Adding a New Race

Whether you’re creating a new race or simply using one from a published sourcebook, it’s important for you as a DM to consider what place this new species has in the world. Some players won’t mind simply taking as fiat that the race just happens to be there, but the rest will probably expect some degree of explanation if they like to feel that their characters live in a coherent, consistent fantasy world.

A race is more than a set of statistics, and giving it a place in your world deserves a little thought. If you can help it, avoid simply saying “they’ve always been here, you’ve just never noticed them”. Consider these five points when introducing a new race to an existing, ongoing game.

  • Why haven’t we seen this race before? Most fantasy worlds are inhabited by humans, elves, dwarves and the like, so while it’s not a stretch to see cat-people or dragon-folk walking around in cities, your players have probably never seen or heard of them before. Are they among the last of their kind? Are they travellers from distant nations where their races are more popular?
  • Where does the race come from? You don’t need a complete creation myth, but you do need to be able to say what lands the race inhabits. Are they more common in neighbouring nations? Do they control vast empires in the unexplored continent to the west? Perhaps they’re from another plane of existence entirely? Do they have their own unique language? What is their culture like, especially with regards clothing, magic and weaponry?
  • How do people react to this new race? Do they tend to react with fear and suspicion, or even outright hostility? Do they welcome members of the new race with open arms? How do different groups of people view the race? Naturally, this will depend on the race and its qualities as much as the people who judge them — a good example is the warforged in Eberron, with mineworkers fearing their jobs will be stolen by tireless warforged who can work without sleep. Besides logical reasons, what irrational superstitions do people have of the race?
  • What effect will this race have on the world? If this new race is more than an isolated individual or two, what effect will they have? Will people set out in expeditions to set up trade with their people? Will nations fight over the secrets they bring? Will they be hired by people glad to take advantage of their special abilities? In addition, what effect have they already had on the world? Do they appear in ancient tales or prophecies?
  • Avoid conflicting established material. In all these cases, avoid contradicting yourself if possible. Whether it’s the established canon of a campaign world or just what you’ve detailed previously, try to keep the continuity. It’s possible to “retcon” — to retroactively change what’s already been established — but try not to fall back on this if you can find a better way.

Of course, if you’re playing Eberron you can just stick it in Xen’Drik and not worry about it. ;)