Why Race and Nationality Matter

June 6, 2012

General, Opinions

I sometimes feel loath to commit to being one of “those guys”. I’m talking about those guys who create, on their own, exceptionally long blog or forums posts that outline a system that should be put into a their MMO of choice. It’s like fan fiction but for game mechanics, not characters or a story. My disdain is ridiculous because I do it anyway; I’m always thinking about improvements to LOTRO and outlining them in my head, but somehow taking that extra step and publishing them feels…scary. It’s probably more about the impending flame-war that it will produce, as the denizens of the internets poke and prod and see the angles I missed. This isn’t really a bad thing; I should think of it as a form of alpha testing and besides, my previous posts have been rather well received (thanks for that, by the way)!

One such area into which I have put a considerable amount of time and thought is the expansion of the Racial/National system in character creation and development. When we create our Elf, Man, Dwarf, or Hobbit, part of the process is choosing which “Nation” this character belongs to. Sometimes this is more like an ethnic group, especially as it pertains to Hobbits, but the term “Nationality” is still used. I won’t get picky. And what does this mean for our character, after we’ve sided with a particular realm to call home? A different set of skin-tone and hair color options and a title.

I’m the first to admit that being able to call myself “of Rohan” or “of Erebor” is rad. As a writer and small-time role-player, I love having that option in crafting my characters and giving them a bit more personality of their own, especially as it is attached to the character itself and not my vision of the character. But, as more and more folks call for the addition of new races to LOTRO, I’m left thinking this system is completely underutilized.

I call to the stand EVE Online. Okay, some of you just shuddered, but bear with me. While this game is pretty far from our LOTRO, in terms of openness and complexity and setting, there are many a lesson we can learn from it and the one I want to focus on is the option of race in character creation and its implications. I refer you to Exhibit A. I have no idea how up to date that thing is (I gave up on EVE a few years back), but it will give you an idea of the options you have at character creation and what that means for your character’s starting abilities and potential. In short, you choose your Race, then your Bloodline, then your Ancestry (heritage, if you like), then various levels of Education and Specialization, thus creating a streamlined history of your character immediately and imposing the benefits of that history on his in-game abilities. Not bad, eh?

How does this apply to LOTRO? Let me start by saying we are severely limited when it comes to player races in our game. I know there are many of you out there who think that Beornings would be a fine addition to the racial pool for player characters and I completely disagree. That’s for another post. If we take a lesson from EVE, however, and essentially make the various “Nationalities” of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits, closer to separate races, with new and different and varying abilities and bonuses, it would help to set our characters further apart from one another and give us more of the customization we so desperately crave. It’s one thing to be able to create an outfit that sets you apart, it’s another to be set apart.

So, you are a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain. Because you are from ol’ Erebor you get a special skill called “Raven-speech” that let’s you summon a bird friend who can give you information on that elite bear you’re about to fight (not unlike the Knowledge of the Lore-master). And, because you are the son of a trader and had a great internship, you get a 10% bonus to buying/selling with NPCs. Say you also keep a Rohirrim character who, being a horse-master, gets a 5% bonus to his mount’s health and, because he is descended from a long line of warriors, some of whom even fought at the Field of Celebrant, you can tune in to the “Joy of Battle” and get a 5 second immunity to all incoming physical damage. You’re so tough!

Those are, of course, off-the-cuff examples of the possibilities of expanding the racial system within LOTRO. The possibilities are out there and they are huge.

The downside? It’s a balancing nightmare. I am about 80% through an extensive article that specifies how I would overhaul this system for every nationality, not including Ancestry, and I know that when I post it it will be scoffed at as “imba”. The other issue is that, should such a change happen, we are then no longer the same. The current racial abilities are truly negligible: Men get a sweet morale boost, but that’s really the only significant one. Even the Dwarves’ Endurance of Stone isn’t that good and you rarely hear people talk about how useful it is. But, we all have a fair shot at things. Elves aren’t overpowered with their Bow-Damage Bonus, nor are dwarves overly good tanks because they have their Shield-brawler bonus. Race is, as of now, almost a strictly aesthetic choice. Some people like it that way, and to overhaul it and make some races better at some things would be shaky for most of us. Finally, unlike EVE, LOTRO does not have character advancement options outside of combat, so if a race/nationality had more crafting or non-combat bonuses than others it would potentially be neglected except by players who really like crafting and trading.

All in all, I doubt we’d see this kind of major change to the game, but I still feel it is a viable option to add a greatly needed dose of variety to our characters and expand racial options in a lore appropriate way. What do you think? Too much? Not enough? It can be hard to say.

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About shipwreck

shipwreck is a family man, reader, writer, and gamesman. He can be found in LOTRO on the Elendilmir server and keeps a personal blog at The Last Ship where the words are always guaranteed.

