Race is a common factor in a lot of fantasy roleplaying games, including its most notable example, Dungeons & Dragons. Race acts as a sort of cultural and/or physical appearance template for a character, giving them a stamp of, I don’t know what to call it, really. They come with a standard look and a standard background to match.

Dwarves have beards, elves have ears, humans have *yawn*, halflings are short, gnomes are … also short, it’s a physical appearance thing. There are also some cultural implications involved with a player’s choice of race. Depending on how dedicated a group is to portraying racial tensions, there may be discrimination.

But just as often, the players aren’t comfortable with playing that sort of thing, or it’s rare, or it’s omnipresent. It’s been pointed out that the only time drinking blood matters in games of Vampire is when the players don’t have enough, otherwise it bogs down gameplay. Culture, race, knowledge, and language operate on the same level.

Like keys and locked doors. Keys only matter when you don’t have them.

It’s a binary situation that can derail an adventure with a poor die roll. Don’t know the dragon’s weakness? The party can’t beat it. Don’t have a rogue with lockpicks? The party can’t get through the door. Don’t have an interpreter to speak with the angry trolls? Guess you have to fight them instead. Not enough blood? Eat a human.

And so forth.

This is not a particularly effective way to bring about characters and a setting and such. Binary systems are boring and hard to work around. I mean sure, if the party can’t pick the lock, they can still bash the door down – especially in D&D where violence is usually the answer to problems the party can’t otherwise solve.

But there has to be a better way of going about it. That’s actually why I’ve spent so much time working with social castes and factions. If you want to portray the difficulty of working outside your social status, you have the faction system to fall back on – a hard and fast method of creating and resolving class conflict.

But race is something else altogether, which I think I worked out yesterday. Or maybe that was this morning. I never remember. It’s one of those things.

I figured that race is supposed to be a combination of heritage, whether it’s tribal, or clan, or some other family division, and when you look at how most games break down racial perks, it’s basically some prepackaged powers and abilities.

And I think the Ethereal state is where those belong.

The Ethereal state has been tied to spirits and the Underworld for pretty much the entirety of its existence. I had this whole thing, where it was the magic of ancestry and bloodlines and stuff, but I guess this is the first time I’ve really made the “racial template” connection. I mean, unless I’ve already been there. Sheesh.