Monday, January 16, 2017

Replacing Racial Traits:  Dwarves     

In the past few posts, I've laid some groundwork for how I approach race in Pathfinder and D&D.  Let's look at how that approach can help break down the structure of racial traits.  I'll use dwarves as my example this time, since elves have already gotten a lot of love.

Here's what I am using for the basic dwarven heritage:

Dwarven Heritage Traits
  • Languages:  Common and Dwarven
  • Underground Dwellers:  low-light vision
  • Builders:  +2 Craft, +2 Knowledge (engineering)
  • Merchants:  +2 Appraise
For game balancing purposes, each heritage gets three +2 skill bonuses and one additional non-magical ability, which I classify as being slightly less powerful than a feat.  (More on feats in a later post!)

Dwarves have been portrayed in many different ways, and there has been a large amount of disagreement about what characteristics are essentially dwarven.  Everything from appearance (beards on all genders?) to some of their traditional habits (drinking and singing about gold?) to real-world cultural references (Nordic dwarves vs. Germanic dwarves vs. Scottish dwarves?) has been the subject of so much controversy that Terry Pratchett has written whole sub-plots of his books about it.

I've started from the assumption that dwarves live underground, that they build things (mines count as things), and that they seem to be interested in money and trade (you can't eat gold, after all).  I've given them low-light vision instead of darkvision for several reasons:  first, dwarven mines and cities in fantasy RPGs always appear to be fairly well-lit; second, darkvision is ridiculously over-used; and third, I prefer darkvision to be more useful for seeing in the kind of darkness that players most likely face as a real obstacle, namely magical darkness.  This means that darkvision should also be magical, which makes it a birthright.

My discussion, in previous posts, about issues of size and racial hatred explain the reasons that some of the other Pathfinder dwarven traits are missing.

But now dwarves are very bare-bones, without a lot of detail.  How can we add in the level of interest that the Pathfinder rules provide, without having a huge list of things for the player to read?  First, let's review some design goals and parameters.

Identity, Heritage, and Birthright Mechanics Parameters

  • If a trait is something you are born with (nature), then it is an identity or a birthright.  If it is non-magical, it is an identity and does not alter the mechanics of the game.
  • A magical trait you are born with is a birthright.  It can be represented either through a feat (or feat tree if it is very powerful, like being able to fly), or it can be part of a class feature (such as a sorcerer bloodline).
  • If a trait is something you acquire through your upbringing (nurture), then it is part of your heritage.
  • Heritage grants three +2 bonuses to skills and one special ability.
  • Special abilities should be slightly less powerful than a feat.
  • Changes to either skills or special abilities can be the result of a different heritage or the blending of two heritages.
  • Whenever possible, as a design goal, special abilities and birthright feats should not grant bonuses that are only applicable in certain, very specific situations.  Too many of these clutter up a character sheet and are too many unnecessary things for a player to keep track of.
  • Ideally, heritages and birthrights should be evocative, they should provide for good story opportunities, they should not hinder the story by limiting the agency of the character, and they should be easy to understand.

Dwarven Alternate Racial Traits in Pathfinder

Pathfinder includes over forty alternate racial traits for dwarves in its rules.  First, I want to eliminate the alternate traits that are substitute racial hatred traits.  I've talked about my reasons for doing this in the prior post.  There is one possible substitute for these traits, which is the favored enemy feat.  I'll talk more about that more when we get to rangers.  For now, suffice to say that favored enemy could go one of two ways:  a hunter of monsters or an enemy of a (generally evil) organization.  Here's how some of the racial traits for dwarves break down along those lines:
  • Hunter:  The initial Defensive Training trait (giants), Barrow Scholar (undead), Barrow Warden (undead), Deep Warrior (aberrations), Giant Hunter (giants), Saltbeard (aquatic creatures), Sense Aberrations (aberrations), Wyrmscourged (dragons)
  • Enemy:  The initial Hatred trait (orcs and goblins), Ancient Enmity (elves), Spell Smasher (spell casters), Xenophobic (some sort of enemy organization that uses mind control).
Note that these traits, as written, have bonuses that are all over the place.  Instead of having to keep track of which specific bonuses go with which Hunter or Enemy feat, it is much easier to use the favored enemy template, which in Pathfinder provides +2 Bluff, +2 Knowledge, +2 Perception, +2 Sense Motive, +2 Survival, +2  attack, and +2 damage.  Since all characters now gain the bonus feat that was previously reserved for humans, dwarves can take favored enemy as a feat to duplicate the effects of these racial traits.

Next, let's look at racial traits that add skill bonuses.  Some are already covered in the heritage as I've written it.  Some of these represent new heritages.  And some are abilities that should probably be feats (these are often the ones that would otherwise add RP to the race, under Pathfinder rules), and can be taken as a bonus feat at first level.

