The Role of Character Part 3
Last week I wrote about the importance of your ability scores, and the week before the introduction on the Role of Character. This week we are going to take a look at races and apply what I feel are some nuances that are often overlooked. Plus I hope to add some ideas that help you look at an approach to a race differently, without changing your concept of what that race is.
Below I’ll kind of define the different races; Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, and Halfling. My descriptions are going to be based off of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5 and 5th) and Pathfinder. Since most of us are human I decided there isn’t much of a need to cover that race.
I should note that everything I deduce in this article is pure speculation. Many of these ideas are simple and can easily be expanded upon to fit your needs. If you’re wanting to take a more intellectual approach than this I’m sure there are journals that include studies that touch upon some or all of the concepts I’m about to list.
Dwarves are seen as short and stout humanoids that lack humor, even though in game terms they’re taller than many races in the fantasy setting. This often makes them seem darker or more serious than they might be. Being warriors and miners who are renowned for working with stones and metals they have a reputation that precedes them. They are also considered courageous and enduring.
Dwarves are often seen as a stubborn people. They hold grudges that can outlast any human’s life time. It takes a long time to earn a dwarf’s trust. This is due to the fact that they live a life that can span 250 years or more. Dwarves have proven to be very loyal to their friends and clansmen. However, if you cross a dwarf you’re most likely crossing all of his friends and clansmen. It is possible that by angering a dwarf you make some enemies that will feud with you for decades.
The dwarvish culture is cemented in traditions that don’t fade away. They are much like the finished stone they produce – slow to fade away and slow to change. They are rooted in tradition that is the very foundation of what they believe to be true.
When playing a Dwarf I like to look at the environment they came from because it seems like the easiest place to start. I have tried in the past to apply their physical characteristics, but I have found it’s not as applicable as their background.
Dwarves live in underground cities, mines and other such dwellings. But what does it mean? The first thing that comes to my mind is where they live – underground. Mines are dark and cold. Now it’s true that dwarves have darkvision, but even with such a blessing I would beg the question that darkness takes a toll. In our literature darkness is almost always depicted as evil or an omen of death. Dwarves choose to live in this and it shapes them. They rely on each other for strength. They use the teamwork of a clan or clans to overcome the darkness of the mine. Further they are not part of the darkness – they have the ability to see in the night – yet often they light torches or cast spells to bring light into the darkness. You can say there are a lot of reasons for this, but light being the opposite of darkness is a great plot point for a character. Dwarves, in my opinion, might just struggle with good and evil more than any other race.
Let’s return to the mine concept; they are often enclosed spaces with very little extra room. Not to mention the fact that they are cold and damp. I suppose there are some conditions that can change that like being the belly of a volcano. But what does this do to the mind of a dwarf? Does it change the way they think? I believe it does. For example if you lived in a mine how would it affect your sense of smell? You would be used to the scent of musty things, so how would you react to flowers on a grassy knoll? Can it be important? Only if you make it important to your character. Further the effect of living in a confined area most likely strengthens the concepts of working together and being part of a clan.
Being a part of the clan starts at a young age and to some degree is probably very public. It’s not like being born in the wilderness where it’s easier to disappear. In confined spaces that are carved out by your bare hands I think it would be much more difficult to disappear. But that is a good thing for the dwarf; it helps explain why they are slow to trust others. If you lived in a society where growing and maturing was pretty open and extended family was more than just your grandparents, you would have a different kind of camaraderie. That environment promotes a much deeper understanding of who everyone is, plus if you add the long life span, it’s no wonder they’re slow to trust. I actually kind of look at a clan of dwarves as a tight military unit trained to work together at all costs.
But on the flip side of things what would a dwarf be like that had to leave the clan at a young age? Would they find it easier to trust others? What if a dwarf didn’t have darkvision? What would that dwarf be like? More importantly would it be fun to play?
Elves are perceived to be a magical people that love nature and art. To back this their homes are often found in places of majestic beauty. They find the time to “perfect things”. For an elf it is common to take the time and do it right, especially when it comes to arts and crafts.
Being a race that lives a very long life, they too are often slow to make friends. A result of their lifespan is a much broader living experience that makes elves seem wiser and at times even arrogant to other races. This wisdom grants them a different view on the world that should reflect in everything right down to alignment (more on this concept in a little bit). Elves are often viewed as being very formal in their language and mannerisms. Which also makes them seem like they hold themselves higher than the younger races.
