Updating the Races after Play-testing- a Malazan inspired 5E D&D game
Having now spent just over a year playing a game of Dungeons and Dragons set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen I have been able to identify some of issues with my original plans for my D&D to Malazan adaptations.
Switching the Barghast and the Trell
In my original blog I explained how I had re-skinned the Half-Orc to be the Trell and the Bugbear as the Barghast. Some of this came down to the simple aesthetic choice, that placers wanting to play a half-orc want to play something with tusks, so lets give them the Trell who also have them. For the Barghast, the decision was based on a desire to see more Bugbears stats appear in games.
What I did not take into account was the simple fact that more people will want to play the Half-Orc stats, and almost no one wants to use the Bugbear ones, or at least they don't think of it as often. What this resulted in, was three players being Trell from a distant continent and having to explain why there were so many of them appearing . Yet the Barghast, who are actually from the continent of Genabackis and feature heavily in my game, had not been played by a single player.
So with the death of our Trell Paladin of D'reck I officially swapped thier re-skin around. I no longer have to try and describe the Barghast as having unusually long arms, nor filled with a desire to give the Trell as Half-Orcs, powerful build. I now have now have two Barghast player characters with the half-orc stats and it seems to be working far better. Now instead we have no Trell, but on the rare cases when people want to play one, it will feel exactly that, rare, as it should. As a DM note, I strongly recommended giving the players a list of the various clans of the Barghast with short descriptions of them at character creation. This has greatly improved players interest and background creation.
Making better use of Dwarf sub-races in the Meckros
In my original exploration of the Meckros I explained how I chose the Dwarfs stat-block for the seafaring Meckros due to one, a desire to have the dwarf stat-block appear in a culture that players are not used to them appearing, and two, because of thier numerous tool proficiencies. I know some people still think Rock Gnomes are better because of thier mechanical creations and the Meckros use of golems, but thier seafaring, warfare and woodwork or more pivotal parts of thier day to day life, things that a Rock Gnomes stats don't support.
Dwarves have always had a problem for my in regular Dungeons and Dragons in the Player Hand Book. If someone plays a Hill Dwarf/Mountain Dwarf, how do you know? Ask yourself if there is a Dwarf at your table, do you actually know which they are? I bet you know if a player is a Wood Elf or a High Elf don't you? Why? Because there is more to the sub-race than just thier stat-block, there is a well fleshed out culture that feels significantly different. Where as for the Dwarves....there never feels like there is one, or at least I have never played in a game where there is.
I fell into this trap myself. Both sub-races of Dwarves become Meckros, the difference between the sub-races was simply which of two cultures they followed. All Meckros cities hold Mael god of the sea as thier highest god, I differentiated the sub-races based on thier preference for his two daughters, Nerruse and Beru. One as traders, one was slavers and warriors. This erked at me even more when we had our first Meckros player...and myself the DM, had no idea which one he was playing. I puzzled over this for nearly a year in the back of my mind until one day I was reading through the notes I make while reading the books. The Sea-Folk. Though they only appear in the books in one area, it did not seem unreasonable within the D&D game to expand them to the wider world. They are close enough to the Meckros in the seagoing focus of thier lives, but significantly different in every other way. As the Meckros are often described as warlike, raiding coasts to collect slaves and often challenging the Blue Moranth I felt it best if the retain the Mountain Dwarf stats. For the Sea Folk who avoid combat where possible, and were instead the prey of slavers, I gave the Hill-Dwarf stats. So again, with the retiring of our last Meckros, the Sea Folk become a playable addition to my game. I will be adding a blog after this has been posted with the updated descriptions of the Meckros and Sea Folk.
(K')Whenua, the troublesome Gnomes
The Gnomes had been my biggest challenge to implement into the world, as unlike everyone else I could not find an existing Malazan culture to shove them into. What this resulted in was me inventing an entire new people whole cloth, complete with convoluted explanations of how and why they appear so rarely in the world.
Trying to explain why this Whenua/K'Whenua is here with the party, or even worse, why a second one shows up, is always a stretch. What it also does, is limit players freedom to be creative in character creation. Having seen how much players enjoyed choosing a Barghast clan with its own unique culture, or making up thier own one, the limitations I had built in were a big problem. Enter the Eras, and yes before you even say it, I know thier name means the "tall ones", but hear me out. The Eras are an ancient hominid that are found in isolated pockets in several places across the Malazan world, often thought to be the last of thier kind. These hairy seafarers travelled the entire world allowing my players to have them appear just about anywhere they need, thier magical abilities as the first Bonecasters fits well with the Forest Gnomes abilities and culture. With this I can simply tell my players, that if they want to use the half gnome-stats, they can come up with a name of thier little culture wherever that might be, and they can play thier own little hairy Forrest person. The discovery that these are all the Eras can come later.
The Rock Gnomes are still more of a problem, thier knowledge of mechanical devices and magical items and spawned the K'whenua culture I described in my blog are still an issue. What I have gone with is the idea what the original K'whenua culture I created is the hub, the origin of this sub-race/cast, but that they have over time travelled through the Warrens and colonised other places around the world, through distance and separation they can also have developed divergent cultures. I still give the players my original explanation as a starting point, but leave it as just that, a starting point.
My player begged to play a Hobgoblin
Mostly when my players ask if they can play a Lizardfolk or a Warforged I have to say no to them. Not because I could not have them be a Daemon or a Yakshaka from the island of Jacuruku, but because once I had allowed it for a single player, others would want to do it as well. Explaining a single rare creature appearing in the party is fine. But the third time it happens, it becomes commonplace.
The way I plan to handle this is to make it an 'unlock.' Your character dies on Jacuruku? O.k you get this special offer to play a Yakshaka (Warforged). You died in the Warren of Dennul? You now have the option of joining the party as a Lizardfolk (a demon with all the in game connotations that comes with). When my player asked to play a Hobgoblin however, I realised I really, already had it set up in my mind where hobgoblins were. The Malazan Army. Right from the beginning of planning this game I had always planned on using the Hobgoblins from the Monster Manual with thier Martial Advantage and Volo's Guide to Monsters to represent the highly trained Malazans. I had not made them a playable race however as I did not want to make two different kinds of humans.
On reflection however, I realised, most humans have 1+ to everything. However, a well trained person has specialised an only has +1 to two stats, gained a Feat and a few other proficiencies. The stat variants that exist in the Hobgoblin stat-block can simply represent an alternative kind of 'variant human.' I have described it to my players:
"It is suggested that if you want to be a Malazan who left the army on good terms, that you take the Soldier or Marine (Ghosts of Saltmarsh) backgrounds. For a deserter, take a background that represents who you were before you joined the army. Equally you could play a malazan soldier who was in the army for a shorter duration and use the regular Human in the PHB and take the soldier/Marine backgrounds."
So there we have it, the reasoning behind the major changes that I have made to the different races in my Malazan inspired Dungeons and Dragons game for fifth edition. I have done lots of smaller work building the religions and cultures of the people, which hopefully to have a chance to upload soon.
I hope this gives you help and inspiration for your won games.