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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e $9.99 $6.99
Average Rating:4.2 / 5
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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Iv R. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/18/2020 12:27:11

This is a cool read but I was expecting a more "chunky" set of rules. Half the book are the rules and the other half is an adventure. I've read the adventure, haven't run it, and while it seems solid I trully wanted a bit more out of the rules.

However it is a good read, and it's good stuff to keep always in mind.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Stephanie S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/08/2020 17:46:06

I love this system! It's to expand and customize to fit whatever world you've made or are using. 10/10



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Matthias B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2020 04:39:35

I've bought this book and I am very disappointed. Instead of a couple of good rules which allow to create characters of mixed acestry and/or a different culture (like Pathfinder 1e did in the 'Advanced Race Guide'), this book simply gives us just some examples how to split the a D&D 5e race into an ancestry and a culture (something 5e already did with most races). And they put the ability modifiers in the culture! This leads to the weird effect that a halfling raised in an orcish culture will be stronger than an orc raised among halflings. The only good thing about this book is most of the art. The rest should be replaced with sensible rules which allow DMs and Players to create their own species (I prefer species to ancestry because fantasy races are different species and not simply just different races or ancestries) and cultures.

EDIT: I came to the conclusion that the extremely long and extremely biased preface full of disproven "facts", the lack of rules explaining how to create your own ancestry and culture packages and two poorly written adventures do not counterbalance the good idea and the great artwork by Talon Dunning.

Even if you like the idea behind this book, do not buy it. It lacks everything which would make it a decent rule book. Everyone with some experience in D&D 5e could write much better house rules! This is a book with a political agenda disguised as a rule book! And that's the main reason I lowered my rating from two stars to one!



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Stefan S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 08/16/2020 04:01:44

They constantly deleting my Posts in the Discussions (and others) so I put it here. I was about to write a more differentiated review but because I have to believe it will be deleted again, I will stay short: This was what I've written in the discussion and they decided to delete it without reason or contact me why they think it´s not ok:

"This is a great tool to add more flexibility to the core system. Wish it wouldn't play the racist card 'cause D&D does in no way encourage racism, but I don't have to agree with the authors view to appreciate the good idea for a more flexible character creation system. (anyway advertising this way has worked, I guess ;) )"

Would have been 3 stars because it's a good Idea and a decent layouted pdf, but is somekind of superficial. And then I had to drop 1 Star for bad customer behaviour.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/26/2020 07:09:57

The good: I genuinely love the concept of splitting character race into Ancestry and Culture. The core 5e rules seem to make an unspoken assumption that a character of a race will always be raised in that races culture which is not what a lot of people play, and is not reinforced in the setting. So things like all elves or dwarves being proficient in their culture's weaponry, or a Half-Orc speking Orcish even if they've never met another Orc have always felt weird. So splitting it into ancestry and culture makes it more flexible and fits how many people actually play the game and provides more fitting mechanics for it.

However, the bad: I'm not sure I agree with putting all ability modifiers into culture. The book posits that ancestry doesn't have any effect on your strength or anything like that which... isn't really true. Culture and training definitely affect it, but genetics and ancestry also play a part. Hormones, muscle fibre length, limb length, and point of tendon insertion all affect how strong you can be even with training for example. So I'm not totally on board with putting all the ability modifiers into Culture, and feel there should be some in ancestry and some in culture in ways that make sense.

I also feel that book fails in some of their stated targets, given that Human Ancestry gives you natural curiosity that makes your proficient in a skill and a tool of your choice, and elven ancestry gives you proficiency in perception. Which is your genetics giving you innate knowledge of skills that have to be taught, which feels like it goes against the book's core goals. If it is unacceptable to think that ancestry might give you a slight inherent edge in physical strength or dexterity why is it acceptable for ancestry to give you innate detailed skill training?

