When I started getting into D&D I was every inch the wide eyed enthusiastic metaphor. Not having years of games and characters under my belt is somewhat liberating. Oh your character is a dark brooding orphan with a troubled past named Schmruce Schmayne? And yours is a skilled elf archer named Brickolad? Welcome aboard, the giant elephant is this way. This is why for my first character I settled on the dwarf fighter who loves ale, is handy in a fight, and is suspicious of magic and elvish things (In my defense I am a portly bearded Irishman with a beard, slap on some chainmail and I am basically a dwarf cosplayer.)
So with all the options available to me, why have I picked the clichés?
I read a lot of fantasy, sci-fi and everything in between, so I am well aware of all the clichés in the genres. So why make my character into one? Well, lots of reasons. But largely it is for comfort. In dungeons and dragons we can be who we want to be, the limits are few and far between (mostly rulebooks and DMs). I wanted to choose a character it was easy to slip into to begin with. After all, dwarves are basically short Vikings, and I am quite familiar with Vikings (as are my ancestors no doubt). Plus, I like these clichés – they have the added benefit of highlighting those characters that buck the trend. For example, consider a Dwarf druid, shunned by his clan for his love of the open plains and forests. Or perhaps a mercenary Fighter Elf, a former solider hiring himself out to feed his pipe smoking addiction, all he has in the world are his greatsword and the armour left to him by his former sergeant.
So why am I sticking to the generic definition of the races? Why not make an effeminate Dwarf Bard who loves to sing of the forest and rainbows? Well for one thing, it is a whole lot easier. For the first time player, while easy to make up a funny background, it is harder to back it up. Why does the dwarf shun the mining life? What does the family think? How did he come to choose the Bard life? Or did the Bard life choose him?
Almost like a personality test, the choice of how to play becomes easier with a nicely defined archetype laid out for you. I find it is more enjoyable to play a character you choose for its personality and quirks, rather than its raw stats. Play as a dwarf for its clan loyalty, not its high Constitution. Be an Elf because you want to play the part of an aloof snob, not just because you want to be immune to sleep spells. Try the Halfling to be a sneaky little scamp, not because you want to roll up a Rogue. But when in doubt, you could always stretch your imagination and try being a Human.
And what of the other races? Dragonborn are basically humanoid dragons, what is not to like? Their draconic ancestry gives a nice variety of personalities to inspire you. I chose to play a Brass ancestry Dragonborn for my Cleric partly for the description of Brass dragons being talkative. As for the other races, I have not encountered enough in my games to give a proper summary. Tieflings seem to be the standard ‘dark and brooding, mysterious past’ type. Half elves and half-orcs raise some interesting questions about your parentage. And Gnomes I have looked into the least- at face value they seem like a more mage oriented Halfling.
Are you a Dwarf, the Viking without a longship, living under the mountain, lovers of gold, clan before country, xenophobic to a degree, fierce in battle and fiercely loyal to your friends? Strap on your grandfather’s armour, grab your Warhammer and clear out the mine of its goblin infestation!
Or are you an Elf? Long of hair, clean shaven, mystic with a vaguely Celtic feel- not the crazy ‘paint your naked body and run into battle’ part sadly but the whole ‘link to the forest’ scene, a craftsman of delicate jewellery and ornate and slender swords, not brutish hammer or axe. Do you feel like other races, being short lived, don’t have their priorities in order? Then get your superiority complex on, string up your longbow and prance through the forest! (I may not be the best elf salesman).
Or why not the plucky little Hobb- sorry I mean Halfling? The race designed to be thieves but described as preferring the quiet life? Just remember that the bigger races won’t appreciate you using them as mobile hiding places all the time. Or will you choose to play as a human? Nah, who could picture such a thing…
Whatever the choice, just remember: your character is more than your stats, so play for fun, not to win.