December 3, 2021

The DM’s Workshop – The First Race

The DM's Workshop

Welcome back to our series on World Building! Part duex is going to take us into the realm of player races.

When I’m a player, the first thing I think of is what race my character will be. When you break it down, races have two very important effects on a character: They direct the character’s background and they provide those unique character modifications that you can’t really get anywhere else. Both of those effects ground the character into your world and provides ties to immersive aspects of play. And from the perspective of popular characters, Drizzt was a dark elf long before he was a surface dwelling ranger and Robb Stark a Northman before ever becoming the King of the North; a player’s character was a member of a race long before becoming an adventurer.

Before we get into race creation, let’s take a look at one of 5th Edition’s standard races and a long time staple of the fantasy genre: the dwarf. Specifically, the mountain dwarf.

  • Mountain Dwarves get a +2 automatic bonus to their Constitution and Strength scores and this corresponds with what we see with just about every fantasy dwarf; they’re sturdy and hardy, the whole lot of them.
  • They’re a bit slow due to their slightly smaller height with a 25’ speed, slightly offset in that armor does not penalize their speed. This will be important a bit later.
  • Darkvision 60’, this must mean they are very comfortable underground, very dwarf-like.
  • Dwarven Resilience gives them advantage against poisons and they have resistance to poison damage. Take into account their already above average Constitution as well. Translation: Dwarves are drinkers, professionally speaking.
  • Dwarven Combat Training gives all dwarves signature weapons to use regardless of class: axes and hammers, status quo dwarf tools.
  • Tool Proficiency gives all dwarfs some sort of craftsman advantage. We can see a culture building now.
  • Stonecunning is the bread and butter of dwarven non-combat flavor. Dwarves are all but natural archaeologists! (here’s looking at you, World of Warcraft)
  • Finally, Mountain Dwarves all have proficiency in Light and Medium armors. Combine this with the lax speed penalty and even your uncharacteristically low-strength mountain dwarves can wear armor with no greater penalty than anyone else!
  • Just from those stats, we have quite the accurate depiction of mountain dwarf culture. Strong and tough, natural warriors, as comfortable underground or in dungeons as they are on the surface, heavy drinkers with high tolerance leads us to believe that their alcohols are especially potent, they are natural crafters and builders, and most of them are armor clad and ready for a fight.

    Now I understand that most of the races presented in the Player’s Handbook are the result of years of influence in the fantasy genre (dwarves especially), but can we use the process we just went through of listing off integral game aspects of a race’s definition to create the baseline of a race and then expand upon that? Let’s try!

    The Grojha
    A thought on being large...
    Large creatures should theoretically have weapons that are larger and do more damage than that of regular sized folks. However, this could create a balance issue. I considered allowing this race to wield two-handed weapons in one hand, but that too might cause balance issues. This may be something to consider when we go over class Archetypes in a future post.
  • Size: Large

    For the first race, I want them to be big, I mean BIG.When I imagine these brutes, I’m thinking of the giants from Game of Thrones (visually). While it is probably not feasible to make a race that large for a player race, it is good to have an imagining of what you want first. Our race won’t be anything like those giants, but its a good template.

  • Strength: +2
  • Pretty self explanatory, given the large stature being presented here. Of note, however, is that the temptation to give a +4 here was strong. Given their large size one might reason that they should be naturally stronger than the strongest of the medium races. Instead, I resisted this in order to add more flavorful abilities later. Perhaps adding the natural ability to become strong than the strongest of those races would be a good compromise? Let’s do that.

  • Strength: +2, a Grojha’s Strength can be raised beyond the normal maximum, to 22.
  • That’s better.

  • Intelligence: +1
  • Didn’t expect that, eh? When you first think of a giant, intelligence is really what you imagine in them. This adds some depth to the race; players won’t have to immediately think “I guess I have to be a Fighter, Paladin, or Barbarian with this guy.” We can expand upon this culturally further down the line.

