Making New Kinds of People
Homebrew content is a really great way to make a game feel like it’s truly your own, which in turn can lead to longer interest in running it. Sometimes it can be hard to make something that players will care about, since they are not any more connected to elves and dwarves than they are to your homebrew races in terms of ownership. This is why it’s important to consider a few different things when making homebrew races if you want players to pick them up. For my own campaign setting I have created 12 new races, and this was a beast of a task. My setting is focused around racial differences as well as laws, treaties, and borders, so it made sense to have a ton of distinct options. Here is how I made some races that were distinctly different from the ones that come in the books.
First, I started with races I liked, and altered them. My first draft of what would later become “Witherow” in my setting was to make dwarves who were non-violent. I imagined dwarves who truly were the worlds greatest craftsmen, and so they were the leaders in trade, design, and global reach. They still lived in mountains, but they did not have a ton of facial hair, and they didn’t make weapons for the sake of fighting, but for the sake of perfection. Their desire to create and trade meant that in my setting, their native language was the common language for the world. It’s a good idea to take an existing race that you like, and change some critical aspects of it to make something different, because it’s a comfortable jumping off point as you create more.
Next I thought about things that did not exist in any race in the game so far. I created the Klayven, a relatively young race in the world, that came into being from the incredible magics that were unleashed during a great war. Their appearances vary wildly, and when describing one, typically you can point to two spells in the game that make them up. For example, one might be based on flesh to stone and searing light, meaning their appearance is that of a stone person with glowing eyes and brilliant white-blonde hair. There are no races that are created entirely by magic, so this provided the players with something they couldn’t get in the base setting.
Finally, it’s important to think of why it matters that you have different races. What I mean is that, it’s not enough to have a stand in for elves, dwarves, and halflings if the feel of the game is going to be the same. If you’re making a single homebrew race to plug into an existing setting, you need to be clear about what their experience is like in this world, and make it something different than other race relations. Don’t create a new race of small bunny-people just to have them live in a peaceful, secluded part of the world like halflings; that’s not going to give players much draw to try roleplaying one. Make your new race stand out; perhaps they were shunted through time and have come to rest in the present, or maybe they are the product of many years of exposure to some strange substance and the world doesn’t trust them.
When I made my races, several of them had enough physical similarities to other races that there could be uncertainty about who someone was when you met them. The Ge’lepo are a race of frog-like people, who might be confused for a frog Lycan (a race of animal hybrid people), who could be confused with a Klayven in the right circumstance (like if that Klayven was made from a combination of the spells Water Breathing and Polymorph). This meant that there could be a lot of interactions between people where they would have misconceptions about the races, and may even improperly attribute them to a member of the wrong race. The main thing you need to consider is how your race is different; in looks, in abilities, but also in how they exist in relation to the world and the other people in it.