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Custom Ancestries & Cultures
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 07:21:21

So I really wanted to like this one, but unfortunately I didn’t. I had to force myself to finish it just to review it in good conscience, and I had to keep venting to friends about what I disliked. But there were just enough glimpses of promise to excuse giving this a 2 star instead of 1, because I really want to like this book more than I actually do. Overall I can’t justify recommending this book for anything other than to have an informed option on it, or buying it strategically to show WotC that there is a market for this idea so they can make a better, more detailed and more usable official version.

So The Good first: I continue to love the concept of splitting Race into Ancestry and culture. (to be clear, despite not liking this book at all, I don’t want to see people stop attempting this. I just want to see them do it better.) It gives alternative cultures for Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes and Halflings, and even one for humans, which I liked. It also manages to make Aquatic Elves something I would actually like to play which is something 5e utterly failed to do for me. Some of the ancestries/cultures given are quite cool and intriguing especially the Giff (Hippo-folk), who are bizarre, weird and wonderful. By and large most of the ancestries avoid giving skill proficiencies and instead give other traits and bonuses which I feel is good, and a definite move in the right direction that happens with the latter entries. (though unfortunately not all do, especially early entries in the book)

But the Bad: First of all, the Amazons. Oh the Amazons. They are probably my biggest issue with this book and the one that drags my opinion of it down. For a book that wants to go against biological essentialism having your gender be a thing defined by your ancestry is awful and seems to go against the book’s aims. Also, given that pretty much every other culture is open and accepting of all genders and sexual orientations (which is mostly the default in standard 5e) the Amazons are noticeably horrible and bigoted. “ Amazonian culture is welcoming of any who identify as a woman.” so if a person in their community was thought to be a woman comes out as male, agender, genderfluid, non-binary, or any other gender the community stops welcoming them and kicks them out? I am non-binary, which likely colours how I view this, but I really dislike the Amazons and wish they were not in this book at all or had received much greater attention.

This leads me to my second point, which is that I wish their had been fewer cultures with more information given about them. As it stands if I used this book, i would have to turn to the 5e PHB, Volo’s guide to Monsters, and the other WotC 5e books for details on the cultures they have in common and do a lot of my own work on any of the novel ones. It gives so little cultural information (and in some places goes directly against established 5e setting details without providing much of substance to replace it with.) I really wish this book had provided deeper and richer cultures.

I also find it odd that only the Couatl Folk and the Reforged had sensitivity readers given that there are a lot of things taken from real world cultures (Dullahan from Irish, Amazons, Medusas, and Minotaurs from Greek, probably more) that apparently weren’t checked in this lens.

I feel that despite wanting to get away from biological essentialism, it still leans into it a bit. The Publisher misinterpreted my comments on this on my other review so I will go into greater depth: I have no issues with ancestries giving darkvision, resistance to being charmed, or any of the other cool traits. In fact I quite like them. What I have issue with is certain ancestries giving skill proficiencies. I had this issue with Humans and Elves in the first book, and I have it with Amazons, Cat folk, and others in this book. I feel that saying certain ancestries just inherit an innate training in a skill reinforces biological essentialism far more than saying certain ancestries have different tendon insertion points or brain lobe sizes that give a small natural advantage to strength or intelligence. For one, I feel “Amazons are innately proficient in Athletics” makes as much sense as the original innate weapons and skills proficiencies that elves and dwarves had. (which this book does move to culture, and I like that.) It also makes more of a mechanical difference. If you take 2 individuals, A and B, that get a 10 (+0) to strength, and B gets a +1 from their ancestry, A is at 10 and B is at 11, and both of them roll Athletics (strength) at +0. If B were to get a +2 from their ancestry, they are now at 12 so make that roll at a +1 instead of 0. However if instead B’s ancestry gave them proficiency at Athletics, with both of them remaining at Strength 10, A makes the athletics roll at +0 and B makes it at +2 at level 1. So I feel skill proficiencies tied to race reinforce biological essentialism more than just a bonus to the attribute itself would. I agree with putting some ability bonuses in culture, I just feel it would be better to split them between ancestry and culture to reflect both natural talent and training.

