DESIGNER’S DIARY 1: REASONS OF CONFLICT
It’s surprising to us that for 12 years, from our first amateur attempts to this expansive book, orcs, and goblinoids are still ignored as viable player options.
If you take time to look at the various official and 3rd party books and search for the options to play what we call “brutal races”, you’ll find very little. Even though orcs and goblinoids are some of the most popular races to play, also an easy transition for new players to expand into fantasy realms of elves and dwarves to orcs and goblins, all we get is mediocre stat blocks and a recurring theme of “just monsters to kill”.
When players are tired of playing the champions of civilization, they opt to choose either evil elves, dwarves, etc., or play brutal races as good or evil characters. Then they face the biggest glass ceiling: there are actually almost no player options for brutal races. Either you select very generic ones or bargain with your DM to adapt the similar themed options from other races.
Nowadays, even if we get various player choices for flying races, wall-climbing races, teleporting races, and other shenanigans; we don’t get satisfactory content for some of the most popular choices in the game.
Older editions were not that different. Even in some official settings, regional populations were given excluding “green skins”. An area might have had a 200,000 population, but orcs and goblinoids might have tripled that. No matter, they are here for us to kill, so no need to include them.
Also for DMs, brutal races were considered common knowledge. Everyone knows what an orc is, or a hobgoblin is. As we progressed through editions, differences began to form, but they were all superficial. Orcs and hobgoblins filled the same niche, goblins, and kobolds were almost the same, so they were interchangeable for DMs to include. If there were any differences, new DMs would have to either invent them or dig deep to find them in the books, provided they care about it.
We aim to solve this problem. First, for players, then for the DMs.
For both, our first approach is to design the lore. To be consistent in our design, all the writers must be on the same page. The first design choice was what to avoid and what to focus on. We wanted to expand the D&D races, but not rely too much on the tropes of other franchises. We especially wanted to avoid Warcraft orcs with their retconned “noble” spirit and nature spirit course. Warhammer orcs were something to avoid too, because of their mostly humorous presentation.
We wanted Brutal races to feel distinct from one another while feeling true to their origins in D&D lore and gameplay. At first, we thought of making them truly monstrous. We quickly realized that this approach leaves little room for players to expand upon. We wanted players to have as many choices as possible. Making a lot of room for “good-aligned” play would also betray the concept. Was their brutal nature the result of their nature, culture, gods, choices, environment, interactions with other races, circumstances, or a combination of all of those? If it’s the latter, how much of each one’s influence was there?
The lore we settled was important to not make the brutal races a violent offshoot of humans, where a lot of races are diluted to pointy-eared humans, short stacky humans, hairy feet humans, etc. in their mannerisms and culture. We wanted to show an alien, but still a part of the same world culture for our races. We will explore the details in each race’s design diary.
The main design point was gods. The gods have an important part in Brutal Race society. More so than any other race’s life. The gods create and shape these races even more than dwarves and elves, in turn, they are shaped and influenced by the numerous followers they have. We put the gods and their influence in the middle of the lore and expanded from that point.
The second part was the society itself. Other than gods, these races influence each other and form a culture of violence. We explored the reasons behind that culture and its effects of it on the races and the world. So, Brutal Races’ place in the world was established.
The second part of the struggle was to create original content, all the while staying true to the concept we’ve chosen. As long as the concept was solid, it wasn’t too hard. We started on classes first. The classes are the backbone of any D&D society. All of them should have a place in the Brutal Race society. Also, they should all be useful to the players, and unique enough to choose from rather than other options. We will explore each class and its design principles in their respective blog post.
We turned our gaze to the world after classes. Other than pillaging and attacking other races and even different tribes of their races, what were these races doing? We designed uncanny grub, blood hunt, and superstitious magic around that idea. We also thought of a player character party consisting of Brutal Race members. What would be the unifying factor of these to form a party? That question’s answer was the group backgrounds. All of the new mechanics will be explored in their own designer’s diary blog post.
All of these designs come with their peripheral designs. Classes require spells, equipment, feats, and even monsters and NPCs to fight. These were created as we went on.
In the end, we realized that we wanted to create a book about how to play monstrous creatures, but ended up with more: A book about a variety of brutal people, and their lives and we overshoot our estimate of pages by about 250 pages, from 170 initially planned pages to more than 400.
I can go on and on about our design philosophy and struggles, but I must end the blog post at one point. We will meet again with details about the races, their deities, new mechanics, new classes, and many more, each in their own post. Leave a comment below to ask about anything and we’ll answer any questions you may have.