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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e

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A queen of orcish and elven ancestry knights a kneeling swarf-gnome woman as a tiefling-halfling person looks on

Character creation rules for 5e that replace race with ancestry, culture, and mixed heritage, for awesome new PCs

"Required reading for playing RPGs in 2020" - Polygon

"A flexible, highly adaptable system...In gameplay terms, Marshall’s design offloads the problematic issue of race in favor of expanded creativity and expression. In role-playing terms, it not only encourages but requires players to think long and hard about how their character relates to their own environment and to the family that raised them." Charlie Hall, Polygon

Play as the child of an elf and an orc, or a tiefling and a halfling!

Play a character of one ancestry who grew up in a different culture! 

Have you ever wondered why there are half-elves and half-orcs in your favorite fantasy roleplaying game, but not half-tieflings, half-dwarves, or half-gnomes? And why only allow orcs and elves to have children with humans and not others? Why can't we play the child of an elf and an orc or a gnome and a halfling? What's more, what if we want to play a human raised by elves, like Tolkien's Aragorn, or a halfling who grew up among orcs? Wouldn't such characters be different than a halfling who grew up among her own people, for example? It would be a delight to be able play such a diverse cast of characters, with such a wide range of ancestries and cultures.

Well, now we can! This 70-page zine of rules and original fantasy art allows for the easy creation of a variety of new ancestral and cultural combinations and types, without having to make big changes to the core game rules. What's more, they replace the problematic concept of race as it is traditionally used in character creation. Ancestry provides those heritable traits a character might receive from their parents, such as height, average lifespan, and darkvision, and culture provides such teachable features as weapon training and ability. This frees us up to play the characters we want to play, without all the baggage, and provides us many more options, just dripping with role-play potential.

In addition to the new character creation rules, Ancestry & Culture also includes two adventures, "The Light of Unity" and "Helping Hands," suitable for players of all ages, which highlight the themes of the title.

And if you'd like a whole lot more ancestries & cultures to supplement this, check out Custom Ancestries & Cultures, which contains 62 new playable options, from fantasy classics to bizarre originals, as well as More Ancestries & Cultures (coming soon!) with 60 more, including rules to flavor your culture based on where it is located, from geographic terrain to one of the many planes of existence!


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Reviews (12)
Discussions (19)
Customer avatar
Jerry H July 10, 2020 8:09 pm UTC
I really dig this idea and the possibilities that it brings to the table, I am only confused on one thing... Are we expected to use or not use the regular Half-Orc and Half-Elf possibly getting different Half races and/or 1/4 races? But since you treated the Half-Orc (SRD) for Orc stats here and Diverse Cultural Traits that correspond with Cultural Traits of possible Half-Elves I am gonna guess that the answer is not.
Customer avatar
Kenneth G July 10, 2020 5:09 am UTC
PURCHASER
I can't post a review, but I just wanna say: Well done! The concept is mechanically simple, but the impact I hope will prove to mean something. I am very glad the content is OGL, because it would be well for other publishers to follow the model. I know that I am strongly reconsidering revising the races I have published to be compatible with this system. It makes me want to think about what each fantasy people might be like in both mono-cultural and multicultural contexts.
Having just graduated with my master's degree, I love that the first several pages are an accessible, nerd-friendly beginner's guide to critical race theory. Once again: very well done! 5/5
Customer avatar
Kyle H July 09, 2020 11:52 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Purchased the book, started reading. Question: Why name the culture after the race and tie ability scores to it? Does that not negate the idea of the inherent racism that ancestry was attempting to get rid of?
Creating Cultures like Craftsmen, Enlightened, Religious, Nomadic, etc seems to be a more correct way of handling that. Obviously you guys aren’t the end all be all and if I want to do that I should do it myself, but reading the start of the book and then the actually mechanics it didn’t make sense. I do enjoy the book so far, this thought just took me out of the reading, like getting into a movie and then seeing a boom mic in the shot if you will.
Customer avatar
Eugene M July 10, 2020 12:53 am UTC
PUBLISHER
That's a fair question. I wanted to remove biological essentialism, for sure. But I also wanted this supplement to be absolutely simple to implement for D&D players, so I tried to keep it as simple as possible. And to address the issue you raise, I added Appendix A (p 27), which provides rules for creating customized, anti-essentialist cultures. Hopefully that's what you're looking for.

Also, in our supplement, "More Ancestries & Cultures" (coming soon), we provide rules for customizing a culture based on geography or the planes of existence. That might work for what you're looking for too.

