To Play Or Not To Play: Non-Human Characters


Should you allow a player to play a non-human character or not? In this article I attempt to list some of the pitfalls associated with playing these characters and how to avoid them in your sessions.

Before allowing your players the opportunity to play non-human characters there are some things that you, as the Game Master, need to consider. First of all, do the problems associated with playing non-human characters outweigh the benefits? For example, I have found when people choose to play an elf, a dwarf, or a vampire, it's more because of the power associated with them than in the interest of the actual character. This unbalances the game and causes problems with other players (and their characters). In most games, and D&D of any edition is the worst at this, playing a non-human character gives the character more bonuses and more awards than playing a human would. Who would want to play a human, even an extraordinary one, when you could play a minotaur big enough and strong enough to pick up a war horse and throw it accurately as a weapon? Or a vampire who could walk through a hail of bullets and flip over a police car because it's too far to walk around the car instead.

I have a friend named Charles who, years ago when we played D&D 2ndED, would play a minotaur every time. Why? Because Charles was ALWAYS able to roll ability scores that were at the top of the chart. In D&D an 18 is about as good as it gets; but a minotaur gets a +2 bonus to its Strength and its Constitution (health). This meant Charles could (and did) get a strength and constitution score of 20-22 every time. His minotaur was stronger than a horse. His character would then carry a two-handed sword in each hand (a minotaur is seven feet tall on average) and could kill a dragon in single combat by the time he was 3rd level. This is a perfect example not only of playing a non-human race for the power, but of munchkin (min-max) players in general.

Another problem I have with players having non-human characters is the lack of acting involved. These are ROLE-playing games. An elf, dwarf or vampire just doesn't think like a human. A thirty year old man doesn't think like a thirteen year old girl, or if they do, then they have a lot of problems associated with that fact. Playing an elf means more than playing a sexy human with pointy ears. Most people don't even try to play non-humans characters differently than their human characters.

Outside of the age and maturity differences associated with playing a two hundred year old vampire, a three hundred year old dwarf, or a four hundred year old elf, there are the racial differences. Different races, at least in roleplaying games, having different psychological makeups.

An orc raised by a village of humans is still going to be an orc. An orc raised in this kind of environment may be able to speak the human language a lot better a lot better than a normal orc would, and it may have more manners, but it'll still be an orc.

An elf will live several hundred years in its life, no matter what roleplaying game or world you play in. Elves in general are described as being the oldest and most cultured race in their world. They are magical creatures with ties to the mystical elements. Play them as such. Don't play them because you get a +2 Dexterity bonus, or because your character is immune to charm and illusion spells, doesn't scar, and never gets sick. Play them for the inherent nobility in their character. Play them because of the fun the character would have interacting with the other characters, or because it's fun to play the fish out of water like an elf would be in a human city.

Over the years I have found a solution that works. Others reading this may have their own ideas and that's fine, but here's mine. Whenever I start a group I make everyone play a human. After several adventures, usually a dozen sessions or more, I have a good idea of who is capable of playing a non-human as a non-human, not for the advantages, but for the character itself. These are the players I allow to play non-human characters. Other players, those who want to play a non-human character, know what they have to do to play these kind of characters. That is, they have to play a character and have it be a believable character. I'm not saying they should take acting lessons or dress up as their character or anything out of the ordinary. . . They just have to try to think as their character would and act accordingly. What kind of religion, custom, manners and mannerisms do these characters have? What do they do for a living and how does this affect their thinking, speech, and clothing?

Several years ago I introduced Dan, a friend of mine, to roleplaying. Our group played a fantasy campaign intensively for three months (usually from 1600 – 2300 Hours, five days a week) before we finished. Dan played a lecherous mercenary/thief. . . pretty much a fantasy carbon copy of Dan. The second fantasy campaign and character Dan wanted to play was a magic-using martial artist monk, loosely based off of a Shaolin Priest. Because of the characterization he had put into his first character, even though the last character's personality was essentially Dan's own, I allowed him to try. Dan played the new character perfectly: extremely polite, well mannered, law abiding, naive, and a gentle soul. . . completely opposite of Dan himself. Dan is one of the players who, without any hesitation on my part, could play any race and any character in any game I run.

The next time someone asks you if they could play (fill in the blank with a non-human character) ask them and yourself the following questions:

  1. Why do they want to play that race/character?
  2. What effect would that character have on the other characters in the group?
  3. What kind of special abilities does the character's race have and how will it affect the campaign?
  4. Does the player care enough to play the character as something other than a disguised human?
  5. How has the player played in the past?

If you as the Game Master can answer all of these questions to your satisfaction, then by all means let them play the character; you'll have a great time. If you or the player can't answer the questions to your satisfaction, tell the player why and inform them you may change your mind depending on how well they play their next human character.

The issue I have with non-human races, particularly in D&D, is that even though they've long since split out race and class, specific races are generally treated as being only appropriate for a specific class. Which causes the problems you mention above.

For example, people play half-orc barbarians because it's a good way to min-max a barbarian. People play halflings when they want the perfect thief. And so on.

I personally like to play against type. Witness my current character - a gnome barbarian.

"A thirty year old man doesn't think like a thirteen year old girl, or if they do, then they have a lot of problems associated with that fact."

I don't feel any more needs to be said on this subject.


Wow...I've played a fair amount of D&D in my day, and I have never once played a human.

Why would I want to play a human? The extra feat and skills are nice, but it's the single most boring race in the game. It's a fantasy game, and I like playing fantastic characters, characters that have a different outlook on life, characters that have different potentials, and usually characters with a little mystery to them, who stand out.

One of my favorite characters was a Githezerai in a Forgotten Realms campaign that the DM was trying to turn into a Planescape setting (but ran out of time). He was really cool, he stood out wherever he went (there was only one other Gith we ever met), he was intriguing. His customs were different, his reactions were different...that sort of character is what I always look for in good fantasy.

But even as I say this, I'll concede the point. The problem with so many races is that they really do allow for min/maxing. And, in fact, they encourage it. It's just...if you want a consistent fantasy game, then of COURSE the orcs are going to be more likely to be the barbarians. Furthermore, if lots of orcs ARE the barbarians, you would expect the human barbarians to be outclassed and to either die or move on to something more suited to the human stat dispersion, like being a ranger. It not make sense Thog study book, Thog think better just smash enemy.

But I really don't like the idea of only letting certain players play nonhumans. I mean, if it's a group of players starting out in a purely human city, sure. EVERYONE has to play a human. If not, well...I'd personally rather see people with an extra +1 to a couple rolls that they're building their character around anyway instead of seeing them play a character that's clearly outclassed by the setup of the universe.

Some players are not mature/versatile enough to play a non-human. And yes, they use it for min-maxing.

Humansare most often the most social and versatile race in the game, so yes, the human barbarian can kill the orc one, because he's social enough to bring a ranger along, or have a thief backstab the orc. A human warrior will be outclassed by a dwarf, but the humans will be more numerous,and may bring say ... orcs along. Orcs hate dwarves, right? See the point?

"Why would I want to play a human? The extra feat and skills are nice, but it's the single most boring race in the game."

I completely disagree with this. For each other race there are certain genetic or social tendencies that limit them, not so with humans. With their short lifespan and breeding cycle, and tendency to spread anywhere they can get to, you can pretty much find a human for whatever purpose you might need.

A friend of mine happens to think of humans as the most boring race as well, when I talked it out with her it turned out she was thinking human = average everyday person. While a human CAN be that, she can also be the sorceress with tattoos all over and a dozen facial piercings because she believes they help focus her arcane energy; the gruff veteran who'd rather spend all her time on the battlefield or in the tavern (or starting brawls for both at once); the sneaky runt with the inferiority complex striving to prove herself dangerous as any warrior with vital strikes and magic items; or pretty much anything else you can think of. Perhaps even one with racial self-hatred who strives to be of another race through disguise, mannerisms and/or magic items and spells.

I really think the "boring" aspect of humans comes from lack of imagination on a player's part. Why not try making one completely different from all other humans, sometime?

Yes, it's perfectly possible to have fascinating human characters. No argument whatsoever. But you can have fascinating characters of any race. None of the tricks mentioned above are ones that specifically call for humans.

If we go with the thesis that different races have different approaches to life and situations, then we necessarily reach the conclusion that humans are the most boring/predictable, because their racial characteristics are most like our own (I'd better drop this subject, though--this is starting to read like an excerpt from "Mein Kampf").

Shaggy Shaggs gives a great argument as to why humans aren't boring, but the way the argument is made makes me think that Shaggs is doing the same thing to nonhuman characters that her friend did to humans. Suddenly, all elves are aloof, ethereal creatures focused on harmony with nature, 'cause that's the "average everyday" elf, just like a commoner is the "average everyday" person.

Sure, for some players human is the best choice. Humans don't have immediate, inherent problems being accepted into human society, which is the basis of most games. Some people have difficulty wrapping their mind around, say, the perspective of an elf who has walked the earth for centuries, still changing ideas and perspectives. Some people can't imagine playing a character with stats pretty well out of the human range of possibility. And I'm sure I personally haven't perfectly compensated for everything, but it's a lovely challenge.

I have nothing against humans, per non-D&D games, I've played many a human character, each highly individual and interesting. But D&D makes nonhuman characters just too interesting, too full of possibility.

Humans are certainly the most versatile race, I'll give them that. The more specialized classes like ranger and paladin seem almost unsuitable for other races. But we get the fact that a person only has one life to live (barring resurrection)...a given character will only have one line of classes. And yes, a human can take any class as his favored class--which makes humans just as prone to munchkinism as any other race, because they can blend classes for ultimate abilities. Bleh.

It comes down to, WotC made the different races about equally playing-wise. A band of humans will kill the half-orc, a band of half-orcs will kill the human. Humans are human. If you want to be able to easily get into your character, by all means play a human. If you want something fundamentally different, something with a basic set of impressions different from the tried-and-true, you're probably better off playing a nonhuman.

And yes, individual humans are more boring. Humans are the most interesting viewed as a race, because of their (our) diversity. But each individual one hits closer to our mundane existence than an equivalent character of another race.

Outside of the debate, there is also a simple, mechanical reason why I don't like humans.

Other races have nifty racial characteristics. Immunity to sleep. Low-light vision. Resistance to magic. What does the human get? A feat and some skill points. A feat. No special abilities, nothing nifty that other races might envy. Yes, a feat comes in handy--but every race can take any feat a human can. Nothing qualitatively different, just quantitatively.

Old versions of D&D had level caps for different races, which meant that only humans had unlimited potential. That works--it would lessen my dislike of the race considerably. Or even if humans had some exclusive (or semi-exclusive, so long as not every race had it) feature, like color vision or sense of smell. As it is, anything a human can do can be done by another race, but not vice-versa. There aren't even human-specific feats!

Bring back level caps for non-human races? Wow. How 'bout we start calling them "demi-humans" again, too?

I, honestly, have never understood the use (or even the logic) of racially based level caps. I'm glad they're gone.

And isn't a favored class of "Any" a semi-exclusive, mechanical feature that humans have? Just a thought.

I think level caps were put there to explain why elves could level up the same time as the humans in the party but not be 300th level by the end of their lives.

In the example of the minotaur PC, I wonder what kind of reactions the average townspeople would have when it walked into town? Or how about the militia/gatehouse guards?


But that's just my $0.02 worth.

