Reading the many updates in this thread, I thought I would chime in with a couple of considerations. So here are my 3 pennies.1) Roleplay vs Power-gaming.
When there is disagreement downstream, the source of it is sometimes rooted in the definitions. So I'll spell out mine explicitly.Roleplay is about treating the character as its own person
, with their story and evolution within the adventure and fictional world. In particular, making the character act in-character, and not according to the mood or knowledge of the player. Power-gaming is about making the character mechanically good
, especially at doing what their class is supposed to be doing. This usually implies starting with 16+ on your main Ability Score. Min-maxing is a particular case of power-gaming
, where one boosts all the useful Ability Scores and dumps the others.
By these definitions, roleplaying and power-gaming are independent
. One can engage in neither, one but not the other, or both
Doesn't this help both power-gaming and role-playing? If I wanted to play a goblin shaman (druid), roleplaying how I became disillusioned with goblin society, realizing that goblins that are out of balance with the world, VGtM Goblins (+2 Dex, +1 Con) punishes this. Like, okay, I could play with 14 Wis. But that will just make me less mechanically effective in game which will be less fun.
Thats pure power gaming. A role player would not care that his goblin shaman would only have 14 Wis. Rather he would see this as part of his character and role.
So no, it doesn't improve role playing at all. It just allows powergamers to pretend that they are role playing.
The No True Scotman vibe is strong in these statements.2) Statistics and essentialism.
The racial Ability Score Increases/Bonuses are there to reflect the statistical
differences between the DnD races.
And it seems to me that some of the views on what is an acceptable level-1 adventurer of a given race might, perhaps, stem from falling in a statistical trap.If a set of numbers has a higher average than a second set of numbers, that does not mean that every number from the first set is higher than every number in the second set
. For example, we know that human males are on average taller than females, by about 13cm. Yet everybody has already seen a woman taller than at least some men. This can carry over to the top of the distribution : a random woman in the top 5% of the tallest women can be taller than a random man in the top 5% of the tallest men.
Now, let's look at DnD.
a) From a mechanical point of view :
If players roll for their Ability Scores, it is completely possible for an Elf to start with 16, 17 or even 18 Strength.
A halfling with 16 or 17 Str at level 1, is simply flawed to me.
The rules, as written, say it is fine.
(Naturally, this example is not possible with Point-Buy. There is a risk with Roll : you can start with a weak character (and weaker than the rest of your group). Some people are fine with it, but many people don't like having a couple of bad rolls penalising them for the next 6 months. The Point-Buy system addresses this risk, as you reduce the variance to 0, but it bars you from starting with some of the most exceptional adventurers. If you want to play with an 18-Strength Human Fighter at level 1, you have to be lucky. It's a peculiar design philosophy, and a very poor choice in my opinion, since it goes against the idea of "play the character you want to play", but that's another topic.)
b) From a thematic/lore point of view :
The racial ASI make it so that, if you were to roll many Elves and many Half-Orcs, without permutation of the scores, you would find the Half-Orcs to have more Strength than the Elves, on average, while the latter would have more Dexterity than the former, on average. These sets would be reflective of the lore, the statistical differences between races, and the racial stereotypes that accurately stem from them (Half-Orcs are strong, Elves are agile). But the adventurers we play are exceptional, they are in the top of the statistical distribution for whatever race, class or skills they have. Also, the adventurers are not large sets. They are just a few points from their population.
It is thus completely possible to have a party with a 17-Strength Elf Barbarian and a 16-Strength Half-Orc Paladin. The former is statistically more exceptional than the latter (say, the 17-Strength Elf might be in the 1% strongest Elves, while the 16-Str Half-Orc might be in the 3% strongest Half-Orcs but not the top 2%), but that's fine. Not every adventurer is reflective of their whole race. Not every pair of adventurer in a party is reflective of the statistical differences between the races.
That's just how probabilities and statistics work. And there is good roleplaying to be had with characters that are walking stereotypes, just as there is good roleplaying to be had by going against stereotype.
No, if you want to roleplay you will roleplay a goblin with all its advantages and disadvantages because that makes him a goblin. He is incredibly wise for his people, which is also what makes him PC material exceptional, but he can't match a wise human (yet he is still more wise than 90% of humans he will meet and certainly more wise than nearly all goblins).
