Racial Pigeon-Holing and the problem of Race Versus Culture

D&D Next has been advertising itself as the edition of reunification, promising to bring various different players of various different play-styles back to the same table. In this thread, I want to tackle one specific topic and how it relates to that goal, and that topic is racial design.

I don't know about anybody else, but race is a big deal to me in D&D, even if not always necessarily mechanically then always at least conceptually and thematically. In other words, even if my Minotaur Fighter and my Genasi Fighter are otherwise identically mechanically constructed, their racial differences, whether mechanical and thematic, make them feel very different to me. I love the idea of having various different styles of PC race so much that most of my personal home-brewing effort in every edition that I've played has gone towards creating or altering playable races (you can find some of my 4E work in my signature). Through this effort, I believe that I've stumbled onto some guiding principles of racial design that the developers of D&D Next would do well to look into and consider.

As I would like to be as constructive as possible, I will make every effort to balance every criticism with either some sort of praise or a proposal for a solution if not both. I would request that any posters participating in this discussion try to do the same.



I. RACIAL PIGEON-HOLING

If one of the goals of D&D next is to reunify players of different play-styles, then the game must be open to allowing players of different play-styles all to create similarly mechanically competent characters. To this end, I have concluded that in D&D Next, more than in any other edition before it, racial pigeon-holing is bad. All that racial pigeon-holing does is enforce preference for particular play-styles in a way that overtly mechanically penalizes players who want to create something different.

Here are some specific examples of racial pigeon-holing from the three most recent editions of D&D:
* In 3rd edition, Gnomes got a bonus to the save DC of their illusion spells.
* In 4th edition, Half-Orcs got a bonus to speed when charging.
* In D&D Next, Dwarves get a bonus to damage with hammers.

What specifically do these features do? Well, what they mean is that, for example, if I play a Half-Orc Shaman in 4th edition, then my character sheet lists a racial feature that is completely useless to me. It merely takes up space and reminds me that the character that I am playing is not the kind of character that the designers think that I should play. Because of that, because my character is effectively short a racial feature, it would not be unreasonable of me to conclude that my character is not quite up to par mechanically.

So, when I learn that races in D&D Next will be getting damage bonuses with traditionally racially favored weapons, I just see the same mistake repeating itself. If I decide to play a Dwarf Wizard, I will have a useless racial feature, one that only sits on my character sheet and reminds me that the developers think that Dwarves should all be wielding hammers or else be shorted a powerful racial feature. It does no good not to go ahead and point out everything that I see as problematic, so I'm also going to call out the Dwarf's "Speed" racial feature. Yes, it is a very iconic and traditional feature of Dwarves to be able to ignore speed penalties for heavy armor, but this feature runs into the same problem as the hammer bonus does; it's entirely useless to too many characters. My Dwarf Wizard now has two powerful racial feature that it will never, ever use.

Another very important example of racial pigeon-holing is racial penalties, and that goes not only for ability score penalties but also for penalties like the ones that small characters have traditionally gotten for wielding weapons. I've not seen any examples of this in the play-test material, though, so I don't think that I need to spend too much time on this point.

What are some examples of good racial features? Well, two of the Dwarf's other features, Dwarven Resilience and Low-Light Vision are perfect, as are the Elf's Free Spirit and Keen Senses and the Halfling's Lucky. All of these features are useable and useful to any character of any class or role. The Halfling's Naturally Stealthy seems questionable, but I would personally give it a pass considering that every Halfling can still use and benefit from it. Remember, what I'm saying is not that I don't think race and class should ever have synergy, just that I think such synergy should be more subtle in order to accommodate a wider variety of play-styles.

So, what can be done to accommodate the most play-styles in the spirit of reunification? I have come up with two possible solutions:

Solution 1: Move features like these out of the racial stat block and over to feats and themes. Want your Dwarf to excel with hammers? Pick up the "Dwarven Hammer Mastery" feat or select the "Dwarven Hammersmith" theme. This keeps the tradition alive while not forcing all Dwarf-players to deal with it if they don't want to. Character who want to select it will, and character who don't want to select it won't. This has traditionally been the way that some more obscure racially-stereotypical effects have been handled in the past

Solution 2: Turn racial features into options. If you played 3.5, think of how the PHB2 introduced alternative class feature options. If you played 4th edition, think of how some races like the Dragonborn and Elf got alternative racial power options after release. What if when I selected Dwarf as my race, I got the option between these two features:
* "Speed: You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered or for wearing heavy armor."
* "Steadfast" You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered, and spells cannot reduce your speed to below 3."
It's a very rough example, but I hope that it gets across the general idea. The option is granted between similarly-themed features, and players can pick whichever mechanical effect they feel is most right for their character, meaning that the stereotypically heavily-armored Dwarf can keep the Speed feature but the hipster lightly-armored Dwarf can still also select something else that it may actually get to use at least every so often, and it doesn't even have to expect any character resources like a feat to do it.



II. RACE VS. CULTURE

If one of the goals of D&D next is to reunify players of different play-styles, then the game must be open to allowing players of different play-styles all to create similarly thematically sensible characters. To this end, I have concluded that in D&D Next, more than in any other edition before it, culture and race must be divorced from one another, at least certainly as far as the basic mandatory racial stat block is concerned. All that inserting cultural features into racial mechanics does is enforce preference for particular character and campaign backgrounds in a way that overtly thematically penalizes players who want to create something different by saddling them with racial features that are nonsensical for their characters to have.

Here are some specific examples of race-culture conflation from the three most recent editions of D&D:
* In 3rd edition, Elves received proficiency with rapiers and bows.
* In 4th edition, Eladrin got a bonus trained skill due to their education.
* In D&D Next, Dwarves are able to identify stonework by culture.

What do these features do? Well, what they mean is that, for example, if I play an Elf in 3rd edition that was adopted and raised by Gnomes, then my character sheet has a listed racial feature that thematically makes absolutely no sense for my character to have. It merely takes up space and reminds me that the character that I am playing is not the kind of character that the designers think that I should play. This problem becomes even worse when we consider that, even if my Elf was raised by other Elves in the Elven culture typical of the setting, Elven culture is not the same across all settings, published or homebrewed.

So, when I learn that races in D&D Next will be getting damage bonuses with traditionally racially favored weapons, I just see the same mistake repeating itself. If I decide to play a Dwarf raised by Halflings or a Dwarf in a setting where Dwarves are more stereotypically considered gunsmiths, I will have a nonsensical racial feature, one that only sits on my character sheet and reminds me that the developers think that Dwarves should all be wielding hammers or else be considered counter to their expectations of character background. It does no good not to go ahead and point out everything that I see as problematic, so I'm also going to call out the Dwarf's "Stone-Cunning" racial feature. Yes, it is a very iconic and traditional feature of Dwarves to have some affinity for stone and stonework (though the 4E Dwarf got by just fine without it), but this feature runs into the same problem as the hammer bonus does; it's entirely nonsensical to too many characters. My Halfling-raised Dwarf now has two racial features that make no thematic sense for it to have.

Again to point out examples of good racial features, I will point to Dwarven Resilience and Low-Light Vision, as well as the Elf's Free Spirit and Keen Senses and the Halfling's Lucky and Naturally Stealthy. All of these features represent qualities that are biological or otherwise innate and that will remain consistently thematically appropriate regardless of character background or cultural variations within or between campaign settings.

So, what can be done to accommodate the most play-styles in the spirit of reunification? Again, both of the solution that I detailed for the problem of racial pigeon-holing will work. Culture-specific features can be moved to the domain of feats, where players can ignore them if nonsensical for their characters, or they can be turned into options, with more culture-neutral features offered as alternatives so that players can pick whichever mechanical effect they feel is most right for their character.



Although I disagree with their specific implementations on grounds unrelated to the topic of this thread, features like the Dwarven Resilience and the Elf's Free Spirit with their outright immunities lead me to believe that the developers are trying to make race a bigger deal in D&D Next. This is a move that I must say that I support very much, but if their implementation works counter to their design goals of reunification, then that will all be for naught. We need to get these messages across very clearly and very early in the design process:

* Racial pigeon-holing is bad.

* Conflating race and culture is bad.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
Actualy, stonecuting is supposed to be an innate sense, not cultural. They were born from stone, so they know stuff about it.
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to me is not cultural, is instinctive the dwarves are a subterrain race, is that 
Actualy, stonecuting is supposed to be an innate sense, not cultural.

That theory works fine for the first half of the benefit as an improved, possibly minorly supernatural, sense of spacial awareness: "While underground, you always know your approximate depth and how to retrace your path." However the idea that it is an innate sense, even a minorly supernatural one, falls apart when you get to the second half of the benefit: "You can identify the age of visible stonework and the culture responsible for its construction." That feature cannot be innate unless Dwarves are now granted an infinite supernatural knowledge of all possible cultures (across all possible planes in some campaigns). That is not at all minor, and it has consequences far beyond simple stonework. The result is that a a Dwarf that has never once in their entirely life ever heard of an Illithid is still somehow familiar with this extremely specific facet of their culture. I do not buy that whatsoever. If that's not cultural, then those are some crazy magical abilities that Dwarves just got out of nowhere. If they're going to stick with Stone-Cunning as a racial feature to represent an innate connection to earth and stone, then something like the 3rd edition version would be far more appropriate, something more subtle that doesn't grant the race effectively infinite knowledge.