In brief defense of min/max'ers - folks, it's a game. it's a game people play to have fun. I realize it's called a ROLE-PLAYING game, but if your players are going to be more entertained and the group as a whole is going to have more fun playing overpowering minotaurs, i see no problem with that whatsoever. Just because some players have more fun with role-playing than roll-playing, doesnt mean the game can't accomodate both. You have your fun your way, and let them have their fun their way. Now, if the way some players play their characters is diminishing the fun of the other players, that's really an interplayer dynamic, and isn't going to be solved or affected just by a DM forbidding non-human PCs.

Munchkin, above, has it right. Jeeze, aren't there more important things for a DM to be doing than playing character cop on his players? Let the players play their characters. Some are going to choose characters for RP, some are going to do it for the nifty little bennies. Get on their case if they make something blatantly inappropriate to your setting, but if there are halforc barbarians in your world, why not let one of the players take one as a PC? So what if she can't growl deep enough to pull it off.

This is almost as bad as the DM's who won't let people play the opposite gender.

(edited for spelling)

While I understand where you're coming from, I can't quite agree with the logic.

As the Old Timer states below, humans have the ability to blend in better than any other race. While a minotaur sipping wine at a bar on Krynn might not be that is odd (or should be) on Oerth, Toril, Earth, Athas, and just about every other place that isn't the Abyss.

The fact that humans are capable of taking on more feats also suggests that they're the most flexible, the most adaptable race.

It's true that other races used to have level-caps to make the humans race seem more appealing. But, even with those caps removed, humans are still the most flexible, adaptable race...and, on average, the most powerful. Dwarves and minotaurs may be stronger...elves may be more intelligent...and, therefore, humans may rank 2nd or 3rd at any given skill / talent / what-have-you...but they never rank last in anything. Their strength is that they don't really have any weaknesses.

But, on top of all that, I can't get behind the notion that human's aren't special because they're not special. I wouldn't let the "rules" dictate to me what makes a character special or not. If we're saying that things like night vision, resistance to magic, etc. makes a character interesting...then I have to disagree. Characters should be interesting because of their background, alliances, foes, personality traits, and so on -- calling a character interesting because he can see in the dark seems superficial...I'm more interested in characters who are tempted to screw over a friend for the greater good...things like that.

And...besides all of that...there is nothing to prevent you from introducing some human-specific feats / skills into your campaign. It seems logical that humans should get some sort of disguise bonus...since they're in the same physical realm as most other races (especially when it comes to voice masking). Since humans seem to be the most flexible race...make them more resistant to charm, shock, etc. Or...make something completely up...maybe humans are the only race that understand the scrolls of some time-lost kingdom...or whatever.

I'm not saying this to be mean, but imagination is the only limitation here...not the rules.

Now...if this is simply a matter of preference...then that's a whole 'nudder ball of wax.

I agree. While I see where the author is coming from with this article, it comes off more as roleplayer snobbery than anything else.. or perhaps frustration that so many of his players aren't dedicated amateur thespians. The generalizations it makes are unfair, to say the least.

However, taken with a grain of salt, it's a reasonable reminder (for those who WANT to be reminded) that stat modifiers aren't the only defining characteristic of a nonhuman character.

I love to play a wide variety of characters of all different classes and races. I find something in each and every available race (and some that arent normally available) that I can use to role-play an interesting character that is viable in almost any type of adventure.

I dont have a favored race (non-human or human) that I play consistantly, or a class that I tend to make a certain races into. I like variety and unique characters and banning or restricting non-human characters seems kinda silly to me.

One of my favorites was when I was a GM and one of my players wanted to play a leprechaun and one of the other players was a human swashbuckle. It was one of the most fun and interesting campaigns that I ever GM'ed. SO with the right players and adventures, non-human characters are wonderful and unique additions to the gaming experience.

Instead of allowing only certain "capable" players to play non-humans, I like to help all my players play their characters appropriately and to the best of their ability. Having a player in that situation is an excellent way to encourage more interesting role-playing than if everyone is stuck with a regular old human.

And now, for my long-winded-5am-oh-lord-I-should-be-in-bed-by-now analysis of Non-humans

Actually, has anyone thought about how they are different from humans (and each other), not just how different they all are? You talk about an orc being brought up in a human society still being an Orc? But have you considered what that really means? What is qualifiably Orc-like about him? If he has better manners and can speak the human language better (assumable with a better accent. We humans have come up some freaky assets, though.)

Once on TV, (I believe it was a skit, it was on Comedy Central, after all) they had a blind ultra-zealous white supremesist who was in fact, black. Told by the Nuns at the racist orphanege/school for the visually impaired that he was white himself. Hypothetically, if they told this guy that was, in fact, african american, he'd kill himself just for there to be one less black person in the world. True to his nazi-racist upbringing. (again, this has got to be a skit, there was soon messed up plot devices in this "documentary"). He still had the accent, but it was only just decernable with the dialogue.

Now then, the reason for me talking about this foolishness is that it is a strained, but vivid depiction of what can happen to you based off of how you've been raised. What is the real difference between an Elf being Role-played with thier inner nobility, connection to mystical elements, etc. and a human who has been raised to among Elves to act with an inner nobility, love of nature, etc. The Elven foster parents may have to a rush-job in teaching the human their long-winded customs, but nobody seems to be able to state exactly HOW the human child would fall short in terms of being an elf. I mean, you expect human players to somehow roleplay elven characters!

One thing that I've not been able to get my hands around is how Non-humans supposedly "build around nature, not through it." Gimly in the Lord of the Rings (the books, not the movies) claims that the dwarves are simply to careful and loving in their hyper-efficient dwarven stone cutting, they wouldn't ruin the mountains of Rohan if they moved in. And then there's the Elves with their forests, and so on and so on. More than a few have images in their minds of the fantasy world humans wrecking the evironment, but you know, you can't really do that until after the industrial age, and so, malcontents have to settle for us flattening the hills to make room for our cities, quarring the mountains for the stone for our walls, and cutting down the trees to build our cottages.

Come now, would any intelligent creature REALLY want to destroy a resource utterly when you have a method to not harm the environment at all? Do we really go out of way to(or even just plain indifferently work on without thinking) cause extra damage to nature? Scoffing at evironmental-friendly ways to build houses and feed ourselves?

In Warcraft 3, every race chops down a lot of trees to keep building more crap, I'm talking mass deforestation, the Humans do it, the Orcs do it, the Undead super-do it, even the High Elves in the campaign! Every race, that is, except for the Night Elves. The Night Elves have little wisps that can gather lumber without ever hurting the tree. Its the slowest production, but not still, the NE should have MOUNTAINS of lumber ready at the start of each mission, because they don't need to do rush jobs in times of war if their wisps just keep getting more free lumber.

What did were the Night Elves' debut lines in the Orc campaign? "So the Elders were right, these Green-skinned Barbarians have no respect for life!" Grom was just trying to build homes for his army of refugees, you crazy bitch! Sorry that the rest of the world doesn't have magical fairies who give infinite building material without hurting the precious tree!

.....umm, ok this is turning into my own rant....where was I?

The point is: humans (and orcs and other things) aren't disrespectful of nature, they simply are using the options availible to them. In retrospect, the Night Elves reckless assualt on the Orcs without even considering the fact that: maybe this is how lesser beings harvest lumber because they don't have wisps, and it would benefit us to actually try to figure them out and maybe teach them how to live without harming nature and we might be able to live peacefully and all that, is undermining the NEs' long lifespans. They aren't even just hundreds of years old, they're thousands!

I wouldn't think people in they penta-digits would go "Too hell with fore thought! Let's be eco-terrorists!"

I think the point I'm trying to make it that there hasn't been a non-illogical attempt to take the humanity out of non-humans. Good night.

Wow, Will brought up a very interesting point...although I think the focus is just a little off.

Once you start thinking about "Elf raised human" and things like that, you start getting into really deep and murky questions on the nature of personality, where the body ends and where the soul begins, call it what you will. Ultimately, it becomes a philosophical question that can (I kid you not) reshape the world you play in.

Why is that? Well, what if you raise an orc among elves? Suppose somehow that racial prejudice has been gotten around. Will this orc have the "elvish mindset" of nobility and peacefulness? Or is orcish nature so strong that he'll still end up being a brute with limited empathy?

If you go out into the wild and pick up a wolf puppy, no matter how many squeaky toys you give it, it's still a wolf, it's still basically impossible to domesticate and have be a loveable pet, even though it breeds true with dogs. Here's an example of nature over nurture...but it doesn't have to be that way with intelligent creatures.

Ever read "Stranger in a Strange Land"? This discussion has made me think that a similarly based game--say, a human raised by another race entirely being one of the main PC's, could really make for an interesting gaming experience.

And if you choose the "nurture" viewpoint, you can get some really neat stuff. "Missionaries" of the "nobler" races going out and raising orphans (or, in more twisted scenarios, stealing away children and raising them) in order to make them grow up "right." People fighting for bloodlines to raise their own to protect cultural diversity. There could be some interesting stuff here...

Thank you, Irid, for your input.

Here's some more stuff I have to say about races while my thoughts are gathered:

The Stereotypes:

Elf: Noble, Empathic, Tree-hugging, long-living, possibly a little mischevious and/or haughty
Dwarf: Gruff, Distrustful, Serious, Single-minded workers, Orc-haters.
Gnome: Anywhere from Mischevious Trickster to totally insane gizmo inventor/alchemist whose "contributions to society get people killed in the explosions. Very unnoticed.
Halfling: Either lecherous sneaks or Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins! Bravest little hobbit of them all! (yeah right, Frodo had to guard the stupid ring from EVERYONE, including himself.)
Orc/Half-Orc: Savage, Unempathetic, Cannabalistic, Mentally handicapped Barbarians and/or City Thugs. (Actually, that counts for Gnolls, Trolls, Goblins, Ogres, Minotaurs, Ettins, all types of uncivilized humanoids, but this only makes since if its a shallow label "civilization" slaps on these "monsters," they'd logically be different from each other and be something more than just cannon fodder for the PCs to kill, cause they all fight to the stupid death.)

Mac the Minotaur: Monstrous Humanoid? THAT is really condesending.

uh, and oh! Humans!
Humans: .......They are diverse. They have enough of a balance in empathy, intellegence, upper body strength, hand-eye coordiatination, etc. to be considered the "norm" they can take any job and can take any personality to the extreme, but rarely are they so static and flat as to be simply a "kind human" or a "savage human" or a "cowardly human". In fact, it might depend on who you ask, but I heard of a character who was all three!

Yes, these are the traditional differences between all the different races, but note the human thing. The human could hypothetically easily be an elf, especially if since's that's there thing, they can be anyone (mainly because in RL they've BEEN everyone who was anyone, because nobody really talks about Lassie the way they do Martin Luther King and Gandi.) and a humaonid race can only be so alien. Unless there's some sort of instinct/power/disadvantage that humans don't and can not figure out, I haven't seen much evidence anywhere that Non-humans are that different than human beings: Life being aware of itself.