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20 Responses to “Why Race and Nationality Matter”

  1. Avatar of Elvishmouse
    Elvishmouse Says:

    I’ve always wanted to see something like this in LOTRO, as a roleplayer more than a gamer. I like seeing people pushed to be a little more true to their characters. Do we get to see your full version when you’re done? ;)


  2. Dmoody Says:

    I’ve wanted something like this in LOTRO as well. It really makes sense. An elf from Rivendel would have different skills than an elf from Mirkwood. Hobbits are a good example. Many time in Tolkien’s works, he speaks of difference between the various groups of hobbits. I’m looking forward to seeing the completed project.


  3. Ariadneth Says:

    I have always thought the place you are coming from should, at least, give you a “simple” bonus when playing in that region, lets say knowing in advance the stable masters, a +1 hope as you’re close home… for me being an RPG player sounds very weird being of Mirkwood and arrive that area knowing nothing of it, just like everybody else. It simply doesn’t sound logical. I didn’t think until now about more complex bonuses or a system including your ancestors but it sounds good to me. The mere skin/hair posible color combinations as the only reason you choose a place of origin sounds like an incomplete developing idea for me.

    Great proposal! I hope someone at the headquarters takes it seriously :)


  4. Starryeyes Says:

    I know this comment won’t be directly related to topic but, just barely off the mark if you will …
    The one thing I have always thought would be a very nice addition to the “regions” we choose to be from as we are creating our characters is: When you choose to make your character from say Rivendell, please tell me if I am way off but, I find it a bit “odd” that we have to “earn” faction from Rivendell when we are from there. Now I do bear in mind that there are some places such as the regions for the dwarves, men, and hobbits, and even a couple for the elves, that are unreachable regions, or even no longer exist in this 4th age. I just think that is a bit strange to have to “earn” faction with your our region. Thanks for reading my long winded post :)


    • Avatar of Elvishmouse
      Elvishmouse Says:

      Elves with kindred for Rivendell: title ‘Elf’ instead of ‘Elf-friend?’ I think it would be hilarious to run around with a title that simply states one’s race…


      • Ellrion Says:

        my inner D&D Nerd would giggle insanely at something so much like the old first edition rules where “elf” actually WAS your class. :D


  5. mmojuggler Says:

    I’d like to see more differentiation between races, as far as actual abilities, rather than mostly appearance and the current racials. But balance is always an issue.

    However, unlike other games that have PvP, LoTRO doesn’t have to balance against other player classes, leaving some room to add interesting abilities. (Yes I know there is PvP but it is really vs. all different monster classes with their own monster skills – you don’t see player classes fighting each other). So maybe something can be done along those lines.

    And, just for completeness, EVE Online did away with the significant racial differences a little over a year ago. Before, races/bloodlines made a difference in stats, where initial skill points went, etc. Now, all races start off on equal footing with equal stats. The differences now are racial pilot skills and the “preferred” attack (i.e. Caldari ships favor missiles, Gallente favor drones, etc.) But that can be bridged with a few hours of training, unlike the previous system where your initial stats can literally made you permanently behind another player that started with a different combo.


    • Avatar of shipwreck
      shipwreck Says:

      I did not know that! Very interesting indeed.


      • Flatfoot Says:

        The current character generation in EVE: http://youtu.be/Kgk-vXxPvV8
        I think pretty much the best one in the current industry.
        Though it has now become a cosmetic difference only.

        So even EVE isn´t following your idea of race anymore and I think neither should (& obviously will) LotrO.

        The skill balancing is one problem, though special skills don´t even make sense IMHO.
        Only thing that makes sense is a reputation bonus, but what would Hobbits do? And what about the nations that don´t even have a region in game?

        This just introduce too many problems and would take away valuable DEV time from projects that need it much more urgently.


  6. Andy Says:

    Reading this has made me go back to compare race choices within mmo type games and try to figure out why I chose the one I did. Gender is quite often female for no reason other than if you’re going to be spending time as the character and therefore looking at them on screen a lot then you dont really want to have an ugly character. Similarly if I dont like the way a race moves then I’ll probably not use it. I’m not a fan, and never will be, of being pigeonholed into a set type as it’s the best combo on paper. Theory and reality dont always crossover once you add in the randomness of a personality.

    I’ve never been a gamer that min-maxes to the point of choosing a set race as it’ll eke out an extra 2 dps, to me dps charts are useful but if a boss doesnt die or you die then dps isnt always the primary thing you need to look at. I’ve seen more than enough dps junkies chasing the online leaderboards in wow die from standing in nastykillystuff as moving would break their oh so precious rotation. All the while ignoring the obvious fact that an alive dpser is a useful dpser. But thats a discussion for another time.

    I decided to stop or contain it to only mmo’s as the single player rpgs dont really have a huge amount of variation within the game based on your racial choice.

