One of the reasons I enjoy playing custom races is because I get tired of the stereotypes and like to play something that nobody should really have any preconceived notions about.
MY current example of this is a half-elf, half-dryad (we call her a "drylf") female who was "born" to an oak tree mother and who lived in a dryad-filled oak tree glade until a bunch of kobolds, goblins and humans came and cut down all the trees, including her mother. (That all happened while she was off training to become a druid, the shock almost killed her, but she survived by virtue of her half-elfness.)
So now she's a sort of half-breed orphaned dryad with druid classes. Her behavior is inhuman enough that the party cleric calls her the "crazy tree lady".
She talks to plants. She's 1/4 tree after all. When they go into a town to find an Inn, she searches for a nice comfortable oak tree to spend the night. She doesn't mind the cold at all and can sleep just fine in a snow bank. It has taken her until level six to really even comprehend the function of money. She still doesn't quite get why anyone would be interested in round metal objects, but she's learned that she can trade them for things that she can use. This has her very excited now that she thinks she's figured it out. She has similar issues with clothing, a custom she finds to be not only incomprehensible, but thoroughly uncomfortable. She has discovered the value of leather armor though.
She has a visceral and barely controllable hatred of axes. She has vulnerabilities to fire and finds fire to be abhorrent. She insists that all fires be as small as possible and only burn as long as necessary. She even dislikes torches.
It physically hurts her to be disconnected with nature. Just going inside a building, or going underground causes her physical pain and reduces her constitution by 1. So she rarely goes inside any buildings, and only goes into dungeons if there is a compelling reason to do so (which there usually is).
She doesn't eat much, although she can eat. She prefers to gain her nutrition from sinking her bare feet into the soil and pulling nutrients into her body. This takes a while. But if she can't do it for long periods of time, she starts to get a little loopy.
When going trough any forested area, she moves through the forest canopy instead of on the trail below. This is as natural to her as breathing. She is simply worshipful of rain. If it's raining she will stand and reach her arms to the skies and exult under the falling water.
There's much more, but that's a pretty good flavor. She's really fun to play. But in terms of her actions and interactions with PCs and NPCs, she's the least "human" character I've ever played.
Oh, her skin color and hair color and consistency is based on the seasons...
In a memorable moment of her inhumanity, deep in a cave, the cleric suddenly cursed and said "great! batsh*t!"
44. Elves prefer not to eat meat, unless it is something or someone close to them.
Elvenkind see the consumption of the body as bringing another being into oneself; you are, literally, what you eat. When the elf consumes the fruit of the forest, he is one with it, for it is within him, in his legs when he runs, in his arms when he climbs, in his eyes and ears and heart and spirit. Elves are very strict about thier diet, selecting only the best vegetation, preparing meals with incredible care, and holding the mealtime as sacrosanct, a bonding ritual among family and friends.
When an elf consumes meat, it is considered a sacred act. The being he feeds upon becomes a part of himself, and the essence of that individual will continue to live on through him. This applies to both creatures and demihumans; a favorite hunting dog might be consumed upon death so that he might continue to hunt with his master, a beast that saved a village might be devoured upon its death by all who live within it so that it might live on through them, etc.
Likewise, ritual cannibalism is taken as a form of respect; a dying elf will nearly always be asked by friends (but never direct family, for they already have part of his form within them) the right to feed upon his remains, so that they might take the best of him and continue on in the cycle of life. To die alone is considered a tragedy, for none will be there to take in one's essence, and to die without such an offer is considered a sign of shame, for none respect you enough to carry on your being within them. Should a great hero be slain far from the village, young ones will often be tasked with a sacred pilgrimage to find and eat his remains, thus taking in his legacy. Likewise, the worst offenders are sentenced to die sealed within stone, so that not even the worms can consume their flesh, and their essence will remain inert for eternity.
Obviously, this causes quite a bit of tension when elves offer to eat a dying friend.
Flashing back to a favourite 3e race that I'm bummed won't be popping up in the PH3 (but I'm really hoping for a Dragon article or at least a back page write-up in the MM3.); the dromite.
45. The psychology and sociology of the hive-societied dromite is so community-oriented that it can often overlook the individual, emphasizing the needs of the many over those of the few or the one. In no way is this more evident than in the fact that dromites will regard a group of individuals to be one single being, while any group which is not at least five individuals strong is regarded as less than fully sapient.
A lone individual may be encountered but treated with respect if zie is a member of a greater organization or family, such as a merchant house or church, but a single person who isn't even distantly associated with a group of respectable size is as bizarre and off-putting to a dromite as a disembodied arm living its own life would be to most humanoid races. It is for this reason that dromites place a strong emphasis on establishing associations and organizations when meeting someone for the first time.