Regardless, this thread is not intended to be about whether or not Stone-Cunning is an innate or cultural feature. It was just the most relevant possible example that we have alongside the stated racial weapon familiarity bonuses.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
As usual, CC, you're 100 percent right here.  I think the best solution would be something akin to 2e's Player's Options books (for both race and class), where you're given so many points for your race, and then given a list of abilities to purchase with variable cost depending on how powerful they are.  You could even sandbag a few points for use later in character creation if you wanted.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
I suggest a plan B, optional list of racial traits. Some DM could wish a different background for PCs races (rebember the tinker gnomes from Krynn or Dark Sun) or a player want  different racial traits to play a no-rogue little-size-race PC.

For example I would like shadar-kai without powers about shadow because in my setting shadar-kai haven´t got link with the plane of shadow.

"Say me what you're showing off for, and I'll say you what you lack!" (Spanish saying)

 

Book 13 Anaclet 23 Confucius said: "The Superior Man is in harmony but does not follow the crowd. The inferior man follows the crowd, but is not in harmony"

 

"In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of." - Confucius 

As usual, CC, you're 100 percent right here.  I think the best solution would be something akin to 2e's Player's Options books (for both race and class), where you're given so many points for your race, and then given a list of abilities to purchase with variable cost depending on how powerful they are.  You could even sandbag a few points for use later in character creation if you wanted.


I like the sound of that idea. I don't think I am familiar with those rules. would you mind giving a detailed example? I could very easily see the OP's original concerns addressed by a module which does this type of thing. At least if I understand it correctly... It sounds good to me.
"What's stupid is when people decide that X is true - even when it is demonstrable untrue or 100% against what we've said - and run around complaining about that. That's just a breakdown of basic human reasoning." -Mike Mearls
Totally agree. That's something I pointed out in my survey. 

YouKnowTheOneGuy: In 2E Skills and Powers, you had 45 points to build your race. There were several packages that cost between 35 and 45 points like Mountain Dwarf, Hill Dwarf, Gray Dwarf, etc. If you had points left over, you could buy abilities from a list; or you could just spend all your points buying abilities and make a custom dwarf. Most of the abilities cost either 5 or 10 points and included options like axe mastery, save bonuses, improved stamina, some cleric spells dealing with earth and stone as spell-like abilities, the ability to brew beer, and a number of other things. There were about a full page's worth or more of options to choose from. 
I agree with the OP. The racial choice should be heavily genetic.  If you must add cultural aspects, there should be optional or have several choices in culture.

Hill dwarves favor fighters, axes, and hammers. Jungle dwarves favor rangers, spears, and bows. Artic Dwarves favor fighters and have icecunning.

Orzel, Halfelven son of Zel, Mystic Ranger, Bane to Dragons, Death to Undeath, Killer of Abyssals, King of the Wilds. Constitution Based Class for Next!

Dwarves know the culture of the people who carved the stone, because the stone talks to them and lets them know.
I respect the OP and all of his posts. But I disagree.
D&D is a fantasy game.
Yes the term "race" really means "culture" but I feel that the term "race" is a Sacred Cow that will never go away.
I can't see D&D "races" as equivilent as real world races.
So I don't feel there is an issue. Races in D&D can be specific because they are. Simple as that.
If one wants cultural diversity, you choose different versions of dwarf, hill, mountain, ravine, etc.

And regarding the lightly armoured hipster dwarf, I don't think every race needs to be equally good at all classes.
A dwarf, all dwarf, by nature of their race are good solid fighters. If you want to play against stereotype, you are welcome to, but you don't get benefits.
D&D is D&D because of these lack of options, not in spite of.
In my opinion, of course.
Viva La "what ever version of D&D you are playing right now!"
I think it's important to have default abilities of some sort that represent the iconic races, but I certainly wouldn't be opposed to having a big list of optional racial abilities that could be substituted in for thematic purposes.  I think that gives the best of both worlds for those who want a traditional fantasy dwarf as opposed to an above-ground  tree-worshiping fairy-dwarf ;)  Now, obviously it doesn't have to go into the realm of silly, but having a list of abilities and which things they can replace is pretty modular and has been seen in pretty much every previous edition to some extent so I see it as being in the realm of possibilities.  The only catch is: will it be core?
Yup.  Cultural things are fine as long as it's actually cultural:  a good example are the subrace variants in the various editions.  Specifying the culture as a mechanical choice is fine, such as say the Wood Elf variant.  But broadening cultural things to the entire race, i.e. "all elves use longbows"?  No thanks.
D&D Next = D&D: Quantum Edition
As usual, CC, you're 100 percent right here.  I think the best solution would be something akin to 2e's Player's Options books (for both race and class), where you're given so many points for your race, and then given a list of abilities to purchase with variable cost depending on how powerful they are.  You could even sandbag a few points for use later in character creation if you wanted.


I like the sound of that idea. I don't think I am familiar with those rules. would you mind giving a detailed example? I could very easily see the OP's original concerns addressed by a module which does this type of thing. At least if I understand it correctly... It sounds good to me.



Not sure how detailed I can get without breaking the law.

