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A bit of a while back, I asked a question about certain shadar-kai in printed material, which suggested to me that Mr. Witch and Mr. Light are not beholden to the Raven Queen as others of their race are. Though the question was closed, there was great advice from NautArch proposing that I might be conflating lore and mechanics.

Ever since then, I've been trying to study and understand where information given on a race moves from mechanics to lore, but most of the information I got was just replacing the word "mechanics" with words like "fundamentals" or "core info," which didn't help in my case. The more I searched, the more I got confused and felt like the goalpost kept shifting further and further away... So, unable to find the solution to such a basic question, I've returned to humbly ask for help.

What part of a race's presentation becomes fixed (mechanics) elements, and which parts are fluid (lore) and can be altered?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you clarify the context in which you care about these alterations? Are you building a character and want to ask your DM if you can change some things? \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jun 6, 2023 at 17:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq The question is more foundational than that. With any game, it is important to understand what rules are concrete, which ones are flexible, and which ones are optional. For instance, in my prior question, I thought that a Shadar-Kai's Gift of the Raven Queen made their loyalty to her a mechanical (concrete) feature similar to how humans are the only race that gets a +1 to all ability scores, but I was told I might be confusing it with lore. So I wanted to gain a firm grasp of what elements are concrete and which can be changed with a DM's approval. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jun 8, 2023 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Marq to explain why that's important to me (in case I misread your request) is that I have a reading comprehension problem and find that setting up and understanding the core mechanics in parts makes it easier to overcome. Knowing the limits and wiggle room tends to turn requiring a master class in character creation (in this case) into only requiring an Ikea pamphlet. It also helps for a better game, as the DM doesn't have to take the bulk of his time explaining things that everyone else understood ages ago, and assures that when I do need help, we're starting on the same page. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jun 8, 2023 at 21:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your comments, that's helpful context. \$\endgroup\$
    – Marq
    Jun 9, 2023 at 11:58

5 Answers 5

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Everything but the introductory paragraph is mechanics. Some may also be lore.

Let's take a haphazard example: the Dwarf. Most of it is available from the SRD, except for a short paragraph that explains how dwarves are from ancient kingdoms, dislike orcs and goblins, and are dedicated to their clan and family.

This first paragraph isn't presented at all like mechanical rules and it would be particularly weird to rule it as such ("your dwarf PC can't be friends with a goblin, it's written in the rules!"). I think it is obvious that it constitutes only lore.

Now for the traits, all of them can be seen as mechanical, and many are also taken as lore by most DnD users (players and DMs)

Your dwarf character has an assortment of inborn abilities, part and parcel of dwarven nature.

This is just a sentence that tells you dwarves have a dwarven nature and a PC gets stuff for playing a dwarf. No need to lose more time commenting on this.

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.

That's definitely a mechanical rule. A DM can extrapolate that dwarf NPCs are going to be more sturdy than average, which would be lore.

Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years.

This one is less obvious as a game mechanic but there are some effects that care about the age of PCs. Of course, it also provides lore.

Alignment. Most dwarves are lawful, believing firmly in the benefits of a well-ordered society. They tend toward good as well, with a strong sense of fair play and a belief that everyone deserves to share in the benefits of a just order.

Alignment is a game mechanic, but I admit among all the races I can think of none of them actually have a rule in this section. It's always at best a tendency toward an alignment, never a clear "Squirrelfolk can only be either chaotic neutral or lawful evil".

Size. Dwarves stand between 4 and 5 feet tall and average about 150 pounds. Your size is Medium.

Size has direct mechanical effects, and here this is definitely stated as a rule: if you want to play a 7ft tall dwarf (like if you wanted to play a guard conscript) you should ask your DM first.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.

Again, pure mechanics here.

Darkvision. Dwarven Resilience. Dwarven Combat Training. Tool Proficiency. Stonecunning.

All of those are mechanical abilities you get as a dwarf.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Dwarvish. Dwarvish is full of hard consonants and guttural sounds, and those characteristics spill over into whatever other language a dwarf might speak.

The last part of this can be considered only lore, but mechanically speaking it means most people could tell someone is a dwarf by their accent.

