In design, the greatest tool for improving a game is iteration. There are very few games that are completely, objectively perfect, if any at all. Iteration is vital to improving upon an existing game, from the smallest parts to entirely new editions and systems; however, this concept can be equally staggering as it is interesting. It’s dangerous to go alone, take this guide and make the first steps of evolving yourself from player to designer.
When considering character, it is undoubtedly easier to create a character of your exact ideal in systems that do not adhere to strict race/class combinations. If I wanted to be a fishman made entirely out of jellybeans in FATE Core, I would simply describe that character and assign various aspects to adhere to my aquatic confection construct before diving into play.
So let us assume that I want to be a race that does not currently exist in a system. In a pinch, I could take one of the current races and juxtapose my mental image over it, but tying mechanical benefit to narrative structure inherently makes a game better. Rather than simply dealing with the hand the game has dealt, let’s modify it to suit our new options. For an easy example, let’s try to recreate the Goron race from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time into Dungeons & Dragons.
Start by asking specific questions about your specific decisions. Why Goron? Furthermore, why is there not currently an option that suits that need, and what would you need to do to create an option that would accurately represent the design we’re looking for?
We can start by separating qualities and detractors from a typical Goron based on the power attributed within the game. For example, Gorons are strong and bulky, and would logically gain a +X bonus to Strength and Constitution. However, for each benefit, there must be a drawback; by creating a balanced character, we not only maintain balance in the game but accurately represent the character in a different system.
While we assume Gorons are slow, they can roll into a ball and travel quickly. Gorons also exhibit features of Wisdom, considering their respect for their elders and the ability to apply and distribute knowledge. Although, Gorons are arguably of less-than-average intelligence; while living in a mountain, they began to starve to death from not having enough rocks. They are also able to speak, but never portrayed as speaking eloquently or particularly persuasively, so we can again assume their Charisma would be lower than average.
After giving our Gorons the proper bonuses and detractors, we can move onto the less stringent aspect of their design, the racial benefits.
Gorons live in volcanoes. Therefore, we can give them a bonus against Fire damage and extreme heat conditions. However, they are shown in Majora’s Mask to be susceptible to cold environments, so we will give them an equal weakness to Frost and cold environments. Gorons are also made of rocks, and renowned craftsmen, allowing us to grant benefits to moving through mountainous terrain, natural armor, and bonuses to Craft skills.
Lastly, and most importantly, Gorons love bombs. They live next to flowers that reproduce bombs at an alarming rate. Explosions are second nature to Gorons, regardless of source. Gorons would gain a bonus to utilizing demolitions, and a specific defensive bonus against concussive blasts caused by explosions.
While our fervent love for Gorons is overflowing, we have to make sure that the bonuses and detractors are limited in scope compared to the other races of the game. Also, as the creation of the race continues, bonuses should start to become more and more specific. The individuality that is applied to each race would be quickly diminished if multiple races had the same general bonuses. For example, Low Light Vision is ubiquitous amongst many different racial types to the point that it becomes an afterthought rather than an interesting mechanic.
So let’s make our Gorons even more specifically interesting, especially in comparison. While Gorons have a reduced Charisma, they are very much respectful in society of their elders. Therefore, we can feasibly grant our Goron a bonus to social interactions when speaking to an elder, as their inherent respect will grant favor. Their mountain, and Dodongo’s Cavern, is filled with lizards. We could give Gorons a bonus racial modifier to fighting lizard-type enemies, or having a Knowledge (Nature) specialty for lizard-kin.
The features can go on endlessly, but limiting scope will help with future balance, and definitely help with convincing your GM to allow you to use this template. Within that, adhering to specific design concepts of individuality, specific benefits, and self-policing bonuses with drawbacks will make the character more interesting in play and easier to play in a group of other players. Taking all of these factors into consideration when creating any race for any system will lead to the best results.
Is there a race or sub-race you’ve always wanted to see? Perhaps a race in a system outside of Dungeons & Dragons? Let us know, we can work together and create the right fit for the right systems.
Next week, we’ll take on an even bigger project: classes, and creating a custom class in a system. Until then, dance your troubles away with Saria’s Song!
Enjoy our content? Have something to add? Join the forums and let us know! We also have positions available for contributors and writers. Inquire within to become a StrMod contributor today!