To further complicate the matter, heres some more food for thought. Elves and Orcs are supposed to be as different as night and day, right? Take this example:

An Elf child is raised by his harsh, militant father. The father is cultured, noble, and all that, and he still isn't heartless, but they live alone on the frontier of the forest. The Father teaches the son about Elven culture and all that, but mainly focuses on teaching the son how to fend for himself. The Father is a Ranger who patrols for invading Orcs or expanding Humans and whatnot, and since the mother died, the child was left alone for some time. Also, the father is a less than-desireable teacher, but he gets on point across: only the strong survive. The son's life was lonely, harsh, he had to content with ADD, and, he learned how to be a hunter-gatherer, from dear old dad's regimented training. He learned to pay closer attention to his environment than to people. He still had his inherent elven empathy, but was only allowed to express it on a few occasions (there's a few black boxes here I know, like how much time can the dad take to the his duties as to ostricize his child given all the years it takes for elves to mature?) basically though, life for our little elf is all about an attempt to be self-sufficent, even though the Father is his whole world, when he's around.

Then, the father got killed by some bandits.

The son hides, grieves, lives on, and really has to fend for himself, he grows up to be wild, muscluar, prone to anger, insecere with his own feelings, highly territorial and xenophobic, intelligently lazy-essentially, an orc. The Elves find him when he's 111, and try to educate him properly but can't break the mold his childhood forced him to fit. He learns some stuff, like basic ettiquite and not to scratch himself in public, a semi-refined elven accent, and how to be a freak in the bedroom. (altough "society" probably hadn't taught him that.) He's an Elf, but even inadvertly, he had the life of an Orc.

And now: essay question! How plausible is this in your fantasy world? How would it happen differently?

I personally believe that we're going to have to put better thought into our non-humans then Elves are eloquent, and Orcs are stupid and mean. Even if Elves are from venus and Orcs from mars, I'd like to actually see what defines their "nature" so that we can see the real limits of the impact of "nuture"

The answer to your first question (" orcish nature so strong that he'll still end up being a brute with limited empathy?") is dependent upon your campaign, and your choices about the character you made.

If you use the real world as your example, it's some of both. Human beings have certain inborn tendencies, that can, to some extent, be transcended by personal choices, but it's difficult and usually never entirely resolved.

For example, someone who is born with a tendency towards alcoholism will probably never be able to become a "social" drinker without falling into alcoholism. He'll have a lot less conflict by remaining a teetotaller.

But the real world doesn't have to be your example. You can use Tolkein's world... where in spite of being raised and trained by Elves, in the end Aragorn exemplifies the Human style of nobility... where orcs are irredeemably evil.

Or you can just chill out and play.

If we stick to stereotypes, one thing I notice that some of you have touched but not elaborated on is that fantasy nonhumans tend to be extremely monolithic compared to humans. Some games/settings make a feeble attempt to justify this by painting humans as the unusual ones, the only race so diverse that they can be like all the humans we've met in real life (isn't that convenient?). On the rare occasion that nonhumans go against type, their creators often seem to treat them as amusing sideshow freaks or clever intellectual in-jokes. ("He's an elf, but he doesn't like trees! This dwarf and orc are friends and fight side by side! Isn't that cool!?")

Of course, giving an entire race the same culture and personality is also convenient for players and GMs, since it means that they can act recognizably elven/dwarven/whatever with little effort.. and let's face it, not everyone is looking for a major acting or writing challenge all the time (especially the GM, who has to put a lot more work into it). It hardly seems realistic, though. So how do you make nonhumans nonhuman without making them a bunch of mental and spiritual clones?

We have no nonhuman cultures here on Earth, unless you count animal group behavior, but we do have some that are pretty foreign to modern Westerners. Consider Middle Eastern culture (I'm overgeneralizing/stereotyping quite a bit here, but bear with me): automatic rifles are common but rarely used for actual combat, religion is taken VERY seriously, and women have few/different rights and freedoms compared to men. Or consider the Japanese, with their typically Asian views on the individual's role in society (both as a member of a community, and a member of a caste) and their overall bizarreness (too many examples to list, really). And yet, within these societies, we see the same kind of variety we find in our own: different jobs, different hobbies, different personalities. The reason I hold up these examples is to show how nonhuman societies can be distinctly alien while still allowing for individual variation for reasons other than inherent differences from humanity.

That covers the "nurture" part. But what about the "nature" part? Obviously it's up to individual authors/GMs/players to decide how much influence a race's nature should have on individuals, but to show how I think that influence might work, let's look at the example of the orcish elf from the previous (Will Coleman's) post.

The background and resulting character he offers in his example works for a human, but I see nothing particularly elven about it, which leaves me wondering whether his intent was that nature should have no influence at all. If elves are empathic, reserved, noble, all that rot, then why should this character be xenophobic? Cautious, maybe, but an empathic being shouldn't be xenophobic. Prone to anger? Maybe on the inside, maybe not.. but his nature and his father's sometimes-harsh lessons on how to be a proper elf might have left him disciplined and calm on the surface.. indeed, there may be no rage inside. We can't assume that an elf would feel as a human would. Territorial? Why? If greed, the lust for power and control or the need for personal space are particularly human traits, then an elf might not possess them in significant measure, and be willing to share the land (granted, his father wasn't too keen on sharing, but maybe he should have been). Wild? Perhaps so, but wouldn't he still possess an inherent elven grace and attunement with nature? And would someone who's 111 years old really be so emotionally immature?

Perhaps rather than being an orcish savage who rampages through his territory, killing any invaders and belching after meals, he's an elusive primitive hunter, using traps to catch game and leaving little trace of his passing. When orcs or bandits cross his path, maybe he kills them in revenge for his father.. or maybe he ignores them, so they'll leave.. or maybe he catches them, ties them up and leaves them for the humans to deal with, resulting in stories about the forest being haunted by a justice-loving ghost (since no one can find this guy). And when the elves do find him and try to introduce him to elven society, he'll be uncultured, uncouth (hey, he still belches after meals!), and uneducated.. but certainly not an orc!

Am I making sense or just wanking here?

Let us look at the nature vs. nurture problem - generally, each being is given a potential by its genes, a bandwith within which it can develop - a genius child will not learn to utilize his full potential if not given proper care, while one with a 'learning disability' will be quite more capable than his twin if given proper care, but there still is a peak to whathe can learn. The same is true for emotional responses, criminal tendencies and the like - we have certain predispositions, determined by the neurotransmitter balances in our brains, as well as the quality of our 'wiring'. A depressive person can be 'cured' (at least temporarily) by shifting his serotonine level balance just a little.
Given these facts, it is intellegible that, say, orcs will show a great tenjdency towards aggressiveness and a vastly higher sexual drive than a human of similar upbringing. What might drive a human to be slightly upset will send an orc into screaming rage. Of course there might be calm orcs, but generally, the centre of the gauss curve that shows their tendencies will be shifted to the 'aggressive' side.]
Likewise, let ourselves be not fooled, musical ability is a gift, not a skill to be learned - without talent, you may learn on and on, andstill the bestyou'll be able to do is a machine-exact play without the proverbial spark.
Now, if we consider the great differences possible within our species, we can estimate that the differences will be more extreme and have a higher impact on the way a race 'is' and how it relates to others. Are you rather and artist and people person, and ever had trouble trouble with the proverbial math geek? An economist whose friend told him that feelings are more important than numbers? A medic trying to figure out how electronics work?
Yes, that's what I'm talking about.

Most people will not be able to handle a different personality, not to speak of a different race. So, if poleplaying is your primary concern, it does not contribute to the experience if someone just can't get into the persona of an elf - say a guy who's generally gross, works at a sitting job and couldn't rhyme a limeric if his life depended on it... who can't keep a pet 'cause he forgets to feed it, and doesn't have empathy worth a dime? Now show me how he will play an elf.
If your primary concern is min-maxing and pleasuring yourself with the thought of high stats, go ahead and feel free to ignore my rambling, will you?

Same way anyone else plays an elf: by pretending to be one. Is it your intention that only skilled actors should play RPGs?

My primary concern is *to have a good time*, and in my experience, it's possible to have that playing with people who don't always turn out a brilliant character performance. You appear to have forgotten that. Your post smacks of an elitism that I personally find rather offensive.. and if it offends me, I'm dead certain it would offend someone who's just getting into RPGs and doesn't need some artsy snob telling him he's not good enough to play.

Xplo: Amen, brother.

Wow! I take some time off and look what happens... Let me take few moments to answer some of your posts.

If you are the type of gamer who buys and runs premade adventures in premade worlds then this article is not for you. If you are a munchkin, a hack 'n' slash player, or a ruleslawyer, this article is not for you. This article isn't about elitism or being controlling or forcing people into being thespians. It's about playing non human characters for the roleplaying aspect as opposed to the munchkin player. However, if you are someone who enjoys creating worlds, people, and adventures on your own, then please read this article and tell me what you think.

For example:
In my fantasy world, elven culture is a mixture of ancient Japanese and Apache Indian. Because elves live so long (typically 5K years or more) they have no rulers but are a nation of individuals. I have given them the Japanese politeness, culture sense of propriety and honor, art, and oriental martial arts. The Apache were the greatest guerilla fighters in history. Their respect for nature, sense of honor, and their religion compliment and add to the Japanese to form the basic tenets of the elven civilization in my world. To have a player disregard the elven culture completely and play the character as a normal (western or American) character, i.e. a human with pointy ears, would demean and degrade the uniqueness and culture of the elven race. If I, as the GM, have gone through the time and effort to create the elven race as more than stat changes and bonuses, why would I allow a player to destroy that?

Unlike a movie or a book, called passive entertainment because you sit there and absorb something that someone else has created, Roleplaying is an active entertainment, cooperative storytelling, that everyone involved helps to create. One person makes up the world and everyone and everything in it except for the PCs. The players and their characters are there to explore this world and its people and things. They're not there to disregard what has already been created but to interact with it and to expand upon it.

The vast majority of responses to this article I have disregarded because they are written by people who just don't impress me or are too short to bother with. However, I am impressed by the few people (Coleman, EchoMirage, Xplo, and Iridilate namely) who have taken this article to a new (unintended but welcome) level of discourse with their disscussion of nature vs nurture.
Races in my games, as in real life, are complicated. The nature/nurture issue has come up and is a prominate part of the game. Of course, the question of nature vs nurture in a game can only be there if the players and GM are more of the roleplaying vs gaming type...

I know that this will generate a slew of new posts. I know that most of them will be of the same ilk as the first 15 or so but I can always hope that I'll get some of the more well written and intelligent responses like those mentioned above.

Play nice...

"The harder you try, the dumber you look."

Interesting discussion...and it's something that came up in one of my games recently where I stat down and did a history and explanation of the non-human races, including such topics as community organization, race relations, cultural factors, technological sophistication, and the individuals.

Looking at the discussion here I realize that I intentionally made the non-human races simple for the benefit of my players. There's a factor that I used that isn't coming up so much in this discussion though...creation and the religions of the races.

In a standard D&D cosmos the dieties are very much present and have a large role in the creation and maintenance of the races. The representatives of the various gods do stick their noses in and manipulate creatures in a semi-active manner. "Good" gods appeal to better natures but often don't promise immediate results. "Evil" gods are very likely to provide gratification for their followers quickly.

In the world I designed for my latest campaign neither orcs, elves, nor dwarves started out with free will. All 3 were basically pawns of the gods who they used as gamepieces. When a deadlock came in the ceaseless early wars humans were created for each diety to manipulate as they could in order to tip the balance...except that through an outside intervention humans got totally free will to the extent that not even direct divine intervention can affect their choices. The late introduction of this factor to other races (afterall, nothing stays confined for long...) explains why for the most part they do follow type.

