Races (Species) in Wasted Lands: The Dreaming Age


It's time for another peek behind the curtain in Wasted Lands. In case you've missed our past posts, we have already covered what type of game Wasted Lands will be, and how Divine Touchstones work in game. This time we'll look at nonhuman species and cultural backgrounds. These things in the O.G.R.E.S. system work a bit differently than some of our old-school (and even new-school) players may be used to seeing, but at the same time will have a degree of familiarity. Let's dive in. 

Why "Species?"

First things first: why "species" and not "race?" The use of the term "species" goes back to Night Shift: VSW. We chose the term species for a couple reasons (and we did it long before those Wizards decided to pretend it's some sort of socially relevant term). First, it's flat-out more accurate: elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and the like are quite literally a different species from humanity. Races occur within the same species. We're not posturing or trying to make any sort of statement - it's just, quite simply, a more accurate term. 

Second, it's just another move away from the D&D-centric OGL, though that one admittedly no longer applies now that those guys have jumped on the bandwagon with the term. 

Okay, now that we have that out of the way....

Species in the Dreaming Age

Technically, there are no nonhuman species in the dreaming age. By and large that's because even the proto-humans that dominate the age aren't true homo sapiens, and are themselves genetically divergent. Many are even sterile and cannot produce offspring (though not all, by any stretch - reproduction has been necessasry and essential for the species to survive for the millennia or three that have passed since the Other Gods were driven into their eternal slumber). 

We do, however, optionally allow for cultural backgrounds among humans in the Dreaming Age. These backgrounds are found in the optional rules appendix, and they work identically to species. They cover things like a hunter-gatherer culture, a horse culture, a warrior culture, a sorcerous culture, etc. 

There is also an option to play a Serpentfolk character, which technically would be the only nonhuman species allowable. In the future we may add one or two others such as Deep Ones, but it is my feeling that the more nonhuman species added to the Dreaming Age, the less it feels like a Lovecraftian/Howardian swords and sorcery setting, and the more it feels like, well, Dungeons & Dragons. So don't look for too many species in this core setting. 

Traditional Fantasy with Wasted Lands

Now, all that being said, one of the biggest requests we've seen from fans was that Wasted Lands should be easily divorced from its setting so that one can use it to play any type of fantasy they like. For that reason alone it was important to include guidelines for dwarves, orcs, goblins, and the like. They can be found in the optional rules appendix, along with some other guidelines to help with traditional style epic fantasy using the O.G.R.E.S. (or O.R.C.S., if you prefer) rules set. 

So How Do Species and Backgrounds Work?

Species (and backgrounds, if you choose to include them) work the same way. They are, in old school terms, something of a cross between race-as-class as it existed in BX and BECMI, and race-and-class as in original, Advanced, and later editions of That Famous Game. 

Species and cultural backgrounds function quite literally as single-level classes that you take at character creation. They provide a very specific set of abilities unique to the species and/or culture they represent (species traits also represent the common culture from which the species hails). They provide a single Vitality Die for Vitality Points, usually a specific save bonus, and other abilities (dwarves, for example, get the expected mining and craftsmanship abilities, and certain weapon proficiencies). You gain +0 to hit, no save bonus, and no Tiered check bonuses for ability scores.

Species and Backgrounds also have an XP Threshold, usually between 1,000 and 2,000 XP.

You then begin play without a character class, only this species or cultural background. When you reach the XP Threshold, your experience total resets to zero, you choose a character class, and proceed as normal, selecting your Tier 1, 2, and 3 ability scores, starting your to-hit progression, etc. 

You do not have to choose a species class to be a member of a species. If you wish to play an elf, for example, that bucks the trend, you simply play a normal character without choosing the elf species, and say that your character is an elf. In this case, your species is simply a matter of appearance - you look like an elf, but you don't have their fey magic, nightvision, and the like. 

Can I Have a Species and a Cultural Background?

There is no reason you couldn't have both a species and a cultural background. Simply choose both. Any redundant abilities are just that - redundant. They do not combine unless something in the species or background says otherwise. A species that has stealth abilities like a Renegade combined with a background that provides the same, for example, may improve your stealth abilities by 10% if both state that having the ability as a part of the renegade class allows this. If, however, you then choose Renegade as a character class you wouldn't get the +10% again. It's a one-off bonus. 

