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August 24, 2016

Race Relations in a Homebrew D&D Campaign

Dungeons and Dragons

After the conclusion of my last Dungeons and Dragons 5e campaign I took a bit of time off and casually planned my next campaign. I elected to run with a smaller group of players and asked them for their input on what they would like the overall theme to be. To my surprise they wanted a game where tensions run high between different groups of people. What better way to do that than by focusing on how each D&D race interacts with each other?

Establish the Races

Pick the Races You Want

The most important part of determining how your races will interact with each other is figuring out which races will be present in the campaign. Not every race in the Player’s Handbook has to be in the campaign. Plus you can always add homebrew races and races from other D&D materials like modules and Unearthed Arcana. This will require a bit of work on your end since you’ll have to decide with your potential players what everyone feels comfortable with. If you really want to make a “no humans” setting, it’d be nice to ensure that your players are all cool with that idea.

I will go into more detail about selecting and creating homebrew races in a future post since it can be a bit difficult to determine if a race is overpowered or not, but for the most part races are generally safe to throw into a campaign. Read up on the backstories that are included in the source that you got each race from to give yourself an idea as to how they would act in the world.

Determine Each Race’s Characteristics

By determining a race’s characteristics I don’t mean mechanically, but by their attitude, professions, and where they prefer to live. All of these are extremely important to figuring out how each race interact amongst themselves as well as with other races. Don’t be afraid to change how the races work from their source material, that can be an excellent hook for your campaign and bring new life to races that you and your players find to be a bit “boring”.

For an example, I find that Halflings are generally the “joke characters” amongst my players. I can see why, they’re usually these quirky, small, comic-relief characters in a lot of my campaigns and because of that the player characters tend to follow that line as well. In this upcoming campaign I decided that they will be these rough, barbaric hunters that live in the wilds and fight toe-to-toe with the Orcs that live nearby them. I’ve homebrewed a special type of Halfling to reflect this, but regardless they are completely different from their source material in terms of how they think, act, and treat other races.

Determine Interactions

Now that you’ve figured out the basic for each race that you’re including in the campaign you’re ready to figure out how they interact with each other. This is huge since this can affect the entire campaign depending on what races think of each other. For example, say a player plays a Tiefling and they’re visiting a Human city. Perhaps the Humans do not trust the Tieflings or even hate them. This will affect how the NPCs would interact with this character, maybe the stores will charge more to this player because of it.

Not every campaign has to have these types of interactions, mind you, but the campaign that I’m planning is going to be centered around the races distrusting each other and struggling to band together against a common enemy. My last campaign had very little of this type of philosophy, but the players that are joining in on this one wanted a lot more of these types of interactions so I obliged.

Using the Halflings as an example, the Halflings do not get along with quite a few races in my world simply because they are known to raid or pillage villages and small towns surrounding the plains they live on. Humans and Half-Elves receive the brunt of this abuse and because of which will frequently sprout military conflicts. Because of their rough-and-tumble/barbaric personality they get along great with the Orcs and Goliaths that live on the plains and consider them to be valuable allies.

Write it Down or Make a Spreadsheet

You have a good idea at this point of what you want, how the races will interact with each other, and everything else that has to do with races in your campaign. Now it’s time to flesh out the details and record everything. This is partly about writing a good story since major events could have affected the relationships of different races. My recommendation is to write everything down in a document so that you’ll be able to easily keep track of all this during a game and during interactions.

Spreadsheet Printout

There are many unlikely allies in the continent of Ranmiir.

As you can see above I made a big spreadsheet to keep track of all the major races in my future campaign. I’m going to eventually go into more detail in a written document, but for now I showed this to my future players to make sure everyone knew what I was thinking. I color coded the four different relationships I came up with (Allies, Friendly, Neutral, Dislike, and Enemies). Obviously the relationships themselves will be more complex, but for now this will give yourself and your players some good notes while you think up the juicy details.

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