In this month's exclusive interview, designer Dave Noonan and developer Andy Collins discuss the new D&D accessory Races of Destiny, the guide to why we humans are the coolest race to be.
Wizards of the Coast: The title of this book makes a pretty big and bold statement: that humans and those with human blood are the "races of destiny." In broad terms, do all these races share the same destiny? Do half-elves, half-orcs, even doppelgangers really see themselves as one of the races who will ultimately control the world?
Andy Collins: D&D shares a common conceit of many fantasy properties that the "young" race of humanity (and, in this case, its offshoots) represents the future of the world, in contrast to the older races, such as elves and dwarves, which represent the past. While I don't think that every human (or half-elf) recognizes that, it's certainly true in most D&D worlds that humanity is on the rise -- often at the expense of other races.
Dave Noonan: And in those cases where the world doesn't have a "humans are the future" element to it, there's still a sense that human destiny isn't set. You know what elves and dwarves are going to do, because they've been doing it for millennia. But humanity (including the halfsies) could, as a race, move in any number of ways. They could turn on each other, they could launch a great crusade, or they could turn to gibbering, frothing evil. Humans are still "in play," in other words.
Wizards: What was the philosophy behind this book? Its conception seems like a moment of clarity, acknowledging that humans often get the short end of the stick in most D&D supplements because they're a known, "nonexotic" race with no special allure. How did you approach the subject matter in initial discussions and design?
Dave: A lot of our early discussions included the question, ". . . and then what?" In other words, it's one thing to notice that humans tend to be more broadly multicultural than elves or dwarves. But when you look at how broad that canvas of culture is in the real world, it's simply staggering. So then what? What does that incredible cultural diversity lead you to? In the case of the humans, one possible answer is that human cultures are effectively each a race in their own right, as different from one another (in everything but physiology) as elves are from dwarves.
Wizards: Was it difficult to condense so much about humans themselves -- religions, psychology, folklore, habits -- into only 30 or so of the book's 192 pages? How did you determine what was enough for players to play human PCs?
Dave: I think that in that section, we were like dungeon explorers who threw open a bunch of doors, then ran away. We showed as many possibilities and examples as we could just to give you a sense of what's out there, but we've left the actual exploring to you.
Wizards: Over the years, quite a bit has been written about half-elves and half-orcs. In Races of Destiny, what will old-hand players not have encountered before? What will make them say, "Wow -- I'd never thought about it like that before"?
Andy: Far too often, we're shown half-elves as "elves with beards" and half-orcs as "orcs with moderate self-restraint." I like the idea of treating both of these races as more human than "other," which is explored in a few feats and other options.
Dave: It's common to play half-elves and half-orcs as "one foot in each culture, but truly part of neither." But it's another case of ". . . and then what?" Half-elves are trying to integrate their human and elven selves and, by extension, the human and elven cultures. (That's why they're so darn diplomatic.) But half-orcs are instead taking the opposite approach, saying to the humans and orcs, "A plague on both your houses!" They're going to find their own way, and if the humans and orcs don't like it, too bad for them.
Wizards: The new race of illumians, created by sorcery, is absolutely fascinating and certainly a highlight of Races of Destiny. What will players find particularly intriguing about this strange fringe race of mystical intellectuals?
Andy: In development, we focused on making sure that the race felt very versatile -- a nod to its human origin -- while still feeling totally different from a human. The ability to "choose" your racial traits to a large extent makes the race unlike any other in the game.
Wizards: What will be the challenges of playing an illumian in a campaign that has nonillumian PCs?
Andy: From a roleplaying perspective, an illumian PC interacting with non-illumians will likely be torn between maintaining the secretive nature of his race and trusting his non-illumian allies to guard his back.
Wizards: You must have favorites among the other races, from the aasimars to the underfolk. Which ones do you lean toward for your own personal gaming experiences, and why?
Andy: I've always been a fan of the doppelganger. Some of the most memorable gaming experiences I've had involve doppelgangers . . . usually to my players' frustration.
Dave: I'm fond of the underfolk, because I love the notion of catacombs and storm sewers forming this secret city under a real one. I'm a sucker for those "Seattle Underground" or "Parisian catacombs" tours.
Wizards: Players tend to gravitate toward some prestige classes more than others. Races of Destiny offers them seven new ones. Which do you anticipate becoming the most popular? (I personally suspect the chameleon class is going to be a hot one -- passing myself off as any class works for those of us with a chaotic bent.)
Andy: I anticipate many players, upon reading the chameleon prestige class, won't be able to believe that their dreams of being able to change their "class" every day have been granted.
Dave: I like the scar enforcer, because it takes a race not known for its combat prowess --the half-elves -- and gives them some real menace.
Wizards: After so many spells, feats, and psionic powers have been created for D&D, do you find it difficult to continue inventing them for new releases like Races of Destiny? How do you keep track of the terrain that's already been covered, without creating, for instance, a spell that's too similar to another spell that already exists?
Andy: That's an ongoing challenge, to be sure. We try to keep as much information in our heads as possible while constantly referencing and rereferencing other D&D sourcebooks to keep our brains up-to-date.
Dave: Keeping track of what's gone before is hard, but coming up with new stuff is still a joy. The risk, of course, is that you'll accidentally invent something that already exists -- or worse, that you'll reinvent something in a slightly different way. So, we have to be really vigilant. But that vigilance amounts to reading a bunch of D&D books, so it's not exactly hazardous duty.
Wizards: Do you ever feel burned out in expanding the worlds of D&D, or do you finish one project and feel more than ready to move on to the next one?
Andy: It's a curse of the developer that we're always eager to take on more products while simultaneously hating to see our current products leave so soon.
Wizards: What are you working on now?
Dave: Well, I'm in a bunch of meetings and playtests with Andy -- I'm serving a stint on the development team.
Andy: As always, the development team is working on products so far off in the future (mid- to late 2005) that I can't go into any details. We've been working on a couple of new capsystem products (in the vein of Expanded Psionics Handbook or Epic Level Handbook) recently, both of which will find some eager readers -- though they don't know it yet!