Hullo, Gentle Readers. Once again, your GGG is here to continue work on the Beyond the Borderlands campaign for D&D Next. After looking at the traditional four races in my last article, I want to look at what the most recent playtest packet offers in the section called Unusual Races. There are some old favorites in there, as well as some races that’ve become more prevalent in more recent editions. Let’s take a look and find a home for them.
Children of Dragons
Dragonborn have a very different origin story in Next, if the playtest package is any indication. They are the children of dragons, literally, when the draconic deities do not give their blessing. For people who prefer 4E dragonborn, there’s a mention that, on some worlds, they breed true as a separate race.
My first instinct is to adopt the 4E model, but then I think about the potential of dragonborn as the children of true dragons. They can resemble their parent dragons, physically…but would they have similar personalities, as well? Imagine the prejudice leveled at someone who was born a red dragonborn or a blue dragonborn but who’s trying to be a good person. Also, I can see this as a great way to introduce a dragon parent NPC as a mentor figure to the group, or as a ruthless manipulator.
The Darkest of Elves
Drow have held a fascination to many players for ages, and the popularity of Drizzt Do’Urden makes it clear there will be a place for dark elves in D&D for a long time. There’s no blurb about their culture in the playtest package, but there are hints that they’re the same drow we’ve always known. They have a problem with sunlight, most of the elven racial abilities, and a reference to Lolth in their powers. Given all this, I don’t see the point in messing with a proven formula, so I’ll go with a lot of the classic feel of drow.
Gnome, Sweet Gnome
We don’t get much to work with in the sections on gnomes. We learn they’re divided into two subspecies – Forest Gnomes (who seem to specialize in illusion) and Rock Gnomes (who seem to be tinkers and artificers.) I had a lot of ideas in 4E about gnomes having been servants to the eladrin in the Feywild and then seeking liberation in the Normal World. I want to do something really different.
I’m thinking that gnomes might be the “hidden people” of this campaign, sort of analogous to the Picts in England. This gives me some interesting ideas around gnomes being very secretive (hence the illusions) but I’m having trouble meshing this with the Rock Gnomes and their technology. Perhaps the Gnomes wandered here from “somewhere else” (such as the Feywild). The ones that settled in the woods befriended the elves and became more like them, while the Rock Gnomes settled near the dwarves and took on more of their qualities. This could certainly explain the disparity between this race’s two sides.
Two Halfs Make Two Wholes?
The latest playtest gives us Half-Elves and Half-Orcs, which have been staples of D&D for many years, both having evolved from their Tolkien roots.
Half-Elves are intriguing because they have a bonus to Charisma. That suggests that both humans and elves find the average Half-Elf generally more compelling than average members of even their own races. I will conjecture that each race sees in Half-Elves something that they are not – perhaps elves are attracted to the vitality of the young human race, and humans are attracted to the refinement of the ancient elves. This suggests that Half-Elves can still fulfill the role of natural diplomats, especially between their parent races.
Half-Orcs are incredibly strong and very menacing. Since they’re more likely to be around their human parents and other civilized races when they’re adventurers, this suggests that humans and others find them very scary. While I’ve done some pretty unique takes on Half-Orcs in the past, I’m thinking I might want to take them back to their roots as a rare and frightening outsider among humankind and its allies. I don’t want to go back to Tolkien’s “race created by a wizard” roots, but it’s sort of intriguing to ponder as a possibility.
Oh, God! Not them!
People who remember the Kender from back in the days when Dragonlance was a major setting for D&D (as in, there was Greyhawk, Forgotten Realms, and Dragonlance) probably have very strong feelings about them one way or another. I think most people who’ve played in a part with a Kender likely either love them or hate them. They suffer from a stigma similar to that of pookas in Changeling: The Dreaming: a lot of people took playing one as a license to be kind of a jerk and then fall back on “Well, I’m just playing my character!”
Yeah…and his alignment is Chaotic Douchebag.
Kender are mischievous, fearless, and have a tendency to steal anything not nailed down…but, in a brilliant touch of license, they don’t mean to steal. They’re kind of delusional kleptomaniacs that honestly think they’ve just picked up your belongings for safe keeping…when they were in your pocket to begin with. They’re also amazing at taunting foes into making rash actions in combat.
I’m thinking that Kender might be some kind of evolutionary off-shoot of halfling…maybe play them as distant cousins who grew up in some kind of isolated setting, perhaps an island or valley. My jury’s still out as to whether or not they fit the needs of my campaign, but we’ll see.
The Forsaken People
The phrase “the Forsaken People” was what inspired one of 4E’s conceptual artists in reference to the Tieflings. I’m happy to see that Tieflings will continue as a part of D&D Next, as they definitely found a place in my heart. I think I want to take things back to that evocative phrase, reimagining the Tieflings as a people on the bad end of a bargain with Devils. Perhaps they bargained for power but were somehow betrayed.
From this idea, I come up with a tale about a Warlock-King who wanted the legacy of his kingdom to never be forgotten. He made a deal with Asmodeus and turned himself and his people into the ancestors of Tieflings. In honor for what he had done, the Gods turned their backs on him and his people, who embraced their new Infernal nature. Although the kingdom is all but forgotten (perhaps destroyed by a cataclysm, borrowing a bit from Dragonlance?), its legacy remains stamped on the features of its descendants.
Soldiers of the Last War
I adore the Eberron setting, and one of the things that setting gave us that stands as an iconic and exciting example of how you can really do something different is the Warforged. These constructed creatures are fascinating, and I’m really intrigued into how to use them in my new setting.
I’m thinking that the Warforged were made to protect the Civilized Lands against the dangers of the Borderlands. They represent a combination of the arts of the various civilized folk: dwarven metalwork, gnomish tinkering, elven magic, human imagination, and more. Perhaps at first, they were more primitive, but they’ve been perfected and improved, and then, slowly, they became alive. I also think it might be interesting to have this development have occurred within very recent time – perhaps it’s only just happening now.
I think this offers and exciting roleplaying possibility, as some of the first Warforged to be self-aware. People might react nervously to them. Are they malfunctioning? Possessed? There’s a lot of meat in this possibility, and I know I’d respond positively as a player.
All of these races offer some intriguing possibilities, and they’re beginning to suggest elements of my setting’s history. Next time, I’ll begin to look at the classes and how they might offer their own insights.