Sarah Darkmagic's blog


Artish Explorations: Simple Web Server Architecture as RPG Map

My day job is in tech. I spent about 10 years working as a full-stack engineer at start ups which really meant I did a bit of everything. Javascript, CSS, backend programming and configuration, etc. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve worked more on the DevOps, cloud engineer, and now security side of things.

An issue I see is that while things are less complex in many ways than they used to be, they are still complex and some spaces have gotten even more so. For cloud platforms like AWS and GCP, the more you make things simple for end users by offering higher level services, the more important the configurations become in protecting things.

So I’ve been reflecting a lot on my career lately and I had challenged myself to do something artful each day of October. One of those days, both streams converged and I created this image.

Simple WebServerSimple WebServer

It’s a simple web server portrayed as a small one-bedroom house. It’s sort of just out there and people could in theory approach from any direction.

The front door is to the top of the drawing and it leads to a simple entry way. I used a proxy icon as a rug in the room. In my mind, I was thinking of that front door as port 443, which is the port often assigned for secure hypertext protocol (http) traffic. Today, it’s the main way we should be conversing on the public internet although sometimes we open up other means.

Off of the entry there are just two options. One can go to the living room or the dining room. For the Living room, I have three pieces of furniture representing the common types of static content: html (the structure of web pages), css (the design for web pages), and javascript (providing some dynamic elements, fetching information via apis, etc). Living rooms tend to be more formal and rigid.

The dining room for me represented the first level of the backend, the part that most application developers out there would be working on. It’s taking the outputs of a lot of more private (like the database) or semi-private (such as the kitchen or family room) and making it into something that guests might like.

There’s a pretty free flow between the dining room and the semi-private areas. That’s because there often has to be communication between libraries or other services on the machine. And sometimes we might even invite our guests to be part of those areas for us. However, the bedroom (which represents the data layers on our web server) has a door and we likely will limit who goes through there.

That said, as with many simple public web servers, there are a few flaws with this architecture.

A notable one is that the house’s only bathroom is inside the bedroom. We often have this in web servers too. We sometimes have to let guests into the most sensitive areas of our systems because we don’t have a place to duplicate the service in a safe way.

Likewise, in order for us to have easy access to our kitchen, we have a door that opens near where we park our cars. While we can use a different key, keep it locked, etc, it can be very difficult to ensure only we can get in the back door.

Additionally, if things grow, like we get a bunch of valuable stuff, it’s hard for us to store it without potentially giving guests access to it. If we want more security, it has to go in that little bedroom. We don’t have a good way to scale out as our life changes.

I super enjoyed exploring these ideas in this way. I’m tempted to continue with the metaphor. :)

Cleaning? How is that Gaming Related?

Cleaning has never been my strong point and after I was diagnosed with ADHD, my issues with it made a lot more sense. A lot of the things folks tell you to do, like creating routines, magically remembering to do things, etc, are just…a lot harder if not nigh impossible. And what works for one person (even someone with ADHD) might not work well for another. We have a cleaner who comes in every other week but stuff was easily getting out of hand between visits from our cleaning fairy. All of this has been a hurdle to getting back to gaming. I decided to do something about it.

So…it’s only be two weeks…but I found something that at least makes sense at the moment for me and it’s been helping. Importantly, it reminds me so much of games, I just had to share my thoughts about that portion of it.

The framework I’ve been using is called The Organised Mum Method. The creator is in the UK and it’s full of hovering and hobs. She provides a few routines for folks to use to keep their home tidier with limited effort.

The Organized Mum MethodThe Organized Mum Method

There are two “levels” of tasks that one does each day, Monday thru Friday. The level 1 tasks are things you do on each day and that list doesn’t change. The level 2 tasks change each day of the week with a slight twist. Monday thru Thursday are the same tasks for each day every week with Monday being Living Room, Tuesday being Bedrooms, etc. And then on Friday, it’s a Focus Day and it picks one area from an 8-week cycle.

For level 1 tasks, the idea is you do what you can in about 15 minutes. Since this level includes doing laundry, it definitely is not wall clock time but rather how much time it takes to do the active parts of the task. For level 2 tasks, you do 30 minutes of work, choosing the highest priority tasks first. So, can’t get to the dusting today? Do that first next week!

And the idea is that your week won’t become perfect within the first week but that the ongoing application of these little tasks will, over time, make your home cleaner.

I’ll be upfront, sometimes it over promises. Like the idea that your house will be clean in just 30 minutes a day (not including weekends). That time doesn’t include things that we are assumed to be doing, like dishes or laundry and the like. But that’s ok, it’s not important at the moment. I’m probably putting way too much thought into this but it reminded me of a board game or even D&D, on a few different levels.

The first similarity I see is the idea that you have certain actions to take each turn. Here the turns are days and you have two types of actions, the level 1 and level 2 ones. You are resource constrained in terms of those minutes, and so you pick the actions you can take, trying to get the best result with the resources you have left.

What I also am digging about it is that it’s a loose framework that’s primed for being extensible. Think D&D and our ability to use different methods for generating a character’s ability scores. Here each day has 2 types of tasks with the second group having a different meaning Monday thru Thursday than on Friday.

The other similarity I see, more for D&D than for some other types of games, is that it’s about incremental change rather than big flourish changes while also not getting such a large list that it becomes overwhelming. D&D has traditionally been about a bunch of smaller choices/actions leading to a larger outcome. This has the benefit of being less swingy (which isn’t for everyone). But the outcome is super clear and obvious and builds on itself over time.

If one uses the app, it will keep track of what you have and haven’t done, allow you to reschedule some tasks, customize each group of tasks, and congratulate you when you complete all of your tasks. It’s not quite gamified but still fairly nice.

If you think about games as finding ways to simplify and organize thoughts around a topic or genre and helps reproduce those experiences in a steady manner, it makes sense that a system that tries to simplify cleaning could feel comfortable to a gamer. If like me, you need to tame your house, you might want to give it a try.

One D&D Backgrounds

Now that we’ve taken a look at the changes to the fantasy races (Part 1, Part 2), let’s look at the backgrounds. Clearly this is one of the biggest areas of change since the start of 5e. There are a number of facets to look at these changes and I’m likely going to miss a few of them.

One D&DOne D&D

Context

First, let’s look at what a background looks like from the start of 5e. I will leave out the flavor text

You have spent your life in the service of a temple to a specific god or pantheon of gods. You act as an intermediary between the realm of the holy and the mortal world, performing sacred rites and offering sacrifices in order to conduct worshipers into the presence of the divine. You are not necessarily a cleric — performing sacred rites is not the same thing as channeling divine power.

Choose a god, a pantheon of gods, or some other quasi-divine being from among those listed in appendix B or those specified by your DM, and work with your DM to detail the nature of your religious service. Were you a lesser functionary in a temple, raised from childhood to assist the priests in the sacred rites? Or were you a high priest who suddenly experienced a call to serve your god in a different way? Perhaps you were the leader of a small cult outside of any established temple structure, or even an occult group that served a fiendish master that you now deny.

Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Languages: Two of your choice
Equipment: A holy symbol (a gift to you when you entered the priesthood), a prayer book or prayer wheel, 5 sticks of incense, vestments, a set of common clothes, and a pouch containing 15 gp
Feature: Shelter of the Faithful
As an acolyte, you command the respect of those who share your faith, and you can perform the religious ceremonies of your deity. You and your adventuring companions can expect to receive free healing and care at a temple, shrine, or other established presence of your faith, though you must provide any material components needed for spells. Those who share your religion will support you (but only you) at a modest lifestyle.

You might also have ties to a specific temple dedicated to your chosen deity or pantheon, and you have a residence there. This could be the temple where you used to serve, if you remain on good terms with it, or a temple where you have found a new home. While near your temple, you can call upon the priests for assistance, provided the assistance you ask for is not hazardous and you remain in good standing with your temple.

Now, let’s look at the background of the same name in Unearthed Arcana:

Ability Scores: +2 Wisdom, +1 Intelligence
Skill Proficiencies: Insight, Religion
Tool Proficiency: Calligrapher’s Supplies
Language: Celestial
Feat: Magic Initiate (Divine)

You devoted yourself to service in a temple, either nestled in a town or secluded in a sacred grove. There you performed hallowed rites in honor of a god or pantheon. You served under a priest and studied religion. Thanks to your priest’s instruction and your own devotion, you also learned how to channel a modicum of divine power in service to your place of worship and the people who prayed there.

Equipment

Book (Prayers) Calligrapher’s Supplies
Holy Symbol Parchment (10 sheets)
Robe 3 GP

From Feature to Feat

One of the biggest shifts is the move from feature to feat. Most of the features appear to have been intended to connect characters to the world, to give them networks of folks that they could tap into for help and assistance. When 5e was released, there was a huge push for factions to help provide connections as well.

An issue I could see with the features as often written is that they often required a Dungeon Master to make flesh out those networks. Even many adventures didn’t necessarily provide tie ins for them. They were ambiguous and unclear, which can work great depending on player and DM but can also be frustrating or unused.

By moving to a Feat, things are now more defined. In the case of the Acolyte, it also addresses an issue often remarked upon which is that they cannot perform any divine magic unless they happened to take a class that allowed it.

Previously, feats were an optional rule that allowed the player to forgo an ability score improvement to take on a feat. Now, instead of adding a background’s feature, one can add a first-level feat related to the background.

If you’re interested in the shift for backgrounds that exist in both the Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana Playtest, here’s what the shift looks like.

Background PHB Feature UA Feat
Acolyte Shelter of the Faithful Magic Initiate (Divine)
Charlatan False Idenitty Skilled
Entertainer By Popular Demand Musician
(Guild) Artisan Guild Membership Crafter
Hermit Discovery Magic Initiate (Primal)
Noble Position of Privilege Skilled
Sage Researcher Magic Initiate (Arcane)
Sailor Ship’s Passage Tavern Brawler
Solider Military Rank Savage Attacker
Urchin City Secrets Lucky

Ability Scores

As mentioned in previous articles, another big change is that it’s now backgrounds that provide ability score bonuses instead of the character’s fantasy race. This makes a whole lot more sense to me. What you do and what you apply yourself to shapes what you are good at.

Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything has an explanation of why ability scores were originally tied to the fantasy races and why they gave alternate rules for apply ability score increases.

The Ability Score Increase trait in a race reflects an archetypal bit of excellence in the adventurers of this kind in D&D’s past. For example, if you’re a dwarf, your Constitution increases by 2, because dwarf heroes in D&D are often exceptionally tough. This increase doesn’t apply to every dwarf, just to dwarf adventurers, and it exists to reinforce an archetype. That reinforcement is appropriate if you want to lean into the archetype, but it’s unhelpful if your character doesn’t conform to the archetype.

Now that we are moving away from using ability scores to help define archetypes, how can the game help create that sort of story within the rules? We get an interesting look into that in terms of the languages.

Languages

One of the more subtle changes is in how languages get assigned. Before we get into how languages help define the setting and create archetypes, let’s look at how language assignment via backgrounds has changed over the years in 5e.

In the Players Handbook, fantasy race typically bestowed about 2 languages to the character and 7 out of 16 of the backgrounds would add 1 or 2 more languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Players Handbook Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Knight (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Charlatan
Criminal/Spy
Entertainer
Folk Hero
Gladiator
Pirate
Sailor
Soldier
Urchin

In later books, it’s interesting to see how few backgrounds don’t add languages.

Book Backgrounds with Languages Backgrounds without Languages
Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide City Watch / Investigator (2 of your choice)
Clan Crafter (Dwarvish or 1 other)
Cloistered Scholar (2 of your choice)
Courtier (2 of your choice)
Faction Agent (2 of your choice)
Inheritor (1 of your choice)
Knight of the Order (1 of your choice)
Uthgardt Tribe Member (1 of your choice)
Waterdhavian Noble (1 of your choice)
Mercenary Veteran
Urban Bounty Hunter
Curse of Strand Haunted One (2, one must be Abyssal, Celestial, Deep Speech, Draconic, Infernal, Primordial, Sylvan, or Undercommon)
Tomb of Annihilation Anthropologist (2 of your choice)
Archaeologist (1 of your choice)
Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron House Agent
Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica Azorius Functionary (2 of your choice)
Boris Legionnaire (1 of Celestial, Draconic, Goblin, or Minotaur)
Dimir Operative (1 of your choice)
Golgari Agent (1 of Elvish, Giant, or Kraul)
Gruul Anarch (1 of Draconic, Giant, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Izzet Engineer (1 of Draconic, Goblin, or Vedalken)
Orzhov Representatives (2 of your choice)
Rakdos Cultist (1 either Abyssal or Giant)
Selesnya Initiate (1 of Elvish, Loxodon, or Sylvan)
Simic Scientist (2 of your choice)
Ghosts of Saltmarsh Fisher (1 of your choice) Marine
Shipwright
Smuggler
Acquisitions Incorporated Celebrity Adventurer’s Scion (2 of your choice)
Failed Merchant (1 of your choice)
Far Traveler (1 of your choice)
Gambler (1 of your choice)
Plaintiff (1 of your choice)
Rival Intern (1 of your choice)
Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Faceless (1 of your choice)
Guild Artisan (1 of your choice)
Hermit (1 of your choice)
Noble (1 of your choice)
Outlander (1 of your choice)
Sage (2 of your choice)
Charlatan
Criminal
Entertainer
Folk Hero
Sailor
Soldier
Urchin
Acolyte (2 of your choice)
Sage (Cobalt Scholar) (2 of your choice)
Volstrucker Agent (1 of your choice)
Criminal (Myriad Operative)
Grinner
Sailor (Revelry Pirate)
Spy (Augen Trust)
Mythic Odysseys of Theros Athlete (1 of your choice)
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft Investigator
The Wild Beyond the Witchlight Feylost (1 of Elvish, Gnomish, Goblin, or Sylvan)
Witchlight Hand (1 of your choice)
Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos Lorehold Student (2 of your choice)
Prismari Student (1 of your choice)
Quandrix Student (1 of your choice)
Silverquill Student (2 of your choice)
Witherbloom Student
Spelljammer: Adventures in Space Astral Drifter (2 of your choice) Wildspacer
Total 47 20 (32 if we count each individual House Agent background)

Unlike in the PHB where approximately half of the backgrounds provided languages, across the remaining books, we’re looking at 47 backgrounds that do versus 20 or 32 that do not. So the move to just standardize that the background will assign one language makes a lot of sense.

The subtle thing is how they provide which language the background will assign.

Language Backgrounds
Abyssal Cultist
Celestial Acolyte
Common Sign Language Urchin
Draconic Noble
Dwarvish Guard

Laborer
Elvish Entertainer
Sage
Giant Guide
Gnomish Artisan
Goblin Soldier
Halfling Farmer

Pilgrim
Infernal Charlatan
Orc Gladiator
Primordial Sailor
Sylvan Hermit
Thieves’ Cant Criminal

From this list, we have a bunch of world building, right? The strategies of goblinoid generals are widely studied by soldiers and are so revered that soldiers learn the Goblin language to study them. Elvish is key for recording and studying lore, whether in the form of books or ways of entertaining the masses. So much of the knowledge used by guards or stone masons is tied to the Dwarves and thus folks with those pursuits learn Dwarvish. This world building ties the different groups to trades or roles.

In addition to the language from the background, players get to choose one language from the standard list and provide their own reason for why their character knows it.

Skill and Tool Proficiencies

While all backgrounds in the PHB provided skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies were not universal. In the UA playlets, a core component for the background is adding a tool proficiency. This overall feels more like a tweak to make it easier to custom build backgrounds rather than a major change.

