This chapter lists the common heritage choices available for player characters in Escarnum.
The people you are likely to encounter in Escarnum are a little different to those presented in the Dungeons & Dragons 4e Player’s Handbook. Here, bestial folk have dominated the land of Alm since ancient times, meaning many of the major populations are various humanoid beasts. We will not meet dwarves or halflings, gnomes or half-orcs; instead, we see feline abilen, horse-like equitarn, simian wu-kan, hyaena-like gnolls, and more.
Many creatures are also distinctly different from the versions you may know—in their biology, in the cultures they have developed, and the niches in which they find themselves. Kobolds are proud warriors and revolutionary engineers, not cowardly cannon fodder. Gnolls are the remnants of a continent-spanning empire coming to terms with its own sharp decline, not a race of generic evil made in the image of a demon-god. Eladrin are an offshoot of the isolationist soratami people, not of nature-loving elves, and acquired their fey connection by rather sinister means. Goblins are resourceful and pro-social survivors, accustomed to living in the shadow of industrialised societies.
This change may be jarring at first, but remember there are vast areas of Escarnum which are yet to be explored. Traditional kobolds or goblins may be just around the corner, if you so desire. In other words, just because a particular concept doesn’t have a pre-defined place in the setting, doesn’t mean there is no room for it.
Sticking to the choices here will help to present Escarnum’s unique flavour, but adding your group’s favourite races from other 4th Edition D&D products is a great way to customise that flavour to your own tastes. For more about this, see the Creatures from the Outside article series.
Why not Races?
If you’ve played D&D, you probably know that the game rule content here is conventionally called “races”. We’ve changed up the terminology here in order to draw a clearer line between fantasy game rules, and unacceptable real-world ideas.
It’s also a better way to represent how we want these rules to be used; as a tool for building characters, not as a hard definition of which rules must be attached to all people of a given species. The “elf” traits are a great default for your elf character—but, if those traits don’t suit your vision of the character, you’re under no obligation to use them!
Although heritage traits are mechanically identical to D&D “races”, we hope that the change of terminology will encourage players to think of them differently, in more ways than one.
Each set of traits here comes with several additional choices of background. These are designed to give you an idea of common archetypes for Escarnum characters, but they’re provided as an option only—there’s no requirement to choose these instead of those found in other sources. Indeed, there’s no reason to prevent a player from taking a heritage background for a character of another species, either. Use them to inspire characters, not restrict them.
Escarnum backgrounds differ from other backgrounds you may have seen, by offering an associated ritual in addition to other benefits. This is intended as a way to prompt groups who might otherwise overlook ritual casting. A character who chooses the associated ritual as their benefit can perform the ritual as if they had mastered it, without requiring a ritual book or ritual caster feat, though they must still pay any associated costs when the ritual is used.
Creatures which are not mentioned here can still have a place in Escarnum. Whilst Alm itself may seem well-defined, its borders are intentionally vague, and most places have low enough population density that there’s plenty of wilderness between occupied areas. The neighbouring continents of Aethys and Parosea are only vaguely defined, so there’s plenty of space for new creatures and cultures.
Other creatures might be unique occurrences—magical experimentation with life was a common practice in the history of the Overseers, so they might well have created many magically-altered hybrids and offshoots of existing creatures.
Moreso than in many worlds, the creatures of Escarnum are intended to share much of their biology. Some combinations of ancestry are more common than others, to be certain—but this is a world where different humanoid species are genetically compatible more often than not. (The bannyr, especially, seem to have had “close encounters” with most every sentient creature under the sun.) This commonality perhaps hints at some deeper secret about the origins of life in this godless world.
In other words, if you like the idea that your character may be a hybrid of two (or more!) species, you are encouraged to do exactly that. Although you will ultimately need to pick a heritage to best represent them, this is an observation of your character’s natural aptitudes and physical traits—not a box to place limitations on their identity.
If you want a distinct set of mechanics to represent a hybrid character who explicitly can’t be identified as any distinct species, the realm are exactly that.