Dwarves should be clever; not necessarily wise, or even particularly intelligent in the conventional sense, but clever. It’s a subtle distinction but important, I think, to their character.
Dwarves are not mundane. They are not merely small men (certainly not the stocky, angry, inexplicably Scottish men that modern pop culture has universally made them out to be.) What’s missing in most depictions of dwarves is an essential magic, an elevated, supernatural cleverness. We get our notion of dwarves mostly from Tolkien, of course, but they’re much older than that. In Norse mythology, the dwarves are closely related to dark elves, the Svartalfar. Like any good myth, dwarves are a metaphor: they fascinate because they represent the spark of creative, destructive magic. They combine intemperance with wonder and amazement.
The Norse dwarves were dangerous, sharp-minded, over-eager to invent, to dig deep, but they also were unattached. They didn’t belong in Midgard. I think Tolkien realized that and created a story for them which gave them an authentic connection to the world. My dwarves are definitely thematic relatives of the norse dwarves, but I’ve taken a page out of Tolkien’s book as well. The story of the dwarves is a developing tragedy; slowly, they are falling asleep and returning to the stone that they were illegitimately hewn from. If your connection to the world is a tenuous one, then a threat to that connection makes it all the more important. I’ve got a short story on the way that goes into it a bit.
I’m gearing up to DM (first time) with a group of friends so I’m reading over the rules again and looking for cheat sheets. I ordered a DM screen, and I think maybe I’ll tape them to the inside of it.
The conditions were one thing I wanted to have on hand. 5E’s conditions are a little bit messy, and there’s a lot of different kinds of information involved, so it’s not an easy thing to design a single chart to help a DM quickly find the relevant bits. I ended up making my own, but this guy did a great job, (Thanks R. Donoghue!) I just completely ripped off his chart’s organization. Also, his blog pointed me at game-icons.net, which is just amazing.
I also found this interactive quick-reference guide. It’s fantastic, but I don’t really want to have a laptop open on the table while I’m DMing. It covers a lot more than just conditions, and I might adapt some of it for myself later.
The Ramaki PC race has some mechanics that are dependent on light levels, so I’ve been reading up on the rules surrounding vision and light. Someone has made some really great charts that cover all of it. When I finally start getting ready to actually DM, I’ll definitely have a copy of these in my binder.
1 big perk that grows over time and also 1 big static flaw
1 or more roleplaying trait (should not be significantly + or – gameplay-wise.)
1 free proficiency OR a + modifier bonus in restricted situations
Max ability scores adjusted up or down no more than 4 for zero net change
Optionally, ability score bonuses and penalties for zero net change.
I thought it was silly that in Vanilla D&D all the races have the same maximum stats. Ability scores range from 0-20. A value of 10 represents “the normal human average.” To put things into perspective, the 5E player’s handbook says “A score of 18 is the highest that a person usually reaches. Adventurers can have scores as high as 20.” Take the STR score, for example. A value of 20 is 2 points higher than most humans could ever reach, representing, maybe, an olympic weight lifting gold-medalist. Now imagine, if you will, a 3ft-tall gnome going up against Mario Martinez in the clean and jerk. You think that gnome is going to be lifting 15 or more times it’s own body-weight? It’s a little bit silly. And yet… it is a fantasy game. I hate to use the word realism in this context, for obvious reasons, but I just think that we can do better.
There’s another reason to fiddle with Max ability scores. It creates races that offer a degree of specialization. Lots of classes have dump stats; ability scores that are simply not very consequential to their play-style. In Felmoor, I want to give players (who, like me, might be just a tiny bit OCD about their character sheets) the opportunity to be less well-rounded in return for having a statistical profile that is tighter, more focused on specific aspects of play. Players should be able to make interesting and consequential choices with all their character’s abilities, and specialization is a way to turn what would normally be an unimportant stat into an opportunity. Let’s say you want to be a sneaky ranger who likes to engage bad guys from a distance, or not at all. Be a Quyg! You’ll sacrifice some room for growth in strength and constitution, but you’ll eventually be sneakier and cleverer than anyone else, guaranteed. Do you want to be a bard but think that wisdom is overrated? Be a Ramaki! You’ll have a lower cap on wisdom, but you’re sure to be the life of the party.
Humans should be really basic and open-ended, and I think that’s what I’ve ended up with. It makes sense to offer at least one choice that represents a very well-rounded, middle-of-the-road type of character.
I gave some thought to letting them just be a blank slate, but in the end I couldn’t let Felmoorish humans go without something that sets them apart from other fantasy humans: something unique and appropriate to the specific world they live in. So, they do have a lore-appropriate perk and a lore-appropriate flaw. Humans are planestrange, like the Ramaki, and most of what makes them unique stems from that.
Humans have a perk that lets them ignore material components for spellcasting, like the Mountain Quyg; just another way players can work around those rules if they choose to.
The Ramaki are the second planestrange race, along with the humans; that’s just a way of saying that they don’t belong in Felmoor, they fell from the sky during the upheaval of the fracture. While humans are nominally associated with Ull, the Ramaki come from – unsurprisingly – Rama, the celestial plane.
From a mechanical standpoint, the Ramaki are pretty flexible, but slightly prejudiced towards spellcasting/ranged roles. They have the potential to develop into really great bards or sorcerers thanks to their high charisma cap, but there’s nothing in their design that pushes them in that direction from the start They don’t come with any ability score bonuses or penalties at all.
Felmoorish races are going to go up one at a time. I’m trying out new ideas with each one, so I’ll preface each one with some of my notes. If you don’t want to read my notes, and just want to get into the mechanics, just skip everything above the break
I’m not completely on board with the way that 5E makes spellcasting classes rely on material components to cast their best spells. I don’t like the idea of requiring wizards and sorcerers to carry around and replenish a supply of “spell ammo,” as it were. The Mountain Quyg represents one way that players can choose to avoid that particular requirement.