D&D Monstrous Races Really Miscast My Cantrips

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If you’re a frequent reader, you know I like to jump onto whatever topic the Nerdarchists are talking about any given week and throw in my 2 cp. Recently, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted are covered the gith chapter from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes and I simply gave a soft sigh. The gith are a combination of just about everything I find uninteresting in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. Living in a plane of existence beyond the material, psionics, and being a monstrous race. Let’s dive into why I dislike D&D monstrous races and ways that disdain has made my game better. Well, at least I think it’s better.

A githyanki astride a red dragon confronts a githzerai as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]

Normalizing the weird

When I’m playing D&D, I’m really looking to explore characters and a world. Especially a world so packed full of weird creatures and happenings like a world steeped in D&D lore. Not surprisingly, I live in the mundane world. Well, comparatively mundane. I do not have magic, dragons, and ancient elven ruins to explore in my world. These concepts are very interesting to me and a lot of that is derived from their rarity and their mysterious nature.

A dragonborn as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. [Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast]
The more oddity you infuse into the world and the more often these odd entities are hanging around doing normalized tasks, the less impact they have on me. I find dragons to be terrifying foes. Massive, intelligent, powerful and all packed into a reptilian, winged body with a nasty breath weapon. Despite what others might say, I do not find five dragons more intimidating than one. There is a tendency for people to over saturate with things they like or find interesting.

If every session becomes planar travel, fighting demons, and riding dragons, all these interesting aspects become dull and routine. Stories based in a world of weird tend to be most compelling when you are anchored to a character who is mostly normal and experiencing the world through a vision similar to you, one that can be filled with wonder and impressed.

But I have a silly hat

Rarely do I find a dragonborn player character to be played how I imagine it would. They are large, lizard-like beings cut from a completely different walk of life. The anatomy of it speaking would be so odd, let alone how it views life and deals with problems. For lack of a better term, dragonborn and other monstrous races might as well be aliens for how different they would be to humans.

Instead of playing into this, I often find players come excited to play their tiefling fighter/warlock/cleric and really it just acts like a human but also has cool horns and a tail. The otherworldly presence of demonic kin, whether they are trying to balk their nature or not, is not present as a character. It is so jarring to me when I step back and envision the party and see a dwarf, elf, dragonborn, and half-orc, but after 30 minutes of listening without a little name tag, you wouldn’t be able pick out any differences. I like to think a racial choice should be more than a mechanical advantage. It should come with traits, habits, culture, and a general sense for what this being is. You can still distinguish yourself within these parameters, being an interesting character who attempts to break these standards. Monstrous characters and the weird in general within the hobby should have gravity to it and mean something to the narrative.

Thanks for reading to the end. I know this is a bit more divisive of a topic, but I do feel strongly about it. As always, I don’t want to make anyone feel like they’re having fun wrong. Hell, when I want over-the-top crazy, I play Rifts, which really does take the cake for being nothing but outlandish concepts constantly. But, I can’t play it often. It’s like a fun little vacation. What do you think? Am I completely off base on this one? Let me know in the comments below. As always, stay nerdy!

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Follow Jacob Kosman:
Child of the Midwest, spending his adolescence dreaming of creating joy for gaming between sessions of cattle tending. He holds a fondness for the macabre, humorous and even a dash of grim dark. Aspiring designer spending most of his time writing and speculating on this beautiful hobby when he isn't separating planes.

2 Responses

  1. Alex Aloi
    | Reply

    Put me on the side of monstrous characters. I, for one, love to roleplay as something weird, because it gives me the chance to step outside the general dwarf/elf/human that I usually play. And it comes with interesting challenges as well! I recently played a kobold who had to hide his identity in human settlements because otherwise he’d be killed on sight. It was an interesting challenge to try and keep up the “masquerade” while trying to accomplish my goals. Also, it was fun to roleplay his desire for his favorite food: rat on a stick.

    I would argue that giving players the opportunity to step into the weird and become part of it is part of the fun of D&D. My most recent articles on the site are kind of about this concept, of course, so I’m a bit biased int hat regard.

  2. Doug Vehovec
    | Reply

    i really enjoy playing unusual races in D&D, but equally so any nonhuman race. Exploring something different from me on the most basic level is more interesting than trying new classes or subclasses. As as player i’ve always been disappointed by restrictions, especially severe ones like everyone has to play a human. When I am the DM, players can play whatever most interests them and if it happens to be a rare/unusual race for the setting, that’s fine. It might lead to intriguing scenarios.

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