Elves are especially vulnerable to this factor considering the length of time they spend indoctorinating their children and the antiquity of elven culture. Dwarves are in a similar position, considering both their long childhoods and the extremely ordered society that they make their lives in. Orcs and humans would have the most divergence, except that orcs tend to be pushed to a fringe existence and usually don't form large communities due to internal strife. A subsistance lifestyle leaves little time for variance outside of what works to keep you alive.

"If I, as the GM, have gone through the time and effort to create the elven race as more than stat changes and bonuses, why would I allow a player to destroy that?"

Because it's their perogative to do so.

It's great that you put all that work in, but an RPG isn't passive entertainment where the GM controls everything, and in my experience, the fun of the game is lessened when GMs try to make it so. Allowing the players to contribute to the world they play in keeps things interesting and encourages them get creative.

This is not to say that you should let your players ride roughshod over your world, changing and ignoring things at a whim.. but there is a line between ceding control and hoarding it, and I think you're pretty far on one side of that line. Finding out what the plyers want to play and why, and helping them with their characterization, is more effective than banning them from playing certain character types outright because you're not satisfied with their roleplaying abilities.

Remember, you can't say "you're not good enough to play an elf" without "you're not good enough to play."

You know, I get the feeling that a lot of the GMs in this thread would hate me. Why? I like to play against type. One of my favorite characters I've ever played was a half-orc monk who represented the very epitome of skill and discipline, and was extremely un-fond of his orcish forebears. Needless to say, the other half-orc in the group (a cleric of Gruumsh who was quite the stereotypical half-orc) and I didn't get along too well. I've also played an elven warrior who was sick and tired of that whole "innate nobility" nonsense everybody was trying to cram down his throat--all he wanted was good food and a good fight (and maybe a few treatises on war and honor to read before bed--in the real world, he'd be a huge fan of Sun Tzu). One of my favorite things about D&D 3E is that I'd finally get to play a dwarven wizard (though I haven't had the opportunity yet). You get the picture here. I like my characters to be just that--characters. Individuals. Not stereotypes with names and loot. Adventurers are supposed to be the outcasts of society, after all; why else would they be out there, wandering around, risking their necks, slaying monsters and gathering up treasure, when they could just get a wife and a business and lead a life of quiet obscurity?

There's a whole lot of people here who need to realize that they're playing games with other people, and those other people are occasionally going to do something unexpected. It seems to me that any GM who would impose the "you can't do that, you're an elf!" straitjacket on their characters needs to learn to play well with others. Or give up the whole "gaming" thing and just write short stories, so he can directly control all the characters and make them as stereotypical as he wants them to be. Either way.

I don't mind when someone plays against long as they're not doing it for the sake of doing it.

I knew one player that refused to play anything "normal" because that was "boring." Not so...a good player can make a barbarian warrior just as interesting as a peace-loving dwarf who likes botany.

My house rule is that anyone can play anything they long as it brings something to the table. If someone is playing against type and it causes nothing but problems...then I try to encourage that person to rethink their character.

It goes both ways, I admit. I've had players show up as the typical warrior he-man and have THAT ruin the game too.

I don't mean to understate the points made in this thread...but bad players tend to ruin the game...and it doesn't matter what race they are...a bad player might suck playing an elf, but they probably suck playing a human too.

RPG's are like basketball...not everyone has the "stuff" to make it. I'm a good hand at RPG's, but none of you would want me on your basketball team...and there's no amount of training / practice that would make me better.

RG, what I hear you saying is that "Bad players ruin the game for everyone, irrespective of what kind of character they choose."

That's one of the points in the article waiting to be published, so I'll let that point go and merely state my agreement here. My article will go into further detail.

Yes, that's the gist of what I'm saying...tho my definition of a bad player might need some clarification.

I would say that it's a possible topic of another article...but, I'll hold off and see what you have to say first. Wouldn't want to be redundant.

I fail to see how somebody who won't play anything "normal" because it's "boring" is less a gamer than somebody who won't play anything not "normal" because it's "not how these things work". If a player enjoys playing abnormal characters, more power to them, I say. I know I do. They're the most memorable characters.

As you so rightly pointed out, a bad player can be just as disruptive with a "normal" character as an "abnormal" one, so why restrict them? That's silly, IMHO. It'd be better not to have the bad player at your table at all; he'd have just as bad an attitude with a human character than a non-human, or with a stereotype as with a rulebreaker (worse, probably, because he's playing something he doesn't really want to play). Role-playing a non-human character doesn't require any more or less skill than role-playing a human from a completely different background and society--such as any medieval fantasy society.

Really, in a lot of these messages, where people are saying, "These people don't know how to play non-humans...", from reading what follows, I end up mentally adding, "...the way I think they should be played." And that's not right, IMHO. A character should be played how the player wants to play it, not the GM... otherwise, why are you bothering with players at all?


It's funny how you can add a comment that you think supports someone else's viewpoint...only to have that person turn around and find fault with your comments.

Heartburn...first...if I wasn't clear...I don't have a problem with people playing weird characters. There's a blue slaad in my game that's pretty much a key player -- I think the game would suffer if this character were to go.

And I've had a guy show up to play a human-male-swordsman...about as plain-jane as you can get...and he failed, horribly.

But...I disagree with the notion that a "weird character" is more fun to play on the basis that it's "weird." As often as not, I think people choose to play weird guys because they don't have enough imagination to play a normal guy -- that's not true for all players with weird characters...but it's certainly true for a lot of them...I know, 'cause I've met them and played with them. If somebody tries to convince me that an umber-hulk assassin is cool just because he's an umber-hulk...I just sadly shake my head and move on...and don't waste too much of my time worrying about this ironically un-interesting character. If he can give me an interesting back-story regarding his guy...then I'll listen and try to find interesting ways to work him into the plot threads.

If someone is going to play against type...fine. But if their crux of their reason is "just because," then, sorry, I'm not inclined to waste a lot of time with them.

Secondly...I don't force player's to play the game "my way" nor do I force them to play a certain race / class / whatever. Read some of my articles and, hopefully, that will become clearer.

I admit that sometimes I encourage players to try something different with their characters -- if they follow my advice, great...if they don't, goes on. But, I don't see any problems with offering people advice on how to play their guy -- if Joe plays a wizard badly...and is much better at playing a gnome...I encourage him to play the gnome. By the same token, I don't mind taking friendly advice on how to run the game -- if Joe says, I'd like the game better if there was less political intrigue...then I tone it down.

One of my players is an AMAZING dwarf (Tarnac of Wildspace) and I honestly feel that he's the best dwarf that has ever graced a gaming table -- for whatever reason, this player *gets* it when it comes to playing dwarves. The
same player recently tried playing a human priest...and while he was good at that too, I feel that he's better at playing his dwarven character. But...I'm not going to tell this guy who he can play and who he can't play.

And...if comes to it...then, yes, I have taken measures to remove bad players from the gaming table. But, before going down that road, I'd rather give them a chance...find something that they tumble to.

Speaking as a GM, I wouldn't hate you for playing against type. There's diversity everywhere, and it's always interesting to have your intuition jarred.

But if I were a player of any sort who played with you on a regular basis, I would...well, I wouldn't get annoyed, but I would get irked. I'd probably start making comments. Because going against type once (or even usually) is interesting...but I always start getting "holier than thou" and sarcastic when a player has a description that applies to ALL their characters.

I try not to be annoying about it, but GOSH can it be tedious when you're playing a new system, a new plot with lots of fresh characters...and Bob Over There is playing YET ANOTHER charismatic lawyer who's divorced.

I'm probably an extreme case, but I really don't like it when people always play characters that blend together for whatever reason...although if you can pull them off as interesting and unique and each feeling like a character in its own right--more power to you. My grumblings will be intended as teasing.

The GM's responsibility is to control his game as much as possible and make it interesting for his players. (When I say control I mean not let stupid things interfer) The players have a resposibility to follow the rules the DM and rule books lay down. If the GM thinks that a player cannot play a non-human without taking away from the game then VOLA, no non-human for that player. Magic is another thing that takes new players a little while to get use to and was usually reserved for relatively experienced gamers in my former group.

i still fail to see the difference between playing a fantasy human adventurer than a fantasy nonhuman adventurer. Both are (usually) far removed from anything the player may have experienced in real life and neither should be IMHO more chalenging to play (assuming we're putting the emphasis on characters and stories, as RG seems to be doing). If so, I can't see a reason disallowing a player from playing that poor elf we're all talking about and not disalowing Mongo the Human Fodder (er..fighter).

- have mercy on the newbie -

Oh, but it is different zipdrive. Most people have never been in many situations, but they can understand how they or others would react. Humans use the same kind of encoded 'tools' to understand the world around them and themselves. There are many variations but humans are more similar than different in all cases.

For example, let's say A(human) goes to tell B, another human, about their day. Even if A is a doctor and B is a mountain guide A will be able to convey to B what his day was like. B will likely be able to understand A's position and reactions. This is becuase A and B are human and use the same basic human emotional and mental tools to understand their world.

Now let's say A is an elf doctor. A may have entirely different ideas about doctoring than a human doctor. A does not use the same basic emotional and mental tools as humans. A is another species, one which lives hundreds or thousands of years, is empathic, is frailer, has little gender constrast, and has keener senses. B will have a hard time understanding A's choices even if B is also a doctor. A and B see the world differently, beyond upbringing.

What I'm driving at is nonhumans are exactly that, not human. Just not. You have to try to show that if you are playing a nonhuman or it falls flat. If you're only a human in a funny suit just play human and make high rolls. It's better for the entire game if you don't detract from the characterization of elves by your GM by playing Jamesberylstone Smithfalala. That is a cheap way to play, and against the grain still uses the grain as it's starting point. Keep that in mind.

All of this presupposes that you're in a game where there's value placed on simulating the mindset and emotions of the characters. That's not true of every game... in fact, it's not true of most games.

Many games value the fun of the action scenes. Who cares if Krinkla, the female gnome mage, is being played by Benny, the 400lb forklift driver? Krinkla kicks butt.

Many games value the fun of story. Who cares if Krinkla, the female gnome mage, doesn't act like a gnome OUGHT to act? One of the foundations of drama is people acting outside the bounds of their cultural limits.

My point is, that the way a player portrays his character is only a problem if you MAKE it a problem. There's nothing inherently WRONG with any particular portrayal.

Bax, my turn :)

now, if we're talking about really acting as a different species, as in your example, well... i might be a lousy actor (or role-player, for that matter) but i can't possibly act properly as what is basically an ALIEN.
Let's consider this for a moment... how WOULD an elf doc respond to that bitchin' guide? i have no you?

for that matter, what IS the right way to portray an elf?
IS there a right way? should i , as the player behind that elf, be taking what are essensially acting tips from the GM?

...and i want to completely avoid that "acting vs. playing-for-fun" discussion.

- have mercy on the newbie -

I agree, and to put things into the perspective of roleplaying nonhumans, I'll say here what I said elsewhere about the matter.

Part of what makes it easy to fall back on cliches and stereotypes when playing nonhumans is the fact that not many games really ask or answer what it means to play a particular nonhuman character. You're generally just given a bunch of traits without any sort of thematic grounding. As a result, each nonhuman race seems monolithic and bland. Every elf becomes a tree-dwelling pansy who happens to know how to shoot a bow. Every dwarf becomes a pseudo-Scottish/Viking with a big axe and way too much facial and body hair. And so on, until the only place where there is any sort of real diversity lies with humans.