Likewise, while there are some changes in the skill proficiencies, most of them remain the same. Here’s a comparison of the backgrounds that are in the PHB and UA.

Background PHB Skills UA Skills
Acolyte Insight, Religion Insight, Religion
Charlatan Deception, Sleight of Hand Deception, Sleight of Hand
Entertainer Acrobatics, Performance Acrobatics, Performance
(Guild) Artisan Insight, Persuasion Investigation, Persuasion
Hermit Medicine, Religion Medicine, Religion
Noble History, Persuasion History, Persuasion
Sage Arcana, History Arcana, History
Sailor Athletics, Perception Acrobatics, Perception
Soldier Athletics, Intimidation Athletics, Intimidation
Urchin Sleight of Hand, Stealth Insight, Stealth

As you can see, very few of the skill proficiencies have changed. The ones that have are interesting. Artisans get “Investigation” instead of “Insight.” I like this because “Investigation” seems to be a rare trait and a lot of art is about experimentation and discovery.

The Sailor moves from “Athletics” to “Acrobatics” which is a good way to further distinguish sailors from soldiers.

Finally, the Urchin has “Sleight of Hand” move to “Insight.” The background talks about how they only resort to theft when nothing else has worked to get what they need, so having both Thieves’ Tools and Sleight of Hand was probably a bit too much.

Overall Thoughts

I went right into the details when discussing the backgrounds, in part because it was the easier part to discuss. Overall, backgrounds were given a bit of a promotion. There is a solid core that remains from the earlier version in that skill proficiencies largely stay the same, some of the equipment was shifted around, in part to give every one a tool proficiency, and while languages were expanded a bit, they were there in many backgrounds already.

The move of ability scores to background helps the game sidestep some of the issues around them being tied to fantasy race which helps the game feel lighter to me. I get that Tasha’s said to ignore it if it didn’t fit your concept anyway but not having to do the work of ignoring is much easier. And moving from the features that I always struggled to use at the table to a feat helps give it that oomph that makes me want to pick or create a background.

And that’s something we should talk about here, there are 3 ways proposed to use backgrounds:

  • Use a prebuilt background
  • Choose a prebuilt background and alter it
  • Create your own background

It’s an extensible system to provide something for just about everyone.

Speaking of extensible, these suggested changes point to the flexibility of the 5e system. Using an older version that applies the ability scores? Either forgo the ability score increases from the older fantasy race or the ones from the background. But you can use bits from each.

What will be interesting is going forward, what gets the plain moniker of “Orc,” the original Player’s Handbook version or whatever comes from the play test.

One D&D Character Races (Part 2)

So, let’s continue checking out what’s in the Arcana Unearthed regarding fantasy races. In Part 1, we looked at the more traditional classes of Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human. This time we’ll take a look at Dragonborn, Gnome, Orc, and Tiefling as well as the brand new race of Ardling.

One D&DOne D&D

Dragonborn

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age. Young dragonborn grow quickly. They walk hours after hatching, attain the size and development of a 10-year-old human child by the age of 3, and reach adulthood by 15. They live to be around 80. Life Span: 80 years on average
Size. Dragonborn are taller and heavier than humans, standing well over 6 feet tall and averaging almost 250 pounds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 5–7 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Draconic Ancestry. You have draconic ancestry. Choose one type of dragon from the Draconic Ancestry table. Your breath weapon and damage resistance are determined by the dragon type, as shown in the table. Draconic Ancestry. Your lineage stems from a dragon progenitor. Choose the type of dragon from the Draconic Ancestor table. Your choice affects your Breath Weapon and Damage Resistance traits. The chosen dragon also affects your appearance, with you displaying coloration and other features reminiscent of that dragon.
Breath Weapon. You can use your action to exhale destructive energy. Your draconic ancestry determines the size, shape, and damage type of the exhalation.
When you use your breath weapon, each creature in the area of the exhalation must make a saving throw, the type of which is determined by your draconic ancestry. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. A creature takes 2d6 damage on a failed save, and half as much damage on a successful one. The damage increases to 3d6 at 6th level, 4d6 at 11th level, and 5d6 at 16th level.

After you use your breath weapon, you can’t use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Breath Weapon. As an Action, you exhale destructive energy in a 15-foot cone. Each creature in that area must make a Dexterity saving throw against a DC equal to 8 + your Constitution modifier + your Proficiency Bonus.

On a failed save, a creature takes 1d10 + your character level in damage of the type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait. On a successful save, a creature takes half as much damage.

You can use this Breath Weapon a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*

Damage Resistance. You have resistance to the damage type associated with your draconic ancestry. Damage Resistance. You have Resistance to the damage type determined by your Draconic Ancestry trait.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Draconic. Draconic is thought to be one of the oldest languages and is often used in the study of magic. The language sounds harsh to most other creatures and includes numerous hard consonants and sibilants. Draconic Language. You instinctively know the language of dragons. You can therefore speak, read, and write Draconic.
Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.

Key Changes:

  • It was too much info to include in this chart but one of the key changes is that the breath weapon follows just one template, cone, instead of being a line or a cone depending on “Draconic Ancestry.”
  • Another change to the breath weapon is around damage. In the PHB, the damage is 2d6 damage on a failed saving throw and half that on a successful saving throw, versus 1d10 + character level on a failed and half of a successful. This change makes the damage swingier since it’s just one die and lowers the max damage, at least at first level. Instead of scaling by adding another die at 6th, 11th, and 16th, you gain an extra point of damage for each level. This simplifies what one needs to remember and makes the breath weapon fierce through level progression.
    Level PHB Average PHB Max UA Average UA Max
    1 7 12 6.5 11
    2 7 12 7.5 12
    3 7 12 8.5 13
    4 7 12 9.5 14
    5 7 12 10.5 15
    6 10.5 18 11.5 16
  • An additional change to the breath weapon is how many times it can be used/when it recharges. Under the PHB rules, it wouldn’t be available again until after the next short or long rest. This could push players to want to take short rests more often. Under the UA rules, one can use it up to a proficiency bonus number of times and all expended uses are regained after a Long Rest.
  • Another change has to do with draconic. Most races don’t get a language as part of the fantasy race anymore but Dragonborn automatically know draconic, even if they haven’t been around anyone who speaks it. It’s an instinct, which is pretty cool especially since, at least according the PHB, it’s the language of magic.

Gnome

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2.
Size. Gnomes are between 3 and 4 feet tall and average about 40 pounds. Your size is Small. Size: Small (about 3–4 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Age. Gnomes mature at the same rate humans do, and most are expected to settle down into an adult life by around age 40. They can live 350 to almost 500 years. Life Span: 425 years on average
Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Gnome Cunning. You have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic. Gnomish Cunning. You have Advantage on Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Gnomish. The Gnomish language, which uses the Dwarvish script, is renowned for its technical treatises and its catalogs of knowledge about the natural world.
Subrace. Two subraces of gnomes are found among the worlds of D&D: forest gnomes and rock gnomes. Choose one of these subraces. Gnomish Lineage. You are part of a gnomish lineage that grants you supernatural abilities.

Choose a lineage from the Gnomish Lineages table: Forest Gnome, the lineage of magic-filled forests, or Rock Gnome, the lineage of primeval mountains. You gain the benefits of that lineage.

Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma is your spellcasting ability for the Spells you cast with this trait (choose the ability when you select the lineage).

Gnomish Lineage

Forest Gnome

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 1.
Natural Illusionist. You know the minor illusion cantrip. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it. You know the Minor Illusion cantrip.
Speak with Small Beasts. Through sounds and gestures, you can communicate simple ideas with Small or smaller beasts. Forest gnomes love animals and often keep squirrels, badgers, rabbits, moles, woodpeckers, and other creatures as beloved pets. You can also cast the Speak with Animals Spell with this trait. You can cast it with the trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
You can also use any Spell Slots you have to cast the Spell.

Rock Gnome

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
Artificer’s Lore. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to magic items, alchemical objects, or technological devices, you can add twice your proficiency bonus, instead of any proficiency bonus you normally apply. You know the Mending and Prestidigitation cantrips.
Tinker. You have proficiency with artisan’s tools (tinker’s tools). Using those tools, you can spend 1 hour and 10 gp worth of materials to construct a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 hp). The device ceases to function after 24 hours (unless you spend 1 hour repairing it to keep the device functioning), or when you use your action to dismantle it; at that time, you can reclaim the materials used to create it. You can have up to three such devices active at a time.

When you create a device, choose one of the following options:

Clockwork Toy. This toy is a clockwork animal, monster, or person, such as a frog, mouse, bird, dragon, or soldier. When placed on the ground, the toy moves 5 feet across the ground on each of your turns in a random direction. It makes noises as appropriate to the creature it represents.

Fire Starter. The device produces a miniature flame, which you can use to light a candle, torch, or campfire. Using the device requires your action.

Music Box. When opened, this music box plays a single song at a moderate volume. The box stops playing when it reaches the song’s end or when it is closed.

In addition, you can spend 10 minutes casting Prestidigitation to create a Tiny clockwork device (AC 5, 1 HP), such as a toy, a fire starter, or a music box. Casting the Spell in this way consumes 10 GP worth of raw material (string, gears, and the like), which you provide during the casting.

When you create the device, you determine its function by choosing one effect from Prestidigitation; the device produces that effect whenever you or another creature takes a Bonus Action to touch the device and activate it. If the chosen effect has options within it, you choose one of those options for the device when you create it. For example, if you choose the spell’s ignite-extinguish effect, you determine whether the device ignites or extinguishes fire; the device doesn’t do both.

You can have three such devices in existence at a time, and each one dismantles itself 8 hours after its creation. You can also touch one of your devices and dismantle it as an Action. After a device is dismantled, the 10 GP of materials used to create it can be reclaimed.

Key Changes

  • For the base fantasy race, the key difference is the removal of the limitation on advantage for Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma-based saving throws.
  • For the Forest Gnome, the key difference is moving from a special and unlimited trait of “Speak with Small Beasts” to the generally defined “Speak with Animals” and limiting its use without using spell slots to proficiency bonus (reset after Long Rest). This feels like it clears up misunderstandings between players and DMs and should be easier to track with a digital tracker.
  • For the Rock gnome, a key difference is the move away from adding additional proficiency bonus for certain types of skill checks to getting 2 cantrips. This helps solidify the hint of magic they have.
  • Also for the Rock gnome, we have a restructuring of how their tinker ability works. Instead of taking an hour and working with tools, a Rock gnome can take 10 minutes and use some magic to create a tiny clockwork device that can do one of the Prestidigitation effects. The type of creation is not predefined, but examples are given. Again, adds a bit of magic to Gnomes and streamlines the creations.

