Rules of Creating Humanoid Player Races

ADVENTEROUS DUNGEON MASTERS and players enjoy tinkering with every aspect of the game, making it theirs, and unique to them. This is the reason to play! But, if you take anything away from this blog, it is that this game is about cooperation just as much as it is an exercise in imagination.

One of the coolest aspects of the game is creating new player character races, this is a guide which will help you create your own, and lays down the guidelines to doing it. Of course I don’t know how crazy your game is! I don’t know if dragons are everywhere, or if beggars walk around with 2,000gp in their pockets, so I’m just going to assume that your world is as close to core as possible, so it’ll will have to be modified to fit your own standards of what your players are used to.

THINGS TO CONSIDER

New races are well known to actually break games. One of the biggest game breakers, in my opinion, is The Humanoids Handbook: This book allows players to play everything from lizardmen to trolls which some are good and fine, while others break the game. This handbook is a suitable reference for creating NPCs of abnormal levels, but as far as playing goes, I ignore it and don’t allow any of the monsters to be player races unless it is for a very limited time.

That said, lets create our own race! The first thing that we need is a monster which fits a specific standard.

The new race should be humanoid: Humanoids have two arms, two legs, 1 head. This is our basis, things without backs, bodies, or form are no good. Things with too many appendages are also to be avoided, players will demand that they get more attacks per round then what everybody else gets and we don’t want to go there.

The new race cannot possess any special attacks: This is another thing which players don’t seem to grasp. If one person can play the game by himself, then he is out of balance with the rest of the party. We don’t want any super-characters; the players should have to work together to reach their goals, having one player capable of everything breaks the game. No multiple attacks, no breath-weapons, no special attack forms, no shape shifting, no regeneration. All of it is cheating. Not to say that they can’t have special abilities! A race with gills or can see in the dark doesn’t harm the game, but special abilities which give an unfair advantage in combat should be off-limits. Some things are fine, but, we need to create disadvantages to each ability to keep everything balanced.

The new race cannot be extra-dimensional: It can’t draw on extra-dimensional powers, have true magic resistance, or have innate spell-casting abilities or spell-like powers not available to any of the other races. These skills always have to be earned through excelling in your chosen class and never gifted.

The new race must be cooperative: We don’t want to knowingly introduce a character into a party which will disrupt or destroy the party itself. Much of this has to do with role-playing and what is already in the party. If there is a paladin in the party, then you aren’t going to want to put some creature that is typically associated with evil. The alignment will of course still be up to the player, and it is cool to play a race which is typically associated as evil, but the player will have to think of a reason why this specific humanoid is the way he is.

If the character race that we want to introduce fits all of the criteria above, then we’ve got a possible new race! For an example, I’m going to use a race called Rakasta from the popular module The Isle of Dread. Of course, this is a 1e monster, so I’ll also have to update it to 2e, but this is crazy easy because these two systems aren’t all that different from each other.

Rakasta

Climate, Terrain: Tropical, Jungle
Organization: Tribal
Activity Cycle: Any
Diet: Carnivorous
Intelligence: Low-Average (5-10)
Treasure Type: M (special)
Alignment: Neutral
# Appearing: 3-30 (+ 1d8 sabre-tooths)
Armor Class: 6
Movement: 9 (3)
Hit Dice: 2+1
THAC0: 19
# of Attacks: 3 (Claw/Claw/Bite)
Damage: 1d4/1d4/1d4 (1d2/1d2/1d4)
Special Attacks: None
Special Defenses: None
Magic Resistance: nil
Size: M (5-6 feet tall)
Morale: 9

The rakasta are a race of nomadic, catlike humanoids. They walk erect, much like humans, but are covered with soft, tawny fur and have feline heads and features. The rakasta fight with special metal “war claws” fitted over their natural claws. Without these special “claws,” the rakasta claw attacks do only 1-2 points of damage each. The rakast can use normal weapons such as swords, but generally disdain them, preferring to use their “natural” weapons (the war claws).

The rakasta often tame saber-tooth tigers that are then ridden to the hunt or into battle. The saber-tooth tigers are controlled with knee pressure and heavy riding crops, and are fitted with special saddles that do not hinder their fighting abilities. These saddles also allow the rakasta to leap up to 20’ from their mounts and attack in the same round. The “tame” saber-tooths are too ferocious to be ridden by any creature other then a rakasta.

Rakasta settlements average 3d10 rakasta and 1d8 sabre-tooths, and are made up of many colorful tents and pavilions. Although they have type M treasure, the rakasta have rugs and tapestries of the workmanship, crafted bowls and drinking cups, and other bulky items of value, rather then gems and jewels.


Now, as you can see, most of the work has already be done for us. I had to convert some stuff over, but not much. Of course, if you are creating a totally unique player race out of your own crazy head, then you’ll need to fill in all of the fields above, which really doesn’t take that long. Your best bet is basing it on something that is in the MM. For instance, I drew some information from the great, cats entry, as well as goblins to give me a basis on information that I couldn’t find in the original material. I wanted it to be as close to what is already in my rule-set as possible so that it isn’t unbalanced.