What has helped me get out of that rut is to strip everything down to the essential traits of specific nonhuman races and then develop how this shapes their psychology and cultural tendencies. I generally ask myself what things would change and what would remain the same if two babies from different races got switched at birth. Having done that, it was easier to expand my ideas of what makes an elf and elf, a dwarf a dwarf, and so on.

If I have someone who wants to introduce a "weird" character into my game, I usually will explain to that person what situations that character may encounter in my world due to his race. If that player accepts this, and is willing to work through it, then I'll let it go, and if their character's actions end up getting him/her killed (or worse), then they were warned.

Not that I set out to kill "weird" characters. It's more like the world doesn't know how to deal with strangeness on such a scale. Imagine, for instance, if today (2005), some odd extra-terrestrial person showed up, and tried to live here. Some races and/or countries may well try to destroy this individual, seeing a threat to the status quo. Imagine the same alien landing in the USSR during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. What advanced technological knowledge might that alien give to the Soviets? How would the US and other western European nations react, even if they only assumed such an advantage were being given to the Soviets? Would it have started a world war? Would someone try to assassinate the alien? This hypothetical alien landed on earth with the best of intentions, and instead, caused his own death or world-wide armageddon!

So, the point of this comment is that although weird characters can be involved in any game, they really should be taken in the context of the game world as a whole.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

"I try not to be annoying about it, but GOSH can it be tedious when you're playing a new system, a new plot with lots of fresh characters...and Bob Over There is playing YET ANOTHER charismatic lawyer who's divorced."

hehe that's funny

We have this issue now: a player who plays the same type of personality regardless of the character/class in front of him. The only benefit is that he is predictable.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

To continue on this point of mixed frames of reference, consider how Star Trek (old, new, whichever) always had some non-human character available to opine on his/her percieved fallicies of the human race, even if the humans prevailed over adversity in their own, unique way.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

This kind of perspective really depends on a lot of background and world-creation work on the DMs part. Yes, it's time consuming, but it will benefit everyone if it's done well.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

Zip, I agree that in any campaign setting, the "box" rules for how a race is defined don't have to apply, so long as the DM and the players are in agreement. That's what makes the game work.

However, because there are box rules, there is an inherent agreement throughout the gaming community on the basic mindset and characteristics of humans and non-humans.

A level 1 elf in a human land would certainly make cultural errors, regardless of the amount of training he/she may have had prior to arriving there due to his/her lack of experience and exposure to humans. In essense, the elf would be an alien to that society, so I submit that you would be readily able to "act properly" as an alien (only limited to your imagination).

The tips you should take from your DM in that case are only ones that define your race in his realm. Or, perhaps, the reason your elf is out adventuring is because his views and lifestyles do not conform to the elven community and he has elected to reject that life.

There are many ways to spin this.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

I certainly can agree with that.

In my opinion, before a GM puts a race in his gameworld, he should ask himself, "Why?"

I usually make the mistake of telling players to "play what you want to play." And I'd do better to follow Old Timers advice and forewarn them that their "weird" guy might be more trouble than it's worth.

I've had a guy play a jester in a game...where no jester belonged. Rather than bring something to the table, he spent most of the time trying to be funny.

I've had a guy play a mime in a game. Mimes generally don't bring anything to real life, let alone a RPG. This was a GURPS fantasy game.

Another guy wanted to play a barber. That sorta worked, but only 'cause the guy didn't want to really play and his guy just sat in the background and healed the sick on cue.

In a space game, one guy wanted to play a colony of eels in a containment suit. Spent time making his guy look cool...but didn't know what his guy was about, why he traveled, or what his reaction should be when confronted by other aliens.

One guy wanted to be a cyber-samurai in a Dr. Who game. Dr. Who is generally about exploration...not cyber-samurai.

And it goes on...

In virtually ever case, the character was designed to be "freaky" and "neato." Not interesting, per se. So...I don't mind a player being "freaky" and "neato" so long as they have a purpose in the game and a reason for going on the adventure (whatever that might be). If they're showing up just to be "neato" then I'm not inclined to feel sorry if the game doesn't revolve around their "neato" guy.

"a colony of eels in a containment suit"

Ok, now that's weird (OldTimer says, pulls out blaster, and shoots the anomoly).

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

I think most of these posts come dangerously close to missing the point.

The point the author was trying to make is that if you want to have a roleplaying experience with a great deal of focus on character, someone who plays an elf as a human with pointy ears isn't going to work. Whether or not everyone plays that way is irrelevant-- the article makes this assumption implicitly, and discusses it in that context. He's not any more obliged to talk about other scenarios than he is to speculate on the per-capita caffeine consumption of Sierra Leone. It's irrelevant to the topic at hand.

It's also assumed that the players have agreed to play this type of game; if the GM is trying to force this on the players, then he's got bigger problems than player race choice. If the players have decided to put the GM in charge of this, he can make whatever creative decisions he likes, as long as the players are aware of his rationale.

Obviously, some players might have agreed to be in the game, and still object to this, for a variety of reasons. Talk it out with them in person. Ask them for the kind of information you'd need to be satisifed that they could play it, and see what they come up with. You can work with them more closely to find out whether or not you think it's a good idea, and go from there.

But look: deciding on what is and isn't appropriate is all part of the GM's job. After the GM and the players agree on what they want to play, the GM has tasked with making sure that the game is as fun as possible for everyone. Sometimes, this includes deciding what is and isn't appropriate to play.

On to the meat of the article.

The problem I have with non-human races is that people generally play them for two reasons.

The first is for the stats. If you are this kind of player, then this article doesn't apply to you. Your priorities are different from those of the author.

The second reason people often play non-human races, and the one most relevant to the article, is that the player in question wants to be Different. Whereas others are playing a rogue, a mage, and so on, this player is playing an Elf! Race becomes the sole differentiating characteristic, which means that the player doesn't have to focus on having a unique background, set of motivations, and so on. This is lazy roleplaying, and although there are exceptions, I suspect this is probably the most common reason people choose to play a non-human.

In this regard, I heartily agree that a game that has the goals discussed by the author _should_ filter out this kind of player. It is highly unlikely that the portrayal of this character will be as sophisticated as if he had been forced to differentiate his character in ways that are essential to a strong character. This is as destructive to the proposed themes of the game as the aforementioned minotaur was to game balance.

In conclusion, and because I am sure you all care, I had already been wavering as to whether or not I was going to allow non-human races into any games that I'd run, but now I'm pretty sure the default would be human because the type of games that I like to run are very much in line with the author's. Players are free to ask, and I'll look at it on a case-by-case basis.

" calling a character interesting because he can see in the dark seems superficial"

Someone should have told that to Vin Diesel!

"Whereas others are playing a rogue, a mage, and so on, this player is playing an Elf!"

Ahhhh... that brings back memories of a time when "elf" was a class all in itself and not really a race.

Those were the days.

However, just playing an elf, to me, doesn't necessarily mean that the player is being lazy, as you put it (exceptions noted). It is difficult, I think, to truly understand a player's motivations for playing a particular race if not just for the stats. Some just identify with the stereotypical lifestyle of a particular race (elf, dwarf, etc) and are comfortable in playing that because that is "different" than their everyday, run-of-the-mill, 9-5 job at the office.

As for your case-by-case decision as a GM, that's fine. Whatever works for you and your group. The whole point of the thing is to get together with friends for a few hours, chuck some dice, and eat scads of really non-nutritious food (actually, aren't cheese puffs part of the diary group?), and if that's what you and your group want to do, that's fine.

For us, we allow the typical non-humans in our campaigns, but that's about it.

But that's just my $0.02 worth.

I think D&D, and by extension most fantasy settings, offers too many bloody racial options. I really think that's part of the problem. We might say, "non-human races are all cardboard stereotypes" (and some points above about dwarves as pseudo-viking/scots and Star Trek aliens are very well taken indeed), but what do you expect when there are fifteen sentient, player-worthy races out there to be defined?

My latest kick with regard to RPing is simply "less is more." By sticking to a theme for each of my campaigns, and by weeding all the stuff out of the system that doesn't contribute to that theme, I find it's possible to develop more interesting, unique settings. As an example (and less by way of tooting my own horn), my current setting has elves, humans, and orcs, as well as the two half-breed races in between. That's it.

Though one of my players is peeved at not being able to play a Dwarf, we're having a good time. And we have a vivid setting to work with that is recognizably fantastic.

It's not that D&D is a bad thing, as written; hell, it's a great deal of fun or none of us would play it as much as we do. But I think a good fantasy setting requires a bit of pruning to scale back what developers call "Feature-creep" (in this case, with apologies, "creature-creep"). Just give a moment's thought to how many iterations on the theme of the fey folk/little people there are in the monster manual: you don't need all these races to exist side-by-side in the same universe to have a great setting. You can, but it's a little perturbing to me that the Giant Fantasy Melting Pot has become the default setting - more or less because Gygax and a few other pioneers wanted it thus, and few people have much challenged their assumptions.

With a few, strong racial types to choose from, I think good role-playing is encouraged. I'd never try to influence a player's choice of race, beyond saying "only these races exist in this world." When the cast of characters is manageable, character development is a lot easier.

This is just as true for gods and races as it is for individual characters. Most of us limit the size of our tabletop groups: if you've ever tried to run a game with 15 people at the table for even one session, I think you'll understand what I mean. A big party is unmanageable: individual characters can't shine. Why, if a large party is a mistake, do we GMs consistently allow ourselves to be bullied by overblown casts of non-human sentient races? There's no good reason, in my opinion.

excellent point, Cocytus. I was actually intending to liken the situation to pruning a wild-growing tree, but I see you're ahead of me.

I do think that we have a finite number of original ideas/concepts/whatever we can focus on (or absorb) at the same time. So, when you have 324 different types of aliens walking around your space station, who cares if THAT merchant is a Purple or Green Drazi? (until they start rioting, of course)

on the same note, consider the dynamics of hate groups in Shadowrun:
who cares if your kid is playing with that black kid or the jew, when you've got friggin ORKS in the neighborhood?

- have mercy on the newbie -

If you think about it, racial limits on level advancement for non human characters is pretty dumb. A human mage only has about 90 years to study magic. Elves on the other hand, has 300 - 3000 years, AND as a race elves are naturally gifted in magic. They also (on average) have civilizations that are far older than mankind. Why then would elves have their potential limited by an arbritrary rule in a lame effort to equalize elves and humans.
The truth is that elves are better, individually, than humans are. This is reflected in their stats, their description, their art, and everything else. The ONLY reason that humans are more dominate is because we can outbreed them. What a sad way to go...
That's why I wrote this article. Playing a character is dependent on the PLAYER'S willingness to not munchkin out, a willingness to ROLEplay the character as something other than human. That is what makes an interesting character. Not a bonus to DX and IQ and an immunity to charm spells.

"The Truth is a Virus."

He either demonstrated his ability and willingness to destroy the town and everyone in it and intimidated them or he avoided the towns and sent in other party members.

He would only get to play his minotaur characters for short periods of time. They were too unbalancing for the rest of the party...

What you are saying with the first part of your post is this: You the GM, can make a race of people including things like religion, culture, clothing, lifestyle, and speech. And you are comfortable allowing your players to ignore it completely?

If you made a race of people who live in an archipelo, worship the norse gods and celebrate the mexican holiday "Day of the Dead", only have weapons that can be used for purposes other than killing other people (bows, knives, etc), speak a mixture of spanish/mexican/portugese, live in clans and tribes, and do not have the capability of trans-ocean travel, then (by what you are saying) I could play a swordmaster pirate. How about linguist or a navigator? WHat about a christian paladin or a cleric of Bhaal?