As a result of their perception, dromite society and psychology tends to be very democratic, but only in matters between different hives. The larger hive automatically has superior personhood, and thus is given deference in decision-making. Within a hive, on the other hand, dromites obey a strict caste hierarchy which is determined as much by biology as by custom, thus preventing most civil strife while guiding the dromites to work as the single entity as which they regard themselves.
Dromites in groups with other humanoids do not have the natural guidance of the chemical markers of hierarchy, a fact which can make the establishment of dominance troublesome. Wise dromites can see beyond the lack of biological imperative and remember that it's the cooperation which matters, not the hierarchy. Others, however, will cling to the notion of inherent superiority and, lacking biological indicators thereof, may struggle to establish a pecking order.
However the issue of dominance is resolved, further difficulties may yet arise for any dromite who regards a non-dromite group to be zir collective self. Disagreements which would be annoying to other races can be truly devastating for dromites. If the party's gnomish rogue steals from an innocent, for example, it will draw condemnation from the half-elven paladin and cause interpersonal strife, but the dromite in the group will internalize the dispute and feel shame and self-loathing for the actions zir collective self has taken. A party without harmony and cooperation could very possibly drive a dromite insane.
(I employ zie/zie/zir as a gender-neutral counterpart to he/him/his. Just a heads-up.)
Essentials definitely isn't for me as a player, and I feel that its design and implementation bear serious flaws which fill me with concern for the future of D&D, but I've come to the conclusion that it isn't going to destroy the game that I want to play. Indeed, I think that I could probably run a game for players using Essentials characters without it being much of a problem at all. Time will tell, I suppose.
46.Changelings To a changeling, nothing is real. All beings live in a pale reflection of the "World of Ideals" - the mystical realm in which the ideal, perfect specimen of any given creature or object resides. All else is simply the mortal world's vain attempt to recreate the World of Ideals. The World of Ideals is only viewed by a changeling for a split second during transformation, as its spirit shifts from inhabiting a representation of one being to another. This belief results in strange behavior, at least to non-changelings. Changelings do not value material possessions, for they are not real, but merely an imperfect imitation of a real thing. However, this does not make them generous, for they do not believe that money or other material things could change the lives of others, but means that they are great risk-takers, for there is no real harm in losing a possession. They are also rather dismissive of death, for the soul is not destroyed when the body is, and is, depending on the religious views of the changeling, either merely moves on to another imperfect "reality" or finally joins with the World of Ideals, in which case, death is to be celebrated. Any sadness at the loss of a companion is sadness of the loss of their company, not sadness that they have died. For these reasons, changelings appear impulsive, reckless, and uncaring to other races, which contributes to the distrust of the shapeshifters.
To a dwarf, there are no shades of grey. To every question, whether practical or philosophical, there is a single correct answer. For every dilemma, there is a single righteous choice. For every course of action, there is a single right way to do it. Anything less than perfection is a failure. The Dwarven language has no word for "try", only "do" or "do not".
Dwarven art is very fine, easily the equal of elven work, for every piece is created in a spirit of striving towards the perfect. However, no piece ever actually reaches that pinnacle of true perfection in the mind of its creator. Thus, dwarven artists hold a very low opinion of themselves and their work. Every piece they create is flawed and therefore a failure. In fact, the Dwarven word for "work of art" is also the word for "failure". A dwarf artist, working on something a human or elf would regard as a masterpiece, will say, dourly, "I am creating another miserable failure."
Once a dwarf has determined that his course of action is righteous, it is almost impossible to dissuade him. To members of other races, this seems like either unbreakable courage or mindless obstinacy (usually depending on whether they agree with the dwarf or not). But to a dwarf, there is simply no other choice. To be a dwarf is to be right. Always. Changing your mind means admitting that you were previously, in a profound sense, on the side of evil (even if only in a small way or for a short time) and there can be no excuse for that to a dwarf. Running away from battle, even if the fight is obviously hopeless, is not just cowardly. It's an admission that your cause might not have been just, which is as bad as if you'd been fighting on the other side (because if your side is in the wrong, the enemy must be in the right, by definition). Retreat is treason under dwarven law.
Thus, dwarves are both the most loyal and steadfast allies imaginable, and some of the most terrifying foes possible. Members of other races are often horrified by the apparently extreme hatred shown by dwarves towards their enemies. To a dwarf, the world is divided into friends and enemies, and a dwarf's enemies are, in his eyes, uniformly evil and deserving of no pity or respite. A dwarf might be friendly, good-humoured and generous of spirit to his companions, but that same dwarf is utterly ruthless to those he sees as enemies. Dwarves don't spare non-combatants or even the children of those they consider enemies, and any prisoners they take are brutally interrogated before being executed. Dwarves are not actually sadistic, in that they don't gain any pleasure from slaughtering their foes. They merely view wholesale extermination as the only possible way to deal with enemies. To a dwarf, there's no moral difference between a rat or cockroach and a goblin or drow.
Those dwarves who actually understand the concept of showing compassion or mercy to one's enemies are very rare, and these individuals often become outcasts (and therefore are the ones most likely to become PCs), since such "weakness" is intolerable to dwarven society.
48. Tieflings and Half Orcs are not above relying on their fearsome visage, and often sketchy reputations, to intimidate others if it presents itself as an option. That being said, this can be done for a variety of reasons. Convenience, such as speeding along an interrogation.
"Do not make me get the Tiefling. He will grasp your hands to his, and between your intermingled fingers, you will find a fiery coal. You will speak to him, as sure as a dry blade of grass succumbs to the embers."
This can be done to give the wicked a taste of their own medicine.
"You delight in striking down the weak. Come now, strike me down, if you can manage. I find bits of food between my tusks meatier than you."
And of course, sometimes a cheap laugh is to be had.
"Sit next to me, bonny lass. I don't bite... fatally."
I've actually done a fair amount of this for my homebrew setting. Making nonhumans inhuman.
Note: in my setting, elves and eladrin are not related.
Elves almost resemble plants more than animals, with their moss and algea-covered hair, skin like soft bark, and stretched, stick-figure like physique (to a human, elves seem annorexic and almost skeletal, but that's totally natural and healthy for them). Elves are used to living in the dark undergrowth of forests, so they dislike being in direct sunlight or at the center of wide, open spaces. If you put an elf in a large, empty room, he will naturally gravitate toward one of the corners.
Elves have a low sex drive, which compensates for their extremely long lifespan. To an elf, sex is something that marks special occasions and turning points in ones life, celebrating major resolutions and developments in the relationship between lovers. Elves mate for life, and go into a period of mourning lasting for years after the death of a lover, until the end of which they cannot (or at least will not) take another.
Elves are primarily nocturnal, explaining their low light vision and aversion to bright lights and loud noises. They are also primarily carnivorous; there's literally no animal in the forest they don't hunt. This ties into their animistic and nature-worshipping beliefs; as the dominant predator, it is their role to prey on all the others. Elven digestion is rather reptillian; every week, the elf tribe will have a massive, gluttonous feast in which they devour copious amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables, and more meat. The rest of the week is spent hunting and gathering for the next feast, and the elves don't eat between feasts except for occasional snacking.
When elves die, they turn into trees. Dryads are powerful elf priestesses who, through their spiritual power, managed to remain sentient and mobile in this next life, though they are psychologically changed and retain few of their old memories. Dryad-trees are sacred sites to the elves, and dryads are consulted as immortal keepers of history and communers with the spirit world...though they themselves no longer identify with the elvish race, and are not especially predisposed toward them. A dryad doesn't give out help for free...
Reading all this makes me sad... we still play inhuman characters with a basically human mindset. That said, there are two things I have established in my campaign.
1)Dwarves buy their spouses This is somewhat taken from another RPG called "Realms of Arcania": Since there are far more men than women in dwarven society, the male dwarf would do well to endear himself to his chosen mate's parents. This has been ritualized into a bizarre routine where a special "wedding planner" determines the bride-to-bes worth, taking into account her skill, her background, potential loss of manpower to the family etc. A certain price is then established and the husband-to-be is told how long the offer stands. He has a certain amount of time to get the money and literaly buy his bride from his parents in law (who, by the way, may offer expensive wedding gifts that far exceed the paid price). This shows that the dwarf in question can keep his bride in a manner to which she is accustomed, shows that he is a fine craftsman/adventurer and shows his determination. A dwarf would NEVER think to haggle about this price - he would not want to lower the value of his bride after all This buying ritual always takes place, except when the female flat out denies her love.
2)Halflings have no concept of sexual boundaries I know, this can be misinterpreted easily. The way I play my halfling sometimes makes our female players nervous :D He could not understand why he was not allowed to sleep in the same room as his female Tiefling companion (there was only a single vacant room in the inn) - after all, he reasoned, both would fit nicely into a bed. Other times, he undressed to sleep and, finding his sleeping bag damaged, cuddled up to the next warm body beside him, eliciting "eeks" and a slap. He also has no idea how an institute like marriage works, or what dating means. If he likes someone, he likes to spend time with him/her, sure, but he never sees a monopoly on a person. This would devalue the person, making it somewhat less than human/halfling/whatever. Therefore hitting on someone's wife while they are present is no problem or affront at all, reasoning that she will tell him if she's not interested. Along these lines he also does not see a correlation between sex and love. If he has sex, it usually is done purely for fun or recreation, and it has no obligations attached to it at all. He prefers to have sex with someone he loves, but then again, he prefers to do all his leisure activity with people he loves. If you use this, please do it tastefully. Do not have your halflings run around butt naked, trying to get an orgy started
Your dwarf idea fits the culture I have in mind for my dwarves very well (they're a tribal confederation of hyper-capitalistic fascists who are all about trade and wealth). I think I'll be stealing it. Not sure how I feel about the high man-to-woman ratio, though.
