A Surfeit of Demihumans

I make no bones about being a fan of the Unearthed Arcana book, and one of the ideas behind Adventures Dark and Deep™ is that the additional rules, spells, classes, etc. will be “folded in” to the original rules from the DMG and PH, with the intent of making a seamless whole.

However, one of the things that just sticks in my craw are the enormous number of demihuman sub-races. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of most of the sub-races in the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. Why would anyone play a “regular” hairfoot halfling when you can play a stout and get infravision and detect sloping passages?

Just look at the plethora of demihuman sub-races:

  • Dwarf, Gray
  • Dwarf, Hill
  • Dwarf, Mountain
  • Elf, Dark (M)
  • Elf, Dark (F)
  • Elf, Gray
  • Elf, Half-
  • Elf, High
  • Elf, Sea
  • Elf, Valley
  • Elf, Wild
  • Elf, Wood
  • Gnome, Deep
  • Gnome, Surface
  • Halfling, Hairfoot
  • Halfling, Stout
  • Halfling, Tallfellow

(I break dark elves into male and female because there are substantive differences between the two.)

But seriously– do we really need 17 different types of demihumans? Personally, I think there is a place for such diversity, but in the context of specific campaign settings. For example, the valley elf was originally a product of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting; found, appropriately enough, in the Valley of the Mage. We also have gully dwarves from the Dragonlance setting, and others.

If a given setting has a need for such specialization, I am all in favor of it. But the wholesale porting of such specialties into the generic pool seems a bit of overkill to me. What, pray tell, is the need for wild elves and valley elves, other than a bit of minutae regarding level limits and class availability? Just have a group of elves that don’t have clerics among them and call it a day, rather than inventing a whole new sub-race of wild elves.

Personally, I would keep the main demihuman races, include the underdark and aquatic variants, and probably keep it at that. Leave everything else to campaign-specific variation (although the rules would explicitly mention the possibility of such variations, and maybe include an example). Yes, you have to keep sea elves. I mean, they sell prosthetic sea-elf ears for LARPs. C’mon! Prosthetic ears!

Am I alone in this opinion? Do folks find the broad variety of demihuman options to be too much, or a welcome means of introducing variety?

EDIT: Hey! I just realized this is my 300th post. Go me!

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

13 thoughts on “A Surfeit of Demihumans

  1. Too much is right. Although I wouldn't mind seeing some new demihuman races, such as half-ogre or lizardman or pixie.

  2. Shooting from memory here, but wasn't there only ever one race of Human. Oh, sure, many different cultures, but there was never a need for more than one set of stats for Humans. Curious…

  3. Indeed, some of these (such as the hill and mountain dwarves) I prefer to regard as entirely cultural variants (and largely a matter of flavor text).

    But I will also admit to having a vague annoyance with sea-elves. Seriously, what do they bring to the table that merfolk, tritons, nereids, sirines, sea hags, sahuagin, locathah, etc. etc. don't?

  4. Actually what bothered me was the shoehorning of drow, valley elves, deep gnomes, etc. into pc roles when they were originally cast as monsters with specials such as magic resistance, high HD, and so on. In my opinion UA seems to unrealistically alter their specials to fit as pcs. I would love to see a goblin pc option.

  5. Akiyama: Half-ogres are a terrific example, precisely because they were introduced as a Greyhawk race. Specific to the campaign setting. If you were DMing some other setting, you could certainly allow half-ogres, but they weren't part of the core group. I could see doing something with lizardmen, pixies (didn't Hackmaster do a book on them?), minotaurs, etc. as campaign-specific options.

    M: "Demihumans" is a term that encompasses dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings. Although IIRC, some campaign settings had some rules for sub-races of humans (for some reason I want to say the Judges Guild campaign setting did that with barbarian Altanians and Viridistanians, but I might be wrong).

    Jayson: I wonder what the literary antecedent for sea-elves is? It doesn't seem obvious to me.

  6. Optional, optional, optional. They were all optional for use as the DM saw fit. It is liking playing a wargame and not using the logistics rules. It is like driving your car and not using the turn signals.

  7. Maybe EGG was just trying to cover his bases for the most likely variants. Y'know, trying to keep most on the same page, even though he knew DM's would tweak them to their own realms anyway. He saw the wave coming of players playing races from the Monster Manuals. These could have been his sandbags to keep some control.

    . . .and where are the frost-elves?

    That's it! Maybe EGG was trying to cover the usual races in a manner similar to how he wanted to categorize monsters: by terrain types!

    @Jayson: Would Tolkien's Falaquendi count? They were sea-elves of a sort (don't think they were fully aquatic).


  8. It really depends on what you're going for. I ran a campaign where I used generic dwarves and gnomes, no halflings, and most of the elven races. It fit specific things I wanted to do with the setting. I've run other games where I used a different mix. So I liked having them, and like so much of UA I picked what I did and didn't want to include for a campaign.

  9. Option bloat comes to all roleplaying lines that need to make money eventually. Doesn't mean you have to succumb to it, or honor it as a tradition. Just do your own supplement/ruleset and if someone want "the big book of swamp halflings" they can roll their own.

  10. I never really liked the multitude of sub-races either, as in many cases they seemed more like different cultures rather than races. I mean, you didn't have "Man, Western", "Man, Eastern", etc. Of course, I feel the same way about the plethora of humanoid sub-races as well. I prefer sticking to the 'major' races (orcs, Goblins, Hobgoblins, etc.) and just making other humanoids variations of those (Grimlocks are blind orcs, Tasloi are jungle-dwelling Goblins, etc.)

  11. If my DM used all of those options, I would be less inclined to build a character based on RP, and more inclined to build a character based on racial abilities. Precisely because the options are there. We have some options – rock gnome, hill dwarf, hobbits are hobbits, sylvan grey and high elves – but that's about it.

    The coolest race the DM created was what he called a Kardok. This was for a specific campaign. A Kardok was basically his take on the Wookie, with some variations. But, they had bonuses to str and con, and negs to int, wis, dex, and cha. They were way too buff, so eventually we had four players playing as Kardok fighters. A few of us went back in time, killed the first few Kardoks, which killed the four PC's in our group. No one was allowed to play them anymore, as they technically "never existed" at that point.

  12. too much is too much, maybe in an entirely single race book…

    but the question is if you are going to create a system for skill you could just have races and a package of skill for cultural differences or simply give races such and such bonus and cultures such and such bonuses 🙂

  13. Race class level limits were also campaign specific material. I think even some of the class details had campaign setting information in it — see "Druid" or "Barbarian". The more sub-class the class the more specialized it became. I like what Jerry Stratton did with Gods and Monsters. The classes are stripped to bear bones and the DM and the player are left to figure out the story via specializations.

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