And lastly they remove sub races so all Elf culture is High Elven, all Dwarf culture is Hill Dwarven, all Gnome culture is Rock Gnome, so the cultures feel shallower and more uniform with less variety than standard 5e. (this might be fixed in their other 2 books, Custom Ancestries and Cultures, and More Ancestries and Cultures, which I'm debating buying to see if it does fix...) All in all I think it is a great idea that this book doesn't fully hit the mark on, but is still worth trying, and I would really like to see an official WotC version of it for all playable races and cultures, with greater depth into what the cultures are like. I do not want them to stop trying this concept - I just want to see them do it better.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Hi. Thanks for your review. Just a brief explanation about the OGL: The reason why there is only one "sub race" for each entry is because that is all that is allowed, legally, under Wizards of the Coast's Open Gaming License. Including Wood Elf or Mountain Dwarf is copyright infringement. As you mention, we do have two supplemental products, linked in the product description above, which contain 120+ custom ancestries and cultures, so that folks have a lot of other options to choose from. But this product covers 100% of what is legally allowed from the official material by Wizards of the Coast in a product like this, which has been Kickstarted and put on DriveThruRPG. Also and we do have a product coming in a few weeks on DMs Guild that will have more official 'races' and 'subraces', too, but, again, that wasn't legally allowed in this product. Oh, and in case you are curious, the reason that we did retain some ancestral traits like Darvision, Fey Ancestry, and Trance for elves (for example) is because we wanted a compromise between challenging racial essentialism and keeping the system still identifiably D&D. If we moved all traits out of Ancestry, then elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and humans would be ancestrally identical and a lot of narrative content would be lost, so we opted for the system above. Thanks again.
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Tom B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/19/2020 21:23:18

I think the strongest element of this supplement is that it does what the best rulebooks do: It encourages creativity and flexibility in its mechanics. Breaking player races up into a mixture of ancestry and culture allows players more freedom to tailor their characters exactly to the kind of character they want to play, AND creates tons of potential for roleplay in the same way as Backgrounds and Personality Traits. Deeper in, a further breakdown that provides suggestions on mixed ancestries allows for even MORE nuance. And last but not least, the supplement finally drills down even further, past the archetypes of X ancestry or Y culture, to encourage tailor-made stat blocks that don't adhere to any established ancestry or culture.

It sounds like a no-brainer format and an obvious progression for a book like this, and I'm sure there are plenty of players and GMs alike out there doing this sort of thing already in their own homebrew; but it's critical to put this stuff into writing. It "canonizes" the idea, so to speak, laying the groundwork for homebrew design in its very rules rather than leaving it to a player or GM to fend for themselves.

Would totally recommend for players or GMs alike, especially newer ones looking to dip their toes into homebrew who might need some help getting the gears turning.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Jeremy W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/17/2020 09:36:41

I like what it's trying to do. I like the art.

But why not develop a point system for building and balancing races and then use the ancestry/culture split to illustrate how that system works?

Though you have to take my review with a pinch of spice: I don't play 5e, so this was never going to be a perfect product for me.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Alex J. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/14/2020 16:48:45

So let me start by saying. I like the concept and idea behind this book.

My favourite setting that I'm currently running in Eberron and in that setting there's a big emphasis on nation as an identity instead of race. For a product to look at a way to translate that idea into a system is great for me.

The issue is I don't think it's executed in a way that would work at my table.

It's only fair if I am giving this product a slightly negative rating. I should at least provide a comprehensive reason.

THE GOOD

  • Artwork. I'm a big fan of the artwork in this book. Especially Camille Kuo's work. There's a nice variety of pieces both B&W, Line Art, and full colour. Since this product also contains two adventures I think the sketches included bring these NPCs to life and if I were to run any of these two at my table I'm sure my players would love each NPCs artwork.

  • Aspects of the Adventures. First off, I have to say it's nice to have two adventures included with the product. I enjoyed the indepth scaling features of each adventure, it's a nice attention to detail that means I can have the adventure scaled to my group. Since some of the encounters also have similar scaling, if I were to run these, I could adjust these easily if a player was missing for a session. A lot of the encounters have environmental features that player can interact with which is always fun.

