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Why You Should Use Variant Races

Written by Krystal - Published on April 16, 2010

Tired of the same ol’ boring classes, 3rd edition players? Tired of listening to our new 4E friends talk about the cool new races and classes they can play? (Especially if they use the Character Builder provided by wizards of the coast. If you’re a 4E player I highly recommend it. You can share it with 4 of your friends, too!) Well, than perhaps you haven’t looked deep enough! (And if you already have, then feel free to add anything extra I might have missed!)

Dungeons and Dragons is an extremely diverse game with a ton of spin offs that all are based on the same basic rule system. This includes. Conan, the RPG! Which is actually a very detailed and accurate recollection of the Conan stories written by Robert E. Howard. It has some interesting twists and some extremely fun things for DM’s and players to all toy with. Call of Cthulu is a mystery based RPG with a horror background, similar to Ravenloft with a bit of Sherlock Holmes added to it. Those are just a few examples of other tabletop games you can temporarily sink your teeth in if you feel thing’s aren’t lively enough, but remember DnD has so many different worlds to look into also! Ravenloft is a favorite to play on Halloween for my group, gray hawk, Forgotten realms. These are all extra resources you can look into….and guess what else they have? Yes! New Variant Races!

I’m finally to the point I was trying to make in the beginning which is you don’t have to be JUST a dwarf, or JUST an elf. Or even JUST a human! There are variations of all these races! Example, let’s look deeper into dwarves variants. Pick your source book of choice, I’ve chosen “Race of Faerun” for this example. Now look up dwarves, in this book alone it gives me choices of Arctic Dwarf, Gold Dwarf, Gray Dwarf, Shield dwarf, Urdinnir, and Wild Dwarf. I can pick from these what I think sounds most interesting, or peruse the definitions of all of them to get a feel for what I like best. Assuming I’ve read all these books we’re going to look more into “Shield Dwarves” on page 17.

Now on this page you’ll notice it gives you Regions, racial feats, and prestige classes for that race. It gives all the basics for the race including history, outlook, society, language and literacy, and all other such things. These are GOOD TO READ, don’t just look at the picture and decide that is what you want since the entire point of doing this is to vary your character and to be able to play something new and unique to your person and the GM. Also; PLEASE CONSIDER that these are outside sources that you MUST get your GM’s permission for BEFORE you create this character. Get an idea for what you want and talk with them, if they don’t like something or their society would be different talk it out with them and ask if there is any way you can be the race you want. Don’t just give up because he says he doesn’t have those, converse with him and see if there is anything he can do for you. You both should be able to find a common ground, now in some cases some of these races are completely out of the questions, ask for a logical reason if you disagree, but remember to respect the DM’s decision (As he should respect your want for a new race.) and try something else.

Also, another way to vary up the classes and races you play is try different alignments. Try being evil if you are always good, or try being good if you are always evil. If you are always neutral try something new and don’t be afraid to USE EXTREMES. Now that doesn’t mean you HAVE to use extremes, it’s just a little reminder that it is okay and can be fun sometimes. Such as the haughty paladin who seeks retribution for the sins of the world in service to his god, or the greedy left handed wizard who practices necromancy and alchemy in order to create an army of villainy! Extremes can be fun to play, and “Cliché characters” don’t have to be ruled out because everyone plays a human fighter or an elven ranger. Let your imagination soar! Don’t be limited because you feel it’s over done or too unique.

Want to make a race? Sit down with your DM and talk it through, see if you can use experimental races but DO NOT make it the “Perfect” race. By that I mean NO RACE IS PERFECT nor should it be. Each race needs to have pro’s and con’s otherwise it’s no fun for anyone except, well, MAYBE you but that won’t last. If you are in dire need of a new race -that- badly remember also that the monster manual has variations of races as well, you DO NOT need an extra sourcebook to find variations. In our group, the DM has come up with other variation of Elves such as Cliff Elves (Elves that build cities out of the cliffs etc.) and a few others. If you do that, make sure to give them their own unique traits and reasons that someone would want to play them, also find reasons someone would NOT want to play them (such as they are great climbers, but terrible swimmers.) and remember imagination is key! And not only dwarves and elves have variations, something that is commonly overlooked is HUMANS.

Humans are the most diverse species ever as they can be from all different tribes, cultures, backgrounds, and are not limited to only their “stereotype.” Humans can be Icelandic folk, to city folk. Perhaps they are haughty royalty, that is (believe it or not) a completely different branch of human as they are palace dwellers and anything outside is almost foreign nature to them. Humans come from all cracks and crevices, some source books also give variant humans and are good to look through as well. There are also books like Oriental Adventures that gives you more of an “Eastern” feel. Remember to always keep an open mind and do not let ONE example of a fantasy world be the only example. (I.e. Do not assume that all worlds are like Lord of the Rings.) Hope this helps, happy gaming friends!

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Written by Krystal

At a young age, my mother opened up her own gaming store. We had two game rooms, an office, and the front area which had a ton of miniatures and books. I helped manage that store for several years, my mother teaching me the ropes and treating me like an adult so I could learn. Even beyond that she played games at stores like Haster Hobbies and several other places. In fact, my parents met gaming! DnD kind of runs in my blood, as well as any other gaming you can think of. I’m simply a gamer at heart, an artist, and a jack of all trades. I love to write and that’s why I’m here at Dungeon Mastering! I’m going to be going to school for Video Game Design, and my bf is going to school so he can publish Core Rule Sets. In the short few years I’ve been with him I’ve learned all about how to create my own rule system and create a game from the ground up! But my expertise is not limited to DnD alone. I’ve ventured far into Call of Cthullu, and beyond to games like Shadowrun and some White Wolf games..though I’m not a big fan of dice pools. :)

Anyways! Gaming is my passion and my life. I game constantly, go to conventions, and so much more! Maybe I’ll see you there! Happy Gaming!

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4 Responses to “Why You Should Use Variant Races”
  1. Tourq says:

    I love to take a race, like the elf, and simply make a human with the elf’s stats, or sometimes even an orc.

    -Tourq

  2. kocho says:

    Here’s an idea:
    if another race’s stats are more optimal for your character but another one works better as far as fluff goes, then talk with your dm about editing it so that you have a couple of the other race’s stats to replace some from the more flavorful one’s bonuses and detractors

  3. The important thing with variant races, to me, is that they have a unique place in the world and provide more role-playing and adventure hooks for those encountering or playing a character from that race/culture.

    Looking over the cultures from our own history, there are many sparks that would create interesting seeds for a culture in any fantasy world. Drawing on actual cultures for inspiration tends to add more depth to a culture (and may provide a source of names as well, which can always be a problem otherwise).

  4. gull2112 says:

    Another point I like to add is that in a fantasy world many beings can be unique. There may not be a whole race of Wilden, but your character is Wilden. You can come up with how it got to be in existence, or not; you could just except that it is there. There was only one Tom Bombadil, there is only one golem (even though his people all died or maybe became modern halflings). Many fantasy novels have unique creatures which have no fellow beings.
    Which brings me to another pet peeve. People who claim 4E has too many classes. There doesn’t have to be such a formal division as classes in any society. There are military organizations with different roles. Some officers might be Fighters, others might be Warlords or even Rogues. Think of any character from a fantasy novel, chances are he won’t fit into the PH1 classes. Most soldiers probably are fighters, but adventurers aren’t most soldiers. Maybe your psion started out in the local militia, but fate had another role for him to fulfill.
    I welcome the new classes as they give greater diversity among individual heroes.

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