HD&D: Character Races II

Previously, we looked at the underlying rational behind the mechanics for player character races. It was a long time ago now, so you may not remember. The goal was to convert ten races into HD&D: Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Genasi, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Halfling, Human and Tiefling. To that list I am going to add an eleventh. I want fully playable stats for Genbassi as well. This is an Iourn race based on the third edition Mongrelfolk, for those not in the know.

In this post I am going present the starting statistics for five player character races – the two that were introduced in fourth edition, and three of an older pedigree. Hopefully, this will provide sufficient variety for you to make an informed choice on whether my approach will work. It’s better to show than to tell, so I’ll let you have a look at the stats first and then give you the commentary. Any lose ends we’ll tidy up at the end.

If you haven’t read it, the post on Talents, Traits and Feats is an essential primer as it will tell you how to read the entries. Also the more recent post on Hit Points and Damage gives you some perspective on how I am working out damage values.

At the moment there’s a poll going on to determine how we apply racial ability score modifiers to non-human characters. As the results of that aren’t in yet, we’ll proceed with my original thoughts for now: all non-human races have +2 to two prescribed ability scores, +2 to two prescribed attributes and +1 to one prescribed defence. That’s what the voting is currently leaning toward, but it’s very close.

Shall we begin?


The HD&D Dragonborn (version 1)

Some campaign background. The Dragonborn on Iourn were introduced in the adventure Where Dragons Fear to Tread. It was revealed that the Dragonborn were the servants of Bahamut during the Dragon Wars that ravaged Iourn millennia ago. They (along with Bahamut) had been imprisoned in the Walk Between Worlds by Io as a means of stopping the war. Recent adventures in the Hand that Rocks the Cradle campaign, have revealed that Dragonborn are starting to be born to parents of other races, and that they are therefore returning to the world.

This seeks to position the Iourn Dragonborn as the typical holy warriors, which is a role they readily lend themselves to. Iourn Dragonborn had their origins firmly in the third edition Races of the Dragon supplement, where they were not in fact a race, but a group of like-minded individuals from many races who had been transformed into a dragon-like form. With the advent of fourth edition, I saw the advantage in making them a race in their own right. However, the origin of the race itself may still be similar to the way it was presented in third edition.

Commentary on the Dragonborn

Right, you’ve read over the PDF, let me take  you through it one step at a time and hopefully explain my decisions to you.

The stat block is taken almost exclusively from fourth edition. They get a +2 bonus to the Knowledge (Religion) skill instead of History, but in the context of Iourn I think this is appropriate. Note how the dragonborn have a inate claw attack that does the same damage as a short sword. This means that a dragonborn is considered armed whenever he attacks, and that his attacks do real damage and not subdual damage. Not that I’ve necessarily decided to go down the third edition road of nonlethal damage, but I’m keeping my options open at this stage.

The two racial traits are less impressive. Dragonborn Fury is an expanded version of the trait that appears in the 4e Player’s Handbook. Draconic Armour is just there to give the dragonborn some armoured skin to reflect their reptilian nature. As I mentioned in the last post to this blog, we have to be careful what level we set this armour class at, and whether we allow natural armour stack with worn armour. Personally, I say that we don’t. In light of that +2 Armour Class should probably be written as Armour Class 2.

Now, onto the traits. Notice that despite my desire to make most traits either at-will or continuously active, both of these dragonborn traits use the same recharge mechanic as spells. I think this is appropriate in these cases, but I’m aware that I have to be careful about this.

Dragon Breath has become a cone rather than fourth edition’s rather artificial ‘blast’. I spoke about my house rules for cones long ago on this blog. Notice the attack roll that is required for the dragon breath. This could, I think cause some problems.

