Design Call: Character Races

In my original posts for this blog, I said that I didn’t want to create HD&D in isolation. If the process just consists of me putting ideas up on the blog for everyone else to tear apart then we’re never going to finish this game. The time has come for me to pass the mantle of creation onto others.

I now make an appeal for volunteers to tackle the remaining HD&D character races: the genasi, genbassi (mongrelfolk), gnome, half-elf, half-orc and halfling. Obviously, there are plenty of other PC races out there to consider, but the above are the core. We’ll add others at a later date.

In a previous post, I have already provided HD&D rules for the dragonborn, dwarf, elf, human and tiefling. Those races are also open to this design call. If you think you can make a better job, or you have ideas for additional feats, talents or abilities then please do so.


The poll on racial modifier to ability scores is still ongoing, and far from decided. For the purposes of creating these races we’ll keep to my original thoughts: races confer prescribed bonuses to ability scores. We may change that later, but let’s stick with that for the time being.

Therefore each and every race gets the following:

  • +2 to two prescribed ability scores
  • +2 to two prescribed skills
  • +1 to one prescribed defence
  • Two racial traits
  • A selection of racial talents, and racial feats

Refer to my post on traits, feats and talents for guidance on what makes a trait, what makes a feat and what makes a talent. You can give a race more than one trait, but each race will choose two traits from the list of those available at first level. It’s probably best to stick to two unless you haev a very good reason.

Races can be split into ‘sub-cultures’ if necessary. See my post on the Elf for such an example. This gives you greater freedom to create different archetypes for certain races. Of the six new races in this design call, I think the halfling is the one most likely to require this treatment.

Be as imaginative and evocative as you can with the feats and talents. There are a lot of sources to draw upon (and I’ve listed a few below) but sometimes original ideas might be best. Use prerequisites and level requirements sparingly, but make sure that powerful feats and talents have them.

As a general rule, the talent should be a unique ability and there should be feats available to improve upon it. Use the HD&D races that have already been posted as examples. Darkness Diabolique is a tiefling’s racial talent. The feats Algid Darkness and Ravenous Darkness improve upon it. That is the model you should be aiming for. Ideally every talent should have a handful of feats that can be taken to make it better. However, it may not always be appropriate. Talents improve in one of three ways:

  • They just get better as the character levels. A dragonborn’s breath weapon does more damage as the dragonborn gains levels.
  • They require the application of feats – like the aforementioned Darkness Diabolique power.
  • Sometimes the improvement is so powerful or fundamental that a second talent is required. To draw examples from the character classes the ability to cast magic and the ability to attack more than once per round are dependent upon taking a chain of talents.

Or sometimes, it might be a combination of the three. The dragonborn’s breath does do more damage as the character gains levels, but it can also be augmented by a series of feats.

Use your judgment. Just do what feels right, and afterward we can all participate in ripping it apart. It will be nice to be on the other side for a change.

The Races

Below are the six races with my initial thoughts on what to do with them, as well as a list of sources that might be helpful for inspiration. Don’t feel as though you have to have access to these sources in order to take the race on. Sometimes too much information can bog you down. And, of course, the 4e PHB2 hasn’t been published yet, so you can’t use that.


In second edition, genasi were half elemental beings. Fire genasi were half-human and half-fire elemental, water genasi were half-human and half-water elemental. Fourth changed that completely. Now the the genasi are a distinct race who can take on different elemental traits depending on circumstances.

My Take on Genasi: Use the 4e rules as a base. This race has ten racial traits (based on the characteristics from the 4e Forgotten Realms player’s guide), two on each element. Some genasi – by way of talents and traits – can swap between elements, swapping racial traits during play. The most acomplished can manifest different elements at the same time. Incorporate many of the abilities of genasi-specific paragon paths into the racial talents.

Sources: Planescape Planewalker’s Handbook (2nd), Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (3rd), Forgotten Realms Monster Compendium (3rd), Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide (4th), Ecology of the Genasi (D&DI).


The mongrelfolk of Iourn. They are a pidgin race made up of the traits and powers and their numerous forebears. They can look like anything from malformed human to a thundercat. Many have animalistic traits.

My Take on Genbassi: Allow them to adopt any two racial traits from any race. This makes them very versatile. They could even take a “multiclass” feat to gain access to the racial talents of other races, however that sort of thing shouldn’t be given away for free. They should have racial talents of their own.

Sources: Book of Humanoids (2nd), Monstrous Manual (2nd), Fiend Folio (3rd)


Gnomes are always awkward. They need an identity that is less than “smaller dwarf”. However, they fill a number of roles in the game. Gnomes can tricksters, scientists, tinkers and gem-smiths. On Iourn you have the Sylvan gnomes of Stonebark, the gem-mining and ship-obsessed gnomes of the Five Colour Kingdom and the mysterious high-tech gnomes of Walhoon.