Orc

Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse/th> Unearthed Arcana
When determining your character’s ability scores, increase one score by 2 and increase a different score by 1, or increase three different scores by 1.
Size You are Medium. Size: Medium (about 6–7 feet tall)
Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Adrenaline Rush You can take the Dash action as a bonus action. You can use this trait a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a long rest. Whenever you use this trait, you gain a number of temporary hit points equal to your proficiency bonus. Adrenaline Rush. You can take the Dash Action as a Bonus Action. When you do so, you gain a number of Temporary Hit Points equal to your Proficiency Bonus.
You can use this trait a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You discern colors in that darkness only as shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift. Powerful Build. You count as one Size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a long rest. Relentless Endurance. When you are reduced to 0 Hit Points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 Hit Point instead. Once you use this trait, you can’t do so again until you finish a Long Rest.*

Key Changes

Not surprisingly (as this race was released much later), there is only one change to this race and that’s the removal of the ability score changes.

Tiefling

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1, and your Charisma score increases by 2.
Age. Tieflings mature at the same rate as humans but live a few years longer. Life Span: 100 years on average
Size. Tieflings are about the same size and build as humans. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–7 feet tall) or Small (about 3–4 feet tall) , chosen when you select this Race
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Thanks to your infernal heritage, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Hellish Resistance. You have resistance to fire damage. — (Moved to Infernal Legacy)
Infernal Legacy. You know the thaumaturgy cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the hellish rebuke spell as a 2nd-level spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the darkness spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells. Fiendish Legacy. You are the recipient of a fiendish legacy that grants you supernatural abilities. Choose a legacy from the Fiendish Legacies table: Abyssal, associated with Chaotic Evil planes; Chthonic, associated with Neutral Evil planes; or Infernal, associated with Lawful Evil planes. You gain the 1st-level benefit of the chosen legacy.
Starting at 3rd level and again at 5th level, you gain the ability to cast a higher-level Spell with this trait, as shown on the table. Once you cast the Spell with this trait, you can’t cast that Spell with it again until you finish a Long Rest*;

Fiendish Legacies

Unearthed Arcana adds 2 more legacies in addition to changes to the Infernal legacy as detailed in the above table. Here’s the version in UA.

Legacy 1st Level 3rd Level 5th Level
Abyssal You have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also know the Poison Spray cantrip. Ray of Sickness Hold Person
Chthonic ou have Resistance to Necrotic Damage. You also know the Chill Touch cantrip. False Life Ray of Enfeeblement
Infernal You have Resistance to Fire Damage. You also know the Fire Bolt cantrip. Hellish Rebuke Darkness

Key Changes

  • Tieflings can now be size Small or Medium.
  • The big change is the move from just one legacy, Infernal, to three of them, Abyssal, Chthonic, and Infernal. Hellish resistance which is resistance to fire damage and has moved to the infernal legacy and that legacy’s cantrip changes (but its spells remain the same). The two new legacies also get a type of resistance, a cantrip, and 2 spells.

Ardling

Brand new to this Unearthed Arcana is the Ardling. It’s a celestial race of the Upper Planes and also has 3 lineages, making it a good counter point to the tiefling. An interesting element here is that each Ardling has a head that resembles an animal, “typically one with virtuous associations.” It can also temporarily fly up to its speed, although if it ends its move in the air, it will fall.

The design seems to be a great way to provide a high degree of flexibility of appearance while having common mechanics.

Thoughts so Far

I don’t find these particular changes to be all that dramatic and are similar to changes that have already happened in 5e over time. One of the difficulties with a game like Dungeons & Dragons is that not everything can be known about the game upfront. It’s a living game where the designers and the players will continue to evolve it over time, and thus, it can be nice to go back and refresh things.

If they keep some fantasy races having lineages, legacies, ancestries, and such, and have others that are just the base fantasy race, that could be an interesting way to balance the desires of some players for more complexity and choices while keeping some more focused with fewer choices.

I also like the move from sub races to lineages, legacies, and ancestries, although I haven’t been great about keeping the terminology consistent in these posts.

The move towards creating terms for various parts of the game, like the move to “D20 Test.” These provide a common vocabulary and can streamline rule writing. There have been movements towards that before and away as well as they try to find the right balance in terms of technical writing and prose with its ability to inspire.

Dungeons & Dragons Japan

To put some of these changes in context, it’s important to highlight that Dungeons & Dragons is expanding officially to Japan this year. They are looking to foster and grow a “truly global D&D community.” Looking at the assumptions made without intention become even more important in that move.

One D&D Character Races (Part 1)

I’ve been seeing a lot about the new Unearthed Arcana and the associated announcement of One D&D and want to explore what changes are being made.

One D&DOne D&D

My understanding of what they are trying to do with the fantasy races is make sure that any crunch associated with each race is something that a member of that race would have even if they were raised by a different race and/or outside of the culture typically associated with that fantasy race.