Hope that answers your question!
Customer avatar
Kyle H July 10, 2020 1:20 am UTC
PURCHASER
Looking forward to it!
Customer avatar
William B June 27, 2020 6:29 am UTC
PURCHASER
Quick question; I'm not certain specifically how I should read the Additional Ancestry Traits from the Mixed Ancestry rules. Is it that a character with two ancestries should get two traits, one from each of their ancestries, or one trait chosen from either of their ancestries? The wording isn't quite clear enough to eliminate my uncertainty.
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 27, 2020 11:31 am UTC
PUBLISHER
Characters with mixed ancestry get two traits, one from each ancestry.
Customer avatar
Jared R June 27, 2020 4:32 am UTC
PURCHASER
http://whatdoiknowjr.com/2020/06/23/what-do-i-know-about-reviews-ancestry-and-culture-an-alternative-to-race-in-5e-5e-ogl/
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 27, 2020 11:32 am UTC
PUBLISHER
Thanks for the thorough and insightful review!
Customer avatar
Michael H June 24, 2020 7:41 pm UTC
Looking at the D&D Beyond race page, I'm curious as to how this book addresses/interacts with other, non-standard/core races such as the races from Ravnica or Eberron, specifically minotaurs, loxodon, centaurs, and warforged, given their unique physiology and biology (e.g. Warforged don't need to eat, drink, or breath, Centaurs have Equine Build, Loxodons have a trunk that has a whole host of uses, etc.).
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 24, 2020 7:47 pm UTC
PUBLISHER
That's a good question. The easiest way to answer might be to point your to our first expansion of these rules, Custom Ancestries and Cultures, which includes 61 new ancestries and cultures, including several that are inspired by the races you name. And no need to buy it if you just want to take a look; it's here on DriveThruRPG with a free 30 page preview. The preview doesn't include centaurs or minotaurs, but it does include Constructs (our Warforged replacements) Hippo Folk (our Giff replacements) and many others. That should give you an idea of how we take on those sorts of things.

You can find it via a link above, or here: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/316727/Custom-Ancestries--Cultures

Thanks for your question!
Customer avatar
Italo I June 23, 2020 5:56 am UTC
WOW my discussion has been removed only because I disagreed with the publisher even if the product is a good product.
Apparently the publisher doesn't like to hear opinions with a point of view different from his own.
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 23, 2020 9:46 am UTC
PUBLISHER
You’ll notice that many other discussion posts and reviews here are critical of the product and yet have not been deleted. Feel free to criticize it, but please don’t be rude or misrepresent it. If, on the other hand, you did not intend your comment to be a rude personal attack, then I apologize for my misunderstanding. Thank you for your interest and have a good day.
Customer avatar
Italo I June 24, 2020 6:19 am UTC
It wasn't a personal attack, it was how I, a long time player of D&D, felt by reading not your rules, which are very good, but your comments to the traditional way to play D&D.
To tell the truth it was me who felt attacked by your comments about the old rules and lore, defined racist and problematic. I would have preferred you would just have commented your book like a system to play characters in a new and different way that offer more options to the players instead than bashing as racist and problematic the old school and the actual 5E rules.
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 24, 2020 3:17 pm UTC
PUBLISHER
Well, I've been playing since 1983, but I don't think that's relevant here. If you felt attacked by my intro, perhaps you should ask yourself why you felt that way. I never called anyone racist or implied that using the rules as written in the PHB make you racist. Instead, I tried to show how those rules can be seen as problematic, how they can make POC and others feel excluded or unwelcome. my white self included. If you raise the issue with everyone at your table, and they are all OK with the game as written, then feel free to do what you like. But I'm trying to point out that folks who DM or create for the public ought to recognize that some members of their audience will be put off by the racial essentialism wrapped up in the rules. If that threatens or insults you, well, that's not my problem; I'd suggest it's an opportunity for you to do some reflection and education. Maybe start with the many readings and resources I link to in my intro, for example.

And by the way, the issue I had with your...See more
Customer avatar
Italo I June 25, 2020 7:32 am UTC
I think you got confused with another comment, If I remember correctly there was a comment calling you liar because you didn't put drows and/or other races, but it wasn't mine.
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 25, 2020 12:50 pm UTC
PUBLISHER
If that is the case, then I apologize for the error. I can't go back and view the original, but I only intended to delete the comment with the insults. Anyway, it does look like you've gotten the opportunity above to air your criticisms, so hopefully that is sufficient. Thanks for taking the time to discuss our product.
Customer avatar
Vincent L June 20, 2020 8:48 pm UTC
PURCHASER
Hi, I purchased this product and am loving it! Thanks for your hard work! I have a few questions though.

First, some questions about some creative decisions in the supplement:
- I noticed that you changed the Halfling's Brave trait to be specific Lightfoot Halfling culture, and moved the Lightfoot Halfling's Naturally Stealthy to the main Halfling chassis. Was this an intentional decision?
- Same question for moving the Hill Dwarf's Dwarven Toughness to the main Dwarf ancestry.

Second, I'm taking it upon myself to convert the rest if 5e's races and subraces to follow your Ancestry and Culture template. I want to do so to have a quick reference should I run a game and my players wish to use your supplement. I'm running into some problems though.
- Some 5e races have a disproportionately balanced set of traits, where I when I try to apply the AC model in a way that makes sense, it gives way too many traits to one side or the other. An example of a race overly favouring...See more
Customer avatar
Eugene M June 22, 2020 7:13 pm UTC
PUBLISHER
Hi! Thanks so much for your purchase! I'll try to answer your questions.