  • The Price. Super cheap, for a ruleset and two adventures $9.95 is an absolute steal. You find a lot of books on this site would charge 15-20+ for a similar offering. The fact that you can get a physical print of this for $14.95 is insane.

  • Production Value. You are getting a book that is of a similar quality to some of the top products on this site.

THE BAD

  • Balance. By far my biggest problem with the book is balance wasn't given a second thought. The book has a section on balance stating that while the system isn't balanced and can create overpowered characters, balance was taken into account. This stance seems to contradict statements from the author's twitter in which they stated that "balance doesn't matter" and using the analogy that official WotC isn't balanced stating the ranger as an example of something that is underpowered but fine because it's flavourful (On a side note I feel like most players and DMs disagree with this, the Ranger and Revised Ranger are both bland classes and feel like more like Druid/Fighter hybrids then an actual unique class). The system isn't balanced. Tying ability scores to culture isn't a good system because for certain races the way ability scores work offset the balance of certain abilities. The system is almost misanthropic in its balance, making Humans extremely weak as an Ancestry effectively making humans a race not worth playing. Human Ancestry grants, a skill proficiency and a tool proficiency. That's it. Compare that to other races that get Darkvision, breath weapons, resistances, unique features like Halfling's 'Lucky', advantages on certain saving throws etc It just comes up short. What made Human's balanced as a race was that they either got a +1 to every stat or using the variant rule system a feat. As a design choice this is great on WoTC's end because it represents them as a jack of all trade race that are masters of their own destiny. Delegating this feature as cultural means that Humans become boring and the weakest race to play. To quote the author on twitter: "This is why Wotc still hasn’t “fixed” the ranger beast master. Yes it’s underpowered, it it’s flavorful and narratively satisfying, and their research shows some folks like it." Humans in the Ancestry & Culture system are neither flavourful or narratively satisfying. To say that unbalance is fine as long as the narrative is interesting is fine, I agree. Having two proficiencies as the thing that makes your race unique is neither of those things. It's plain boring. How do you fix it? Developing a unique feature for Humans would have been a better touch.

Human culture has the opposite problem. Making it the only culture worth taking.

Why would you not have your cake and eat it? All ancestries bar human get all the good unique features of each race, and they can take Variant Human Culture to get a free feat on top of that as well.

  • The Narrative of the Adventures. D&D adventures (both third party and official) tend to either be vague sandboxes (not giving a lot of details to the DM giving them the freedom to add their own flavour) or railroady (giving them too much detail and locking the players into set choices. Both adventures in this book fall more towards the railroad side of the coin. Light of Unity is a semi ok adventure, but Helping Hands is lacking. The problem with both is they're a bit weak with story structure. The issue could be that they're not really full adventures more like singular quests consisting of a handful of encounters which could be covered in one to two sessions. I don't want to add spoilers in case a player reads this and a DM is intending to run either of these but the narratives are filled with railroading and safety nets protecting the players from consequences for their failure. Helping Hands especially suffers from this. The first encounter puts the players in a dangerous scenario that even if they fail nothing bad happens. There are notes for tone meaning you can add more consequence but by default even if the players don't succeed the same result ensues. This encounter also has zero purpose to furthering the plot of the adventure other than saying 'here's a bad situation, people are unified despite it'. The rest of the adventure also suffers from this, feeling like a collection of encounters stringed together rather than a solid cohesive narrative. The party in Helping Hands are railroaded into a plot where there only purpose is to be pacifists who spread cooperation and egalitarianism. Which is great if your party's characters believe that not so great if you wanted to play a character that didn't. Perhaps the adventure is called Helping Hands because it holds the player's hands on a journey to explain why cooperation is good while giving them no space to agree or disagree with the sentiment. This creates no real conflict in the story and results in a rigid railroad adventure.

