Thanks to some reader input, it appears that today’s post will quickly cover the minor races of my setting (which I should probably name at some point). I’ll be working my way through the races as they are listed in the 5e Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook and trying to figure out how they fit in with the Big Three, namely humans, elves, and dwarves.
While I’ve stayed quite true to the tropes of the main races I really don’t want to have Tolkien-style homebody hobbits. If they’re going to be available as player characters they need to be a bit more adventurous as a group. I can actually have a bit of both by setting them up as a nomadic people. Like the Romani these halflings would travel across the countryside in caravans called Vardo in order to avoid their enemies and stay close to natural resources all year round. Halflings would occasionally venture out on their own, but even these few wouldn’t leave the caravan without taking some home comforts with them. Smoking leaf, liquor, and luxury foods like honey.
How do they relate to humans? Back when the humans were slaves, the halfling people could have had the entire western expanse to themselves. But now that human cities and farms have taken over, the halflings would’ve been forced to adapt. Many have continued their nomadic traditions and still travel the roads, while others have tried to assimilate themselves into city life. There is definitely a theme of colonialism here that can be mined for story hooks.
What about the other major races, the elves and dwarves. The halflings aren’t one of the major players, nor do they want to be. So I think they’ve successfully flown under the radar of these powerful groups for centuries. Armed with intimate knowledge of their native lands and with communities that could be moved overnight, the smallfolk avoided capture, raids, and almost all contact.
It makes sense that these guys are always defined by their relationship to dragons, and since I want Dragons to be extremely rare, immensely powerful, and intelligent rulers it makes perfect sense for their subjects to be the dragonborn. A draconic empire that exists south of the map sounds pretty cool, and it makes the world wider and more mysterious. “Here there be Dragons,” indeed. It also serves to explain the rarity of dragonborn in the mapped region of this setting.
But I also feel like they need some connection to these lands. So I’ve decided that the draconic empire once inhabited part of the southern deserts, and was destroyed or taken over when the elves arrived in the world. As a bonus, we can now pepper the sands with ancient dragonborn ruins as well as elven stuff.
I really don’t want to fall back on the comic-relief trope that they often end up filling so I’m going to focus on their fey ancestry instead. Since the elves are the only other fey at the moment, I feel like their histories should be tied somewhat. Perhaps they arrived in the world at the same time as the elves but in a different area. The dwarves haven’t had any new connections made yet, and dwarves and gnomes being close allies is a strong trope to keep since they both have strong ties to the earth, so I’ve placed the gnomes in the North-east.
How could these two races interact and benefit from one another. By looking at the two race’s stats in the Player’s Handbook it’s a trade off of Intelligence for Constitution. They also both share a love of crafting, a skill which requires both of these traits. So perhaps the gnomes help refine the dwarves’ processes by studying and discovering alloys and advanced smelting techniques. In exchange, the dwarves would provide martial goods and protection.
In a setting where humans were the elves’ slaves for a thousand years, and elven couples might have to wait a century before they were allowed to have a child, it makes sense that there would be some half-elves. While there would have definitely been consensual unions between human and elf, any offspring would be disregarded by an elven parent. Their obsession with immortality forces them to see half-elves as tainted by their mortality.
I would use the half-elf race to represent any human who had some distant elven ancestry, whether it be a grandparent, or a great-great-grandparent (who would, of course, have outlived their mortal descendants). Since I’m reluctant to allow player characters to be full elves in this setting, the elf stats in the Player’s Handbook would be used to represent true half-elves, someone with human and elven parents.
I was thinking of running with the Warhammer concept of greenskins as sentient fungus creatures, as I’ve played in a game where this was used to great effect. It sounds weird, but it boils down to the creatures being born from a pustule-like sac, fully grown. The gross nature of this reproductive process kills any idea that goblins are cute. But then I run into the problem that if goblins and orcs are fungus people, how could a half-orc exist?
What about an infection? A disease that any race can catch that attempts to change its host’s brain and body into that of an orc. It would present itself as a propensity for violence, an increase in muscle mass, and a roughening of the skin that makes the victim tougher. We can even call this disease ‘Greenskin!’ There we have all the characteristics of a half-orc, without players having to deal with the canon approach to their conception, which can be very upsetting for some players.
I would love to have players face this concept in game and have to worry about infection while fighting off goblins and orcs.
At this point I kind of feel like the humans have been spliced enough. For that reason I’m going to set up the tieflings as a pureblooded infernal race. With the elves and gnomes already showing up from another plane it makes sense that some demons could too (possibly as part of the same event). But I don’t want them to be inherently evil, which gives me the idea that maybe the generations they’ve spent on the material plane has made them more neutral. Perhaps it was their aversion to the evils of their home plane that drove them to seek sanctuary in this one.
That idea of sanctuary led me to place them on a secluded plateau that I’ve been saving for something special like this. And since my continent has a condensed Britain/Scandinavian/North Africa feel to it I thought I would give the Tiefling’s an Indian or south Chinese aesthetic. This sets them up with secluded mountain cities, temples and monasteries while also flipping their chaotic inclinations towards lawful.
So there you have it. When I started writing this post I had no idea where these folk would all fit into the setting. I think I’ve managed to give them some interesting new twists while tying them to the existing histories.
With all of the (Player’s Handbook) races accounted for I’ll be moving on to some city building next week. If you’re enjoying the worldbuilding series so far then head over to the Highscore Kid Facebook page and let me know. I’d love to hear what you think of the setting so far. You can also follow me on Twitter or Tumblr, if you prefer.