Your halfling lore is interesting too. If halflings have no concept of privacy or sexual impropriety, though, I can't imagine them making a big deal out of clothes. I imagine your halflings would be mostly nudist, wearing clothes only for ritual purposes, to show their station, or to keep warm. Of course, they also wear clothes when they're entering the territory of another race they want to trade with; as a race of nomadic traders, they must be familiar with the cultural norms of their trade partners.
Not going to use it, probably, though, since I'm not sure if there ARE halflings in my setting. Am considering just using their PC stats for goblins.
52. Everything you need to know about Kenku begins and ends at voices.
With their natural talent for mimicry, these small avians are often depicted as tricksters and deceivers. Many demihumans take offense when their voice, a core of their identity, is duplicated by the Kenku's agile throat. What many do not realize is a fundamental difference in belief; to Kenku, voices are not individual.
Verbal communication is more than simply words, it is tone, syntax, resonance, pitch, volume, all these elements come together into a single sound. Just as the same song played by a stringed instrument will not be the same music as the song played by a woodwind, two voices speaking the same words have very different meanings. Yet while most beings are limited to a single voice, a Kenku's mimicry allows them to speak in any way they wish.
No specific Kenku has his own unique, owned speech pattern. Every fledgling learns to mimic tens or hundreds of different voices, each of which has purpose and meaning unto its own. Whenever speaking, the Kenku choose whatever voice is most fitting, as determined by meaning, location, audience, and intention. These voices are given individual purpose; the Voice of Authority's deep bass has completely different meaning than the calm, quiet Voice of Reason or the slightly-nasal tenor of the Voice of Sarcasm. Yet no individual owns a single voice, and when the speaker falls silent, the voice is unused, and anyone may take it up.
Kenku society is built around the oral tradition, with intricate history passed down perfectly through the generations, and great respect held for masters of wind and word, musicians, bards, orators. Moreover, they follow flock behavior; a group speaks as one when dealing with outsiders, and individuals are taught to work as a chorus, sharing a single voice and purpose. This mentality makes them natural at teamwork, but often burdens them with a dire need for self-expression. Kenku identify one another visually, and therefore tend towards items such as jewelry, clothing, and body art as a means of setting themselves apart. It also helps that, since these items are always "in use", they are constantly considered owned and kept.
Which, by the by, is worth mentioning; Kenku see property as limited by what you are using at any given time. If you possess a tool and put it to use, it is yours, just as a speaker is in full command of whatever voice he is using. But once you stop speaking, or place the tool down, it is no longer possessed, and anyone may take up that element and use it to their ends. Idle or unused materials, tools, wealth, or property are considered free and unbound, hence their reputation for thieves and squatters. It is important to realize, however, that the Kenku are not foolish; they know very well that other races feel just a wee bit differently. And though the larger folk may be foolishly wasteful and covetous, better to avoid trouble and refrain from taking what is logically free and unclaimed property if it would invite hostility. Of course, that only applies if the item wouldn't go unnoticed, and a little bit of crafty thinking goes a long way...
Beyond simple, day-to-day concerns, some mystically-inclined Kenku revere Voices as philosophical entities with will and purpose of their own. In their doctrine, speech is a holy act, channeling the Voice to conduct its work. Each Voice has its own grand design, and endless arguments arise over the exact manner in which each can be spoken, for what aim. Ritual debates are held to contest the will of the Voices, and gifted speakers command utmost respect. There are plenty, however, who scoff at such notions, and even a few who actively oppose the old traditions, using Voices in manners for which they are unsuited, such as speaking nonsense in the Voice of Reason.
Nonetheless, many cultural nuances originating in mysticism persist today. It is considered taboo, for example, for two individuals to use the same Voice when they are arguing against one another. Likewise, although lying occurs just as frequently as any other society, Kenku despise hypocrisy, and speaking in a Voice that implies conviction while acting in a contrary manner is sure to draw reproach. It is also common practice to hold major decisions within complete darkness; a cavern, a sealed room, etc, thus allowing all to speak freely in whatever Voice they wish, able to do so with anonymity.