The reason is that they don't make sense. They don't fit in with the GM created world. Without reaching for some lame excuse to fit these kind of characters into that kind of world, these characters would not be allowed to play in the game. Well, maybe in your game, but not in mine. When I make a world, I expect the players to challenge things and to have the world change as a result. I do not expect or allow the players to completely disregard what I have created. Why bother creating a world when you know that the players will ignore it and create characters that don't fit anyways?

When it comes to playing elves (or any other race), I believe that the players should try to play the characters as someone of that race. Not as a human who looks wierd.

The player doesn't have to be a thespian for this to work. A character based off of a Japanese culture can be played simply by having the player be extremly polite and a little subservant when addressed by a superior. That's not hard.

"Stupid is as stupid does."

If you think about it, racial limits on level advancement for non human characters is pretty dumb.

Right: it's just an old, misguided attempt to introduce game-balance among races.

I agree with many of your salient points in the article: elves are not (or should not be played as, since heck, they don't exist) humans with pointy ears.

Sadly, the only movie I can think of that even tried to get this point across was Hawk the Slayer, which is entertaining enough for kids but a godawful chore for adults. The book (series) that comes to mind for doing this best is Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Tad Williams' Sithi are a pleasant cross between Norse-myth elves (viz. Tolkien) and the cold-iron-fearing fair folk of Celtic myth. When I read these books, it's quite clear to me that the Sithi think very differently from humans, and why.

I think it's also true that we play to have fun. If a player wants to do a certain thing, I try to accommodate him. By the same token, I think Xplo hit the nail on the head: there's little difference between saying "you can't play a _______" and saying "you can't play." But that's something I'm less afraid to say as I get older and more mature as a GM. If somebody wants to play a pixie (my setting has no pixies) or an evil cleric (my setting doesn't have those, either, for reasons far too complicated to enumerate here), I suggest that person find another campaign. I start politely. But last year I saw a campaign wrecked and rendered extremely un-fun by people who wanted to do things that weren't appropriate to the setting. It wasn't merely that they wanted to play races that the setting didn't allow; they fundamentally failed to understand the dynamic of the world, and their character archetypes were in many instances very bad fits. I tried to make them happy, but in the end my compromises pleased no one and the game was ruined anyway. Better off to have said: "you can't do that" from the start, even if what I was really saying was "you can't play." You are right to assert that the GM bears the brunt of setting design and preparation, and if somebody wants to do something out-of-setting, I see no problem with telling them to look elsewhere for a game. When you're the GM, you run the setting you want to run. Period. End of story. Nobody's forcing your players to join your game at gunpoint.

My solution to the non-human PC problem, as noted below, has been to severely limit the number of non-human races playable. I find it works; yeah, the personae played are still kinda "cardboard cut-out," but the amount of cliché is at least limited. And two of my players have gone to great lengths to portray the descriptions in my setting-book as faithfully as they can. That's a nice tradeoff between DM effort and player effort, and I've found it very rewarding.

Cocytus wrote:
By sticking to a theme for each of my campaigns, and by weeding all the stuff out of the system that doesn't contribute to that theme, I find it's possible to develop more interesting, unique settings.

There are many things to consider in a fantasy roleplaying game and setting is only one of them. The setting and goals of the storyteller/GM must be broad enough to encompass the needs of the players. This is particularily important during the character creation stage of the game.

With a few, strong racial types to choose from, I think good role-playing is encouraged. I'd never try to influence a player's choice of race, beyond saying "only these races exist in this world." When the cast of characters is manageable, character development is a lot easier.

The reason why we include fantasy races into a setting is to strengthen an existing archetype. This allows a player to explore a facet of human experience -- our human experience. By offering a player with a wide range of choices the GM is giving the players a chance to define their experience. The essential element of fantasy is the question "What if ..." By allowing the players to choose from a broad spectrum of races you essentially allow them to define some of those "what if's" themselves. Limiting the selection of races puts more control in the hands of the GM, when it is a great opportunity to have the players determine some of the initial direction of the game.

I agree about the "generic fantasy melting pot" creating absurd scenarios.

I agree that too many races create logistical problems.

D&D / Roleplaying should evolve to have a sense of ecology and role within the system rather than a myriad of evil species whose only purpose is to breed males who arm themselves and sit in dungeons facing the door and guarding wonderous treasure that they never use or need.

I agree that campaign settings that have a theme to explore are richer than those who don't.

I agree that settings should have a thoughtful balance of magic and culture. More is often less when it is not carefully balanced, and few people spend the time to consider the implications of what they add to their settings.

I believe that it is the role of the GM to control the setting, magic, cultures, equipment, etc -- not the function of the game system. Skills, magic, races, equipment, history, cosmology, and theology are all part of the source material.

Where I do disagree with the esteemed Cocytus is on the issue of how much choice to give players at the outset. I like to give a wide choice at the beginning so that the players can determine the direction of the game and start framing the issues and ideas that will be explored.

Why not let the other choices drift out into oblivion at the start of the campaign? If you have five player characters and they choose a total of four different races - let those be four of the five or six races that your campaign will support. It is not hard to re-write which type of elves inhabit the glades of Llordiam or which strain of dwarves fought against the tribes of Migram.

By allowing the players the choice they are giving you invaluable feedback about what kind of game they wish to have and which issues are important to them. As a GM you should still be able to confront the players with the same issues and themes as before, but they will be working from the perspective that they want.

Good role-playing aside, having powers, abilities, or physical characterstics is a way of enhancing or juxtaposing a personality trait. A timid little faerie character is interesting because both the diminutive size and the personality enhance the lack of physical power, where a ferocious faerie juxtaposes their physical stature with their temperment. In both cases the exaggerated attribute of the faerie becomes an issue in many situations -- it is an issue that the player has chosen to explore. I say, let it happen.

Certainly the same issue can be explored without the exaggeration. To what extremes these exaggeations happen is a function of the level of fantasy and fancy in your world. A balanced selection of races should be offered; however, I do not think that it needs to be limited.

TH wrote:

The second reason people often play non-human races, and the one most relevant to the article, is that the player in question wants to be Different. Whereas others are playing a rogue, a mage, and so on, this player is playing an Elf! Race becomes the sole differentiating characteristic, which means that the player doesn't have to focus on having a unique background, set of motivations, and so on. This is lazy roleplaying, and although there are exceptions, I suspect this is probably the most common reason people choose to play a non-human.

I don't follow the logic here. Race, profession, culture, and upbringing are all part of identity of any character. Suggesting that putting the questions of race ahead of profession is somehow "lazy" roleplaying doesn't make any sense. Is the rogue a lazy roleplayer because she isn't doing a good job of taking on her "human" nature.
We can all describe ourselves with more than one adjective, express more than one side to our personality. Playing a character who has grown up with different cultural mores is a fascinating challenge and a way of exploring some of our experiences and prejudice.

I think players should have a wide choice of fantastic races so long as the GM can make a rich and interesting setting out of the problems that are created. One of my Art teachers used to say that it wasn't a canvas, it was a problem. All art comes from a problem.

I agree that too many races in play at one time creates more than its share of problems. This artificial diversity leads to shallow thinking if one race comes to represent one set of traits and beliefs. Characters loose their detail, politics become black and white, and the game goes from epic to absurd.

George Lucas* is as much a culprit to this kind of thinking as Gary Gygax. Alignment languages, planets with only terrain, races with one set of traits, and character classes are all symptoms of this kind of thinking.

*While the original Star Wars was an Epic that spanned a great adventure the next series tried to go bigger instead of deeper. Trying to go more grandiose than a sweeping Epic Space Opera was a colossal mistake. Tying so many threads back to the original series made the universe smaller. Black and white works very well in Epic proportions, but as you "telescope" in the shades of grey should emerge. That is where the "human" drama lives.

There are many things to consider in a fantasy roleplaying game and setting is only one of them. The setting and goals of the storyteller/GM must be broad enough to encompass the needs of the players. This is particularily important during the character creation stage of the game.

I would quibble there. I tend to design my settings, adventures, and everything from as close to "whole cloth" as I can. When I'm sitting around discussing a possible setting with my friends, I welcome input: "I'd like to try a setting where I can do [x]..." and so forth.

Once the setting is more or less fleshed-out, I am less inclined to let players set the direction of the game. I've bent over backward to accommodate archetypes, races, classes, and so forth that conflicted with my vision of the setting. I have to say: my recent experiences have led me to believe that it's a mistake to do that. There's a reason why I prohibit certain races, classes, and mechanics. If someone wants one of the prohibited things, the chances are good (in my experience) that this someone would be happier playing another game entirely.

Analogiae claudicant, so the ancients told us: analogies hobble. But I feel I must resort to analogies to make my point.

If you sit down to play a space opera role-playing game, there's no room for a wizard archetype. If you are playing a game about Vampires, there is no room for a half-dragon character. If you are playing a Western, a knight in shining armor is going to be badly out of place.

Are there exceptions to these rules? Of course. The Star Wars universe provides a good example of wizards in a sci-fi milieu, a little bit of metaphysical/theological fidgeting can allow a draconian-seeming character in a "world of darkness," and the man called Paladin was the hero of a great Western (Have Gun, Will Travel). But each of these things stretches the original setting concept by varying degrees. Fans of a gritty Mechwarrior-style universe will feel that the setting's flavor is weakened by a pseudo-Jedi running around. Those trying to build an ambience of Gothic horror may feel that the mood is spoiled by a fantasy half-dragon among their party members. And finally, Paladin is a knight archetype, but without the armor or external code of chivalry: important distinctions.

When you sit down to play a game, you should already know what kind of game you are going to play. When you sit at the poker table, you should not complain that the game lacks elements of Monopoly.

The trouble with fantasy (and, in a similar fashion, sci-fi) settings is that they offer unlimited opportunities for exploration. Why do I call that trouble? Because the human mind, no matter how inventive, can only invent so much. When invention fails, the mind falls back on what is familiar to it: in a word, cliché.

To pick another analogy, my favorite television series of all time is Firefly. I feel it succeeds where so many other sci-fi shows have failed precisely because it has no aliens. Its stories examine the same things that, for example, Star Trek's various incarnations have examined. It succeeds better for me because the sterotypes are undisguised. The warrior spirit, the proud woman, the mercenary ideal, these things are all presented in a human way. For that reason, perhaps, they move me more than do the same elements presented through the lens of an alien race in any episode of Voyager. When asked to audition for the show, actor Ron Glass (Shepherd Book) asked: "A sci-fi show? Do I have to wear a prosthetic on my forehead?" And he only became interested upon learning the answer was no. Firefly winnowed its space-opera influence down to the Western, and I think it did so with unsurpassed results.

Those who give guidance to would-be writers exhort their pupils to research their stories as exhaustively as possible for this very reason. When writing sounds false -- where it lacks verisimilitude -- the reason is often because the writer's research was slipshod, and the writer fell back into hackdom.

All of this is a roundabout justification, perhaps aimed at convincing myself, for why I don't allow players unlimited ability to choose their characters. I find the archetype grows stronger when it is given limitations, and I would cite Paladin from my example above as a prime bit of evidence. Paladin is a knight, but only internally: his code comes from within. And the fact that a familiar archetype appears in a setting where he doesn't really belong makes him, and the story, very compelling. If he rode around in full plate and had a Code of Chivalry to guide him, the compelling nature of his character and the Western story of which he is the hero would, in my opinion, have suffered greatly.

