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  1. - Top - End - #241
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by KaussH View Post
    So.... since this seems to have wondered into culture, who wants to do the writting? Aka who is willing to make a bunch of races, multi cultures for all of them, ect? :)

    Presumptions and mono cultures and the like are easy, hence why used. Now i think its a good game to do all the work, but in all honesty it can take some effort.
    Well, I am. And honestly, any author aspiring to create a setting should be willing to do that work too, or explain why it isn't needed. Amonkhet doesn't need it because there really is only one culture on the plane, by (nefarious) design. Theros has a broad sharing of cultural values, but the city-states are genuinely distinct, likewise the Guilds of Ravnica.

    If a team making a card game can do it over and over again, surely we can expect similar from official D&D authors. I grant much more slack to DMs in general, but still think they should aspire to grow beyond planet-of-hats writing.

  2. - Top - End - #242
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by KaussH View Post
    So.... since this seems to have wondered into culture, who wants to do the writting? Aka who is willing to make a bunch of races, multi cultures for all of them, ect? :)

    Presumptions and mono cultures and the like are easy, hence why used. Now i think its a good game to do all the work, but in all honesty it can take some effort.
    A lot of default settings for systems that are not D&D have done this for decades already.

    It is also quite common to have race/species and culture as different steps in character creation for many of the rule heavy systems that are not D&D.


    Now overall there is an argument for cultures mixing less when interbreeding is impossible and species do have different biological needs. So there can be cultures nearly composed of one species. But that is still not a reason for that species to only have this one culture
    Last edited by Satinavian; 2021-01-06 at 04:13 AM.

  3. - Top - End - #243
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Satinavian View Post
    Now overall there is an argument for cultures mixing less when interbreeding is impossible and species do have different biological needs.
    (Not that interbreeding is impossible in D&D. Half-elves are core stuff in every edition I'm familiar with, and technically (4e lumps them in the second PHB with gnomes) so are half-orcs, and I don't remember having seen any indication that these hybrids are sterile.)

    But that is still not a reason for that species to only have this one culture
    Sometimes it gets thoroughly ridiculous. If I remember correctly, kenkus from the 3.5 MM3 do not have separate societies, cities and whatnot of their own, but rather fill moreally grey niches in the (mostly urban) societies of others. Despite that, they somehow have a unified, sneaky-nefarious racial culture.

  4. - Top - End - #244
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    I’m reminded of some blurbs from (the overly horrendous but not without its gems) PF2. Each race has a few lines dedicated to “others may think you...” bullet points. Is this manner of presenting the publicly held stereotypes a good way to paint broad pictures, given that it acknowledges it is stereotyping?
    By the metric of being wholly dependent on the GM for noncombat interaction Fighter is an NPC class.

  5. - Top - End - #245
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    And I'd say that that's a reason to avoid intentionally homogenizing fictional cultures. Real cultures are complex and heterogenous down to very small scales (national-level culture is not homogeneous except (and not even then) in the smallest of nations, let alone regions). So fictional cultures should aspire to be just as complex, so that when people are done homogenizing them (like they will), there will be something other than just flat stereotypes that make painted cardboard look dynamic and 3D.

    We should do our best to provide enough depth that something can survive the inevitable "simplification".
    ...Do you have any idea how much effort that takes? This is not vaguely, remotely, realistic to see any return on investment for. Lord of the Rings was the work of literal decades of aggregating writings, starting with painstakingly constructing fictional etymology to make fully developed languages that functioned naturally. And it's still extremely shallow as actual culture goes, despite most of a literal lifetime spent working on it in one way or another. And the takeaway was "Elves are archers in the woods" because of literally specifically Legolas, despite the broader work going into extremely spectacular detail for a work of fiction to make it clear the Elves had three major divergent cultures. But we get Legolas cloning as the standard because he's what stuck, because he's what was in the party. This is just how humans parse information. You're not getting around that.

    Fifty years down the line, when you have a sprawling expanded universe and dozens of writers and the money to pay all sorts of experts on relevant subject matters, maybe that effort can be excused as something to have built up, and indeed we actually see some of this in D&D as it's shifted from the shallow needs of its gameplay to possessing real lore about its races, even as that lore is one-note compared to a real region's history for any given setting. But anything less than half a century is not reasonable to be doing that sort of work, because there's such a mind bogglingly absurd amount needed to pull that off without resorting to directly calling out real cultures to borrow framework, which you people also actively criticize, that it is flatly not worth the effort when starting something. Because again, we have seen what spending most of your life working on and off on a single setting gives in the form of Tolkein's works.

    It does not matter how much work you do. Your work will be reduced to a flat stereotype without fail because humans generalize and compact and run on heuristics, this is just how people make sense of things. Faerun is often ribbed for having far too much going on, and is still the poster child of many of these complaints because all that effort is in things that can actually sell, not massive swaths of geneology, mythology, history of not-involved-in-your-campaigns, religious practices, and all the other features of remotely complex cultures. Answering your complaints is a horrifyingly bad return on investment, because it's practically a rounding error of the customer base that actually cares about this enough to buy the dozens and dozens of books necessary to cover the amount of content you'd have to make to both make a complex culture and not have stereotyping.

