Thursday, May 28, 2020

Wacky Races

This image was posted in the D&D in Busan Facebook group and spurred an interesting discussion.
Some comments praised the old-school Tolkienesque humans and human-like demi-humans (elves, dwarves. halflings, gnomes). Others praised the more modern variety of choices. Some pointed out that even in old school games, players sometimes run odd races like frog-men or sleestak (that last would be me, in Justin's old Vaults of Ur game).

But one person made a spot-on comment. In old school games, it was mostly humans because there were drawbacks to playing the demi-humans. Especially in OD&D and Classic, you didn't have much choice (well, disregarding the supplements and home-brew). Even in AD&D, only humans had the freedom to pick any class, and advance as far as you could go in all of those classes.

So yes, I played a Sleestak in Vaults of Ur. But it was based on the Halfling class in Labyrinth Lord, so limited to 8th level. Yes, there are plenty of demi-humans in low to mid level AD&D play, but if you want to play a high level campaign, better be human (or a thief).

In 5E, there's not much incentive to play a human, other than RP considerations. The variety of races get all kinds of cool abilities. The only real saving grace for humans is the variant that lets you pick a feat at character creation. Since feats in 5E can be pretty powerful, it definitely makes up for the lack of racial abilities.


  1. The prefix "demi-" is from Latin and means "half, partially, or something slightly inferior" least, per Ye Old Interwebs. Which makes perfect sense: In D&D, one could choose to play a human or something LIKE a human but "slightly inferior."

    I don't understand why I get so crotchety about this kind of thing; must be because I'm an old geezer. Kids! Kids! Why must you play a half-robot, horned demon/dragon-person! Isn't your own species good enough for you!

    [Kids: 'It's a fantasy game! I want to play something "fantastic" not just a plain old human! How boring!']

    As if pretending to be a wizard or knightly warrior isn't fantastic enough. Ah, how jaded the younger generation is.

    I have no patience...none...for this brand of nonsense. It's like needing an animal costume to get the romantic juices flowing.

  2. Playing the normal Tolkienian races can be fun, but so can playing Treebeard, Tars Tarkas, Ghan Buri Ghan, Tumnus the Faun, Reepicheep, the Boy's Horse or Ohladan of the Mountains.

    1. Climbing a rope is definitely harder when you're a horse.

  3. The Tin Woodman slew fifty wolves by himself, nor would I mind playing the Scarecrow who became the King of Oz.

  4. The scarecrow has a very low intelligence; the tin man used charisma as his dump stat.

  5. I am not a fan of the "Mos Eisley cantina" D&D party. I understand the appeal of playing something different, but it just becomes impossible to reconcile with a campaign setting if everyone in the party is a monster.

    I think monstrous races could be fun, within a campaign setting that they are a major part of, and where the game revolves around that race to a large extent. When they're just randomly a warforged that somehow showed up in faux medieval Europe with no explanation, it just doesn't work for me.

    I am prepping to run the 5e Curse of Strahd campaign, and my only real rule for character generation is "Player's Handbook races only, and no dragonborn or tieflings". In that setting, showing up as a robot or a fishman would make the entire campaign about you and how the villagers keep trying to run you out of town.

    I'm not sure if I'd agree that humans are really that disadvantaged in 5e. In the 5e game I play in (Tomb of Annihilation), two of the four PCs are human and another one is a half-elf.

    But honestly, I find it a lot easier to roleplay a human than something that doesn't even exist. It's hard enough to roleplay an elf who lives for hundreds of years, how am I supposed to get in the head of a living crystal or something?

  6. I clicked on this entry because I thought I was going to get some OSR stats for Hanna-Barbera characters and tbh I'm a little let down.

    Also the last time I tried my hand at DMing 5e my character creation rules were the same as yours.

  7. Arduin was a godsend to my young gaming self... having been raised on Heavy Metal and underground comix, and NOT wanting to play as ersatz Tolkien critters. So it's far from a new thing for me.
    That being said, I still generally default to human PCs unless there is some compelling reason (not just te powerz) to play as a pony person.