Physically elves are slender creatures that are well groomed all the time. Beauty is very important to them especially in their appearance.
Elves are probably the toughest for me to come up with super concepts for because physically and socially they are more like humans than the other races. They live in societies not unlike those of our history and they have a physique that’s close enough to our own that it’s not a large concern. So I tend to look at the things that truly separate them from us; age, wisdom, and love for nature and art.
I tend to combine wisdom and age, but I’d like to say that I believe they have a different approach to teaching so a twenty year old elf would be much wiser than a twenty year old human. Further their years of study have added so many more layers to the understanding that they can apply to a knowledge well beyond what you or I could possibly understand. For example an elf that is of a lawful good alignment will hold their virtues with a clearer resolution than the other races. When it comes to things like right and wrong there are no gray areas – only black and white. It makes perfect sense to me that when it comes to such matters their maturity as a species would have perfected them. Which means when playing an elven anything you can take any views your character would normally have and elevate them. What I’m trying to say is that elves live life with a greater understanding and richness that should be reflected in their personality, whether they be good or evil.
Moving on to the love of nature. As a whole I now tend to look at every elf as a druid, without class abilities. With that said, would an elvish druid be any different than a druid of another race? I think so, but again the problem comes in elevating the philosophy of the druid. Maybe the elvish druid would have more of a nurturing soul.
I like to think that elves live like a Buddhist monk seeking enlightenment with one major difference though. The elves have no need to waste time seeking enlightenment because they have achieved it. They can spend their days applying it.
Gnomes are crazy creatures that are often struggling to fit everything they need to accomplish into a day. They never feel like they complete enough even though their energy is as bustling as a New York city street. This same enthusiasm gives them the outlook that life is wonderful; which is the outlook I would expect from halflings.
Our literature depicts them as small tinkerers and artificers that build and create items of incredible machination. They seem to be the forerunners of science and are most likely to bring change.
Physically they are small, only about two to three feet in height. They are what we would call vertically challenged. Like elves they tend to be lean.
When it comes to playing a gnome the first thing that comes to mind is their height, but it’s so easy to forget. I find it a struggle as a player and a GM to remember that there is a tiny individual among us. It’s not like I’m that short and therefore I don’t actively think about it. It takes a lot of practice for me to remember that I should apply details like that sometimes. Here is a good example of what I’m trying to say.
You’re playing a gnome and you and your party walk into a room. The GM starts rambling a description of the room and its contents, among the list is something that you are interested in. Without thinking you say you’ll grab it, and the GM says OK. What you neglected to realize is that the item is on the top shelf of a bookcase.
Is it a problem? In most situations it’s not. I find that most players would allow for your character not to forget you’re short. But it’s so much more fun if you remember. I mean when was the last time you had to climb up something to sit down? Gnomes have to do that every day in the outside world.
Of course the height factor can be applied in at least two ways. First being small can be a very fun advantage. You can dodge in and out of small places with a rope – like between someone’s legs. The other advantage to being short is inviting tall folk into your humble abode.
The other aspects I mentioned in playing a gnome are simple enough to apply that I don’t feel a need to go into further detail.
Halflings are about as far from the adventuring type that anyone can be. They are often visualized as simple basic people that cherish friends and family. They are the one race that is often portrayed as being hospitable. In their demeanor they are described as being kind and courteous people that will gladly put the needs of others before their own. When it comes to the luxuries of life, as a whole, these kind folk will settle for the simple comforts of life.
Physically halflings are about half the height of a human and are stockier than gnomes.
Halflings are a little bit of a conundrum to me, these little guys are like the butlers of the gaming world. With that being said it is rather difficult to work that into combat and be polite about it. It’s very fun though. It’s much easier to work it into things like seeing that other characters enter a room before you – it’s a courtesy. I’ve always found it humorous when my halfling passes on treasure in favor of the blanket that reminds him of home. It’s not like our fantasy literature presents these little guys this way. So many halflings are seen as rogues, perhaps too many when you look at the description I’ve assembled from rule books. Isn’t it odd that they are thieves? Maybe, the nice thief is often a great con man.
We have covered a lot of ground today. I hope that I have helped you look into the mindsets of the above races. It has revealed some ideas that I believe I have overlooked before. Next week we will talk about the half races, well more about what it can mean to be the unaccepted. I hope you liked this. If you have any questions or comments please leave them.