Sword and Sorcery RPG vs. Modern RPG: Class and Playable Races

We’ve been playing a Swords and Sorcery campaign with Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperboria ruleset for over year. All characters in the party are human based (exception with 1 Hyperborean who despises Picts).  The number of classes in the game make up for the lack of different races beyond humans. I enjoy having so many different choices for sub-classes among the core 4 especially among the magician sub-classes. It adds to the flavor of the game with this many pre-built class options.

Playing in a Sword and Sorcery world, alot of the encounters and enemies will be other humans or former humans (eg. undead like zombies, skeletons, ghouls) and super sized creatures from the animal kingdom like giant crabs or wooly mammoths. Encountering non-human monsters happens infrequently and in far away / distant places away from human civilization. You won’t run into any non-humans at the tavern unless you’re in like Port Greely… At higher levels, there will be more alien creatures and demons to tangle with.

With modern RPGs, there are alot more race options especially in 5E. I can’t keep up with all the different race expansions beyond the core book. Different races in modern games allow different attribute bonuses and background customization. However I’m also a bit of a traditionalist in fantasy gaming so used to the typical fantasy elf / dwarf / halfling races as playable races from my B/X days. I’m also open to playing ‘monster’ races like orcs, goblins, kobolds. I played a greedy little goblin in a Forbidden Lands campaign and had a blast. Our whole party there was made up of non-humans which made the campaign quite different.

Having options is good to have variety and diversity to the game. However, I find it challenging to keep up with all the expansions that you need to get to keep up with all the available races in 5E. You need to purchase alot more material and books and learn alot more additional rules for each new race. I don’t fancy getting a subscription service just to keep up with all the new digital content being released either. Its also tricky fitting some of the races into your game pending the setting. Having a sentient turtle or fish folk or eagle person go into a mega dungeon dive in the desert doesn’t seem to fit the character classes and their drivers.  

Does Sword and Sorcery have some racist elements by making it humans only? With anything non-human is beastly and evil and to be destroyed. It certainly can be construed that way. Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, was a racist. His writings with Conan, Solomon Kane, and other writings certainly had racist elements in it. I’ve tried to bring other cultures into games that I play and allow other cultures into the Hyperboria game beyond the ones in the rulebook or European. We have one player with an Aztec priest as an example. I would prefer to bring in more of our different cultures into the game than have different fantasy races especially for our Swords and Sorcery game. Every culture has warriors, shaman, healers, magic men, holy men, assassins etc. that can be ported in to fit the different classes and be of human race. I’ve had swordsmen characters with Wuxia influences and Yakuza monk character based on a character (Lu Zhishen) from Outlaws of the Water Margin. 

As in all things, its best to talk through with your players on the expectations and ground rules for the type of  game that you plan to run. If certain races don’t fit into the campaign or world that you are running, it will make the game a bit odd pending the environments that you plan to run them through. If it is a party full of different non-human races, that could work, but if you have 1 aquatic race in party full of mostly earth bound races, it will make the adventure a little off.

Posted by Leonidas

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