There’s also kind of a weird contradiction: options like Half Elves and Half Orcs have been removed, and the reason for this was stated to be so that any ancestries could mix (such as say gnomes and dwarves) and so that not all Half-Xs were half humans. Yet a lot of the ancestries in this book are stated to be half human and half something else.

Relatedly, humans appear to be presented as the default and baseline ancestry, as the age and size as almost every other ancestry is described in relation to how similar or different they are to humans. I can’t put my finger on why this view of humans as normal and everything else as weird and divergent makes me uncomfortable, but it does.

I dislike the arbitrary 2 hour time limit on the flying ancestries, I get the purpose for limiting flight (and agree that is needs a limitation) but how they did it feels weird and clunky. I feel a better solution would be instead of going “here is your 2 hour flight meter, once it is empty no more flying” would have been to inflict constitution rolls after an amount of flight time to avoid fatigue. That way you don’t have unlimited flight, but there is a more natural limit based off existing rules.

On a practical and nit picky level, this book needed a better proofreading process than it got. Without looking for them I found 3 errors, there are probably more. (the 3 I found are Page 10, “birlike talons” instead of “birdlike talons”, page 45 “not ither” instead of “not either”, and page 50, the Satyr Cultural traits says “Rat Folk” instead of “Satyr”)



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Custom Ancestries & Cultures
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for your long review. I'm glad to see you like this title more than the core rules, at least (2 stars rather than the 1 star you gave the core book), though your words suggest otherwise. Just a note to correct a factual error. You say, "having your gender be a thing defined by your ancestry is awful." No, for the Amazons, gender is a cultural construct, not ancestral or biological. The discussion of gender for the Amazon appears in the culture section, not the ancestry. Again thanks for taking the time to write all this, even if I happen to think it is mostly incorrect. It's clear you spent hours or days drafting it, which I appreciate.
Sorry, one more factual correction: I did have a cultural consultant read the whole text in addition, my editor/layout person. She has a PhD in cultural studies, and read the rest of the text as a whole. The two sensitivity readers you mention are named because they addressed the specific passages related to their areas of experience and expertise. Should we have hired a Greek sensitivity reader to read the paragraph on the Medusans? Perhaps we should have and we will think about doing so in the future. I must note, however, that hiring more than three sensitivity readers for a book of this size and price is extremely, extremely rare -- and expensive -- so I cannot promise we will be able to hire that many, though we will always strive to hire sensitivity readers when representing or utilizing content from marginalized cultures. And not that this matters, but I myself identify as queer and nonbinary, too, so your comments about gender and a lack of appropriate experience sadden me for sure.
Three Centuries Lost
Publisher: White Wolf
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 06:02:51

It is a very fun read, and while it is an April Fools product it is genuinely an interesting concept that could make for a great premise for a game, either as the people trying to make it happen at the time, or as a coterie of neonates much later trying to pick the real history out of the propaganda.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Three Centuries Lost
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Acolytes of Bridgid
Publisher: White Wolf
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 04:45:40

A fun read, it very explicitly lays out what it is and what it is not. The antagonist and cult are interesting and well developed, and a fun complication to drop into a game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Acolytes of Bridgid
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Bloodlines: the Redacted
Publisher: White Wolf
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 04:43:49

Really amusing with some clever jokes. Gave me a chuckle well worth the quid I dropped on it



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bloodlines: the Redacted
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Promethean the Created 2nd Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 03:21:21

I liked the concept of Promethean but it seemed unplayable. This version fixes that considerably! The layout is still a bit of a mess but the themes are amazing, I love the entire concept of thePilgrimage and the New Dawn. Prometheans are surprisingly powerful and versatile. Si much potential for roleplay and drama and character interactions. I am currently playing a game of it and I am having a lot of fun with it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Promethean the Created 2nd Edition
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Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 03:18:47

