2018/07/16

OSR: How to Design GLOG Races

Before we start:
The GLOG is Arnold K's fantasy heartbreaker homebrew. You can find bits of it scattered around his blog. I've combined some of it into a homebrew document here.

I use a Table of Races in my games. In a medieval setting it's hard to get players to care about the petty regional feuds between people from not-Wessex and not-Sussex, but they immediately "get" the local friction between froglings vs flylings. It also provides variation between characters in a high-mortality system. Playing a Slothling Fighter is going to feel very different than playing a Foxling Fighter, even if everything else was identical.
Charro-Art

Format


Races are rolled randomly. It prevents minmaxing.

1. Name

Should be fairly obvious. For races based on real-world animals, I use the gender-neutral -ling ending. You can use -man if you'd like.

2. Reroll Stat

At character creation, reroll this stat and pick the higher value. This is much better than providing a flat +2 bonus or penalty or whatever. It means, on average, Owl-lings are a little wiser than most people but they aren't all wiser. If you're building a table, try to ensure all stats are evenly represented.

3. Bonuses and Weaknesses

Each race gets one each. These are tricky. A good bonus or weakness should:
  • happen automatically or not require a huge number of rolls to use
  • come up at least once a session
  • influence the way the character is roleplayed
  • be completely clear to a new player or GM
  • be easy to remember
  • not completely dominate the way the character is played
  • not completely negate a core principle of OSR games (inventory, exploration, HP, etc.)
In general, for races, cool concepts > flat bonuses > weapons or damage. The cool concept has to be taken to a useful conclusion though. It's not enough to just have an idea and list it. You need to format it in a way players and GMs can immediately use.

Also, players will try to bend abilities. If they have "
No Move penalties for broken or hilly terrain", they'll try to use it to leap over boulder fields, pit traps, sand dunes, and anything else that's even tangentially related. Just accept it.

Examples

Since names and stats are fairly obvious, I'll focus on bonuses and weaknesses. Your mileage may vary, etc. I've only picked a few entries off each list. Obviously, there are lots of examples that didn't make the short lists below. Hot takes abound.
Dazabiel vial

The Good

My List
Spiderling: Bonus: Can secrete 30' of rope per day
This is a very good bonus without being overpowered. Rope is always useful in a dungeon. The spiderling character always has a good reason to generate rope and use it for unexpected and interesting plans.

Gnome: Bonus: Can become invisible if you close eyes, hold breath, don't move
A hilarious take on at-will invisibility. Gnomes can't hold their breath forever, but they can duck around a corner and vanish to evade pursuit, surprise an enemy by appearing to vanish, and generally get up to all sorts of gnomish mischief (or murder and larceny, depending on your setting)

Dan D's List

Sea Elf: Bonus: Speak with sea creatures + Weakness: Sink like a stone
These are both clear, evocative, and interesting. As a player, I know immediately what "speak with sea creatures" means and how my character could use it. As a GM, I know immediately how to react if the Sea Elf's player says, "Yeah, I can talk to that fish. What does it say?"

Goliath: Bonus: Shrug off d12 damage 1/day
This is very good. It's like having a spare shield or the Fighter's Parry ability. It makes the Goliath extra tank-y (and a Goliath Fighter with a shield triply so), but not in an overpowered or particularly dangerous way. It's not a flat damage reduction to all attacks.
Luke Thomson's List
Frog-man: Bonus: Sticky tongue can grab objects 20' away
This is clear, obvious, and useful. It's perfect. 20' range might be excessive for realism purposes but it's just right for gaming purposes. If the item was 10' away you could just grab it with your hand.

Dwarf: Weakness: Save or be transfixed by the full moon
This is such a cool weakness with an obvious effect. Sure, who tracks moon phases... but still! This implies something about the race!
Igor Krstic

The Mediocre

My List

Human: Bonus: Start with 1 extra random item
This isn't particularly interesting outside of session 1. It does immediately give the player a cool tool and it helps them make up a story about how their character got it, but it's not likely to come up every single session. It's clearly phrased though. One of the most memorable characters started with a bonus wheel of cheese... and nearly killed his friend with it.

Flyling: Weakness: Will never notice details unless they move
In a group, the flyling's weakness is both difficult to remember and difficult for the GM to use. It's not clear exactly what "details" are. On their own, it's easier to remember and more interesting to describe the blurry world a flyling sees.
Dan D's List
Dragonborn: Bonus: 2d6 dragonbreath + Physical stat mods decrease by 1 w/ breath for the day
This isn't clear enough to make it work. Range? How exactly does the use per day thing work? Uh, element? Modifying stats in the middle of the game is tricky as well, as you'll need to recalculate stat bonuses, remember that you've taken a penalty, etc. One-off damage or drain is fine, but constantly shuffling them to use a core racial ability...  eech.

