Jordan's Page of Useless Babble

Step 4: Pick your Races
Once you've decided on the basics, it's time to think about the people who will inhabit your world. Not individuals, but the races that make up the general population (ie, the races your players and most of your NPCs will use). For most campaigns, humans will make up the majority of the population. Now, you're under no obligation to follow this convention. All the races are up to you. There are some guidelines though that can help you.

Don't be afraid to leave some info out: When you're writing your campaign setting, you're mainly writing for one basic part of your world -- the part from which your players live and where they spend most of their lives. Since you're focusing on that area, the races you select for your setting should also mostly reside in there as well. If you focus on places outside of that purview, you will just end up making more work for yourself and the reward will be extra races that don't quite mesh with everything else you write. Some exceptions are, of course, permissible, but such races should still reside on the extreme edges of your focused area and be relatively rare.

Try to keep everything level: The ECL (Effective Character Level) of all your races should be roughly the same. That means that the races should be more or less equal in power to one another. In most settings, you'll be aiming for a general ECL of 0, with a few exceptions of +1 or even +2.

Don't overwhelm with choices: Players can become intimidated by a large selection of races. If presented with enough choice, even the most hardy and experienced player can have trouble making a final choice on their character's race. Try to limit the number of available races to about a dozen and no more than fifteen at the absolute maximum. A good selection of races will ensure that players can find what they want without getting bogged down by selection.

Look to the basics: As a Dungeon Master, you have the ability to fill your world with whatever races you choose. However, you want to try and avoid the pitfall of making everything very exotic and alien. While that can certainly make your setting memorable, your players will have trouble with their characters and the cultures around them. If your players can't relate, they may lose interest or become frustrated. Familiar races, like humans, are comfortable for players and can provide a safety net for those who may not be as comfortable roleplaying out of their element.

Beginning Dungeon Masters would be well advised to pull their race selections straight from the Player's Handbook. Most players are familiar with these races and can extrapolate temperaments, outlooks and relations from their previous experience.

Even if you choose not to use the races from the Player's Handbook, or other books you can use the races there as a template for your choices. Take these examples from the Player's Handbook, Races of Stone, Races of the Wild, Races of Destiny and Races of the Dragon


Dragonborn Draconic Warrior Good
Dwarf Defense Lawful Good
Elf Spellcasting Chaotic Good
Gnome Illusion Good
Goliath Powerful Strength Neutral
Halfling Sneak Neutral
Half-Elf Diplomatic Chaotic
Half-Orc Primal Warrior Chaotic
Illumian Language Lawful
Raptoran Flyer Chaotic Good

Notice that none of these races have a predilection towards evil. The general idea in Dungeons and Dragons is that the party is, for the most part, made up of good guys. The general attitude towards alignment for most of the races is good, with neutral being as close to evil as it gets. Lawful and chaotic races are roughly in the same proportion. Finally, every race has a well-defined role. Something that they do well, and that many of their racial abilities compliment.

Keeping a good balance between good and evil, lawful and chaotic, primal and civilized, and so on, is essential. Good balance means that your players will likely find something that appeals to them. Figuring out what niches your races will fill means that you will have little overlap and that you don't overlook an important idea or concept that you wanted a race to exemplify.

Step 5: Making your Own Races
This step is purely optional, but it helps separate your campaign from others, by adding not only flavor to your races, but an actual change in the rules. A new race, even a subrace, can be refreshing to players who are used to the same old races they use every time.

If no races are available to fill a particular place in your setting, you may want to consider making your own. Beginning Dungeon Masters should start with an existing race and then begin making slight alterations to the racial abilities, keeping in mind that every ability they add should have roughly the same amount of power as an ability they remove. The result is a subrace, and is a great way to have freedom of creation while still keeping everything balanced.

More advanced Dungeon Masters can try their hands at making entirely new races from scratch. When making a new race, many of the guidelines from above apply as well:

Don't be afraid to leave something out: Can't think of the major accomplishments of your race's 22nd ruling court? Leave it out! It's a sad fact, but most players simply will not read huge and exhaustive treatises on your race, and will rarely read beyond the bare minimum. Larger detail is more for the Dungeon Master than the player. Keeping this in mind, you can easily flesh out the small details later on, after the rest of the world has been created. Remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid!

Try to keep everything level: Good balance means a good game. If you've made a race that's overpowered or has the potential for abuse, you can bet that your players are going to catch on and exploit that power. Identify what's wrong and make changes to the race to balance everything out. Nerfing an ability or slapping on a level adjustment can quickly turn a munchkin's wet dream into a lean mean adventuring machine. (See below for how to identify problems with your race's balance.)

