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Genuine Thoughts on Race Design

Races are one of the most direct ways of defining a character origin, and they're an important part of the character creation process.

When designing these Alfallen races, I wanted to show two things: price, and reward.

Note that this isn't from a mechanical perspective - none of these races will have downsides or other awkward modifiers to make them artificially unsuitable for certain classes or character archetypes.

Instead, I wanted to show a more personal and pressing price - the loss of oneself. Tabletop roleplaying games are often about the fantasy of immersing oneself in another world created by the minds of other humans. That's one of the primary draws in all media - seeing the beauty that others can create, and escaping from an ordinary existence into a dreamlike fantasy. We create personal avatars to interact with these fantastical worlds, and the rewards are obvious: fun, enjoyment, and inspiration!

However, this isn't about reality. This is about fantasy, and the price one pays for that fantasy. Imagine actually being able to make the kind of deal one would make with an otherworldly patron - being able to exchange something you hold valuable for real, tangible power. Not going to a bank and getting a loan, or buying a product, but literally purchasing personal physical and mental ability in an instant. This isn't something we can do in reality, as much as it's advertised that we can.

When creating the Alfallen races, I wanted to highlight that this kind of sacrifice is often also of one's humanity (or elvishness, dwarvishness, dragonbornishness, etc.) and that there must be a compelling reason for that kind of investment. Imagine being told that you could be paid one million dollars, today, but in exchange, you had to have your arms be replaced by weird, freakish tentacles, and the process would be painful and everyone would forevermore see you as a person who was willing to go through that.

We can joke and say "Sure, that'd be fun!" but if you were really, truly, honestly presented with that choice, could you still agree? Some people can. If that million dollars meant the salvation of their loved ones or themselves, then they might eagerly agree. Those are the kinds of people who could be persuaded to make pacts with the Alrisen - individuals who are driven by incredibly strong motivations, and who perceive themselves as having much to gain.

We can lose ourselves in our characters, and watch as our characters lose themselves to their ambitions. Still, we show that there's a reward, and a tangible one - power, strength, and otherworldly abilities that no human living today could perform unaided. That's the power of the Alrisen. The reward is getting exactly what you want at a price you were willing to pay.

Each of these races is designed to tap into one or more of those instinctual and primal desires. The Arachi, of the Weaver of Lies, is a perfect example, because their core idea is built around regret. Everyone has regrets in life, and we can all imagine how nice it would be to forget about those regrets. The Arachi represent that desire to forget, and by expanding upon that idea, we can easily extrapolate into a variety of cultural and personal behaviors that a typical member will exhibit.

I've chosen to view these racial categories as individuals whose bloodlines or choices have caused them to end up as Alfallen, exhibiting the full extent of their heritage or the results of their patron's eldritch power. However, this doesn't mean that they're exclusive. An individual could be classified racially as an elf, despite showing many of the traits of an Ashenspawn, for example, because they would lack the full extent of the Ashen Wolf's dark blessing.

To design a fantasy race is to say that a group of people is different at their core, in a pure and fundamental way that has left enough of a mark upon them as to make them impossible to classify with another group. This is why the Alfallen races exist, as they are people who have either been born with that fundamental difference, or have gone to the farthest reaches of sanity in order to express it.

The question is: are you willing to go there too?

Thanks for reading! If you've got comments or suggestions, send me a message via the contact form on the main page!

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