Fanservice BS: Making Race and Culture Matter in RPGs

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It’s time for my monthly Fanservice! And you know what that means, right?! No. It does not mean pictures of me in a magical anime schoolgirl outfit. I only did that one time. And it was for charity. More or less. It means that I asked my higher tier Patreon supporters via my personal, secret, for Patreon supporters only Discord server what topic they’d like me to post a rambling, meandering discussion about. And this month’s winner is…

Using race and culture effectively in RPGs.

Whatever the hell that means. I mean, I could have asked for some clarification. But, I was afraid that if I did ask for clarification, I’d have to actually talk to someone for an extended period of time. And f%&$ that. So, instead, I’m just going to assume the person meant “how can I use races and cultures to enhance my world-building and storytelling in fantasy RPGs?” Or perhaps, more generally, “what the hell do I do with races and cultures anyway.”

To be fair, there was a vague mention further on in the discussion about “stereotypes” and “using races as costumes” and s$%& like that. But that hardly bears mentioning. First, because that’s what GMs always worry about. They always worry about races being nothing more than a collection of stereotypes. When GMs ask, “how do I use race in a way that isn’t just a bunch of stereotypes because that’s all anyone ever does?” So, it’s just implied in the question. Second, I hesitate to mention it because it means I’m just going to piss everyone off by basically how races and cultures are best used as just a bunch of stereotypes.

I love it when I know this article is going to make everyone mad.

The Problem with Verbal Storytelling

The problem with D&D is that it is entirely a game of spoken narrative. There are no visuals to speak. Sure, you can use miniatures and pictures and things, but those aren’t visuals in the same way a movie or a video game uses visuals. The only thing you have to convey to the people at the table what is going on in the world is your voice. And you really have only two ways to use that voice. You can describe or you can interact. That is to say, you can tell the players what their characters are experiencing or you can act the part of an NPC.

Let me talk from the player side of the table for a minute just to really piss off as many people as possible. No matter what character you are playing, the players at the table see YOU and they hear YOU. Part of the cognitive load of the game is remembering who is actually playing who. And the more complicated you make that, the harder it is for people to even remember who your character is. Remember, you aren’t wearing a mask. And even if you have a placard in front of you the whole time with your name, race, gender, and picture on it, people will only look at that some of the time.

Let’s take a simple example: playing a character of a different sex from your own. It comes up every so often and I, frankly, hate it. Not because people should be shackled to who they are in real life in a game, of course. It is an escapist fantasy. That’s fine. The problem is that it almost always boils down to being completely meaningless except to the one player actually playing the character. The rest of players mostly forget about it. Until the player is forced to remind them, interrupting the flow of the game. Now, it’s a particular pet peeve of mine because, in my games, sex is mostly a non-issue. It’s not something that has any bearing at the game. So, it’s easily forgotten. All it does is increase the cognitive load on me, the GM. And on everyone else. Obviously, if sex is an important theme in a game – say the game involves a lot of romantic plots or the world includes explorations of sex roles and sexism and stuff – that’s a completely different kettle of fish. But those sorts of things are best kept to private, personal tables among close friends because of the reactions some people can have to those things these days. The same is true of a character’s race. Amusingly, players have an easier time remembering the classes of their fellow players than their race. And that comes down to something called reinforcement.

Basically, when you’re playing a character in an RPG, all you have is the words you say to make people remember who and what you are in the fictional world. All their senses are only seeing YOU. Hell, they are even hearing those words in YOUR voice. To make people remember who you are in the fictional world, you constantly have to reinforce it IN YOUR WORDS. Believe it or not, however silly it sounds, affecting false voices actually helps a lot. The false voice forces players to remember that you are someone else. And then they will rack their brain remembering who you are. That’s just one of several tricks you can use to EFFECTIVELY play a character drastically different from what they might “expect” you to play just by seeing and hearing you, the player.

I know this is going to make a lot of people angry, but frankly, I don’t give a f$&%. If you don’t like me saying all of this – and the people who won’t like it most are the people who insist on playing UNIQUE, SNOWFLAKE characters – tough s$&%. It’s true. Live with it.

But what does any of that have to do with culture, race, and world-building?

