Saturday, January 28, 2012

RPG Races

So, most RPGs feature "races." The term is an artifact, has unfortunate connotations, and we should have universally switched to "species" a long time ago - but I digress.

I'm not racist! I havean Elven friend.
In every single RPG I've played, that has the feature, from D&D to WoW, you have some races that are simply better choices for a given class than others. Go look on the official D&D forums for 3e, 3.5e, or 4e and you'll see the same thing. "X's Fighter/Cleric/Etc. Guide," a ridiculously well researched break down of every possible choice for building a character. One of the first issues is always race, of which there is usually a list of only 2 or 3 ideal choices. 

For example, a Dwarf makes a good fighter, and a crappy wizard - in everything.

In 4e D&D, Dwarves are resistant to poison, can heal themselves more quickly than others, are resistant to being moved, tougher and wiser, but have slightly slow movement. Writing off poison resistance, both of those other special features help them effectively stand between angry things and other characters.

In WoW, they get "Gun Specialization" and "Mace Specialization," which increasing damage with those weapons; "Frost Resistance" and "Stoneform," damage mitigating abilities; and "Explorer" which provides more loot from archaeological sites. A whopping 4/5 of those are combat based, 3/5 specifically fitting into the "tank" role, and the other one is class agnostic. This, in combination with a very high Strength & Stamina, but low Agility, make them obviously superior as martial combatants.

For the proof of this, a census of WoW shows usthat 24% of Dwarves are Hunters, 22% are Paladins, 21% are Shamans (similar to Paladins, still prone to melee combat), 11% are Warriors, 8% are Priests, 6% are Death Knights, 4% are rogues, and Mages and Warlocks make up only 2% each of the population. Out of 3,058,888 distance characters, only 3009, one in every 1000 are Dwarven Mages.

Skin color, size, hell - you don't even have to have a beard - but you damn well better be a warrior.
From both a game design & business perspective, having a feature (Dwarven Mage) that only 1 in 1000 players will use is bad news. It's simply a waste of resources.

From a roleplay perspective, it sucks that the rules serve as a disincentive against a particular character build, effectively punishing players for wanting to go against the grain. Though this is possible, the peer pressure of allies knowing you could be performing your role more effectively and the persistent idea that you are objectively playing the game "wrong" are hard to fight, as numbers show.

Why is this such a global problem? Well, the popular conception of Dwarves comes directly from J.R.R. Tolkien's works - wherein every featured Dwarven character, to the man, is a warrior.

My axe, his axe, it doesn't really matter.
A google image search provides empirical evidence of it. Every dwarf on the first page is a warrior. It's not until page 2 that we start seeing Disney's Dwarves, but other than a few of those throughout, its still warriors. After that, we get pictures of them as smiths, then merchants, then engineers. It isn't until page 8 that (at the moment) we see the first non-warrior Dwarf, a female druid.

The "white goat" of her family.
It is a problem because:
A) RPGs are built upon character options. This has come to define the genre as much as the concept of Role Play (see: computer RPGs existing). Effectively limiting these options unnecessarily makes your RPG worse at this cornerstone of the game.
B) If you DO offer the option, despite it being an objectively poor choice, you are creating content that will be rarely used and thus wasting resources.


What we need to do is ensure that each race can play each role equally well. How? Provide specific "racial features" per race/class combination. As a general example, here are some spitballed things Dwarves are traditionally good at that fit within the fortes of the basic D&D classes:

-Cleric: Incredible composure and strength of faith [read: resistance to evil compulsion] (Tolkien's are notoriously stubborn and traditional). Better with defensive buff spells. If you get to choose between gods, and there are Dwarven/Non-Dwarven choices, some bonus for choosing their own gods. Very subjective to setting - due to particular gods.
-Rogue: Better with mechanical devices (craftsmen, engineers, and architects), especially stonework. Perhaps slightly improved night-vision (living underground) - nothing that would make the rogues seem like a different biological organism - just a case of specialized training to enhance their natural strengths.
-Warrior: Better with axes & hammers, heavy armor and shields (they tend to be heavy, armored guys rather than light, agile, harriers or cavalrymen). Perhaps good at standing their ground.
-Wizard: Runic magic.( They're good at spells that function by marking a spot/item.) Enchanting items.

In addition, each race should have at least one universal trait, be it ability scores, poison resistance, or what have you, to make sure that there is a sense that these characters do have essential elements in common. If ability scores are used, it is important that these are not more important than choice between Race/Class combo traits, lest the whole exercise be pointless.

Let's look at WoW's dwarf again. We could keep the exploring skill as a universal feature, but only gun skill for hunters, the hammer skill for warriors & paladins, the frost resistance for mages & warlocks, and the stone form for shaman and druids. That less than ideal, because the features still lean towards melee combat, but it gives you a good and unique reason to choose such combinations.

The result of this is better both for the game and for the setting's flavour. It's not that all Dwarves are warrior craftsmen of stout faith, but that Dwarven warriors tend to be this, their cult is known for its stout unwaveringness, their merchants tend to deal in mechanism and metalcrafts, and their wizards share ancient secrets of enhancing magic via the written word. It gives the species dimensions, rather than having each member basically be "like Gimli, but -"


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I've been exploring for a bit for any high-quality articles or blog posts on this kind of space . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this website. Studying this information So i'm glad to exhibit
    that I have a very just right uncanny feeling I came upon exactly what I needed.
    I such a lot undoubtedly will make sure to don?t overlook this website and give
    it a look regularly.

    Here is my homepage

  3. WOW just what I was searching for. Came here by searching
    for book of ra download android

    Also visit my website - book of ra download apk

  4. This text is priceless. How can I find out

    My weblog: book of raw kostenlos spielen