Race and Class, Part 3: A Dwarfier Dwarf

In my last Race and Class post I discussed other ways race-class associations have been implemented in D&D and D&D-like games. I have come to prefer to the later-edition methods of handling it: some races are just better at certain classes, at least a bit, or exhibit traits similar to those of certain classes. For instance, a half-orc that gets a few rounds of rage per day, regardless of class: this half-orc makes a good barbarian, but even as a rage wizard he’s still effective and it is consistent with racial stereotype.

One of my favorite approaches to this mechanism comes from the Dawnforge setting. At each level up to 10th, a character gains a racial talent (odd levels) or racial transformation (even levels).

Let’s look at the dwarf race, from Dawnforge: Crucible of Legend.

Dwarf Race

  • Dwarven Physiology: +2 Constitution, –2 Dexterity. Dwarves are stout and tough but lack coordination due to their strange body type.
  • Medium: As Medium creatures, dwarves have no special bonuses or penalties due to their size.
  • Slow and Steady: Dwarves’ base land speed is 20 feet. However, dwarves can move at this speed even when wearing medium or heavy armor or when carrying a medium or heavy load.
  • Dwarven Knowledge: +2 bonus on all Knowledge (engineering) checks and Craft checks related to machines. Dwarven culture uses and understands machines better than any other.
  • Low-Light Vision: A dwarf can see twice as far as a human in starlight, moonlight, torchlight, and similar conditions of poor illumination. He retains the ability to distinguish color and detail under these conditions.
  • Dwarven Weapon Focus: +1 racial bonus on all attack and damage rolls with axes and hammers.
  • Stability: Dwarves are exceptionally stable on their feet. A dwarf gains a +4 bonus on ability checks made to resist being bull rushed or tripped when standing on the ground (but not when climbing, flying, riding, or otherwise not standing firmly on the ground).
  • Weapon Familiarity: Dwarves may treat dwarven exotic weapons as martial weapons.
  • Giant Fighter: +4 dodge bonus to Armor Class against creatures of the giant type (such as ogres, trolls, and hill giants): This bonus represents special training that dwarves undergo, during which they learn tricks that previous generations developed in their battles with giants.
  • Automatic Languages: Common and Dwarven. Bonus Languages: Anderlar, Clan Speech, Giant, Goblin, Orc, Stone-speak, and Terran.
  • Favored Class: Fighter. A multiclass dwarf’s fighter class does not count when determining whether he takes an experience point penalty for multiclassing. The dwarves learned to honor martial prowess from their endless wars with the giants.

All in all, this is pretty consistent with other d20 system dwarves. There are a few changes specific to the setting (low-light vision instead of darkvision, for one), and I took the liberty of ensuring each trait was named (habit from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, for ease of reference). The definition still uses favored class, an artifact of D&D 3.x.

Dwarf Racial Talents

Dwarves may choose one racial talent at 1st level and every odd level thereafter (3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th). The character must meet all the prerequisites of the selected racial talent, if any.

Talents are somewhat weaker than the transformations below (next section), but are gained at the same levels as ability score bonuses (+2 Con at level 3, +2 Str at level 5, +2 Con at level 7, and +2 Wis at level 9). I wouldn’t complain.

I’m not going to copy the full text of the talents below (it makes for a long post), but I’ll describe them. Each talent can be taken more than once, unless otherwise declared.

  • Divine Mastery gives additional spell knowledge (if a spontaneous caster) or spell slot (if a prepared caster), each time it is taken.
  • The Craft Magic Arms and Armor talent tree allows the dwarf to create increasingly more powerful magic weapons and armor, without requiring the feat or supporting spells.
  • Giant Fighter gives a talent bonus to attack rolls against giants.
  • Identify Magic Arms and Armor allows the dwarf to determine if a weapon or piece of armor is magical, and what magical properties it has. (Not meaningful to take more than once.)
  • Sabotage grants Disable Device and Open Lock as class skills, and if they already are class skills the dwarf gets a bonus and can disable magical traps if they also have a mechanical element. (Not meaningful to take more than once).
  • Talent Feat grants the dwarf a bonus feat from a specific list. This talent cannot be taken twice in a row.
  • Talent Skills grants five skill points that can assigned to skills from a specific list, with limits on how many can be assigned.

Age of Legend Dwarf Racial Talents

A later supplement, Age of Legend, added more racial talents.

