I think I'll do that for my next game. Pick whatever race you want. It looks human. Heck, they already all act human anyway.
Now, I know that this obviously varies from campaign to campaign and from player to player, but for the purposes of this thread I'd like to operate under the assumption that this is the case. Dwarves are just stern humans, elves are just wise humans, halflings are just human children with ADHD, etc. It's the flattest kind of racial caricature, and I'd like this thread to be a nail in its coffin.
What are the genuine differences among the races? Anything from sweeping societal mores to ancient customs to superstitions to common personal idiosyncracies. Does this race view the world through a dramatically different lens from ours? Do they have a fundamentally different perspective on fundamental issues like death, justice, or beauty?
The film Lost in Translation is an excellent example of how very different (and oddly commingled) two human societies can be; how much more amazing, then, should the society of a far-flung feyspire be from our own? Shouldn't living for centuries impart at least a slightly different view of death than 'same as us, but it takes longer'? Heck, if the fancy really strikes you, give us some details of how an in-setting society of humans should differ from the generally contemporary western (if 'renaissance faire-ish') culture that's often seen as the baseline.
Obviously, we aren't building a new canon here, and our ideas don't have to gel. If the post above you says that orcs like cotton candy and your idea is that they abhor cotton candy with murderous fury, go ahead and post. One idea will appeal to some, the other will appeal to others.
I guess I'll kick it off in the manner of a 1001 thread:
1. Thri-kreen have a thoroughly literal sense of time which borders upon the sacrosanct. To them it is more fundamental and pervasive an element than water, air, fire, or earth, and is thus deserving of the highest reverence.
While a thri-kreen will calmly wait years or even decades for an event to occur at an unknown time, they typically have no patience whatsoever for tardiness. If a time has been given and not honored, violation of that promise is a serious offense both to the waiting party and, in a sense, to time itself. Time is a gift, a currency which can only be misspent if it is not spent at all. To wait is a kind of reverent meditation, but to wait in vain is akin to sacrilege.
Though no explicitly religious philosophies follow from this sacred sense of time, the mystical respect for its passage engenders an affinity for time pieces. Even the most ascetic of desert-dwelling kreen will establish an unmarked sundial by which to follow time's march, and those more acclimated to civilisation may have collections of clocks and watches of all types.
(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.
2. In their day-to-day social interactions, Eladrin are self-assured and confident... and also very private. This manifests as a strong unwillingness to get involved in other people's business to an extreme degree. The Eladrin view is that an offer of help is something one only does to a child, or to someone incapabable of taking care of him or her self. To the other races, Eladrin seem aloof and cold, even uncaring. From the Eladrin perspective, this is a sign of respect.
3. Gnomish rationale is something even the Eladrin can't comprehend. Forever fussing and fidgeting with things, a gnome will move something to a "better" spot. Why a gnome would think that such a place is better is anyone's guess. A crystal ball that you once had sitting on your table is now on a windowsill "because it's a better place for it." You might think having your armor on its stand in your quarters is perfectly logical, but when you wake, a gnome has moved it, say, to the hallway.
Gnomish names are not permanent. A gnome will go by whatever name sounds good at the moment. As soon as he or she hears something "better", their name changes to that. In the morning you may be talking to Fernwistle, but my mid afternoon, he no longer answers to that name because he's now changed it to Kettle or something else that just sounds "better".
Gnomes are also known to take things apart and put them back together in a "better" way. The item may no longer work, but as far as the gnome is concerned, it's now somehow "better".
@Shiftkitty: That's awesome. I'll be stealing that for the gnome NPC in my current campaign.
4. Eladrin and drow don't sleep. Everyone knows this, of course, but most people don't appreciate just how bizarre the concept of sleep seems to members of these races. During Trance, one's mind wanders the Feywild, but these 'dream' journeys are fully lucid, not too dissimilar from how such a journey would feel while awake and corporeal. Dreaming, as members of other races do, is quite a foreign concept.
Most eladrin find unconsciousness utterly terrifying. This strange state of being... not there is not something the eladrin mind is equipped to deal with. It can't even be said to resemble death, for at least the departing soul of a dead eladrin is still self-aware as it journeys to the Shadowfell and then Beyond. It's like death would be if your very soul was also destroyed. And true dreaming, random and uncontrolled and nonsensical (not even following the odd 'rules' of the Feywild, which are not so odd to an eladrin, after all) is likewise a profoundly unsettling experience. Eladrin never lose control of their minds' wanderings (even the apparent insanity of some of the most ancient noble eladrin is, fundamentally, a personal choice to appear insane) so being unable to control where one goes and what one experiences in a dream is like being possessed by some malevolent force. Most eladrin who experience true unconsciousness are deeply traumatised by the experience.
Drow, on the other hand, view unconsciousness and dreaming as pleasurable, but dangerous and addictive. The soporific poison drow use to coat their weapons actually originated as a drug used to achieve true sleep for recreational purposes. The experience of unconsciousness, and especially true dreaming, fascinates and excites them, for it offers a temporary escape from the hellish stress of living in drow society, yet it leaves a drow utterly vulnerable to his or her enemies. Even the rumour that a drow has succumbed to an addiction to true sleep invites kidnap or assassination by rivals.
5. Halflings don't marry. It may not seem that important at first, and the child is often raised by his mother before going to apprenticeship at six or seven, but it's an integral part of their community lives. To them, the idea of spending their whole life in a place with the same person is tantamount to a social prison, and it disturbs them that other races would put that much importance into family or bloodlines when such things are not important compared to the community or to individual pleasure. Their civil unions are always limited in time, either to conceive a child or for a temporary alliance. No halfling will ever get in a situation where he is bound to someone else for an unknown duration, not willingly anyway.