Look to the basics: Nobody's asking you to reinvent the wheel. Not every race has to have revolutionary abilities never before seen. Some of the best races use simple abilities to good effect. Look to the Player's Handbook for good ideas on racial abilities. Something as simple as a racial bonus on a skill check can be both a welcome ability and a great opportunity to help flesh out some fluff (or if you're a long time reader, the role).

Step 5-A: Test it! Test it! Test it!
This absolutely cannot be stressed enough: playtest all new material you create for your campaign setting, including races! Woe befalls the Dungeon Master who neglects this most basic of steps. Without playtesting, you will have little idea of whether your race is balanced with the others, whether it's much too powerful, or much too weak. Putting a race through a few battles with NPCs can be a great way to identify any future problems before they start.

Try testing with different class combinations and at different levels, but make sure that when your race is being put to the test, the NPC being pitted against it is using the same combination (or a more effective combination, never cripple your NPC).

Test several times and compare the results. If your race wins or loses much more often than its NPC opponent, you know that there's a balancing problem that needs to be addressed.

Step 5-B: Keeping Everything on the Level
Nothing is quite as frustrating for a Dungeon Master as fiddling around with level adjustments, trying in vain to find just the right one and testing over and over again. Take a look at Savage Species, which contains a wealth of information on how to set a level adjustment that works the first time.

Step 6: Adding Flavor
Once you've selected the races that will be used in your campaign, it's time to put on the finishing touches. You need to give your races flavor.

For existing races, this can be as little as a single paragraph, or up to about three. These would explain the race's role in your campaign setting and detail any alignment, relation, attitude or cultural difference that the race has on your campaign setting. Your elves might be xenophobic, your dwarves might pay more respect to fire than to stone or your halflings might live on the coast and worship aquatic gods. All of this information needs to be conveyed to your players.

For sub-races, you'll want to put in about the same amount of information as you would for existing races. Afterwhich, you'd outline all the actual rule-changes between your sub-race and the standard version of the race.

If you've created a brand-new race, you'll have some work ahead of you. Since the race is known only to you, you'll need to find some way of expressing their uniqueness. Luckily, the Player's Handbook has you covered, and is formatted perfectly when it comes to describing races. Use the chapter on races and look at the format used there. If you too use this format you will not only have a logical way of entering in all your information, but your players, who are very used to reading race descriptions in the same way, will find your race very easy and comfortable to read.

Remember: If they don't read it, they won't use it.


  1. Select the races (see Step 4) that will be used in your campaign setting. Try to come up with about 6 or 7 choices at minimum. If you're using just the races from the Player's Handbook, that's fine, but be sure to list them out.
  2. Try to make at least one new race (see Step 5) for your setting. Be sure to make something that helps fill a niche left by the other races. This can be either a sub-race or an entirely new race.
  3. Finally, come up with flavor (see Step 6) for all the races you've selected in Step 4 and any races you created as part of Step 5. Try to keep it in the space guidelines as described above.


  1. The following races will be used in Penumbra: Human, Elan, Elf, Dwarf, Githspawn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling, Mongrelfolk, Orc, Shadow Genasi and Shadowswyft. Mongrelfolk appear in Races of Destiny and Shadowswyfts appear in the Planar Handbook. Shadow Genasi and Githspawn are new races.
  2. Shadow Genasi Racial Abilities
    • +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom, -2 Charisma
    • Medium: As Medium creatures, shadow genasi have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
    • Outsider: Shadow genasi are outsiders with the native subtype.
    • Base speed: 30 feet.
    • Darkvision out to 60 feet.
    • +1 racial bonus on saving throws against darkness spells and effects. This bonus increases by +1 for every five class levels the shadow genasi attains.
    • Clerical Focus: A shadow genasi cleric must choose a deity who grants access to the Darkness domain and select Darkness as one of her two domains.
    • Darkness (Sp): Shadow genasi can use darkness once per day as cast by a 5th-level sorcerer.
    • Automatic Languages: Common. Bonus Languages: Any.
    • Favored Class: Fighter
    • Level Adjustment: +1
    • +2 Dexterity, -2 Intelligence
    • Medium: As Medium creatures, githspawn have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
    • Base speed: 30 feet.
    • Darkvision out to 60 feet.
    • +2 racial bonus to Concentration checks. Githspawn have the ability to easily focus themselves inward.
    • +2 racial bonus to Intimidate checks. Githspawn use their appearance to help cow others.
    • Power Resistance (Ex): A githspawn has power resistance equal to 5 + one-half her Hit Dice (rounded down).
    • Naturally Psionic: Githspawn gain 2 bonus power points at 1st level. This benefit does not grant them the ability to manifest powers unless they gain that ability through another source, such as levels in a psionic class.
    • Psi-Like Abilities: A githspawn can use psionic daze three times per day. Manifester level is equal to 1/2 Hit Dice. The save DCs are Charisma-based.
    • Automatic Languages: Common. Bonus Languages: Astral, Dwarven.
    • Favored Class: Psychic Warrior
  3. Because of the sheer amount of information that can be given, the race descriptions given here are purposefully short, and will be fleshed out for the setting guide.