  • Subterranean Empathy grants an ability much like wild empathy, but only for underground animals and magical beasts. Empathy of any kind (see below) works only on creatures with Intelligence lower than 5.
  • Elemental Empathy expands on subterranean empathy, extending it to all underground creatures with the earth or fire subtypes, regardless of creature type.
  • Underbeast Empathy expands on elemental empathy, allowing it to work on all underground creatures.
  • Master of the Underbeasts gives a +5 bonus to Handle Animal checks for underground animals.
  • Voice of Stone and Flame allows a dwarf to use charm monster as a spell-like ability once per day, against underground creatures.
  • Stone Brother allows a dwarf to take a subterranean creature as a companion (as a druid of half the dwarf’s level)

These talents are clearly more distinctive than those from Crucible of Legend, and likewise do an even better job of making a dwarf more distinct from other races.

Dwarf Racial Transformations

Dwarves may choose one racial transformation at 2nd level and every even level thereafter (4th, 6th, 8th, and 10th). The character must meet all the prerequisites of the selected racial transformation, if any.

I think the transformations do even more to distance a dwarf from other races.

  • Damage Reduction gives a dwarf DR 1/—, increasing each time the transformation is taken. This transformation cannot be taken twice in a row.
  • Darkvision improves the dwarf’s vision from low-light vision to darkvision.
  • Improved Climber grants a climb speed of 10 feet, with the normal +8 bonus to Climb checks and ability to take 10 even when rushed or threatened.
  • Transformation Feat grants a feat chosen from a specific list, and cannot be taken twice in a row.
  • Transformation Skills grants five skill points that can assigned to skills from a specific list (different from the talent skills list), with limits on how many can be assigned.

Age of Legend Dwarf Racial Transformations

A later supplement, Age of Legend, added more racial transformations.

  • Fire Resistance grants fire resistance equal to the level at which the transformation was chosen (it doesn’t improve, meh) and the effects of endure resistance against hot environments.
  • Fast Healing grants fast healing 1, or fast healing 2 if taken twice (which cannot be done twice in a row).
  • Tremorsense grants tremorsense 15 feet, increasing by 5 feet each time this transformation is taken.

These are pretty consistent with the Crucible of Legend transformations.

Closing Thoughts

One of my longstanding disappointments in D&D was that over time, a character’s race becomes less and less important (mechanically). While a modifier to an ability score has some benefit early on, it’s often completely buried by further developments (+6 for a magic item, +5 for level bumps, and +5 for wish… a score of 16 is often considered ‘pretty good’ at first level, and a 20th-level character can have +16 in improvements! +2 for race doesn’t seem so important anymore).

The Dawnforge rules made it so race benefits increased as you gained levels, keeping the race choice mechanically relevant. It also allowed the use of more powerful races without requiring the (horribly-considered in retrospect) Level Adjustment mechanic. Where a particular race might be ‘too powerful’ for level 1, you simply have a reduced version that hasn’t ‘grown into’ all of the racial elements (talents and transformations). A level 1 drow does not yet have her spell-like abilities, a minotaur is just a heifer that has not yet grown to Large size, and so on.

This approach really appeals to me. My next post in this series describes how to implement it in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

OGL Section 15

I have the Open Gaming License in full in the site’s Legal section, but since this post depends so heavily on two specific titles I’ve included the Section 15 for these two below.


  • Open Game License v 1.0a Copyright 2000, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.
  • System Reference Document Copyright 2000-2003, Wizards of the Coast, Inc.; Authors Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Rich baker, Andy Collins, David noonan, Rich Redman, Bruce R. Cordell, based on original material by E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.
  • Path of the Sword Copyright 2002, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.
  • Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns, Copyright 2002, Natural 20 Press
  • Wild Spellcraft, Copyright 2002, Natural 20 Press
  • Traps & Treachery Copyright 2001, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.
  • Deadlands d20 Copyright 2001, Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Inc.
  • Dragonstar: Starfarer’s Handbook Copyright 2001, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.
  • Open Game Content from The Tide of Years Copyright 2001, Michelle A. Brown Nephew
  • Seafarer’s Handbook Copyright 2001, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.
  • Dawnforge Copyright 2003, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.
  • Dawnforge: Age of Legend, Copyright 2003, Fantasy Flight Publishing, Inc.

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