Everything is a Non-Specific Human

RPGs bombard players with a lot of information. Your brain is doing a lot of things when you’re playing D&D. You’re imagining an entire world based purely on a verbal description. You’re imagining yourself as a character in that world. You’re making decisions. You’re also remembering rules. You’re also remembering your party. And you’re also being bombarded with plot details and world details out the wazoo. It’s a big, mire of information and stuff is constantly rising to the surface then sinking back down below the surface. And because the game is played mostly at the speed of thought, players don’t get to sit and rack their brains for information or look it up on a wiki when they forget something. It ain’t like reading Game of Thrones and trying to remember who the motherloving f$&% Ramsey Bolton is when he suddenly shows up again.

The problem is that most details sink like a stone in players’ brains. And NPC identities are one of those things. Players can actually forget the gender, race, and even the name of the NPC during a conversation. What sticks in their head, mostly, is the archetype. Players may forget whether the NPC is a man or a woman, whether he’s a dwarf or a human, or even his name, but they will remember he’s “the innkeeper” or “the smith” or “the soldier” or “the wizard.” The way to keep this stuff from sinking into the mire forever is to reinforce it. Every time something happens to remind the player of the NPCs identity, it makes those details a little more buoyant. They float to the surface more easily during interactions.

Without reinforcement, your world becomes peopled entirely by nonspecific humans with vague archetypes. And that keeps your world from feeling like a fantastic world. It makes it feel like a world filled with varied and distinct humans. And you don’t want that. You want the world to feel fantastic.

Building Feedback Loops

Now, you can constantly drop reminders of various creature’s identities into your descriptions. But that’s a lot of work and it can start to feel very contrived. And, honestly, that doesn’t help YOU – the GM – keep all of this s$&% straight either. So, the alternative is to connect details together so that they reinforce each other. In other words, to build archetypes.

Now, archetypes are pretty standard in RPGs already. Classes are basically just archetypes. As are backgrounds. And so are races. At least, as written they are. And they endure precisely because they take whole collections of details and tie them together in a nice, neat, buoyant package.

Let me give you an example of archetypes at work. Let’s say that, in your world, elves are known to be haughty and proud. Let’s also say that whenever you voice an elf, you use a breathy voice. Once your players have dealt with a few elves and notice the patterns – even unconsciously – they will put those details together. Haughty attitude, breathy voice, elf. If they encounter an NPC later who speaks with a breathy voice and seems particularly haughty, you may not even have to identify the NPC as an elf. They’ll just know it.

Basically, the archetype is the narrative equivalent of the visual character design in a movie. Imagine watching a movie in which the elves looked and behaved exactly like humans. Would you be able to tell the difference? No. Of course not. Not unless they all went around saying “hello, I am an elf.” It’s the same with archetypes – or, as some people call them, stereotypes – in an RPG.

And THIS is the big reason why one of the major defining traits of humans is that they are so adaptable and changeable and varied. Because we understand that humans are very, very varied. We don’t expect any common traits from one person to another. Heck, it’d be crazy to try to do anything else besides that. But that means the only way to get the other races to stand out is to build them around archetypes. And if you want a race to mean ANYTHING in your game beyond a collection of stat bonuses, you have to USE that. You can’t fight it.

Humans Have Culture, Non-Humans Have Race

And that brings us around to a very important idea. Another idea people hate when I bring it up, as it happens. Non-human races do not have cultures. They are monolithic. All elven cultures are the same. All dwarven cultures are the same. And so on. Sort of. See, there are some races that aren’t monolithic. Elves, for example, actually have two cultures. There are the wise, magical elves who live in private enclaves. And then there are the nature-loving, hunter elves who live in camps in the deep forests. And how does the game handle that? By actually making them two distinct races! Call them subraces all you want. But that’s how you fit two archetypes into the same race.

As explained above, this is actually of VITAL F$&%ING IMPORTANCE if you want your RPG world to feel like it isn’t just filled with humans with different stat bonuses. If you want a race to MATTER – if you don’t want it to be a meaningless and often overlooked detail – your races have to be very strongly defined cultural archetypes. That helps build up the feedback loop that makes the players see different races in their head and also helps emphasize that humans are unique in their diversity.

At the same time, you can – and should – think about creating other cultures as well. After all, humans are diverse. And we expect humans to have different cultural backgrounds. But, even here, you’re trying to build archetypes, not rich and diverse cultures. But – and this is where things get tricky – none of these human cultures will be the “default” human culture. The default human culture – the one the players will spend the most time interacting with – is going to be the normal, diverse, cosmopolitan culture that people expect. Unless you REALLY want to make culture a theme by throwing the PCs into an alien culture and asking them to get by – and make that the FOCUS of the game – that’s just how it has to be.

