Wednesday, February 17, 2016

5th Edition PHB Races

Whenever a new edition of D&D comes out, I like to re-imagine the PHB races and put my own spin on them. This is my current attempt at making the 5th Edition races more interesting (your mileage may vary) while simultaneously keeping them recognizable.

Humans. They’re as boring and as fascinating as ever. The default D&D setting is essentially colonial-era North America with a neo-Medieval population and a much deeper gene pool. So, play whatever sort of human you like.

Dragonborn. Seventy years ago, a cult of the dragon goddess Tiamat succeeded in briefly bringing their deity into the world. Adventurers slew the high priest mid-ritual, however, and Tiamat’s essence was scattered to the four winds. Tiamat’s essence transformed those with whom it came in contact, creating the race of Dragonborn out of but also creating thousands of horrible reptilian monsters. Today, most dragonborn are the children of those so accursed, perennially damned to wear her scales.

Dwarves. Long ago, dwarvish culture took a turn toward extreme conformity. They are all lawful, gruff, beardy alcoholics who hate goblins and disdain elves, toiling away in their underground cities, mining gold. They all have names like Bolgrim Axefighter and Grimnor Goldbeard: Essentially, something grim and Germanic with a compound surname. Some dwarfs petition their rulers to obtain permits for adventure, though even these self-described iconoclasts often hold strongly to tradition. When a dwarf dares to break from this tradition it’s rarely subtle: Most dwarves know the cautionary tale of Rainbow Twinkle Pony, the dwarf who thought she was a bear and learned to cast spells like a wizard.

Elves. The elves have a really long and fascinating history, and most elves love to tell it to you if you make the mistake of showing interest. The elves used to rule over all the other races, and while elves today aren’t necessarily boorish over-privileged reactionary imperialists, they don’t do a whole lot to dissuade other people from that opinion. The old elvish caste system is deeply ingrained within their culture, but most other races couldn’t care less about who is a Dark Elf and who is a Wood Elf. To outsiders, elves are just “them sexy bigots with the colorful hair.”

Halflings. Halflings are called Halflings because they’re half-Human, half-Dwarf. For some reason, they grow terrible beards but have immaculate foot hair, which their culture dictates they show off by rarely wearing shoes. They avoided the dwarves’ extreme conformity but still tend to live separately from human communities, favoring good beer, gardening, and pipe tobacco. They rarely become adventurers, but it’s kind of a big deal when it happens.

Gnomes. Nobody knows where these crazy motherfuckers came from. Seriously, it’s like one day they just showed up. The dwarves think that their gods created gnomes out of of rocks and trees. Human scholars believe that, similar to the rise of the dragonborn, they arose from some magical calamity. The gnomes themselves are entirely inconsistent on the matter of their own origins, and most of them don’t seem to care. Gnomes are capricious social chameleons, latching onto the dominant culture and fixating on one aspect of it to an obsessive degree. Gnomes living amongst dwarves tend to be engineers and mad scientists, while gnomes living among elves tend to be aloof scholars or forest-punk eco warriors.

Half-Orcs. To most other races, orcs are faceless mooks who can be murdered without consequence. This has made most orcs extremely bitter toward other races. The question remains: Who was first a dick to whom? Did elves start killing orcs because they were acting like shitbirds and lighting whole forests on fire to catch rabbits, or did orcs start killing humans because humans were being horrible racists and using orc babies for target practice? Who knows? Culturally, orcs have become xenophobic isolationists who rarely welcome outsiders, and must rely on banditry and theft in order to survive. Most non-Orcs don’t take the time to learn the difference between an Orc and a Half Orc.

Tieflings. Tieflings don’t have a culture or a racial identity because most are killed at birth. Seriously, you’re part demon. In a neo-Medieval “Dark Age” culture, if you survived being born, it’s because your demonic nature is very subtle or you were born into some freaky cult. Also, the idea of a tiefling doesn’t really exist in pop culture –  If people find out about your true nature, you’re likely to be called “Hellspawn” or “An Accursed Agent of the Dark Ones” instead of tiefling. Even if you do find people crazy enough to just call you Ted, overlook your demonic bloodline, and love you horns and all, well, there's no guarantee your devil blood won't flare up and cause you to go full on cannibal. For this reason, tieflings tend to have a polarized, absolute sense of morality, either doing good to convince other people the horns are just a birthmark or doing evil because they're intrinsically better at it.

I have to resist the urge to write an afterward where I try to contextualize everything. After all, race itself wouldn't exist without context - no, wait, stop. Ha ha! Not this time, liberal arts degree! Phew. Shit almost got real for a minute. Gotta keep ignoring that existential dread. What existential dread? Oh look, Pinterest!

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