I was talking to someone interested in the game about whether or not there would be unique races in the Corebook or the setting book, and I thought other people would be interested in the answer, so here it is (slightly rephrased).
Of course, I wrote an earlier blog entry about being able to reshape your character, including changing your race or just certain racial attributes. So if you wanted to play a race that was basically an elf, but instead of low-light vision you had a bite attack, you could build that. Or if you wanted to play a race that was essentially a dwarf, except instead of 3E’s stonecunning you had unusually hard skin that gave you natural armor, you could.
So the Corebook will present some fantasy “race” staples (humans, elves, dwarves)… but you’ll also have the flexibility to alter your race, or create your own race by swapping abilities.
Frex, if you want your character to be an “arachnith,” a race of spider-like people with claws and multiple eyes, you’d be able to build something like that by giving yourself claw attacks, a hard chitinous skin, a bonus to Sense checks to represent the benefits of having multiple eyes. And because cronks (combat feats), stunts (skill feats), and spells are available to all character classes, you could augment your race with a combo of abilities that you think is important or relevant to your character concept. Frex, you could learn something like the D&D web spell that lets you create webs… but for your character, it’s not a magical ability you have, it’s just something you can do because you race is “arachnith” and they can shoot webs. Or you could take a stunt about climbing to be good at climbing, or a spell that lets you stick to walls. If you learn a poisoning spell, maybe it’s not that you’re magically creating poison, it’s that you’ve developed a spider-like poisonous bite.
Let’s take that race-building concept a step further.
In so many games, your race is a choice you make at level 1, sets the abilities you start with, and thereafter isn’t a factor in what your character can or can’t do. Sure, there are some 3E feats that require you to be a dwarf and give you a unique dwarf ability, or require you to be an elf and give you a unique elf ability, but there generally isn’t a way to focus on your “dwarfness” or your “elfness” as you level up… leveling up gives you new class abilities.
But who’s to say that the new abilities you gain as you level up have to be class abilities? If getting Skill Focus from being a level 1 half-elf is mechanically the same as taking Skill Focus as a level 9 human rogue, why not broaden that concept even more and accept that any ability you learn as you level up can be justified as a racial ability you just developed?
Frex, if you want your character to be a “drashann” (a dragon-human hybrid), you’d build your race with a bite attack, claws, hard scaly skin, and maybe some kind of resistance to an energy type. Then you’d augment that with cronks, stunts, and spells to explain your racial drashann abilities. You could pick Diehard because drashann are naturally tough. You could pick Smoke Bomb as a stunt to represent your immature gas breath weapon, or pick Minor Fear as a spell to represent how drashann are naturally scare. And then, once you’ve gained a few levels, you learn Stinking Cloud as a spell, but it’s not a “spell” to you, it’s your new and improved gas breath weapon. Or you learn a better fear spell, because you’re not an immature drashann any more, and your racial fear ability has gotten more powerful.
Also also frex, if you wanted to have an “undead” PC, you’d just need to select racial abilities and cronks/stunts/spells that suit your vision of what “type” of undead you are. If your race is “vampire,” you’d increase your Str and Dex, add a bite attack, and a spell that heals you when you damage someone with a bite. Any more powerful abilities you’d want (like flight or turning into mist) would be things you’d have to level up before you could get. Or you could design a 1st-level version of the “mature” ability you want (like a variant of Burst of Billowing Fog that lets you spend a boost to turn into mist for 1 round). And later, as you became a more mature vampire, you could learn Gaseous Form (a racial ability for you, using the mechanics of the spell), or how to create spawn, or how to dominate an opponent’s will.
The point is, it doesn’t matter whether your character’s ability is a born-with-it racial ability or something they “learn” as they level up or train—that new ability could just be something recently discovered you could do, and the “training” was just you practicing it until you could do it reliably. If the game says that Invisibility is a 4th-level ability, that means Invisibility is something appropriate for a 4th-level character to have, and
- If your 4th-level human wizard character learns the Invisibility spell, it might be because he’s been doing research on magic to turn invisible.
- If your 4th-level elf rogue learns the Invisibility spell, it might be because he’s discovered a lost secret of the ninjas about hiding in plain sight.
- If your 4th-level undead warrior character learns the Invisibility spell, it might be because he’s been studying how ghosts turn invisible.
Because Five Moons RPG doesn’t differentiate whether an ability is “extraordinary” or “supernatural” in the 3E sense of things, then in terms of what happens in the game when you activate the ability, these three Invisibility powers are identical; the flavor of how your character learned to become invisible is what makes your character unique.
The idea is to banish the phrase “I have a cool character concept, but the rules won’t let me create it.”
(I played a lot of TSR’s old Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game when I was growing up, and one of the character creation philosophies of that game is “determine what your superpowers are, then decide how you can do that and how those powers all fit together.” So you might be a mutant who can fly/manipulate magnetism/create forcefields, or you might be a robot who can do all of those things with technology, or you might be an alien with the genetic ability to do those things, or a very specialized wizard with spells to do those things. Obviously that philosophy had a strong influence on me, and I’m applying it to the design of Five Moons RPG.)
(BTW, thank you to everyone who’s downloaded the pre-alpha playtest PDF and have offered comments and/or played through it. I’ve been busy with a much-extended Paizo deadline [finished yesterday, yay!] and haven’t had time to read all the replies all in detail, but I will, and I greatly appreciate everyone who’s taken time to look at it.)