    When the beginning of end came, humans were the most prevalent race in Penumbra. Now, centuries later, the descendants of those who were not able to escape through planar travel know that any day the shadows could consume what little of the world remains. Some still fight in vain against the encroaching darkness. Others raid long-emptied cities in search of lost magic. Many though, have become lost in never-ending quests for sensation, becoming fans of gladiatorial combat, and taking slaves of other races. If you're already doomed, what difference can your actions have?

    When the last dwarves were left with no viable way to escaping the Material Plane, they sought refuge in the Inner Planes. Living in those inhospitable places was impossible, but the leaders of dwarf-kind made a pact with a powerful elemental prince from the Plane of Fire. In exchange for worship and sacrifice to the price, the dwarves would gain the abilities of fire, the better to drive away the shadows. Dwarves live in a theocracy, worshipping the cleansing flames that they believe will be enough to bring light to the world again.

    Ember Dwarf Racial Traits
    Except as noted below, ember dwarves are identical to the dwarves described in the Player's Handbook.
    • Inner Flames (Su): Ember dwarves supernaturally channel flames through their weapons. Any weapon that an ember dwarf wields deals one point of fire damage in addition to its normal damage. This ability does not work if the ember dwarf wields a weapon that deals cold damage.
    • Resistance to Fire 5: Ember dwarves have been granted some resistance against flames by their elemental patron.
    • Clerical Focus: An ember dwarf cleric must choose a deity who grants access to the Fire domain and select Fire as one of her two domains.
    • Ember dwarves do not have the stonecunning ability.
    • Ember dwarves do not receive the standard +2 bonus on Craft checks relating to stone or metal objects.
    • Favored Class: Cleric.

    In the last century, a strange group of people, once humans but now something different, have emerged from the shadows from parts unknown. These 'elans' as they call themselves, have no memories of where they came from, or their lives before their transformation. What they do have is power. Many elans integrate themselves with human communities and provide psionic services in exchange for room and board. While many human communities are willing to take their strange cousins in, some worry about what happened to the elans and if the same fate may befall them.

    When the Great Migration occured, most of the powerful elven wizards and sorcerers left the world. Those elves that remained and became trapped became bitter and angry. Now centuries later, the decendants of these elves have forgotten most of their ancestor's lore. High-elven magic is a thing of legend, never to be seen again. These 'lost elves' are dangerous and xenophobic for the most part, but some have decided to travel the world in search for their lost history.
    Lost Elf Racial Traits
    Except as noted below, lost elves are identical to the elves described in the Player's Handbook.
    • Weapon Proficiency: Lost elves receive the Martial Weapon Proficiency feats for the battleaxe, handaxe and bolas. Elven warfare has been lost to history, so the lost elves have developed a new school based on both dwarven techniques and those used by human slavers.
    • Favored Class: Rogue.

    Legends say that the Cataclysm occurred when strange boats appeared in the sky and fought one another. Nobody knows if the tales are true, but the existence of these alien artifacts is. It is said that the githspawn are the descendants of some of these aliens who integrated and mated with the humans in the areas around their crash sites. Standing about six feet tall on average, githspawn are wiry, and all have pocked yellow skin, russet stringy hair, nearly flat noses and pointed ears. Having integrated fully in most human communities, especially around the areas where the alien ships are known lie buried in the ground, most know nothing more about the history of the Cataclysm than anyone else.

    The Cataclysm changed those gnomes that weren't able to escape what eventually became known as Penumbra. Seeing a kind of twisted synergy between their natural abilities and those of the encroaching shadows, they came to believe in a kinship and dubbed themselves umbral gnomes. These gnomes study the supernatural nature of the shadows up close and attempt to learn from them. Naturally, this puts them at odds with the ember dwarves. The dwarves would like nothing more than to exterminate gnomes from the face of Penumbra for their perceived sacrilege. The gnomes for the most part care not and continue learning from the shadows for good or ill.

