So, a lot of game design is top-down. Someone starts brainstorming their world, and thinks about four-to-seven distinct races for their game world. Elves-dwarves-orcs-hobbits-humans, perhaps. Or giants-kenku-illithids, maybe. Then they start thinking about what kind of bonuses each race would get, and that stuff gets written in.
Giants get +4 Strength. Kenku get +4 Stealth. Because that's what makes sense for the fiction, so that's what should be reflected in the statblock, right?
The problem with this is that it quickly leads to synergy, which leads to builds. (At least if you have race and class as separate.) People who want to play smashy fighters will be drawn to giants, and giant players will be coaxed towards being fighters. And in balancy games, the game will be balanced for that level of optimization.
Same thing with kenku and rogues.
GLOG Design Rule #48: Race abilities/bonuses should not synergize with class abilities/bonuses.
GLOG Design Rule #3: Never use small, passive bonuses. They're boring, easy to overlook, potentially confusing, and often lead to synergy. Use active abilities instead. (What Extra Credits calls "incomparables".)
Even if you use race-as-class, the dwarf class is still going to be good at fighting and bad at magic, and so a player who wants a dwarven mage is out of luck. (This is why I like keeping race and class separate, even though I hate synergy/builds/mechanical optimization.)
GLOG Design Rule #51: Class and race should be separate. Race should be optional. (All human campaigns are my favorite these days, with other races being unlocked as play progresses.)
And one more thing.
When a player chooses their class, they are sort of choosing their play style as well.
A player who chooses a barbarian tells the DM that they (probably) want to kick down doors, drink beer, and break shit.
A player who chooses a wizard tells the DM that they (probably) want to study problems, spend time in preparation, and overcome them in one fell swoop.
I like that. I think classes should be conducive to certain types of play styles.
So here's my idea: what if players picked classes to determine what role they wanted to play, but the table as a whole picks a single race to determine what type of game they want to play.
GLOG Design Rule #44: Races should be written as to encourage the whole party to pick a single race, and that choice of race should modulate the game in such a way so that it changes the way the entire party approaches the game.
|snail man by Richard Partridge|
Orcs have two racial abilities: Hatred and Hated.
If something almost kills you (forces you to roll on the Death and Dismemberment table, forces you to save vs. Death, etc) and you survive, you must draw a scar on your character sheet and label it with the name (or description) of the creature that almost killed you. Thereafter, you get a permanent +2 bonus on all d20 rolls when attempting to kill it, or preventing it from killing you.
Every civilized place will treat you like shit. Humans will kill you on sight. Orcs will also kill you on sight, because you are not a part of their tribe. Anything larger than a camp is going to be hostile to you. There are no safe places to rest, sell, or trade.
People you meet in your adventures, in dungeons or in the wilderness, will treat you normally. The wild places have fewer stigmas.
Everyone you travel with suffers the same stigma. Orcish slaves are never kept, and orcish prisoners are always killed, so no fair using those excuses.
Since the penalty extends to the whole party, there's no reason not to stock the whole party with orcs. It's a subtle encouragement to a whole-orc party.
It's also appropriate for a party who wants to play the game on Hard Mode. Imagine this:
DM: Let's play Keep on the Borderlands again.
Players: Okay, but let's play orcs.
DM: Okay, but be aware that the keep will attack you on sight. You'll have to rest in the wilderness, and you'll have no place to sell your stuff.
Players: We're ready! Hur hur hur! Gut the fuckin' humans! Waaaaaaaaagh!
Halflings have two abilties: Small and Team Stealth.
Small creatures get no penalty for fighting in cramped spaces. They eat half as much as a full-size human.
Small creatures must use armor and weapons sized for them. Small weapons deal damage one die size smaller. If they attempt to use regular weapons, they get -2 to hit.
Halflings get +1 Stealth for every other halfling PC sneaking alongside them, up to a maximum of +4. They lose this bonus if any participating halfling's player fails to speak in a whisper.
I know, I broke Rule #3 and Rule #48. I gave them a passive bonus that synergizes with thiefy classes. But I only did this because I love all-thief parties. How much will the game change when the whole party has an extremely high chance of being able to sneak past so many combats?
Or put another way, how much does the game change when combats become more optional?
That's a knob that a DM has always had the power to turn, we just never admitted it as much. (For example, by creating a house rule that says monsters never surprise the party, and the whole party can use the thief's stealth.) It creates a very different game, man.
Iron Ghost People
The Iron Ghost People have one ability: Blink.
After meditating for a full round, you can teleport as far as 2 feet. At-will.
One of the players is going to be reading the rulebook and have the epiphany of "Guys! What if we were all Iron Ghost People and we could just get past every door in the dungeon! We wouldn't care about locks!"
Their eyes would be wide with the possibilities.
And they're right. This would change the game entirely. Dungeon design sort of goes out the window as soon as you introduce something this game-changing into the game. While orcs turn the game's difficulty up, they don't introduce anything revolutionary.
I'd say use this one with caution. Remember, the DM chooses which races to allow in each game.