The truth is this: races and cultures in stories – especially narrative only stories – are defined PURELY by what makes them different from the default “cosmopolitan, human fantasy culture.” And if you load up a race or culture with TOO MANY differences or NOT ENOUGH differences, they just become part of that default. Races – and cultures – only matter if they are distinct from the base race and culture of the world.

GMs have a hard f$&%ing time accepting that.

Archetypes as Storytelling Tools

Ultimately, races – and cultures – have precisely one use in the game: they are tools to tell a better story. They are not there for any other reason than as a storytelling tool. The most basic use is to make the world feel rich and alive and diverse and fantastic. That is, to emphasize the themes of fantasy. And that means they have to stand out against the humans. And since humans can already be pretty much anything, the only way to make those races stand out is by using strong archetypes. Ironically, the key to creating a world that feels diverse is leaning heavily on strongly defined archetypes. Otherwise, the players will NEVER notice the diversity. After all, if everything is diverse, nothing is.

But if all you’re doing with racial archetypes is making your world feel like it’s made up of more than just humans, you’re wasting the opportunity. See, archetypes are extremely powerful. They work as a narrative shorthand that you can define for yourself. And once the players come to understand those archetypes – because you apply them consistently – they will start to pile assumptions on top of them. Consider the trope of the “honorable warrior people.” For example: look at the Klingons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We view them as spiritual, honorable, proud, and strong, but also temperamental, a little backwards, and a little xenophobic. That’s a pretty standard trope. So, if I establish the dragonborn in my world as “honorable warrior people,” even if I never establish all the parts of that, the players will start to assume some of it. That’s because of their familiarity with the trope.

A dumb GM overly concerned with “originality” and “diversity” and “realism” would kick and scream the entire way. But a smart GM – like me – recognizes that and builds on it. That isn’t to say I clone it. But anything extra I add has to be laid on top of that foundation.

Once I have that archetype in the game, that archetype becomes a storytelling tool. If I have to tell a story about personal honor, sacrifice, valor, xenophobia, or whatever, that becomes a great place for a dragonborn NPC. He comes loaded with the assumptions – so I don’t have to explain or establish as much with the players – and he also reinforces the assumptions – so the players come to understand the race better. THAT’S the feedback loop I was talking about.

Think of a race – or culture – as a package of story themes and personality traits. When you want a specific personality or a particular theme in your game, use a member of that race. And the opposite is true. If you want to liven up your world with members of different races – which is important to do, or else why are they even in the story – remember that they come with a package of personality traits.

The thing is, archetypes are delicate tools. They can easily get broken. If you have a dwarf in your game, make sure the dwarf comes along with the dwarf archetype. Otherwise, at best, the players will simply forget they are dealing with a dwarf after a few seconds. At worst, they will stop seeing dwarves as a race at all. Dwarf will just become a meaningless term for “short and bearded with a high constitution.”

Layers of Complexity

The reason so many people balk at everything I’ve said above is because, well, it’s because people are stupid extremists who see only false dilemmas. “So,” they shriek, their eyes bugging out, “are you saying all dwarves have to be IDENTICAL?!” No. I’m not saying that. But I am saying that all dwarves should be built on the same foundation. Because that’s what archetypes are.

A racial archetype should include only a few distinct traits. Dwarves, in the Angryverse, tend to be gruff, materialistic, diligent, and proud. Any individual dwarf you meet in the Angryverse will exhibit at least two of those traits and will rarely run counter to any of those traits. On top of that, any given dwarf will have a unique trait or two built over the top of those others. You might meet a dwarf in a gambling hall who is proud and materialistic, but also raucous and bawdy. But that’s not all. Because those archetypes are very broad. And variations on a theme are possible. A craftsman can be materialistic because he is concerned with making physical things that have a practical use. A thief can be materialistic because he’s greedy. A mercenary is materialistic because he doesn’t care what he’s fighting for as long as he’s paid. A craftsman can take pride in his work. A soldier takes pride in his uniform. Any dwarf might take pride in their racial heritage. You see how this all works?

Basically, a racial archetype isn’t a straightjacket. It’s a foundation on which you build. Any given individual is a variation on a theme. And that actually makes them very useful tools in storytelling and world-building because you can explore the different variations, the good sides and the bad sides. Pride can be a good thing when it leads to honor and self-examination. It can be a bad thing when it leads to egomania or xenophobia.