I did make a few changes to the Halfling ancestry and culture. Those were (admittedly) somewhat arbitrary, narratively speaking; I did them for balance purposes. The Lucky trait is so powerful, that I chose to move Brave to Culture. I could perhaps have moved Naturally Stealthy instead, but Brave is somewhat more powerful in my mind. If you are DMing and feel the opposite would have been the better choice, feel free to swap them!

To get an idea of how I choose to balance more races, take a look at the free preview of our related product, Custom Ancestries & Cultures. It has a free 30 page preview that includes 30 more ancestries & cultures. You'll find my take on Drow and Duergar (which I call Deep Dwarves and Deep Elves), Aquatic Elves (which I decided to read as an entirely distinct ancestry), and Warforged (which I call Constructs).

You are right that this method is somewhat harder...See more
Customer avatar
Italo I June 23, 2020 5:59 am UTC
Speaking about questions, why my discussion has been removed?
Customer avatar
Thouis J June 16, 2020 1:33 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I'm DMing for my family, and have been thinking about ways to talk to them about issues around race. I plan on using this material as a way to link stories that we build together in D&D and the way we understand and think about other people in the real world. I'm glad the authors put in the work to create this resource.
Customer avatar
Ronald P June 14, 2020 12:52 pm UTC
PURCHASER
To help fit character concepts, cultural and ancestral influences are exactly what I've been looking for in D&D. Before, I'd end up flipping back and forth among the races, negotiating with the DM about changing the standard races and making my own. This allows me to comfortably include the environmental influences on growth as well as the impact of lineage, which opens a wide range of parentage potential. Can’t wait to see an expanded book on this.
Customer avatar
Steven P June 14, 2020 5:26 am UTC
I agree with the author's contention that race doesn't matter, and ancestry/culture is a better model for understanding human beings in the real world. However, D&D is a game of make believe, in which we play different mythological creatures who are often totally different than ourselves. They have strong differences because we want to play exaggerated fantasy beings for fun and escapism. Since having widely divergent characters is fun, I want to keep stat differences in the game. I like that 7' tall Goliaths are stronger than 3' tall hobbits.

Sometimes they are very different biologically (like playing R2-D2 or a Wookie in Star Wars), or are symbolic representations of the forces of nature (Elves are tree spirits, Dwarves are Earth children). They can be allegorical ideas: Elves represent our capacity for good and nobility, orcs are also Elves who were twisted by the evil god Morgoth, into evil destructive prejudiced beings, who represent the worst we can be (per Tolkien's origin story...See more
Customer avatar
Italo I June 19, 2020 10:41 am UTC
That's so true! Kudos.
Customer avatar
Christopher B June 20, 2020 12:51 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I purchased a similar product on DMsGuild, Grazilaxx's Guide to Ancestry (and its related supplements), but I am interested in this product and want to see what others have to say about it. Your comment seems to go from the reasonable to the absurd. Super Mario Brothers does not present pernicious stereotypes of Italians, so it is disingenuous to even bring those characters up as an example. Also, you seem to ignore that this supplement is intended to offer variant rules, and no one is forcing anyone to play D&D in a certain way. Your comment about not seeing the need to "rewrite the rules" could apply to any official or unofficial D&D supplement containing variant rules. This book offers options, not "cancel culture." As for "problematizing" the hobby, whatever problems the game has were there from inception and exacerbated by the publication of later supplements that built on and perpetuated bad ideas.

Furthermore, not everyone wants to play...See more
Customer avatar
Steven P July 03, 2020 7:48 am UTC
Points well taken, and my apologies if I sounded overly critical. I realize that anyone can play the game however they want. I'm also sure that the authors mean well, and are just trying to create an inclusive environment for all players.

I was expressing my skepticism at the argument that D&D isn't already inclusive enough, and that it's necessary to make special rules to improve it, given that players can already do this on their own just by having a session 0 and discussing boundaries with players, from the get-go. I've played with plenty of people of different genders and ethnic backgrounds, and In my experience, they would not like being given special treatment by using special terms for things we already had language for. They just wanted to be treated as equals, like everybody else. I'm older though, and maybe younger players are more sensitive now.

I know the authors weren't trying to misrepresent this, but they cited some sources in the introduction that I found suspect....See more
Customer avatar
Chris J June 13, 2020 1:41 am UTC
PURCHASER
I think it was the right call to still have the cultures be related to ancestries, both for compatibility with the original rules and for ease of adoption. If a DM wants to move away from the monoculture they can easily customise the cultures to their campaign.
There's definitely scope for another expansion, focusing solely on cultures that are generic and setting independent (e.g. Pirate haven, Desert Kingdom, Steppe Nomads etc) that we could use as a starting point.
Customer avatar
Darren C June 12, 2020 9:21 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I'm buying this BECAUSE people like Sascha K are butthurt about it
Customer avatar
Steven S June 12, 2020 5:43 pm UTC
PURCHASER
I'm reminded of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, where the dwarfs and trolls act more human when they lived in the large city of Anhk-Morpork for long enough. Note that in this series, "human" does not necessarily mean "good" or "civilized".
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