This lets them do a few things:

  • Under the theme of One D&D, a halfling in Forgotten Realms shares the overwhelming majority if not all of the same traits as a halfling in Eberron or Dark Sun. It’s less to remember as one shifts between settings, which is potentially even easier now with The Radiant Citadel and Spelljammer.
  • It moves further away from some of the problematic elements of fantasy races, the ones that felt more like eugenics and racist/sexist psuedoscience than objective descriptions of fantasy races. Applying ability score changes based on fantasy race often reminded me of the attempts to measure skull shapes and the like between real world human races.
  • Allows for so much more variation in characters and makes one’s background at least as important, if not more so, to character creation. The delineation appears to be if it’s something innate, it’s in the fantasy race description, and if it’s something that one learns, it’s based on your background, what you did and the culture you were around. This incorporates the reality that there is often more differences within a group than the differences between groups.
  • With character race no longer defining ability scores, multi-race characters can be simplified. Just decide which parent race’s traits most defines you instead of trying to create full fantasy races for each pairing. We no longer have to pick between half elves being reviled or great at diplomacy and we can sidestep the traditional history connected to half orcs.

A few more things I noticed as I compared the Players Handbook version of each fantasy race with the Unearthed Arcana one:

  • Not sure if because it’s not important in this round, but they removed the age of maturity in the switch from “Age” to “Life Span.” This could make sense as age of maturity is a cultural thing; not something innate.
  • They also removed weight from “Size.” There can just be so much variation within each group, including weight never made much sense to me.
  • They simplified speed. Instead of being tied to size, the base rate is 30 feet for all characters in this document. Now this could be a change that was actually made in one of the books after the Players Handbook, I haven’t kept up with the minutia of each book.

With all that, let’s look at what the changes actually entail. For this article, we’ll look at the key fantasy races of Dwarf, Halfling, Elf, and Human. We’ll look at Dragonborn, Gnome, Orc, and Tiefling in the next article.

Dwarf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.
Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years. Life Span: 350 years on average
Size. Dwarves stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–5 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Accustomed to life underground, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Dwarven Resilience. You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage (explained in chapter 9, “Combat”). Dwarven Resilience. You have Resistance to Poison Damage. You also have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Poisoned Condition on yourself.
Dwarven Combat Training. You have proficiency with the battleaxe, handaxe, light hammer, and warhammer.
Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with the artisan’s tools of your choice: smith’s tools, brewer’s supplies, or mason’s tools. Forge Wise. Your divine creator gave you an uncanny affinity for working with stone or metal. You gain Tool Proficiency* with two of the following options of your choice: Jeweler’s Tools, Mason’s Tools, Smith’s Tools, or Tinker’s Tools.
Stonecunning. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to the origin of stonework, you are considered proficient in the History skill and add double your proficiency bonus to the check, instead of your normal proficiency bonus Stonecunning. As a Bonus Action, you gain Tremorsense* with a range of 60 feet for 10 minutes. You must be on a stone surface or touching such a surface to use this Tremorsense. The stone can be natural or worked. You can use this Bonus Action a number of times equal to your Proficiency Bonus, and you regain all expended uses when you finish a Long Rest.*
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarvish. Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds, and those characteristics spill over into whatever other language a dwarf might speak.
— (Originally part of just hill dwarf) Dwarven Toughness. Your Hit Point Maximum increases by 1, and it increases by 1 again whenever you gain a level.

Key changes for Dwarves:

  • The new version of the race has a couple of items that feel like they could be part of background/culture such as Forge Wise (which gives a tool proficiency) and Stonecunning (now the granting of tremorsense), but the description of Forge Wise lays the groundwork for it being innate. In this case, the character’s divine creator gifted the Dwarf race “an uncanny affinity for working with stone or metal.” Thus a narrative justification for it being innate and making a statement about the nature of dwarves.
  • There are no separate classifications of Dwarf such as Hill and Mountain as in the Players Handbook. This could signify a go forward change or it could be that they want more time to figure out what makes those sub races key. The reason I say that is both Mountain Dwarf abilities are tied to things that should likely be part of culture/background (a strength ability score increase and the armor training) and one of the two items for Hill Dwarf was incorporated into the main race description (with the other being the ability score bump).
  • May just be me, but Tremorsense is way cooler than a history check as something iconic to a Dwarf. It helps with the “dwarfiest dwarf” goal.

Elf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. Although elves reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the elven understanding of adulthood goes beyond physical growth to encompass worldly experience. An elf typically claims adulthood and an adult name around the age of 100 and can live to be 750 years old. Life Span: 750 years on average
Size. Elves range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 5–6 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Darkvision. Accustomed to twilit forests and the night sky, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray. Darkvision. You have Darkvision with a range of 60 feet.
Keen Senses. You have proficiency in the Perception skill. Keen Senses. You have Proficiency in the Perception Skill.
Fey Ancestry. You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep. Fey Ancestry. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Charmed Condition on yourself.
Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. (The Common word for such meditation is “trance.”) While meditating, you can dream after a fashion; such dreams are actually mental exercises that have become reflexive through years of practice. After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep. Trance. You don’t need to sleep, and magic can’t put you to sleep. You can finish a Long Rest* in 4 hours if you spend those hours in a trancelike meditation, during which you retain consciousness.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Elvish. Elvish is fluid, with subtle intonations and intricate grammar. Elven literature is rich and varied, and their songs and poems are famous among other races. Many bards learn their language so they can add Elvish ballads to their repertoires.

