Mechanics for Mixed Heritage

The One D&D Unearthed Arcana introduced updated Character Origin rules. Almost every PHB race was revisited, but two were dropped: Half-Elf and Half-Orc. The latter was replaced with the full Orc, but the former was replaced with a new planetouched race called the Ardling. That left no half- or otherwise mixed race options.

What am I supposed to do with all this bearded, pointy-eared people art??

There is a sidebar, “Children of Different Humanoid Kinds,” that says if you want to play half-elf, half-orc, or any other combination of things, just pick one side of your parentage to determine your game abilities and then you can describe yourself as looking like a combination of both sides of your ancestry. Then average the two races’ lifespan to get your expected lifespan.

A lot of folks feel that is insufficient for a variety of reasons that I’ll leave you to find on your own. A lot of alternatives have been proposed, usually around the idea of combining traits from two or more races, but exactly in what proportion is a tough nut to crack. So I took a swing.

Mechanical Mixing

Any mixed heritage system needs to be as simple as making a few choices from a list. Spending points out of a pool to “purchase” racial traits a la carte is too involved for my casual players and the casual players that D&D is most aimed at. So, how much of what do you pick?

I went through the Races section of the Character Origins UA and gave each trait under each race a simple categorization:

  • Minor (m): A single skill proficiency, darkvision, a cantrip, resistance to a rare damage type, or a fairly situational ability
  • Major (M): Magic progression with cantrip, 1st-, and 2nd-level spells; resistance to a common damage type; or a generally powerful ability
  • Superior/major + minor (Mm): Something that exceeds the Major options in a substantial way

These are general bands of power, not meant to draw fine lines between every distinct trait. That would not enable the quick-and-dirty nature of this homebrew on a playtest doc. Are these subjective? Yes, to some unavoidable degree. No two people will rate everything exactly the same, including the designers. But we’ve got to start somewhere.

The first thing I learned is the races as written are not particularly balanced. Modularizing the races into a standardized structure like we see in the Backgrounds of the Character Origins UA would require significant changes to a number of the races. I decided against that, as that would limit the utility of the system going forward since Wizards of the Coast are unlikely to adopt my rewrite of their UA, to understate things significantly.

Instead, I built a structure for mixed heritage races that is itself standardized even though it is built out of these non-standardized pieces. The median race in the UA has about 2 Major traits and 2 Minor traits. Some have a Superior trait, but none have more than one. So I used that as the structure. Every mixed heritage PC using this will have 2 Major and 2 Minor traits, with Superior traits taking up 1 Major and 1 Minor slot, and no more than 1 Superior trait. This way, even if the UA traits are eventually revised, this structure can still be applied, I’ll just need to update the trait ratings.

So here’s my sidebar:

Children of Different Humanoid Kinds

Across the magical worlds of the multiverse, humanoids of different kinds often have children together. On some worlds, children of humans and orcs or humans and elves are particularly prevalent. However, many other combinations are possible and well represented throughout the multiverse.

If you decide your character is the child of such a pairing, pick the Creature Type, Size, and Speed traits of one of your parentages (we suggest the most distinctive). Determine the average of the two options’ Life Span traits to figure out how long your character might live. For example, a child of a Gnome and a Halfling has an average life span of 288 years. As far as physical description, you can mix and match the visual characteristics – color, ear shape, and the like – of both parentages.

For your special traits, pick two major traits and two minor traits from those listed for your character’s parentage, in any combination. In place of one of your major and minor picks, you may instead pick a superior trait. You cannot pick more than one superior trait.

For example, the Gnome/Halfling child above might pick the Gnome’s Gnomish Cunning trait (superior), the Halfling’s Luck trait (major), and the Gnome’s Darkvision trait (minor). Alternatively, they could pick the Gnome’s Gnomish Lineage trait (major), the Halfling’s Brave trait (major), the Gnome’s Darkvision trait (minor), and the Halfling’s Halfling Nimbleness trait (minor).

  • Human
    • Resourceful (Major)
    • Skillful (Minor)
    • Versatile (Superior)
  • Ardling
    • Angelic Flight (Major)
    • Celestial Legacy (Major)
    • Damage Resistance (minor)
  • Dragonborn
    • Draconic Ancestry (this has no effect itself, it only affects the Breath Weapon and Damage Resistance traits. If you take either of those, also take Draconic Ancestry)
    • Breath Weapon (Major)
    • Damage Resistance (Major)
    • Darkvision (minor)
    • Draconic Language (if Dragonborn is one of your parentages, you get this trait automatically)
  • Dwarf
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Dwarven Resilience (Major)
    • Dwarven Toughness (Major)
    • Forge Wise (Minor)
    • Stonecunning (Major)
  • Elf
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Elven Lineage (Superior)
    • Fey Ancestry (Major)
    • Keen Senses (Minor)
    • Trance (Minor)
  • Gnome
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Gnomish Cunning (Superior)
    • Gnomish Lineage (Major)
  • Halfling
    • Brave (Major)
    • Halfling Nimbleness (Minor)
    • Luck (Major)
    • Naturally Stealthy (Minor)
  • Orc
    • Adrenaline Rush (Major)
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Powerful Build (Minor)
    • Relentless Endurance (Major)
  • Tiefling
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Fiendish Legacy (Superior)
    • Otherworldly Presence (Minor)

Sample Combinations

So, a few examples:

  • Tanis, Half-Elf Half-Human
    • Fey Ancestry (Major)
    • Trance (Minor)
    • Versatile (Superior)
  • Fjord, Half-Human Half-Orc
    • Adrenaline Rush (Major)
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Resourceful (Major)
    • Skillful (Minor)
  • Koriand’r Starfire, Half-Ardling Half-Dragonborn
    • Angelic Flight (Major)
    • Breath Weapon (Major)
    • (Ardling’s) Damage Resistance (Minor)
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Draconic Ancestry (free)
    • Draconic Language (free)
  • Chastity Bitterburn, Half-Dwarf Half-Tiefling
    • Darkvision (Minor)
    • Fiendish Legacy (Superior)
    • Stonecunning (Major)

I don’t think these are broken, not in light of the standard Dwarf and Elf packages, at least. Maybe Dragonborn’s Breath Weapon should be superior? But maybe not. I’ll keep revising it.

What do you think? Does this make mixed heritage characters feel more mixed? None of this is set in stone, I welcome thoughtful feedback.

Let me know if you try this out how it works for you! That would be amazing.

Also, please, can we drop the word Race and use almost any synonym? Heritage, Ancestry, Parentage, Kin, even Bloodline is better than Race. Thanks.

No, no, not that kind. (Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines poster)

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