DnD has lots of fantasy races, right? Elves, dwarves, goblins, etc, etc. I find that, if you aren't using race-as-class, it becomes very easy for race to just be something you sort of tag onto your character, and they just become 'pointy eared humans', 'short beardy humans' and so on. On top of this, humans themselves tend to lack character and feel rather bland.
These are some of my thoughts on fixing that. Firstly, this assumes you're playing a system with race-as-an-add-on, such as ADnD or Swords and Wizardry - I wrote races these up for use with S&W. Secondly, it assumes a setting that's vaguely reminiscent of medieval Europe.
The idea is that humans are the dominant 'standard' race in the game. Humans are your peasants, priests, bandits, miners and scholars. They're mundane, everyday folk, and generally not involved with magic. For most humans, magic is other, it's the domain of fairies and demons and witches.
On top of this, everything you can play that isn't a human is a fairy of some sort. These are creatures that lurk in the hidden parts of the world - in old ruins, at the bottoms of wells and rivers, in tangled woods and under old burial mounds. All of these creatures are inherently, innately magical.
I will admit to being massively inspired by Changeling the Dreaming, Middenmurk's various oddments, and various bits of horrible folklore.
Humans are your normal, every-day people. They live in cities, towns and villages, and make their livings in all the ways you'll be familiar with from history. They display an unusual resistance to magic by the standards of fairy creatures, which makes them harder to enchant but also somewhat limited as spell-casters. Whilst most humans are prosaic creatures, superstitious and unfamiliar with magic, player characters can expect to be a little more worldly and experienced.
- Human characters can advance to a maximum of 7th level as a Magic User or Druid, or to the maximum possible level in any other class. They may multiclass as any combination of Thief, Fighter, Ranger and Cleric, but may not advance past 7th level in either class if they do.
- Human characters get a +2 bonus to any save made against supernatural effects.
- Enemies get a +2 bonus to their saves when resisting spells cast by human characters.
- Humans start out speaking the Common tongue, and if they get bonus languages for a high intelligence, can know the Classical tongue, the alignment languages of Law and Chaos, and foreign languages.
All other races will be fairies of some stripe. Regardless of type, a fairy character always has the following properties:
- They always detect as magical.
- They do not age naturally.
- They start out knowing the Common tongue, and can learn the alignment languages of Law and Chaos, the Druidic language, and the Giantish, Draconic, Elvish or Goblin tongues.
Changelings are fairies that take on the shape of humans and try to live among them. Some replace stolen babies, whilst others simply arrive in a community unannounced and carry on like they've always lived there. They seem human at first glance, but on further inspection none of them are quite right physically. They may have impossible coloured eyes, a finger with an extra joint, too many or too few teeth or some other minor tell. After some time, their odd behaviour becomes apparent too - their speech is oddly stilted or poetic by human standards, and they obsess over things humans consider inconsequential like the patterns of spider-webs or the colour of rotting meat.
- Once per month, under the new moon, a changeling can alter their appearance. They can take the appearance of any mundane-looking human, of any age, sex and ethnicity, and their voice, physical health, scent and similar traits change to match. This disguise is complete and perfect, save for a single odd tell (such as odd-coloured eyes, extra teeth, and so on) that the changeling can never get rid of.
- Changelings can know any language a human can know.
- Changelings can advance to the maximum possible level as Magic Users or Thieves, or to a maximum of 7th level as Fighters, Druids, Assassins, or Rangers. They may multiclass as Magic User/Fighters, Magic User/Thieves or Fighter/Thieves, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.
Some fairies are obsessed with treasure, acquiring useless hordes of ancient coins and jewellery that is left to moulder and tarnish in their hidden burrows. These dwarves are stout, surly folk, more concerned with guarding their troves than their own comfort. In appearance, they are short and gnarled, like little men made of craggy tree-roots with tangled beards and dark, glittering eyes. Those dwarves who become adventurers do so in order to seize more treasure for themselves, which they carefully secrete in their hidden grottos.
- Dwarves always know the precise monetary value of any horde of coins, any jewellery, or any other treasure made of gold or silver.
- Dwarves can spot architectural irregularities, such as false walls, sloping floors, unstable ceilings and so on. They can re-roll any failed roll to spot a trap concealed in an architectural feature.
- Dwarves can advance to the maximum possible level as Fighters, or to 7th level as Thieves or Magic Users. They may multi-class as Fighter/Thieves or Fighter/Magic Users, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.