There is no base attack in HD&D, therefore every attack roll has to come off a skill. So what skill do you use for a breath weapon? Do you have a “Breath Weapon” skill? That sounds horribly specialised, and penalises the Dragonborn because he has to spend skill points on an extra skill that no one else has to bother with, simply to use a racial talent. Plus if you create a special skill for this, do we create another special skill for a Manticore firing off his tail spikes, or the gaze of the medusa?

For the purpoes of this example, I’ve defaulted the dragon breath to the Unarmed Combat skill. This skill is woefully inadequate for the task of representing inate supernatural attacks. It’s designed for punches, kicks and head butts. Any suggestions for what we replace it with?

Also the unarmed combat skill is modified by whichever is the highest of the dragonborn’s physical ability scores. This is pure 4e-speak, and is only there to make sure the dragonborn’s breath doesn’t become too inaccurate at higher levels. Is there a problem with this?

The damage firmly applies to my guidance on damage from the last post. However, as it only advances every five levels there is a bit of a jump in potency at those levels. A 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th level dragonborn might find the damage potential of his breath rather low compared to foes of the same level, until the advancement to the next tier of damage rebalances the equation.

Dragonborn Zeal was a 4e power published in an issue of Dragon Magazine and now modified for my purposes. Although, it doesn’t have the same cachet as dragon breath it does seem to underline the Dragonborn’s nature as a ravening, unstoppable monster. I see Dragonborn as inherently dangerous. They only have the veneer of a civilised race, beneath the surface they are… well, they’re dragons.

The feats are exclusively adapted from fourth edition products – either PHB1 or Dragon. I don’t think that there’s anything too controversial here. They are what you would expect from feats. There is certainly scope to create many more. All the meta-breath feats from the third edition Draconomicon are on the table.


The HD&D Dwarf (version 1)

There are various dwarven civilisations throughout Iourn, but all of them use the same game statistics. This is not to say that there aren’t dwarven sub-races out there somewhere, but for the most part all Iourn dwarves are what would have been referred to as Mountain Dwarves or Hill Dwarves in second edition. Both of these races have always been treated in exactly the same way.

When it comes to races like the Derro or the Duergar, I would prefer to treat these as an entirely separate race and not class them as a subrace of dwarf. I’ll take the same approach with the drow and the elves.

Comentary on the Dwarf

The attribute modifiers are straight out of fourth edition, as is the Speed rating. The dwarf is still slower than a human, but not significantly slower. His skill bonuses may raise an eyebrow. He gets +2 to Craft checks, and a +2 to a Weapon Group (either hammers or axes). That is of course, the same as +2 to hit. A fine advantage for combat-orientated dwarf.

The Racial Traits are a synthesis of third and fourth editions and (I think) suitably dwarfy. More so than the dragonborn, the dwarf’s racial traits really sum up a lot of what it means to be a dwarf.

Moving on to the Talents, and there is only really one generic talent here that is suitable for all dwarves: Unflinching Fatalism. Iourn dwarves have a distinctly Norse outlook on life, which is summed up in this talent. However, I think that it might be a little too powerful. The talent gives the dwarf a +5 to his Will defence aganist Enchantments and Fear effects. But if you compare it to the dwarf’s racial trait that gives him a +5 bonus versus poison, then perhaps it isn’t too extreme.

The other four talents are my way of adapting the Mineral Warrior Template to HD&D. This is largely because one of my PCs has the template, and I need to find a way to make it work in the context of the new system. In practice “Mineralised Warrior” will probably be a Prestige Class that you have to be a dwarf to take, but the racial talents seems as good a place as any to show case these abilities.

And yes, I know that in third edition anyone could be a mineralised warrior. However, I’m changing the rules slightly here to make the change Brack has gone through more significant. It isn’t as if the party has met a mineralised anything-else in the meantime.

Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to keep the talents down to less than four. So it’s a big committment for anyone to take all of them. I removed Earth Strike from the chain, making it available to any dwarf whether mineralised or not. I have a little more to say about two of the talents:

Mineralised Might is the first example of a talent that adds to a character’s attributes. The original 3rd ed Mineral Warrior template changed the characters attributes as follows: +2 Str, +4 Con, -2 Int, -2 Wis, -2 Cha. The HD&D version grants +4 Str, +4 Con and -2 Int. A better all round package, but is it worth a talent? Should you be able to pick a talent that gives you a penalty to an ability score? Have a think.

I’m having second thoughts about Tenacious Tunneller. The text uses the fourth edition definition of the Burrow speed. When you burrow you leave a tunnel behind you that others can follow. I think I prefer the third edition version, where there is no tunnel and so you can’t be followed. Or, I might make it so that only creatures that are smaller than you can follow down the tunnel you create. Any thoughts?

Some dwarf feats have been taken from the fourth edition PHB1. Others are my own invention. Like the dragonborn feats, they are what they are. Given the traits and talents available, they are also fairly predictable. However, any feat called Deafening Smackdown should surely be a must for any dwarf, right?


The HD&D Elf (version 1)

In fourth edition, the elf was split into two distinct races: the elf and the eladrin. Each one represents a different elven stereotype: the archer and the wizard respectively. On Iourn, eladrin are a celestial race (not dissimilar to how there were presented in second edition). They are the original fey and progenitors of the elves. After further consideration of the matter, I don’t think there’s any room for 4e’s definition of eladrin on Iourn.

So on Iourn there are just elves. These rules cover three different types of elf. I wouldn’t call them sub-races, as their differences are entirely cultural. It wouldn’t be unusual to find all three types of elf in the same community. The three are the High Elves or Araedhel (such as Grimalkin), the Sylvan Elves or Tauredhel (such as the Arboreal Guardians of Faerauth) and the Sword Elves or Magoledhel (such as Anwyn).

The three types enjoy different different skill, attribute and defence bonuses. However, they may choose from a common pool of Racial Traits and Racial Talents. Depending on how the poll goes, a rules-based  distinction between the elves might prove irrelevent.

Commentary on the Elf

So we have three stat blocks to look at. I won’t point out the differences, as they should be evident. An Araedhel is far more suited to being a wizard than either of the others. The traditional elven bonus to hit with bows and swords is divided between the Tauredhel and Magoledhel respectively.

You will then notice that there are four racial traits and not two. Elves can still only select two traits, but don’t worry. There will be a general feat that can be selected multiple times to ‘mop-up’ any extra racial traits you want your character to have.

The elf’s racial traits are taken from second, third and fourth editions. There are so many options for elves that it is difficult to squeeze them all in to the options I permit in HD&D. Elves have traditionally gained bonuses to Knowledge (Nature) and Perception in the past. Those bonuses aren’t in the stat block, but they can still get them through their racial traits.

Onto talents. There are only really two listed. Grey Step is simply a means for me to explain the powers used by elves up to this point in various Iourn campaigns. It isn’t unavailable to PCs per se, it’s just unlikely a player character elf would get it and keep it. It is rather powerful.

Fey Step and Elven Accuracy are my versions of the fourth edition powers made available to the 4e eladrin and elf respectively. They aren’t greatly changed, although they have been tweaked slightly.

The Elf feats presented here are adaptations of fourth edition feats and racial traits that didn’t fit anywhere else. There is a fair amount of bias toward 4e source material here, but this is largely because I haven’t got around to a close reading of many of my third edition supplements just yet.


The HD&D Human (version 1)

Ah, the human. Feasibly the master of every class under my generous put-your-ability-score-bonuses-where-you-like system. Of course, humans are the most difficult race to create racial traits, talents and feats for. When you think about it, all the other races are just humans with an exaggerated personality and physical traits. Humans represent the base-level of all other races. They are by definition bland and rather unexciting. So how do we sex up humans?

Third and fourth takes the view that humans are just more adaptable than other races, and this is the tack I am also taking. I have also made an effort to align humans with Fate and destiny. They have abilities that tweak the game mechanics to and allow them to be their most heroic at dramtatically appropriate times.

