Races of Destiny

After finding myself pleasantly surprised by Races of Stone, I was quite hopeful that this book would offer a similar treatment of humans, half-orcs and half-elves. Boy, was I wrong!

Like Races of Stone, this book divides the ‘Races of Destiny’ into three chapters.

Chapter 1 provides detailed information (relative to the Player’s Handbook) on humans and their cultures. Overall, the chapter was fairly strong and provides good information, but much of it seems to bog down on ‘humans run the gamut’. Since human cultures vary so much by geographic location, humans stand in contrast to more ‘uniform’ cultures. In short, while this chapter provides some of the best information, it tends to repeat itself frequently and doesn’t really provide anything solid for building a unique human culture.

At 18 pages, Chapter 2 is only half as long as Chapter 1, and it delves into two races; half-orcs and half-elves. The number of pages doesn’t allow for a very in-depth treatise on either race – essentially the chapter says that they’re like the race they grew up in, mostly. The difference is that half-elves got the ‘best half of both parents’ and half-orcs got the ‘worst half’. Half-orcs, no matter what culture they’re raised in, hate themselves for being weaker than true orcs and dumber than true humans. Readers are best off just pretending this chapter doesn’t exist.

In Races of Stone, a new race was detailed – the Goliath. I’m not a huge fan of the Goliath, but I can see the culture at least making sense. Goliaths are nomadic people living in the mountains, smaller than giants but otherwise similar. Races of Destiny also provides a new race: Illumians. Illumians are humans that have attained some form of enlightenment by speaking words of power descended from the first language. This results in them being mostly bald and having glowing sigils over their head. This chapter was the longest at 38 pages. Fully 11 of those pages describe the variations between the various ‘cabals’ that the society is organized in. One cabal (termed ‘Root Cabals’) live in trees or other natural places and defend nature. Another (termed ‘Grave Whisper’ Cabals’) talk to undead. The structure is the same, the only real difference is that each group has a ‘schtick’ that’s somewhat different than the others. Since I didn’t care for the race at all, this was extremely tedious. Worse, the maps showing a typical ‘cabal’ are useless. A map showing a ‘noble mansion’ has ‘interior hallways removed for clarity’ – leaving it just a jumble of rectangles labeled ‘Dining Hall’ and ‘Library’. Sadly, it was one of the better maps. Information regarding Illumian deities is also presented – they’re all ascended Illumians, so unless you’re interested in the race, this whole chapter is a waste. The race itself is designed to facilitate multi-classing. For anyone thinking about playing a mystic theurge, the race can provide you a +2 bonus to your effective caster level for both wizard and cleric! The justification for why the race tends to have more than one focus is sketchy at best.

Chapter 4 describes some human like monsters with enough information to begin playing one at 1st level. This includes the Planetouched (Aasimar and Tieflings), Dopplegangers, Half-Ogres, Mongrelfolk, Sea Kin, Sharakim, Skulk, and Underfolk. The Sea Kin are humans that trade their bonus feat for a swim speed, low-light vision, a bonus to Escape Artist checks, Hold Breath, and the ability to treat tridents and nets as simple weapons. They retain human’s bonus to skill points. Oh, and it’s totally an even trade because they have to take a bath once each week or they might dry out and die. Underfolk might be slightly better – they keep the skill points but lose the feat and gain Darkvision, a bonus to Listen checks, weapon familiarity with picks, +4 to Hide checks (+10 in rocky terrain), but this is offset by Light Sensitivity.

The book then moves on to Prestige Classes, providing seven. Two of them are intended for Illumians, one for half-orcs, one for half-elves, one for any half-human, and two for humans. There isn’t anything particularly exciting here. Each prestige class provides information on the class, tips for playing one, how the class fits into the world, the organization, what people in the world know about them, how to include them in the game (as a class or an encounter) and a sample NPC. Each runs about 4 pages, but again, I don’t see anything here that I’ll be using anytime soon.

Chapter 6 provides a few new uses of skills. It details how to use Decipher Script to create a code (you make a check and the check is the DC to decode your secret message); how to use Disguise to make an object look like a different object; and how to use several knowledge skills to determine the structure of an organization. It also provides information on survival skills in an urban setting (it’s only DC 10 to find relatively clean water and fresh food for one person by taking your hero dumpster diving). The best ‘new use for a skill’ is really just a clarification – the DC to understand what is being said is 10 higher than the DC to hear it at all. Thus, if you ‘hear noise through the door’, if you exceed the check by 10, you can hear the opponents say ‘okay, you get on that side of the door and we’ll brain the first person to come through’, at least, if you speak the language. The feats offer little of interest. One third of the general feats are exclusively for the benefit of Illumians. The chapter also includes several ‘initiate feats’ which are for followers of a particular deity. The chapter ends with some new spells and a couple of psionic powers.

The final chapter provides information on creating a town with ideas for district prosperity and attributes that tie well with the DMG 2 rules for creating a city. The final 12 pages provide sample NPCs to be found in a typical city.

Overall, I was disappointed with this book. It was obvious that it was the second in the ‘Races’ series, since each race included information on how that race gets on with goliaths from Races of Stone (on those rare instances where they actually encounter each other). With so much of the book dedicated to a race that I won’t use, the book had little to offer. If you’re thinking about buying this book, look over the section on Illumians first – if you want to bring them to your game, this book is a great resource.

The book did have some useful NPCs, and the section on developing a city’s character is actually worthwhile (if you’re building a city one district at a time). Three pages in the human chapter describe a small community that can be ‘stolen’ (and expanded) with little difficulty. Even with that, however, this is a book that is best reserved for those seeking to complete their 3.5 library for the sake of completeness or for buying deeply discounted second hand.

A final note – just as in Races of Stone, some artwork from previous releases is recycled. Many might not notice, but when I come across artwork I know I’ve seen in another book, I find it extremely jarring. It seems to happen on pages that would otherwise be a wall of text, almost as if it was inserted as a place holder and nobody went back to insert original artwork.

Book name: Races of Destiny

Author: David Noonan, Eric Cagle, Aaron Rosenberg

Publish Date: 12/2004
Number of Pages: 192
Retail Price: $29.95
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
ISBN Number: