FIVEY: Five Fantastic Character Origins

Another one! Actually, five to match the typical demihuman "races" you expect from a D&D.

Not doing half-orcs and half-elves. I actually feel like it's a pussy move to use half-orcs and not just orcs. Another challenge I faced was trying not to just go through the motions, the way in which D&D tells you everything you could already guess from Tolkien or popular culture. Elves are old and wise! Booo.

So, without further ado: dwarves, elves, gnomes, hoblins, and orcs. They might as well be boilerplate, but let's try to be better than that.


Before getting into it, I wanted to go over some inspirations. For dwarves, I was especially inspired by the dwarf and misshapen dwarf in Troika! because I adore the idea of dwarves being intelligent constructs or automatons; at the same time, I didn't want to necessarily impose that specific background, so I took the inspiration more symbolically (so the reader can decide how literal or metaphorical their description is). The orcs took inspiration from slave uprisings, like Spartacus' Rebellion or the Haitian Revolution; first and foremost I wanted to avoid the reading of orcs as being inherently violent/savage, or one that attributes anti-orc racism to an traumatic past event where they were the objective bad guys (think of the evil robots in Overwatch or the predator animals in Zootopia, both being deeply stupid, misguided, and racist allegories for racism). My hope is that dwarves and orcs serve as foils for each other: one trying to escape the confines of tradition, and the other robbed of tradition altogether.

Other inspirations include social or symbolic reinterpretations of the D&D races, by Emily Allen of Cavegirl Games and Dan D. of Throne of Salt. In the opposite direction from Troika!, however, I didn't want to reinterpret the races as strictly social or symbolic. Instead, I wanted to look at the race construct as one that appropriates biology as its fiction's fabric. That isn't to say I do any ironic phrenology below, but I wanted to stick to them being actual 'people groups' whose qualities are attributed by society to their physiology—while problematizing this relationship as well as the qualities it supposes. For example, are dwarves so traditional and xenophobic because it's in their chthonic nature, or is that just what they would like to think because it justifies their social context? I think besides this being more "realistic" from a materialist standpoint, it also generates more interesting and productive character motivations.

The hoblin was specifically and directly inspired by mythic little people, the kind that live in your pantry and clean the kitchen at night if you leave them milk and cookies—but if you forget, they drag your laundry through the mud. I combined the hobbit (halfling) and the goblin because they have that common source in historical myth, and I think the juxtaposition between their two modern fantasy counterparts produces an interesting dialogue in what we expect from one or the other and why. Are hobbits just good goblins, and goblins bad hobbits? Are hobbits really just naturally volksy, and goblins mischievous?

Finally, the gnome was loosely inspired by hermits.

Origin: Dwarf

Dwarves are a chthonic people who were born of the earth, live in the earth, and will return to the earth when they pass. Tradition runs through their veins like ore underground, and most commit their lives to serving their blood-kin and their soil. For a dwarf to venture from the deep is unthinkable to most, as if tearing themselves from their own mother, betraying their clan for strangers or even historical enemies. Such adventurous dwarves are the ones to realize that it is not the earth who makes them, nor their clan, but themselves and those whom they love. A greater world awaits them than what lies in the ground.

Dwarves have the Tradition skill, and they start either with a toolkit corresponding to their family's craft, such as one for masonry or one for carpentry, or a dwarven encyclopedia full of maps and family trees (up to the birthday of the individual dwarf). Genealogy is a favorite pastime of old-fashioned dwarves, most having memorized their pedigree up to eight generations past.

Dwarves also have the Well-Rounded Diet feat, which makes them immune to both alcohol and poison, and allows them to discern otherwise harmful or intoxicating substances in food or drink.

Origin: Elf

Elves teeter between dreams and waking life. After all, when decades pass like weeks and centuries like decades, life itself becomes like a dream. Moments flash and relationships fade, and nothing ever lasts. At the same time, it is those ephemeral things which give one's life meaning. One-year stands and decades-long friendships may dissolve into distant memories, but elves value memories like diamonds formed by the pressures of time. Finally, even more than treasured memories and evanescent pleasures, elves enjoy the art of flowery, figurative speech.

Elves have the Song skill, and they start with either a small wind instrument (tier 1 spell) or a charm which allows them to summon and speak with a friendly animal companion (H1, A12, M6). In performing maintenance on natural habitats, such familiars help elves access places that they cannot otherwise reach.

Elves also have the Sleepwalker feat, which allows them to take 1 extra rest action per nighttime phase (2 rest actions total), and also makes them resistant against charm or sleep magic.

