So I had an idea for a race for my world. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed it to be a template, not a race. I'm trying to create a version of Elves, but the origin of them is as specially enchanted military units (mostly stealth and espionage both physical and informational/digital). After the disaster which ultimately caused the creation of all non-human races, every race has its own Elves. There's no such thing as a half-Elf - either the child has the Elvish enhancements or she does not. But the enhancements are not exclusive to Man. So ... I need to turn my Elf race (actually, each of the four variants) into a template which can be applied to any race (Man, Dwarf, Gnome so far).

My questions:

  • Why are templates used?
  • What steps would I use to make a balanced template?
  • What's the real difference between a race and a template as it relates to what I'm trying to create?
  • Where can I find more information on these topics?

Current Races: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3JBihiiFXoIS3N6ZHJhenRVdWs/edit?usp=sharing
Current Flavor/Background (specifically, the Races page and sub-pages): https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3JBihiiFXoIUXhVVnBGY2oxblk/edit?usp=sharing

In the Races document, I'm looking to convert the Elves into a template. Right now they're based on Men, which is where I want the template to come from, but I also want to make Elves based on the other races without resorting to half-breeds (which doesn't work for Elves in this world).

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you post the race(s) you have so far? It would help massively in trying to give relevant tips. "How to make a balanced template?" is probably a reasonable enough question, but it would take a lot of work to answer. You'll probably get more (and possibly more useful) answers if you make it more "how do I make balanced templates for these?" \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 19, 2013 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'd love to post the races I have so far, but a) it's still a work in progress and b) I don't know if I can/should post it here as part of the question. It's a long document. Where else would you suggest posting it? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 19, 2013 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ A link (Google Docs, maybe?) would be appropriate. Alternatively, having just the stat block a la the SRD races, where it's just a bulleted list, shouldn't take up too much room if it's just one race as an example. As for work in progress, that shouldn't be a problem; we understand. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 19, 2013 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the red in the document things you're removing, or? Right now (I've looked at Men and Dwarves), the Dwarves have been nerfed hard while the Men seem to be... pretty much the same. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jun 19, 2013 at 23:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, red is stuff I'd like to eliminate for flavor reasons but think would cause major balance problems. Strikethrough means I'm removing it (for flavor reasons) but don't think that it would cause quite such major balance issues to remove. I may have to totally revamp Dwarves just because my concept really doesn't fit the original version. Same with Gnomes, actually. Elves ... are already a revamp. I think I need better defined concepts to balance my races better (with each other at least). \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2013 at 0:57

2 Answers 2


Why are templates used?

Pretty much exactly this sort of situation: changes that can be made to a variety of creatures, rather than specifically writing up a new creature/race for each combination.

What steps would I use to make a balanced template?

This is very tricky. It would depend a lot on what you are trying to do.

In my opinion, the first thing to do is to be careful about precedent: templates are balanced by their Level Adjustment (LA), but most templates and creatures have much more LA than they should. It’s very difficult to play with more than LA +1 or LA +2, and furthermore even if someone wants to do it, it can make life very difficult for the DM.

LA leads to skewed characters, where some of their stats and abilities are too good for their level, but other stats and abilities are too weak for their level, leading to weird situations where one kind of challenge, normally something of a challenge, can be solved automatically, but another, also usually only a moderate challenge, is suicidal. That makes it pretty difficult to design challenges.

So I would aim for LA +1 templates, most likely. LA +2 only if you’re very careful. Actually, I would consider LA +0 (giving drawbacks and benefits in roughly equal measure) before LA +2.

LA +0

This template effectively changes one LA +0 race into another LA +0 race. The problem is that, for example, LA +0 races rarely if ever give +4 to an ability score, or apply a −4 penalty – and doing so can be problematic when the +4 is to something that a character relies on exclusively, or the −4 is to something the character doesn’t care about. So I’d probably recommend avoiding ability score adjustments altogether, or doing something like

+2 racial bonus to X and −2 racial penalty to Y; does not stack with racial bonuses or racial penalties from one’s actual race. If one already has a racial bonus to X, one does not receive the racial penalty to Y, and if one already has the racial penalty to Y, one does not receive the racial bonus to X.

Which is verbose and annoying, but eliminates the +4 or −4 scenarios.

Other changes should probably lean slightly towards more drawback than benefit, since you must assume that players will try to apply benefits where most useful and drawbacks where least painful. It should only be slight, however. That’s a tricky line to draw.