ABILITY SCORES

Ability scores for PCs are always found the same way as the rest of the players; a number between 3 and 18, until we modify them.

Now, there are some hard rules about modifying ability scores, so that they don’t get completely out of whack with the world around them. These rules can be ignored, but I must point out that they are there for a reason, and again, this reason is BALANCE. If we make a character too strong, then he is going to start treading on the other players, and it is our job as the ref to not give him the excuse to do it.

Our first hard rule is in regards to strength. Strength modifiers are determined not by preconceived notions, but by size.


Tiny: -3
Small: -1
Medium: 0
Large: +1
Huge: +2
Gigantic: +4


Now naturally, you aren’t going to ever have a PC be Gigantic, this just shows us the general rules of how strength is dished out to monsters of different sizes. Under no circumstances should you ever deviate from this system. Our rakasta is a good example of this, just because he is a cat, doesn’t mean that he automatically should have strength bonuses, because he is still a Medium Sized creature.

The other hard rule deals with Intelligence. This information needs to stay uniform with the Monstrous Manual. Those listed in the MM as low intelligence suffer a –1, those listed as high gain a +1.

All of the other stats are open to interpretation, and can be fiddled with. Now, if you take something away, then you should give it back elsewhere: and the same applies for giving bonuses, for ever plus, there must be a minus. No creature should ever have a modifier greater then +2 to any stat.

Looking at our rakasta, They already have a –1 to intelligence, and I think that they should have a +2 to DEX. This leaves one more negative modifier to deal with, and since they are savage creatures, we’ll go ahead and place the –1 to Charisma.

ABILITY LIMITS

We’ll want to set up a system of minimum and maximum numbers to qualify. Now this shouldn’t be as strict as class qualifiers, and should be something easy to do. Large creatures should have a minimum STR of 16, but since they are probably slower then most, the highest DEX they can get is 17. Dull-witted creatures have a cap on INT 16, which is still really really smart.

Bizarre combinations are going to happen, but that is the characters job to determine why they are so weird. For our rakasta, we’ll need to come up with our own min-maxs.

STR: 3-18
DEX: 9-19
CON: 3-18
INT: 3-16
WIS: 9-18
CHA: 3-17


A character must have a DEX and WIS of at least 9, and No higher then INT 16 before modifying to qualify for the Rakasta race. If this is met then we’ll add our +2 to DEX and –1 to INT and CHA.

Of course, we are going to cap these limits. A Rakasta cannot have a DEX of 20, he can only go as high as 19, that modifier will be lost if he rolled an 18. At the same time, if a player rolled badly for CHA or INT, getting only a 3 in those abilities, then he won’t have to deduct the extra –1 from the score, because he can’t go lower then 3 either.

CHARACTER CLASS

It is up to the DM to determine what classes a new race can choose from. No race can do all classes, this is a human ability, and a human ability only!

Fighters: All races can become fighters.
Paladins: Only humans can be Paladins, no exceptions.
Rangers: If the creature is native to the woods, or other outdoor area, then he’ll qualify for this class.
Priests: If the new race has restrictions against WIS, they cannot be priests. The race may have clerics but they are typically powerless.
Wizards: New Races with restrictions to INT cannot be wizards.
Rogue: Races with restrictions against DEX and creatures of size Large or bigger cannot be thieves.

Other things to think about is multi-classing. The new race must have access to both classes, and have the minimum prime requisite score of at least 14. They also can’t be Fighter/Rangers, that is just crazy!

Rakasta can be Fighters, Rangers, Priests, Rogues, Fighter/Priests, Fighter/Rogues, and Priest/Rogues.


LEVEL LIMITS

Only humans can max out at 20th level. Until our playtesting is complete, we’ll want to put some really severe level limits on them. The logic behind this is that their races are unsuitable for adventuring. Goblins live the way that they do because they have to! Same goes for Hill Giants, they don’t typically wander off and try to save princesses from evil dragons, it is just totally beyond them. After you’ve play tested something and work all of the kinks out, then you can up the level limits some, but only the DM can do this.

There is actually a neat chart in the DMG which dictates Level Limits for humanoid races. The chart is based on the players Prime Requisite number, and the level limit starts at 3rd level max for a PR of 9 and improves on a 1 to 1 basis. Thus: 9-3rd, 10-4th, 11-6th, and so on until Prime Requisite ability score of 18 which is capped at 12th level. 12th is the highest that a humanoid can go.

An example of this is: Our Rakasta character is going to play a fighter and has a Prime Requisite of 13 STR, this will set his level limit to 7th level.

Now, once we’ve established our humanoids, say the Rakasta have explored beyond the Isle of Dread and have formed a true colony on the mainland. They get along with their demi-human neighbors, maybe they formed a deep friendship with the local elves, gnomes, and halflings in the forest, now they have achieved true demi-human status and new level limits can be set. Looking at our Rakasta ability limits will tell us that they make extremely good Rangers, this level limit should be set higher then the other classes.

Now, this hasn’t been playtested, so it is just an example.

