Consequences of Playing Another Species: The Sore Thumb


I’m struggling. I’m playing a dwarf in a Rogue campaign for Unchained Heroes and my mind is screaming at me all the time about the craziness of my choice. What was I thinking? Why am I a dwarf? As a rogue, that has to be just about the dumbest choice I could have made. At least a halfling rogue or a gnome rogue has size on their side. What does a dwarf have? I have to spend all my time not being seen and not drawing attention to myself. My GM is rolling with this and has no idea about my conundrum (now he probably does), but my desire to make justifiable reasons for my character choice has me in knots. Why, you might ask? It’s because as a dwarf, I stick out like a sore thumb.

Playing a non-human species is arguably the worst choice you can make as a rogue (note I said arguably). As rogue you want to be able to disguise your appearance, make yourself look like someone else, and blend in. As a human I have a plethora of options, I can add prosthetics to look like an elf, a beard to look like a dwarf, stand up straight if I want to look taller and slouch if I wanted to look shorter. As a dwarf, I will never have the option to pose as an elf, passing myself off as a tall human is out of the question, and with my beard, no chance I can pull off a gender-swap. This is why I don’t often play other species and this, to me, is a problem.

The Settings are the Problem

When I talk to my players, I want them to play a character that they want to play, something that they will be excited about. I was excited about my Dwarf Rogue, but no more. Why is that? Again its because I stick out like a sore thumb. The only way I am going to be a proper rogue is for people to NOT see me, or be so damn good at what I do that they never see my confidence games coming. As much as we have integrated cities in high fantasy, we still see humans as the majority species and that needs to change. The only way we are going to get in situations where inquiries about “a dwarf picking pockets” is not going to lead back to my character, is when there are a hell of a lot of dwarves around for people to interrogate. It all comes down to the setting we create.

I am not entirely sure of the demographic make-up in my friends campaign, but I can say that in my own campaigns, other species are not often very well represented. I’m not exactly clear of the demographics of his campaign, only my own impressions of what it might be like based on my own. I don’t talk about dwarves, elves, and gnomes enough in my campaigns. The default assumption when describing a scene is that there are humans around, not anyone else. I am at fault for that, but so also are fantasy tropes. I need to break those fantasy setting tropes (and I need to talk to my GM), so I can feel good about playing a dwarf rogue. Integrated species need to be commonplace in settings.

What a Sore Thumb looks like

A “Sore Thumb” looks abnormal, it looks different, it looks out of place. In standard fantasy, the appearance of a dwarf is an event. As a rogue, I don’t want that to be an event. See what I mean? That elf standing taller than the rest of the crowd, she is a Sore Thumb. The halfling sitting on a high-chair, he is a Sore Thumb. The pink haired Ogre, she is a Sore Thumb. The stout red-haired dwarf in buckles and leathers with a crossbow, he is a Sore Thumb. The human rogue in a crowd of people, she is NOT a Sore Thumb. She is part of the crowd. We can fix that. I can fix that. I plan on fixing it. Here’s how.

Solving the Sore Thumb  

The only way we are going to see the choice of species not become a Sore Thumb is by changing the composition of the crowd. This is true in life and well as RPGs. I am not trying to make a statement here, all I am trying to do is solve a problem. I need to get other species more involved. I need to make them more commonplace. They need to appear as frequently as a human and be just as inconspicuous. There is no doubt that stereotypes and knee-jerk impressions based on appearance will stick, but that is the case with anything. The key is to make stereotypes and impressions work for you. Speaking only as a dwarf, if I can “Con” someone into thinking I speak with an Irish accent and have a high pitched voice, that will work in my favor if there are other dwarves that fit that profile. It will also work in my favor if I end up facing a constable and there is not a single high pitch voice to be heard. Humans have this easy, but the less common species don’t. They have to work for it. To do that, I need to adjust my thinking.

I can do this a number of ways. I can be more inclusive by using more species in everyday events or I can decide to run a “Dwarf Campaign”, an “Elf Campaign”, or an “Gnome Campaign.” I can make Humans a minority or I can make XYZ Species a Majority. All are choices I can make, but the one that works the best for me — the one I plan to implement — will be being inclusive and representative of the various species in my setting. With that, I feel, I can prevent any player in my campaigns from agonizing over the logic behind their choice of species.


So what about you? Do you feel running with different species in you campaigns is a problem? Do alternate species stick out like a sore thumb? Do you feel the same as I do? What would you do? We have all the different species in our games for a reason, they make the setting. I need to find a way to use them more.



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