Already Covered
  • Craftsman:  Technically, this also gives a +2 to Profession.  I'll talk about why I think Profession should be eliminated as a Skill in a later post.  But if you don't want to eliminate it, then this could be a new heritage instead.
  • Low-light Vision:  Already a special ability of dwarves.
  • Greed:  Covered by the +2 Appraise in the base heritage.
New Heritages
  • Fey Magic:  This gives the favored terrain ability, which is probably best reworked as a special ability.  Dwarves with mystical fey connections to their homes sound unique, and they would probably gain different skill bonuses than the "standard" dwarf.  The spell-like abilities granted by this racial trait can be duplicated by taking the birthright feat: sorcerous blood.
  • Fey Thoughts:  This could be combined into the heritage above, granting +2 bonuses on appropriate skills.
  • Lorekeeper:  Dwarves who value books and study are distinct enough from dwarves who are builders and miners that it could warrant a new heritage.  It is possible that this represents a different class of dwarves, living in the same cities as the others, but with their own heritage and traditions.
  • Mountaineer:  This could be simplified into favored terrain (mountains) and used for another heritage, dwarves who live outside on the mountains, rather than underground.
  • Saltbeard:  Dwarves at sea!  A new idea that merits a new heritage.
  • Sky Sentinel:  Dwarves in the air!  However, see the section on feats, below, as well.
  • Stoic Negotiator:  These dwarves don't seem interested in mining and building, but are focused on being merchants.  Since our "standard" dwarves are already merchants, this might be a good candidate for a blended heritage to gain the +2 Bluff and Diplomacy.
  • Surface Survivalist:  Dwarves that no longer live underground, but likely have favored terrain as their special ability instead of low-light vision.  This might be the same heritage as Mountaineer, above.
Bonus Feats
  • Behind the Veil:  This gives two +2 skill bonuses, only under certain circumstances, for 1 RP.  As a feat, it should probably be somewhat more powerful, and associated with a feat tree themed around concealment and shadows.
  • Darkvision:  A birthright feat, written up in a prior post.
  • Dimdweller:  Another feat in the same tree as Behind the Veil.
  • Dusksight:  Another feat in the same tree as Behind the Veil.  These are all skills for using dim light and concealment to gain combat advantages.
  • (original trait) Hardy:  See Healthy and Magic Resistant below.
  • Healthy:  Resistances to disease and poison (and needing fewer rolls to save against them) should be part of a feat tree with Great Fortitude.
  • Lasting Grudge:  Should be rewritten as a feat.  This is a good example of a birthright feat that reads more like a curse, but nonetheless provides a benefit to an adventurer.
  • Magic Resistant:  Unbalanced as written, this could be a part of a feat tree.  However, feats that scale with character level should be approached with extreme caution:  they are almost always better off as class abilities.
  • Minesight:  A birthright feat that could be part of a feat tree with Darkvision.
  • Poison Minion:  This 4 RP (!) trait is an interesting plot device, but if it is going to be used as a part of character creation then it should be a birthright feat (likely a tree of such feats).  Not for every campaign, but I could see an entire adventure based around this concept!
  • Sky Sentinel:  Although I think this should totally be a new heritage, it could also probably be part of a feat tree based on combat with flying creatures.  However, because it is not particularly supernatural, it probably is not a good candidate for a birthright feat, and should instead be a combat feat.
  • (original trait) Stability:  Part of a combat feat tree based around standing your ground.
  • Stonecunning:  A birthright feat, written up in a prior post.
  • Relentless:  Part of a combat feat tree.
  • Rockstepper:  Part of a combat feat tree.
  • Stubborn:  Resistances for particular uses of Will saves.  Should be part of a feat tree with Iron Will.
  • Tightfisted:  Should be a feat, although it's kind of all over the place and needs to be rewritten a bit.
  • Treasure Sense:  Definitely a birthright feat and a very interesting one!
  • Unstoppable:  Essentially this is already a feat (Toughness), with an added +1 Fortitude save.  More on Toughness in my post on feats.
  • Viscous Blood:  A really weird birthright feat, but certainly evokes a lot of potential story ideas!
  • Voice in the Darkness:  See Behind the Veil above.
Note that birthright feats that are part of a feat tree could very well be taken after first level.  By taking the first feat, you have laid the groundwork that it is a magical or supernatural ability that your character has.  As the game progresses, and your character learns to control this magic, and they gain additional benefits from it.

Sorcerous Bloodline Abilities (or other Class Birthright Abilities)

There are a few dwarven Pathfinder traits, such as Shadowhunter, Shadowplay, and Stonesinger, that may work best as class abilities based on a birthright.  Stonesinger makes direct reference to the deep earth and elemental earth bloodlines.  Shadowhunter would appear to be a good match with the undead bloodline, while Shadowplay matches well with the shadow bloodline.  More on sorcerous bloodlines when we get to character classes!

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