Subrace. Hill Dwarf

Here again, just a reference to available options (that also only contain mechanical bonuses).

In the end, the only part that is clearly non-mechanical is the intro non-SRD paragraph. Everything else would be usually considered as mechanics. Of course, most DM can see some details as an invitation to make NPCs or even plot hooks (as all dwarves get darkvision for example, you could imagine a society of underground dwarves who never bothered with light)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ngl, a kingdom of lawful evil squirrelfolk sounds oddly scary. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 4, 2023 at 22:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB In a TRPG, there is rarely a clear separation of mechanics and lore. On the contrary, most mechanics are designed to model some aspect of the lore ("elves are good archers, so let's give them high dexterity") and the effects of mechanics often inform the lore ("The half-orc's strength bonus synergises well with the barbarian class, so let's assume many half-orcs are barbarians"). \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 5, 2023 at 2:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB Thus, when people speak of lore and mechanics being separate, they don't usually mean that lore and mechanics are distinct; rather, they're thinking that because it is relatively consequence-free and easy to alter lore elements that are not strongly defined mechanically, or to "refluff" content by keeping the existing mechanics but changing the associated lore, that it sometimes makes sense to treat the two things as separate. (Oh, and sometimes they're just using words without thinking about what they mean, but that's just part of the human condition.) \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 5, 2023 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB if you are ever trying to consider rules or lore, stop looking at alignment because its a vestigal rule from back when the game was more constrained. In the old days if you worshipped an evil god (say Lolth) you did so because you were evil, or you became evil via that worship path. That was both lore and mechanics. The game is less black and white now, but since rule 0 lets you ignore both lore and mechanics the whole "which is which" question doesn't actually matter. Pick and choose what you like. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jun 5, 2023 at 8:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ As I explained in my (for some reason heavily downvoted :)) answer, separating Mechanics from Lore is tricky because the two have a huge overlap: Mechanics is basically the part of Lore we model with numbers and dice rolls. The opposite of Mechanics is not Lore, it's Flavour, all the "fluff" that makes the game interesting but has (almost) no effect on any dice rolls. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 5, 2023 at 11:22
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When players roll dice they are interacting with the mechanics of the game. Therefore anything that

  • defines which dice to roll (long swords do d8 damage, fireballs do Nd6 depending on the level cast etc.)
  • affects outcomes of dice rolls during game play (ability scores, magical effects etc.)
  • Can be affected by the outcome of dice rolls during game play (HP, status effects)

are mechanics. This is probably the largest single category but not exhaustive.

Anything else that is quantitative and on the character sheet (or monster stat block) is mechanical: movement rate, infravision range, GP, XP (if used), level etc.

In addition other enumerated powers or effects that are listed on a character sheet (or monster stat block) are mechanics: action surge, languages, adverse conditions etc.

Overall, if it's on the character sheet (or stat block) and it's quantitative or if it's among a list of enumerated capabilities/status-effects it's mechanics.


Another tack for the question of which aspects of a species' description is mechanical is to review the D&D Character Sheet.

On Page 1 everything other than "Character Name" and "Player Name" tie into mechanics (traits/ideals/bonds/flaws are tied to the Inspiration mechanic on PHB pg. 125, and even Alignment has some mechanical effects e.g. the damage type for Spirit Guardians PHB pg. 278.)

Page 2 contains a few slots that don't seem to tie into any of the actual rules of the game: Character Appearance, including eyes, skin, and hair, Allies & Organizations and Character Backstory do not tie into any mechanics and seem to be for player's notes. Also note that there isn't a list or table from which to select these features, there are (non-mechanical) suggestions about typical appearance for the different species but not an enumerated list of options.

Finally Page 3, spell casting, is all tied to mechanics.