Certainly the same issue can be explored without the exaggeration. To what extremes these exaggeations happen is a function of the level of fantasy and fancy in your world. A balanced selection of races should be offered; however, I do not think that it needs to be limited.

Need, as I like to say, is always a strong word. No, you're right in terms of the game you want to run. You know what your game needs. I'm just trying to report what I feel has been most effective in the games I've chosen to run.

have to say: my recent experiences have led me to believe that it's a mistake to do that. There's a reason why I prohibit certain races, classes, and mechanics.

I certainly wouldn't advocate the inclusion of races that do not work within the "cloth" or framework that you are designing. There are certain races that I would tend to consider "exotics" -- outside of the standard set that you suggested near the start. Having too many of these kinds of races can spoil the dynamic or flavour of a game, but I find that one or two can be a welcome addition to a campaign world and be accomodated with little trouble.

I agree with the comment about internal archetypes. These archetypes are more interesting if they are not wrapped in the same tired old clothes. Chivalry is a perspective not a profession.

At the outset of my current long running campaign I allowed a player to choose Monk as a character class. I didn't really have Monks in the setting until he chose the class and I have a long list of reasons why they really don't belong in a medieval fantasy setting. Not the least of which is that the absurdity of Hong Kong cinema gets added to the medieval setting.

I think the inclusion of the Monk made the setting worse(more of a mish-mash), but may have made the game better. Some interesting adventures and events have revolved around the tests and philosophies of these "Monks". It is not a mistake that I regret, however I still believe that the entire character class deserves to be flushed down the toilet. The appeal of the Monk is almost entirely driven by the power-gamer who has some version of Bruce Lee, Jet Li, or the Matrix dancing in their head.

I think I am torn the same way on the issue of races. I think that you are right that you get a better setting and a better story with fewer, more carefully selected races; a better balance of magic and mystery; and a more wholistic cloth in general. If I were writing a novel I would certainly reduce the clutter and do less better. That is the luxury of writing.
In my experience the gaming table is a bit more like a daily soap opera -- you have to dip into the the plot pot so often that it is a challenge to keep things fresh. The players are part of the story and can unravel carefully laid plot and story threads with the malice of a petulant child. In the end it all rests on the group dynamic. The level of sophistication that your game can maintain is dependent upon the group.

On the point of Firefly -- I think I should give it a look. I haven't ever seen an episode. What do you think of the new Battlestar Gallactica?

...didn't really have Monks in the setting until he chose the class and I have a long list of reasons why they really don't belong in a medieval fantasy setting. Not the least of which is that the absurdity of Hong Kong cinema gets added to the medieval setting.

Agreed; I hated the Monk class for a long time. But a close friend convinced me (during the setting-design phase) to look at how to tie it more closely to medieval, Western culture, and I found it was quite easily modified to my taste. I've kept most of the 3rd-ed class mechanics intact, but aimed for a Friar Tuck quarterstaff-wielding type, and I added a Monk's Code based on the Benedictine Rule (because I don't use alignments). The class suits me, and my setting, much better now.

In my experience the gaming table is a bit more like a daily soap opera -- you have to dip into the the plot pot so often that it is a challenge to keep things fresh.

Again, I agree whole-heartedly; but I view this as a challenge to me, as the GM, to keep the story interesting and well thought-out. If I have to fall back on too many simple, familiar tricks such as Monster-of-the-Week club, I have to think I'm doing something wrong.

On the point of Firefly -- I think I should give it a look. I haven't ever seen an episode. What do you think of the new Battlestar Gallactica?

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool browncoat (a word that will have no meaning to you until you've seen the show), so you have to take my enthusiasm with a measure of salt. I encourage you to rent the show (the entire run, in the proper order and including the three never-aired episodes, are available on DVD through Netflix or your favorite rental company). If you like the pilot, you'll like it all. And the movie is quite good.

As for Battlestar, I've not been fortunate enough to see very much of it. What I've seen, I've liked very much, though.

continuing being off topic:

i really liked firefly when it was aired here, and managed to miss buying the entire series on DVD last week when in London.

however, I'm hoping that if the movie has mass success (I've been told it's really, really good) they might considering re-installing the series.

regarding Galactica, I've downloaded the first season from the 'net, and i found it very good. the second season should be on the air soon enough. recommended

I have played every combination of race/class/alignment possible and have gmed just about anything,really either say no to the preposterous race or let the player do his thing,i have been known as the gm from hell by the way, but i give the player a chance to explain his choice of race/class/alignment on a case by case basis if they can explain why i should allow this race/class/alignment to my satisfaction i might think about it i draw the line at races with ECL's higher than 2 but the player must as some have stated have a damn good reason to be playing that race other than, i will qoute a player who always wanted to as stated above min/max "it has +2 to everything" but it boils down to this,in my opinion i like occasional variety but if it up sets the balance of the campaign i will flat out say no or make the player regret the choice i.e"none of the shops in town have items of adequte durabilty and size for a halfdragon-titan richard,"you cannot pass through the gates due to your size"or i know this is messed up but..."you have sprung some magical traps the good news is due to your good stats you passed the saving throws taking only half damage from the traps the bad news is there is not enough room for you to fly out from under the second trap im sorry but your character has fallen in to a pit which contained aa orb of anhialation",I managed to keep the forementioned pc from un balancing the campaign at every turn and eventually he took took craft magic arms and armor and got to the point where he was like the minotaur character mentioned above but in the end he regreted his chioce due to the fact that this was a custom race i made modifications to his basic race stats/abilities i.e cannot be resurected,gains only,1/3 xp form quests/encounters,and a severe minus to charisma and wisdom of about -4 but he wanted to play the big mofo halfdragon and after i had a gang of halfling/werebears beat the tar out of him he finally figured out that it doesnt matter if your character is godlike not to try to ruin the game. as mean as that sounds if he would have picked something that did not constitute making it a lvl20+ party adventure
i would not have picked on him,to tell the truth the human barabrian at lvl 20 came close to matching him and richard's character had an ECL of +15 and of all races humans in my opinion are the best because they can be far more diverse than any other races and can as was stated in earlier posts all other races are played by people only for the advantages,

any dm can kill an unbalncing pc but a great dm can prevent the character from completely ruining his game and make the person see the irrationality of playing races just because they have"+2 to every thing"it is that mindset that really irritates me and i have been know to show my irritattion in the form of traps,npcs that if slain could have a negative outcome i.e.npc knew the password to get pass the glyphs of power word kill and/or could have guided and healed the pcs or other things that cannot be simply slain or disarmed not to mention would goe against the beliefs/morals/alignment

Desmond -- is your point that you should manipulate the game to punish a player for a certain race selection? Or is it that in-game bonuses are far less likely to determine the outcome of an adventure than skillful playing?

Or have I missed your point entirely?

i meant skillful playing and by skillful i mean , not using OOC information and rping the character the way the characters of that race/class/attribute score would act,i.e.a barabrian would not know the difference beetween a necromancer and a wizard /an orc would not hold hands with an elf and skip down the street/or a character with 9 intelligence could not read war and peace in less than a week recite it and or or know what it is he is saying,to say it simply you have to rp your caracter with strengths and weaknesses in mind not just assume that because a character is an halfling he is always a rogue

btw that guy deserved the punishment he would look over the gm screen,had rigged dice and occasionaly looked up monsters in the DMG before session claiming to be"on a campaign of his own"then turned around and used the ooc info to have the upper hand yeah im not one to be a big enough jerk and tell people they can't play witout a good reason but i was really pissed off when i figured out he had rigged dice and whanted to catch him in so i fudged the dice and he had a fit and yelled that it was impossible to for him to get a one on that roll twice yeah from then things got kind of ugly between the players and had to tear two guys of the guy with the rigged dice

On a very tangential note...

Nephandus, a former regular around here, convinced me that fudging die-rolls is a bad idea. I don't do it anymore; I roll all my dice in public.

A GM on observes that he (?) doesn't kill characters...he lets the dice decide their fates. Given that Call of Cthulhu, the game he is GMing, is a game with a high body-count, that's saying something quite important: if players get their characters into situations where die-rolls are likely to get those characters killed, that's their fault.

You highlight another critical issue: don't play with cheaters. Period. They can only diminish the quality of your game. Some of my crew like to joke about their "cheaty clear dice," but I indulge them because they're clearly joking. If I ever found out a player had been consciously cheating in one of my game sessions, I would eject that player from my game and never invite him back. I mean, seriously: it's a game. Anyone who thinks the only way s/he can make it an enjoyable game is by cheating is playing the wrong game.

I understand that the internet is worldwide and that not everyone speaks (or reads and writes) English. I also understand that some people may be a little young and thus have not learned how certain words are spelled and may make grammatical errors out of ignorance that may seem obvious to the rest of us. But please. If you are going to comment in a written forum like this, then please try to use relatively proper English.

This comment was written so badly that I felt that I had to translate it in my head before I could understand what the hell the author was attempting to say. That's inexcusable.

Because of a few comments about being a GM, I doubt that the person writing this comment is less than 15 years old. That means that the person who wrote this has a fair understanding of their language and the importance of communicating clearly. It is insulting to read crap that is so horribly garbled that it gave me a headache to read it.

I don't care if I get flamed for my comments (including this one) or articles. But at least make whatever comments that you deem important enough to post intelligable enough that the rest of us can read them.
To do otherwise is insulting to everyone trying to read these posts and hinders your own message in that no one wants to try deciphering what you have written.

The really sad part of all of this is that I happen to agree with what I think the author was trying to say. I just couldn't understand most of it.

Don't write trash like this anymore. If you care enough to post a comment on Gamegrene then care enough to make it intelligable.

"Stupid is as stupid does..."

I never fudge the die rolls. In fact, the only die rolls that I DON'T roll out in the open are alertness (or Perception or whatever your game system uses) rolls. I hide these rolls simply because it tips off the players that something is about to happen, or in the case of a critical mess-up, that they can safely ignore what they just noticed. I get a kick out of parties were one pc has rolled a critical success and notices one thing and another party member rolls a critical mess up and notices something completely different! No one knows who to believe!

I do fudge things a little to keep characters alive rather than dead. Instead of killed outright, I'll make them regain conciousness later, but they are horribly injured.

As for cheaters... I have played with them in the past. Unless they insist on continuing to cheat, I don't kick them out of game. Instead, I treat them as a child. I sit them nearby where I can see all their die rolls, make them use my extra dice, etc.

My players never have "cheat" characters. I have the players submit character backgrounds, discuss it with them, and then create their characters for them based on their character backgrounds. Of course, were I running a non-point based system, then I'd have the players roll all the characters in front of me and I keep creative control of my world (in other words, no one would play a half dragon unless I had full confidence in their abilities as a player). This, of course, was the point of this article in the first place...

"Live fast, die young, and leave a goodlooking corpse."

Calamar: again, not flaming you. You're entitled to your opinion.

  1. Decaf. I'm only half-kidding, bro. I love Gamegrene dearly, but this is not a scholastic forum.
  2. Intelligible. ;) Just sayin'.

On the one hand, it's good to hold folks accountable for their words and style; it's one way people learn to improve. On the other, a little tolerance is nice. Personally, I think you should go a little easier on the lad.

I do fudge things a little to keep characters alive rather than dead. Instead of killed outright, I'll make them regain conciousness later, but they are horribly injured.