Basically, your race gave you however many points.  They listed the 'standard' racial package for each race (and subrace), but after that they listed a menu of every one of those abilities, and then some.  So, for example, the elven +1 bonus with bows was worth 5 points.  "But, I'm playing an elf wizard who's never bothered to learn how to use a bow ..."  So, you would spend those 5 points on something else like, say, cold resistance or whatever.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
@Crimson:

I have mixed feelings about what you're suggesting. If I were to push your reasoning one step further, I would see no reason why the game should include any classes at all, because fantasy wizards in the world I'm imagining might not be the same as the fantasy wizards you imagined for your world.

I think the heart of the problem is "generic fantasy RPG" vs. "cliché fantasy RPG". There are advantages to both systems and traditionally, D&D has been part of the "cliché fantasy RPG" group (or worse, a pathetic attempt at redefining a cliché).

The biggest advantage of the cliché fantasy RPG that used to be D&D is that you don't have to work at all on your world. Believe it or not but some of us just don't have the time to do that. Ultimately, I think I would love to see a "generic build your own fantasy RPG" rules system but I wouldn't want it labelled D&D because that would mean that I would have to pay more money to get the cliché fantasy setting I'm used to having.

I'm not sure that what you're suggesting would be a smart marketing move either. I wonder how many potential clients would be lost if the game shifted from "cliché" to "generic".
They could always add "culture" as a customization similar to traits and background. That way it could give a one time ability or bonus suitable for the character.
@Crimson
First this should be a blog post.  You can cross post here as well of course.  I feel that blog posts are better if you want to keep it long term.

The fact Salla agreed 100% with you made me hesitate and reread your post again.  Still I think overall good ideas. I do have some questions...

#1
If a racial disadvantage was offset by an advantage would that suffice.  I'm mainly thinking of small races.  I find it unbelievable they wouldn't fight at a disadvantage weapon wise.  But I'd be fine if small races were trained to fight larger races and got some equalizing advantage.  That way if you played a fighter you would lose and gain.

#2
If things were marked out as cultural wouldn't it be a pretty easy houserule to remove them.  What if there were a table of features where a DM could build a culture based upon point values or something.  I am very sympathetic to this notion as the cultures of most campaigns I play in are rarely exactly the implied culture of D&D.  At least no for every race.
...
Solution 2: Turn racial features into options. If you played 3.5, think of how the PHB2 introduced alternative class feature options. If you played 4th edition, think of how some races like the Dragonborn and Elf got alternative racial power options after release. What if when I selected Dwarf as my race, I got the option between these two features:
* "Speed: You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered or for wearing heavy armor."
* "Steadfast" You don't suffer a speed penalty for being encumbered, and spells cannot reduce your speed to below 3."
...

This I like. It also opens up the possibility of having options available in specific campaign setting to help a player fit his/her character into the world a bit more. (Raptor riding halflings can get a boost to ride checks.)

Little note, I would prefer it if you got to pick two or more options from a list. That way you don't have to chose between a normal dwarf OR a campaign setting one.

As usual, CC, you're 100 percent right here.  I think the best solution would be something akin to 2e's Player's Options books (for both race and class), where you're given so many points for your race, and then given a list of abilities to purchase with variable cost depending on how powerful they are.  You could even sandbag a few points for use later in character creation if you wanted.

Oh look, another idea my D&D newbie mind really enjoys turns out to have existed in a pre 3.5 edition. Lawl, if I had a dollar every time… 
My preference is to leave some stereotypes to NPCs, especially when we're talking about distinctions between culture and race. For example, it's perfectly acceptable to me for NPC dwarves to have aptitude with, or cultural preference for, axes and hammers.  When it comes to PCs I'd rather there not be a penalty for opting for something culturaly against type. If we're talking about something as fundamentaly and across-the-board "better" as weapon specializations, offer it via a feat, a theme, or whatever, and let the player have their pick. 

That's my 2 cents.
Dwarves know the culture of the people who carved the stone, because the stone talks to them and lets them know.

That has never been how stone-cunning has worked before as far as I know, and erachima goes on to describe how they've explicitly stated in various versions of the rules that the sense comes from being raised underground, not from being a Dwarf. If this is how the ability is going to work now, then they need to explicitly say so, but I doubt that it would go over very well with their trying to appeal to older players' sense of tradition, as it's certainly never been tradition for Dwarves to be this magical. They've typically been a fairly mundane race.

Yes the term "race" really means "culture" but I feel that the term "race" is a Sacred Cow that will never go away.
I can't see D&D "races" as equivilent as real world races.

You have it all wrong. The term "Race" is more akin to "culture" in the real world, but in D&D, "race" is far more akin to "species".

And regarding the lightly armoured hipster dwarf, I don't think every race needs to be equally good at all classes.