  • Introduction Essay. Anyone that has bought this product would already be onboard with the ideals and reasoning behind its inception. We don't need a 3 Page essay telling us why it's necessary and important. Xanathar's Guide to Everything has a two-page introduction (some of which is images), the Player's Handbook has a one page preface and a four page introduction explaining core mechanics. Both are significantly meatier products then this. The book opens up with a 1653-word essay and honestly it feels really indulgent. It could have effectively been removed without impacting the final product and shortened to a single page.

The system feels very locked in. Improving it would involve an evaluation of the individual values of each racial trait and creating more choices within both the Ancestry and Culture selections. Offering more customisation rather than the system with locked bundled traits as it currently is.

For the relative value of the book I'd say it could be worth a pickup if you're looking for ways to tailor a system to your own game.

It's the balance and execution of these ideas that let it down in the end.

EDIT 14/07/2020 22:43 GMT

After writing this review and reading the author's response, I went back to the original twitter thread to check if I had misrepresented the author's view on balance and apologise if I had.

Unfortunately in quite bizzare fashion the author has blocked me because I assume they didn't like my criticism? That's fine it's a free world.

Upon inspection of the tweets again (viewed publically when I am not logged into the account) I don't think I misrepresented the point of the author.

According to the author Eugene Marshall: "balance doesn’t matter, not like you think. The official design is intentionally unbalanced. Some races, classes, items, & spells are more powerful than others, and that’s ok as long as it fits the narrative. ... No of course they’re not perfectly balanced nor should they be. As long as none of them are so unbalanced as to ruin other people’s fun at the table, then they are balanced enough. And none of these ancestries or cultures would do so. ... this is why Wotc still hasn’t “fixed” the ranger beast master. Yes it’s underpowered, it it’s flavorful and narratively satisfying ... Only people unduly concerned about artificial balance concepts worry a out it. I’m not one who does."

Dissecting that block I believe I wasn't unfair in saying the author doesn't care about balance. As I explain in my review the underpowered nature of humans isn't fun, it isn't flavourful, and it certainly isn't narratively satisfying. It's not too much of a logical leap to say the author doesn't care about balance when they say it in a roundabout way above.

I'm glad the author at least read my review, the praise I gave, and my agreement/sharing of the ideals surrounding the creation of the book.

Despite this they deemed me the unsavoury sort who should be blocked. I don't think I was unfair or rude and if I was I would apologise so I guess they just don't like criticism.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Creator Reply:
Hello everyone, I'm just popping in to help shed some light on one element of the above. When the author refers obliquely to a twitter conversation we had, he's referring to this: https://twitter.com/JollyClaret/status/1282156400098054146 . As you'll see, I never said, "Balance doesn't matter." I said it doesn't matter in the way he thinks, as is evidenced by the rest of his 'review'. And to the reviewer: Thanks for your purchase and for spending so much of your own time thinking about my product. (Really, that must have taken hours to draft!)
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by brandon g. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/12/2020 20:50:51

Came across this just when i needed it for some world building



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Nirav S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/29/2020 13:07:55

This is an excellent approach to dismantling the inherently colonialist "races" system in 5e. Excited to use this and see more in the same vein!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by John W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/21/2020 21:11:12

Love this approach! Is it perfect, no, but neither is the game it supports. But nearly all of us have been homebrewing to make it all work for our own unique groups for as long as we've been playing.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Matthew D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/20/2020 15:10:55

Buyer Beware: This zine only covers character creation options available in the OGL. Meaning all discussion of options such as drow, stout "halflings", wood elves, and forest gnomes is absent. I feel it would have been appropriate for the product description to explicitly mention this.

That being said, I recommend purchasing both this zine and the separate purchase of "Custom Ancestry & Cultures". It broadens and enriches the player's palette of choices when it comes to character creation. The illustrations are well formed and the cover art is a gorgeous rendition of the roleplay anyone can experience 5e.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Jim B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/19/2020 13:36:12

This is good stuff, addressing something that has been problematic for a long time. It bugged me way back when I read Lord of the Rings -- that the only good orc is a dead orc, and any cross-breeding was considered a vile and unnatural abomination. It was the language of out-and-out racism, but somehow it became okay when orcish inferiority was a fact of the setting. And then D&D inherited that view. From a storytelling perspective, sometimes you want clear Good Guys and Bad Guys, but the assumption that was still problematic was "they're all like that, they're born that way, they have no choice."

