CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

It Takes More Than a Rib

Creating Races In Your Game

The last two pieces I’ve worked on for 3pp have been races. The books are still in editing and not out yet, but I’d like to talk a little bit about race creations as I feel I’ve gained some new insight. To some this will be old hat stuff, I’m sure. To others it might be new ground you haven’t explored but have thought about. This is also a way for me to get some of my thoughts onto a page so I can look back at them later.

Where do you start when creating a race for your game? There honestly is no one answer. Sometimes you just have a cool idea, Maybe you want a blind race that can still get around. Maybe you need something to fill a specific role such as a race of desert traders to round out an area of your world. In one case the editor thought a certain real-world critter was cool and he wanted a race based on them. So starting points can vary from person to person.

The thing about building a race is that it’s far more complicated than just throwing a few racial abilities together. Sure, I can just go in and manipulate the numerical system to get a mechanically good race, but why would I? The question should become why you choose certain racial features, not just if you can afford them. So what factors do we use to choose the traits of our races?

Genetic traits are one of the first things we think of when we think about race. Size first and foremost comes to mind. General physical make: dwarves are hardy, orcs are strong, halflings are nimble. These all come from genetic factors. Some magical abilities can be considered genetic. An aasimar’s ability to cast light and a teifling’s ability to cast darkness are genetic markers from their planar blood. Even some skills bonuses can represent a genetic leg up like perception bonuses for halflings and keen sense for elves.

Cultural factors also play a big part in the choices we make for our races. One of the most obvious cultural choice is hated enemies. Gaining an attack bonus against or a dodge bonus to avoid certain creatures because you fight them often is cultural. Many of the skill bonuses are cultural too. The gnomes bonuses to craft and profession are learned behavior. So when handing out racial abilities that are not genetic you have to ask ourselves what it is about this creature’s culture gives it these abilities.

Environment is another thing that can help shape your new race. Not all elves are born in the forest, and the snowcaster elves of Golarion get bonuses for surviving in cold weather. Environment can give little changes to your standard races that can alter their culture slightly or over time give them slightly different genetic modifiers. It’s more of an effect on the other two categories than a thing of its own.

Genetics, culture, and environment are important, but this is also a game and there are rules so you do need to make sure your race is also mechanically viable to play. Races should have their niche, but a lot of races creators err too much on the side of being exceptionally good at only this one thing. Many times that leaves a race that is both one dimensional and flat, as well as one that can’t do much other than the one thing it’s good at. Learning to balance out a race so it can do a few things is a fine art; one even I’m not sure I’ve mastered yet.

All of this is a very basic overview of the process, but I didn’t even have a lot of this going into my first race building project for a Pathfinder 3pp title. When you’re writing something for more than just one game you also have other factors to think about;  Race specific feats, races specific traits, alternate racial abilities, and racial archetypes to name a few. Today I am just focusing on the very basics of making a new race for your Pathfinder game.

What new races have you created? Why do they exist in your world? What is your most common way to start the race creation process? Share your process with everyone in the comments so we can get a better understanding of the process.

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1 comment:

  1. I like your post. My interest in race creation is to vivify gameplay by noting natural, distinct, innate tendencies in the people who play and giving it a name. If they choose to play that race, they get the racial modifiers to their abilities, otherwise they don't.

    Many gamers, for example, are natural dwarves. They seem to be drawn to Magic the Gathering. It would be futile for them playing an elf.