When the kids received 5e as a gift from their uncle, I simplified character creation and discarded backgrounds, bonds, and flaws. I thought that it would make playing easier. Lately, I am revisiting that notion, especially in light of how my kids created their characters.
There was no min-maxing, there was no poring over bonuses to optimize a spell caster. My son wanted a blue dragonborn because he loves the connection with lightning, something he shows in any fantasy character he enjoys. My daughter just wanted to be sneaky and not really human. Had the choice been offered, she would've been a tabaxi. (Their uncle didn't have Volo's Guide).
This post is about how I handle a character's so-called race based on a recent purchase and my own tinkering. Below is how I arrived at the decision to make this change followed by the actual mechanics that I call Kith and Kin. You can skip to the What I Changed section to get straight to the rules.
Why the Change?
Recently, my online friends began posting about the problems around evil 'races'. In the past, I simply ruled that goblinoids were created - there were no children or villages of goblinoids. There was only a wizard's desire to create a brute squad to impose their will. Now I see the issues related to portraying half-orcs as pretty much doomed to being evil and how orcs are portrayed in general. I shouldn't have to introduce the Scro to offer an alternative, I just needed to think about it in terms of how my children interact with the game. Besides, the Scro are not any better of an alternative as they were dedicated to elven genocide.
My kids want to explore and discover. They want some combat, but also want a bit of wonder. Reading about half-orcs, they wondered not about possibilities and mysterious lands with wondrous items, but why one 'race' was doomed to struggle when no one else would. I was happy to tell them that the place that they were exploring was completely homebrewed. However, I did tell them that everything in the PHB and Volo's was true, but only on the island their characters are from.
Then it hit me, that I couldn't maintain that, so looked for a better solution. I found it in Ancestry and Culture by Arcanist Press. (The affiliate id is theirs, I don't have one.) With very little change to the rules, I quickly went through and produced a handout for future players showing my changes.
I Tinker, Therefore I Am
I couldn't leave it with just the OGL from Ancestry and Culture. I had to split my homebrewed races between ancestry and culture. After the first two, I came to the Sachima, a people I had already introduced as having a trifurcated culture. A Sachima character had to choose the path of the dragon, the path of the tiger, or the path of the ancients that sought a fusion of the other two. That's when it occurred to me that I could have three Sachima cultures, but only one Sachima ancestry.
Some time after I began work, an online friend posted on Twitter that they had always used kith and kin for race. This struck me as feeling more like fantasy and less like an Anthropology textbook. Not knocking anthropology, my wife's degree is Cultural Anthropology. It's just that kith and kin feels like it fits better for my game. Kith became more about society and culture. Kin became more about bloodline in a similar way to Sorcerers. It's not exactly how kith and kin works in modern vernacular, but it fits my game.
Thank you if you made it this far, now for the crunchy part.
What I Changed
Kith represents culture. For example, I split this for Orcs from the for types of Orc Kith. It reads:
Some orcish communities exhibit a traditional culture, one that values physical ability, competition, and confidence. Others embrace technology and mechanical innovation. Orcish society is often familial and matriarchal, with a focus on providing for the community, especially via hunting, military training, or the construction of homes.From Orcish Cultural Traits in Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
I have a Traditional Orc Kith that provides the Intimidation skill, an extra die for critical melee hits, and Str/Con bonuses.
I also have an Innovative Orc Kith that provides proficiency with Tinker's tools, but with three different creations: Walking Toolbox, Moving Target, and Automatic Torch. These tiny devices help with home construction and weapons training. They also double proficiency for History checks regarding technological devices. They get Int/Con bonuses instead.
Kin represents ancestry. This provides different things. For example, I kept Humans pretty much as written:
Your natural curiosity leads you to dabble in a variety of activities. You gain proficiency in a skill of your choice, as well as with an artisan tool of your choice.From Human Ancestral Traits in Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
On the Kith/Kin section of the character sheet, a character with one of the Orc Kith and the Human Kin would simply be listed as Orc (Traditional) / Human.
I realized that I could now describe Half-Orcs in different ways. A human raised in one of two Orc communities or an orc raised in a one of three Human communities. If you own the book, they also provide a way to have a Half-Orc character with both Human and Orc Kin while the Kith can be anything you want. This feels like a way to create interesting characters without adding a bunch of complexity. If you still want a High Elf, choose High Elven Kith and Elven Kin, it will be exactly the same as the High Elf in the PHB.
There are 15 ways to provide a plus 2 to one stat and plus 1 to another stat. I've mapped them all out and just need to add labels to them. This helps me to generate Kith or cultures for my game. There are 17 types of tools. In theory, that is 255 ways to provide stat bonuses and one tool. (You better believe I have a Kith with Brewer's Tools. +2 CON should be a must. 🙂 ) This provides so many different ways to describe Kith even before I write one up with the Three Traits format found in the PHB. One of the traits will come from my stat bonus label and the other two I can just make up. (I need to make another list of these traits.)
I get excited thinking about the worldbuilding possibilities with this system. Soon, I'll post about some of the Kith and Kin I've created so far.