Separating ancestry and culture makes sense. It isn't hard to grasp.

I get the idea behind erring on the side of culture over ancestry, but even so, there's still room for a nature/nurture debate to decide which elements belong on which side of that divide. For example, you could split the dwarf's +2 Con modifier so that it's part ancestry (+1) and part culture (+1). This is especially true if you apply the same principles to NPC cultures; giants really are bigger and stronger than pixies. I much prefer having NPCs and PCs playing by the same rules and systems.

One could go a little farther and tie elements to backgrounds instead of monolothic cultures. For example, an elf entertainer and a dwarf entertainer might have things in common (e.g. +1 Cha) that a dwarf entertainer and a dwarf warrior don't. The cultural differences are in the menu of backgrounds a given culture offers. A rough, violent culture wouldn't offer the same mix of backgrounds that a kind, peaceful culture would offer. A sophisticated, urbanized, educated, wealthy culture wouldn't have the same mix as a scattered nomadic culture that's struggling to survive. High elves and wood elves might not have the exact same menu of backgrounds. This could add some complexity, but a) you might already have different background options for different cultures, and b) you don't have to map it all out in advance; you can build as you go.

My one concern about the ancestry & culture approach is that the minmaxers will take even LONGER to create their characters. The player who said "I'm a dwarf raised by dwarves" and the one who said "I'm a human raised by elves" are done, while we wait around for the minmaxer to read over every option, weigh every possible combination, and go on at length about turning themselves into the ideal super-character.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Brian Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/17/2020 18:49:54

Like many, I would like to have seen the author take the ideas presented in "Ancestry and Culture" even further, but considering the design intent this is a fantastic piece of game design. This product takes some of the problematic elements of how DnD treats race and with a relatively simple tweak, shifts the burden over to "culture" (a reimagining of "subrace"). I highly recommend this as a addition to your game to replace the race rules in the PHB. It's an easy add, both mechanically and mentally. Arcanist Press will get me to purchase a 2nd Edition of "Ancestry and Culture" if they take the "anti-essentialist culture" in Appendix A and work those into the core of these rules, replace the term "mixed ancestry" with "shared ancestry" (too nitpicky?) and update the "diverse cultural traits" as "shared cultural traits" that also take into account subcultures and minority cultures (you grew up with your traditionalist elven family within a human dominated city). Arcanist Press will also get more of my money if they develop a DM's Guild version of this product that includes the rest of the PHB subraces and races/subraces from other DnD products! Thanks AP!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by George M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/12/2020 14:01:25

I got this book as part of the big Black Lives Matter bundle currently available- lots of good stuff for an excellent cause. As for this particular book, well: if you get strident when discussing whether or not orcs have 'piggish' snouts, then this probably won’t be your cup of tea. For most others though, there are some very interesting ideas here worth looking into that can enrich both your characters & NPCs.

The book starts by delving into the deep historical and cultural (as well as racial) roots of the race designations in the worlds most favorite RPG, pointing out its inflexible and arbitrary limitations. Most of the book discusses how to split the current racial designations into parts that relate to physical characteristics, and parts that can be looked at as being culturally or environmentally rooted. Bifurcating the two gives characters more flexibility in design and in characterization: a halfling raised by orcs, or a human with some dwarfish ancestry has a different outlook and abilities than the out of the box models. The example list they give os broad, but incomplete; the methodology they use is explained clearly enough that it can applied to most any race in 5e with little work. All of this fits well on the current 5e without much fuss; it’s individually optional as needed to suit.

Overall I like the design and feel, and the options are worthy to consider for those players or NPC that are looking for a bit more depth or complexity. Recommended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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