Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Four Mary Sue Races

The Drow. Drizzt Do'Urden. Synonymous with Mary Sue.

But "Mary Sue" isn't actually quite exactly what I'm talking about, despite the title of this post.

I want to throw in the word "edgelord", but that only has aspects of what I'm talking about.

But between "Mary Sue" and "edgelord", we're about 78% of the way there, so maybe you'll be able to figure out what I mean.

The four races are Drow, Tiefling, Dragonborn, and Warforged.

I suppose "edgelord" applies mostly to Drow and Tiefling. But all four are... if you want to play a character for whom their race is the primary focus, you play one of these? (Or maybe a Half-Orc or a Dwarf, I guess.)

Newbies and noobs like to play these races and tell inferior stories with them -- but that's not right, that comes off as much more judgemental than I'm actually inclined to be here.

(I'm talking as someone who's currently playing one Drow and one Warforged, and not long ago played a Tiefling, so I'm not actually inclined to be very judgey at all here. Although the Tiefling-ness of Dr. Blelyj was secondary, Keyla the Paladin of Bahamut keeps being annoyed and infuriated when people keep bringing up her Drow-ness, and Tanner's Knife is attempting to craft himself into a more perfect organic meatbag through Fleshwarper levels, so the race isn't the primary focus of any of these characters like it is for the kind of characters I'm almost-but-not-quite-criticizing.)

"Fan favorite" may be a word to throw around in this context, too.

The point I'm gradually angling towards is this: in 3.5, none of these races were Player's Handbook races. Two (Tiefling and Drow) were Monster Manual, two were other splatbooks. Two came saddled with level adjustment (unless you consult yet more splatbooks for Lesser Planetouched and I think there was some sort of Lesser Drow variant floating around at one point).

In Pathfinder, Dragonborn and Warforged were not available for non-SRD reasons, and Tiefling and Drow were eventually made slightly more playable by virtue of being a bit more race points rather than having LA.

In 4e, Dragonborn and Tiefling were Player's Handbook, Warforged and Drow were Monster Manual. (These choices bumped previous PHb classics like Gnomes to later PHbs -- somebody in development said "which is more central to D&D, Dragonborn/Tiefling or Gnome?" and was answered "Dragonborn/Tiefling".)

In 5e, three were Player's Handbook and the last (Warforged) was recently Unearthed Arcana'd. At long last you can play a Drizzt clone right out of the box without pulling from any books other than PHb.

The point I'm making is this: Over the course of 3.5 to 5e, the design philosophy has shifted. Put deprecatingly, we're shifting towards being more fanservicey; put less deprecatingly, we're shifting towards letting players play what they want without restriction.

(Or it could just be that nobody publishing 3.5 yet realized just how popular these four races would eventually become. Although Drizzt first appeared in 1988 -- early 2e -- so there should have been some clue there.)

I'm not really making any deep point here, just pointing in the general direction of a vague observation.