a blog of short and medium length ttrpg thinking posts

Friday, September 24, 2021

witchcraft

(Being a magic system for the marginal and desparate, to be used with these 3e-like rules.)

a witch, writing at a table and holding a demon in her left hand, while another woman carries a basket of fish and looks on nervously

The world is a cruel and capricious place, over which we have very little power. The power we do have hurts us, it seems, almost as often as it helps. Witchcraft is an attempt to seize control of your own fate by whatever means necessary.

You can use witchcraft to try to make something happen even if it is totally outside of your control. To do so, you need to be able to see, hear, smell, touch or name whatever you want to bewitch, at least in part. You also need one or more of the following:

  • Will. You are willing to burn for this. This is automatic if you're using witchcraft to save your own life or that of someone you love, but otherwise this calls for a Will roll. This is what the Witching skill is; it is the skill of making yourself want something badly enough.
  • Words. You know powerful words to say, specifically for this purpose. Words are usually fairly specific, but it's simply a matter of learning them, either from a teacher or from magical writings.
  • Ways. You have an efficacious ingredient (usually some animal part, herb or mineral, but sometimes a more complex preparation) and know that is suited to the task at hand.

Roll 1d6 for each of these that you have. If the highest die is a 6, the witching works immediately and completely. If it is a 4 or 5, choose one of those. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing.

When bewitching beings sensible to speech, witchcraft can accomplish one of two things. It can either curse their body and mind with some sort of disease, or it can mesmerize them for as long as the witch is able to continue muttering the witching under their breath. One mesmerized will take no action other than those commanded by the witch, but each command requires the witch to succeed in a Will attack against their mental resistence.

There are prices to be paid for witchcraft. If doubles were rolled, the Referee interprets the stated intent of a witching in bad faith, if possible. For every 1 rolled, the witch loses nerve or takes damage equal to the number of dice rolled. If triples were rolled, the witching lets something demonic into the world:

TripleDemon
1s1d6 wisps. If the damage from the witching critically injures you, one of them seizes your body as a ketev.
2s2d6 mournful shades of the dead.
3sAn unbound imp, cruel and evil-tempered.
4sA wraith that knows your name and can wear your likeness as it rides away, intent on mischief.
5sA wraith whose name you hear as it slips into the world, to bind them with if you catch them again.
6sA bound familiar, unquestioningly loyal to you til death.

Monday, September 13, 2021

whence 3E's skills

The third edition Player's Handbook lists more than forty skills in which its adventurers can have ranks. Although prior editions of the game had skill systems (AD&D's Nonweapon Proficiencies and BECMI's General Skills), the 3rd edition skill system breaks with them in two ways:

  • It is no longer an optional part of the game, but instead arguably the most-used non-combat mechanic in 3E D&D.
  • The skill system does not use (modified-)ability-score-roll-under, as NWP and General Skills do, but a d20 + bonuses vs target number mechanic, similar to the newly-rationalized d20 + bonuses vs armor class mechanic used in combat.

I'm not going to spill any (digital) ink addressing those points. If you have strong opinions about them, good for you. Rather, I'm going to address the question: where did 3E's list of skills come from?

Sunday, September 5, 2021

towards a 3e hack

The third edition of D&D was my first exposure to it and to roleplaying games in general. Although I haven't played it in years and it does a thousand things I find frustrating, but it retains a draw for me. The more I learn about other editions of the game, earlier and later, the more I find myself appreciating parts of the vision for 3e. It's a design itch I don't feel that I've fully scratched yet, so here is some work I've done in various areas towards a 3e-based hack. The one sentence pitch is like: what if third edition was more like into the odd, but it also only used d20s and d6s for some reason.

This post is not going to go into any character creation mechanics (classes, templates, feats, etc) because it's still pretty unclear to me how I'd like those to work.

woodcut of an angel and a skeleton, both holding downward-pointing arrows

Thursday, September 2, 2021

reverse dragonball stew

(With apologies and indeptedness to Spwack's Reverse Owlbear Stew and Phlox's Orbseeker.)

For each stat, roll 3d6 and write down half the total (rounded down) for the stat and the lowest die as the defense (using the highest lowest die for each pair of stats).

  • Strength and Constitution -> the FORT defense (blocking).
  • Dexterity and Wits -> the REF defense (dodging).
  • Intellect and Charm -> the WILL defense (resisting).

Your max HP is equal to the sum of your three defense ratings. Resting a few minutes and taking refreshment restores 1 lost HP after a fight. Taking a night's rest in a safe place restores 1d6 HP. Regular attacks do 1d6 damage, awkward or unarmed ones do the lower of two d6, dangerous ones do the higher of two d6 and things you wouldn't expect someone to survive do 2d6 or more.

To succeed on something that needs a roll, you must roll a d20 under or equal to the relevant stat (Ref's decision) plus all ranks in relevant skills. If this is a roll against an obstacle (like a foe's defense), your roll must be higher [not equal to] the relevant obstacle or defense rating. If this is an opposed roll and your opponent rolled under or equal to their total, you must roll under or equal to your total but higher than their roll.

When you create your character, split 10 ranks between the following skills. You may not start with more than 4 ranks in any skill.

  • Acrobatics
  • Attraction
  • Engineering
  • Fencing
  • Hypnosis
  • Intimidation
  • Medicine
  • Naturalism
  • Navigation
  • Physics
  • Riding
  • Skullduggery
  • Sailing
  • Shooting
  • Stealth
  • Striking
  • Swimming
  • Wrestling

After an adventure or a season of training, you may roll 2d6 for up to three different skills you exercised. If the result is more than your current ranks in the skill, gain a rank. You can never gain more than ten ranks in a skill.

Characters who carry more things than their Constitution can't have reduce all their defenses by the excess (gear never affects HP). Bulky items count as two things, thrown weapons and similar small stuff can be bundled.

Characters start as fighter B, orbseeker B or fighter A/orbseeker A.

Goku DBZ and Piccolo DBZ making fighting poses at an enemy not pictured.

fighter type characters

Fighters cultivate their qi in order to perform amazing martial arts. For each template, fighters increase one of their defenses (and therefore their max HP) by 1. Gain a fighter template whenever you defeat a foe that is stronger than you.

  • A Bronze Body. If you take no action other than resisting an attack, reduce damage you take from it by your relevant defense.
  • B Golden Core. You have a pool of qi dice (QD) equal to the number of fighter templates you have. You may roll any number of QD from your pool instead of normal damage dice for an attack. Whenever a 6 is rolled on a QD, add 5 to the sum of the dice and reroll the die (repeating this for subsequent 6s). After rolling QD, your pool is diminished by 1QD for every reroll. Your pool is restored by spending a suitable amount of time eating, resting or meditating.
  • C+. +1 technique.
A list of sample techniques follows. Don't roll QD for an attack unless it hits.
  1. One Hundred Blows. Deals [sum]x2 damage, divided between all the targets you can hit with (separate) Strength attacks. There is no upper limit on the number of targets.
  2. Concussion. A Constitution attack that deals [sum] damage to everyone within [dice]x2 paces of you and 1 damage to you.
  3. Monkey Arms. You may make up to [dice] Dexterity attacks at targets up to [sum] paces away.
  4. Owl Eyes. Whenever your REFLEX saves you from an attack, you may immediately use this technique to make a Wits attack dealing [sum] damage to your attacker.
  5. Feint. An Intellect attack that paralyzes the foe for [dice] turns (or until they take damage) instead of damaging them.
  6. Demon Beam. A Charm attack that deals [sum] damage that cannot be reduced to a target up to [dice]x5 paces away.
  7. Many Shadows. Creates [dice] duplicates of you, dividing your current HP between them (round down). Any duplicates that clasp hands re-unite add their HP together. Otherwise, all duplicates (and their HP) except your choice of one dissolve after 60 minus [sum] minutes.
  8. Light Body. You can fly, faster than anyone with a lower [sum].
  9. Iron Body. [sum] body parts become indestructible for [dice] rounds.
  10. Devil Feint. Calls for an opposed roll with one foe (you get +[dice] to your total), the loser of which takes [sum] damage.
  11. Fierce Aura. You glow brightly for [sum] minutes. During this time, your HP is increased by [dice]. When this ends, lose half your current HP (rounded down).
  12. Double Strength. For 30 minus [sum] turns, increase all your stats and defenses by [dice]. After the effect ends, lose half your maximum HP.
  13. Fusion. Using this technique requires two fighters who know it to each select the same number of QD (without consulting each other beforehand); if they fail to do so, the fusion fails.
    A fusion adds together the stats, defenses and HP of the fighters who formed it, uses the better of either of their skill ranks for each skill and has QD equal to however many dice were not exhausted in the fusion. After [the lower of the two sums] turns, the fusion ends and the two fighters each get half the fusion's HP, rounded down.
Bulma DBZ looking at the dragon radar.

orbseeker type characters

Orbseekers roam the earth, seeking communion with mystic orbs. For each template, orbseekers gain one rank in each of two different skills (no skill can have more than ten ranks). Gain an orbseeker template whenever you awaken a new orb.

  • A Orb Waker. You can smell dormant orbs when they are nearby. If you hold one in your hand, you can awaken it (roll for a random power below) or return it to dormancy.
  • B Domain. You may take a few minutes to commune with an awakened orb and ask it a question that can be answered in no more than three words. If the question is within the orb's domain, it will answer. There is a 1-in-20 chance of the orbseeker contracting Orb Madness (see below) from this consultation.
  • C+. Invention. Every week that you bear an awakened orb, you have a [orbseeker templates] plus [awakened orbs] minus [current inventions] in 20 chance to create a prototype of an invention (random arcanum). These all have a [uses] in 6 chance to stop working ofter each use.

Anyone who holds an awakened orb may invoke its power, although there is a 1-in-6 chance that an orb falls dormant for a week after being invoked in this way. Awakened orbs call their bearers to one another, even from far away. A list of some sample orbs follows.

  1. Orb of the Ram. The bearer of this orb may conjure a tremendous force that smashes a hole in barriers up to a foot thick. If it strikes a being, it deals damage like 2QD. Domain: anger, locks and keys, unexpected acts of violence.
  2. Orb of the Ox. The bearer of this orb may transform into a large, monstrous form that is inconveniently large and extremely strong. Double their Strength, Constitution, FORTITUDE and HP for 3d6 minutes, at the end of which they lose half their current HP. Domain: growth, strength, ironic reversals.
  3. Orb of the Twins. The bearer of this orb may cause two similar things to experience what the other experiences, with the potency of the effect increasing the more similar the things are. Domain: disguises, substitutions, things that come in pairs.
  4. Orb of the Crab. The bearer of this orb may surround it with a magical sphere shell up to ten paces in diameter. Though transparent, nothing can pass in or out of the boundary of the sphere until the bearer lets go of the orb or one hour passes, whichever comes first. Domain: shells, walls, things that are buried.
  5. Orb of the Lion. The bearer of this orb may create an unbearable thunder-like rumbling, making an Intellect attacks against anyone within shouting distance. Those successfully attacked take no damage but cannot approach the orb until the thundering subsides in thirty seconds. Domain: fears, thunder and lightning, things that are heard but not seen.
  6. Orb of the Maid. The bearer of this orb may, in any place where things are stored, retrieve any object other than another orb that they have stored away since they first awakened the orb. It does not matter how long ago they stored the object in question or how far away it is, but this effect will not retrieve anything that has been removed by another person since it was deposited. Domain: storage, neglect, things that have been kept safe.
  7. Orb of the Sting. The bearer of this orb may render any amount of food or drink in their presence poisonous, resolved as an Intellect attack dealing up to 7QD of damage, divided (before rolling) between all consumers. The names of any creature slain in this way become permanently tattooed on the body of the bearer. Domain: poisons and venoms, betrayal, things that creep upon the earth.
  8. Orb of the Scales. The bearer of this orb may solemnize any promise or agreement between at least two people. If any one of them breaks the agreement, the others may (at their option) either transport the offender to their presence or immediately transport themselves to the offender. Domain: agreements, punishments, things that are deserved.
  9. Orb of the Arrow. The bearer of this orb may name any thing other than another orb that has a name and know the direction and distance to that thing. Domain: weapons, targets, things that have missed the mark.
  10. Orb of the Crocodile. The bearer of this orb may call forth a tremendous terrifying beast from the shadows. It obeys your commands slowly but implacably for thirteen minutes, and can only be turned away or banished by extremely bright light. Domain: darkness, deep water, unusual hybrids.
  11. Orb of the Jar. The bearer of this orb may make Intellect attacks that, though they deal no damage, cause the being so attacked to become imprisoned within an available, prepared vessel if two such attacks are successful before the orb falls dormant. Anyone who either opens the vessel or invokes the orb to do so may free a prisoner. Domain: prisons, traps, the contents of containers.
  12. Orb of the Fish. The bearer of this or may, with a touch, cause an air-breathing creature immersed in water to become a water-breathing creature or a water-breathing creature on dry land to become an air-breathing creature. This transformation is permanent and also adapts the creatures skin and limbs to their new environment. Domain: abundance, migration, novelties.

