Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Race Question

No, not that race question. The D&D one. In my current TSR house rules document, I have race and class separate as in AD&D. Non-human races have limits on which classes they can be, and level limits on those classes. It's a good way to distinguish the races from each other. In 3E~5E, "race" basically is just a way to optimize (or purposefully not optimize) your character. Having race with limited access to classes and differing level limits helps show players what that race is supposed to be about. Half-Orcs in 1E, for example, were the only class with a level limit in Thief, but they had unlimited advancement in Assassin. That, to me, made the connection between the race and class strong. If you wanted to play your Half-orc in a long term campaign (successful adventuring assumed), you'd be best to go Assassin. For a short-term or one shot type game, sure, that Half-orc Cleric might be fun. Why not?

 And part of my idea of what orcs ARE was formed by that connection. In the Basic Book, it says orcs are militant but actually cowardly. Their leaders need to force them to fight. And AD&D shows us that someone with orcish blood naturally fits into the roll of Assassin. So orcs must not be the big hulking barbarian brutes that Warhammer (and later edition D&D) make them out to be. Early Magic: the Gathering actually got orcs "right" by having orc cards that were unreliable. Sure, you can have your hulked out savage orcs if you want. But that's not how I see them.

So, to bring this around to my TSR-East document I'm working on. I've got some proto-notes for Asian-themed fantasy races, mostly pulled from what others have done before. I have Korobokkuru and maybe a version of Spirit Folk I'm calling Spirit Born, both from 1E OA. I've got Vanara from 3E OA, but since I'm focused on East Asia rather than South Asia (just because I am less well acquainted with South and Southeast Asian myths and legends) I'm calling them Houren (monkey-men). I have Tengu from Chanbara. And I'm also thinking of including Dokkaebi (Korean version of oni) partly because Ruins & Ronin has a half-oni type and partly because I wanted something Korean inspired.*

Right now, I'm writing them up as races separate from class. I've got the available classes decided, but not level caps. I'm still thinking on racial special abilities for Spirit Born and Dokkaebi, if I include them. But there's a part of my brain telling me that for TSR, I should go back to having Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling as classes, not races. And come up with race-as-class classes for my other available races (which wouldn't be hard, my older version is like that). So, I'm wondering if I should come up with some race-as-class Asian races of the selection above. I personally like race-as-class, but I think most of my current players don't. It's simple and players can get into playing faster. But the race-class combinations, possible multi-classing, and level limits can be fun, too. And as I said above, they can help inform the players of what each race is about. And at this point, it will be less work so that's probably what I'll go with!

*Spirit Folk are becoming Spirit Born because I feel like the Japanese fairy tales of old childless couples finding miracle spirit babies in their fruit, by the river, in a tree they cut down, etc. are the real inspiration for the race. And I want them to be different than just "Asian Elves" which is what they seemed to be in the 1E and 3E OA books. I'm throwing out the Hengeyokai as a race option because a) too many animal types to choose from just makes character generation take longer, and b) they really work better as monsters. 3E OA's Nezumi are out because rat-people never struck me as especially Asian. They work for L5R, but I wouldn't put them in a general race roster.

Edit: not sure how the paragraph breaks got removed from this, but I've put them back in.


  1. I was thinking the red oni, blue oni are tales about people who painted themselves in blue or red ochre. So Orcs can pretty much be barbarian people in a barbarian world.

    1. Are there actual legends of red oni/blue oni? I thought that was a modern contrivance. I can't remember any Japanese or Korean myths of oni/dokkaebi where they were color coded by personality. Just anime.

      Now, you do make a good point that in this set of rules, my Dokkaebi race will take the place of the orc or half-orc. They're the big burly barbarous creatures. But they're also creatures of magic! And Korean dokkaebi legends seem to have them more as a punishment inflicted by Heaven on wrong-doers than as a force of chaos and evil. So not quite like orcs, but sorta the closest analog in this racial set-up.

  2. I just wanted to chime in and say how much I'm enjoying these TSR-East posts and the conversion of Asian/OA content to OSE. Great stuff, Dennis.

    As far as races - I think they better lend themselves to a race-as-class set up. RAC really lets you define how a race fits into your setting (whether defined or implied).