What Do I Know About Reviews? Custom Ancestries and Cultures (5e OGL)
I moved my current review up the list, in part because it’s related to another recent review, and in part because I missed this product in the context of another review that I was writing, and it’s relevant to a point that I made in that review. I’m going to look at Custom Ancestries and Cultures from Arcanist Press, a companion volume to Ancestry and Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e. In that product review, I mentioned how much I liked the concept, but that some players might miss the non-OGL options. This addresses that rather directly.
All About The PDF
The PDF for this product is 56 pages long. This includes a full-page OGL statement, a title and credits page, and a full-page table of contents, and then it jumps right into a lot of expanded ancestries and cultures.
The formatting is still very clear and similar in structure to the 5e standard, although it looks a little less like the standard D&D version of formatting than Ancestry and Culture. Unlike Ancestry and Culture’s line art, this used full-color art from a variety of artists to illustrate various ancestries.
Custom Ancestries and Cultures credits its sensitivity readers, but an additional step that I’ve not seen in other products is that certain ancestries are noted as having been specifically developed with the input of those sensitivity readers. This gives more of a feeling of ongoing input from those sensitivity readers, and I like the window into how the product came together.
It’s probably worth the space to call out all of the ancestries in the product. Most of these have an accompanying culture, but a few of them are ancestries only.
- Awakened Undead (No culture defined)
- Aquatic Elf (Deep, Lake, and Sea cultures)
- Bat Folk
- Bear Folk
- Bird Folk (Song, Nocturnal, Raptor, and Waterfowl options)
- Blood Sprite
- Cat Folk
- Couatl Folk
The Crystar (Crystal constructs)
- Dog Folk
- The Dullahan
- Dwarf (Deep, Rock, and Sea cultures)
- Elf (Deep and Forest cultures)
- Entropian (Sort of like Tieflings, but with creatures from Limbo)
- Fey Kin
- Fox Folk
- Gnome (Deep and Wood cultures)
- Grimalkin (Like Cat Folk, but more subtly feline)
- Hag Folk
- Halfling (Sturdy and Urban cultures)
- Hippo Folk
- Hiveling (Hive creature with a collective intelligence)
- Homunculus Folk
- Ink Hexen (Humans born with a magical tattoo)
- Insect Folk
- Leomainn (Moth people)
- Lizard Folk
- Lycanthrope Descendant
- Mimic Folk
- Nictator (Frog or toad folk)
- Noumenon (Living spell energy)
- Paragons (Culture only, descended from some line of heroes)
- Qivux (More fox-like fox folk, with fire affinity)
- Quasi-Phorcysite (Humans that have survived being infected with tentacular larva)
- Raptor Folk
- Rat Folk
- Re-Forged (Humans with construct prosthesis)
- Snake Folk
- Spider Kin
- Troll Folk
- Turtle Folk
- Wolf Folk
There isn’t much that I have seen across the official game settings, or even some of the most well known 3rd party settings, that doesn’t have some kind of analogous example in this product. This is a huge toolbox for a D&D campaign.
The analogous ancestries are strong expressions of those concepts, but in some cases, the features of the individual ancestry have a few new quirks. For example, aquatic elves are given a trait where they gain advantage against being blinded by physical attacks to the eyes, because of the membrane on their eyes. I love that the Hippo Folk not only like to use gunpowder, but adds in their affinity for ballet, meaning that if you take the Hippo Folk culture, you are proficient in dancing.
Some ancestries get similar abilities to an “emulated” element from official D&D products, but with a slightly different rules element associated with them. For example, giant kin can spend their hit dice to lessen incoming damage. Deep dwarves and deep elves don’t map 100% to duergar or drow, but instead present a more “neutral” interpretation of deep Underdark dwelling versions of these ancestries.
For anyone looking to use this with Eberron, the Constructs, Lycanthrope Descendant, and Shapeshifter map pretty closely to the Warforged, Shifter, and Changeling archetypes. Cat Folk, Snake Folk, and Turtle Folk are all pretty obvious stand-ins for Tabaxi, Yuan-Ti, and Tortles.
Some of these ancestries and cultures aren’t directly drawn from official D&D inspiration, but they are logical extrapolations. For example, it makes sense to extrapolate more anthropomorphic animal humanoids. There was a prestige class for characters that were partially transformed Illithids in 3.5 (my daughter played one), but the Quasi-Phorcysite helps envision this background from the start of a campaign.
There are some really imaginative ancestries included, some of which I’d be really excited to include in a campaign, and a few that are great ideas, but I’m not sure exactly what their story is from the text. For example, I like the idea of Fey Kin (humans that have spent enough time in fey realms that they are changed) and Hag Folk, and I love how all of the fey ancestries and cultures mixed and matched could help to create a more traditional (not Eberron) changeling narrative. I love the idea of moth people that are pretty good at imitating humans. On the other hand, the Ink Hexen seems cool, but it’s a little confusing.
I can’t help but think about mixing and matching a human ancestry with an Amazonian culture to make a version of Donna Troy, or using almost any Ancestry with the Paragon culture to make families of ancient heroes raised to do “great things,” and expected to go out and adventure to live up to that training.
There is a lot of imagination on display here. The more cultures and ancestries are presented, the more they can be mixed and matched for a strong, custom-built character concept. The wide range of examples makes these easier to implement into even highly specialized D&D settings.
Because there are so many options presented, it’s hard to wrap my brain around anything that might jump out as out of whack. For example, I’m not sure if letting a Giant Kin use their hit dice a number of times equal to con versus once per short rest is too much of an ongoing advantage. A few of the mechanics feel a little muddy, and some of the “story” of the ancestries aren’t expressed as well in the space they are given.
Recommended—If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.
I really hope that eventually, WOTC adopts an approach to ancestry that looks like what the Arcanist Press solution looks like, and I love the character concepts you can build by mixing and matching Ancestry and Culture. I think this product should appeal to anyone that likes to tinker with rules in D&D, as well as anyone that really likes to have additional options for their D&D 5e games.
I’ll be honest, I’m keeping my eyes open for a Custom Ancestries and Cultures 2 product down the road.