Top 8 ways to Choose Your Game’s Playable Races
By: Jesse C Cohoon
Fantasy races are a staple of roleplaying games. But just because you have a million races to choose from, doesn’t necessarily mean all of them are appropriate for your game. When deciding on which to allow (and say firmly, they can’t be played), consider the following ideas:
1) Consider what world the game is to take place. Game worlds such as Faerûn, Krynn, Eberron, or your own are unique homebrew world each has its own personality, its own unique feel. Importing or introducing races from another world into a pre-generated world – or even your own world, if it is to be done at all, needs to be done carefully, deftly.
One tactic to use to have a unique group of heroes brought together to a location is to have them be summoned there, and they can’t leave until their task is completed. Another tactic is to have some dark entity snatching them from wherever they’re adventuring to be transported to another world, and they must find their way back. A third way to bring them together is to have them all be survivors of some sort of disaster. In a BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth – anime) game I played once the players all were brought together from MegaCorp, which essentially “owned” the characters and told them what to do, because of the fact that they saved their lives.
2) Consider the area’s geography, weather conditions, elevation, and depth. Ask yourself what races would be comfortable there. Elves, for instance, with their love of nature, trees and lush areas, would fare poorly in a completely desert area. Neither would Aarakocra do well in a campaign set completely underground nor would dwarves feel comfortable in a city in the clouds. While it might make for an interesting campaign, if you didn’t factor these types of things into the game, such combinations simply “don’t belong.”
3) Consider the town’s size. A large metropolitan area, such as Waterdeep in Faerun, Sharn in Eberron or Sigil: the “city of doors” in a Planescape campaign are all likely to have more races going through them, then, let’s say a backwater down in the middle of nowhere. The more populous the city, the more likely that the race the player is wanting to play will have a reason for being there.
4) Consider the town’s political climate. A dwarven town that is at war with a neighboring Giant tribe isn’t likely to take too kindly to a Giant player character. Neither would a forest full of elves at war with their neighboring Orcish village be happy about a half orc party member. Sometimes these types of situations can be fun to play, but they can quickly become tiresome after awhile. As a DM you have to ask yourself ‘Is the trouble that this type of a character would cause worth the trouble it would cause in the long run?”
5) Consider the time frame. In most gaming worlds, the game is set in what amounts to the dark ages/ early renaissance period. Some gaming worlds are set in feudal Japan. Consider what would happen if the game is set in the early days of the races, how they might have developed to where they are. Also consider if the races are in the far off future: What races would have become extinct? If so which ones? What races would have survived? How would their survival change them as a race? How would their survival change the game world?
6) Consider the race’s scale compared to everyone else. A giant will not be able to fit into a halfling’s community. Neither will a human sized creature be able to fit into a badger’s hole without great difficulty. Depending on the creature’s size, they may have a very difficult time fighting in cramped (or too large) of quarters/ passageways.
7) Consider the race’s mindset. Any race whose mindset is world domination, extreme xenophobia, or see other races as food such as beholders, Yuan-Ti, or orcs, among others – generally speaking isn’t a good choice for a player character, unless you have an “evil only” group.
In one blog/ article I read the DM allowed the players to play evil characters, allowing them to take over the world. Then he flipped the script with the next campaign was in the same gaming world with the group of heroes having to “take back” the world from the clutches of evil.
8) Consider the race’s powers / abilities. Allowing an over powered monster to join a party can be a recipe for disaster if handled improperly. For instance, how would you make sure that monsters would be a threat to the more powerful character, but at the same time, wouldn’t wipe out the lower-level characters? Even challenges such as traps would have to be modified so that they would be specifically more deadly for the more powerful character, yet no more deadly for the average character.
Keep in mind with this advice that I’m not saying “in all these situations always say ‘no’ to players,” but these are simply things that need to be kept in mind when designing your game. Also remember that just because this advice used fantasy races, doesn’t mean it’s not applicable in science fiction. I could just as easily be talking about Humans, Vulcans, and Klingons in Star Trek or any of dozens of races in the Star Wars franchise.
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