A Halfling PC, should never be as strong as Half Orc or Goliath, at level 1, when both focus on Strength. It simply shouldnt.
The more I think of it, the more I think people should not have a problem with the Custom Origin rule, but with the Point-Buy rule.
Now, if a group wants to turn the stereotypes into hard-rules-of-the-universe, with every (adventurer, Strength-focused) Half-Orc being stronger than every (adventurer, Strength-focused) Elf, they can. If a group wants to put a cap at 15 for the Strength of level 1 Elf (regardless of age, years of training, and backstory), they can. That's leaning into essentialism, and is not a great thing, but hey, to each group their play. The PHB rules do not support this, but that's not problem : many GMs do not play in the official DnD settings after all. 3) Lore implications.
Fundamentally, what the new Custom Origins rule does is allowing the players to create a statistically rarer character, which Point-Buy does not allow, without having to Roll for ages (which BG3 will likely allow us to do) or hope to be super lucky (on tabletop).
It does not mean that the racial statistical differences no longer exist in the Forgotten Realms. It just makes it easier to break away from the stereotypes.
And what happens when some race provides no meaningful benefit to being a fighter, while Half-Orcs are over there with their purely racial benefits? Do we ask that they lose those, or do we turn them into feats so that all races have the same potential?
When does it simply become 'forget about different races'.
That sounds like a Slippery Slope. I think that races like Dragonborn have very particular racial traits (the breath weapon). So it doesn't sound likely that Custom Origins will eventually lead the complete homogenisation of races.
To be honest, I don't know what WotC plans to do with the rules and the lore. But I wouldn't mind if they re-worked the rules to better separate race from culture (so you wouldn't have Elven Weapon Training tied to being an Elf, but to growing up in an Elven society). Again, so that very conceivable roleplay concepts could be implemented within the official rules.
In the end, I anticipate race limited ASI will be seen as socially unacceptable and removed, so it is what it is.
I wouldn't bet money on it, but I'm no Diviner. I think that the racial ASI and the character creation rules in general should just give prompts, like the personality tables, for new players who don't know the lore and don't mind creating a cliché. There are ways to give these prompts and suggest statistical racial differences in the lore without closing doors for Player Characters. Custom Origins might lose a bit on the "prompt" aspect, but it does open the doors. Back to Custom Origins in BG3.
As I said, I doubt Larian will add the races and (sub)classes from other books (DMG, VGtM, SCAG, XGtE, TCoE, ...), as they can keep this for expansions.
But the Custom Origins rule from TCoE is a good idea, and Larian will hopefully add it. It might even have been on their roadmap from the start. And WotC is quite keen on making DnD be for everyone, so even if Larian wasn't naturally planning on adding Custom Origins, WotC might actually request this.
PS1 : I took as example the Strength difference between the Elves and the Half-Orcs. I could have taken the Halflings and Firbolgs. This however brings in a new factor : size. 5E has some rules related to it, but if mechanical realism is the goal, one can consider that 5E doesn't factor that in enough. Why not. One can however replace my examples with the Wisdom of a Hill Dwarf and a Goblin, or the Intelligence of a High-Elf and a Half-Orc, etc.
PS2 : That thread got me into thinking that Point-Buy really isn't great, and come up with the following variant, which sounds better.
- Ability Scores are limited to 17 (or 18), at level 1 (after character creation).
- Start with M Ability Points in each Ability (say M=8, like in the PHB), as well as N Purchase Points (to be determined). Buying one Ability Point costs one Purchase Point, up until 15, then 2 PP until 17, then 3 PP for the 18th AP (if made available).
- Apply vanilla Ability Score Improvements after purchase.
This still includes the racial ASI in the creation of an adventurer (which is perhaps questionable), but there are no locked options. The racial ASI only gives you more savings if you max the incentivised Abilities.
(Yes, this allows for guaranteed 18 at level 1. If it's possible to obtain out of luck, why not just say it's possible. The game's difficulty can be maintained by giving all enemies +1 to AC, ST and DC, or putting more of them, if maintaining that difficulty is felt necessary.)
Scribe's system has the advantage that 2 of the 3 Bonus Ability Points come from the character's backstory (Class training and Background), and thus allows players to focus on how the character came to be as good as they are, instead of what they are and how statistically exceptional that is within the distributions for their race.