So, in picking up 5e again after the short break for Call of Cthulhu, and reading Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I’m struck at how 5e handles character races. I get that there are many problematic pieces to level limits (ala 1e), or even experience point penalties (ala 3.5e), the latter especially given that I’ve moved to story-based advancement rather than tracking XP. But for the life of me I have no reason to vote “for” playing a human in 5e and many more for playing another race – save for strictly flavor-text RP preference, unless the GM mandates some sort of ratio.
Now, I had pretty much banned folk from playing elves in my campaign world (with a couple of very notable exceptions) because I didn’t think anyone could play the mindset very well. I dropped that, at the same time I have a world where I want things to feel very “human -centric” – quite unlike the far more cosmopolitan Forgotten Realms for example. For me this makes the actually cosmopolitan areas stand out more.
But I’ll be damned about how to incentivize people to play humans over other races – and racial bonuses to stats make this even worse. Honestly, I think I’m going to switch statistic modifiers back to something more in-line with my 1e rules, perhaps even penalizing my non-humans more stringently. That was always a thing about playing a non-human yes, you got the stat bonus but there was always an associated penalty…
Now, this is probably at least partly a shared problem with my players. As one example, Ilda the Dwarf Bard might as well be Ilda the Elven Bard or Ilda the Human Bard, there is nothing especially “dwarvish” in the way that KT plays Ilda and while this is certainly something I’ve allowed, it’s also a failure on the part of the player to fully embrace the character’s race. MS always plays humans because he has said that he’s not interested in making things harder for himself, so I think that has stood out in his play of Lord Devin. That wasn’t always the case because I can remember when Ilda took some very strong stands against looting tombs.
When people have played nonhumans before, I’ve been used to them embracing the race and running with it. Sometimes playing a large part in creating that races culture – two of my previous characters did that with gnome. There is a reason why they are Celtic-ish, kilt-wearing, Druidic, hard-drinking folks rather than the version portrayed in other settings.
I also noticed that in the last couple of sessions I’ve dropped almost all of my descriptive detail – and that’s not good for the game. If I’m not setting the mood and the tone well, my players will follow suit and pretty soon were not role-playing, we’re roll-playing and essentially miniatures wargaming using the 5e rules. Not exactly a bad thing, but not what people came to do.
But getting back to character races, taking a page from Character Backgrounds, I think each nonhuman character race needs a real hook that serves as a foil. For my high elves and wood elves it is their lack of understanding of money, KR has done a good job of using that to build flavor into Gwynneth, but I don’t quite have anything like that for the other races. I should probably review each race and build something in on that level as I review statistic bonuses and penalties.