D&D’s Lead Rules Designer on How the Game Keeps Evolving Player Races

D&D’s Lead Rules Designer on How the Game Keeps Evolving Player Races

A few years ago, Dungeons & Dragons’ creators promised change was coming to the way the game’s massively popular fifth edition approached race. Years on, there has been iteration — but as the latest sourcebook looks to the game’s future, there’s still plenty of changes to be made.

In the wake of announcements to specifically target certain races like the Drow — dark-skinned, Elven beings who have long been prejudiced as an “inherently” evil species, in both D&D fiction and within the moral alignment mechanics of the game — 2020’s Tashas Cauldron of Everything introduced an entirely new system for character creation that gave players the chance to come up with their own statistical bonuses for any given race, uncoupling them from being, as they were in the past, inherent physical or culturally-mandated strengths and weaknesses. Now, the latest evolution comes in Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse, a comprehensive collection of rules for not just opposing creatures and NPCs drawn from the nearly eight years of Fifth Edition rules additions, but newly updated and refined rules for 33 playable races. For D&D’s principle Rules Designer, Jeremy Crawford, releasing Monsters of the Multiverse gave the team a much-needed chance to address each playable race and re-align them with the game’s new approach.

“As we gathered together this wonderful collection of peoples, this was also an opportunity for us to give them a fresh coat of paint. We have, over the last eight years, in a never-ending conversation with the fanbase, learned there are certain ways to make things work better — ways we can enhance the play experience, make easier to understand, to streamline … and so we brought those lessons to bare as we looked at the races in Monsters of the Multiverse, as well as each of the monsters,” Crawford recently told press at a virtual event promoting the upcoming launch of Monsters of the Multiverse.

“Specifically, when we were working on the races for this book, we were really coming at them from two main directions:one from a game design/game balance direction, and the other from a story direction. Because this is the first time all of these player races are together in a book — and in a few cases, the first time at all — as we were bringing all of these races together, from a game design point, we want to make sure now that they’re all here they’re delivering a comparable amount of either power or versatility or a sense of bringing something meaningful to a party in a variety of adventuring situations,” Crawford explained. “People will notice the races all got more powerful … part of that was because we needed to bring a bunch up so they actually felt like they were bringing a comparable amount of contribution to the party they were going to be in. We also streamlined a number of things. We also, while working on those traits, removed anything that was specific to a particular world’s version of these peoples. Because the theme of this book is the Multiverse. So, we want to make sure the kobold and orc you meet in this book are the kind of universal version, that makes sense whether you’re in the Forgotten Realms, or on Greyhawk, or a world of your own creation. The key for us is there are versions of these people specific to a time and place and planet, and the version that’s more universal and flexible. More open to feeling at home, no matter where you are in the vast D&D multiverse.”

Part of this evolution was also to bring a level of diversity to playable races beyond humans, who have always been relatively flexible as a playable option, in some ways as a bonus for picking the plain choice in a fantastical setting, but also to reflect the diversity of real-world human cultures. “We really wanted to reinforce that all the races are just as flexible as humans when it comes to the range of culture and personality,” Crawford continued. “We also removed any traits that were cultural as opposed to physical or magical — you’ll also see we’ve done something on the game design side, which is that the ability score increases do not appear in the races in this book. Instead, players will be able to have a floating set of bonuses during the determination phase of character creation rather than that being a part of their race selection.”

It doesn’t just help give each D&D race in Monsters of the Multiverse a more flexible, more interpretive set of guidelines, but also works to address a longstanding criticism of the game’s design: players often felt like if they wanted to play a certain race, they had to pick from a certain set of classes to optimise their bonus abilities, or vice versa. “For quite some time, we have not liked how the choice of race in the game had often too much weight on the player’s choice of class,” Crawford admitted. “Fans often talk about this — that connection between race and class is not something we as designers actually desire. We want players to pick those two critical components of their character and choose the two that really sing to them so they don’t feel like they’re pigeonholed. [In Monsters of the Multiverse] people will get the floating bonuses we introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron. If somebody is making a character, and wants to recreate the bonuses that existed previously, the advantage of the floating bonus system is they can do exactly that.”

That, as with the previous changes Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced, was an important point Crawford wanted to stress: the system presented in Monsters of the Multiverse is an accompaniment to the one in Fifth Edition’s Player’s Handbook, an option rather than a replacement. “We have not taken anything away here. What we’ve done is give flexibility for people to create the character they want without us putting our hand on the scale of ‘this is the class you should choose if you play this race,’” Crawford clarified.

“Player characters are the beloved creations of our players, and again, we didn’t want to give the impression we were putting our hand on the scale and the personality and values of a player’s personal character. But again, alignment is still in the game, but as it’s always been, it’s the player’s choice and the DM’s choice.”

Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse will first be available as part of the D&D Rules Expansion Gift Set — collecting it, and the previously released Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything — starting January 25, 2022. The book will be available standalone, in both digital and physical formats, starting May 17.

Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.