Origin: Gnome

Gnomes are eccentric little hermits who spend their long lives in pursuit of grand projects. It was a gnome who invented the first fax machine, another gnome who uncovered the secrets of quantum mechanics, and yet another gnome who calculated the age of the cosmos. As much as such innovations might impact society, the gnome is motivated by none other than pure interest in their craft—their various discoveries or inventions are unknown as often as they are uncredited. In between sleepless decades of tinkering, gnomes often travel the world in search of something more trivial to worry about.

Gnomes have the Imagination skill, and they start either with a binder of parchment (a theoretical dissertation; tier 1 spell) or a blank check from an unwise patron. It is not uncommon for gnomes to receive the latter in exchange for an incredible labor, but they are given with the expectation that the gnome will offer a return on the investment tenfold. Spending the check will almost certainly result in a followup visit.

Gnomes also have the Tinker feat, allowing them to spend 1 rest action to construct a small clockwork or electrical device provided they have the necessary materials. Every gold piece spent is one component, such as: a button, a switch, a motor, a sensor, an indicator, or actuator. For example, a gnome could spend 7 gold pieces to construct a toy motorcycle with two wheels, a sensor, a motor, a turning mechanism, a power switch, and a photocell battery.

Origin: Hoblins

Hoblins are little people that have always survived under society's shadow, as if always escaping the bigfolk’s gaze when they are stumbled upon. Some inhabit villages in hidden valleys, some wander in caravans along forgotten roads, and some live in people’s attics silently exchanging favors for food and shelter. No matter their lifestyle, every hoblin appreciates a warm meal and a story, and most pursue the perfection of one art or the other. They make for excellent chefs and bards, as well as cheats and burglars.

Hoblins have the Stealth skill, and they begin with either a pouch of magical herbs (restores 1d6 hit points when incorporated into a feast; single use) or a handed-down walking stick which negates movement penalties from difficult terrain.

Hoblins also have the Little Trouble feat, allowing them to become virtually invisible when hiding in brush, in shadow, or even behind a larger creature—giving them advantage should they attempt an attack on their next turn in combat.

Origin: Orc

Orcs are descended from a long line of enslaved warriors, carried across oceans to shed blood on behalf of captor nations. Once, an army of orcs had banded with an island of would-be victims against the imperial power that held them both. Although they secured victory in battle, the civilized world forbade them a seat at their table, and held them responsible for the costs of lost opportunity. The orcs were never blamed for their forced participation in war, but they were also never forgiven for seeking a better life. They are often met with fear and suspicion, on account of their supposed antisocial nature.

Orcs have the Intimidation skill, and they begin with either an extra weapon passed down from their progenitors or a small heirloom of their ancestral people. The latter is basically indecipherable to the one who possesses it, a symbol of someone else’s loss rather than of their own belonging. There is a 1-in-20 chance that any other orc has a similar heirloom, originating from the same culture.

Orcs also have the Force of Will feat: when they would fall to 0 hit points, they may fall to 1 hit point instead and thereafter receive advantage on melee attacks until they fall again or are healed.


  1. Love these! Re:Hoblins, is there a reason one of the choices of starting items is single use item. It seems like it would be a more equitable choice if instead you got a recipe book that could make a healing item after foraging and cooking for 1-2 rest actions? That way both choices would provide perpetual value, but I could be far undervaluing the advantage of a health potion.

    1. thank you, razuge! that is a really good point, and i like the recipe book angle :) my original idea was that it was actually their feat that was going to be cooking-related, but i wanted it to better reflect their 5e abilities so i tried transferring it to an item instead. but it being a recipe book makes it more persistent, which like you said is more desirable!

  2. "I wanted to look at the race construct as one that appropriates biology as its fiction's fabric" is too dense for me, and I had trouble understanding your explanation in the rest of that paragraph. I think you're saying that these sample 'fantasy races' criticise racism on the grounds that it makes false inferences from biology to individual or collective character. Is that the kind of thing you mean?

    I struggle sometimes to understand these kinds of things, and I am concerned about it for own work.

    Can you explain for me how the Dwarf example does that? I think its because you have one paragraph describing tradition being 'in the blood', and another where some individual dwarves do not entirely fit this mould, and see other possibilities in the world. So the second undermines the first, the authority of which can now be questioned?

    The Dwarf example is interesting to me when put beside the case of Tolkien's Bilbo, whose adventurous nature the author attributed to Bilbo's 'Tookish nature', which might be read as a genetic inheritance.

    1. hi kenco, sorry for the confusing verbiage! you're right on all accounts :) that's interesting that tolkien describes bilbo that way---it feels like so much of fantasy is obsessed with lineage and inherited character, which is very much in line with feudal ideology from what i gather.


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