I didn't say that they needed to be, and I don't think that anybody else has either. I even gave an example to the contrary with the Halfling's Naturally Stealthy feature, which is clearly far more benefitial to classes like the Rogue. The difference with that feature, though, is that a Halfling Barbarian or Paladin or Warlock is still perfectly capable of using it and benefiting from it, even if not to the same degree.

If I were to push your reasoning one step further, I would see no reason why the game should include any classes at all, because fantasy wizards in the world I'm imagining might not be the same as the fantasy wizards you imagined for your world.

I don't follow your reasoning here.

The biggest advantage of the cliché fantasy RPG that used to be D&D is that you don't have to work at all on your world. Believe it or not but some of us just don't have the time to do that.

I am not at all saying that the default rules should be devoid of the same, old, default fluff that we've all grown used to. I think that it would be of tremendous benefit to keep that around, which is why I merely suggest relocating some features or going about them a different way rather than removing them entirely. I'm just saying that it would be nice for the system to consider and allow for alternative play-styles. It doesn't even have to overtly say that it's doing it. As long as the mechanical options are presented to allow it, I see absolutely no reason to change the fluff.

First this should be a blog post.  You can cross post here as well of course.  I feel that blog posts are better if you want to keep it long term.

I posted it as a thread and as a blog simultaneously.

If a racial disadvantage was offset by an advantage would that suffice.

No, it would not. Racial penalties simply do not work if you're trying to avoid pigeon-holing, which is one of the reasons that they were (mostly) removed from 4E. The problem with trying to balance bonuses with penalties is that it cannot be done. This is a game, so people can and will play the characters that take maximum advantage of their bonuses while minimizing the detriments of their penalties, which essentially amounts to pigeon-holing.

I'm mainly thinking of small races.  I find it unbelievable they wouldn't fight at a disadvantage weapon wise.

It's not all that unbelievable when you really get down to it. Think about 3.5. What were the effects of being small in 3.5 as it related to wielding weapons? Well, all of their weapons used one lower die, and they got a perspective bonus on attack rolls. All that needs to be done is to translate that perspective bonus from an attack roll bonus to a damage bonus. Smaller character will use weapons appropriate sized for them, but them end mechanical result will be identical.

If things were marked out as cultural wouldn't it be a pretty easy houserule to remove them.

It's always pretty easy to houserule to remove anything. I houserule all of the time to fix these kinds of issues. The issue with houserules is when they start being the kind of thing that you shouldn't have to houserule. I'm posting this because I want it to be a basic consideration by the developers so that I don't have to houserule. That puts all of the players on the same page by default, rather than causing confusion between groups and so on.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
I don't know, for me part of dnd is the typical racial features. 4e took many of them away, and in the end I decided that I didn't really like that. Stonecunning and hammers are part of what makes a dwarf a dwarf. If they were missing, I wouldn't get the same dwarvish feel. And in 4e, I didn't.

Even if I'm playing against type, like the dwarvish wizard raised by halflings, I want to feel like there is a type to play against. If that involves a mechanical penalty, so be it. If it bugged me too much, I'd try to work something out with my DM to maybe swap a dwarf ability for a halfling one, or something along those lines. But I don't feel like that kind of thing needs to be in the rules.

Most of the racial sterotypes you're talking about go right back to Tolkien, and are pretty pervasive throughout the fantasy literature. That's the heritage of our game, I wouldn't want to give it up.
I don't know, for me part of dnd is the typical racial features. 4e took many of them away, and in the end I decided that I didn't really like that. Stonecunning and hammers are part of what makes a dwarf a dwarf. If they were missing, I wouldn't get the same dwarvish feel. And in 4e, I didn't.

Even if I'm playing against type, like the dwarvish wizard raised by halflings, I want to feel like there is a type to play against. If that involves a mechanical penalty, so be it. If it bugged me too much, I'd try to work something out with my DM to maybe swap a dwarf ability for a halfling one, or something along those lines. But I don't feel like that kind of thing needs to be in the rules.

Most of the racial sterotypes you're talking about go right back to Tolkien, and are pretty pervasive throughout the fantasy literature. That's the heritage of our game, I wouldn't want to give it up.


I echo what he said.

I don't want a completely, utterly bland core D&D, totally shorn of all its flavor.

Certain off-the-wall settings may remove or alter traditional flavor as their needs dictate, but I'd prefer to see the core of the game cater to traditional tastes.

If you have to resort to making offensive comments instead of making logical arguments, you deserve to be ignored.

..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Most of the racial sterotypes you're talking about go right back to Tolkien, and are pretty pervasive throughout the fantasy literature. That's the heritage of our game, I wouldn't want to give it up.



This is precisely why they should make them optional within the rules.  Those of you who like the old tropes can make 'Dwarf classic', while those of us who prefer to mix things up are empowered to do the same.  Everybody wins.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
It wouldn't bother me if they called it something different. So Dwarf classic might be "Mountain Dwarf" while Dwarf freestyle might be "Hill Dwarf." Mountain dwarves tend to keep to the old ways, while hill dwarves are a bit less traditional.