Anyone who rests with more awakened orbs than they have orbseeker templates has an [orbs]-in-20 chance to contract Orb Madness from one of them. Only returning the orb that causes madness to dormancy will stop and Orb Madmen from raving portentious nonsense related to that orb's domain. They will fight without restraint to stop anyone who attempts to remove the orb from their possession.

Shenron DBZ appearing to grant a wish.

Anyone who gathers seven awakened orbs together and shouts, "eternal dragon, grant my wish!" Causes a terrifying mystical dragon to appear. The dragon will grant one wish (although it has been known to refuse wishes for seemingly arbitrary reasons) before disappearing. The orbs used to summon it fall dormant for one year and are scattered to the ends of the earth.

money and equipment

The various nations of the Major Continent all use the same currency, the zorkmid. It has many boring uses, but its interesting use is prize money. The All Earth Martial Arts Tournament is hosted once every four years. This is a double elimination tournament with sixteen competitors. A competitor loses their match if they concede, touch the ground outside the ring, lose consciousness or attempt to kill or permanently injure their opponent. The first place winner at the Continental Martial Arts Tournament takes home 7,500,000zm, the second place finisher, 2,500,000zm and anyone who wins three matches 1,000,000zm. At a local martial arts tournament, the prize money is usually much smaller.

Some boring things to spend money on:

ThingPrice (zm)
Candy99
Sunglasses199
Soft drink199
Fried snack249
Box lunch299
Sandals349
Liqour (glass)399
Colorful Hat499
ThingPrice (zm)
Hotel (hourly)699
Sit-down entree799
Liqour (bottle)999
Shirt1,499
Pants1,999
Shoes2,199
Hotel (nightly)2,499
Hotel (weekly)15,999

Ordinary clothes do not matter in combat. Here is some gear that does:

ThingPrice (zm)Effect
Martial arts uniform2,499Martial artists recognize your school.
Hard helmet4,499+1 defense against all physical attacks.
Gun9,999Damage die explodes like QD. Lose all martial arts credibility.
Body armor19,999Minimum defense 7 against physical attacks, reduce damage taken by 1.
Sword49,999Deal dangerous damage, look baddass.

Characters start with no more than 10,000 zorkmids worth of stuff, and one-tenth of the remainder in cash.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

I Just Mopped In There (GLOG Class: Specialist)

Filth, miasmas and general grime; every human society oozes these evils, more baneful than bassilisks or boggles. Fortunately, every society also produces stalwart defenders against grease and slime: the cleaners.

The Cleaner

Start with: broomstick, three leather bottles (1/3 slot empty, 1 slot full) and a bundle of rags. With every draught from a full bottle, roll a d6; on a 1 there is only one draught remaining.

  1. Alkhestry. If you have access to three or more good solvents (f.e. water, liquor, vinegar, oil, resin spirits, alkali...) you can strip away any grease, grime, paint or other buildup from a surface by using a draught of one.
    Homemaker. Anyone who rests uninterupted in a space you have thoroughly cleaned gets the full benefits of resting in a home.
  2. I've Seen Worse. You take half damage from environmental diseases and poisons or can go twice as long before showing ill effects.
  3. Bath Bomb. You can mix up a nasty coctail with a draught of two distinct solvents. When splashed, deals 2d6 (sixes explode) damage to any animate slime, ooze, corpse or any monster with a disease attack, and turns any of those creatures who smell it.
  4. Whirlwind of Activity. Whenever you are focused on a concrete task and moving, things just fall into place around you. This allows you to clean any space as though you were three people, and lets you move freely through space occupied by others; all creatures not actively hostile are brushed or shuffled to the side as you pass, and hostile ones must save to resist this.

