101 Alternate Racial Traits
By Thilo Graf
This pdf from Rite Publishing is 17 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of ads and 1 page SRD, leaving 12 pages for the new selection of racial traits, so let’s check them out!
The first thing you’ll notice about this pdf will be that it, in contrast to the other 101-books, is full-color and thus adheres to the beautiful layout you can also see in Rite Publishing’s free Pathways magazines. Most of the artworks (all but one) subsequently also are full-color. Nice!
One of the coolest features of character generation is coming up with unique back stories, at least for me and my players. While we all know that adventurers tend to be somewhat above average individuals, we sometimes crave a special touch that has its own representation in the rules and sets them even further apart from their peers, be it via ancestry, culture or just by choice – modifications are fun and this book offers a plethora of new racial trait options for the core races. In order to review this book, I’ll mention my favorite traits and my least favorite ones for the respective races, so let’s check them out!
Dwarves, the stout, bearded defenders get a very cool ability that reflects their stoicism, granting them a bonus to DC to successfully use sense motive against them and enchantment resistance. On the very cool, far-out side, we can now also play dwarves that have been subjected to horrible experiments and cross-bred with lasher, granting them the ability to get reach at the expense of strength with elongated limbs. I LOVE how potentially creepy that is. I didn’t care for “Tried and True”, which lets the dwarf automatically succeed at any class skill if he/she rolls a 19 or 20. Sorry, but depending on the class this trait is over-powered.
Elves also can be customized to be more unique with these traits: While some of the ancestry traits (like pairing with a giant eagle) somewhat felt icky, gaining wings via the “Aellar Ancestry” is kinda cool. We also finally get a rules-representation for the elven immortality. We are also treated to some traits related to magic, making the feeling of the elves more in touch with magic. There was no trait I had a problem with.
Next up are the Gnomes, who get a very cool expansion of their tropes. Both clockworks and humor and witticism get their rules-representations and my favorite is actually “Misunderstood Genius”, that lets the gnome choose ONE skill – on a roll of 19 or 20, he gets a +20 bonus to said skill. I like this in contrast to “Tried and True” due to still making it possible for failing a check and being limited to one skill. My least favorite one is “Well-traveled”, which grants bonus languages. While useful in e.g. campaigns like mine, it might see less use in other campaigns. The lurker-ancestry (gnome/cloaker-crossbreeds, once again providing fodder for people who like it creepy like yours truly. Great traits.
Half-elves get a special treatment, essentially providing components and traits that make it possible to play a full-blown half-drow or just take bits and pieces due to distant ancestry. I especially liked “Adaptive Learning” – a concisely presented trait that lets you choose an additional class skill each time you enter a new base class. Once again, I’ve got nothing to complain.
Half-Orcs get an alternate, more Orcish attribute set and once again get an extremely cool ancestry: Fans of Illithids, rejoice and mind-blast/tentacle-suck your enemies dry! Better yet, this trait can be taken by any race! I tried to be nit-picky here, but I like all of the traits and see no real problems with them.
Then, we get the halflings: I absolutely loved the potential for mischief the “Blinkling Ancestry” provides – by mystical merging, these halflings may blink a limited number of times per day. If you’re in for a rather gritty or savage setting “Cannibalistic Reputation” offers the jovial folk a rather sinister and badass reputation that helps his allies when flanking foes. Rather prefer the jovial halfling? “Corpulent” makes them tougher, but at the expense of speed and increased falling damage. There is one trait, though, that I absolutely LOATHE: “Common Sense”. What sounds rather down-to-earth actually turns out to be extremely powerful: Once per day, as a free action, they can abort an action they attempted and RETCON their whole action, doing something else! The example is given of a halfling sneaking up to an enemy, trying to attack him. If he fails, he can remain hidden and do something different. If this was limited to one kind of roll, I wouldn’t complain. But the action to retcon a whole round just feels tremendously unbalanced to me and will never find its way into my campaign.
After that, it’s time for the humans to shine: My two favorites here are the “Child of Prophecy” that lets you accumulate markers for rolled 1s which you can convert to bonuses on other tasks and “Eidetic Memory”, if only because the latter (as a feat in 3.5) has made several awesome stories possible in my former campaign. I was also kind of touched by “Personal Sacrifice”, which grants a bonus to heal and lets them interpose themselves between an attacker and their ally.
Layout is beautiful and adheres to the elegant full-color two-column-Pathways-standard. The artworks, also full color, are nice, though nothing to write home about – “just” ok to good. Editing is top-notch, I didn’t notice any flaws and the same goes for formatting. The crunch, as I’ve come to expect from Rite Publishing, teems with great ideas and most of the traits are solid. However, there also are some I consider to be rather on the OP, too powerful side. GMs should take care to read all the traits carefully and strike out those that don’t fit into their respective campaigns power-levels. Thus, my final verdict will be 4 stars – a good book, but one that contains some rotten-egg-traits that rather felt like capstone abilities of classes than racial traits.
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