Especially if they came up with pretty good alternative abilities like CC was pointing toward, I'd be happy enough, so I guess that you are right.
Rather than making things like Racial Stonecutting or Bonus Axe Damage feats, or racial options, just roll them into backgrounds?

I mean why not have a "Dwarven Culture" background that gives you bonuses with your axe, stone cutting, etc. All those things that don't make sense to be an innate part of the race, but are a part of their general culture.

Then someone who is playing a dwarf with an unusual upbringing just grabs a different background. Hell, when backgrounds were introduced I was under the impression that was going to be the whole point of them. 
I am sad that my tongue in cheek joke/comment about stones talking to dwarves was taken seriously.

I mean why not have a "Dwarven Culture" background that gives you bonuses with your axe, stone cutting, etc. All those things that don't make sense to be an innate part of the race, but are a part of their general culture.


Yeah, but then you're stuck with that one background. Unless you want separate background for dwarf commoner, dwarf knight, dwarf craftsman, ...

I mean why not have a "Dwarven Culture" background that gives you bonuses with your axe, stone cutting, etc. All those things that don't make sense to be an innate part of the race, but are a part of their general culture.


Yeah, but then you're stuck with that one background. Unless you want separate background for dwarf commoner, dwarf knight, dwarf craftsman, ...



Why? I assume that the dwarf background is the background of typical dwarves. ie what people take when they don't have anything more specific in mind. If you have something in particular in mind, like being a Knight, then you take that background instead. If that means that the Knight who grew up as a dwarf doesn't know so much about stonecutting because he focused on knightly things, then oh well. 

Alternatively they could add these racial flavored backgrounds and let people pick more than one (to make up for stuff being taken away from races), which might be a nice thing to do, as it gives access to more trained skills. Either way, making the cultural benefits feats is too high of a cost, and making them racial abilities makes no sense for too many characters. Backgrounds are the natural choice for this.
Unfortunately the background has already been declared to be outside this design space.

Race itself needs to be changed. Now setting components of race up as similar to backgrounds is probably a good idea. 

So race + culture +background + theme +class 
..."window.parent.tinyMCE.get('post_content').onLoad.dispatch();" contenteditable="true" />Most of the racial sterotypes you're talking about go right back to Tolkien, and are pretty pervasive throughout the fantasy literature. That's the heritage of our game, I wouldn't want to give it up.



This is precisely why they should make them optional within the rules.  Those of you who like the old tropes can make 'Dwarf classic', while those of us who prefer to mix things up are empowered to do the same.  Everybody wins.



Took the words right outta my brain Salla. I was thinking during this whole thread 'But my group plays D&D and expects specific tropes, cliches, and racial cultures. If we want somethign else, we play other games,' but then I was thinking 'But the people who want to do something different are in their rights and deserve to get what they want as long as I can have what I want too'. So in the end if both options were available, everyone would go away happy and a lot of the threads I've seen about races, species, and cultures in D&D will hopefully dwindle, if not outright go away (vain hope, I know).  
Stonecunning and hammers are part of what makes a dwarf a dwarf.

But they're not. Stone-cunning and hammers are part of what make dwarven culture feel like dwarven culture, but they are not what makes a dwarf a dwarf. The conflation of these two things, dwarf the race and dwarf the culture, is exactly what leads to the problem that I'm describing, the problem of a lot of people being confused at the difference. You are in fact demonstrating the confusion and demonstrating exactly why a distinction needs to be made.

If they were missing, I wouldn't get the same dwarvish feel.

And I haven't said that they should be taken away. Again, dwarven culture is an archetypal, familiar, traditional, and, to many players and groups, very appealing part of D&D and its history, and it would be a big mistake to get rid of it entirely, which is exactly why I'm not saying that it should be removed, only that it should be handled differently such that not everbody is forces into a particular cultural background simply by virtue of selecting their race.

Even if I'm playing against type, like the dwarvish wizard raised by halflings, I want to feel like there is a type to play against. If that involves a mechanical penalty, so be it.

I cannot and will not entertain the idea that willingly taking penalties or playing a mechanically subpar character equates to good role-playing. Speaking for myself, taking penalties doesn't make me feel like I'm really playing against type; it just makes me feel like my character is destined to suck. What really makes me feel like I'm playing against type is the role-playing that goes along with it. Having a useless bonus to charging written on my character sheet isn't what makes me feel like my Half-Orc Wizard is different; what makes me feel like he's different is that the other PCs make jokes about him breaking down doors or getting in bar fights and that the NPCs all automatically assume that he's just the team's muscle and treat him as such.

Most of the racial sterotypes you're talking about go right back to Tolkien, and are pretty pervasive throughout the fantasy literature. That's the heritage of our game, I wouldn't want to give it up.