My Take on Gnomes: Like elves, I think that gnomes deserve their own sub-races. Something along the lines of the forest gnomes, rock gnomes and tinkers (although Walhoonians are not the idiots of the Dragonlance setting). Dont forget the Walhoonians are dinosaur wranglers, so anything presented on the Eberron halfling may also be suitable for them. Equally, a look at the gnomish gods might also be useful.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Monster Mythology (2nd), Demihuman Deities (2nd), Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd). Races of Stone (3rd), Player’s Handbook 2 (4th).


On Iourn half-elves are not necessarily the product of a union between an elf and a human. Half-elves can be born to fully human parents, revealing the presence of an elf somewhere in the family tree.

My Take on Half-Elves: Half-elves can acquire any racial traits invented for humans or elves. They can take a ‘multiclass’ feat to allow them to select racial talents from either Elf or Human. They should also have racial talents of their own.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Complete Book of Elves (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of Destiny (3rd), Races of the Wild (3rd), Player’s Handbook (4th).


Half-orcs are usually born in violence. They mix the best (or perhaps the worse traits of human and orc). They are very common in lands where orcs are also common – such as Kerikal.

My Take on Half-Orcs: As with half-elves. They should folow the same rules and principles. Of course, this might necessitate coming up with rules for the Orc race as a player character.

Sources: Book of Humanoids (2nd), Monster Mythology (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of Destiny (3rd), Player’s Handbook 2 (4th).


As with gnomes, hobbits are many different things to different people. Second, third and fourth edition presented completely different versions of the halflings and the hobbits. Darksun introduced halfling Lifeshapers. On Iourn, the halflings of the Wold in Norandor are traditional Tolkien-esque hobbits. However, those around the world are very different.

My Take on Hobbits: Sub-races are essential for this race. There are otherwise too much variety. There should be a race to repesent the sedate hobbits of Norandor, the savage halflings of the Cradlelands, the gypsy-like boating halflings of 4th edition and so on.

Sources: Player’s Handbook (2nd), Complete Books of Gnomes and Halflings (2nd), Darksun Campaign Setting (2nd), Demihuman Deities(2nd). Windriders of the Jagged Cliffs (2nd), Player’s Handbook (3rd), Races of the Wild (3rd), Player’s Handbook (4th), Advanced Player’s Guide from Expeditious Retreat Press (4th).


I hope that all the races will find a home with someone who is willing to take them on. If not, it falls back to me which only succeeds in slowing things down. Please don’t bite off more than you can chew, but any help is welcome so please be my guest. Even a little help is still help, and the task before us is still vast. The deadline for this design call is:

31 March 2009

So that gives you more than five weeks to get cracking on it. Obviously, the world doesn’t end if you don’t make the deadline, but I think it helps to focus the mind.

Any takers?


7 thoughts on “Design Call: Character Races

  1. Hey Neil

    I will have a crack at half-elves. I quite liked playing them way back in second edition but thought they were a bit pants compared to the other races in 3rd and 4th edition. I will let you know how I get on . . . .

  2. ill give a shot a the half-orc…well more Bronx sake…i dont have the 2nd books…but i think i can muster sufficient info from the 3e books…

    marc should do the halflings…his obsession with the hobbits are spread accross Iourn!! :)

  3. I agree with Indran. Marc should be forced to do halflings after subjecting us to so many irritating halfling characters over the years.

    Neil – can you e-mail me a definitive list of all of the skills (including weapons, magic and all of the others) as they currently stand. I think that would be helpful as it is a bit of a pain navigating these blogs and trying to work out what was decided.

  4. I was initially concerned at INdran having responsibility for Half-Orcs, until I remembered that Arvan had long since ditched that race. Do what you like with them Indy!

    I’ll give Gnomes a go. I do love the little blighters. They’re definitely not just little Dwarves or Fey. What about Svirfneblin? Do we want them on Iourn? They haven’t been mentioned before but could easily be incorporated into it.

  5. Thanks, Daniel. Consider gnomes your own personal domain. Be sure to have a look in the fourth edition PHB2 if you can get your hands on a copy. It should be out by next week in one form or another.

    Svirfneblin should definitely be considered for PCs eventually. However, I look at them in the same way as drow, duergar or derro. They’re different enough from the norm to be considered a completely different race. We don’t have rules for drow under Elf, so I don’t think I want rules for svirfneblin under Gnome. They’ve always been more powerful than standard gnomes anyway.

    Let’s stick with what would have been called the Rock Gnome, Forest Gnome and Tinker Gnome in second edition. I think that’s enough to be getting on with.

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