    Or right now. Once past the numerical bonuses, we can get into abilities that start to explain a bit more about the race. We know that the race is big and strong, but they are also moderately intelligent. Perhaps this is because they have always been interested in the stars and learning about their movements? And in fantasy where there is talk of stars, there is the arcane. So they are smart, study the stars, have learned throughout generations about arcane concepts. Perhaps this resulted from a worship of those stars?

  • Arcane Worship: If you are trained in Intelligence (Arcana), double your proficiency bonus on checks you make.
  • Lets expand on this cultural fascination with the stars as we finish off the race’s stats. These people worship the stars and magic and as we all know from astronomy class, the stars change with the seasons (well, rather they seem to change because of… wait, that’s not important, back to D&D). Perhaps when a child of this race is born determines something, like their role in society! We can build a caste system for them, split them up
    based on when they were born, and give different abilities. Built in subraces!

  • Star Caste: Choose a caste based on the star alignment of your birth.
  • Why don’t we make three of these castes; one for each of the alignment of summer stars and winter stars respectively, and a third for the transition between these alignments.

    The summer months are hot, all manner of creature are active, and danger is all about. Naturally, those born under the stars of this season should be better equipped to handle these conditions. They will be the warrior caste, protectors, defenders, war wagers of their people. So we’ll need to give them some martial ability to represent the training and passion they would have developed.

  • Firekeepers: Born under the stars of hot summer months, the Firekeepers are part of the warrior caste.
    • Controlled Rage: Once per short rest when you hit a creature, you can add your proficiency bonus to the attack’s damage.
    • Martial Training: You have proficiency with handaxes and battleaxes.
  • Next we’ll handle those winter months. Winters are harsh and cold. Those who wish to survive must be patient, calm, and cold to match. This temperament might work well for hunters, so lets make them the breadwinners of their people.

  • Icestalkers: Born under the stars of the stark winter months, the Icestalkers are part of the hunter caste.
    • Winter’s Resilience: You have advantage on all Survival and Constitution checks involving resisting the effects of extreme cold weather.
    • Patient Hunter: As long as you are not moving, you gain advantage on stealth checks made to avoid being seen.
  • Lastly, those born in the transition. The previous two haven’t had too much arcane flavor, so next why don’t we incorporate this. They also seem to be developing a little bit of a tribal flavor. Put all this together, along with the star and arcane worship, and I feel we need some priests. Why don’t we give them some magic?

  • Dreamseekers: Under the transitive periods between summer and winter months, this caste contains the priest-hopefuls.
    • Star Magic: You know the Prestidigitation cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the Shield spell once per day. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the Darkvision spell once per day.
  • And that is that.

    So here we have a gigantic race of humanoids, obviously known at face value for their strength. Its probably safe to assume that this, plus the tribal nature we’ve described above, equates to them being misunderstood by the other races.

    Their society is heavily influence by the stars, a side effect of their cultural knowledge of the arcane. They look to the stars for guidance and signs, going so far as to develop a caste system based on when each member of their race is born.

    We can even imagine a bit of contention between the warrior caste and the hunter caste, both being somewhat similar in nature and maybe even having some overlap. This could play an important part in competition within society, perhaps. Further, perhaps the reason there are so many of the Dreamseekers to keep the power of the Firekeepers and Icestalkers lower.

    All we have to do is doctor this information up in an easy to read format and our first race is ready to hand off! See below for that!

    So tell me what you think? Did all of this make sense? I know I didn’t try to balance this race, do you think it is too weak or too powerful? What would you do different? Let me know in the comments below!

    Come back next time for Dave’s perspective on race creation.

    Thanks for reading!

    If you missed it, check out the introduction to this series: The DM’s Workshop.



    If it’s a thing and it’s nerdy, this guy wants to do it. Self-taught and self-proclaimed photographer, programmer, and musician, self-described as lazy, indulgent, and pedantic. Give him a task and he’ll do it, except for maritals. Only his wife gets the maritals.

    Find Jason on twitter at @jasonkylesmith and on instagram at jasonksmith84

    View all posts

    Add comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Share via
    Copy link
    Powered by Social Snap