I don't know what to tell you other than that I just don't think that's a very good argument. Many D&D fans are not a fan of Tolkein (myself being one of them) or Gygax (myself being one of them) or of many others like them that have had a profound impact on the way that we play our game. Yes, they're part of the game's heritage, but D&D can and should be more then just its heritage. The game needs to progress from its roots in order to survive. That doesn't mean leaving them behind, but it does mean realizing that they're not the final word on D&D.



I don't want a completely, utterly bland core D&D, totally shorn of all its flavor.

This comment and others like it I simply do not understand. Nobody is advocating that the game be shorn of its flavor or that we end up with a generic or "bland" version of the game. The concerns that I bring up here are exactly concerns about flavor. I don't want it taken out. That would be absurd. I just want it handled better than it has been handled in the past. It's not like I'm saying that elves should have absolutely no affinity for bows at all or that dwarves should have absolutely no relationship with earth or stone. I'm just saying that there are far better ways of handling those features than making them mandatory upon selection of race.



I am sad that my tongue in cheek joke/comment about stones talking to dwarves was taken seriously.

This is the internet. We have absolutely no way of determining the tone or seriousness of your post. And, I have heard that argument before made completely seriously.

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!
Here is the question in my mind.

Do we want it to be possible/probable that at someone's game table, the group of adventurers consists of a bunch of dwarves that come from communities that live in tree tops and use graceful weapons with a strong sense of natural magic.

If you divorce race/culture this is not only possible, but there is no reason to disuade it.

I have never seen a division between race and culture in D&D before.  The Bestiary practically makes it canon.

If you want to be a race that is divorced from it's culture, that should be a rare and hard thing to do.  Or you should be making your own unique set of rules.

For example, in Darksun, halflings are cannable evil tribesman more like goblins, than halflings of the Shire.   But thats a completely different world with a new set of races for that world.
 
I like Crimson_Concerto's ideas but I think it is totally wrong for core rules.

Core rules should be as simple as possible - here is your race and these are your bonuses.

However having an optional chapter detailing how you can break down the races (like the Skills and Powers books) would be awesome.  That way the basics are simple (like backgrounds) yet customisable.

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Here is the question in my mind.

Do we want it to be possible/probable that at someone's game table, the group of adventurers consists of a bunch of dwarves that come from communities that live in tree tops and use graceful weapons with a strong sense of natural magic.

If you divorce race/culture this is not only possible, but there is no reason to disuade it.


Why not?  No, really.  With what he's suggesting, archetypes aren't going away.  Default dwarfy fluff isn't going away.  You'll have all the dwarfy dwarves you want.  If this hypothetical table has organized themselves to make such an off the wall set of dwarves, odds are they're pretty into it and are going to have a great time.  Why dissuade that?
I have never seen a division between race and culture in D&D before.  The Bestiary practically makes it canon.

If you want to be a race that is divorced from it's culture, that should be a rare and hard thing to do.  Or you should be making your own unique set of rules.

For example, in Darksun, halflings are cannable evil tribesman more like goblins, than halflings of the Shire.   But thats a completely different world with a new set of races for that world.
 


Why?  Why should that be hard?  PCs get all kinds of weird backstories as a matter of course.  Why should this one thing be hard?  Why should it be easy to declare yourself born under a prophecy, destined to be king, but then have it be hard to be a city elf?
Seriously, though, you should check out the PbP Haven. You might also like Real Adventures, IF you're cool.
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Read this and the associated comments/links.

rpggeek.com/blogpost/8756/proxies-and-pa... 
Well the problem isn't really archetypal features it's specific features.

Anything involving specific weapon groups or only beneficial to specific classes.

For example the dwarven ability to use maces/axes at +1 die type is pretty bad because it only rewards classes that have enough str to use those weapons, so a wizard dwarf had either better figure out how to become proficient and invest in str points if he wants to make use of his racial ability and not be gimped, this is especially useless to wizards because they have no reason to ever use the damn axe under 5e rules so far.

Another egregious example would be the +1 hit die size for fighters that dwarves get.

+1 hit die size would be a really neat idea for a racial feature but by limiting it tot he fighter it's just further pigeon holing the dwarf.

My advice would be to exchange the axe-mace thing in favor of giving dwarves +1 hit die size to all classes. 
Then instead of encouraging Dwarves to be Fighters, you encourage all wizards to be Dwarves...
No you encourage every class to be dwarves because the +1 average extra heal per die would apply to every class, fairly equally.

The numerical advantage gained is roughly the same for each class. Where as all the axe bonuses in the forgotten realms doesn't appeal to wizards.

 
No you encourage every class to be dwarves because the +1 average extra heal per die would apply to every class, fairly equally.

The numerical advantage gained is roughly the same for each class. Where as all the axe bonuses in the forgotten realms doesn't appeal to wizards.

