TSI Fridays: Prepping a D&D Campaign Ep. 2: On Races

So it has been a long time since I wrote a TSI article. There are various reasons for that, but just because I have not been putting words to digital paper, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about this stuff. I have been doing a lot of thinking about it and a good chunk of my thought cycles have been dedicated to These Scattered Isles, my oceancrawl setting. And since I came up with a clever name for this article series, I might as well see if I can make a good old try for making this a weekly thing. So let’s go!

One of my big personal requirements for TSI has been the concept of a briefing document, a bunch of notes submitted before players begin the campaign so they know the basics of the world, including stuff like the gods, different factions, different class options that I’m restricting or providing, and, important to today’s article, the changes to the available races I’m providing.

So in the grindy spirit of the daily ramble, lets do some talkin’-

First, I’m cutting out Tieflings. THe devil kin make a statement about the world they exist in. They say “Hey, there are devils here” ANd that’s not a statement I want to make in TSI. I don’t want to run demons or devils as foes. In part because I don’t find them interesting, but also they don’t fit the lore. Devils and demons have weird lore in cannon D&D universes and I don’t want to deal with it in my world. I may use the statblocks for things, but I don’t want the baggage that the diabolic hold, and, by extension, tieflings.

Dragonborn are also out. I’m not going to say “there are no dragons anywhere,” but in a world with boats, dragons can be very scary and I don’t want to fall into that temptation of common dragons and such. We also use them a lot at our table. These may be, however, an “unlockable” race. I picture an island with the savage ‘cannibalistic’ dragonborn that can be captured and civilized or something. Think Queequeg from Moby Dick. I also want kobold to be reserved for these pygmy savages. Like those weird painted rats in some of the redwall books.

I’m also cutting out elves. I have a cool idea about elves, but I decided after a lot of thought that I had a lot of options and I could use my elemental elves in something else and it would make everything work better. (My drow in that project are awesome. Just saying).

The main reason of cutting elves is how I hate Trance. I don’t like it and I don’t want to deal with it. I ignore it fairly often anyway, but I don’t want it to be a thing in my world. And its easier to cut a race than it is to change it.

Half elves are also cut, by association.

Halflings sadly also must go. I had wanted to do something weird with them, but I never made it work. There may be a pun(n)y small colony of halflings somewhere but i don’t really expect anyone to berate the loss.

Humans are staying, gnomes are staying (with changes), dwarves are staying (with different options).

I’m cutting out half orcs, but that’s because I mostly forget they are there. They’re the try hard fighter/barbarian race and that doesn’t make a lot of sense as TSI has copious oceans, not wildlands.

I think that’s it for races from the PHB. I don’t think any of the other splat has allowed races. I pondered Warforged, but decided against a race that would sink to the bottom of the ocean in short order. It may make a fun campaign, but not for worldbuilding.

So what is Mad Matt going to add? Good question!

First the Darfellan. I need to pick up Stormwrack, the book they appeared, if only for more official pictures I can draw from. I don’t like a bit of their lore, but we’ve had one at the table to great effect. Of course, that was some cobbled together homebrew that had no cohesion or real impact on the world. So it’ll need rebuilt. We’ll use Chuuk’s character quirks as a basis for the civilization, but I want to do some cool stuff for the race. I mean, Killer Whales, what the darfellan were based on, are smart enough to use bait. And they can paralyze things with sonar pulses. Because they echolocate. They are cool and a crappy reskin is a poor tribute.

Second, I want merfolk in there. I think they can manifest legs/tail as an action, so it eats time in combat, but outside of structured turns, they’ve got free usage. I don’t have much else for them, yet.

Shardminds were an ‘unlocked’ race from the first run. They’re psychic rocks and they’ll have some cool powers. The Stone King is also a big player on a political scale, so that should be cool too.

Calmar is the working name. They’re half octopus. I’m not sure what I want to keep from it. The race hasn’t been played to good effect, yet. SO I need to work on that. Maybe badger a DM into letting me use it. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts and they bring it away from its origins. I dunno.

I’ve also though about Selkies, a Celtic legend of seal people who can become human. But I’m not sure on it. It feels thrown in randomly as opposed to blended with the world. Sanguin or Koa Toua as playable races is also a thought, but I haven’t decided if its a useable one or not.

