March 4, 2012 by "Jester" David
Variant races are hardly something new: in First Edition AD&D there were already three different types of elves (plus sea elves), a couple different gnomes, a trio of halflings, and handful of dwarves. Sub-races have made an appearance in almost every edition to date.
In 4th Edition, sub-races were initially handled via feats in the Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide, which made them difficult to implement at first level. It took some time for true sub-races to make their début for4th Edition, finally appearing in the Neverwinter campaign guide (excluding the dragonborn subrace that appeared in Dragon magazine) .
Here are a five new sub-races for your game, designed to add a dash of variety to existing races. For simplicity, each race only has their power swapped-out and replaced so little modification has to be done to printed character sheets. Power cards have also been provided, so the new options can be slipped into your game as seamlessly as possible.
Unlike other mortal beings whose souls depart following death, the race of descended angels known as devas are locked into a cycle of reincarnation and rebirth. Devas who fall in battle return to the World, but only after a period of dormancy as their soul slowly creates a new vessel to host their consciousness.
Tasked deva are different, being chosen for a divine purpose and unable rest, which prevents a leisurely return life; instead, tasked deva return after a number of days, consuming some essence of past lives to either fuel their rebirth or sustain current incarnation. This is not done lightly: if a tasked deva resurrects itself too often they risk using all of their previous lives and destroying their own soul in the process, permanently dying with no chance of reincarnation.
The duty of a tasked deva is typically a holy mission assigned by their favoured deity. The deva is typically privy to the details of the quest, but some have only vague impression of their quest. Other devas became tasked after vowing to complete a deed or perform some service, and feel personally responsible to see it to completion. A rare few were tricked into an unbreakable oath or signed a magical contract and are now compelled to fulfil their end of the bargain.
Role-Playing a Tasked Deva
Bear the weight of several lifetimes. Deva are functionally immortal, never truly dying. However, most have only hazy memories of their pasts, which fade after reincarnation. You remember everything: if your quest takes generation you recall all of the intervening time.
Dedicated to the task. You are focused on your sworn duty, be it a simple yet lengthy mission or an impossible task. All tasked deva have a strong sense of obligation and responsibility or they would shirk their task or would let their oath lapse with death. How you handle the burden varies: you might drift into obsession with your duty or view the quest as a journey to be enjoyed.
Remember death and dying. The difference between a deva on a quest and a tasked deva and is that a tasked deva has died and refused to stay dead. All deva have died and been reincarnated, but you remember your deaths, remember the agony of dying, and fear of the unknown.
Tasked Deva Benefits
When creating a tasked deva, you gain the following benefits. These benefits replace memory of a thousand lifetimes.
Refusal to Die: Tasked deva refuse to die easily, knowing the time it takes to regenerate and resurrect might add months or even years to their task. They use some of the accrued energy of past lifetimes to sustain themselves and recover from injury. Benefit: You die after four failed Death saving throws, instead of three. Additionally, on a successful death saving throw, you can choose to use Second Wind as no action.
Self Resurrection: Instead of dying and then reincarnating on a distant holy site, tasked devas regenerate their injured bodies to continue their mission. This is a painful and unpleasant process that destroys some of the deva’s past lives, essentially consuming a part of its own soul. This does require the tasked deva’s body to be mostly intact and too much damage forces the deva to reincarnate normally and hope they remember enough to continue their quest. Benefit: Each day after dying you can make a death saving throw as if you were only dying and not dead. If the result a 20 or higher you a can spend a healing surge normally and return to life. You suffer penalties as if the Raise Dead ritual had been used. If in the intervening time, your companions instead perform the Raise Dead ritual, the ritual costs a quarter of the normal amount and the death penalty fades after only two milestones.
The draconic heritage of dragonborn typically manifests in their breath weapon, suggesting the colour of their ancient progenitor. Some dragonborns inherent a different gift from their wyrm ancestors, and are born with wings.
Some suggested winged dragonborn are secretly the offspring of polymorphed dragons, the chosen of one of the dragon gods, or simple freaks of nature. Dragonborn themselves are split between believing their winged offspring are throwbacks to an earlier lineage or are fated for great things with their wings symbolizing their destiny.
Winged dragonborn do not always breed true. The children of winged dragonborn might also have wings, dragonbreath, or even the rarer ability to radiate dragonfear. There are small communities of dragonborn exclusively with wings, but even in these villages the occasional wingless dragonborn hatches.
Role-Playing a Winged Dragonborn
The burden of greatness. Winged dragonborn are seldom seen as insignificant; even when viewed as dangerous abominations they are noteworthy. You have never been ignored and are used to standing out in a crowd. Your whole life you have been told you were special or had a destiny. You might grow arrogant under the attention or just long to be normal.
Feel the wind beneath your wings. Other races and peoples run, but you soar. Nothing else is the same and you long to be in the air, with the ground far below. As such, you are used to observing the world from the sky, seeing a little farther than others, and always wondering what’s just over the next ridge.
Live with a different perspective.You might view yourself as superior to your land-locked brethren. This might be because you believe the rumours your are more in touch with your draconic heritage or graced by the blood of Io. Or this might be because you often literally look down upon you neighbours.
Winged Dragonborn Benefit
Flight: A winged dragonborn seldom has the energy or strength to carry themselves over long distances. Flying is exhausting, especially in a tactical situation. Benefit: Once per encounter, you gain a fly speed equal to your land speed that lasts until the end of your turn. If you are not on solid ground at the end of your turn, you glide to the ground and do not take damage. Outside of combat, this power can be sustained with a standard action. This benefit replaces dragon breath.
All gnomes are a little off, either originating from a magical fey world or living in a realm that is not their own. However, normal gnomes seem grounded and boring compared to crazed gnomes. Crazed gnomes prefer terms such as “focused” or “dedicated”, but they are best described as obsessive. The natural gnomish curiosity is much more dominant among crazed gnomes, and they feel a pressing urge to solve mysteries, explain events, and fix problems. Crazed gnomes are logical but often manic, with too many thoughts going on in their head: they often skip ahead in conversations, assume esoteric facts are common knowledge, and mutter to themselves.
It’s often assumed crazed gnomes are innately less magical than standard gnomes, which isn’t always true. Many crazed gnomes are deeply interested in magic, fervently exploring the mystical arts and seeking arcane mysteries and discoveries. However, unlike other gnomes, crazed gnomes are fascinated by science and technology; some abandon magic to focus on science while others try to fuse magic and technology inventing improbable creations.
In some lands crazed gnomes outnumber other gnomes. In these unfortunate places, standard gnomes are labelled as “mad gnomes” because, to a gnome, sanity is statistical.
Role-playing a Crazed Gnome
Puzzles must be solved. Mysteries keep you awake at night and unanswered question, both large and small, nibble at your mind. You know, deep in your being, that every problem has a perfect solution, every lock has a key, and every riddle has an answer.
Seek knowledge for its own sake. You dislike the unknown; gaps in knowledge irritate you like a stone in your boot. You seek out information not necessarily to be used or because it is needed, but out of the sole desire to learn and expand your worldview.
There is elegance in complexity.You know that simple minds create simple things. Complexity is to be admired and strived for, or added if something is not complex enough. You plan with multiple redundancies and back-up plans, and like to add extra features or options to equipment and weaponry.
Crazed Gnome Benefit
Gnomish Device: Crazed gnomes like their toys and gizmos, and most have some useful device on their purpose. It might be a magical item you have not finished enchanting, a mechanical device still being perfected, or some combination of the two. The gnomish device has two powers, one intended and one a misfire. You decide which purpose is the intended function of the device. Benefit: You gain the gnomish device power. This power replaces fade away.
Minotaurs, the Seareavers
Hailing from northern coastal lands and islands, seareaver minotaurs are so named for their piracy and their nautical lifestyle. Like most races, the majority of seareaver minotaurs are labourers and farmers, but most folk only encounter the savage raiders.