Doesn't include an appendix of Tilts which is annoying as I have to refer to other books for them. Otherwise good and really useful with a lot of potential story hooks



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Vampire: The Requiem 2nd Edition
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Changeling: the Lost Second Edition
Publisher: Onyx Path Publishing
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/27/2020 03:15:49

I have played first edition so was intrigued to see what had changed. I adore the splitting of Seemings and Kiths, and I think that allows for more flexible and interesting character creation. I by and large continue to like second ed to first ed nwod for a creation system that is harder to min max. I really love the seasonal court effects when it is that season, I feel like they all add distinctive flavour and drama. Overall fantastic book and I cannot wait to play/run it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Changeling: the Lost Second Edition
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Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
Publisher: Arcanist Press
by Andrew B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/26/2020 07:09:57

The good: I genuinely love the concept of splitting character race into Ancestry and Culture. The core 5e rules seem to make an unspoken assumption that a character of a race will always be raised in that races culture which is not what a lot of people play, and is not reinforced in the setting. So things like all elves or dwarves being proficient in their culture's weaponry, or a Half-Orc speking Orcish even if they've never met another Orc have always felt weird. So splitting it into ancestry and culture makes it more flexible and fits how many people actually play the game and provides more fitting mechanics for it.

However, the bad: I'm not sure I agree with putting all ability modifiers into culture. The book posits that ancestry doesn't have any effect on your strength or anything like that which... isn't really true. Culture and training definitely affect it, but genetics and ancestry also play a part. Hormones, muscle fibre length, limb length, and point of tendon insertion all affect how strong you can be even with training for example. So I'm not totally on board with putting all the ability modifiers into Culture, and feel there should be some in ancestry and some in culture in ways that make sense.

I also feel that book fails in some of their stated targets, given that Human Ancestry gives you natural curiosity that makes your proficient in a skill and a tool of your choice, and elven ancestry gives you proficiency in perception. Which is your genetics giving you innate knowledge of skills that have to be taught, which feels like it goes against the book's core goals. If it is unacceptable to think that ancestry might give you a slight inherent edge in physical strength or dexterity why is it acceptable for ancestry to give you innate detailed skill training?

And lastly they remove sub races so all Elf culture is High Elven, all Dwarf culture is Hill Dwarven, all Gnome culture is Rock Gnome, so the cultures feel shallower and more uniform with less variety than standard 5e. (this might be fixed in their other 2 books, Custom Ancestries and Cultures, and More Ancestries and Cultures, which I'm debating buying to see if it does fix...) All in all I think it is a great idea that this book doesn't fully hit the mark on, but is still worth trying, and I would really like to see an official WotC version of it for all playable races and cultures, with greater depth into what the cultures are like. I do not want them to stop trying this concept - I just want to see them do it better.



Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e
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Creator Reply:
Hi. Thanks for your review. Just a brief explanation about the OGL: The reason why there is only one "sub race" for each entry is because that is all that is allowed, legally, under Wizards of the Coast's Open Gaming License. Including Wood Elf or Mountain Dwarf is copyright infringement. As you mention, we do have two supplemental products, linked in the product description above, which contain 120+ custom ancestries and cultures, so that folks have a lot of other options to choose from. But this product covers 100% of what is legally allowed from the official material by Wizards of the Coast in a product like this, which has been Kickstarted and put on DriveThruRPG. Also and we do have a product coming in a few weeks on DMs Guild that will have more official 'races' and 'subraces', too, but, again, that wasn't legally allowed in this product. Oh, and in case you are curious, the reason that we did retain some ancestral traits like Darvision, Fey Ancestry, and Trance for elves (for example) is because we wanted a compromise between challenging racial essentialism and keeping the system still identifiably D&D. If we moved all traits out of Ancestry, then elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and humans would be ancestrally identical and a lot of narrative content would be lost, so we opted for the system above. Thanks again.
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