    We are not talking a few weeks to cram out a decent framework one can sensibly roleplay on without resorting to the "special snowflake" effects. We are talking years of day in, day out writing and cross-referencing to keep internal coherence as you agonizingly make sure to not have done anything readily connected to an actual culture, build up sensible outliers as serious trends to have the PC needs within the setting, making sure to dodge volleys of bullets of tiny details that set off hair triggers of happening to overlap with negative stereotypes, and at the end of it all accept that 95% or more of this is effectively completely wasted effort because the books covering it won't have the remotest chance of turning a profit or consumer base penetration because people in general are not interested in the theology, socioeconomics, evolutionary psychology, and numerous other matters one has to cover, and much of those who do buy in are going to go right on ahead making their own stereotypes to make the remotest sense of the piles of you've written.

    And if you mess up anything, it turns into an active detriment because people like you will be circling the water waiting for the slightest offense (there goes writing about in-universe negative stereotypes or disruptive trends) or people will walk away from the "insufferable grey and grey morality" you have to use because you don't get to have designated enemy groups (there goes most capacity for pre-packaged guilt-free antagonists to run the content mills on) or things won't sell for the enormous swaths of not-remotely-necessary-for-your-product page space being mind-numbing padding in the actual content books (there goes your sales so you aren't even being noticed). I am familiar with these effects, I have seen how audiences drop off for long-term writing like this. It's no different from Warhammer Fantasy withering to the point of being killed off from its cost of entry, you need too much investment to get anywhere for any audience growth to happen.

  6. - Top - End - #246
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Metastachydium View Post
    (Not that interbreeding is impossible in D&D. Half-elves are core stuff in every edition I'm familiar with, and technically (4e lumps them in the second PHB with gnomes) so are half-orcs, and I don't remember having seen any indication that these hybrids are sterile.)
    Yes, elfs and orcs. But already with halflings you won't get mixed families and size difference will make it rather uncomfortable for a human living in a halfling village. And those are still pretty close, i really see difficulties for e.g. humans and sahuagin to actually really share a culture.

  7. - Top - End - #247
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Satinavian View Post
    Yes, elfs and orcs. But already with halflings you won't get mixed families and size difference will make it rather uncomfortable for a human living in a halfling village. And those are still pretty close, i really see difficulties for e.g. humans and sahuagin to actually really share a culture.
    Granted, it's not for everyone, but it's not impossible either (especially if we also consider that stuff like half-giants, muls and half-ogres is also a thing).
    (As for the sahuagin, how viable this is mostly depends on how we define humans. UA has an aquatic variant, while Races of Destiny gives us the sea kin, who are also basically aquatic humans. Heck, if malenti can interbreed with aquatic elves (do we know that they can't?) even human-elf-sahuagin interbreeding isn't out of question, especially if we get the whole „sahuagin culture revolves around hating everyone” thing out of the way.)
    Last edited by Metastachydium; 2021-01-06 at 08:45 AM.

  8. - Top - End - #248
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Morphic tide View Post
    ...Do you have any idea how much effort that takes? This is not vaguely, remotely, realistic to see any return on investment for. Lord of the Rings was the work of literal decades of aggregating writings, starting with painstakingly constructing fictional etymology to make fully developed languages that functioned naturally. And it's still extremely shallow as actual culture goes, despite most of a literal lifetime spent working on it in one way or another. And the takeaway was "Elves are archers in the woods" because of literally specifically Legolas, despite the broader work going into extremely spectacular detail for a work of fiction to make it clear the Elves had three major divergent cultures. But we get Legolas cloning as the standard because he's what stuck, because he's what was in the party. This is just how humans parse information. You're not getting around that.

    Fifty years down the line, when you have a sprawling expanded universe and dozens of writers and the money to pay all sorts of experts on relevant subject matters, maybe that effort can be excused as something to have built up, and indeed we actually see some of this in D&D as it's shifted from the shallow needs of its gameplay to possessing real lore about its races, even as that lore is one-note compared to a real region's history for any given setting. But anything less than half a century is not reasonable to be doing that sort of work, because there's such a mind bogglingly absurd amount needed to pull that off without resorting to directly calling out real cultures to borrow framework, which you people also actively criticize, that it is flatly not worth the effort when starting something. Because again, we have seen what spending most of your life working on and off on a single setting gives in the form of Tolkein's works.

    It does not matter how much work you do. Your work will be reduced to a flat stereotype without fail because humans generalize and compact and run on heuristics, this is just how people make sense of things. Faerun is often ribbed for having far too much going on, and is still the poster child of many of these complaints because all that effort is in things that can actually sell, not massive swaths of geneology, mythology, history of not-involved-in-your-campaigns, religious practices, and all the other features of remotely complex cultures. Answering your complaints is a horrifyingly bad return on investment, because it's practically a rounding error of the customer base that actually cares about this enough to buy the dozens and dozens of books necessary to cover the amount of content you'd have to make to both make a complex culture and not have stereotyping.

    We are not talking a few weeks to cram out a decent framework one can sensibly roleplay on without resorting to the "special snowflake" effects. We are talking years of day in, day out writing and cross-referencing to keep internal coherence as you agonizingly make sure to not have done anything readily connected to an actual culture, build up sensible outliers as serious trends to have the PC needs within the setting, making sure to dodge volleys of bullets of tiny details that set off hair triggers of happening to overlap with negative stereotypes, and at the end of it all accept that 95% or more of this is effectively completely wasted effort because the books covering it won't have the remotest chance of turning a profit or consumer base penetration because people in general are not interested in the theology, socioeconomics, evolutionary psychology, and numerous other matters one has to cover, and much of those who do buy in are going to go right on ahead making their own stereotypes to make the remotest sense of the piles of you've written.

