20 September 2018

5e cultures

What if, instead of just selecting a race, you selected both a race and a culture?

For example, I've decided that I want to play a  Dwarf who survived half-feral amongst the trees. Her parents were caravan guards traveling across the plains when they were slain by a band of orcs when she was only a couple of years old. She hid from them, terrified to even breathe. Her entire life was uprooted. The only thing that remained, the only thing the orcs did not steal, was her father's ancestral axe. She got lost in the woods but, surprisingly, she managed to survive. She lived off morning dew and nuts and berries, which were plentiful in the deep forest she now found herself in. She grew strong, and healthy... and wild. In her wanderings, an old druid took her in. Though she had no particular aptitude for druidry, and though she regarded him as no authority, they had a cordial, familial relationship wherein the druid taught her knowledge, lore, and tricks, and she brought him the joy of companionship and, always, news of the comings and goings of travelers, flocks of birds, and the ever-present orc scouts.

Mechanically, we can say that she is a Dwarf, but letting her have Stonecunning and weapons training simply doesn't make sense. Rather, imagining her living a life much as a Forest Gnome makes more sense. Imagine her race / background block looking something like this:

We can say that she still has +2 Constitution, as her Dwarvishness probably makes her pretty tough. She is stout and hardy, no matter where she was raised. Darkvision is probably innate, too, as is resilience. She's probably nearly immune to poisons as a result of her oversized Dwarven liver, for example, and stout lungs, and powerful heart. But she's never been underground and nobody taught her to fight, so those are straight out. And she's more of a hands-on worker. Other than her father's axe, she probably made all of her own tools, and she's almost certainly never tasted a brewer's craft.

On the other hand, it makes sense that she could have learned the minor illusion cantrip and that she can speak to animals. So we graft together a couple of features of the Dwarf and a couple of the Forest Gnome and get something that looks like this:

Forest Dwarf
Con +2, Dex +1
Dwarven Resilience: advantage on saves against poison, resistance to poison
Speak with Animals: Can speak to (and be understood by) normal, non-magical animals. They are not any more cooperative than normal, they just can understand you.
Cantrip: You know the minor illusion cantrip.

Not bad, right?

As it turns out, most races are built along the same guidelines- there's an attribute bonus, then (usually) about two bonus features that come along with it.  Some features don't really count, like the Halfling's size of Small [1], and most of the Elf's benefits are super marginal so an Elf gets a lot of them. But still!

Check out my full list:

STR +2
Relentless Endurance: When you would hit 0 hp, instead go to 1.
I imagine that the tough-to-kill aspect of half-orciness is probably innate, but relatively little else in the class writeup was. I especially have a hard time imagining that the stuff about melee combat being ingrained, somehow, into an entire race of being.

+2 strength
Stone's Endurance: reaction to roll 1d12+con, reduce incoming damage by that amount. 1/rest
Powerful Build: count as large for carrying/weight
Goliaths are big and strong, and can absorb a surprising amount of punishment, but not all of them were born on mountains or whatever.

Dex +2
Trance: 4 hours sleep
Keen Senses: proficiency on perception
Fey Ancestry: advantage on saves vs charm, can't be put to sleep
Elves are willowy, don't need to sleep, and can see in the dark. Since they don't sleep, they are immune to magic sleep. They're also immune to charm spells, because they have weird-ass alien minds.

Dex +2
Lucky: can reroll 1s on attacks, ability checks, saving throws
Size: small
Nimbleness: can move through larger allies
Halflings are lucky, and you can dart between the legs of larger allies. So you can do the Frodo thing where you stab Ringwraiths by charging from between Aragorn's legs, and also sometimes you don't get totally boned when you do things.

Con +2
Dwarven Resilience: advantage on saves against poison, resistance to poison
Dwarves are badass and hard to kill. My favorite tidbit is that alcohol is technically a poison, and so you have a good explanation why Dwarves can drink everybody else under the table without being explicit about it. In a more kid-friendly game, this just means that they don't die from giant scorpions like other people sometimes do.

Int +2
Cunning: Advantage on Intelligence/Wisdom/Charisma on saves vs magic
Gnomes are really good against magic, which is good because magic is everywhere in 5e and so gnomes are good. Nobody tell the Elf that gnomes are all smarter than them.

Cha +2
Hellish Resistance: resistance to fire damage
Tieflings are resistant to fire damage because they're part demon and their skin is rubbery and weird. Tieflings look weirder than Aasimar, despite being basically the same thing, with their tails and horns, but that's not something you can really have mechanics for. They have a lot of charisma, which, according to 5e, means they're all confident, natural leaders.

Wis +2
Powerful Build: Counts as one size larger for carrying / lifting / pushing
Hidden Step: Can turn invisible for a little bit 1/rest
Firbolgs are really big and can turn invisible sometimes, because they're big fey. I actually really like Firbolg, but I always forget they exist until I sit down to make a list like this. I feel like they have a fairly fleshed-out culture, despite their writeup being like a page.

I didn't do Dragonborn because they have the weird coloration thing, and I couldn't figure out where any of the benefits they got were cultural. It's all pretty basic, really- if you're playing a Dragonborn, you don't really have a culture, you were spawned out of an egg and since you're probably only like six years old, you don't know enough to really have a culture imprinted on you like that. Sorry.

I think there are a couple more races that I could have included, but I didn't really feel like it. Some races, like Kenku, are already good as they are. Use the 'cursed race of thieves' thing and run with it in your game, that's good stuff. Same with Tabaxi and Lizardmen.

Anyways, I'm still working on creating coherent cultures from the other halfs of the subrace/racial benefit divide. Watch this space!

[1] As discussed in the weapon chart article, Small seems to have been designed specifically to make Halflings mechanically smaller but without actually making the difference meaningful other than that you can run between the legs of bigger allies. So that's something, I guess.

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