Choosing both a species and a cultural background, however, would require you to gain the full XP threshold of both combined before choosing a normal character class. If, then, your species has a threshold of 1,500 and your culture has a threshold of 1,000, you would have to gain 2,500 XP before you could take a class. 

What if Everyone Selects a Species or Background?

If everyone at the table agrees to take a Species or Background, the GM can grant everyone a "bonus" or "bank" of 1,000 XP or the cost of the lowest XP threshold at the table, reducing the cost to take a character class accordingly. Thus, if everyone chooses a species that costs 1,500 XP, the GM can hand-wave the requirement and let everyone also start with a class, since no balance issues are in play. 

If, on the other hand, you have four players, and each takes a background or species with XP thresholds of 1,000, 1,500, 2,000, and 1,500, the GM may award a "bank" of 1,000 XP. This allows the player who chose the 1,000 XP species to take a class immediately. The two players with 1,500 XP thresholds need only gain 500 XP each, and the 2,000 XP player will need gain only 1,000 before selecting a class. 

In the end, however, the XP "bank" award is left entirely to the GM, who is not required to hand out such a discount. They can require playing through the XP threshold as they like. 

Art by Bradley K. McDevitt. Used under license.

Sample Species: Orc-Men

Orc-Men are a hybrid species formed of the union of a human and an orc. These creatures are almost always formed from broken homes or broken relationships, and are almost never accepted among orcs, who view them as weak. They can, however, gain positions of prestige among humans, who are more accepting of their heritage. 

Size: Medium (6 to 7 feet tall)
Vitality Die: 1d10
Saves: Orc-Men gain +2 to Toughness saves and +2 to Strength saves
Move: 30 ft.
Senses: Orc-Men gain darksight, enabling them to see in near-absolute dark for up to 60 feet. This sight functions in all but the most absolute darkness; so long as there is any ambient light, they can see, albeit fine details may be difficult to discern in the darkest caverns. 
Weapons and Armor: Orc-men may use any swords or axes, and can wear armor up to chainmail.
XP Cost: 1,000

Species/Cultural Abilities

Powerful Combatants: Orc-Men may add their strength to melee combat attack and damage rolls. In addition, when they hit an opponent, the Orc Man rolls an additional die, keeping the best of all rolled. This combines with similar abilities allowing additional dice, but does not add an extra die kept. 
Human Lineage: Orc-Men may choose any single first-level class ability, which advances as normal, regardless of the class they later choose. If the ability they choose is part of their eventual chosen class, it gains a +10% bonus when they enter the class. Remember that they remain first-level when they choose a class, so this ability does not advance until they gain second level in their eventual class.

Sample Background: Sorcerous Culture

You come from a society where the magical arts are prized. Perhaps your region is ruled by a council of the Wise or a council of magi. Perhaps it’s a dark, cult-based society overrun by the Bleeding. Perhaps it is even a village formed on a site of Radiance, dedicated to spreading the knowledge of the “True Magick” of the earth to all the corners of the world. Whatever the specifics, magic runs in your blood, and most people in your community have a gift for the arts. 

Vitality Die: d6
Saves: +2 to Intelligence, Wits, or Persona saves (choose one; this cannot be changed)
Move: 30 ft.
Senses: You gain no special senses (but see mystical senses, below)
Weapons and Armor:  Staves, daggers, slings, and light armor up to and including studded leather. 

Cultural / Background Abilities 

Corruptible: Any time you suffer Degeneracy, you suffer an additional point beyond that which you would normally suffer. Thus, if you would suffer one point of Degeneracy from spellcasting, a Bleeding site, or another source, you instead suffer two. If you would suffer three, you instead suffer four. 

Enhanced Sorcery: If you choose the sorcerer/sorceress character class, you increase your base spellcasting percentage by 10%. 

Mystical Senses: You may use the Mystical Senses spell as a spell-like ability at will, with no spell components necessary. You need not make a casting check to use this ability.

Sorcerous Blood: Choose one first-level spell or one Arcane Power from the Sorcerer spell list. You may use this spell or power once per day. If the ability is a spell, you need no components to cast it, and you need not make a casting check to use this ability. If you later choose Sorcerer/Sorceress as your character class, this spell or arcane power does not count against those you know for your class. 

XP Cost: 1,500

That's all for this round. Next time, a peek behind the curtain at how tiered abilities work in O.G.R.E.S.

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