"All good things are wild and free."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
You can say you're an elf, but until you can explain the myth of the Seldarine or Corellon Larethian's battle with Gruumsh or the two ways to use the elven expression "lida inorum saenes," you're not really an elf yet. Fortunately, designer Skip Williams (along with such D&D luminaries as Rich Baker, David Noonan, Jesse Decker, Gwendolyn Kestrel, Penny Williams, and James Wyatt) has created a supplement that answers the call: Races of the Wild.
The Importance of Being Elven
Races focuses on three key groups -- elves, halflings, and a new race, the winged raptorans -- with a handful of other groups, such as centaurs, gnolls, and catfolk, touched upon for good measure. Easy choices, Skip Williams says -- forest dwellers and perennial nomads are unquestionably the D&D game's wilder cultures, and the newly created, cliff-dwelling raptoran race completes the triumvirate. The next step was to blaze a new trail into this wilderness -- not so easy when so much has already been said about elves in the D&D world.
"One new twist on elves is self-sufficiency and nonspecialization," Williams explains. "The long elven lifespan gives them plenty of time for learning to do things for themselves. Halflings lead something of a double life. Their wandering lifestyle obliges them to seem open and welcome to strangers, but they have secrets they keep to themselves."
Rich Baker, who is currently working on an elf-centered trilogy of novels (The Last Mythal), considers the exploration of the elven society to be one of Races of the Wild's most illuminating sections. "D&D's human demographics don't seem to represent an elf society as well as we might like," he points out. "For example, you'd expect that 95 percent of all humans are probably 1st-level commoners, and most of them are probably peasants or farmers. But I found that unsatisfying for elves. It just doesn't seem to ring true to ride into the elven village, look around, and see a bunch of elf peasants."
This led him to the idea that perhaps elves don't adhere to the human model of civilization. "Way back when humans invented agriculture," he says, "we took a path in which increasing specialization was the better way to organize your society. For humans, it makes sense to have some people specialize in growing food so that other people can specialize in doing different things -- making tools, creating art, fighting, ruling, praying, whatever. What would a society look like if that weren't true? Could elves just dispense with the first tier of the social pyramid and not have a peasantry that accounted for a huge hunk of their total population?"
Races of the Wild, he says, should answer that question . . . or at least make finding the answer possible for more players and DMs.
Wild in the Sky
The new race, the high-flying raptorans, should satisfy DMs who are looking to introduce a complete unknown to players who've grown jaded by elf-dwarf-halfling-orc encounters. And yet they have their origins in the avariel, the winged elves that Wizards of the Coast's Bill Slavicsek casually noted were pretty cool and popular.
"We considered making avariel the book's new race," Skip Williams says, "but in the end opted for something completely new. We kept the aerial angle and just kept adjusting until we had flying creatures that could fit in with a regular party. Most of the raptorans' quirky cultural details are based on Native American cultures, with a few fantastic elements thrown in for spice."
Included among the elements that bring this new society to life for players and DMs alike: the raptoran mythology and folklore, their religious pantheon, bits of their Tuilvilanuue language, and even their rite of passage, which is called the Walk of the Four Winds. Raptorans should easily soar into most campaigns that incorporate the desert and mountain terrains.
The Trail Less Traveled By
Every D&D supplement adds new and engaging possibilities for PCs, particularly when it comes to feats, spells, and psionic powers. Races of the Wild is no exception, adding such exciting new feats as Flick of the Wrist and Underfoot Combat to the mix and a soon-to-be-favored spell in Summon Devoted Roc. Yet designing these new elements is not difficult, Williams says, if you have rich sources, of which he has two.
"One is the rules themselves," he explains. "I look for things that I can bend a little. Flick of the Wrist is something like that -- a variation on the rules governing initiative and actions. The other source is just pure brainstorming. I put myself in a character's shoes and think about things I'd want to do if I were that character. Underfoot Combat evolved from that kind of thinking."
Spells and psionic powers are no different, he says, and actually it's not difficult to generate new ideas, even at this stage in D&D's long, expansive history. "The same processes that generate new feats also work for new spells," he says. "Whenever you look at the game from a new angle -- such as a raptoran's eye view -- new things become possible."
And while these nuts-and-bolts of the game are not difficult for the designers to create, the real high points for them are the things that really bring the wilderness to life.
"I'm most fond of the up-close-and-personal looks at elven, halfling, and raptoran life," Williams says. "I hope people read and think about that material and really consider what it would be like to grow up and live in one of those cultures."
Rich Baker is pleased with the three prestige classes he contributed to the final design: the champion of Corellon, the ruathar, and the whisperknife. "The champion is the true elven knight built around the mechanical concept of a high-Dex, high-Int fighter in heavy armor," he explains. "The ruathar (or 'star-friend') is a three-level prestige class; take a level or two, and you can call yourself an elf-friend. Because you can get in from almost any other class, it doesn't really derail your attack or spell progression, and it oozes flavor." And finally, there's the whisperknife, a halfling avenger who specializes in "taking care of folks who think they can push halflings around." All three should bring new opportunities for adventure to the D&D table, and Baker is proud to blaze that trail for wild-minded players.
Out of the Woods
Though they've moved on to other projects (Rich Baker, for instance, has finished development work on Eric Boyd's City of Splendors: Waterdeep as well as his work on Lost Empires of Faerûn; Skip Williams has pieces forthcoming in Dungeon Adventures while he works on a project he describes as one "that involves a big shock to the campaign world"), the designers of Races of the Wild remain eager for fan reactions to the new release, due out in February 2005. They feel certain that it will come in handy for a wide variety of campaigns, not just limited to those focused on wilderness adventures.
In the end, Skip Williams thinks that one of the most useful and engaging chapters in Races of the Wild is the one that focuses on other races of the wild, which he notes wasn't even part of the outline until the content of a previous book in the series, Races of Stone, was mostly complete. "New races such as the catfolk, and expanded material on some old standbys, such as the centaurs," he says, "make it possible to construct a wild campaign that's utterly unlike the typical game that's built around cities and dungeons."