Racial Backgrounds to Fit Your Campaign

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgOne of the most satisfying pieces of creating the world for my D&D campaign was selectively re-skinning the races to fit my world history. I didn’t want to change any of the mechanics, but I needed the racial descriptions to better fit my world. Besides satisfying that need, re-skinning also helped inspire some of the history I created. So there was the added benefit of additionally fleshing out my game world, simply by making essentially cosmetic changes to racial descriptions.

A bit of history. The nation the players start their adventures in is called Cotterell. A little over a thousand years ago, fleeing a losing war with the Dark Fey, the Light Fey (Elves) appeared in Cotterell’s heartland, ripping their way into the world through a massive inter-dimensional gate. Unable to close the gate after them, the Dark Fey army followed, embroiling Cotterell in a centuries long war. Despite blaming the Light Fey for the the ongoing conflict, Cotterell had no choice but to ally with the Elves. In a desperate attempt to end the conflict, the Light Fey enacted a plan to forcibly close the gate. They succeeded, but in doing so caused an explosion of mystical energy, carving an enormous caldera out of Cotterell’s heartland and ringing the world with a magical shock-wave which forever altered the face of the world.  Our story picks up almost five hundred years after that Cataclysm, when the nation of Cotterell is finally strong enough to begin the arduous task of reclaiming the lands outside the cities.

I’ll talk in a bit more detail about that history in future posts. But that is the world in which my player’s characters exist. You can sort of see why I couldn’t just leave the racial descriptions as they are, especially for the Elves. But the above history bite also changed how Tieflings came about in my world, where gnomes come from, and the origin of the dragonborn. And making changes to the racial backstory of these caused changes to occur in my campaign world.

Let’s look at the Tiefling race as an example. The standard background for tieflings is that somewhere in their family’s history, someone consorted with an evil outsider. That caused a taint in the bloodline, which allowed tieflings to be born. This demonic origin made tieflings mistrusted at best and despised at worst. In post-Cataclysm Cotterell, tieflings do not come from extra-planar evil, but from the arcane shock-wave which followed the closing of the Gate. Every living thing on the planet was “infected” by the wave of runaway dark energy. This led not only to perfectly healthy parents of all races giving birth to tieflings even hundreds of years later, but was the source of many of the world’s Aberrations. As a result of this, while tieflings are an uneasy reminder of the Cataclysm, they aren’t reviled by the majority of the races, and generations later have gained tenuous acceptance.

There you go. Same race, same mechanics, but re-worked to better fit the history of my game world, where High Elves (and to a lesser extent, Wood Elves) and not Tieflings are the oppressed race. If you are creating your own world, I highly recommend looking hard at the history you’ve created to see where you can sneak in changes to both player and NPC races. It will add a unique flavour to your campaign, and might also be a welcome surprise for your more experienced players.

Have you altered racial backgrounds or re-skinned a race for your campaign? Let me know in the comments.