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The New World, Part 3: Race Decisions

by Rich Burlew - originally from

Let's look at what races might inhabit this new world I am creating. As always, I'll start from the point of view of the player and look at the choices for player characters. I've already decided that humans aren't going anywhere, so I'll skip them for now and examine the remainder of the PC races.

First up, elves. Immediately, I think of how sick I am of elves. Every world has their different elven subraces so that you can play exactly the type of elf you want. Even my own campaign world, Illumination, has five varieties. Considering that I am really happy with what I did with elves in Illumination, I think I am just about "elved out". I'm crossing them off the list. No elves, and thus no half-elves.

What about dwarves? Well, they are not quite as cliché as elves, and there are fewer varieties in other worlds, leaving me more room to create a unique dwarf culture. On the other hand, they kind of seem out of place in a world dominated by what's going on in the skies. I'll set them aside for now.

Halflings don't thrill me either. I mean, I like playing halflings, but they are so closely associated with Tolkien that I think they may have to be scratched too. I want to break the bonds of stereotyped fantasy, here. Let's put them aside for now too.

Gnomes. Hmm. I do not think I have ever seen gnomes as a major player in a setting. In fact, in almost every setting they are an afterthought; an add-on, often for comic relief. They never have major nations, or political influence, or any kind of meaningful history. Yeah, I think gnomes are going to be important in this world. As the only completely non-Tolkien player race, emphasizing them would immediately bring a different tone to the setting. And since I axed elves, the role of the ancient and magically-talented race is open and available. I'll tweak out their talent with illusions and make them simply the world's most powerful wizards; I'll switch favored class to wizard (either Sun or Moon). And let's lose the technology aspect; this is a Dark Ages setting, the gnomes aren't crazy inventors, they are secretive masters of lost knowledge, keepers of secrets best not discovered. That is perfect, I love it, gnomes are in.

Which means I think dwarves and halflings are out. Each one steps on the toes of the gnome in some way; halflings are the same size, dwarves have the whole underground thing. And without a compelling reason for keeping them, I'd rather ditch them and replace them with another race.

Half-orcs? Well, I've never been fond of a half-breed as a main race, but I've already struck out four PC races. I think I'll keep half-orcs, unless I come up with another race that really fits the same role.

Now, what to replace them with? I've cut out a wizard-race, a fighter-race, and a rogue-race, and shifted the gnome up to be the new wizard race. That means I need, at the very least, a race that makes decent rogues, since the half-orcs are as good at being fighters as they are barbarians. I'll look through the existing Open Content monsters and see if I want to promote any of them to a main race.

Goblins and hobgoblins are interesting choices, but I already use these races to major effect in my Illumination setting. Centaurs are interesting, but they aren't available as 1st level characters; I'll put them on my list to develop as an alternate choice. Gnolls have a lot of potential too. I'm tired of kobolds; they get too much play these days, in my opinion. The planetouched are interesting, not so much for what they are as for what they suggest: races of humans with some influence of the Sun or Moon on their bloodlines. The idea of having Sun-touched or Moon-touched characters mixed into human society is very appealing, and since I will have to create them myself, they can remain balanced with the core races. Of course, they will essentially be human-variants, so I still need to provide more nonhuman races for players who like to play something a little more oddball.

I briefly consider some kind of anthropomorphic animal race, but reject the idea. Not only is that a little sillier than I want this setting to be, but Arcana Unearthed had a few animal people if I'm not mistaken. At any rate, the last thing I want is to add yet another cat-person race to the world.

The more I think about it, the more I want sentience to be limited to a small number of creatures, rather than there being hundreds of races. I want civilization to be the purview of humans and gnomes primarily, with maybe a few barbaric races that are not thought of as being intelligent. What I don't want is orcs and goblins and hobgoblins and bugbears and kobolds and whatever other races that are really all redundant. Once you get beyond civilization, you are mostly going to encounter nearly-mindless beasts, not little camps of creatures that are just as smart as humans but are arbitrarily less advanced. This may require me to lower the Int score of a lot of creatures in the monster books, but I like the flavor. It helps the medieval feel, I think, for monsters to be Monsters-creatures that are unknowable and frightening.

I have an idea for a winged race. The image of an angelic-looking species fits my Dark Ages theme, and I can just as easily picture them existing side-by-side with a human civilization. It might be tricky to make them balanced with a core race, because flight is a huge advantage. Still, at this point, image is more important than rules, so I'll put an as-yet-uncreated winged human race down.

That brings us to 6 definite races: humans, gnomes, half-orcs, Moontouched, Suntouched, and winged people. Right now that feels a bit thin. I'm thinking right now that these races will live in a region where there are political nations that cross racial boundaries; in other words, nations will be based on political distinctions rather than race. This region will be the focus of the setting, I think, which gives me an idea for a seventh race: a race of seafaring humanoids, extremely exotic and unusual to the people of the core region, who travel from a far-off homeland to trade. My idea is they should be to the people of the main continent what the Chinese were to medieval Europeans; mysterious and very different in culture without being a military threat (due to their homeland being so far away). I could adapt an existing race to this function, but I think they will be more exotic if I create them for exactly this purpose. I'm picturing a tall thin humanoid with blue or green skin, possibly with aquatic traits. For now, we'll call them the Traders.

Half-orcs are starting to feel wrong now. The existence of half-orcs implies the existence of orc tribes somewhere, and I think I am on the verge of shelving that particular concept. Instead, I think perhaps I'll have a race of half-orc-like humanoids that are basically second-class citizens under human rule, maybe even slaves in some nations. This is an idea I've used in Illumination, but there I use half-ogres; this race will not be a halfbreed of any sort. I could use the orcs to serve this purpose, but again, I think it helps the setting to divorce it from preconceived notions about certain races. I just considered adding dwarves back in under this very different kind of burden, until I remember that in Dark Sun, dwarves and half-dwarven Muls were regularly enslaved. Looks like I am creating another new race.

Looking at my races, I think the Traders will be natural rogues, while the winged people (let's call them Flyers for now) will be fighters. I'll make the Suntouched's favored class paladin and the Moontouched's favored class bard, to reinforce the special roles I've set up for those classes. That covers a good mix of PC options, including all the major favored classes represented in the core races. I still like the idea of gnolls, but not for a PC race now. I'm thinking that they may in fact become one of the threats in this world; an organized, brutal gnoll civilization outside the reach of "civilization" will make fodder for adventuring.

Now that I've established what races will be dominant, the next step will be forming these races into nations and other organizations. Note that I've left the details of the race's stats for a later point; their sociological status, however, should emerge as the political landscape takes form.