Subraces

Drow

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Superior Darkvision. Your darkvision has a radius of 120 feet. The range of your Darkvision increases to 120 feet.
Sunlight Sensitivity. You have disadvantage on attack rolls and on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight when you, the target of your attack, or whatever you are trying to perceive is in direct sunlight.
Drow Magic. You know the dancing lights cantrip. When you reach 3rd level, you can cast the faerie fire spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. When you reach 5th level, you can cast the darkness spell once with this trait and regain the ability to do so when you finish a long rest. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells. ou also know the Dancing Lights cantrip 3rd level: Faerie Fire 5th level: Darkness
Drow Weapon Training. You have proficiency with rapiers, shortswords, and hand crossbows.

High Elf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Elf Weapon Training. You have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow.
Cantrip. You know one cantrip of your choice from the wizard spell list. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for it. You know the Prestidigitation cantrip. Whenever you finish a Long Rest,* you can replace that cantrip with a different cantrip from the Arcane Spell List.* 3rd Level: Detect Magic 5th Level: Misty Step
Extra Language. You can speak, read, and write one extra language of your choice.

Wood Elf

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Fleet of Foot. Your base walking speed increases to 35 feet. Your Speed increases to 35 feet.
Mask of the Wild. You can attempt to hide even when you are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena. You also know the Druidcraft cantrip. 3rd Level: Longstrider 5th Level:Pass without Trace

Key Changes:

  • Most of the changes to the base fantasy race are to remove things that belong in backgrounds now and to restructure some details (such as moving “magic cannot put you to sleep” from “Fey Ancestry” to “Trance”
  • The key changes are in the lineages, streamlining them so each lineage gets a minor trait and a first level cantrip and then spells at 3rd and 5th level.

Halfling

Lucky. When you roll a 1 on the d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll.
Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. A halfling reaches adulthood at the age of 20 and generally lives into the middle of his or her second century. Life Span: 150 years on average
Size. Halflings average about 3 feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds. Your size is Small. Size: Small (about 2–3 feet tall)
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Luck. When you roll a 1 on the d20 of a d20 Test,* you can reroll the die, and you must use the new roll.
Brave. You have advantage on saving throws against being frightened. Brave. You have Advantage on saving throws you make to avoid or end the Frightened Condition on yourself.
Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours. Halfling Nimbleness. You can move through the space of any creature that is of a Size larger than yours, but you can’t stop there.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Halfling. The Halfling language isn’t secret, but halflings are loath to share it with others. They write very little, so they don’t have a rich body of literature. Their oral tradition, however, is very strong. Almost all halflings speak Common to converse with the people in whose lands they dwell or through which they are traveling.
Naturally Stealthy. You have Proficiency in the Stealth Skill.

Key Changes

  • As with the Dwarves, the subraces of halfling have been removed and one of the traits of one of the subraces became part of the main fantasy race, in this case “Naturally Stealthy” from the “Lightfoot” sub race.
  • Here is the first use in this document of a new term, “d20 Test.” This term defines certain d20 die rolls where inspiration points and luck may be used.

Human

Players Handbook Unearthed Arcana
Ability Score Increase. Your ability scores each increase by 1.
Age. Humans reach adulthood in their late teens and live less than a century. 80 years on average
Size. Humans vary widely in height and build, from barely 5 feet to well over 6 feet tall. Regardless of your position in that range, your size is Medium. Size: Medium (about 4–7 feet tall) or Small (about 2–4 feet tall), chosen when you select this Race
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet. Speed: 30 feet
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and one extra language of your choice. Humans typically learn the languages of other peoples they deal with, including obscure dialects. They are fond of sprinkling their speech with words borrowed from other tongues: Orc curses, Elvish musical expressions, Dwarvish military phrases, and so on.
Resourceful. You gain Inspiration* whenever you finish a Long Rest.*
— (Matches variant rules in PHB) Skillful. You gain Proficiency in one Skill of your choice.
— (Matches variant rules in PHB) Versatile. You gain the Skilled Feat or another 1st-level Feat of your choice

Key Changes

  • Giving an average life span for humans of 80 years is interesting. It keeps the maximum lifespan a mystery which could be nice for some characters (in our real world, we have humans who live past 110 years for instance). It also counteracts a lot of the assumptions about the world where folks want to apply a medieval life span of something like 40 years.
  • I believe the ability to pick a different size than medium has been around for a bit now but again, makes total sense to include as we have real life humans who are under 4 feet tall. I’m wondering if this is part of the reason for the change to a base speed of 30 for most fantasy races, rather than having it based on size.
  • Adding a link to inspiration as part of a human trait might signal trying to incorporate it more in the game. It’s been a while but I feel like inspiration was often seen as a bolt on system that folks might or might not use.
  • Adding the two variant traits to the base race is really nice because it signifies more clearly the versatility and skillfulness of humans, rather than just bumping ability scores which might not have much if any affect, at least for early levels.

Thoughts so Far

I’m enjoying this restructuring of the core fantasy races and the intentionality around separating what is innate about a character versus what is more about life experience. I like that the non-human races all have a bit of magic to them. This should also help the races seem more distinct.

I also get why they can’t just get rid of races entirely. They were core to the start of D&D and are something that most players are expecting when they play.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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