    Anarchy online had me running about as either a solitus or opifex. Smaller build was the main choice factor at the time rather than the whole this race does a better job at this prof. At this time size was important as I was playing games on a 15″ crt monitor.

    Guildwars may not be a true mmo to some people but I will include it as a mention. Pretty much it’s very similar to lego universe in that you’re limited by race and the character you choose doesnt really impact the skills you wield. GW2 has me planning racial choices for profs based on what I’ve played so far in the beta’s. The profs play more or less the same no matter the race so its more a personal choice so I’m holding off final choices until I see the sylvari and asura actually in action.

    Warhammer, conan, rift and others I dont think I really played long enough to waffle about but again it was aesthetics over function. Lego universe was entirely cosmetic, not surprisingly. (fun game but should have been a f2p shop type.)

    STO unleashed a character creator on me and I came up with a rather interesting looking alien although the majority of my other characters on there are borg which does limit the choice. The actual “racials” in sto are just a trait choice you lock in at the beginning and dont have any impact on the look of the character at all. All the animations remain the same so any race choice is cosmetic really. Main choice used to be the pvp characters might be midgets to make targetting harder but thats as simple as a trip to the tailor.

    WoW was possibly the first game where I chose a race based on the racials on offer. My rogue was a dwarf for the find treasure tracking though stoneskin was quite handy at times. My casters were gnomes for what was a boost to int, the exception to this was a druid and shaman who couldnt get that racial choice. I did actually do a paid race change for my priest from dwarf to gnome. By the time I stopped it felt as though blizzard would eventually unlock all profs for all races regardless of whether it actually made sense or not.
    My warrior was also a gnome mainly down to the fact that I felt some huge giant being slaughtered by a girly gnome with big pink bunches was kind of funny. Was one person who was quite surprised when I chose to hide helm and they suddenly saw that my character was female, and they’d been raiding with me for quite a while by then.

    Lotro is an interesting one as some profs are locked to set races and at very limiting indeed for some. I’d love to see a hobbit captain however thats never really likely to come along anytime soon, maybe once we get to return to a devestated shire they’ll be needing captains of their own but before that I doubt it. My captain tends to run about with a dwarven squire and elven archer as a nod to the trio in lotr.
    Where prof isnt an issue I tend to go with the female hobbit. Again this is mainly for aesthetics rather than what they get as racials. As far as origin goes if I can get the option of green eyes I go with that.

    As I said at the beginning my choice is usually down to the look and feel of a character, how they move around in and out of combat, more than any indepth theorycrafting reason. If you’re walking down the street people will react to you differently if you have a certain haircut or bodyshape and it’s the same in games. Although if you do choose the female of the species expect the odd bit of flirting.


  7. Knify-Riddermark Says:

    I dont think this idea should be in LOTRO. Currently from what I have seen (I only play on Riddermark so idk if this is true for all worlds) when it comes to end game raiding there is never any certain race that each class should be (except for captains :)) I have never seen “need dwarf gaurdian from ToO” and I just worry that if the race you choose might have an affect on who wants you for groups. I think I could be really good as long as the abilities are equal or dont make one race better than all the others. Turbine would have to be exetremly carefull as to what these abilities are.


  8. Silfaer Says:

    My comments riff a bit off of what Starryeyes said— though it is a much more minor ‘tweak’ than Shipwreck is proposing! My main is an Elf from Lothlorien, with a storyline that had her serving Galadriel and Melian way back in Doriath— so imagine my excitement when I got her leveled enough to make it to Lothlorien! I am still in love with Caras Galadhon! : > Yet, you can also imagine my minor twinges of disappointment when she was welcomed as new, a visitor, and a youngster by the NPCs. It would be so cool to be welcomed back rather than just welcomed!


  9. John Lambert Says:

    I agree.

    I think there should be some skills or benefits for somehow tied in to where you are from. One thing that bugs me, my main character is a Hunter from Lothlorien. All the dialog with the NPCs is written in a way that suggests that none of them know of me. I think just tweaking the dialog would also go a long way.

    My only concern is that stat players might pick the zones that are further along the epic quest line instead of one that is close to the starting zones.


    • Avatar of shipwreck
      shipwreck Says:

      You make a good point, but in my mind LOTRO has always been a ‘story’ MMO. They have PVP and raids and min-maxing options for those who want them, but it really has always been about the story and what other players choose to do with presented options has no real effect on what others do. So, let them have a little boost if it makes them feel better so long as it means we get to create the kind of character we want.


  10. FoxFire Says:

    Would have been nice to have at the beginning of LOTRO, but I seriously doubt they could make such a change now.


  11. Avatar of shipwreck
    shipwreck Says:

    I finally got off my arse and posted a proposal for a racial revamp. It’s very sketch but it should stir up some conversation.




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