Common minotaurs hail from inland mountains and have smaller horns that curve upward and away from the head, but there are a multitude of different breeds of minotaurs. The honourable minotaurs of the far east have heads resembling water buffalo, while the shamanistic minotaurs of the northern tundra and plains have heads similar to bison. The seareaver resemble longhorn cattle, with horns that curve down over the face.
A common expression in coastal settlements is “only death stops a minotaur.” Seareavers gained their feared reputation because of their resolve: they are unrelenting and merciless. They give victims one chance to surrender peaceful and escape with their lives, but if anyone resists they do not hesitate to wipe-out entire villages. Seareaver offer no second chances and do not change their minds. The sole exception is the elderly; seareavers respect those who have survived to old age and will not harm them… unless they resist.
Role-Playing a Seareaver Minotaur
Respect elders. You were raised to respect the old ways and traditions, which have kept your people alive. The world is also a harsh places, so anyone who has survived to their senior years is worthy of respect.
The sea has no mercy. You were raised on the sea, and it provides for you and your people. But it is unforgiving and does not accept weakness or tolerate mistakes, so neither should you.
Stand your ground.You are not merely stubborn, but unyielding. Only the weak cannot stand by their ideals or uphold their morals. However, you can admit your mistakes, as only a fool does not make way for the tide.
Seareaver Minotaur Benefits
Bull Headed: Your race has inspired the term “bull-headed” and refuse to do anything against their will. Even when magically compelled, they fight to maintain their free will. Benefit: Once per encounter, at the start of your turn you can roll saving throws against the dominate, daze, or stun conditions, and against any effects with the fear or enchantment keyword. This benefit replaces goring charge.
Spawned from humans interbreeding with demons, abyssal tieflings are notably different from their infernal kin. Most tieflings have ties with devils, either devil worshipers or those who made pacts with factions from the Nine Hells for power or influence. Abyssal tieflings are different, as chaotic demons do not typically mate or parlay with mortal beings.
Demonic tieflings are often the descendants of mortals corrupted by the Abyss, either through Abyssal energies or too much time spent on that plane, or who foolishly tried to use the power of the Abyss. Some former adventurers have found their offspring altered by their adventuring career. A rare few tieflings are the result of violence against an ancestor, typically instances where the victim was rescued before the demon could finish its murder.
Abyssal tieflings are less human, owing to the more unnatural appearance of demons. Likewise, abyssal tieflings are prone to rage and erratic behaviour, being influenced and touched by chaos, but are more resilient than other mortals. The appearance of abyssal tieflings is much less consistant. Some have the typical horns and tail, but others have cloven feet, forked tongues, pointed teeth, clawed hands, glowing eyes, sulphurous breath, or other unusual traits. Because of the influence of chaos, no two abyssal tieflings look exactly alike.
Role-Playing an Abyssal Tiefling
Born from chaos and flame. You are innately passionate yet mercurial, chaotic and temperamental. Your emotions burn hot and are hard to control but change quickly and without warning. You are a being of extremes, always having a strong opinion and seldom seeing any middle ground.
Watch the world burn. Demons are driven to destroy and kill until their inevitable messy ends. Likewise, a part of you enjoys ruin and death. You might be able to channel this in productive ways, focusing on killing those who deserve it, but you will always enjoy it a little more than is good for you.
Hold your beliefs true. While your impulses are wild, you do not change your values or what is truly important. You are just as likely to be moral as other mortals. What matters to you will always matter even when your mood shifts.
Abyssal Tiefling Benefits
Reactive Resistance: You have inherited some of the unnatural resilience of demons, which augments your natural resistance to fire, but cannot Benefit: Once per encounter, when you are hit by an attack that deals acid, cold, lightning, or thunder damage, you gain resistance to that energy type equal to your fire resistance until the next time you take hit point damage from that energy type or until the end of the encounter. This benefit replaces infernal wrath.
Until next time readers, likely in a month or so, when I’ll see if I’ll write about designing some role-playing powers for 4e. Kinda. You’ll have to wait and see.
I like how the cards turned out on the website (but they need some fine tuning). I might have to revisit the vampire theme with cards some day.