Monday, May 11, 2015

OSR: Are "Snowflake" Races Bad Game Design?

Orcs in Spaaaaaaace...
(source: Star Wars wikia)
There's been some amount of digital ink spilled about "special snowflake" PCs and how players should not concern themselves with giving themselves a "special" background because their characters become special through play. I'm on board with this idea. Not that a character doesn't need to have background, but that it doesn't have to be "I'm a scion of a lost diety, blad-di-blah"... (But that's not really what this post is about).

However, I recently read a blog post related to world building warning DM's to stay away from this same pitfall when developing their in-game races. (Unfortunately, I don't recall who the author was and can't find the post now).

The gist of it was, "If it walks like an Orc, talks like an Orc, and has a piggy face, call it a damn 'Orc', not a 'Crogosh'..." or something to that effect. At first I found myself nodding to the points. Why make something different in name only for the purpose of wanting your world to feel special or different?

But then I started thinking about the races I wanted in 1st Adventures (an OSR game/setting I am working on). I was working on the ideas for Dwarves and thought of some alternative variants to make them a little less generic.

You see, what I'd like is a more simian Dwarf. What if they had slightly longer arms, prehensile feet and were more like an underground orangutan? And perhaps while they are bi-pedal, the occasionally knuckle walk? What if their underground cities were designed to take advantage of not just walking along the floor, but also brachiating across ceilings and open spaces? What if they didn't just have beards, but were hairy all over like some kind of stout Yeti?

Artist: Carl Jackman

Now... If I just call them "Dwarves" all of that difference gets short-circuited by the meta idea of the players. In their minds, "Dwarves" are back to being stout, Welsh character actors rather than underground simian miners.

You got a problem with me?
I don't see nobody else here.

At the same time, I may want to keep some of the stereotypical Dwarfish aspects, so perhaps I use a racial name that suggests "Dwarf" but is instead something like "Dvar", or "Dwarren".

Where is the line? How much do you change the race before you rename it? Is it ok to sometimes have a Dwarf not be a "Dwarf" and an Orc to be a "Crogosh"?

Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts in the comments!


Only marginally related... but I had to share it anyway.

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