I try not to do even that. My games tend to be about acts of heroism. There are no resurrection spells, no going-back-in-Time to bring back our old buddy. When the threat of death is real and palpable, heroic acts take on great meaning; when you can just hop up again, even diminished, the heroic act is lessened.

It's all about the drama to me.

Unless they insist on continuing to cheat, I don't kick them out of game. Instead, I treat them as a child. I sit them nearby where I can see all their die rolls, make them use my extra dice, etc.

Then you're a better man than I! =) I'm thirty-five, and I already have a two-year-old. If I want to babysit, I can go play "chase the baby" or "peekaboo" with my sweet little girl. I expect my players to bring maturity to my gaming table. We're there to have fun, not monitor each other or get uptight about what each other is doing. I don't want to have to be paranoid about a player, nor do I want to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting someone's feelings. My players know the rules, and they know me. If they can't handle my rules and my game, they don't need to play.

Ah, Nephandus convert!

I fudge rolls. For instance, if a combat that the PC's are obviously going to win is taking too long and the bad guy gets hit...but still had 2 HP left, I sometimes just kill him off.

But, wait, he might could have done something really, really devestating to the party...right? Yeah, maybe if it were another DM. To me, there are instance where it's just not worth it to bother.

I also fudge rolls when things just seem to go right without the dice...or when the rules are too silly to apply. For instance, the boyz recently killed off a long time B-list villain by the name of Brimstone. They did this by sticking a gun in his mouth in a null-magic zone and pulled the trigger. Technically, the gun only did 2d4 damage and Brimstone had about 20 HP left. By the "rules" the gun couldn't have killed him with one shot. But, c'mon, they had him pinned down and a gun in his mouth. And the in-game dialogue leading up that moment was too the moment was too good to throw out on a die-roll technicality. So, we all agreed it was good to just off Brimstone there and then.

So...I agree that it's all about the drama. But, I think there are times when rigidity can ruin the drama. But, I'll certainly agree that there are times when breaking the rules / fudging the rolls can ruin the drama. I think it's a matter of knowing your players and making the proper judgement call.

This is *way* off topic, btw.

Technically, the gun only did 2d4 damage and Brimstone had about 20 HP left. By the "rules" the gun couldn't have killed him with one shot. But, c'mon, they had him pinned down and a gun in his mouth. And the in-game dialogue leading up that moment was too the moment was too good to throw out on a die-roll technicality. So, we all agreed it was good to just off Brimstone there and then.

That's sensible, and I think you're perfectly justified. d20/3d Ed has rules for a coup de grace strike in such situations, a strike which is nearly always lethal...but I think any GM is within his/her bounds to say that the strike is lethal, period, end of story.

But I distinguish between that, which seems more like a "judgment call," and "fudging," which is changing the outcome of a die roll, lying about a made/blown saving throw, etc. I wouldn't kill off the guy with 2hp, just because by 3d ed challenge rating mechanics, he might use up some of their per-combat resources (and this is useful when planning a string of encounters). But in general, I think fudging applies to tenser situations, as in a system quite apart from any brand of D&D such as GURPS, Call of Cthulhu, or even d20 Star Wars, when any lucky shot can mean a character's death. It's one thing to bump off a guy who only had 2 HP in a HP-intensive system, just to keep the action moving; it's quite another to fudge a die roll in a system where 8 HP is all certain characters ever have and all they ever get.

We're on the same page, I think, about rigidity and drama. I stopped fudging rolls because I find it increases tension rather than vice versa.

I tend to fudge rolls when the players have a lot of time and emotion invested in their characters and they die from something stupid like combat with a nameless henchman or catching gangrene from a 1 point wound. While these things are realistic and well within the rules of the gamesystem that I play, I don't like them. They feel like a let down to me and the players. However, heroic deaths are just that.

Sorry this is so short. I gotta go.

Your very well versed in role-playing, what is the name of your game or do you play board games?

I currently play and run Gurps, and I play Shadowrun on occasion. I have just started a play by post game (based on Gurps 4th ed) with my sister in-law who just recently moved out of state. I've been roleplaying for over 15 years and have tried almost as many games. Outside of Gurps, my fav games are Merps, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers. I liked the Palladium Games concepts (TMNT was cool) but the system sucked too much to keep playing...

Board games are pretty, well, boring... but I do like games like Scene It, Cranium, Checkers, 4 way Chess, and weird card games like Grass and Munchkin.

As long as we're talking games, I also enjoy Xbox games like Burnout Revenge, Madden Football, and Dead or Alive 4.

Anything else that you wanna know?

"A mind is a terrible thing to taste."

Reading some of these responses I've come to a realization. I wrote this article as whether a GM should allow a player to play a nonhuman character. A better way of writing it, at least a better question to ask, is why does the player want a nonhuman character in the first place?

For those of you who like to "play against type", wouldn't a non human character be something new? Why play a non human character that doesn't fit in with the others of his race? What's the point?

I understand that these races are comprised of individuals. I understand that as individuals these people will have differences and that they will have problems fitting in. However, why play an elf as a boorish idiot? What's the point? What are you trying to accomplish? Why not play a boorish human or half-orc instead? What is it about elves that makes you want to play them as the opposite of what the world perceives them to be?

It's not, "these people don't know how to play non-humans". It's that they don't want to. They just want to screw with the world, usually choosing races based on the bonuses or the silliness factor as evidenced by the guy who played a half mountain giant who was raised by a druid and somehow became a Master Fencer. That's just stupid. However, another poster stated that they played a half-orc who was noble, mannered, and intelligent, as if that was against type. I didn't understand that, isn't a half-orc also half human? This was an interesting character.

Why should I as a GM allow a player to disregard my world and the races in it that I have worked on so that they can play a boorish alchoholic elf "just because".

Now please bear in mind that I make characters BASED on their background stories. You may have a perfectly logical and well thought out reason for you character to behave in whatever manner you choose. My question though, is why use an elf? What is the purpose of the elven part of the character? Why not just be human?

A Viking warrior who reads poetry, abstains from alchohole, doesn't believe in sex before marriage, and always fights enemies on even terms will be ostrasized from his companions even if he were the greatest warrior that they had. Make him an orc and it doesn't really change anything. So why do it?

That's what I can't figure out. WHY play a non human character against type? If you wanna play a noble intellectual with a love of the natural order of things and you want her to be an elf, then play an elf. If you wanna play a boorish drunk, play something else. These are stereotypes, but they are there for a reason.

I know that there are exceptions to everything. As I have stated, I believe that the character Drizzt Do'Urden is one of the most unique and intriguing characters in literature. Part of his endearing quality is the fact that he is played against type, a noble and good Drow Elf. He had morals that didn't fit in with the rest of his race and he gave up everything for those morals. But honestly, how many people play characters this deep? How many players ever think beyond "this is gonna be funny"? Or "cool" or "this'll give me some advantages"?

And yes, a player who insists on playing "abnormal" characters, especially those of other races, because normal characters are "boring" do tend to suck as players. Remember, Enigo Montoya was just a swordsman. Jackie Chan is just a martial artist. Legolas is just a typical elf. Sam is the typical halfling.

Your characters are only as fun and interesting as you make them. John Travolta's character monologue in the beginning of Swordfish was riveting, and it happened BEFORE you knew what the movie was about. And he was just a human...

Think about your favourite characters from books and movies. Unless you are very young or immature, then you will find that the most memorable aren't the ones with weird powers. Hannible Lector is frightening BECAUSE he seems so normal.

A character should be played as the player wants to, but within the limitations of the world that the GM has created. That's why roleplaying is done in GROUPS....

Just a thought

That's what I can't figure out. WHY play a non human character against type?

Those I know who do this -- and only a few of my players do -- do it because they want to explore the depths, the reach of the race in question. By playing against the one- or two-dimensional stereotype given in the average roleplaying worldbook or fantasy archetype, they help develop the whole group's conception of what it means to be a member of that particular race. This is not a bad thing, but a very good thing.

Many of the examples you give are just plain silly, and I wouldn't allow them any more than you would. But I don't play with people who think that way. I choose not to, and I've got no shortage of players.

As I have stated, I believe that the character Drizzt Do'Urden is one of the most unique and intriguing characters in literature.

You're entitled to your opinion, and I respect it. But I strongly disagree. Drizzt is neither unique nor particularly interesting to me, and that has a lot to do with the fact that he is a Drow. I don't want to get into a broad argument with you over one of your favorite characters, so I'll leave it at that. My personal opinion is that characters with inner conflicts (The Grey Mouser, Elric, William Munny, Boromir, and Darth Vader, just to name a few) are more interesting than any character that seems to be yet another retelling of the Frog Prince.

You sez:

But honestly, how many people play characters this deep? How many players ever think beyond "this is gonna be funny"? Or "cool" or "this'll give me some advantages"?

I sez:

...most everyone I play with. Maybe I'm fortunate in that regard 'cause most of my players are much more focused on the depth of their character rather than their equipment.

I don't completely disagree with you. It takes talent and skill to play, say, a gnome within the stereotypes of gnomes and yet make said gnome an interesting and valuable player in the game.

I agree that a lot of people play against type in the hopes of making a character that ends up being more powerful. Say...all the Drizzt making "good" drow for no other reason than to pick up the special weapons and all that.

But...I think there are legitimate reasons to play against stereotype.

Let's go back to the gnome. An equally good player could take a gnome...make him an evil, back-stabbing, ultra sly guy who seems like a nice guy on the surface, but is a real jerk in truth. Nobody expects that from a gnome...'cause they're just these goofy sub-dwarves who makes things and accidentally trip and blow stuff up. A suave player could use this sterotype to his advantage and make a gnome rouge to trick all sorta of peole into underestimating him because he doesn't match the sterotype. Yes, we could make a sneaky human theif...but, I think it takes an extra dimension when the evil dude is this "cute n' cuddly" guy.

Play an orc who wants to be good and noble -- this will go much harder for him 'cause the typcial reaction is to kill orcs, not trust them. The character becomes even more interesting if he has to continually struggle with his inner bloodlust (which, frankly, never seems to be a real issue with a guy like Drizzt -- he's far too angelic to be overly interesting to me -- I'm more partial to his father, Zak). Sure, we could make the same basic guy with a barbarian...but, honestly, would a northman get as much stigma as a green-skin?

Howabout a cowardly dwarf? A guy who has to live with shame 'cause he's not the fearless beer-drinker that is expected of him. What does he do to prove himself? Does he even try? To me, a cowardly dwarf is more interesting than a cowardly human.

I actually think that it's a flaw to suggest that non-humans can only fit a singular role. That puts a constraint on world building and such. I'm not suggesting that everyone play a "weird" dwarf...but, as a counter to your question...why play in a game world where dwarves only fit a singular role? Hadn't you rather go to the dwarven mines where you find a variety of personality and culture rather than a bunch of one-dimensional gold diggers?

I'd like to think that people play against type in order to enrich the game world and the RPG experience.

You're right -- the best characters aren't ones that are over-the-top. But, your example of Hannibal is actually in instance of a human who IS against type (unless someone can convince me that a murderous cannibal is typical of humanity). So, I guess I'm a bit confused here...meaning, why is it okay to do this with human PC's but not non-humans? Why should the humans be the only ones with diversity?

I don't think there's really such a thing as a bad character concept (providing someone isn't being a dork on purpose). But, yes, there are certainly plenty of examples of poor character execution...but, that goes for humans and non-humans alike.