As I mentioned before, Ethereal magic is probably where racial perks and stuff will come from, but there remains a question as to why this is – and why not everyone gets them – and, well, more stuff that’s hard to explain. I think I’m going to have to talk a little bit about how I reached the conclusion to explain why it is.

One of the things I do when I get lost, is try to go back to the beginning. You know, like Inigo and Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Go back to the beginning. And one of the places where this project began, was in Dungeons & Dragons. I looked at how a character is built, and asked myself some questions.

“What is a race, and why is it needed?”
“What is a class, and why is it needed?”
“What is a background, and why is it needed?”
(As of Fourth Edition) “What is a theme, and why is it needed?”

From the bits and pieces I’ve picked up from conversations about Fifth Edition D&D, background is going to be the new source of skills, which sounds like a good idea. The skill system has been terrible since Third Edition at least (probably longer) in that it’s poorly implemented and integrated into the game.

It usually raises more questions than it answers.

I thought about each part and about what it was supposed to represent, and I started with class – something I’ve been dissecting for a long time at this point. A D&D class is a combination of background, training, skills, power source, and combat style. It’s a really generic character template that gives you an idea of capability.

If background, training, and skills are siphoned into another system, you’re left with power source and combat style – you may be familiar with the work I’ve done in that area already (see: Seven States of Magic and Tactical Roles). There’s also an element of social status to classes that remains inexplicable and hard to grasp.

Race, by comparison, is a better definition of inherited abilities, cultural impact, social status, and background. It can be used to govern the sort of discrimination a character faces, among other things, and it also gives you a sense of where the character came from. Not a very good one, mind you, but it’s a place to start.

Theme is yet another thing that has come up and complicated matters, but I’m going to leave that alone for now because it incorporates elements of everything above.

Now, race. I think I’ve discussed before how not only is race a bundle of randomly associated (and rarely justified) perks, but it requires certain other, uh, how do I put this – there are implications involved in race that make things more complicated than they’re worth. Why do you turn to race when you need a +2 Strength?

It’s complicated and stupid. Now try and get those rare combinations of Strength and Charisma, or Wisdom and Intelligence, and … there are so many implications and justifications involved that it gets pretty ridiculous. And more added races to the mix complicates matters further as they all need histories, deities, and flaws…

Not every player wants to deal with that. Sometimes they want +2 Strength.

Then, what’s your metric?