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Alternate Ancestries

Ancestry is the term that we will be using to represent the different species and cultures that exist within your fantasy setting. The term ‘race’ as it is traditionally used in fantasy RPGs is both inaccurate and problematic and carries a lot of issues along with it.

The idea of a person’s race carrying innate truths about a person’s aptitude, alignment, and nature are based on racist beliefs. In this book, we are redesigning ancestries not only to have a simple, streamlined system, but also to remove some of the problematic elements that have persisted in fantasy Rpgs for a long time.

Here are some elements of the core rules that experience a significant change in these rules.

Changes to Ability Score Bonuses

One of the biggest issues that most fantasy Rpgs have is assigning predetermined ability score changes based on a character’s race. The implications that certain people are smarter or stronger than others because of their racial background are problematic.

From a game design perspective, it pigeonholes characters into certain roles, which limits creativity and often creates a negative feedback loop. Why don’t you traditionally see barbarian halflings? Because the game rules don’t support that kind of character. If someone does utilize that combination, they have to work harder than other characters to overcome the same challenges, which leads to fewer people picking that combination. Instead, all ancestries give players the same choice. When you select your ancestry, you can assign a +2 and +1 bonus to two different ability scores of your choice, or +1 to three different ability scores of your choice.

Every ancestry gets this option, and every ancestry gets the same amount of ability score increases to spend. From a game design perspective, every ancestry having the same amount of ability score increases mean that you can focus on creating unique features to differentiate your characters, instead of your ability score increases.

Where is Alignment?

The concept that certain people have a tendency towards a certain alignment is bogus. Pick whatever alignment you want. Or, better yet, just ditch alignment altogether.

Major/Minor Feature System

Every ancestry here is built with the following basic framework:

  • Two major features
  • Two minor features

One major feature can be exchanged for two additional minor features.

The major and minor features replace the traits that a race in 5e would receive. Instead of every character of the same ancestry having the exact same traits, as is depicted in the base rules, you can better represent the variety of cultures and physical traits an ancestry might encompass with this system.

About Ancestry Entries

The basic foundation that goes into creating an ancestry is this:

  • Each ancestry has the same ability score increases to assign.
  • An ancestry’s size and speed are predetermined, and there is little effect from them. A character who is Small typically has a speed of 25 feet, and a Medium sized character typically has a speed of 30 feet. The advantages and disadvantages for being Small sized pretty much cancel each other out, and the difference in speed between 25 feet and 30 feet is extremely minor.
  • An ancestry gains two languages by default, typically common and one additional language. Where appropriate we’ve selected a common second language, but that can be changed to any other language.
  • Each ancestry is built with two major features and two minor features, or one major feature and four minor features. These are either chosen from a pre-selected list by the player, predetermined based on the ancestry’s biology, or put into subtype packages where there are significant physical differences between subtypes of an ancestry.
  • Any ancestry can have any name. Some of the suggested names have been submitted by the backers of this project.

Class Features

To determine if a listed feature is a major or minor feature, you can use the following legend.

  • (Major Feature): Major feature
  • (Minor Feature): Minor feature

For example, a feature with (Major Feature) would be considered a major feature. If a trait is listed under a major or minor feature list, it won’t have (Major Feature) or (Minor Feature), since it’s already specified what kind of feature it is.

Tags

Certain features have a tag, or a word in parenthesis like (magic) or (transformation). In general, a character can’t have two features with the same tag. For example, you can’t have two features with the (magic) tag.

Balance

Throughout this book, we’ve chosen to focus on simplicity instead of granularity. For example, we made the decision that resistance to a non-physical damage type (acid, cold, fire, etc.) would be a minor feature.

In truth, some damage types are more common than others, and therefore theoretically more valuable. Resistance to fire damage, for example, is likely to yield greater results than resistance to force or radiant damage, which are quite rare in most cases.

The type of game setting you play in could also affect the balance of the features presented. If you play a game where firearms or ranged weapons are common, or the players are constantly underground in tight tunnels, then flight might not be as useful.

Feel free to adjust the balance of Ancestry Awakened to best fit your game. You could decide that flight is only worth one major feature in your setting, instead of two. Or perhaps darkvision is important enough that you want to bump it up to a major feature.

Or maybe you just want everyone to have more options, and you allow everyone to have three minor features instead of the standard two.

With Ancestry Awakened, every ancestry is built on the same framework. So deciding to give everyone additional features makes all of the players equally stronger.

Half Ancestries

Characters from two different ancestries can have children that possess features from both ancestries. Half-elves and half-orcs are the most commonly portrayed in fantasy Rpgs, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be other combinations. You can replicate a character descended from two different ancestries with the following rule.

  • Take one major and one minor feature each from two different ancestries.

This easily replicates receiving traits from two different ancestries, or the lessons the character learned growing up within different cultures.

Make sure to work with your GM to decide what combinations are possible or logical in your setting.

Half ancestries should generally be used for unique or interesting story opportunities, and not as a way of collecting a specific combination of traits. Ancestry Awakened is not balanced around every potential combination of features, and we expect the players and GM to work together to make sure that everyone is having a fun time.

Using these Ancestries

The goal with the new ancestries is to provide you with options and reworked lore for playing these characters. If you want to play as a troll, we’ve introduced information that presents trolls as people with their own unique culture and background. If your world doesn’t have trolls, you don’t need to add them just because this book has them.

This lore in these rules doesn’t need to replace the lore you have for trolls either. It’s entirely possible for different groups of trolls to have developed separate, unique cultures. Just remember not to make one group of people inherently evil. That’s boring and often has racist connotations.

The people that make up an ancestry come from different backgrounds and have different cultures. Not every dwarf is going to have a Scottish accent and gruff demeanor. A group of dwarves that grew up near the ocean might have settled on the beaches, eventually growing away from the traditions that their underground-dwelling brethren have. When you decide to use one of these ancestries, or create your own, think about the different cultures this ancestry might contain, instead of just a single monoculture. Doing so will enrich your setting and make it feel more alive and dynamic.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Ancestry Awakened: Copyright 2021, Pirate Gonzalez Games: Author Timothy Gonzalez