    Umbral Gnome Racial Traits
    Except as noted below, umbral gnomes are identical to the gnomes described in the Player's Handbook.
    • +2 racial bonus on Hide checks. The umbral gnome's studies have made them adept at hiding in the darkness.
    • Spell-Like Abilities: 1/day - black candle (see Tome of Magic). An umbral gnome with a Charisma score of at least 10 also has the following spell-like abilities: 1/day - detect magic, ghost sound, prestidigitation. Caster level 1st; save DC 10 + umbral gnome's Cha modifier + spell level. This replaces the standard gnome's spell-like abilities.
    • Umbral gnomes do not have the standard +2 racial bonus on Craft (alchemy) checks.
    • Favored Class: Shadowcaster.

    Human-elven relations are shaky at best. Human slavers often attempt to capture elven maidens for use as concubines and servants, or the males for fighting in the arena as gladiators. Elves are just as unfriendly and attempt to return the favor, or at least kill, any humans trespassing on their lands without permission. Surprisingly though, half-elves are not uncommon, many having been born to slaves on both sides of the ongoing conflict. These half-elves are often put into positions as servants and use their considerable diplomatic skills to attempt better living conditions. Free half-elves, such as adventurers, can generally find themselves tolerated in both human and elven communities, making them rare commodities.

    Much like half-elves are the children of slaves, half-orcs are often the children of gladiators. Orcish gladiators can often take their pick of admiring fans, and these unions produce half-orc children. Half-orcs often take their place in the arena, fighting like their forebears. Those that choose not to, often become bodyguards for pampered nobility or strike out on their own as adventurers. Many are expected to 'perform' as gladiators, whether they are gladiators or not. These kinds of requests, or demands are met with anything from good humor to extreme violence.

    Halflings tend to live in isolated communities, close to where the alien ships crashed. They live a strange life, often making a living by venturing deep underground into the crash sites and recovering alien artifacts, magical, psionic or mundane, and then selling them to wealthy collectors. While this lifestyle is fraught with danger, it affords the halflings a comfortable living, away from cities that could well prove more deadly. Halfling adventurers often possess a large amount of information about the ships and what can be found within, and many come psionicists or spellcasters in an attempt to make more use of what they could find.

    With the amount of cross-breeding that occurs in larger human settlements between them and other races, it's no wonder that there are a small amount of mongrelfolk: crossbreeds of crossbreeds of crossbreeds, that live there. Mongrelfolk are the end result of generations of breeding with different races. While they hold no special purpose in Penumbra, they are not ostracized either. Mongrelfolk are content for the most part, to live out their lives in peace, but occasionally an adventurer has been known to emerge from their ranks, seeking to make their mark.

    Many would find the cohabitation of orcs and humans in Penumbra to be unusual, but the arrangement is actually quite practical. Human communities provide safe havens from shadow creatures, money, food, entertainment and drink. Orcs provide muscle, which can be used to reinforce the protection of the area or even as gladiators in the arena. Orcish gladiators can even become minor celebrities in their own way, and those that do, have no trouble finding companionship with their many fans. As a result, there is usually a small population of half-orcs that result from these unions in most human cities.

    Shadow Genasi
    Shadow genasi are the living reminders of the end of the world, and are hated for it. They are the descendants of couplings between humans and creatures such as khayal genies or shadow elementals. Shadow genasi are born with unique powers of darkness and a connection to the Plane of Shadow. Dwarves are often outright hostile towards shadow genasi, seeing them as heretical, while umbral gnomes and shadowcasters of all races see them as the next-step in adaptation to the changes in Penumbra. Shadow genasi can be found in many different places, often alongside humans, whom they are descended from. While they may be hated by some, their abilities make them useful regardless of any prejudice.

    Shadowswyfts are uncommon and not well understood. They appear at random in births around areas close to the alien ship ruins and have known to come from human, elven and half-elven stock. These creatures have a low-tolerance to light but unequaled night-vision. Some find that they can be employed as scouts, spies and thieves quite easily, but many more strike out on their own as adventurers. Due to the different planar nature of Penumbra, shadowswyfts are somewhat different than those found in other settings.

    Penumbra Shadowswyft Racial Traits
    Except as noted below, Penumbra shadowswyfts are identical to the shadowswyfts described in the Planar Handbook.
    • Humanoid: Penumbra shadowswyfts are humanoids, not outsiders and do not have the extraplanar subtype.
    • Level adjustment: +0. Penumbra shadowswyfts do not have a level adjustment.

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