Many campaign settings strive for a more human-focused style but this often turns away many players as they see the lack of fantastic races as limiting character options. This is mechanically true if you get rid of all these races and do nothing to compensate for their absence. Often this is done through having cultural archetypes become replacements for distinct D&D playable races. Another way to accomplish this is to simply reskin character races as human cultures from your all human campaign setting. In this way, the standard assortment of D&D playable races are still available but appear and play like variations of humans.
Running an all human campaign using existing D&D playable races
Common modifications to the races is to make them fit the physical dimensions of humans. This does not mean the same height and weight, just within that range. Converting dwarfs, for example, you might make them on the short range of human height and especially for halflings and gnomes who are often seen as very small compared to humans. Another consideration is special senses like darkvision. Removing them from play is not a game breaker and I feel requires no other compensation.
While there is not room enough to cover every core race in the space of one article, below I have created a few examples. For the purposes of this article I will be creating a setting for the sake of example only. I have not played this world and all readers should feel completely free to borrow from it or use it whole cloth. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: The Origin system for character creation in Hellscapes, a post-apocalytpic rule system for 5E, presents a unique take on the style of D&D playable races.]
In the mineral rich southern lands is the land of Sunder. The folk of this region are robust and sturdy folk well adapted over generations to the cliffs and crags of their rocky home. They make their living by rending the fruits of that rock and selling it to the other kingdoms. To this end they have become quite adept in working with gems and metals and while they are not the most delicate of artists, none can deny the workmanship of the folk of Sunder.
The folk of Sunder are divided into two castes, the warrior elite Thuun (mountain dwarf) and the working class Sharl (hill dwarf). While the Thuun are more martially trained, the Sharl take on the majority of the labor, craft and artisan roles among the Sunderfolk. The two castes live apart from one another in fortified cities that have separated into distinct districts. Most folk outside of Sunder are familiar only with the Sharl caste with nobles and merchants being the only ones with any regular contact with the Thuun.
Commentary: For the dwarf I have taken the idea of two distinct subraces and combined them into a single race that is defined not so much by physical differences but by their position in their combined society. The heavy-hitting mountain dwarf makes a great warrior caste and the more keen (Wisdom) hill dwarf is a great model for a working class. Tool proficiency is one area in this reskin that gets muddy. It would be easy enough to move the tool proficiency to the subrace and give the Thuun options that reflect more of a noble bearing like gaming sets, writing tool kits, etc.
Long renowned for their skill in the arcane arts, artistic expression and the grace and majesty with which they comport themselves, Jomen (high elves) comprise several kingdoms along the southwestern coast. Divided into many city-states such as Akulena, Sho-Soreb, and Tahal, Jomen control a goodly amount of the trade and commerce up and down that coast. Their eastern borders touch upon the rugged lands of Sunder where they get a steady supply of metals and gemstones. Trade routes from Sunder to the coastal city-states passes through a vast track of wilderness where can be found the last vestiges of the old Jomen tribes, known as the Taroket (wood elves).
Taroket tribes are small, often nomadic but all detest trespassers through their ranging territory and so the merchant caravans and travelers moving their lands, often come under attack or at least extortion from these wild raiders. Some of the Jomen city-states have hired Taroket mercenaries, keeping contingents of them in their standing armies or granting them lands along their borders where they serve as border wardens or buffer armies.
Both the Taroket and Jomen are known across the lands for their strength of will and unusual awareness. Some say this comes from their direct descent from ancient, divine bloodlines while others claim it comes down to the institutionalized/traditional conditioning of the mind and body possessed in different forms but by both peoples.
Commentary: Elves lend themselves well to both highly civilized and wild paradigms. In this instance, I kept the two connected, similarly to what was done with the dwarf but detaching the two subraces into distinct, but related peoples. The connection here would be similar to some of the Asians empires where highly developed peoples lived with folk of the same ethnic stock, though of much less developed civilization, on their borders. It would be just as easy to split these two subraces into totally different cultures. Again, we can do away with darkvision here and change the nature of their proficiency in Perception from a case of heightened senses to a preternatural awareness. Bonus languages and cantrips make sense for a learned society of humans and the ability to blend into one’s environment is a solid fit for wilderness dwelling humans. Weapon proficiency for the different subraces could be changed to fit cultures or fighting styles without any great trouble. If you wished to incorporate the eladrin into this mix it might be a cool idea to use them as a secret subsect of the Jomen similar to the legendary ninja clans of Japan.
Dragon Clans of the north (dragonborn)
The northern borderlands is populated by tribes of superstitious barbarians known as the Dragon Clans. Each of these clans claims as its totem one of the ancient races of dragons. While most of the people of these clans are ordinary humans, every generation is marked by several among them who bear the the Mark of the Dragon and have a special affinity for their tribes totem spirit. The Dragon Clans are a contentious bunch carrying on vendettas, feuds and alliances as their ancestries and current politics dictate. Honorable to a fault, they often hold grudges and debts sacred
Commentary: Admittedly modelling something so inhuman as a dragonborn is a bit more challenging than something like an elf or a dwarf. Here I have used an obvious solution which is to simply reskin the Draconic Ancestry as a totemic gift granted to a select few (those PCs). The rest of the people of these clans are normal humans with no special abilities (use standard human).
Umshoni (rock gnomes)
The Kingdom of Umshom is a place of knowledge and progress. Scholars from around the word gather in the capital city of Zudom to exchange and procure knowledge. Artificers, craftsmen and artisans of all kinds can be found all over the land and the cities of Umshon literally overflow with finely made wares, with stall and carts lining any market street. Guilds and co-ops control all aspects of skilled labor and trade within the kingdom. Many of the talented builders of the land set out to other lands to learn new secrets and to make a name for themselves.
Commntary: Rock gnomes easily led themselves to a learned folk of advanced thinkers. Their proficiency on saves also models a rational, thinking people who might be better able to reason through the effects of many forms of magic.
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RPGs , DM for decades, miniatures sculptor and enthusiast, father to gaming children, husband to a gaming wife.
The name Elf Bait comes from a running gag carried on since high school where my friends and I joked that our creative ideas were being stolen by tiny little elves that took our ideas to the powers that be. Over the decades this has become something of a badge of pride, knowing that we had ideas that were not only cool to us but deemed cool enough by professionals (not that we think they really took our ideas) for commercial use.