Also known as sidhe, sylphs and kindly ones, elves are the fairy gentry. They organize themselves into courts elaborate, spending their long lives in a mad whirlwind of elegant banquets, dances, hunts and performances. An elven court is a hotbed of intrigue, romance and gossip, but it is fundamentally hollow - with no subjects to command, save for their charmed human servants, and no land to rule over, their machinations are no mare than an idle game. Those elves found as adventurers treat it with the same empty frivolity as any other pursuit - it passes the time, and nothing more.
All eleves are inhuman-looking, yet beautiful. Their frames are androgynous and willowy, all sharp angles and sleek curves, and their faces are like perfect porcelein masks with radient glass eyes.
- Elves can use their beauty to influence the first impression they make. When the GM makes a roll to determine a monster or NPC's reaction, if the elf doesn't like the result they can influence the reaction; the GM re-roll the reaction and uses this second result as the monsters fall under the elf's glamour.
- Elves don't sleep, suffer no penalties for not resting, and cannot be made to sleep by magic or any other means.
- Elves can advance to the maximum possible level as Magic Users, or to 7th level as Fighters, Druids, Clerics or Rangers. They may multiclass as Fighter/Magic Users or Fighter/Clerics, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.
Goblins are slinking, furtive beings that lurk in the cracks of the world. They nest under floorboards, down wells and behind hedgerows, and creep out whilst humans sleep to explore their world. They steal anything that takes their fancy, and ruin anything that offends them, but there is little rhyme or reason behind a goblin's tastes. Every goblin is a tiny creature, usually around two feet tall, with long scrawny limbs, wiry bodies and grasping hands. Their faces are twisted parodies of human features - all hook-noses, wide staring eyes and ragged teeth - and their voices are shrill and harsh.
- Goblins get +1 to hit against enemies that don't know they're there.
- Goblins can squirm through any gap wide enough for a coin to fit through, given enough time.
- Goblins can advance to maximum level as Thieves or Druids, or to 7th level as Magic Users, Fighters, Rangers or Assassins. They may multiclass as Druid/Thieves, Fighter/Thieves or Fighter/Magic Users, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.
In millponds, fens and rivers, there lurk hungry creatures. Patient and spiteful, these rusulkas, nymphs and kelpies wait for unsuspecting mortals to come too close to the water's edge, at which point they surge forward, grabbing hold of their victims and dragging them into the water. After some frenzied, thrashing grappling, the unfortunate mortal is pulled under and drowned.
Nixies allow their victims' bodies to become waterlogged, gnawing on them at their pleasure and using their bones and teeth to decorate their underwater grottos. Some are horrible to look at, with discoloured skin and lank hair, whilst others take on the appearance of attractive youths - even these, however, can't disguise their aquatic nature, and they have webbed fingers and toes.
- Nixies can breath underwater just fine, and never risk drowning. They can even talk intelligibly whilst underwater.
- Nixies can eat the meat of intelligent creatures safely. It might be raw, rotten, or riddled with disease, but the hag never suffers for eating it so long as its flesh from something that could speak.
- Nixies can advance to maximum level as Thieves or Assassins, or to 7th level as Rangers, Magic Users or Druids. They may multiclass as Druid/Thieves, Magic User/Thieves, Magic User/Assassins or Druid/Assassins, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.
In the crushing, lightless depths of the earth, there dwell the knockers. Constantly burrowing, these strange people brush against the mines, cellars and sewers of the surface world, sometimes even approaching the surface before retreating from the harsh light of day. Knockers are pale, wriggling creatures, with stubby limbs and tiny, glittering eyes. They have no interest in beautiful things, but love ugly, inventive creations. Everything a knocker owns is customized with little spikes and blades, padding, hidden compartments and extra features. They make no art or fine clothes, but excel at creating weapons, mining equipment and instruments of torture.
- Knockers can see in the dark without any penalties. Even in pitch blackness, they can see as well as a human would in broad daylight. However, bright lights (like daylight on a sunny day) is uncomfortable to them.
- Knockers can dig with their bare hands and teeth as well as a human using a pick or shovel, and can even dig through solid rock without equipment as effectively as the best human miner.
- Knockers can advance to maximum level as Thieves or Fighters, or to 7th level as Magic Users, Clerics or Rangers. They may multiclass as Thief/Magic users, Thief/Clerics or Fighter/Clerics, in which case they are limited to 5th level in each class.