Monday, July 19, 2021

more flip weapons

Three more flip weapons, in order from least to most cursed.
  1. The SAW // BILL
    • SAW. A circular saw-blade, fixed to a length of chain that can be whipped as a thrown axe, out to spear range, and pulled back at the end of your action. When you deal minimum damage, the chain locks into a bar, flipping the weapon to BILL.
    • BILL. A polearm with a surprising light, hollow steel haft, ending in a cruelly serrated blade. As pike. When a foe misses you with a hand-to-hand attack that does not have a long reach, you may immediately make a backstab attack against them and flip the weapon to SAW.
  2. The PIPE // WRENCH
    • PIPE. A large, silver musician's pipe (only an awkward weapon). When you play it, any creature that can hear the music but does not understand speech must save or fall into a sleep. If any creature makes its save, flip the weapon to WRENCH.
    • WRENCH. A silver wrench, as a silver mace. When you next walk in the moonlight with the weapon, flip it to PIPE.
  3. The BLADE // WRAITH 
    • BLADE. A long, thin thrusting sword. As a rapier, but those wounded roll a d6 for every wound at the end of their actions. On 5-6, the wound stops bleeding, but otherwise each bleeding wound deals an additional point of damage. When you kill a living person with it they and the weapon are consumed in a crimson flash, flipping the weapon to WRAITH.
    • WRAITH. An indistinct pale figure, cloaked in a once-fine pall, now faded and stained. They obey any command you give, and otherwise follow you, lurking nearby. The WRAITH will not do violence, but anyone who locks eyes with it must save against fear. When you reach beneath the cloak, seize the hilt and pull the BLADE free, all that is left of the menacing figure are some burnt bones.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Come Out // Fight Me

This one's kind of a snippet, but I wanted to write a class that uses the flip mechanic before the rest of the gretchsphere moves on from the idea.

Come Out // Fight Me: The Monster Slayer (GLOG Class: Fighter)

Monsters can't be fought with ordinary weapons. Well, I mean, they can, but it's a mistake. Monsters don't fight in ordinary ways, and if you want to match them you can't either.

+1 HP and Save per template.

  1. You have a flip weapon of some kind (such as the CRASH // LASH, below), are proficient with it. You can use the abilities that cause it to flip from one state to another.
  2. You never mistake the signs of a monster's presence for something a natural creature would leave.
  3. You can rescue someone within reach from an attack by throwing yourself in its way. You always take half damage (no roll or save) from the attack and can't do this again until after you flip your weapon.
  4. Whenever you're fighting a creature that will hurt someone else if you don't stop it, your weapon damage explodes.

The CRASH // LASH

  • CRASH. An iron rod with an iron fist at the end. As a mace, but when you deal maximum damage your foe is knocked down or back a few steps (their choice) and the weapon flips to LASH.
  • LASH. A chain whip ending in an iron claw shaped like a human hand. As a whip (an awkward weapon), but if you successfully disarm, entangle or trip a foe with it you pull them to you or you to them (their choice), deal the higher of two d6s of damage, and the weapon flips to CRASH.

Friday, May 21, 2021

the horrible CRAAB

CRAAB. HD and fighting ability as two mortals, armor as plate. Immune to fire and cold, but takes double damage from fire after being subjected to a cold attack.

Spirits of chaos may take on innumerable forms in the depths of the maelstrom, but when they journey into the intertidal regions that border our world they overwhelmingly assume the shape of the craab: a round creature the size of a bullock, with too many legs and no other identifiable organs. Its surface is like baked, unglazed clay, yet it is both strangely supple and tough. When slain and broken open, the tissues of a craab quickly dissolve into murky, brackish and foul-smelling water and the shell crumbles like ordinary clay.

 

Magicians can force a spirit of chaos out of the half-shape of the craab and into another form. The Referee rolls two dice and chooses a form with as many HD as the lower of the two for the spirit. A magician must then expend a spell slot of that level/roll that many MD to force the transformation (no save) in a number of combat rounds equal to the higher of the dice the Referee rolled. If the craab has not been killed before then, its shell bursts open violently and the (unhurt) new form emerges from it, dripping pure water.

Friday, April 23, 2021

fakemon

There's currently a buzz in the blogging scene for legallydistinctemon aka legamon or fakemon, and despite trying to stay out of it I could not help writing a fakemon battle system that is incompatible with most of the existing prior art. Some links to that other, better prior art: deus's generator tables, Phlox's automation of same, another generator on liches get stitches and, perhaps most prominently, Lexi's You Must Acquire Them.

As a disclaimer, I don't really think fakemon battles, even the streamlined version that I've written here, fits particularly well into existing structures of TTRPG play. Stopping everything to do tactically intensive 1-on-1 fights just doesn't gel very well with any sort of party play and I'm not sure that one should really try. This post certainly doesn't, it's just fakemon battle rules.

The math of pokemon games is trivial for computers to do but monstrous for humans, so we're not going to try to replicate their level of crunch. In particular, level grinding isn't a part of the game I think it's particularly worth imitating so we're dropping level from the game's math entirely. Fakemon have four stats: Attack, Defense, Speed and Special all rated 1-5. Max HP is equal to Defense times 3, plus the sum of the other stats. There's no leveling up, evolving to a new form should probably increase its stats.