    And if you mess up anything, it turns into an active detriment because people like you will be circling the water waiting for the slightest offense (there goes writing about in-universe negative stereotypes or disruptive trends) or people will walk away from the "insufferable grey and grey morality" you have to use because you don't get to have designated enemy groups (there goes most capacity for pre-packaged guilt-free antagonists to run the content mills on) or things won't sell for the enormous swaths of not-remotely-necessary-for-your-product page space being mind-numbing padding in the actual content books (there goes your sales so you aren't even being noticed). I am familiar with these effects, I have seen how audiences drop off for long-term writing like this. It's no different from Warhammer Fantasy withering to the point of being killed off from its cost of entry, you need too much investment to get anywhere for any audience growth to happen.
    First, I do know how much work it is. Because this is something I've been doing for my own setting now for years. And I've seen the returns from even small amounts of nuance. I've found that by making a setting that actually has depth and feels real, players get much more attached to things. After years of playing with teenagers, I've yet to see a murder-hobo group. And they've all gotten involved in the realities of the setting, playing as if their characters were actual people and what they did and suffered mattered. When I've asked why, large parts of it came down to feeling like their characters were actually part of a real world and that they'd have an effect. In contrast, games run in flat worlds that I've been a part of have not-infrequently degenerated into the meta "well, it's just a game and these are just NPCs, so I can do whatever I want" level where characters are just playing pieces. The worlds shoved that meta experience in your face--everywhere you looked was flat cardboard and stock cutouts instead of people.

    Second, I have absolutely no interest in looking for grievances. That attitude tells, I believe, much more about the seeker-for-grievances than it does about the subject work. I dislike flat stereotype-ridden settings because they're bad worldbuilding, and that offends my "professional" pride. Same when a TV show decides to aim for the biggest audience by flattening itself down to cheap jokes and repeated gags. And encoding flatness at the mechanics level makes it much harder for those of us who do actually want some depth. Like a world where cooking for yourself is stigmatized and difficult and all the food you can buy is microwave dinners.

    Third, I'm not asking for the developers to build all those cultures. Merely make systems that are (more) extensible by people who do care, and who don't have to worry about having mass audiences. Instead of encoding "everyone except humans are mono-cultures, only humans have variation" into both fiction and mechanics, separate the two at the system level and give examples. And there are systems that actually do a decent job here (although they do other things that make them annoying for me personally). As I noted above, I'd be ok with either of (in a 5e D&D context)

    a) making it clear in the text that these are just sample cultures and giving more naming variation to other people but humans.
    b) making subraces cultures and the base races ancestries. Even if you couldn't mix and match (the ideal state), breaking apart the entangled mess that currently exists would be a clear signal. Then rewrite the section on making your own subrace and give examples of different cultures for a few races. "Here's how you'd change it so that you can have (a culture of) dwarves that are horse nomads." Etc.

    B would give much more extensibility, but would require more effort. A is really the minimum one can expect, and it's not exactly difficult. Wouldn't fix the problem entirely, but would at least recognize that there is a problem. And none of this is for the sake of those complaining about real-world stuff. It's about taking pride in your worldbuilding and not simply purveying pre-digested paste.
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  9. - Top - End - #249
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    First, I do know how much work it is. Because this is something I've been doing for my own setting now for years. And I've seen the returns from even small amounts of nuance. I've found that by making a setting that actually has depth and feels real, players get much more attached to things. After years of playing with teenagers, I've yet to see a murder-hobo group. And they've all gotten involved in the realities of the setting, playing as if their characters were actual people and what they did and suffered mattered. When I've asked why, large parts of it came down to feeling like their characters were actually part of a real world and that they'd have an effect. In contrast, games run in flat worlds that I've been a part of have not-infrequently degenerated into the meta "well, it's just a game and these are just NPCs, so I can do whatever I want" level where characters are just playing pieces. The worlds shoved that meta experience in your face--everywhere you looked was flat cardboard and stock cutouts instead of people.

    Second, I have absolutely no interest in looking for grievances. That attitude tells, I believe, much more about the seeker-for-grievances than it does about the subject work. I dislike flat stereotype-ridden settings because they're bad worldbuilding, and that offends my "professional" pride. Same when a TV show decides to aim for the biggest audience by flattening itself down to cheap jokes and repeated gags. And encoding flatness at the mechanics level makes it much harder for those of us who do actually want some depth. Like a world where cooking for yourself is stigmatized and difficult and all the food you can buy is microwave dinners.

    Third, I'm not asking for the developers to build all those cultures. Merely make systems that are (more) extensible by people who do care, and who don't have to worry about having mass audiences. Instead of encoding "everyone except humans are mono-cultures, only humans have variation" into both fiction and mechanics, separate the two at the system level and give examples. And there are systems that actually do a decent job here (although they do other things that make them annoying for me personally). As I noted above, I'd be ok with either of (in a 5e D&D context)

    a) making it clear in the text that these are just sample cultures and giving more naming variation to other people but humans.
    b) making subraces cultures and the base races ancestries. Even if you couldn't mix and match (the ideal state), breaking apart the entangled mess that currently exists would be a clear signal. Then rewrite the section on making your own subrace and give examples of different cultures for a few races. "Here's how you'd change it so that you can have (a culture of) dwarves that are horse nomads." Etc.

    B would give much more extensibility, but would require more effort. A is really the minimum one can expect, and it's not exactly difficult. Wouldn't fix the problem entirely, but would at least recognize that there is a problem. And none of this is for the sake of those complaining about real-world stuff. It's about taking pride in your worldbuilding and not simply purveying pre-digested paste.



    I concur.

    This is exactly what I mean when I talk about the difference between characters who feel like "people who could be real" and a setting that feels like "a world that could be real", versus treating characters as plastic playing pieces and settings that feel like old movie sets that are just facades propped up along a fake main street, with curtains in all the windows to hide the emptiness.
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  10. - Top - End - #250
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    First, I do know how much work it is. Because this is something I've been doing for my own setting now for years. And I've seen the returns from even small amounts of nuance. I've found that by making a setting that actually has depth and feels real, players get much more attached to things. After years of playing with teenagers, I've yet to see a murder-hobo group. And they've all gotten involved in the realities of the setting, playing as if their characters were actual people and what they did and suffered mattered. When I've asked why, large parts of it came down to feeling like their characters were actually part of a real world and that they'd have an effect. In contrast, games run in flat worlds that I've been a part of have not-infrequently degenerated into the meta "well, it's just a game and these are just NPCs, so I can do whatever I want" level where characters are just playing pieces. The worlds shoved that meta experience in your face--everywhere you looked was flat cardboard and stock cutouts instead of people.

    Second, I have absolutely no interest in looking for grievances. That attitude tells, I believe, much more about the seeker-for-grievances than it does about the subject work. I dislike flat stereotype-ridden settings because they're bad worldbuilding, and that offends my "professional" pride. Same when a TV show decides to aim for the biggest audience by flattening itself down to cheap jokes and repeated gags. And encoding flatness at the mechanics level makes it much harder for those of us who do actually want some depth. Like a world where cooking for yourself is stigmatized and difficult and all the food you can buy is microwave dinners.

    Third, I'm not asking for the developers to build all those cultures. Merely make systems that are (more) extensible by people who do care, and who don't have to worry about having mass audiences. Instead of encoding "everyone except humans are mono-cultures, only humans have variation" into both fiction and mechanics, separate the two at the system level and give examples. And there are systems that actually do a decent job here (although they do other things that make them annoying for me personally). As I noted above, I'd be ok with either of (in a 5e D&D context)

    a) making it clear in the text that these are just sample cultures and giving more naming variation to other people but humans.
    b) making subraces cultures and the base races ancestries. Even if you couldn't mix and match (the ideal state), breaking apart the entangled mess that currently exists would be a clear signal. Then rewrite the section on making your own subrace and give examples of different cultures for a few races. "Here's how you'd change it so that you can have (a culture of) dwarves that are horse nomads." Etc.

    B would give much more extensibility, but would require more effort. A is really the minimum one can expect, and it's not exactly difficult. Wouldn't fix the problem entirely, but would at least recognize that there is a problem. And none of this is for the sake of those complaining about real-world stuff. It's about taking pride in your worldbuilding and not simply purveying pre-digested paste.
    Serious question.

    By putting more effort into the cultures, how would the races matter? Let's say you have your stereotypical mining dwarves, but also the horse riding dwarves and maybe the sea faring dwarves. Why would it matter they are dwarves? Maybe I'm missing something, but on a superficial level it looks like you're just changing the labels, not meant to sound insulting. Instead of Mountain Dwarf and Hill Dwarf it's Mining Dwarf, Horse Dwarf, and Sea Dwarf. How would it be different than a DM who keeps Mountain Dwarves and Hill Dwarves but in his gameworld the Mountain Dwarves are the miners and the Hill Dwarves ride the horses if they live in plains or are sea farers if they live on the islands. I'm with you on wanting to teach DMs to give more culture to the game world than the stereotypes, but that's world building not game mechanics.

    It appears what you want is something Pathfinder 1E did. You can substitute racial abilities for something else. I don't recall the details, but for example an aasimar can change his spell like ability. A dwarf could lose his bonus against orcs and giants and apply it to undead and aberrations. No doubt it can encourage extreme min/maxing for those who want the best plusses they can get, but the idea it to allow variation to reflect different cultures. Putting these changes in the hand of the DM only can give you cultural control. For example, in 5E a "Redeemed Drow" lives on the surface. He no longer has light sensitivity but also no darkvision. His eyes adjusted. These Tieflings are from a different fiendish stock with blue skin instead of red and have cold resistance instead of fire resistance.
    Last edited by Pex; 2021-01-07 at 02:07 AM.
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  11. - Top - End - #251
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    I'm not a fan of the delivery, but Morphic tide has hit the nail on the head. If you try to fight against strong archetypes, you're not helping your game.

    Speaking of delivery issues but nailing the topic at hand
    https://theangrygm.com/making-race-and-culture-matter/

    (Unfortunately his Mad Adventurers Society rant on the matter appears to be gone now.)
    I'll read it, but as it's AngryGM, past experience leads me to expect ranting disdain for everyone else at the table, from his typical self-aggrandizing Gygaxian DMing stance.

    Something along the lines of "players are too stupid to deal with nuance, you have to hold their hand and give them easy choices".


    EDIT -- read it, and yeah, he's both insulting and simply wrong on every point he tries to make in support of cliches archetypes.
    Last edited by Max_Killjoy; 2021-01-07 at 09:34 AM.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    I'm not a fan of the delivery, but Morphic tide has hit the nail on the head. If you try to fight against strong archetypes, you're not helping your game.

    Speaking of delivery issues but nailing the topic at hand
    https://theangrygm.com/making-race-and-culture-matter/

    (Unfortunately his Mad Adventurers Society rant on the matter appears to be gone now.)
    This is good stuff.

    He makes great points about storytelling and archetypes. Especially how archetypes are what empowers playing "against type" kinds of characters.

    His style of delivery isn't for everyone, but he's dead on with his conclusions.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Yeah, Angry’s experience with this is about the same as mine in this regard. No group, broadly speaking (there have been a few rare moments), I’ve played with or run has cared all that much about the finer details of any culture that has shown up in game. Every npc and settlement is treated as if the players were talking to some random person from our town unless a strong archetype has already been enforced.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zilong View Post
    Yeah, Angry’s experience with this is about the same as mine in this regard. No group, broadly speaking (there have been a few rare moments), I’ve played with or run has cared all that much about the finer details of any culture that has shown up in game. Every npc and settlement is treated as if the players were talking to some random person from our town unless a strong archetype has already been enforced.
    Ditto. Stereotypes and exaggerations are necessary simply so the PCs can remember characters that they may not interact with for several real time months.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Zilong View Post
    Yeah, Angry’s experience with this is about the same as mine in this regard. No group, broadly speaking (there have been a few rare moments), I’ve played with or run has cared all that much about the finer details of any culture that has shown up in game. Every npc and settlement is treated as if the players were talking to some random person from our town unless a strong archetype has already been enforced.
    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    Ditto. Stereotypes and exaggerations are necessary simply so the PCs can remember characters that they may not interact with for several real time months.
    That's been exactly the antithesis of my experience. Every player I've worked with has wanted to know things like cuisines, stories, jokes...even pretty deep-level stuff like metaphors and symbolic animals. To give them solely stereotypes with nothing behind them would almost immediately fall flat.

    And, just so this is put out there...we don't all have to be Tolkien. We don't have to do the "agonizing labor" (seriously?" agonizing"? really?) of developing every single detail of a culture. It just needs to be more than JUST stereotypes. Every culture that exists for any meaningful length of time is going to HAVE stereotypes, both "internal" ones (norms) and "external" ones (outsiders' perceptions). But to stitch together a "culture" from nothing but stereotypes and subversions is to create a world of Potemkin villages. It is the worldbuilding equivalent of railroading: not allowing the party to know that if they step off the theme-park-ride track, they'll see behind the facade and find these cultures have no there there.

    Unless you then off-the-cuff fill in those details, which has its own problems if that's all the work you do. (It's hard to retain historical and logical consistency when you always invent your cultural details on the spot.) And if you then do non-impromptu work to make it all hang together...you're already doing half or more of the work level I'm asking for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ezekielraiden View Post
    That's been exactly the antithesis of my experience. Every player I've worked with has wanted to know things like cuisines, stories, jokes...even pretty deep-level stuff like metaphors and symbolic animals. To give them solely stereotypes with nothing behind them would almost immediately fall flat.

    And, just so this is put out there...we don't all have to be Tolkien. We don't have to do the "agonizing labor" (seriously?" agonizing"? really?) of developing every single detail of a culture. It just needs to be more than JUST stereotypes. Every culture that exists for any meaningful length of time is going to HAVE stereotypes, both "internal" ones (norms) and "external" ones (outsiders' perceptions). But to stitch together a "culture" from nothing but stereotypes and subversions is to create a world of Potemkin villages. It is the worldbuilding equivalent of railroading: not allowing the party to know that if they step off the theme-park-ride track, they'll see behind the facade and find these cultures have no there there.

    Unless you then off-the-cuff fill in those details, which has its own problems if that's all the work you do. (It's hard to retain historical and logical consistency when you always invent your cultural details on the spot.) And if you then do non-impromptu work to make it all hang together...you're already doing half or more of the work level I'm asking for.
    Games as played are living things. So you start with very strong impressions, and as the character/place/culture becomes more important to the players (via their continued interactions, investment of time and spotlight, etc), you refine the details and backstories and variations and create reasons behind the particular extremes. First a brawny orc brawler who responds with extreme and sudden aggression to enemies but drags their friends into contests and bragging rounds and trials of strength and the like. If he's still around in another two sessions, someone finds out that he's really into poetry by an obscure halfling author and has views of it that are on the surface total misinterpretations but with more thought seem to actually be somewhat insightful (maybe crib a bit from Einhar from Path of Exile for that). If that's where it ends, fine; if a player is interested in digging deeper, they find that the halfling's poems were what inspired the orc to learn Common, after a particular nostalgic passage about the nature of home happened to have a strong resonance with an event where the orc's parents' tribe was forced to move due to hunting grounds shifting (tied indirectly to, say, the action of another adventuring group in emptying out a lich's lair and destroying the lich's phylactery but in the process releasing a lot of negative energy bound up in some experiments the lich was undertaking, another couple of stereotypes). And so on.
    Last edited by NichG; 2021-01-08 at 03:36 AM.

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    Stereotypes are a tool.

    They are not the only tool nor are they appropriate for all situations. They should be used quite sparingly in a rich and engaging world.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by ezekielraiden View Post
    That's been exactly the antithesis of my experience. Every player I've worked with has wanted to know things like cuisines, stories, jokes...even pretty deep-level stuff like metaphors and symbolic animals. To give them solely stereotypes with nothing behind them would almost immediately fall flat.

    And, just so this is put out there...we don't all have to be Tolkien. We don't have to do the "agonizing labor" (seriously?" agonizing"? really?) of developing every single detail of a culture. It just needs to be more than JUST stereotypes. Every culture that exists for any meaningful length of time is going to HAVE stereotypes, both "internal" ones (norms) and "external" ones (outsiders' perceptions). But to stitch together a "culture" from nothing but stereotypes and subversions is to create a world of Potemkin villages. It is the worldbuilding equivalent of railroading: not allowing the party to know that if they step off the theme-park-ride track, they'll see behind the facade and find these cultures have no there there.

    Unless you then off-the-cuff fill in those details, which has its own problems if that's all the work you do. (It's hard to retain historical and logical consistency when you always invent your cultural details on the spot.) And if you then do non-impromptu work to make it all hang together...you're already doing half or more of the work level I'm asking for.

    That's also been my experience, as well. Since college, mumble years ago, everyone I've gamed with has loved those details, has wanted to feel like their characters were living in a "real" world. Cardboard Dwarf #219 would not have given those gamers what they want, and it would have frankly been embarrassing for me as a GM to put that in front of them.

    And personally, I have no interest in cardboard cultures or Potemkin villages. GMing or playing one PC, they simply wouldn't give me what I want out of an RPG. (Or fiction, for that matter.)


    As for "agonizing labor"... I'd add that, one, it's not agonizing, it's sometimes the best part of writing or GMing... two, "years" is an exaggeration, especially if we're talking about time spent before the campaign begins.
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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    That's also been my experience, as well. Since college, mumble years ago, everyone I've gamed with has loved those details, has wanted to feel like their characters were living in a "real" world. Cardboard Dwarf #219 would not have given those gamers what they want, and it would have frankly been embarrassing for me as a GM to put that in front of them.

    And personally, I have no interest in cardboard cultures or Potemkin villages. GMing or playing one PC, they simply wouldn't give me what I want out of an RPG. (Or fiction, for that matter.)


    As for "agonizing labor"... I'd add that, one, it's not agonizing, it's sometimes the best part of writing or GMing... two, "years" is an exaggeration, especially if we're talking about time spent before the campaign begins.
    If you had to write up the game system you used, with your setting as the presumed default, would the intricacies of all the cultures show up in the phb or be deferred to a later splat? How much pagecount would it all get if in the phb?
    By the metric of being wholly dependent on the GM for noncombat interaction Fighter is an NPC class.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ezekielraiden View Post
    That's been exactly the antithesis of my experience. Every player I've worked with has wanted to know things like cuisines, stories, jokes...even pretty deep-level stuff like metaphors and symbolic animals. To give them solely stereotypes with nothing behind them would almost immediately fall flat.

    And, just so this is put out there...we don't all have to be Tolkien. We don't have to do the "agonizing labor" (seriously?" agonizing"? really?) of developing every single detail of a culture. It just needs to be more than JUST stereotypes. Every culture that exists for any meaningful length of time is going to HAVE stereotypes, both "internal" ones (norms) and "external" ones (outsiders' perceptions). But to stitch together a "culture" from nothing but stereotypes and subversions is to create a world of Potemkin villages. It is the worldbuilding equivalent of railroading: not allowing the party to know that if they step off the theme-park-ride track, they'll see behind the facade and find these cultures have no there there.

    Unless you then off-the-cuff fill in those details, which has its own problems if that's all the work you do. (It's hard to retain historical and logical consistency when you always invent your cultural details on the spot.) And if you then do non-impromptu work to make it all hang together...you're already doing half or more of the work level I'm asking for.
    Overall, I don't want the characters I create in my game world to be stereotypes. The local cleric, who happens to be a goblin, isn't just a stereotypical cleric, and isn't just a stereotypical goblin. Instead, he's a failed adventurer whose buddy lost a leg and a loved one in the last foray into the local Dungeon of Undead and really doesn't like the idea of the PC party going down there (because they very well could be killed, or best case scenario come back having cleared the place and expecting him to come un-desecrate it when he already has so much on his plate, etc. etc. etc.). GMs fill in detail where it is needed.

    It's really not clear where we are going with this or what people are arguing towards (in particular since this is a side tangent of a side tangent), but I get the impression that there was a subtheme of being upset that fantasy games include the stereotype. That I'm not mad about. That's their job, AFAIC. They give the bulk trends and I'll build the detailed world to the level that meets my personal verisimilitude.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Xervous View Post
    If you had to write up the game system you used, with your setting as the presumed default, would the intricacies of all the cultures show up in the phb or be deferred to a later splat? How much pagecount would it all get if in the phb?
    The Dark Eye does this, and spends, let's see... about 40 pages of a 400 page book on races and cultures (latest edition, English version). But there's also a sense that things are missing, I'm told that TDE has a LOT of material built up over several editions' and many years' worth of living-world worldbuilding.

    Looking at the amount of info I'd want to fit in, I'd probably need about 50 pages combined, if formatted in the same way.