So if a given part of the species description goes on the character sheet, and isn't part of the handful of exceptions noted above, it's mechanical.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Combat speed is a mechanic that has nothing to do with dice. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 5, 2023 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Trish it's enumerated on the charactersheet and required in order to adjudicate combat, no? I literally called out movement rate in my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jun 5, 2023 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would you say background personality traits are mechanical then? It "can be affected by the outcome of dice rolls". It is on the sheet and is among a list of enumerated stuff. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 5, 2023 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't have the books handy but plan to look it up -- backgrounds provide skills and equipement, so yes, mechanical. Bonds and flaws I need to double check. They might tie into inspiration or other things like that. Plus I'll fix it to say "affects/affected by rolls during game play" (not just during character creation) \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jun 5, 2023 at 22:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme bonds flaws ideals personality traits are tied to the inspiration mechanic in the rule books (whatever the degree to which people actually play that way...). \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave
    Jun 6, 2023 at 1:08
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Mechanics and Lore are not defined game terms, but it may be useful to think of lore as what the characters could know

What is "Lore"?

Any of the many mentions of "lore" in the PHB either refers to lore that the player characters or other characters in the game may know, study, etc, or is part of a feature or spell name. There is nothing that states lore is a certain kind of rules text. It is the same in other rules material, wether the DMG, MM, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, Tasha's Cauldon of Everything: Lore always is used as something in-game, that the characters know about, or in some cases in the names of class features or spells, but never in the sense of "a special kind of rules text".

People have hypothesized that "rules text" is player-facing, and "lore" is both player-facing and character-facing, which I think is a useful way to think about it. That would make what we think of as mechanics the part of the rules that is only player-facing. But it is never defined like that by the rules themselves. This use of the terms is something the community came up with, not a rule.

What are "Mechanics"?

While the PHB has zero mentions of the term "mechanics", the DMG has two mentions of the term, one time under Creating New Class Options (p. 288):

It's perfectly acceptable for two class options to have similar features, and it's also fine to look at other classes for examples of mechanics you can draw on for inspiration.

The other time under Character Backgrounds (p. 289)

A well-crafted background (...) helps define the character's place in the world, rather than what a character is in terms of game mechanics.

There is no explicit definition what constitutes game mechanics and what not, so we are back to using the dictionary definition for mechanics: "the machinery or working parts of something".

It seems the two snippets that use the term (and there are a couple more in Xanathar's, that use it in the same way) talk about the machinery of game rules, of how the game works. The characters however have no idea that they are constructs in a game, so this must be the parts of the text that the characters would not know about.

For example, this could include things like1:

  • Dice rolls (as mentioned in several other answers)
  • Points or levels (experience points, hit points, exhaustion levels, class levels etc.)
  • Time resolution in combat (inititive, rounds, turns, actions and action types)
  • Artifacts of the game like stat blocks and character sheets

Separating Lore form Mechanics

Since all text is rules, it is hard to separate "lore" from mechanics, even if you consider lore as something the characters would be able to think about.

For example, assume you wanted to declare the write-up about the background of the race that introduces the race and its place in the world as lore, and the "Traits" section of each race as what one could think of the race's mechanics.

However, even this narrow view of mechanics has issues: many, if not all of the traits will have an expression that the characters can think about. Take the first one in the core rules, (I'll use Dwarf, like Anne's answer):

Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 2.

The player characters do not know about constitution scores, or that they have a score that increases by 2. But they will know that dwarves tend to be especially tough and hardy. This makes it essentially impossible to separate mechanics from lore by marking certain sections or paragraphs of the text as "mechanics" or "lore" -- the very same feature and sentence carries elements of both.

It's the same for Age: the introductory text says "Dwarves can live to be more than 400 years old,", and the Traits section then defines:

Age. Dwarves mature at the same rate as humans, but they’re considered young until they reach the age of 50. On average, they live about 350 years.

Is the write up lore, and the trait mechanics? A dwarf would also know that young dwarves come of age around 50 years, and typically live to 350, with the one living over 400 years being especially long-lived.

So, I think there is no defined rules on what would be what, and it also makes no sense to try to separate it by text section. Try to separate it by what the characters would be able to think about, if you feel the need to separate it.


1 Some other rules implementations like movement and squeezing rules, or resting and resetting limited use abilities create sharp cut-offs instead of a more gradual experience like in the real world. These do have observable outcomes for characters, and this often causes questions about how to explain them in game. Other examples would be the implementation falling, or of darkness as heavy obscurement, where rules mechanics and real-world expectations differ.