Commentary on the Human

Obvious, if it’s not broke I’m not going to fix it, so the human’s Racial Traits are very familiar to any third edition player. One bonus feat, and some extra skill points. Such things are always welcome. In HD&D being a human is the only way to get your hands on an extra feat. You should value that.

I am less happy with the racial talents. The three presented here appeared as feats in the third edition book, Races of Destiny. While they are all right, I’m not sure that they are good enough to be talents in their own right. Have a read and see what you think.

Finally, the feats are a mixture of fourth edition feats and new feats that augment the powers of the racial talents. There’s some good stuff here; a little uninspired perhaps, but definitely useful.


The HD&D Tiefling (version 1)

The tiefling was only introduced as a unique race in fourth edition. They have since appeared in the Cradlelands campaign. The original tieflings (individuals that carry some form of fiendish blood in their ancestry) still exist, but this post is for the Iourn equivalent of the fourth edition tiefling – or the Varrashtar as they call themselves.

Commentary on the Tiefling

Let us begin with the Racial Traits. Bloodhunt is the same as the dragonborn’s Dragborn Fury racial trait, only in reverse. I want the HD&D tiefling to be an intrinsically nasty basket, a dirty fighter who takes advantage of a foe’s weaknes. Bloodhunt is a good start down that road.

There are two Racial Talents presented here. Infernal Wrath carries on the theme I started with Bloodhunt. It is similar to the 4e power of the same name, but not completely the same. For one thing, the HD&D version of Infernal Wrath is used as an immediate reaction to an attack against the tiefling. It is instant retribution from the diabolic monster within.

Darkness Diabolique is the update of a third edition tiefling’s ability to cast darkness once per day. It is a useful ability, and excessively creepy. Combined with one or two of the racial feats I have invented it becomes significantly more potent.

In fact, the feats are the part of the tiefling entry I am most proud of. They magnify both the racial talents to extreme degrees. Notice that of the two feats that amplify Darkness Diabolique, Algid Darkness only works when the character is unbloodied, and Ravenous Darkness only works when the character is bloodied. I quite like that.

In Conclusion

So there we are. The first proper statistics for the HD&D game. Sorry they have been so long in coming. I think I have addressed all of my own concerns, but I’m sure that you will have concerns of your own. Do too many of these talents use the recharge mechanic? I haven’t tried to balance natural weapons, enhanced vision or speed between the races. Does this matter? Marc thought it did before, do you still think that now?

Comments please!


3 thoughts on “HD&D: Character Races II

  1. Is inured the new verisimilitude? Can you be inured to poison? To echo Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. Or is that inconceivable?

  2. I’ve read through it all and had a think, and I approve of all the principles here. You’ve done a good job. Well done Neil! I got a particularly Dwarfy feel from the Dwarf and the Dragonborn and Tiefling are very evocative. Elves and Humans left me a bit cold but with more development they’ll work well, I’m sure.

    I like the mineralised warrior talents. I can see how the prestige class will work. As far as burrowing goes, I think you should leave some form of tunnel but not one that is easy to get through. It’s probably fine as written, but maybe it could also count as difficult ground? I’ve always found the burrowing rules a bit unreal, as you just seem to pass through walls without much trace left behind.

    I think the recharge mechanic works fine and I don’t have any concerns about the listed talents using it. Whatever’s most appropriate for the power.

    I like that different races’ talents give different hit point bonuses. It’s a very nice touch for differentiating the races and allowing things like Dwarfy Dwarf Wizards to be extra tough.

