Awhile back I was stuck on the idea I badly needed to apply uniqueness to my D&D campaign through the customization of races, classes, and the world. I am still whole heartily into the same ideal however I don’t think that I should be trying to rewrite the book on something, no instead I should focus more on adding a chapter or just a panache of my own.
To give an example a couple weeks ago I was thinking about the idea of elves and how in current 4th edition D&D the big players among the fae are Elves and Eladrin both essentially fall under the general high fantasy definition of Elf yet mechanically are pretty different. If you have read a good number of fantasy books or even just heard of several different instances of elves you know that they have two styles that are often (From my perspective) seen. One is that elves are the fortuitous forest dwellers, who hunt their food with bow and stealth. Expert hunters and have a level of finesse above that of the standard human, they tend to excel in martial focuses primarily. The second example of Elves is of course the mystical race of higher intelligence as well has superior spirituality almost weaving the two together. In 4th edition Eladrin embody the latter while Elves the former.
Now when I looked at them I didn’t feel like there really was a need to distinguish them so distantly even if they were cousins, in previous editions these differences in race were categorized as sub-races, the Eladrin representing High Elves and Elves being Wood Elves. So through my interpretation I felt if there was to be a racial distinction between the two why not make the gap wider while adding something of an interesting back story to go along with it.
I brainstormed with a friend of mine the Kiwi for awhile and came up with the idea of having Elves actually be a plant based life, and the backstory being that in the Feywild (the dimensional realm from which they both originate) there was a sentient and benevolent tree that was cared for by the Eladrin for many centuries until due to the cataclysmic dawn war Eladrin were forced to battle. The tree lamenting this loss sought a way to bring them back. It was not until the end of the war when Melora (Goddess of Nature) took pity and granted the tree life giving properties. So it gave birth to the Elves, and they were birthed in the image of the Eladrin. However their bodies were not made as the Eladrin’s were for the manipulation of arcana, while adept they did not have the raw finesse, they instead focused on becoming masters of their new physical forms thus their dexterity, intelligence, and wisdom bonuses.
I figured I had struck something that was pretty good, until later when in conference it was brought to my attention this was a rather shallow change to something that came with a lot of depth and back story, so I retrofitted the changes for the Elves into something new for the Wilden.
I still don’t know if I should pursue a level of uniqueness within the races themselves or focus instead more on their societies and culture. Feel free to chime in on your opinion of my example or what I should do.