Friday, January 20, 2006

Cultures: D&D campaign tool idea

The most basic decisions in creating a D&D character are the selection of race and class. To these parameters I would propose adding a third dimension, culture. The purpose of the cultural parameter is to sort through a large array of chargen options to create patterns in the campaign world. Examples:

Culture one (bog standard fantasy)
races: human, half-elf, hill dwarf, high elf, halfing, gnome
classes: fighter, cleric, wizard, rogue
prestige classes: arcane archer, eldritch knight

Culture two (the vaguely Norman guys invading the island home of culture one)
races: human, half-elf, grey elf, mountain dwarf, gnome, half-orc, orc
classes: warmain, paladin, cloistered cleric, magister, unfettered, mageblade
prestige classes: assassin, tactical soldier, archmage
weapons: bastard sword

Culture three (Celtic? Norse? Whatever.)
races: human, half-elf, wood elf, deep dwarf, troll
classes: barbarian, ranger, spirit shaman, scout

Culture four (Orientalist adventures, ahoy!)
races: human, mountain dwarf, wood elf, goblin, hobgoblin
classes: samurai, shujenka, sohei, wu jen, ninja, monk
prestige classes: contemplative, ronin, dragon samurai, kensai, ghost-faced killa

Members of each culture would speak a cultural tongue in addition to Common. Characters would only have access to classes, prestige classes, feats, etc. from their own culture. To add something from another culture I envision some kind of mechanic hurdle has to be jumped. Maybe a feat 'Worldly', with a pre-req of speaking one or two other cultural languages.

I would also make some classes non-culture specific. I'm thinking here about the NPC classes, the Generic classes from Unearthed Arcana, and maybe self-taught classes like Sorcerer. World-spanning organizations might have prestige classes outside the culture system as well.

An additional benefit is that a clever DM can filter out particularly annoying class/race/whatever combos. Hate spiked chain fighters? Put spiked chain in one culture and the fighter class in another. Make the players work to achieve the most tasty cheese.


  1. Forgotten Realms does something similar in spirit with the regional feats. You have to be from a certain region to take certain spiffy feats.

  2. Living Greyhawk does some regional feats as well. The problem with this approach is that A) class and race are bigger identity tags than feats so if you really want to put culture front and center feats is a weak way to achieve it and B) most of the regional feats I've seen for LG suck.

    Not that feats alone couldn't work, but the wussified way that LG implements it is no good. You want players to care about culture? Make Cleave or Scribe Scroll a cultural feat. Adding in some milquetoast feats no one cares about will not get the jorb done.

  3. I had to remove a whole race from my Erisa campaign because of the abuse. No Elves. and I was doing it 2 years before Talisanta thought of it.

  4. Certain cultures could also have skills that automatically become class skills.

    Feats are tricky. It would be nice if feats had a variable cost, then you could have them cost less for certain cultures. The way I'd implement this? Introduce Feat Points. Characters gain 1 feat point a level and three feat points on levels at which they would normally acquire feats (1, 3, 6, 9, etc.).

    Feats cost between 3 and 5 feat points. Not all feats are created equal, as we know, so rating them shouldn't be a huge deal (though it would be time consuming).

    Cultural feats could get discounted by one feat point if you are in the appropriate culture.

    Also, you might want to look at The Secret of Zir'an at some point to see how they handle this.