Along with Human, Half-Dwarves are a really simple option. They take their flaw from humans, and their perk from the dwarves.
Size: More or less human-sized. Speed: 30ft.
Most half-dwarves are slightly on the shorter side, but like most folk, they are a diverse bunch. It is not uncommon for a half-dwarf to grow taller than a human. They are known for a tendency to grow into extremely tough, strong-willed individuals, and there are many legends told of half-dwarves who withstood an astonishing amount of punishment.
Max ability scores
Perk: Stone in the blood At level 1, Half-dwarves gain a +1 bonus to AC. They gain an additional +1 bonus at levels 10 and 20.
Flaw: Broken spirit The race of man was at the epicenter of the fracture, and they are still suffering the effects. Half-dwarves inherit this penalty and suffer a -1 penalty on all saving throws Vs. Magic.
Skill: An unknown destiny 1 free proficiency or feat or language.
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 grew up in Japan, and I speak a fair bit of the language, so I wracked my brain and did some research while I was naming these guys, trying to think of something I could use or adapt from Japanese legends. The problem is that nothing sounds right.
The obvious thing to name them is Ryujin, which literally means “dragon-people” But the “ryu” sound is pretty tough for English-speakers to say. There’s this flippy thing that happens with your tongue, which takes practice. “Tatsujin” would be equally appropriate, but again, the “tsu” sound is tough.
There are plenty of things I could name them that are NOT hard to say, but just don’t sound right. Although we don’t often think about it, languages are often limited to a small number of familiar syllables. Most people and places in Felmoor have names that should be pretty memorable for westerners, because the syllables and rhythms combine in familiar ways. I think you start to have problems if you carelessly disrupt that familiarity.
But then again, maybe I’M the problem. See, the temptation in English is to inject an accent somewhere in the word. Kumawani, for example. (Kuma, means bear, or strong. Wani can mean shark, or alligator. Oddly enough, there is a legend about an ocean dragon named Kumawani, so I guess he was a bear-shark-dragon, which is a whole lot of awesome.) An English speaker sees the word on the paper, and reads it as “KOOmuhWAni.” There’s a natural tendency to read it as syllable pairs, either as iambs or trochees. Japanese doesn’t do accents in the same way that English does, it’s much flatter. When I see “kumawani” my brain goes into Japanese mode. I hear 4 unaccented consonant-vowel pairs: “Ku ma wa ni.” The dissonance would bug me, but it wouldn’t necessarily bug anyone else.
I ended up with “Gresh.” It’s short, it’s English-speaker friendly, it’s a little bit growly, and a little bit hissy. Problem solved!
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.
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.