Playing Against Type

As I mentioned above, racial archetypes are powerful storytelling tools, but they are very delicate. Racial archetypes have to be built up over time and they have to be reinforced. Whenever you include something in your story that runs against an established archetype, you run the risk of breaking the archetype forever.

At the same time, one of the most powerful ways you can play with an archetype is to subvert that. That is, to go against it. Drizzt Do’Urden was interesting because he ran counter to everything his race – the drow – were about. He was moral, free-spirited, and compassionate amongst a people who were selfishly ambitious, cutthroat, and who accepted an unyielding caste structure. But Drizzt only worked because the drow represented a strong racial archetype to begin with. Over the years, that archetype has been weakened by too many Drizzt-clones and even an entire subrace of good-aligned rebel drow who even have their own goddess whose sphere of influence is good-aligned rebel drow.

The point is, you can play against type only once in a very rare while and it has to be clear that the individual is special or unique. In fact, it should be clear that the individual is extremely unusual, not just when compared to their own race, but when compared to the world at large. Radagast the Brown wasn’t just weird for a wizard, he was weird for ANYONE. That made it okay. Drizzt was the goddamned hero of his story. That makes him, by definition, unique.

As a GM, as tempting as it might be to have the one dragonborn who isn’t an honorable warrior, but who is rather a power-mad wizard. And you COULD get away with it. But you have to find a way to make them unique. Maybe they were born sickly. A runt. And they never got any respect within their clan. They mastered magic as a way to gain power and now they are hell-bent on revenge for their brutal mistreatment. But notice how you’re still working within the archetype at that point. The archetype becomes a starting point. “How can I get to villain from here?”

By doing that, even the characters who don’t fit the archetype reinforce the archetype. The story of the runty dragonborn megalomaniac only works because dragonborn are the way they are. He’s an aberrant. A mutant. He’s outside the archetype. Same with Drizzt. He was an aberration. An exile. He existed outside of his own race. And no one ever let him forget it.

Or Maybe It Doesn’t Matter

I know that there are going to be a lot of GMs out there who don’t like what I said above. Believe me, I know. I f$&%ing know. I hear from them all the time. Those are the ones who think “cliché” and “trope” are dirty words and use words like “stereotype” and “pigeonhole” and “straight-jacket” to describe this sort of crap. But here’s the important point that they miss here. Everything I said about how to use race and culture above? You don’t have to do it. Hell, I don’t always do it. Not in every campaign. I’m not trying to tell you how YOU should run your world or how EVERY GM should run their worlds.

What I’m saying is this: IF you want race and culture to matter in your game and to your players, THEN you have to make race and culture stand out against the noise of the default race and culture of the PC party. And IF that’s the case – IF IF F$&%ING IF – IF that’s the case, THEN this is how to do it.

Comments are open. Commence pissing and moaning.

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22 thoughts on “Fanservice BS: Making Race and Culture Matter in RPGs

  1. A standard literary tool is to give each character a distinctive style of speaking. (It’s a bit harder than it sounds, in practice). Each character needs a voice. The contrast between how, to point to an overused example, the rustic hobbits were depicted by their speech patterns, and how Faramir, or Aragorn, or Gandalf’s meter and phrasing were presented in Tolkien’s works gave you an additional sense of who the character is or was in terms of being different from the baseline characters. The hobbits were the connection to the reader into the story (in your rant, the baseline of the fantasy world) and all other participants were somewhat different in their “voice” than the hobbits (and I think Barliman Butterburr).
    Your point on culture maps nicely to that literary tool.
    Your recommendation is a good one, in general, though from my experience as a DM for a lot of years it puts a load on you during play: you are _all_ of the other exotic things in the world. How to avoid slipping up?
    I found that a 3×5 index card, or some times a 4×6 index card, of cues for various monsters, NPC’s, or even foreign humans would at least get me started. One or two key words on the card, posted on the bottom of my side of the DM screen. That allowed me to remind myself who I was presenting to the PC’s: a pirate, a half orc pirate, an elven pirate (yeah, sea elves had pirates in my world!) or a pirate from a foreign country; the lizard man swamp pirates were for me easiest to do; since my trigger was a guttural tone with a lisp, and very short words.
    Anyway, I thought I’d toss an suggestion on how to implement the suggestion you make:
    Have 3×5 index cards, or 4×6 index cards, on your side of the DM screen with cues for how to get into the mood for a given race. PS: I began in the BCS days (before character sheets days) where we all started with a 3×5 index card, 3d6 in order … so maybe that’s why I am still addicted to 3×5 index cards.