And I’m sure there is a bunch of races out there I can use. If you have any I should consider, let me know! Other than that, we’ll come back and hit this some other time.


This article is number 3 of a daily D&D ramble Grind. If you have a topic Matt should cover, leave a comment!

Join the Conversation


  1. Have you thought about re-skinning the cut races into the added races?
    On the other hand, are people going to bothered if trance was taken out of the elven racial kit? It has rarely, if ever come up in campaigns I have been in, but your experience may be different. Even the immunity to magical sleep is only useful against a very specific magical effect (though it could probably be left in anyway as the half-elf needs sleep yet is still immune to magical sleep).
    On the third hand, could half-elves be re-skinned as elves? I understand the desire to maintain verisimilitude, but cutting two PHB races because of one racial ability that one of them has seems excessive.
    Disclaimer: There may be more reasons for this choice and I don’t want to assume, but they weren’t mentioned in the article so I am commenting on what was.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting! People like you keep guys like me honest 😀 A bit of my word choice came from trying to meet an arbitrary word quota and the assumption that only the people from my table would read and not comment, as they usually do, the schmucks.

      First, to try and reclaim some credibility, there are indeed more reasons then the stated hating of Trance. Hating Trance is, in itself, a much bigger idea that may deserve some ramble at some point.

      On reskinning: The Angry DM has a better written bit somewhere that says something along the lines of: “Reskinning is useful. You’re better than that.” I have indeed used reskinning to make races and monsters before and, in a pinch, they work pretty good. There’s always a bit of squeak around the coat of wet paint, but most players won’t notice or care. But I don’t have to run this tonight. It may be years before I run something off of this and I’d like to get it right. The races I’m adding are fairly different from anything established. Most of them are built based on animals that all have some pretty cool abilities for being real. Shardmind and merfolk have been around before, so I’ll do some research before diving into confirming those races exactly.

      On elves: Your mileage may vary from this, but, personally, I have never been in a game where being an elf meant anything other than the statblock. We have never met with elves, fought elves, or found an elven ruin. At the table I am from, Elves, H. Elves, and Humans all seem to just mix together and it doesn’t matter who they are as a race. This is not a thing I like. Most of the races at our table seem to be able to get along with others without any friction, other than general individual jerkery. It makes it a lot simpler for people to play any race that they want. And, since we seem to always have newer players, they play those races how they want. And of course, it would be a jerk move on our part to correct someone new, saying that’s not what an elf is like, as we know in our enlightened modern time, that everyone is an individual and racial stereotypes are evil and so on. So we let it slide and the traditional identity of these species slip away.

      Except, of course, for the Drow. It may be due to Drizzt, or maybe just a collective unconscious in the game, but drow always seem to be evil, or lame copy of Salvatore’s hero. It doesn’t matter what setting I’m trying to run at the table, Drow=Evil is the first thing people thing. And drow players then butcher the party, claiming to be playing their alignment. Or the party refuse to trust an NPC or a PC even, because it’s a drow.

      I hate that. I hate these shackles of identity Tradition has heaped upon us. And I can see no way to fix it at my table, other than to say “Okay, forget all you know about these species, this is what we’re using. This is their history, their identity, their mindset.” And while it won’t fix all of the games at the table, it will let the TSI setting be free of preconceptions. Ideally, while the stat information will be the same, my briefing document will have a chunk of lore on the starting species, art based in the world, names that invoke my concepts. I don’t want this setting to be universal, like the PHB has to be, but specific. Unique.

      I did toy with having elves in the setting for a bit. They grew ships of coral. The dark elves had airships that flew close to the sun (as an Underdark underwater is tricky). And I toyed with making the elves elemental, four types for the four elements, and finally, i decided that they didn’t really fit into the lore I was building for it. I decided against airships (and good thing, as a friend is making an airship based world) and I decided elves didn’t have a place that could be easily taken up with merfolk and humans. The gods had only recently made the world, after all, and being nearly immortal hasn’t caught on as a goal yet.

      Finally, I think “Elf” is a comfortable race for some players and I want to try to break some people out of this comfort zone. This world, (hopefully), is going to be a different experience. I want that difference to start at character creation.

      Hope that covered your questions! Thank you for asking!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *