How do people codify the more mechanical aspects of a race’s fiction?  This is one area I have a rough time with…

How do people codify the more mechanical aspects of a race’s fiction?  This is one area I have a rough time with…

How do people codify the more mechanical aspects of a race’s fiction?  This is one area I have a rough time with when trying to groc DW.  I like detailed races, and I like race to matter in my world. 

The book just says that if its part of the fiction, its part of the race, but how does that work?  

For something like standard Low-Light or Night Vision thats pretty easy to mechanize from fiction without really needing “stats” but how do you work in concepts like a racial ability to telepathically communicate with animals, or how do you handle racial attributes like Keen Senses, or Natural Athleticism?  What about racial negative features, like a race that has a poor disposition against other races (e.g. orcs and dwarves)? 

Would it work to have your say full page of fiction on the race, then a small bullet point of racial abilities that are assumed a part of that fiction but that require minor mechanical notes?

For example, how would you show the classic D&D dwarf?

* How do you adjudicate saying that dwarves move slightly slower than other medium sized species due to their stocky, short-legged stature? Or would you rewrite and remove this part of the fiction?

* How do you say that dwarves are better at wearing armor than most? Would you give them “remove clumsy tag” or drop this aspect of the fiction?

* Darkvision. Dwarves can see in black and white even in total darkness.  How do you handle vision range?  What about other types of vision?

* Stonecunning: Would you handle this as something like a +1 to Discern Realities and Spout Lore pertaining to stone and earth?

* Stability: +1 to Defy Danger versus being bull rushed or tripped, when standing on the ground?

* Dwarven Resistance: +1 to Defy Danger against poisons and magic?


I’m just really curious how people handle this since in most cases I see the standard “pick any race” attitude and see people using all kinda of crazy races. Yet when it comes down to it, all they get that really makes their “race” is a one line minor adaptation to their class. 

I want to have some unique races in my world and I need them to feel different from other races.  For some really advanced races, I can see the race basically being its own class (e.g. drakes, giants, etc.) but not all races should fall into this category. However, for my world I want a Dwarf fighter to feel like being a dwarf means more than simply that they can Parley with CON instead of CHA.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts on this.  As it stands I may be looking really closely at Grim World Species and Pirate World Background systems for idea on how to make race matter more in DW.

14 thoughts on “How do people codify the more mechanical aspects of a race’s fiction?  This is one area I have a rough time with…”

  1. Dwarf example: 

    Short stature: Show the downside to their race. 

    “So Brororig, you are all charging the orcs but the Barbarian and Ranger are already ahead of you with their long legs, clashing into the enemy. There seems to be no opening for you to engange them now. What do you do?”

    Armor: Dwarfs are not better at wearing armor. If they are Paladins/Fighters they already have the move. A Dwarf Mage wouldn’t really be better at wearing armor. Why would he.

    DWARFEN ARMOR on the other hand is just superior and doesn’t carry the clumsy tag unless it is Dragon-Slayer-Armor.

    Darkvision: Ask the player how his character can see in the Dark. If he says he can than he can. Maybe have a flashbang now and then to mess with it and show the downside of it. 

    Stonecunning: Allows them to Spout Lore about Stones and Stuff without needing a direct link to the character. Its just something that Dwarfs can. A human maga would have to explain how she took Architecture 101 in wizard school. A Dwarf does not. 

    Stability: They are a bit harder to bullrush/forceful, allowing them to Defy Danger against things others could not. 

    Dwarven Resistance: Just have a poison now and then that effects everyone in the party but the Dwarf, giving them a moment to shine. 

    There are a lot of ways to just handle this with GM Moves and fiction first approaches. 

  2. A racial ability to communicate with animals: 

    “So you can talk to animals in your mind? How is that like?” 

    What do you need for this? Its an ability you have. You can do it. Having a move for this would be like: 


    When you have a gun, you can fire it at stuff. 

    Of course you could have a world where the connection isn’t always perfect and you might misunderstand the animal but really, if the deal of this race is that they can talk to animals than they should be able to. Otherwise you are not really a fan. 

  3. I really do think that the fiction CAN take care of 90% of racial “flavor” situations. If you want dwarves and orcs to hate each other, then have your dwarf get spit on by a half-orc in town. From then on, your dwarf WILL hate orcs!

    And remember, the PCs should be as much in charge of deciding what is “dwarf” as you; in a different game, YOU as gm would write the races up; in DW, you and the players each come up with different parts of the race IN PLAY.

  4. D&D in general may give the players too much to think about as far as rules go.

    The trick is to have just enough cool stuff on their character sheet to have them look at it when they are stuck, but not so much that they need to look at it for every single scene.

    Remember this is a game of friends having a conversation, not friends looking at pieces of paper, or friends having a debate about weather low-light vision helps in the depths of Mt. Killadwarf.

  5. So basically you are saying that any hack that is based on a GM designed “fiction” is playing wrong? 

    I feel that its the GM’s job to detail the general fiction (e.g the game-world or campaign setting, or in this case what the races are and what it means to be that race) and then let the players fill in the blanks; not let the PCs design a race on the fly as it suits them.

    For instance, if I want to run something like say Eberron, I want there to be a general guideline for what a Changeling can and cant do, not have the players making things up on the fly like “All it says is that Changelings are shapechangers, so I say that Changelings can turn into a dragon.” Sorry, I’m not That much a player fan.  Does that mean DW isnt the system for me?  Or does it mean that if I want races that detailed I have to make them a class rather than a race?

  6. When they say that you make a move. Like telling them the consequences and ask. “Sure your folk can turn into dragons. It’s quite easy really. You only need the brain gem of an elder dragon and you are good to go. Want to get one?”

  7. It sounds like the setting matters very much to you, Lord Khaalis and that you want to stay as true to any given setting as possible.

    How many blanks does a setting like Ebberon leave for a group of players to fill in? How much do they matter? Are they blanks like “What color is Commander Drakes(an NPC) hair?” or “What has made Commander Drake infamous?”

  8. Nothing matters about anything except what we see in action at the table. Illustrating the specific details of any given culture or race (positive or negative) can be done in the midst of the ongoing fiction. Keep these things in mind, ask questions that illuminate them, let play work out the details with you.  

  9. Also, don’t throw plus ones around like crazy. They’re not useful for determining the bounds of capability. Instead of a +1 to resist poison, think about how to narrate the poison’s effects differently for a Dwarf. The Danger isn’t the same as it would be for an Elf, is it?

  10. What Tim Franzke  said.  Players in DW can do anything, but there are always requirements (and always consequences).  A changeling wants to turn into a dragon, sure that can happen because this character is a legendary hero that will live forever in song and tale.  But before they can become a legend they have to meet the requirements.  

    Basically, telling a PC that they cannot do something is no fun, not for the players and often not for the GM.  But neither is just letting them do whatever they want, because then it’s not really a game, there’s no challenge.  

    However, letting them earn legendary abilities through legendary deeds in the fiction works well and is fun.  

    (Btw, you don’t even need to tell them the requirements directly.  In Tim’s example you could tell the players they need to find someone who knows more about shapechanging, maybe they have ancient secrets or have developed new techniques. The NPC then would tell them about how only the brain gem of an elder dragon could possibly imbue the character with enough essence to do it.  This way you make them work even for the information.  )  

  11. This is actually one of the things I love most about developing a specific game setting in DW. Every player has a different image of how Elves or Dwarves act, why and how their abilities work, and what their culture is like. A GM can ask awesome leading questions and build up all sorts of neat in-game consequences for them. 

    In a game I’m playing all sorts of interesting things about dwarven culture and abilities have come out this way. One of the players has a dwarven fighter and she’s defined a kind of dwarf that’s hyper-capable with a lot of tradition and ancestral knowledge but is just a bit xenophobic with a strong clan family structure. It really came back to bite her when her mom showed up to yell at her for running off to adventure instead of being home taking part in an important, clan-sponsored political marriage to someone her character hated. 

    The dwarf’s player also made life difficult for us when she told the GM that the art of making “liquid stone” (concrete) was a forbidden art, known only to a few dwarves… when this was something we really desperately needed! Exciting times were had by all. 

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