I play a lot of fantasy 4X games. This shouldn’t surprise you; I wrote an egregiously long series on domain management games! Well, okay, there are wildly more games in the genre than anyone could play, and I don’t have tons of spare time for video games, but still. It’s a genre I like an awful lot, and I think there are all kinds of great ideas to take from them. Today, I want to talk about one-off PC races.
One of the big things that sets fantasy 4Xs apart from the Civilization franchise and most interplanetary 4Xs is that you have heroes that gain levels. They act like D&D characters, equipping cool loot and eventually becoming a lot better than standard units. Probably the first one I played was Master of Magic, buggy as shit but a true (non-ironic) masterpiece. More recently, Fallen Enchantress, its partial-revision Legendary Heroes, and its sequel Sorcerer King are just phenomenal. The heroes are great, you recruit more as the game goes along, and the late-game heroes get to be a lot weirder than the early-game ones.
Now, I have sort of mixed feelings about extra-weird PCs. I think that if your characters are of ancestries (the one word we’ll all be stealing from Pathfinder 2e) that the setting’s NPC treat as extra-weird, it gets tedious in a hurry. That is, you don’t want every encounter to start with ten minutes on, “Holy shit, what are you?” This conversation literally never happening is one of the great things about Planescape, by the by.
Okay, sure, I’m wandering a bit on this one. What I’m trying to do here is to present an ancestry for PCs that doesn’t need there to be even one more like you in the world, but doesn’t necessarily make you draw attention in every encounter. For this, I’m going to Galatea. Blodeuwedd. Audrey Hepburn. (Er, wait.) Kim Cattrall. That kind of thing.
You are a statue carved so perfectly that you gained life and sentience. Perhaps you were made of stone, bronze, clay, wicker, never-thawing ice, or flower petals, but now you are indistinguishable from other members of a common ancestry. You are uncommonly resilient, as you are not made of flesh and bone.
Here you are called a living clay person, even though you may be made of any number of other materials. It is a strictly a term of convenience, as you may never meet another creature like you that you need to refer to. Even in settings with multiple living clay people, it is common for them to go along for many years believing themselves to be the only one of their kind, until chance brings them into contact with another.
- Ability Score Increase. Choose either Constitution or Charisma. That ability score increases by 2. One other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
- Age. You do not age. You might be anywhere from several minutes old (at the time you enter the story) to hundreds of years old, but this does not grant you particular benefits.
- Alignment. Inasmuch as it is possible to generalize when you might be the only one of your kind, it is common for living clay people to veer to extremes of lawful or chaotic outlooks, either seeking to fit in with the people they resemble, or actively rebelling against that association. They have no particular tendency toward or against good or evil.
- Type. You are both a humanoid and a construct. If a spell or effect works against humanoids or constructs, it has full effect on you.
- Glamour. While you are conscious, the magic that animates you also hides your unusual composition under an illusion of flesh. Detect magic reveals auras of illusion and transmutation magic, and true seeing reveals your true composition. Your glamour otherwise stands up to close inspection. It can’t be dispelled, but it does fade in an antimagic field. When your current hit points are less than half of your maximum hit points, creatures within 30 feet of you that do not know your true nature can roll a DC 15 Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Insight) check to recognize that you are something other than your apparent ancestry. You can deactivate or reactivate this feature as a bonus action.
- Perfect Stillness. Without some of the bodily functions of a living humanoid, you can remain perfectly still for a very long time. As long as you do not move, you gain advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks, and to Charisma (Deception) checks when you “pretend” to be a statue. You retain this bonus if other creatures move you and you choose not to resist.
- Sustained by Magic. You do not require food, water, or air. You still need the same amount of rest as humans, and your Glamour feature does not function while you rest. You gain advantage on saving throws against the exhaustion condition. When you would gain a level of exhaustion that does not allow a saving throw, you can make a special DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a success, you do not gain a level of exhaustion. Once you avoid gaining a level of exhaustion with this feature, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest.
- Optional Feature: Partner Dependence. At character creation, you can choose whether to take this feature. If you do, you can only wake from a long rest when a specific humanoid is within 5 feet of you, remaining a statue until they return to you. When that creature is within 30 feet of you and spends hit dice during a short rest to regain hit points, you regain half the number of hit points that they do. If that creature dies, you can spend a week to choose a new humanoid for this feature.
- Subrace. You treat another ancestry (race) as a special kind of subrace. You gain that ancestry’s Size, Speed, and Languages features. (This includes the additional element of the dwarf’s Speed feature, for example.) You do not gain bonuses to walking speed from the subraces of the ancestry that you choose for this feature. Your DM can decide that additional ancestry features are so intrinsic to the body shape of your subrace that you gain them as well, such as a living clay centaur.
I’ve tried to draw on everything from Galatea to Toy Story and Doc McStuffins here, to one degree or another. Even Data from ST:TNG could fit into this ancestry, if you didn’t already have something ready to go for androids. Many of the stories that involve this type of animated construct never have to answer the kinds of questions that matter to a D&D adventurer, of course, and I’ve included rules for as many of those as have occurred to me.
Partner Dependence is itself an experiment to see what kinds of flaws players might accept from their ancestry. It’s an optional flaw that shouldn’t present a problem all that often (assuming your campaign doesn’t have too much character churn), and it offers a very nice benefit.
I hope you’ll find that the living clay people let you tell new and different stories about character growth in the process of adventuring. Things like ‘ow you ‘appen to pronounce your haitches.
Writing ancestry in place of race takes some getting used to, and I’ll be curious to see what replaces “subrace.”