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Short story: I don't like half-orcs.

I am looking for a thematic fantasy race that lends itself to the barbarian archetype for my dungeon-crawl RPG I'd like to start. I've never really gotten the whole half-orc thing, it never really made much sense to me why they're a standard race. Story wise half-orcs have got to be complete outsiders from any society, but in D&D they're all over the place.

Are there any sensible player races for player characters that don't come from bizarre cross breeding?

I'm playing 4th edition GURPS, so any answers that have ready-made stats for GURPS are a plus. Races that can interact with other civilized cultures and have mechanical advantages to strength are preferred.

Assume this setting is typical of those for the 3rd or previous editions of D&D or Pathfinder, This answer should be useful to players of those games as well. Forgotten Realms would be a good setting to reference.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is so setting-dependant as to be unanswerable without your specifying a setting. We need to know how the setting you're using defines a 'barbarian,' which, if any, of the societies in that setting produce barbarians, and what race(s) make up those societies. Unless this information is available in a published source that we have access to, but you don't, we're not in a better position to answer this question than you are. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 11 '15 at 2:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ The most thematic barbarian race has always been and will always be "human", but I suspect that's not what you're looking for. :) (Half-orcs were never thematically suited to barbarians; they just have mechanically suited features in The Most Popular RPG. In fact, originally half-orcs were thematically city-scum.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 11 '15 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I don't know, "Cimmerian"'s more specific. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 11 '15 at 3:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anaphory the 'outsiders' line is a complaint about half-orcs, not a criterion. He wants to play 'a [D&D] barbarian', which requires a significant degree of martiality. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 11 '15 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Voting to close as primarily opinion based. Races that make good barbarians from a narrative point of view is "any of them" and "whichever one you personally like". In the case of this question, "any of them with decent strength, whichever one you personally like". Even races that don't seem appropriate for barbarians (but might have some strength) are typically a compelling case for using for a barbarian from a narrative POV. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Sep 11 '16 at 19:55
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All races are equally good from a narrative standpoint, depending on your narrative. PCs from traditional barbarian cultures (e.g. full blooded orcs, Wild elves) might be narratively preferable in a game that allows them to contrast the merits and weaknesses of their strictly deontological ethics with the rampant pragmatic utilitarianism of the City.

PCs from traditional warrior cultures consistent with barbarism but with out specific preference for the Barbarian class (e.g. Moon elves, Githyanki, tabaxi) can also make interesting Barbarians from a narrative standpoint as their specific class choice will differentiate them from 'default' members of their race while allowing them to essentially affirm their society's core values. This is a very useful technique for making characters who happen to be extremely stereotypical (e.g. LG Dwarven Cleric of Moradin, CG Elven Ranger, etc) without them feeling like a 'default' character narratively.

PCs from cultures that aren't typically very war-like, but not particularly pacifistic either (most PC races) can make good barbarians by helping to remove race as a factor from the character's narrative, allowing the character to emphasize their own merits as an individual without NPCs or the play group being influenced by the character's choice of race with specific regard to class. This option on its own also helps a character to blend into the narrative background, which can be useful in balancing out a character that might narratively seem 'too extreme' or 'too plot-dominant' otherwise, or help in normalizing the character's position within a larger, non-barbarian organization. The benefits to a barbarian from these races are abstract and complex, to be sure, but they are no less real than the benefits from the other options.

PCs from cultures that produce Barbarians extremely infrequently and whose members tend to make poor barbarians, but which are not specifically opposed to barbarism (e.g. Halflings, most Small or Tiny races) can make good barbarians as their natural disadvantages at their chosen role provide them with insecurities and doubts as to their usefulness. Such characters often possess a need to prove themselves, which gives them a strong reason to go adventuring and lots of narrative options for their dealings with other characters (both PCs and NPCs) as their inherently unstable starting state almost necessitates character growth.

PCs from cultures that abhor Barbarism, especially pacifistic cultures such as the Ondonti, also have excellent narrative potential as Barbarians. Having abandoned the ways of the their homeland (e.g. because of the perceived lack of effort to save their enslaved compatriots) there is potential for scenes showcasing the surety or doubt the PC has in their decision and emotional confrontations with former allies.

So, basically, without knowing the narrative you want to tell every race is equally good. Rage-filled lone warrior stories can be told with a wide variety of different main characters and be excellent because of the details of that main character and his or her journey, though the narrative itself will need to be very different depending on that character.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm aware I don't address the 'bizarre half-breed' part of the question. That's because it has no bearing on the question. Since all races are equally good, if you don't want narratives involving half-breeds just don't pick a half-breed. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 11 '15 at 3:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Did you mean Wild Elves rather than Moon? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 11 '15 at 4:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Nah, Wild elves are more 'definitely have barbarians'. Moon elves are very barbarian-compatible fluffwise, though their attribute bonuses rarely (in terms of editions) are helpful in terms of crunch. The idea is that a barbarian moon elf can be 'unique' in his having the 'barbarian' class without actually differing from his society's mainstream beliefs about things in any way at all, since the class is actually totally consistent with the whole chaotic wandering emotional militarist thing. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 11 '15 at 6:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ A Very interesting write-up, and it does lend weight to the idea that I don't -need- a 'barbarian' race if I have a player that wants to play one. Still, I feel a little bad not having something to give them a boost to strength. \$\endgroup\$ – HighlandRat Mar 12 '15 at 1:49
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Minotaurs

A raging bull. A raging man. A raging bull-man. Minotaurs are thematically great barbarians. If you want to go more with the Greek myth, they're cursed creatures, and that's a good reason for raging, if nothing else.

Why not "just" Orcs?

Forget half-orcs - just go with orcs. They're big, they're strong. They're basically depicted AS barbarians.

Dwarves!

"Those dwarves were driven from their halls, forced to wander the land, their precious suits of mail left with the charred bodies where the dragon roasted them - the survivors had little more than axes, hammers... and anger. Lots of anger."

You can have the wandering Dwarves as one group of barbarians, or perhaps you have the sub-group of Dwarves who chant prayers to their god and send themselves into a battle fury?

Animal-men

These kinds of creatures show up in all kinds of mythology, around the world. D&D called them "Mongrel men" I think, but basically humanoid animal-people. Very often they're depicted as marauders, though the level of organization ranges from low end bandits to confederated bandit-tribes (Chinese Buddhist demons...). Just as much as animals go into a frenzy when wounded, you can easily have these kinds of creatures exist as barbarian class types.

Warforged

If I wanted to make some robots for war, giving them programming to rage out barbarian-style might be a good fit. Alternatively, they're malfunctioning leftovers from a different era. This might be a stretch depending on what you're doing as far as settings go, but they can easily be replaced with other magical constructs ("Stone Terra-cotta warriors of Shi Huang" for example...)

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Ogres and half-Ogres are described, with templates, in Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level. They're pretty much what you'd expect, except that Ogres are resistant to magic, somewhat making up for their poor intelligence.

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