    Minor concerns:
    1) I like the Tiefling feats. They show how game mechanics can really produce flavour and atmosphere. I like how they develop talents, which is what you had said you had planned. The high level ones seem particularly powerful though. Are high level feats all going to scale quite like this? I had envisaged talents getting this powerful but hadn’t really imagined feats that improve talents quite like this. I don’t have a problem with it, but I think there will have to be lots of very powerful feats out there to compete with these.
    2) Elves have four racial traits but have to pick two? I think that we need to be careful about this with other races and not get into a habit of it. Elves can just about get away with it as they can split the traditional characteristics between the three sub-cultures. At first I didn’t like this as it seemed that in order to be a ‘proper’ Elf you would have to take feats to get all the traits you would need. I can see that you could get a Elvish feeling character with two of these traits so it just about works. I think that we should be careful not to make players feel that they need to spend feats in order to create a viable member of their race. I’m sure you were going to do that anyway. Just making sure.
    3) I looked at the Human talents and thought they were potentially very powerful. You think they are underpowered. Hmmm. Playtesting is the way to go, I guess. Being able to survive certain death seems incredibly good but I guess it doesn’t happen very often (except to Arvan and Nicos, to whom it has happened regularly and they haven’t been too adversely affected). All the feats encourage recklessly heroic play, which I am all in favour of. I think these feats are just about balanced and should be played to see how good they really are.

    So, almost entirely positive so far.

    • Thank for you your kind words, Daniel. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. To answer your specific points:

      1) Tiefling is probably the best example thusfar of feats taking racial talents to the extreme. With the exception of Master of Grudges all the feats that modify the Infernal Wrath talent are taken directly from the 4e PHB. Of course, Infernal Wrath was never this good in 4e, so anything that makes it even better should be examined closely. Feasibly, an 11th level tiefling could strike with his Infernal Wrath for weapon damage + 3d6 + 11 fire damage, and throw the foe back five feet and knock him prone. That’s well above the bar for average damage, but he can only do it once per encounter.

      However, I think it’s the feats that modify Darkness Diabolique you were thinking of when you mention the power level. Both Algid Darkness and Ravenous Darkness are powerful, but much of their power is circumstantial. For Ravenous Darkness to work properly, the tiefling has to be bloodied and his foes have to be without 20 feet of him. That means there needs to be something stopping the enemies walking out of the radius and launching fireballs at the tiefling’s general location. Plus, Ravenous Darkness eats away at allies as well as enemies, so there will be plenty of situations where a tiefling won’t want to use it. Certainly, it’s power level is not inconsiderable, but by 21st level wizards are throwing around prismatic sprays. I think it balances in that regard.

      Will I need lots of other powerful feats to compete with these? Maybe I will. I think the Dragonborn feats do some considerable service to his Dragon Breath. I think by the third tier we can afford to let the PCs get hold of something meaningful.

      2) Actually, I was very close to giving dwarves a third racial trait as I noticed that they didn’t have anything like the third edition Stonecunning ability available to them. However, I’d already turned the word documents into a PDF by that point and I largely couldn’t be bothered to redo it.

      Just between you and me, elves were a nightmare to redesign. I could really tell why WotC chose to split them into two distinct races. There are just so many different abilities and powers that go into your archetypal elf: they should get bonuses to magic, perception, swords, bows, nature… the list goes on. None of which are powerful enough to call Talents so they either appear in the stat block or become racial traits.

      Part of me thinks that additional racial traits is a bit of fudge. Another part of me thinks that it is just promoting choice. I think that each elven sub-culture will find the two racial traits that are most appropriate for them, and not think they need the other two. However, I don’t want to close the door forever on the other traits, which is why I mentioned my intention to introduce the general feat.

      3) The human talents were direct copies of the feats from Races of Destiny. By introducing the requirement of an unspent action point, I actually made them less powerful than they were. Certainly Fearless Destiny is more powerful than the other two. Maybe it’s just my gut feeling that says these talents don’t stand at the same level as the Tiefling or Dwarf talents.

      You are right. Playtesting is the way to go. However, we can’t really play test five races in isolation. We need a critical mass of options and rules before going down that road. At the very least we need some classes!

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