Chapter three covers in more detail the eight core races of the new edition. Each gets a page and a half. The space is used pretty well — game statistics take up most of half a page, physical qualities and tips about playing a member of the race another, and names part of the third. The balance is filled out by a brief “play this race if you like these ideas” segment and a closing section detailing three sample adventurers per race.
It’s efficient. That’s a good thing. I’m somewhat annoyed, though. If the descriptions had been just a bare-bones overview, I could live with that. If they’d included another page or so each of culture and society notes, that would’ve been great. But they split the difference — each race mentions elements that fit into what I assume is the default game setting, yet these are just fleeting references that do little to illuminate that setting. There was a great human empire, Nerath, that fell into decline — but we don’t know anything about it, really, other than that. I’d like to see more of the setting, if it’s going to be tied to the race descriptions in this way, or I’d like to see them decoupled. These brief mentions don’t work for me.
That’s a fairly minor quibble, though. On to the races themselves:
Dragonborn: Dragonlike humanoids, complete with a per-encounter breath weapon power. They get +2 strength and charisma, and a boosted healing surge, which makes them good fighters and paladins. I like these guys a lot more than I thought I would when I first heard about them. The old half-dragons usually seemed like an exercise in munchkinism for me, and I figured this would attract more of the same, but I find myself liking their samurai-like characterization.
Dwarf: Nothing too surprising here; they’re very much like their 3e counterparts. Low-light vision instead of darkvision, though. They move at speed 5 squares instead of 6, but armor and encumbrance don’t slow them down. +2 constitution and wisdom makes them good paladins and clerics. Tordek, the iconic warrior from 3e, is one of the sample characters.
Eladrin: These were once the same race as elves (and drow), but they all drifted apart. Eladrin are basically the “slim, lithe, frail, good-at-magic” elves from earlier editions — the gray elves, so to speak. They’re fey, they can teleport 5 squares as a per-encounter power, and they get bonuses to dexterity and intelligence, so they’re good wizards and rogues. I think Wizards of the Coast missed an opportunity to introduce a more interesting race here, but I suppose the eladrin will serve. Mialee doesn’t show up as one of the sample eladrin (or the sample elves), which was a small disappointment.
Elf: These elves were the “ninja in the forest” elves, the wild and wood elf types. They’re fey too, now. They get bonuses to dexterity and wisdom, so they’re good rangers, rogues, and (somewhat oddly) clerics. Elves have never been especially good at being clerics before, but now they are.
Half-elf: They’re still the natural diplomats, which I still find a bit odd considering their characterization in 1e and 2e as outcasts caught between two cultures, never truly fitting into either. But that’s just me, and things change. One thing that’s changed is that half-elf is now a viable race choice, no longer a weak option compared to a human or full elf. They get bonuses to constitution and charisma, diplomacy and insight skills, and they can choose an at-will power from a class other than their own to use as a per-encounter power, making them sort of innately multiclassed. They’re good at being paladins, warlords, and warlocks.
Halfling: They’re still Small. They’re still rogue-oriented. They get a +2 to dexterity and charisma, which also makes them good warlocks. The book claims they’re good rangers, too, but their size seems to work against them a little bit, there — at least if they follow the two-weapon path. But no real surprises here. They seem a little weak to me, compared to the other races, but I’ve never been a fan of halflings, so perhaps I’m biased. Lidda’s one of the sample characters.
Human: WotC is playing up the “versatile” angle. Humans get a +2 to any one ability score of their choice, a bonus feat at first level, an extra trained skill, and an extra at-will power. They also get +1 to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will defenses, which is a better bonus than the old “+1 to all saves” used to be, because bonuses in general seem to be rarer and more expensive in 4e. No real surprises, but it’s nice that humans are staying an attractive option. Jozan doesn’t show up among the examples, though, making it 2 for 4 on the “main” iconics.
Tiefling: The popular 3e race has been toned down a bit and reworked into something that doesn’t have any ECL baggage. They’ve still got the “dark, brooding antihero” theme going, which I don’t particularly care for, but I’d sooner steer people who do here than to the drow. Tieflings are good at stealth and bluffing, and they get +2 to Intelligence and Charisma, which makes them good warlocks, warlords, and rogues according to the book. They should also make pretty good wizards, and their stat and skill bonuses really cry out for a bard class — I expect they’ll be good at that, too, whenever it’s finally released.
So, a pretty good variety, I guess. My only real complaint is that, of eight races, three are elves. Did we really need regular elves, half-elves, and eladrin? I’d have been happier to see something else in either the “frail magicky type” or the “sneaky tree-hugger type” role. Maybe a re-imagined aasimar, or something. Or even a kobold. I’m sure that will come. (Evidently, the Monster Manual already includes write-ups for several more races for use as NPCs — including gnomes.)
One other thing I notice: If you break down ability score bonuses by race, it looks like this:
Strength: 1 (dragonborn)
Dexterity: 3 (eladrin, elf, halfling)
Constitution: 2 (dwarf, half-elf)
Intelligence: 2 (eladrin, tiefling)
Wisdom: 2 (dwarf, elf)
Charisma: 4 (dragonborn, half-elf, halfling, tiefling)
Seems they’re really pushing charisma as a stat. And it’s sort of odd that half-elves get constitution bonuses when neither elves nor humans do. (Well, humans could… but most will be tossing that +2 into their chosen class’s primary stat. Which, by the way, is the smart choice to make.) Dexterity would make more sense, but that would push it up to 4 races granting a bonus, while only one would then grant a constitution bonus. I might house-rule it anyway, though.
Artwork: The splash page isn’t the clearest, but I don’t hate it. Each race has its own half-page (one column wide) illustration, showing a male and a female of that race. Most of these are pretty good. Tieflings are a bit silly-looking, and the elf pic is pretty bad: the male elf looks downright ugly and un-elf-ish to me, while the female elf is in an awfully awkward-looking pose, and she’s got an absurdly long neck. The eladrins look a little cross-eyed. I really like the halfling pic — it’s fluid and dynamic, and just generally outstanding. And I don’t even like halflings.