What’s a Race?
Most modern versions of class-and-level exploration fantasy games have moved towards a standard formula: Ability Scores + Race + Class = Character. There may be a few additional steps in some games (Feats, Skills, and Backgrounds.) Every single step is necessary, and every single step makes the final character better in some way.
I reject that approach.
Races aren’t necessary. You could play elves and dwarves without any rules for race at all, but by just saying “I’m an elf” and acting like an elf. The rules come second. Races are built on class combos. In a sense, the race doesn’t exist at all, but is the name we give to that combo. The culture is then built around that concept.
In exchange for having access to two classes more or less simultaneously, the race by default can’t advance as far in either class. I based races on OD&D elves, limited to M-U 8/F 4 in terms of levels. I generalized this to Primary 8/Secondary 4 so that you can swap in other classes to make new races.
Orcs, you will notice, are basically the inverse of elves, with Fighter as the primary class. Since bookish magic-users seemed like a poor fit for the orc concept, I created a custom class, Shaman, as a better match.
I split racial abilities into two types, innate and cultural, for two reasons:
- To shift the focus to cultural abilities, which have fewer limitations;
- To allow cultural ability swaps for more variety (“raised by dwarves” granting dwarven cultural abilities to non-dwarves.)
Innate abilities are usually paired with disadvantages, to make them less of a focus. In fact, I’m tempted to increase the limitation, requiring any strong ability to be paired with a disadvantage. Players should not be taking races as part of a build strategy to get bonus abilities.
Fantasy races are restricted to two classes at the start and have level limits, but I stated that these are perceptual limits. No non-human can become a name-level Fighter because humans don’t want to be ruled over by non-humans. No elf can be a 9th level M-U because humans think of themselves as better at everything and impose this lack of confidence in non-human abilities on the non-humans. No dwarf can become a druid because dwarven culture doesn’t have druids. No halfling can become a 5th level fighter because humans don’t think of short people as intimidating.
However, I hinted at a procedure for breaking those restrictions as part of role-playing. Characters can attempt to persuade NPCs to train them in a “forbidden” class. Characters can make the local population feel confident in their ability to excel.
The process is the same for all cases: do something to win over the NPC or the general population and make a reaction roll. In the case of level limits, roll every time the character increases in level, or once a year after hitting the level limit. On Good or better, they break the limit.
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