Friday, January 13, 2017

OGL Races as Heritages    

If you like the idea of using heritages in your game instead of race, here are some conversions of Open Game Content races.  These are my versions of the races, but they can be easily modified if you want to put a different spin on them, or focus on a different feature.  Note that there are no "half-races."  If a player wants to have a character of mixed heritage, they may combine any two heritages together.  If they want to play a character who has a magical or supernatural ability, please see some sample birthright rules below.  What about humans, they are not listed here?  I discuss this in more detail below, but essentially, these are heritages, not races.  If you want to play a city dweller, that is a heritage.  If you want to play a forest dweller, then Elven is a heritage available to you, if you live with people who call themselves elves.  Neither makes any judgment on your humanity, or lack thereof, as discussed in more detail below.

Dwarven Heritage Traits
  • Languages:  Common and Dwarven
  • Underground Dwellers:  low-light vision
  • Builders:  +2 Craft, +2 Knowledge (engineering)
  • Merchants:  +2 Appraise
Elven Heritage Traits
  • Languages:  Common and Elven
  • Nocturnal:  low-light vision
  • Wilderness Dwellers:  +2 Perception, +2 Knowledge (nature)
  • Arcane Magic Users:  +2 Spellcraft
Gnomish Heritage Traits
  • Languages:  Common and Gnomish
  • Familiar with Illusions:  +2 Will save
  • Live in Hiding:  +2 Perception, +2 Stealth 
  • Arcane Magic Users:  +2 Spellcraft
Halfling Heritage Traits (note that I still do not like the use of the word Halfling, but unfortunately most other commonly known synonyms are copyrighted).
  • Language:  Common and Halfling
  • Fearless Explorers:  +1 to all saves
  • Mountain and Tree Climbers:  +2 Acrobatics, +2 Climb
  • Travelers:  +2 Knowledge (geography)
Orcish Heritage Traits
  • Languages:  Common and Orcish
  • Wasteland Dwellers:  +2 Fortitude save
  • Warriors:  +2 Intimidate
  • Animal Tamers:  +2 Handle Animal, +2 Ride  (if inspired by Tolkien, these can refer to Orcs' use of dire wolves as mounts)

Humanity for Everyone (and some notes about size)

If you are using these heritages together with other Pathfinder rules, you may note that they seem under-powered.  This is because, without the use of race (as it is used in D&D), all characters share the essential things that make us human:  free will and agency, intelligence and feelings, adaptability and tradition.

As a result, all characters, regardless of their heritage, gain an additional +2 on any ability score of their choice, and an additional feat at first level.  They do not gain the +1 skill point per level that humans would normally get as a Pathfinder race.  This has the effect of making heritages compatible (roughly) with Pathfinder.  Although first-level characters built using these rules will be slightly more powerful, that advantage will diminish over time, until characters who are around tenth level and higher will be slightly less powerful.  However, at that level, the few skill points lost are unlikely to cause any problems with using Pathfinder adventure products.

The additional feat can, if the player wishes, be used to choose a birthright.  Birthright feats should generally be chosen at first level (unless there is a compelling reason not to).  As described earlier, birthrights are always magical or supernatural in nature.

I also want to add some notes concerning size of characters.  In D&D and in Pathfinder, player characters are generally Medium sized, sometimes Small sized (if playing Gnomes or Halflings, for example), and rarely Large sized.  Size is something that is an ableism problem in D&D.  The concept that little people (in the real world, meaning people born with dwarfism) are more akin to mythological creatures than human beings is a pernicious one.  Fantasy has a sordid history of fetishizing and dehumanizing disability.  How can we avoid that in this case?  Actually, it is not particularly hard.

In Pathfinder, Small size refers to creatures or people that are 2 feet tall to 4 feet tall, Medium refers to creatures or people that are 4 feet to 8 feet tall, and Large refers to creatures or people that are 8 feet to 16 feet tall.  These are fairly large ranges.  As a side note, Peter Dinklage, whose character Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones is one of the rare examples of a human little person in the fantasy genre, is 4 foot 5.  Medium size encompasses most of adult humanity, and there is no reason it cannot be extended to encompass all of it.  Thus, Medium size refers to adult, human sized creatures or people, in all their variation.  Small size or Large size refers to human children (who are Small sized), creatures that are significantly smaller or larger than humans, or humans who are magically or supernaturally smaller or larger due to a birthright.  Size due to a birthright extends, by definition, outside of the range of normal humanity.

Some may argue, "But this would result in halflings using greataxes!  How is that at all realistic?"  My response is: if you want to play a very short person, it is because that is how you want your character to look.  You aren't getting the bonuses for being a small size unless you choose it as a birthright (in which case the normal size penalties and restrictions for weapons apply.)  If your story goal is to play someone small and overlooked, who nonetheless rises to greatness (in the grand Tolkein tradition), you are unlikely to want to play someone swinging around a greataxe.  If, on the other hand, you want to play a character who looks relatively powerless but will, in the blink of an eye, pull out a greataxe and hack your ankles off (in the equally grand Pratchett tradition), and that fits the flavor of the campaign and the stories you want to tell, then by all means, go right ahead!

Sample Birthrights

Birthrights can take the form of feats or special class abilities (such as Bloodlines for sorcerers).  The birthrights listed below are feats.  Most birthright feats are supernatural abilities, unless specified otherwise.

Darkvision:  When in completely darkness only, you can see the area around you (in a 60 foot radius), as if it were fully lit.  This ability functions even in magical darkness.

Dragonspawn:  You are immune to any draconic Fearful Presence ability.

Elemental Resistance:  You gain resistance 5 to one of acid, cold, electricity, or fire.

Large Size:  You are Large size instead of Medium.

Small Size:  You are Small size instead of Medium.

Sorcerous Blood:  You can cast four cantrips or orisons, as if you were a sorcerer of your caster level.  This is a spell-like ability.

Speak with Animals:  You can communicate with a specific type of animal (e.g., bear or crow or frog), as per the spell, as a supernatural ability.

Stonecunning:  You can automatically notice unusual stonework, including secret doors in stone walls, if you are searching for them.  Even if you are not actively searching, merely passing next to such stonework will allow you a Perception check to notice it.

Wakefulness:  You are immune to magical forms of sleep.

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