Fighter: 12
Paladin: -
Ranger: 15
Cleric: 9
Druid: 12
Wizard: -
Illusionist: -
Thief: 12
Bard: -


OTHER DETAILS

Alignment: If a hard alignment is set, such as “Good” or “Lawful”, then the character must have that alignment, or close to it. For instance, if the typical alignment for the creature is Chaotic Evil, then naturally we might not want the player to play evil as it could disrupt the game, however we’ll keep the Chaotic aspect of the alignment, and this character can’t be lawful.

If the alignment isn’t set, then the player can chose any alignment that he wants to play, but try not to remove it to far away from the rest of the kin.

Hit Points: Hit points are dictated by class, however there is 1 exception to the rules, at 1st level, a creature of size L or bigger receives a bonus of +1 for every hit die that the monster would normally receive. As an example, an Ogre would roll his hp normally, and then add 4hp, because normally Ogres are 4 HD monsters. The reason for this is that Large creatures always take Large damage. This bonus only applies to 1st level! Once the Player gains a level, then he’ll roll hit points the same as everybody else does.

Level Advancement: This is always the same as everybody else. Players don’t get any bonuses to take their characters up to the level that the monster normally is. A PC ogre still has to play just as long to get to 4th level as everyone else. This shouldn’t be a problem with players, and if it is, then you probably picked the wrong player to play-test the new race.

Armor: Most races have a natural AC of 10, but if this isn’t the case with the new creature, then different rules apply. They too, are pretty simple, if a creature has a better AC without armor then 10, then determine the new base. Say, AC of 7. Armor which protects up to the creatures natural AC grants the character +1 to AC, thus if he were to put on Leather armor, this would drop his AC to 6. Of course if he put on Hide armor, the most he’d get out of it would still be 6. This modifier disappears if he buys armor which is better then his natural AC. Thus, anything AC of 6 or below would keep its AC value.

If the new races body is really different, then he’s going to have to have all of his armor specially made for him, this will cost more and take more time to produce.

Movement: The characters Movement rate is exactly the same as the one listed in the MM.

Attacks: The characters number of attacks goes by class, not by the number of attacks listed in the MM. Thus, for our Rakasta character, if he’s only given 1 attack because he’s a rogue, then he can’t use his claw/claw/bite. He can only either claw once, or bite once per round.

Size Problems Characters of large size will have other problems, ropes might not be made with them in mind, and will snap suddenly. He’ll be to big to sleep in a standard sized bed. This stuff is more DM heckling then a true restriction. All of that extra strength comes at a cost, and it’s up to you to extract it from him.

NPC Reactions: These will typically be worse then normal. People simply aren’t used to dealing with humanoids, and bigotry will be common.

PLAY-TESTING

And that is it! Now, granted, this is all rule of thumb, and the dumbest part of it is that the Humanoids Handbook pretty much broke every rule that it set up in the DMG. Can you tell that I’m not a fan of that book? I play-tested a few races from that book, and they are, for the most part, incompatible with my game.

I personally don’t see a reason for adding new playable races to a game, but they can be fun. Again, and it can’t be stressed enough, don’t let one player hog the spotlight! Let him know that this character is being tested only, and can be taken away from him or modified at any time.

It is best that you try the new race out on just 1 character, and only play test one character at a time, else you are in for a huge headache and you have nothing to compare it on.

Balance is always the key, and each of the established Demi-Human races have been play-tested to death and back again. It can take years to fine-tune a race so that it is functional and worthwhile to everyone involved in it, and if that doesn’t sound like your bag of chips, then I’d suggest not even trying it.

4 comments:

ligedog said...

I recently let a player in my 1st Ed. game make a new character out of the Oriental Adventures book. He made a hengeyokai shapechanger character which is pretty out of wack with the rest of the party. Won't be doing that again.

Barking Alien said...

This is great advice...if you have players who abuse special abilities, you have a very strict species/class dynamic or want your game to be very much compatible with everybody else's game.

For me, I give my Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Humans, etc. special abilities and drawbacks that make them unique and reflect the cultures and/or origins of my world, which is not so 'tradition medieval' fantasy. Therefore, creating new races is both fun and easy as I can do the same for them.

My Dog People have a heightened sense of smell, my Goops are non-humanoid, sentient slimes and my Umbrals are extra-dimensional shadow-fae beings who have a number of weakness to offset their relatively stylish but not so combat oriented powers.

I guess what I'm saying is that for me the prevelant rule for creating a player race should be to make sure that race is balanced such that its not overly more effective in the game then every other race.

AD
Barking Alien

Scott said...

What, no centaurs? Of course, you'd probably only want to play one if assured that it was going to be mainly a wilderness campaign, or the dungeon has really high ceilings...

Ripper X said...

I think that the temptation for the player to cheat is always there. I give out nothing, I don't believe in "Gifts" and I find that my players prefer to earn everything.

Grand Haul campaigns are very common, this is a mistake, in my opinion. The greatest mistake that one can make is in giving the player too much power. We want to make them powerful and survivable, and we do want the character to get somewhere and achieve his/her dreams, but at the same time we need to be very restrictive or else we'll fall in this vicious loop where we have to constantly do all of this insane stuff just to challenge them.

Thanks all for your comments!

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