    The 5e PHB spends about 26 pages on "races", but differences in formatting and more space given to art means it would take up (rough guesstimate) 15 pages in TDE's formatting... and more of it is rules-side information.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tanarii View Post
    But unless you want non-humans to just be mentally and emotionally humans with variant art and stats
    You say this as though races with the dizzying variety and breadth of humanity is a bad thing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ezekielraiden View Post
    You say this as though races with the dizzying variety and breadth of humanity is a bad thing.
    If the point is to make something that isnt human, then yeah it kind of is. Nothing wrong with having them be a flavor of humans in and of itself, but if you dont want Dwarves to just be short hairy humans with alcohol poisoning, then you do need SOMETHING more than that. Typically this something is that they actually like living underground and enjoy hard work, but not always.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    If the point is to make something that isnt human, then yeah it kind of is. Nothing wrong with having them be a flavor of humans in and of itself, but if you dont want Dwarves to just be short hairy humans with alcohol poisoning, then you do need SOMETHING more than that. Typically this something is that they actually like living underground and enjoy hard work, but not always.
    Part of the problem is that these things rarely presented as "dwarves tend to be" and usually presented as "dwarves are".

    And the question of whether they tend to like living underground and enjoy hard work is because they're wired differently, or because they're raised with it, or some combination, is almost never asked, at least in D&D.

    Pratchett's Carrot, while done for comedy, is a better look at species/culture than many RPGs ever manage to present.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Max_Killjoy View Post
    Part of the problem is that these things rarely presented as "dwarves tend to be" and usually presented as "dwarves are".

    And the question of whether they tend to like living underground and enjoy hard work is because they're wired differently, or because they're raised with it, or some combination, is almost never asked, at least in D&D.

    Pratchett's Carrot, while done for comedy, is a better look at species/culture than many RPGs ever manage to present.
    Its never asked because A: any given answer is meaningless, changing between groups, and B: very few people actually care. The important part is that they like being underground. Thats the part thats going to affect their behavior and societies, and thats the part that people are going to take into consideration when they create their characters. A DM is unlikely to say "no, you cannot play a dwarf who likes the surface and hates the underground, because theyre universally magically compelled to hate the sky" unless theyre doing something unusual with the setting.

    As for the presentation, im pretty sure thats just you reading something literally that isnt meant to be taken literally. Very few people, when describing a civilization or culture in broad strokes, are actually intending to be literally all-inclusive with their descriptions. If somebody says "dwarves are" then its implicitly understood that they mean "most dwarves are" unless they go out of their way to clarify that "no, 100% of dwarves like to be underground because they are forced to be that way by the gods."
    “Evil is evil. Lesser, greater, middling, it's all the same. Proportions are negotiated, boundaries blurred. I'm not a pious hermit, I haven't done only good in my life. But if I'm to choose between one evil and another, then I prefer not to choose at all.”

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    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    and B: very few people actually care.
    [Citation needed]

    As noted, there are radically different experiences about how much players value the background information of a world. The popularity of, and where they're absent/incomplete the frequent requests for, "gazetteers" and "guides" etc. for various campaign worlds--ones that go into geography, history, and culture, not just mechanics--would seem to imply that even if a majority do not care, it is not true that "very few" DO care.

    I mean, just to give two simple examples, people frequently complain about the metaplot of Dark Sun induced by the Prism Pentad, but often gush excitedly about all the lore stuff in the world; and Planescape is deeply beloved, even though many agree that certain elements (like the exact nature and power balance of the factions) weren't always well-executed. At least a sizable minority likes setting lore. I doubt the Wildemount book would exist if there weren't such interested people. At the very least, it would've been a far thinner volume.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    As for the presentation, im pretty sure thats just you reading something literally that isnt meant to be taken literally. Very few people, when describing a civilization or culture in broad strokes, are actually intending to be literally all-inclusive with their descriptions. If somebody says "dwarves are" then its implicitly understood that they mean "most dwarves are" unless they go out of their way to clarify that "no, 100% of dwarves like to be underground because they are forced to be that way by the gods."
    The big problem, again, is that if you start from broad strokes, you are making Potemkin cultures. I think we agree that Potemkin cultures are bad unless your players literally 100% could not care less, which I freely admit is a playstyle, beer-and-pretzels gaming. But evidence suggests it's not so common that a Potemkin-ified setting is going to work for most groups.

    If you start from the broad strokes and then fill in, you either do so exclusively spontaneously (and risk contradictions and excessive nonsensical elements*), or you do at least some non-spontaneous prep work...which is already most of what's being asked. You're doing work away from the table to keep things consistent. Sure, you're mixing impromptu with prewritten, but you are doing the work of explaining trends and embracing variety outside of the monist "there's a stereotype" or dualist "there's a stereotype, and there's specifically rejecting the stereotype."

    And if you construct or figure out the broad strokes as a result of having already done reasonable groundwork.....you're literally doing exactly what is being asked for. You're NOT making cardboard-cutout cultures, you're making at least reasonably-grounded ones that have some amount of depth and "there" to them, and then extrapolating internal and external stereotypes (norms and outsider perceptions) from that.

    I just don't see how we don't end up at this point, unless it so incredibly, vastly common that player groups totally and completely ignore cultural and historical details in play. I've seen no evidence that indicates that such an attitude is that common. I recognize that it is, in a sense, being "roleplay casual" (as opposed to "rules casual," which is usually what people mean by "casual players"), and there's literally nothing wrong with that--I pass no judgment by my use of these terms. But such a casual attitude regarding setting, lore, and culture is FAR from "most players" in my experience.