Half-Elf: Weakness: Cat-like sociopaths
This is a cool idea... but it doesn't give the GM or the player a lot of flexibility or leeway. How, as a player, do I run a half-elf? Like a fat housecat, desiring food and warmth and completely unperturbed? Like a feral cat, territorial and strange? It's the start of an idea, but it also limits the type of character you can play. No nice half-elves.

Luke Thomson's List

Deer-man: Bonus: Leave no tracks in wilderness
Good on its own and clearly phrased, but of limited use in a party. A whole herd of deer-lings could be fun to play though, I suppose.

Mole-man: Bonus: Can burrow beneath the ground as a movement action + Penalty: Vision limited to 10'
The bonus is clear enough (but should probably state what "ground" is. Maybe "earth" or "soil"? The 10' vision limit is a real pain for most characters. 30' is bad enough, but 10' means minimal ranged spellcasting, ranged weapons, or even navigating through large rooms. It'd be tricky to play.
Karl Lindberg

The Bad

My List
Elf: Weakness: Save vs Ugliness or shun it.
This effect isn't terribly clear. I use it as "if an Elf sees an ugly thing, they must Save or shun the ugly thing". Screaming, throwing something, diving out the window, weeping uncontrollably, getting angry, or reflexively casting a spell are also acceptable results. Elves love beauty. It's a good effect with bad phrasing.

Fishling: Weakness: Drink twice as much water as usual
Finding water isn't usually a problem. Rations are one thing, but water is assumed to be abundant in most settings. If a weakness never comes up it's a bad weakness.

Dan D's List
Dan, sorry, but there are are a lot of things on your list that fall under the "I don't know what this means" heading. They're cool ideas but they need to be rephrased or reworked. I noticed the same thing with your planet series.

High Elf: Bonus: An eye for magical secrets
Hobgoblin: Bonus: Military discipline + Weakness: Had all their sociability beaten out of them
Bugbear: Bonus: Carries a sack filled with child ghosts
Orc: Bonus: Can shrug off death 1/day
Eladrin: Bonus: Seasonal-cycle forms and rebirth + Weakness: All magic has mutagenic properties
Gnome: Can create tiny clockwork toys.
I have no idea what these mean as a GM or a player. Sure, I can make it up on the fly, but that's not a great solution. My "sack of child ghosts" might be overpowered, it might dominate the way the bugbear is played, or it might be completely useless and mechanically unsound. The point of a table is to do this hard work for me so I can be a lazy GM. :D
Kobold: Bonus: Cannot get lost in enclosed spaces
I'm not sure when this would come up or how it would be implemented. Most of the time, "getting lost" is a function of no light + panic or bad mapping.
Luke Thomson's List
Finding bad entries on Luke's list was very difficult. Go Luke.

Locust-man: Bonus: Can leap 100'
How often? Because if this is a once/round thing, the locust-man is going to be a holy terror. Movement and positioning are really important. A locust-man can jump out of a 50' deep pit with room to spare, jump across a 100' chasm, or leap around in combat like a crazed fiend.

Crab-man: Weakness: Mouthparts can't speak humanoid languages
I know this is in-setting, but it's a crippling penalty for characters. The Paladins of the Word are mute but there's a significant upside to playing one. Poor crab-men. Can't even hold a pencil with their big 2d8 damage claws.

7 comments:

  1. Personally I’d bump deerman’s leave no tracks up to good. Doesn’t have to be a party thing at all - its a character thing isn’t it? And provides a challenge for people. For a start it’d be good for a scout. Lots of creative uses, I think.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's not bad, but it's not too great either. How many times has avoiding being tracked in a wilderness situation become really vital in a D&D game? In abstract, sure, it seems important, but in practice I rarely ever see it used.

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    2. Obviously we’ve played different games. It would have been used a lot in at least one long campaign (1.5 yrs) and reasonably frequently in a couple of others. Out of perhaps 5-6 long campaigns. So for me - not a rare experience. But a fair point - people’s experiences differ.

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  2. Re: crabmen, I'm certain that is working off of Yoon-Suin slave-caste crabmen, used as disposable military force/food supply. Much easier to eat someone when they can't even manage "hello". I think it works well! Especially since eventually the party will work out to give them a big burnt branch to scrawl with, revealing the poet inside the burly tank-shell.

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    Replies
    1. From a setting/worldbuilding point of view it makes total sense. But from a gaming point of view, it's really tough to play a completely mute character. It can isolate and frustrate a player. They can't contribute to in-character plans or shout warnings. They have to mime everything.

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    2. I concur - and - even if they were literate - they can't write easily with those claws...

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