Skill bonuses and penalties, in the −2 to +2 range, are very safe; you can probably just hand out bonuses and penalties equally and it will be fine. Bonuses up to +4 are possible, but I’d be leery about them.

Bonus martial weapon proficiencies don’t usually matter too much, though it’s hard to imagine an appropriate drawback. They’re probably safe enough to give in very small number.

Bonuses and penalties to saving throws are pretty good, if given out equally. Characters don’t get to choose when they’re making a Fort vs. a Will save.

Bonus feats (aside from Martial Weapon Proficiency) are probably too good for an LA +0 template.

LA +1

LA +1 means that you count as a level higher than you actually are for XP, leveling up, and in theory, what sorts of foes you can face. It’s very, very difficult to write something that is worth exactly one level regardless of how many levels you actually have (i.e. LA +1/Some Class 1 all the way to LA +1/Some Class 19, for all classes); most LA +1 creatures and templates are worth not even close to a level basically all the time.

The best things that LA +1 templates can give out are things that will stack with future classes. Maybe you don’t get all the features of the Rogue class, but you do get 1d6 Sneak Attack damage. Or you get Unarmed Strike damage like a Monk, that stacks with Monk levels, but not the other features. Most classes have these kinds of “partial features” that you can give out.

Feats, particularly good feats, often work out similarly. Bonus feats are quite nice. Maybe you don’t get a free pick, but you get two pre-selected feats: that’s better (but less flexible) than what the Fighter gets.

Most published creatures and templates do not do this, however. The most common thing you see are ability score changes. These are what lead to skewed characters. I recommend avoiding these, though a few small ones (a +4, a few more +2s, only a single −2 or maybe none at all) are appropriate since the character misses out on base HP, Constitution-based HP, base saving throw bonuses, base attack bonuses, and skill ranks. Bonuses to Constitution should be common, in fact, because HP increases with level so much.

Larger skill bonuses are also appropriate, but remember that an LA +1 character basically has a −1 penalty to all his favorite skills because his skill rank maximum is 1 less than it would otherwise be (and he has one level’s worth fewer skill points). I think it would actually be a really good idea to give “free ranks” in several skills (say, 4-6, or even 8-10 if you envision the race to be for Rogues and other skill-heavy classes) to mitigate that.

LA +2

These are very hard to balance. You have to give really good stuff, without overpowering the character. Being behind two spellcasting levels, in particular, is extremely painful: if you want spellcasters to consider this, you have to give them great stuff (including, perhaps, partially progressing their spellcasting, à la some prestige classes).

Really, I recommend against these.

Most of what I said for LA +1 just goes double here. You also want unique features, stuff they couldn’t just get by not taking the template and going into classes regularly. Spell Resistance is pretty common, but SR is a double-edged sword and not really all that good. Damage Reduction is definitely better, though DR/magic will soon be close to worthless. This is going to involve some creativity on your part, I imagine. Without more details on the races in question, it’s hard for me to suggest anything.

What’s the real difference between a race and a template as it relates to what I'm trying to create?

Templates go on top of races, so you get both. With a race, you have to choose between the two. That’s the only real difference between them.

Where can I find more information on these topics?

I will have to get back to you on that; I’m not sure.


Templates are to race what prestige classes are to class, they exist primarily as a tool to help a DM flesh out their campaign world, to make it unique and interesting. Prestige classes are balanced by their prerequisites, the specific level-based stats a character has to have to enter them - race doesn't have prerequisites, a character is born into it (either directly or indirectly), the balancing factor is level adjustment.

Savage Species has a valuable piece of advice on level adjustments: compare it to existing races at a given level in an appropriate class. For example, if your character has +2 to two ability scores and no ability penalties, that's roughly equivalent to having an extra point in any level-dependent stats, which the character might otherwise gain through increased base attack, increased base saves, increase skill points, or increased caster/manifester level that come with gaining a level, so that warrants a +1 level adjustment.

The biggest functional difference between race and template is that a template is added to an existing character build, so it still keeps characteristics of the base creature. Dungeonscape, a resource I'd highly recommend to anyone who wants to DM, discusses templates as a tool of theming and world building, even something as simple as taking an existing monster and giving it the traits of another type with appropriate flavor text just to make it fit into the aesthetic of a dungeon.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .