Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Racial Creeds

I am the Warden!!

(And if you didn't know that by now.)

An incredibly productive day yesterday with all the revisions to the Optional System plugged in and ready for more playtesting. But that's neither here nor there, because my only reason for telling you that is to start moving on to new material. And since I'm in a crazy creed-building mode, I'm gonna stick with that theme.

As the majority of my playtesting at home consists of fantasy campaigns, race plays a factor in our stories. Our monthly Friday night game doesn't really stretch the boundaries of the imagination: two humans and a tiefling from D&D. Yet no fantasy game seems complete without a wide variety of races, both classical and modern, to demonstrate the depth and scope of your world. As a human fan, it's rare for me to branch out into something else other than the adaptable human, but there's no denying the love for dwarves (aye, with a thick Scottish accent ta boot!), elves (though I feel their immortality or longevity has been poorly overlooked in nearly 95% of all settings), halflings, and for most others, gnomes. (I can't stand them myself. Long story.) Therefore, the time has come to start looking at how creeds can bring these races to life.

The Mechanical Demands of Humans
The first consideration we have to take into applying racial creeds is training point cost. There's two schools of thought we can use. First, we can consider humans to be the default in that there's nothing special about them; how a human functions is the standard for all characters and therefore does not warrant a creed. This translates into other races requiring a creed and should therefore have a training point cost for balance. That's all fine and dandy, but I don't like the idea of humans being the "plain and simple" race without any advantages - how the hell would humans become a dominant race in any world if they have nothing going for them other than lots of fucking to produce multiple offspring?

The second (and clearly favoured) option is to have all races, humans included, use a creed without any training point costs... because everyone HAS to belong to a race. This involves creating a definition of humans for your world. The first time I read about humans as their own formidable race was in first edition Earthdawn with a special ability: Versatility, a talent to learn from other disciplines (or classes, as they defined them). Their humans were a crafty bunch with the natural skill of adaptation, a polar opposite to the ancient dwarves and elves set in their traditions.

Needless to say, this is the option I'm going with. Besides, if I don't, all the human right organizations will be flooding this blog with hate mail. Damn liberals.

Racial Abilities and Master Stats
Next step: what to give in a racial creed? There are numerous standards in fantasy gaming from vision to racial bonuses against hated enemies and while they're all well and good, it would be nice to have some exclusive elements to these races.

Master stats provide creeds with a unique tool to boost individual rolls through training. By that same token, a racial Master stat can do the same through genetics and heritage without having to create another stat or ruleset to go with it. Humans can have the Versatility Master stat and apply the occasional +1d12 to any roll; dwarves use Courage to define their culture and morale compass in the dark expanse of the underground; halflings cite Pride in their exploits through the human cities and open terrains; and more. Racial Master stats allow a breed of people to stamp their cultural mark on the game while branching out as an individual for application. In doing so, the Master stat becomes more than just an extra die - it becomes a roleplaying tool.

Racial abilities can be a bit flighty; most games incorporate various physical aspects of a race into their builds to establish a core value of what a race represents, but this seems to shift over time. What started as a fictional foundation for all races soon becomes a purely mechanical endeavour and new races are made simply to play a large creature rather than a race of giants bumbling through a world too small for their frames. (I'm just as guilty of this, we all are. Admitting to our faults is how we grow out of them. It's Step 7 of Gamer's Rehab.) I want these races to be more than mechanical showdowns.

Comparisons: Humans to Halflings to Tieflings
This blog was originally written yesterday and I became distracted. All this thinking about how racial creeds could work let me to - you know it - write out some racial creeds. Without posting the entire passage, let's compare the racial abilities and Master stats for these three races: humans, halflings, and tieflings.

HUMANS (Racial Creed)
When you train with this creed, you gain the following benefits automatically:
Adaptable: Humans are not restricted to any particular stats. Humans gain a +1 bonus to all Body, Sense, and Mind rolls. This increases by +1 when the human gains +1d12 Versatility master.
Expert Skill: Choose a skill; this is your expert skill. When you spend training points to increase a skill use on your expert skill, you gain +1d6 trained dice automatically. You can only have one expert skill in your character’s lifetime, but it is possible (though difficult) to change it. Your original expert skill’s uses and trained dice are reduced to half; from this point on, you can gain the expert skill benefit to your new expert skill. You cannot transfer skill uses or trained dice from one expert skill to another.
Master Stat: All humans have the Versatility master stat, providing an adaptable resource to any predicament.

Humans have struggled over thousands of years of evolution and yet still persist to become one of the largest civilized societies in the world. That is the power of Versatility; the perseverance and willpower of every human driven by their self-survival and their sense of community. Never count a human down, as the saying goes.
            The Versatility Master stat can be used in any occasion, for offense or defense, in the pursuit of your human character, but only through the balance of all your abilities. Humans cenetered on one goal or pursuit tend to lose their tenacity and focus on what’s important. You can never have more Versatility master dice than any other stat; you can only increase Versatility to +2d12 master dice when all other stats are at +2d12 or higher. 

HALFLINGS (Racial Creed)
When you train with this creed, you gain the following benefits automatically:
Rigorous: Halflings are not restricted to any particular stats. They gain a +2 bonus to all Sense or Mind rolls; player’s choice. This increases by +2 when the halfling gains +1d12 Pride master dice.
Night Eyes: Halflings can see perfectly in darkness while outdoors; they ignore the darkness modifier to any opposed roll or difficulty dice.
Small: Halflings gain +1d10 circumstance dice to their defense rolls against ranged attacks and any modifier. This increases to +2d10 against large creatures.
Master Stat: Halflings are a proud people and so it is that Pride is their Master stat. Dignity and honour guide their actions and keep them pushing when taller creatures would fold.

Whether as a member of their species, one in a circle of comrades, or alone against the elements, a halfling follows a personal code of honour in tribute to all those he has walked beside. Even a hated enemy is to be shown respect for giving the halfling purpose. In a fight, it represents their stubborn tenacity as they commonly battle with larger creatures than themselves.
            When a halfling increases his Pride master dice, they mark the occasion in their knot using assorted decorations or symbols woven into the hair. Before increasing Pride’s master dice, the halfling must pray to his ancestors for inspiration and a blessing. They must prove before their elders the actions committed to achieve the increase were righteous, noble, and honourable; if the halfling performed in the true spirit of his ancestors, he can increase the Pride Master stat.
Wild Quest: When your halfling reaches +3d12 Pride master dice, he must undergo a spiritual journey, or a wild quest. Every wild quest is unique and suited best to each individual halfling; discuss these matters with your Director.

TIEFLINGS (Racial Creed)
When you train with this creed, you gain the following benefits automatically:
Darkvision: Tieflings can see perfectly in darkness and instantly ignore the darkness modifier to any opposing roll or difficulty dice.
Fiery Hatred: Tieflings are known to carry a grudge, an old habit of their ancestry. When an opponent rolls a critical or devastating hit against a tiefling, this triggers a bonus to all active and attack rolls against the opponent equal to the tiefling’s Scarred bonus until the end of the fight or challenge. Only one opponent can be targeted by this ability at a time; if a second opponent triggers it, you must choose which opponent to target.
Firetouched: Tieflings have a natural affinity and resistance to fire; they gain +1d10 circumstance dice to any roll involving fire.
Master Stat: The Survival Master stat has pulled the tiefling up from the gutter over the past few generations and continues to serve them well.
Scarred: The Hellfiend touch has left tieflings weaker than their original human form, leaving them to focus their Sense and Mind stats above all others. Tieflings cannot select a Body stat until they have 3 Sense and Mind stats; this applies every time a tiefling wants to gain another Body stat (you must have 6 Sense and Mind stats before you can gain a second Body stat).
            Tieflings have a +2 bonus to either their Sense or Mind rolls; this increases by an additional +2 when the tiefling gains another +1d12 Survival master dice.

In the Dark Days where the Hellfiend ruled the tiefling from behind a silk curtain, survival was critical. All may have appeared to the tiefling’s benefit, but their devil masters were cruel dominators. When everything came crumbling down, those skills were doubly important as the world hunted them down like rabid dogs.
            Today, every tiefling values their Survival Master stat and the master dice they provide. Its universal application has kept them alive in horrible conditions, viral environments, and ahead of the thin-skulled mobs with pitchforks, but only when it comes at a price. Tieflings cannot gain additional master dice to their Survival Master stat until they survive a fight or challenge in which they are reduced to at least half their total health or a Teammate dies. Only by surviving the impossible can a tiefling learn to cope with the harshness of life.

Without any physical descriptions, cultural details, or any other fluff text, what can you tell about these races? Which stereotypes remain and how have they expanded? When you can play your character's race with ease, the rest just flows like a river.