Friday, September 24, 2010

Bi-racial Characters

It is odd to think of Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, etc, as bi-racial. It is such a loaded term in our PC real world, but no one bats an eye at it when playing RPGs. Either way, that is not the main topic for this post.

I was getting ready to do a write up for Half-Elves and Half-Orcs when I realized that they both suck. What is a Half-Elf really? It is a lame concept both mechanically and stylistically. Mechanically, you get a watered down version of Elf bonuses with a slightly wider selection of classes. In the EMP campaign, they are further reduced to just sucky Elves since there are no class/race/level restrictions.

As far as style goes, the popular conception is that "they seldom fit into either society." So I guess this is the emo generation version of a role playing character despite its assumed accuracy according to what some bi-racial people probably face in their lifetimes. Regardless, it ultimately feels like fodder for campy dramatics, grandstanding, and look-at-me RPing.

Half-Orcs are actually significantly better than the hippy light Half-Elf, but they still fall down in both categories. Mechanically, they work almost the same as Elves and Half-Elves with infravision and enhanced detection rolls while only missing paralysis resistance. Their ability modifiers do differentiate them while at the same time shoehorning them into fighter roles (bonus to STR and CON, malus to CHA). So you get a "combat" version of an Elf or Half-Elf.

For style, they do get points for at least being a crossbreed with an evil humanoid. It is much easier to create something unique by smashing together two dissimilar things rather than two similar races. It takes some effort, but they can be more than just "ugly humans" or brutish warriors. Granted, you can say the same thing for Half-Elves (or any race/stereotype/trope), yet, Half-Orcs at least have a better perceived conflict between a human and orcish ancestry.

So I am left with a few decisions here. As far as mechanics go, I can leave them be and just have the roles stay the same or I can work to create a meaningful choice here. As far as style and game lore, I can work with both but the Half-Elves especially would need a solid re-imagining. Or I could just tank both races all together and get much closer to the  roots of the game.

EDIT: Looking back at the rest of the races, Gnomes and Dwarves kind of fall into this sameness trap. The major difference is their class selection, again gone with this EMP campaign. Perhaps I will have to revisit these races and help differnetiate the Gnome, perhaps by taking their ability to be Illusionists from the standard rule set and converting that into something for the EMP rule set. 


  1. I haven't been following this sereis but I've been reimagining half-elves and half-orcs as "changelings" -- switched at birth and raised among humans, taking on mostly human features. But as adulthood approaches their true natures become manifest, and they are likely rejected by human society. So they are most likely to become ranger types, or rogues/bandits, living in the wilderness. (High CHA = 1/2 elf, low CHA = 1/2 orc).
    More details here:

    But I'm more in a Basic D&D mode than AD&D.

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    That is a nice concept. It is reminiscent of the original '74 Elf, who could switch between Fighter and Magic-user. Only here, it would be a synergy between two races that is the variable. Would be a fun thing to run with in a high magic, kind of weird fantasy campaign.