  2. Hmm, the applause button is missing. You should get on that.

    I’ve been reworking and polishing the racial features and descriptions for my group’s new campaign world (a revisit of an older one actually, so I have a lot of good foundation for the mythology and world arrangement). But this really helps me focus on making sure the archetypes for each race are apparent. I feel an editing pass coming on…

  3. One benefit to purely online text-based games is that it’s a lot easier to identify character gender and race when you’re consistently looking at a portrait rather than the player. It’s all about that continuous reinforcement. Consistency in play helps and combos well with the visual props, but even if they’re all human underneath, different pictures make them very distinct.

    Of course, online games take a special breed of player to remain engaging, and the inability to hear what people say as they say it both slows things down and cuts off a massive swathe of techniques based on interpreting what players are actually noticing.

    • That’s interesting. I agree. I do online text based games a lot, and I constantly throw in what I call “idle flairs”. Dwarfs will grunt and stroke their beards, or yell furiously. Elves will gaze as it far away, will sigh with the weight of years, stuff like that. It’s one of the reasons I love text-based roleplay, language becomes the best graphics ever.

  4. Very insightful. Thanks for posting.

    It occurs to me that over the arc of a long campaign, once an archetype has been established for a race, and as the PC’s begin traveling to different parts of the world, it might be possible to include a second archetype for a race in a different region. If it’s well established that dragonborn in the Rustic Homelands are honorable warriors, and your players have internalized that, then it might be safe to have the dragonborn of the Exotic Eastern Fiefdoms be runty meglomaniacs. And that’s a way that the Exotic Eastern Fiefdoms could actually feel foreign and different from the Rustic Homelands. But you’ve definitely convinced me that (even if this isn’t actually your message) the key is that your players must have internalized the archetype first, so that dragonborn don’t feel like humans. And that’s probably tricky in practice, as players are always going to have bigger concerns than the dragonborn in your imaginary universe.

    • You could do this, and of course as Angry says we’re all free to run our games any wrong way we want.

      It seems like the “dragonborn” of the Exotic Eastern Fiefdoms would be a different race:

      “And how does the game handle that? By actually making them two distinct races! Call them subraces all you want. But that’s how you fit two archetypes into the same race.”

    • There seem to be some people out there who don’t remember this and/or just can’t wrap their heads around the idea. Some are even blindsided when, say, Dungeon World refers back to it. Was it necessarily a good idea? Probably not to the extreme it was used in the branch of D&D that never had an “A” on it, but the idea is potentially salvageable if one is trying to build a world with pre-3e levels of segregation. If I were doing that, I probably wouldn’t use race as ONE class, though — I’d have a set of classes per race. Humans get fighter, wizard, rogue, and cleric, like in the original. Elves, instead of *all* being fighter/wizard multiclasses, get bard, Pathfinder’s magus, and Pathfinder’s hunter — all secondary casters with some combat ability, but very different spell lists and non-casting abilities. This spread would communicate that elves are magical and love music, nature, and combining their magic with weaponplay. Heck, this is arguably one of the better uses for having a massive number of classes — using them to define cultures or races, instead of just having a free-for-all.

  5. Every time the PCs encounter an NPC it is an opportunity to tell the players something about the world you are running. Running an NPC against type – whatever “type” is for your world – squanders that opportunity.

    In other words, if you run special snowflake NPCs, don’t expect your players to get your special snowflake campaign setting.

  6. I mean, you COULD wear a mask. That would make it easier to remember. Just have it be one of those on-a-stick masks so you just have to hold it up, instead of futzing around trying to attach it to your head.

    More seriously, you could use simple props to help reinforce races or cultures. Get a cheap paper fan and unfold it and wave it around whenever the NPC is from the Paper People of the Mulch Woods. Though obviously they still need some recognizable traits if you want anyone to CARE that you’re a Paper Person.

    • I was thinking that too. Well, not “wear a mask”, but you could hold up a sheet of paper in front of your face with the NPC’s likeness on the front and their vital stats (name, race, gender, where the characters have run into them before) on the back.

  7. One way I get my players to remember my characters is by reusing them in different campaigns. Granted, this only really works if you play with the same group for long periods of time, but by having a list of well-established characters to draw from, I can easily introduce one in a new campaign, and the players will remember them. For example, whenever they meet a character who is named Natasha and speaks like a Southern belle, they immediately know she’s a tiefling rogue/cleric who is devoted to Olidammara and specializes in divination magic. And they know this because they’ve met her in at least three different stories before.