@ Duskweaver: I love how you've used the Trance (which is presumabely an ancestral trait that Elves have lost) and established in different ways to accomodate the worldviews of Drow and Eladrin. I'm tempted to play a Drow (a race I normally don't play) just to experiment with that (or, conversely, an Eladrin that is truly deranged from an unconscious experience, behaving almost like a serious Drow addict would, but with that uncontrolled mental state infringing upon the character's conscious mind).
@Shiftykitty: +2 on the Gnome names
6. A Shifter's moral compass has reverted to a primeval, pre-sentience state with regard to killing for food. For all intents and purposes, they are predators. Even when other humanoids practice cannibalism, it always takes on some higher meaning (ingest an opponent's life-force, etc.). This concept is utterly foreign to Shifters; killing and eating a humanoid race is just part of survival. In fact, humanoids are often easier prey than many other animals, and in many cases may be preferred. This is largely because Shifters don't attach any special relevance to intelligence - it's merely an adaptation that the humanoid races have which has made them immensely successful, just like a bird's wings or a viper's venom. One notable point is that Shifters view trophy hunting as abhorrent. A man that kills a powerful bull moose just to mount its head upon his cabin wall kills only to satiate his ego, and conceptions of superiority annoy Shifters. They all know that somewhere out there is a being powerful enough to make them prey, and they live their lives with the thought of avoiding such a fate. Just as they kill casually, they realize that others may do the same to them.
Because of this, most Shifters don't assimilate into the towns and cities of other races. This isn't because they're feared by others (which they often are), but rather because they don't wish to conform to a way of life that suppresses their predatory instincts. Most stay away from cities because they know they can't hunt near them. They aren't stupid, and are well aware that killing citizens may result in them being hunted down and executed. They will often accept members of other races into their "packs," or even join a small group as the only Shifter (as is the case in adventuring parties). Shifters that do reside in settlements are often "omega" individuals, low ranking in their own societies and less efficient at hunting on their own. Thus, they come to cities mostly for protection, and are typically only mildly distrusted (they know that violating laws will end their advantageous membership in society, and almost become "domesticated" in a sense). In more tyrannical cities they often take jobs as prison guards and executioners, as they are allowed to make meals of those who commit serious crimes.
> In fact, humanoids are often easier prey than many other animals, and in many > cases may be preferred.
Predators typically prefer to avoid other predators as a food source unless they're desperate, and most humanoids qualify as predators. In the case of intelligent predators vs intelligent predators, it's even more likely to be the case since they can anticipate the consequences.
> In fact, humanoids are often easier prey than many other animals, and in many > cases may be preferred. Predators typically prefer to avoid other predators as a food source unless they're desperate, and most humanoids qualify as predators. In the case of intelligent predators vs intelligent predators, it's even more likely to be the case since they can anticipate the consequences.
On the other side, predators don't often go up against their prey in a head on fight to the death. They strike from hiding, against an unaware prey. Shifters often have this advantage against other humanoids, at least until the claws come out.
7. Let me be honest. I don't know you. Yes, yes, you wear a face I've seen often enough, woken up next to, laughed with. But there's nothing certain in that face, not like you think. I've heard a voice rage in anger, wail with grief, laugh in joy, or grow silent in contemplation. How can you contend that all these things are contained in one identity?
What's that? You say I believe this because I can change the form the world sees with a thought? You should watch your face for a few heartbeats and then tell me that you do not change. You are something different each moment you exist.
The only truth I see in being is the fire. So rarely it blazes forth, but when it does... that is the only thing you can be certain of. That fire is the one constant, the seat of identity. But we are no one in particular when that flame does not burn through these masks. Take away all the masks and you will find only a void.
Lonely? Yes, sometimes I am lonely, or rather I should say sometimes I am loneliness. Or sadness, or passion. But how can anyone ever be alone when we can be everything?
I do not know you, and you do not know me. But perhaps, one day, our fires will burn together.
Dragonborn are exceedingly patient, as they view anything worth doing is worth waiting for. Thus, in stark contrast to Thri-Kreen, Dragonborn have no problem waiting hours for a late comrade at a tavern if the friend is worth seeing.
Now for personal fluff:
9. As opposed to the typical predator/prey relationship in the wild and seen in shifters, Dragonborn prefer predator meat. The more dangerous the beast, the more of a delicacy the dish. This stems from several inherent qualities of Dragonborn society. First, as *most* Dragonborn revere Bahamut, it is an application of his domain of Protection to wipe out predators, albeit implemented in a strange fashion. Second, Dragonborn seek honor and glory above all, and there is neither in killing a chicken or rabbit, but much in killing a dire bear.
10. Dragonborn (again, that worship Bahamut) are starkly honest at all times. Lying is seen as weakness in character, as a first step down a slippery slope that leads to Tiamat. The concept of "white lies" is alien to dragonborn society. For example, a Dragonborn who eats a bad dish made by an elderly woman, if asked, will absolutely tell her it is terrible. Any dragonborn that finds it has been told a lie to spare its feeling takes heavy offense, as they consistently strive for perection and cannot do this without constructive criticism from their peers.
11. The combination of the rarity of the species and their affinity for civilization, Dragonborn feel strong kinship to one another, even between strangers. However, they make fearsome enemies if ione determines that another is giving a bad name to their race and lineage. This is due to their desire to elevate their race to its former glory. There is no hero that desires to take down the machinations of an evil dragonborn more thn another, good, dragonborn.