Sunday, 4 March 2012

On The Frustrations Of Diversity In FRPGs

(Apologies to anyone who started looking at this for CoC content, I'm on a bit of an RQ binge at the moment, the indescribable horror will return eventually, honestly...) Little thing first: I'm always amazed at just how often posts like this are actually needed by the community. Surely it's common sense that you should ask your players what they're comfortable with and not push those limits. I mean really? I'm not mocking the author by any means and he makes good points, it just seems like it should be something we know by now...

*Ahem* Anyway, now I've got that off my chest onto the meat of the post:

Non-human PCs. Can these actually work?
I really like the idea of being involved in a game (on either side of the screen) where you can play as non-human species (they're not races, it's a stupid use of the term etc. etc.). This needn't be limited to the usual elf/dwarf/halfling set and similar 'human but with a single defining characteristic' crowds (I'm looking at you, planetouched). More like trolls and pixies. I'm not talking necessarily even bipedal characters e.g. centaurs etc.
As part of my worldbuilding for RQ, I'm looking to provide a decent - around a dozen probably - set of playable races for my players, each with unique builds and traits, rather than just reskins of the same template. I also want to make it so that different races can also do different things, otherwise it just becomes an unofficial class system i.e. all elves are mages and similarly playing any other race as a mage is pointless. I have however run into a few potholes with this, both mechanically and in-universe.

The term balance gets thrown around a lot both positively and negatively, and I am resigned to the fact there are going to be optimum builds no matter how I work it out. However, I am determined to not make each race only useful in one role. The difficulty lies in making this feasible and still having interesting and significant differences betweeen them. Thus I can think of two options here:
A) Specifically reverse this, instead of building the species to fit a role, build them to NOT fit a particular role, with compensatory bonuses to relatively general areas. For example, Trolls in my game are pretty much descended from boulders and thus have no spirits. No spirit magic for Trolls then, but to compensate they gain some physical bonuses that emphasise the very material flavour of these beasts, don't prohibit anything. So you can still play a Troll priest, Troll scout/thief or a Troll tank fighter. Flavourful and not too restrictive.
B) Pretty much balance the rollable characteristics equally but give each species interesting and flexible racial abilities that give them unique abilities that are preferably not tied to a specific style of play. Though this is easier in some cases than others.
Pour exemple, Humans have all their normal stats +30% in common magic representing their diversity and power over the natural world. Trolls have the same stats, but have natural armour at AP1 on all locations because of their trollhide. Elves have the same stats but have Charm Animal as a free ability etc.

Both of these break down when you have more variation. For example B) doesn't work with species that are substantially smaller (halflings/dwarfs/pixies) or bigger (Centaurs/Trolls if they're to be interesting/Myrmidon). A) still pigeonholes players. I think this is inevitable really though, and I'm just going to have to accept that species is basically class by a different name. Besides if they're all the same it's boring isn't it? I like the idea of a tiny pixie magus, who would be flattened by anything that hit but can flit around so fast and fire spells off so she's not in anymore danger than the trollkin barbarian with her greataxe and the Centaur wielding his recurve bow or the human thief who is swiftly fleeing with all the loot while they are distracted.

I think that overall, I'm going to deal in a sort of one-up-one-down, advantage/disadvantage system to prevent things that are huge and magically inclined as then there is no real reason to play any other race. If something comes out as being a rubbish version of another race or a broken version, it'll get binned. That said, some species are built for specific roles. Using a centaur as a moutain climber is not going to work, so he'll get some counterbalancing to compensate.

Some more fluffy restrictions that I'm also using to pare down the list of available creatures to play:
The species must be capable of integrating with general (human) society. They don't have to get on well with humans, and in the case of groups like the Dragonewts, will possibly have been exiled from their own communities. Having the groups pet minotaur having to be shackled by the gate of every town is not going to fun for the player and is a pain in the ass for me to administrate.
Similarly, the race must not be overtly evil, stupid or undead. This rules out things like Satyrs who are openly malevolent towards humans and cave trolls who are too stupid to understand any quests given to them. Again, for everyone's convenience and I've never heard of a campaign with evil PCs going well.

When I have finalised my list, I'll post them here. Meanwhile I welcome any suggestions that might arise both for cool races and


  1. Good post. You have many of the same instincts I have.

    I 100% agree on the difference between Species & Races. It's a hangover from the mistakes made in the 70's. You post made me ensure that such confusion is cleared up in my own latest post, which overlaps your own subject quite a bit.

    Anyway, take a look at my own post ->

    Happy blogging!

    1. Thanks.
      I've been doing a bit of reading, and it seems to be a popular opinion, especially among the OSR, that human-centric games should be the focus of games. I'm not one to knock other's opinions but I think level limits etc. for non-humans are pointless.

    2. There are so many different rules systems and settings in the RPG Universe... should be something for everyone out there.

      Artifical things, such as level limits, certain classes wearing certain armour or using weapons etc makes little sense to me.

      Cultural Restrictions I get. EG a Cleric using blunt weapons so not to spill blood (which is historical, where Christian Clerics fought other Christians - but they put the mace down and picked up any weapon to smite the godless).

      Perhaps in certain rule systems metal does interfere with the casting of Magic... yet in such the Mage can stand next to the Paladin without adverse effect, magical armour and weapons exist... so not exactly consistent!

      In my own favourite system, Chivalry and Sorcery there don't tend to be these arbitrary restrictions. If a Mage can get a little training in the wearing/use of heavy metal armour, and is strong/fit enough to wear it... why the hell not? (in reality, the Mage will get exhausted by wearing it after 30 mins and probably take it off "because it chafes", he wasn't trained in it from the age of 8 like a Knight was).

    3. This is a good point. I should probably make a point of following some more new-school bloggers too.

      You make exactly the sort of sense I'm going for. Arbitrary restrictions are annoying, logical ones (size and strength based for example) are good.

    4. Some rules systems will allow you to do stuff much more easily than others (EG in C&S helmets "work", in D&D people need to House Rule a backstory on how to handle helmets, IE they don't work and are fudged).

      Oh and Chivalry and Sorcery *is* Old School (1st edition was 1977, but was in limited publication as a precursor in 1976).

      Don't buy into the bullshit of the minority who declare that D&D is the only "true" OSR, they know no better. Check out:

    5. Ah fair enough. To be honest I know very little about D&D, I've only ever played in one game and that was 4th ed. Why would helmets not work? Although I suppose it depends on stuff like how hit-locations are handled...

      I shall do some digging into C&S, thanks for the linkage.

    6. it doesn't work because there are no hit locations, so every location de facto has the same AC/damage absorbtion.

      Most back-stories will say "it is assumed you are wearing a helmet of the same calibre as to the bulk of your armour". Other's will House Rule that if you wear a helmet you'll be let of any critical hit on the head etc. It's all a bit of a mess.

      It doesn't mean that those players and GM's aren't having fun, and that's what is all about.

      It can be tricky to have "the right amount of detail" in a game, so many D&D 4e plays like a computer game/board game. To others C&S is "too complicated" etc. It's a big world and as long as people don't have blinkers on and take a look around they should find what suits their own preferences.