I think these examples show how hard and maybe in the end futile it is to try and cleanly separate "mechanics" from "lore" -- because these have observable effects, we hush them up, overrule them, or allow their effects to be knowable lore, to not disrupt immersion in the game.

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Mechanics is how it works or what it is-like lizardfolk having natural armor. Lore is why it works, or why does the race have it-like the lizardfolk's natural armor is because of their tough skin.

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Defining Mechanics is simple: everything that can affect a dice roll is mechanics.


Edit: It seems like some words in my definition may require further explanation.

Can means that it has a realistic chance to do so. There is admittedly a level of fuzziness in what you count as "realistic", but that fuzziness is inherent in the fact that the rule set is an attempt to model a universe, and that model is finite, while the realm of potential events in the universe is infinite.

Affect means "to have an effect on". So for example having or not having darkvision can affect a dice roll, as it can remove or impose a disadvantage. Whereas whether in your darkvision you see shades of grey or shades of blue can not.

Likewise, any effect that causes damage can affect a dice roll, as it may force you to roll Death Saves. (In a similar vein, healing effects may remove the need to roll them, thus also affecting a dice roll.) Whereas the exact form of hallucination caused by Phantasmal Force does not.

Or a character's exact height does not affect any dice rolls, while their size category can. (For example in grappling.)


Of course you can take this definition to the extreme and argue that because there may be an NPC who doesn't trust people with blonde hair, your hair colour may affect a Persuasion (Charisma) check, so it's mechanics...and sure, if you wanna play it that way, go ahead but at that point you just need to concede that everything is mechanics and no separation is possible. It's a valid interpretation, albeit one without any practical use.

Lore is a trickier concept, not least of all because there's quite a bit of overlap. Elves being creatures of fey ancestry is lore, but it also gives them resistance to charm-like effects, which is definitely mechanics.

Frame challenge: The opposite of Mechanics isn't Lore, it's Flavour.

Flavour is everything that is related to things that require a dice roll but doesn't affect their outcome. You may play a Monk who instead of fancy martial art, goes around headbutting people. You may play a Wizard whose magic missiles are rainbow coloured. You can play a sailor who uses a belaying pin as a club. (This one is actually mentioned in the Sailor background in the PHB.)

Flavour will often also be Lore, the shaven head of the Red Wizards of Thay is one such example.

But crucially, Flavour is much safer to mess with because while it can affect the outcome of certain situations (remember our NPC who hates blonde hair?), it won't have an outsize effect on the balance of the game overall.

So what you'll find in standard race descriptions is that there's an introduction that is all Lore and certainly all Flavour, followed by the Racial Traits section, which is all Mechanics but some of that is also Lore.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So,... You're saying that the power word kill spell doesn't have any game mechanics, since it doesn't involve any rolls? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Jun 5, 2023 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think associating mechanics with dice rolls is simply not right. There are fluff dice rolls on some occasion (I have seen plenty of examples of players rolling to see if their player gets drunk during downtime, or to decide what they like. Backgrounds for example suggest that you roll on a table and all the results here are fluff.) You also have mechanics with no rolls associated with them (unless you move the goalpost about that "being associated with a roll" means, but then everything is associated with a roll). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 5, 2023 at 11:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's a game mechanic, that you can only understand what is spoken in a language on your character sheet. However, there is no roll associated with that in any way or fashion. There's game mechanics for aging, but you do never roll on those. There's game mechanics for a lot of spells that do not require a single roll. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Jun 5, 2023 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop That is why I think your criteria is bad (and so does probably the 5 people who downvoted): it is presented as an ironclad definition but barely works as a rule of thumb, (unless it doesn't at all like with Power Word Kill), and you have to bend it ad hoc for every specific case. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 5, 2023 at 12:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with the premise that mechanics and lore is a false dichotomy and that it is rather mechanics and flavor (aka as crunch and fluff). However, saying that mechanics is only dice rolls is rather too narrow a definition. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jun 5, 2023 at 17:48

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