Choosing a race is one of the biggest decisions that a player can make when creating a character (side note: some games will not give you a “race” option. We’re using the term to describe any background that may determine place of origin, certain physical features, etc.) This decision will impact the character first from a mechanical standpoint (e.g. Stat buffs) and then in a narrative way.
Before we get to the main point of our article, we have to understand the importance of a good narrative. Narrative is largely driven forward by encounters, which can loosely be described as interactions between PCs and NPCs. It is the main avenue by which we tell our stories. The encounters don’t necessarily have to be violent, and often times they aren’t! Dialogue interaction is how many characters learn about the world and themselves. It helps to develop not only the player’s relationship with each other, but also deepen the sense of reality within the adventure. Reality, after all, is the ultimate goal for any GM looking to creative a wholly immersive experience for the players to have. The best way to make players feel like the adventure is real is to include little bits of reality in the adventure, and mix it with the fantasy. That goes all the way down to the small nuances that PCs will pick up on and base their decisions on.
As a GM it is important to make sure that the people that populate the cities are as real as possible. That means that there are good people, there are bad people, and there people in between. That brings us to a very important type of people that exist in both the real world and in most game worlds. Racists. Racial tension is something that almost everyone is familiar with in some form or fashion. It’s generally accepted that making positive or negative judgements of someone purely based on race is wrong, and anyone that doesn’t fall into that general mindset is in the wrong. These truths can be very interesting when applied to a fictional universe that needs a little bit of reality mixed in. If you’re in a game that is very heavy on the “role-play” side of things, it can make for some very interesting scenarios when your party encounters somebody with wildly unpopular moral views. This is especially true if those views negatively harm one of the members in the party.
In a world that includes this dynamic, Non-Playable Characters in the world will react differently to different races depending on location, prior experience, tone of the world, and a large variety of other factors that can shape a person’s morality. These differing reactions don’t necessarily need to be negative in any way. For example, and innkeeper might laugh a little bit when a halfling orders a drink but hand the Goliath one for free. It’s a completely neutral reaction rather than refusing somebody service altogether. However that does not mean that negative reactions do not have their place. A suspicious glance here, a sharp word there, and one of the players may just have that much more investment in the story that is being told. As a player I know that the reaction of NPCs is one of the main ways that I gauge danger, and it goes a long way into deepening my investment in the story. As a GM I use those same reactions as a tool to invoke emotion in my players when I want them to have a certain feeling or reaction to their setting.
Now I do want to emphasize that this is a tool that should be used sparingly, and it should only be introduced to a party with a solid ability to suspend their reality. Racism is not something to joke about or play with, so just be mature about the matter and it can be a very powerful narrative device!
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