    *Every culture has SOME contradictions or nonsense elements in it, that's sort of how cultures work. But brute-fact contraditions are a problem, e.g. "all dwarves live underground" only to later have a happy, prosperous, centuries-old village of surface dwarves, and nonsense elements like "all dwarves live underground" followed by "dwarves are famous for their zeppelin piloting skills" are even worse. Obviously these are invented examples and meant to be stark differences, but I've seen this sort of thing happen "live." We worked it out and it led to new and interesting stuff, but it's easy to run into that famous Scottish maxim: "Oh what a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive!" In this case, the deception being that there really is a culture behind the broad strokes, when there isn't.
    Last edited by ezekielraiden; 2021-01-08 at 11:43 AM.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by Keltest View Post
    If the point is to make something that isnt human, then yeah it kind of is. Nothing wrong with having them be a flavor of humans in and of itself, but if you dont want Dwarves to just be short hairy humans with alcohol poisoning, then you do need SOMETHING more than that. Typically this something is that they actually like living underground and enjoy hard work, but not always.
    Except that there are humans (and valid human cultures) that are short, hairy, like living underground and working hard. Those aren't special to dwarves. You've not met your goal.

    If a race is alien enough to need strong archetypes to encapsulate it, there are two ways it can be:
    * Physically. A 3-armed, asexually-reproducing race is alien on its own.
    * Culturally/psychologically. This one is hard, because if it's alien enough that humans can't mimic it in their own cultures, then it's going to be nearly impossible to actually play. Let alone have in a mixed-race group. CF Kender on the shallow side.

    To use a term from the Ender series (https://enderverse.fandom.com/wiki/H...of_Foreignness):
    We want ramen, not varelse. Things we can recognize as people, despite being non-human. Not things that are actually alien and incomprehensible. And the line for fictional characters is really really narrow. Especially RPG characters.

    Humans in rubber suits is what we're going to get, psychologically. So let's at least make a nod toward giving them diversity of culture and thought instead of slicing off anything that might be interesting and stretching the rest into the mold of a "strong archetype" (that's really just a lazy fantasy stereotype).

    And even a small passage about how the races presented are generic examples and you should expect much more diversity of culture and thought in-game, like they do with humans (in 5e's presentation anyway), would move towards that goal. Separating the physical from the cultural for subraces (and actually giving humans sub-races so they fit the same pattern) would go even further. That doesn't actually take more space, merely a re-arrangement of what's already there.
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    Good, strongly flavored setting lore is great. Setting lore with lots of redundancies and obligate detail is less so. I love Planescape's lore because it's capacity for alienness and weirdness is enough that it can contain so many things without repeating. Silver pieces a bad idea because they literally sting the hands of customers whose moral compass compels them to rip off your skin to write down their complaints to your manager? Great! If every locale had text on the range of the local culture's opinions on different precious metals and currencies, that could be very tedious.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PhoenixPhyre View Post
    Separating the physical from the cultural for subraces (and actually giving humans sub-races so they fit the same pattern) would go even further.
    While I do agree with this sentiment, doing such a thing must be done with INCREDIBLE care and caution, lest it turn the whole effort into a total dumpster fire.

    I tried, very hard, to come up with just three human subraces besides the "standard human." I failed. I was only able to come up with two, and one was kind of a cop-out: Dual-Blooded, aka the catch-all for any character part-human and part-something-else (elf, orc, dwarf, etc.) The other was Starbound, for humans who have travelled outside the spatial circles of the mortal world--not to other planes, but far enough into the vast and unknowable stars above that it has changed them (or they grew up there and are thus Different). The Starbound would cover concepts like Asimov's Foundation-era Solarians, A.E. van Voigt's slan, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen, and certain types of supers (such as Kryptonians).

    If you can come up with a fourth option that won't risk implying racist stuff, believe me, I'm all ears.

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    Default Re: Right way to do racial stat modifiers?

    Quote Originally Posted by ezekielraiden View Post
    While I do agree with this sentiment, doing such a thing must be done with INCREDIBLE care and caution, lest it turn the whole effort into a total dumpster fire.

    I tried, very hard, to come up with just three human subraces besides the "standard human." I failed. I was only able to come up with two, and one was kind of a cop-out: Dual-Blooded, aka the catch-all for any character part-human and part-something-else (elf, orc, dwarf, etc.) The other was Starbound, for humans who have travelled outside the spatial circles of the mortal world--not to other planes, but far enough into the vast and unknowable stars above that it has changed them (or they grew up there and are thus Different). The Starbound would cover concepts like Asimov's Foundation-era Solarians, A.E. van Voigt's slan, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen, and certain types of supers (such as Kryptonians).

    If you can come up with a fourth option that won't risk implying racist stuff, believe me, I'm all ears.
    Those sub-races (of the generic published variety, not the setting-specific ones) would be generic cultures under this proposal (since cultures would map to sub-races).

    So a "theocratic" sub-race (Religion proficiency and maybe a cleric cantrip), a "maritime" sub-race (swim speed/breath holding, water vehicles proficiency), a "nomad" sub-race (animal handling and survival), etc.

    The published ones can be very generic, and can even have overlaps. Ideally, these cultural sub-races would get de-coupled entirely and be applicable across races, but that's a much bigger ask.

    My current plan is to have a bunch of cultures, where cultures have tags (short adjective statements) and those tags map onto a spectrum of proficiencies and features. So if you make a culture tagged "mountainous, martial, self-sufficient", they might have something related to altitude adjustment, weapon and/or armor proficiency, and survival proficiency.
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