Design in Progress [DiP] – Racial System

This is a preview of an upcoming post I am putting together to help showcase a little bit of the sort of design that I have done.  It’s a racial system for a d20 system (originally designed for Pathfinder, but tweakable for other d20 systems).  I’ll have a post up in a few weeks actually giving you the races I have generated (they need some cleanup and updating from my playtesting notes first and my current priority is having a blast at PAX and collecting the Questionable Adventure surveys).


A race is mechanically broken into several aspects:

  • Core Racial Traits – These are the traits which are most likely to appear in a race, which help to define it against others. Each race has at least four racial traits; some heritage lines may have less than four.
  • Bloodlines – Also known as “subraces”, these are defined pools of traits and differences within a core race: a classical example are the variations of elf, like dark elves. Each has it’s own traits which are selectable.
  • Racial Iconic – This is an ability only gained by those who possess a majority of traits within one heritage – either 100% or 75% of their main traits.
  • Advanced Racial Abilities – These abilities are selectable at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels and represent more powerful racial characteristics evolved later on in an adventuring career. A character needs at least one racial trait from a race to select it’s racial abilities.

At character creation, a player is to decide on their Core Racial Traits.

They may instead choose to be of mixed heritage, choosing between two (or rarely three in some cases) races. For characters of such diverse blood, they are to choose a total of four core racial traits, mixing and matching between their races. These traits chosen provide their mechanical benefits, but also imply the level of heritage a character may have with a given race:

  • A character who has 3 or more traits within a race primarily identifies with this race: a character with 3 elf traits and 1 human trait is primarily an elf, though they may have some human-like characteristics.
  • A character with two traits of each race is a half-elf; roughly in the middle between the two races.

A character can only select a trait assigned to a subrace if they have previously selected a trait assigned to their core race; thus, characters must be at least roughly half of a heritage to be considered a member of a subrace.

Your race can help to build your background and physical traits, but within that the exact details remain up to the player.

At 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th character levels, characters select an advanced racial trait. This can be from any race, heritage, or subrace they have previously taken a trait from. Characters can also gain a trait from a lower-level choice, but not first level traits.

Ability Scores

Characters gain the ability score modifiers of their primary race, modified by their subrace (if any). Characters with an even number of traits from two separate races must still select a single race (and a corresponding sub-race their primary race, if they choose to have a subrace) to take ability scores from.

Characters without any subracial traits may select an applicable subrace to take ability scores from.

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