Thursday, July 31, 2014

Basic Dungeons and Dragons 5e v0.1, Part 5 (pgs.11 - 19): Races and the Elegance of Sub-races

Races of Ravenloft by Everwho (source)

Picking a race in Dungeons and Dragons can be a complicated affair; especially in Second, Third, and Fourth Editions as the variety of choices available to players increasingly became an exotic and sprawling mass that could slow the character creation process to a crawl. With the Basic Game our options are truncated from the vast repertoire of possibilities to four major races: Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, and Humans.

The decision to use these four races in the Basic Game harkens back to the Original Dungeons and Dragons Game where you could be a Human and have a class, or you could choose to be an Elf, Dwarf, or Halfling (at that time picking a non-human race was considered the same as picking a class - something that would change with later editions). Yet this decision wasn't only couched in a sentimental nod towards the older games. Instead it was a deliberate move to provide players with the races that were most common in the Forgotten Realms where the majority of the early action in this edition is set to take place.

Advanced D&D Races by Donald C. Sutherland III pg. 19 1st ed PH

Longtime players of the Dungeons and Dragons game may wonder at this point how the Basic Game will provide for the variety and complexity of life that exists not only in the Forgotten Realms but in all other settings if players are only provided with four choices. The answer to this problem is the elegant Sub-race mechanic which we'll discuss in more detail shortly; however, before we move any further along in this discussion it's imperative that the main question of this chapter be addressed: how do you pick a race to play.

The answer to this question tends to bring up a lot of contention online as most every player has a favorite race so they tend to skew things towards that option while belittling others. Fortunately, if you've never played Dungeons and Dragons before then you've got one of the best introductions to the races.

Each of the race descriptions (pgs. 12 - 19) begins with a short paragraph from one of the many Forgotten Realms novels that sets a tone for the race. These little paragraphs, though, do one more important thing that no other edition has done before - they remind you that the stories we've shared in this hobby aren't something to be ashamed of and that should be forgotten. After that short quote you're presented with a general overview of you the race you're looking at that will tell you what sort of world they inhabit, the languages they speak, and even their views on the other races.
". . . Hee hee hee. The races have little 'What they think of other races' boxes. One one hand, this is actually a fun role playing thing, but on the other hand it’s always been such a signature White Wolf thing that it’s jarring to see . . ." (Donoghue).
While the the boxes telling how the individual races feel about each other from their own perspective was something that White Wolf Publishing did quite successfully with their products in the 1990s it isn't something that was only their purview. Wizards of the Coast's first version of Dungeons and Dragons, Third Edition, provided a section for each race's outlook on the others under the section titled "relations" (pgs. 12 - 20 Third Edition Player's Handbook).  When Fourth Edition was published in 2008 the relations between the races was dialed back. Instead a greater focus was placed on how a particular race dealt with the world as a whole without directly addressing each of the other races. So why did Wizards of the Coast choose to re-emphasize the relations between the race with Fifth Edition?

The simplest answer is that by providing a new player with an idea of how the races view each other in the broadest sense that it would make things easier on them when it came to understanding how to play their character. It also provides new Dungeon Masters with a simple understanding of non-player characters (anyone in the game who isn't a player's character and is generally controlled by the Dungeon Master) how these races should interact with their players.

Now that you've looked over each of the races and have a general understanding of who they are it's time to talk about Sub-races. Sub-races exist for each of the non-human races and the Basic Game provides the player with two sub-races for each race. You don't have to choose one if you don't want to, but each sub-race provides additional changes to your base race that improves and more fully integrates them into the Forgotten Realms setting.

Of everything we've discussed so far this is the first opportunity for most people to create something for their home games that will help make the game their own. If it sounds like something you'd like to try I highly encourage you to do so. Making things for this game is a huge part of the hobby and it's appeal for many enthusiasts - whether you're talking about races, classes, dungeon terrain, maps, or setting - but be forewarned that not everything you attempt is going to work, but that's half the fun. 

Custom DM Screen from RPG Booster (source)

Before moving on to classes I should also advise you that you should not marry yourself to what's presented in the Basic Game's descriptions of your races and sub-races. Instead you should remember that this game isn't set in stone and is instead a framework for you to play your own version of Dungeons and Dragons. If you want your Dwarves to ride across the plains like the Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan then do it.  If your elves hate magic and love metal working then go for it.

In the end what matters with this game is not what I or anyone else thinks about it, but rather it's about what you and your players enjoy. Own what makes you happy with this game and don't worry if the kids on the Wizards' forum (or any other for that matter) don't like it. They're not playing in your game. Instead listen to your own players and respond to what they want. If they like your game with magical ponies and dragon riding giants then so much the better. Make each other happy with your races and how you play the game and it will be fun. 

In the end that's all that matters.

Basic Dungeons & Dragons 5e v0.1
Part 4 (pg. 10): The Problem with Experience 
Part 5 (pgs. 11 - 19): Races and the Elegance of Sub-races

Works Cited
Donoghue, Rob. "D&D Basic Rules: Creating A Character." The Walking Mind. The Walking Mind, 9 July, 2014. Web. July 28, 2014.


  1. On the issue of how races view each other, I would direct you to page 18 of the 1e PHB (where your picture depicting the 1e races above is featured), and the "Racial Preference Table." The idea of generalized racial views in D&D is as old as 1979 (or so). :)

    1. Thank you! I could remember that it was there but for some reason I kept looking right past it every time I went scrambling through the book. Do you remember if it was done in Second ed?

    2. In PHB 2 ed. there's something. For example under elves: "They do not make friends easily, but a friend (or enemy) is never forgotten. They prefer to distance themselves from humans, have little love for dwarves, and hate the evil denizens of the woods."

  2. Honestly, I do not like that there is a huge variety of choice of races. For me Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Half-elves, Half-orcs, Halflings and Humans are more than enough. Races too particular are also more difficult to play and very often players who want to use them then fail miserably in their interpretation in the game. To this I say: welcome to the sub-races! :)

    The views on the other races is a section that I think is important, also in the Forgotten Realms was already heavily used (see Race of Faerun).

    "In the end what matters with this game is not what I or anyone else thinks about it, but rather it's about what you and your players enjoy."

    Totally agree. :)

    1. "The views on the other races is a section that I think is important, also in the Forgotten Realms was already heavily used (see Race of Faerun)."

      One thing that's always struck me about the Forgotten Realms was how many races you had to choose from. In 3.5 I think there were over 20. That's ridiculous.

    2. Sure Charles, but on the other hand I like how they gone deeply inside the base races with cultural or origin difference. And in this way you can customize a race just by changing the region of origin, without having to choose races to much special or extravagant.

  3. What if I'd rather forget the Forgotten Realms setting?

    1. Then I suggest doing as I am, every time I see the word Forgotten Realms I'm replacing it with puppies. I have a white out pen and lots of time.

  4. What if I'd rather forget the puppies?

    (I'll be forever traumatized by the things they did to those poor innocent puppies...)


Traps, Not Just for Ex-Girlfriends Anymore

When I first started running Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) I tended to treat traps as an exercise in dice rolling to overcome the chall...