Every round, both sides choose moves in secret. Unless otherwise noted, fakemon know a normal move and a special move of their type, which corresponds to a particular biome. Then, roll two dice and determine if either fakemon wins the initiative based on their speed (this table is equivalent to a Speed-in-12 chance to win the initiative on each side, if you're the sort of weirdo who has a d12.):

Speed Home team first Away team first
1 2,3 11,12
2 2,3,4 10,11,12
3 3,4,5 9,10,11
4 2,3,5,6 8,9,11,12
5 2,3,4,5,6 8,9,10,11,12

Whoever wins the initiative gets to use their move first. If no one wins initiative, moves get resolved simultaneously, which can cause mutual knockouts.

Fakemon have dice for normal moves equal to their Attack stat and dice for special moves equal to their Special stat. Unless otherwise noted for a move roll as many dice as you choose, discard any 6s and deal [sum] damage, minus opponent's Defense for normal moves and Special for special moves. Fakemon deal an extra [dice] of damage when using special moves of their own type. Discarded dice can't be used again until your fakemon can rest. If damage reduces a fakemon to 0 HP they faint and can't fight anymore.

Types have vulnerabilities and resistances. Fakemon take double damage from moves their type is vulnerable to and half damage from moves their type is resistant to:

Type vulnerable to resistant to
ROCK CITY, WATER, VENOM GRASS, SKY
GRASS ROCK, VENOM WOOD
WOOD GRASS, VENOM SHORE
SHORE WOOD, SKY, VENOM CITY, WATER
CITY SHORE, VENOM ROCK, SKY
SKY CITY normal*
WATER CITY normal*
VENOM SKY, WATER VENOM

There are no normal type fakemon, that would be boring.

Fakemon can only use special SKY moves if they are able to fly about; if a SKY-type fakemon does not have room to fly, they lose their resistance to normal moves. Similarly, fakemon can only use special WATER moves if they are swimming and WATER-type fakemon lose their resistance to normal moves on land.

If you use an item in battle your side can't use a move that turn. Some classic fakemon items:

  • Antidote ($10): makes a fakemon resistant to VENOM moves for a few hours, but reduces their max HP by 1 for every previous day they've taken antidotes.
  • Elixir ($120): restore all discarded dice for a fakemon.
  • Fake ball ($12): captures a wild fakemon if a roll of 2d6 is greater than their current HP.
  • Potion ($30): restores a fakemon to max HP.
  • Revive ($200): restores a fainted fakemon to half their maximum HP.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

a linguistic anthropology of fantasy folk

The nice thing about fantasy races is that they give character creation choices with a good degree of granularity and comprehensibility and are a neat way to pull folkloric material into your game. The bad thing about them is that they mean that race science (that is, the false belief that races as understood by society correspond to biologically distinct types of human beings) is true in your fantasy world.

Honestly, the bad part is bad enough to completely sink the goodness of the good part.

This is another in my ongoing struggle to formulate different fantasy folk in a way that isn't race science, but emphasizing the ways that real people saw themselves and others, particularly before the race-scientific idea became prominent in the modern era.

The problem with making things nuanced is that also makes them complicated; race science is conceptually pretty straightforward, which makes it very game-able. Trying to embed fantasy folk in a realistically nuanced web of relationships with each other also buries the conceptual clarity of a player looking at the list of options and saying, "I'm going to play an elf, that means I live in the woods and don't particularly like dwarfs." One runs the risk of overloading the player with world-building, particularly if one chooses to foreground linguistic groups which are among the more salient in-universe distinctions between peoples.

I'm far from a solution to this, but my current idea is to use somewhat-transparent names for languages (or groups of languages) wherever possible, and doing as little "hard" worldbuilding as possible to keep things relatively setting-neutral, while still keeping things complex enough to stop collapsing into the fail state of race science. It's a tall order, let's see how I do.

When making a character, you must choose a people for them to belong to (or at least stem from). A people is defined by a language, a way of life and an alignment, all of which affect how they see themselves and the world.

To make this your own, you only have to identify the peoples in your setting, their languages, ways of life and alignments. You may choose to give every people a distinct ethnonym; I'm not doing this so as not to overload a player with unfamiliar names. Instead, I'm going to organize peoples by language family, grouping setting languages together into four groups (middling, rhuno-buggish, sylvene and foreigner), the first three of which correspond to actual language families. Each family contains a number of peoples with different ways of life and dramatically different outlooks on the world and their place in it.