 

The average monster damage dice is a d6, the wizard is the only class with a d4 hitdice.   This makes it highly advantages for all wizards to try to get a d6 hit dice.  Not to mention the lack of armor they get.  Going from a d10 to a d12, isn't necessarily a build changing decision. Going from d4 to d6 is.
I agree with your racial problems, CC. Racial benefits always felt "not right" for me throughout all editions of D&D and ability modifiers were just the ugly tip of the iceberg in terms of pigeon-holing.

Well, I do like the feeling that the choice of race in a RPG matters and I like cultural and racial variance and identity per se. I also get the feeling that race in 4e were just a bit more than a template and that players often chose their race because of their ability boni, not because of racial fluff. That's wrong in my eyes.

So, having the choice of many racial benefits would be a good idea in my opinion. You can handle out some "default racial packages" for those who want simple choices (i.e. "Dwarf magic user" or "Dwarf fighter" or "Divine Dwarf") and leave options to the rest of us, just as it is planned with themes.
Also agreed that those "racials" should be biological ones and I'd add that humans should get some distinctive ones, too (I'm sick of the standard "humans are soooo adaptable they can get a boring numerical +1 on whatever they want" trope).

I'd also add culture as the second layer of choice, after race. As background deals with your character's specific family, culture could represent the educational basics that every child in a society is given. Those perks should be either choice-based, or so broadly designed that every class can benefit from them (i.e. skill boni, crafting options...).
Do we want it to be possible/probable that at someone's game table, the group of adventurers consists of a bunch of dwarves that come from communities that live in tree tops and use graceful weapons with a strong sense of natural magic.

If you divorce race/culture this is not only possible, but there is no reason to disuade it.

As Pashalik_Mons said, I see no reason to dissuade it. Nothing about what I wrote suggested that stereotypical fantasy archetypes be eliminated from the game, and in fact, I've repeatedly said that I think removing them would be very bad for the game and that I don't want that to happen. Furthermore, what you suggest is exactly as possible and probably under what I propose as it was under 4E rules or under 3.5 rules. I never played before 3E, so I don't know about that, but I'm guessing that it was still exactly as possible and probable. All that what I'm suggesting does is allow that to be validated alongside what's already validated, and even then not to the same degree considering that there will likely be other game options (racial feats, racial prestige classes, racial paragon path, etc.) directly made to reinforce those classic archetypes.

I have never seen a division between race and culture in D&D before.

We've also never seen bounded accuracy in D&D before, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a good idea or that it shouldn't happen. I will not accept "it hasn't been done before" as a valid argument. What this thread is about is exactly how it's problematic that it hasn't been done before and how we should start doing in now.

If you want to be a race that is divorced from it's culture, that should be a rare and hard thing to do.

Why? There are and have been plenty of existing races with no mechanical cultural features whatsoever, and yet we still understand and embrace their default cultures as iconic to them.



Core rules should be as simple as possible - here is your race and these are your bonuses.

However having an optional chapter detailing how you can break down the races (like the Skills and Powers books) would be awesome.  That way the basics are simple (like backgrounds) yet customisable.

You're confusing the core with the system default; those two are different because it is already known that modules beyond the system default will be included in the core. Include what I suggest not in the system default but as an optional module in the core? That sounds perfectly acceptable to me. That's pretty much how I understand that Themes work anyway; feats will all be there to pick from, but if you want simplicity, then you can just pick a theme and have your feats selected for you.



Read this and the associated comments/links.

rpggeek.com/blogpost/8756/proxies-and-pa... 

If I read every link that somebody gave me, I would have no time left to do anything else ever. If you want me to read that, you're going to have to give me a bit more information and incentive than just "Here, read this and everything that it links to". Besides, I'm sure that you can speak for yourself in your own words. What information included in the link do you think that we should know?

Why, yes, as a matter of fact I am the Unfailing Arbiter of All That Is Good Design (Even More So Than The Actual Developers) TM Speaking of things that were badly designed, please check out this thread for my Minotaur fix. What have the critics said, you ask? "If any of my players ask to play a Minotaur, I'm definitely offering this as an alternative to the official version." - EmpactWB "If I ever feel like playing a Minotaur I'll know where to look!" - Undrave "WoTC if you are reading this - please take this guy's advice." - Ferol_Debtor_of_Torm "Really full of win. A minotaur that is actually attractive for more than just melee classes." - Cpt_Micha Also, check out my recent GENASI variant! If you've ever wished that your Fire Genasi could actually set stuff on fire, your Water Genasi could actually swim, or your Wind Genasi could at least glide, then look no further. Finally, check out my OPTIONS FOR EVERYONE article, an effort to give unique support to the races that WotC keeps forgetting about. Includes new racial feature options for the Changeling, Deva, Githzerai, Gnoll, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, Kalashtar, Minotaur, Shadar-Kai, Thri-Kreen, Warforged and more!