil, uncompromising, and violent. Because of this, there are essentially no half-orcs: the orcs leave none of their victims alive, and have no interest in peaceful relations with humans.
  • A new race of rock people are added. I swear, I made this one up before Twilight Princess. Replacing the half-orcs as the Strength bonus race, I hit upon this idea of a race of stone humanoids who could eat certain rare ores and gems to improve their physical ability. Essentially you could eat a lot of your treasure and end up this huge, ogre-like guy. The elders of this race were huge, ancient, mountainous beings.
  • Ironborn make an appearance. For the munchkin who demands to build his own, Mike Mearls’ ironborn race (Book of Iron Might) exist in the setting. Being the offspring of wizards, they hold a certain status of prestige in society, and being as well-reknowned as they are, every powerful wizard has one as a matter of pride.
  • Everyone else stays. Humans are as usual, dwarves are busy being dour and taciturn because they’re awesome, gnomes exist to stop people wanting to play kobolds, half-elves get that bonus skill point and take over as the elfy race, and halflings get their hairy feet back but are otherwise unchanged.

Join me next week when we start screwing around with the character class system to keep things fresh.

Comments

  1. Frank

    June 14th, 2007

    Good ideas. I always try to screw around with the races before an adventure, though I am very prone to make Orcs as valiant and tribal, and thus not necessarily that evil…don’t really know why.

  2. Tom

    August 28th, 2007

    In my recently designed setting, I’ve mixed up the standard “Elves are quiet, sophisticated and have a unified culture”. In the northern wastes, instead of the usual human / orc / half-orc barbarian tribes, there are tribes of barbaric elves. They have no central leadership and continually skirmish with themselves and outsiders. Some roving bands are even cannibals.

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