    Ooh, and that bit about the power-mad dragonborn reminds me of one of my own characters, an orc alchemist. He had pretty much the same backstory as this hypothetical dragonborn, born a runt and turned to alchemy to try to make himself stronger and gain the approval of his clan.

  8. Great stuff! I’m reminded of David Edding’s “The Belgariad”, which, whatever else you might think about it, emphasised racial stereotypes (different nationalities of humans in this case, not elves and dwarves). It also explained this stereotyping and cultural differences by saying that each nation’s deity encouraged certain qualities and characteristics which led to a cultural feedback loop. Ok, some of the end results were a little ropey – how does the greedy materialism lead to an Imperial Roman armies, but its an excellent source of stereotypes and backgrounds!

  9. I am still a little taken back by some of the ways WotC made -what you suggest here- a bit difficult. Dragon Born were made a playable race. We used them as BBEG or eccentric NPC’s. Dragon Born are feared and that’s how we played them. When I had the first Drahon Born PC in my party, we made him cover up in town and it caused a lot of drama to the point where he would consider not going into towns at all.

  10. Pingback: Race and Culture and a Carneval « Wormy's Worlds

  11. I also find it works very well to channel a little economic determinism into racial archetypes to give them great flavour without ruining the core characteristics that makes races what they are. For instance, my current campaign focus’ on a region centered on a gargantuan lake. It’s fringed with mountains in the east, and all flat tundra in the west… So naturally, dwarven kingdoms in the eastern mountains have very lucrative trade deal, channeling goods from their mountain kingdoms, across the lake, to the flatlands… It was a short leap from there to decide that dwarves in this part of the world are well known as skilled sailors and shrewd merchants; in addition to all the usual dwarf stuff. The mirror effect of that is to make all the humans in the cities in the west cherish and covet lucrative dwarven trade deals. It was as simple as applying ones logic concerning the way medieval cities functioned, and the way goods are moved; and now when I speak of dwarves, my players know that I’m talking about yes, dwarves, but also sailors and wealthy merchant princes… Great stuff angry. I haven’t commented in ages, but I always read everything you put out!

  12. I’ve always thought similar to this. The corollary is that humans have also become their own archetype. As much as humans are the ultimate “do everything” race, they actually go against archetype if they fit into the image of one of the other races. For example, having a gruff, swarthy, hairy gem miner easily fits into many people’s images of dwarves. Making a human that fits this description weakens the dwarf archetype. Or has your players associating the miner as a dwarf in human shape. Either one weakens the dwarven archetype.

    As a result, humans become the archetype for everything that’s not covered by the other races. Usually, this is farmers, sailors, soldiers and city folk, but your campaign may vary. A good example of this is in Lord of the Rings. The hobbits were the everyday man, the small town peasant and farmer. While there definitely were human farmers, the Fellowship of the Ring never dealt with them. Even when the hobbits were traveling through human lands, they never interacted with farmers or any small village people. Because that role in the story as filled by hobbits.

    This is where I have issues with half-elves. What are there defining characteristics? There’s no real place for them in the hierarchy except as “outcast loner”. It’s usually just a reaons to be an elf or a human with slightly less/more pointy ears.

    • I would recommend making half-elves something eerie and special. They are supposed to be rare, so maybe they posses some weight of prophecy that worries others. “One of mixed blood shall lay low the kingdom, or restore its greatness” or “What comes from the alloying of the elders and the mortal races is a bitter steel indeed, tempered in grief and confusion and quenched in fear, for only such a man or maid may draw Foolkiller from its meteor sheath,” etc. Their special trait is someone between worlds, neither truly mortal or immortal.

    • I was thinking about that a few years back, and I thought about one of the big differences between elves and humans: humans sleep, elves don’t.

      Half-elves are therefore afflicted with a sort of waking narcolepsy, slipping into dream logic when they don’t keep focused on the real world. This can completely shatter them, of course, but if they learn to work with it them they become almost impossible to fool with enchantments, because maintaining their own sanity has taught them to see things as they are.

  13. There is a spin-off D&D came called “13th age”, that game gave every race a “racial power” that is 90% of the time a once-per battle do a cool thing. Dwarves get heal a little after taking a hit once per battle while smirking “Is that the best ya got?” for example.

    Long story short, it helps reinforce race the same way class abilities reinforce what class people are in player’s minds by constantly reminding them, “Yeah, dwarves are tough and proud of it.”

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