Hello all welcome to another one of our “Race Card” articles. Last time I talked of why humans were a good race to play, today’s article doesn’t go too far from the human question but today we’re talking about hybrid races and their particular roleplaying opportunities.
Chris Perkins recently commented that “humans will sleep with anything,” as an explanation to why there are so many ways humans interbreed with other creatures. There are many ways to make that work for you. Because there’s a lot to discuss and think about with each one. I’ll put out a few suggested questions to think of for hybrid characters to begin with, and then I’ll spend a short time on aspects specific to specific races.
- Who did you grow up with: If you were the child of two different races, such as an elf and a human or a human and an orc, which parent, if any did you grow up with. A half-orc that grew up with humans in a large city probably isn’t going to turn out the same as a half-orc growing up with orcs. Also, you should think of the possibility of growing up with both parents and what that means for your character’s upbringing. Also, in the case of creatures like Genasi, they might not even know of one of their parents at all, which brings up its own issues.
- What does hybridization mean for your culture?
Depending on the situation of the society where your character was born, their mixed blood might be a blessing or a curse. In general, elves really frown upon half-elves whereas as long as a half-orc can hold their own, they can get by in Orcish society. For some races like Genasi, their blood might actually win them preferential treatment, where an aasimar is regarded as something holy, because in a very real sense, it is. You have to think about what this also means for how your character views their own pedigree, which leads directly into…
- Does your character express or hide their ancestry?
For some races this isn’t really a question. A fire Genasi that actually has fire for hair can’t really hide that as effectively as other races. But some races, for either reasons of trying to fit in, or even reasons of personal safety might not want their natures revealed. Erin Evans, in her first “Brimstone Angels” book, begins the story with a tiefling midwife with sawed horns and a clubbed tail, trying to call as little attention to her race as possible, which largely sets up one of the big questions for Farideh throughout the series as far as I have read. Volo’s Guide to Monsters also states that aasimar, to avoid interference do not like to draw attention to their divine ancestry. The Player’s Handbook also says however, that some Tieflings embrace their infernal heritage and try to draw attention to it, so depending on the nature of your character’s personality; it could easily go in the other direction.
Do you associate more with humans or elves? This is probably where the main aspect of your self-image will be defined. Also, are you one who embraces elven culture or who wants to be as human as possible? Also, which of your parents was the elf? All of these are particular questions you’ll need to answer.
Did you grow up among humans or orcs? Also, orcs often take human mates as slaves, so if that is the case, what does the enslavement of your mother or father mean to you. Are they weak or are they sufferers of a great injustice? Also, if you grew up among orcs, what did your greater intelligence mean for you? Conversely, if you grew up with humans, what did the Orcish violent streak or your generally dimmer mind mean for you?
Tieflings are strictly a hybrid, as their fiendish heritage is really watered down. However, as generally Tieflings are assumed to be part-human by default (though there are other kinds and this is just the default,) I chose to include them here. Tieflings have some of the most obvious signs of their ancestry. Also, most people think their sinister aspects are far more than skin-deep. The Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide even states that tieflings are often at actual risk for physical harm when things go wrong in small communities. Was this just a threat for you or did this threat actually materialize at some point. Also, tieflings are often allowed into bad society but very few good-aligned groups welcome them. Did you challenge the status quo and work your way into one of those groups, embrace the evil groups that actually esteemed you, or take a stand as a defiant loner, ignoring those who hypocritically didn’t give you a chance, but not running to the wicked because they think you are special for all the wrong reasons?
Aasimar are in a similar position to tieflings in terms of how they actually count as hybrids, and they have some of the same questions surrounding them, but in reverse. An aasimar is seen as a creature of inherent good and thus will be encouraged to join good groups and they will be despised by evil ones. With all this treatment, will the praise go to your head? If you’re an evil Aasimar, how do you react to all the inherent trust put in you? And perhaps are you one that breaks the mold and likes to throw around their divine nature and make it apparent to all? Also, perhaps you want to forge your own path, not evil but not towards any world-spanning good goal either, do you take a defiant route like some tieflings do?
Firstly, for the water Genasi: do you live primarily above or below water? For all: what is the view you have of your elemental nature and what does the local community think of it? How obvious is your elemental manifestation? And finally, are you aware of your elemental parent? Are they aware of you, and if they are, are they in touch? If they are, are they friendly or hostile?
I hope this discussion of partial humans and the issues that surround them will help you design characters of these races. The various culture clashes or questions your character, in-world will have to answer can make for rich stories and memorable moments.
About the Author:
Zachary Ruffing is one of the DMs for “Companions of the Perception Check” and is running the “Children of Gith,” campaign set in the “Points of Light” universe. He enjoys the company of his rat and his two dogs (one of the rats recently died (Rest in Piece St. Catherine.)) His favorite hybrid race in D&D are Tieflings, though Genasi are a close second. Tieflings, however, now have intense resentment towards humans and detest his praise for them.