Friday, February 28, 2020

[Guest Post] Bronze Age weapons & armour

[Steve is back with weapons from the ancient world. I have included some of his explanatory notes to me, some may find them useful to add a bit of detail. I wish I could just transcribe our conversations, but I'm not spending my time doing that! -HDA]

Part One - Prehistory


Javelin, Amentum - Greeks used a twisted leather thong attached to a javelin to extend the throw similar to an atlatl, but without the finickiness of loading it onto the branch, as the thong was just affixed to the javelin.  As it untwisted, it also imparted spin.

Javelin, Pilum - You'd best know what this one is.  Heavy, hypodermic looking javelin that the legion is famed for.  Fucked with shields and over-penetrated to strike men who used them on account of their design.

Dolabra - The real weapon that built the empire, the legion's entrenching tool. Mattock/pickaxe.

Xyston - A normal Macedonian spear.

Gastraphetes - Greek crossbow that would have allowed them to span a draw weight greater than they could have by hand, by pushing down on a mechanism that then pushed back up against the string, bracing it against their belly ("belly bow").

Epsilon axe
Epsilon axe - Shaped like the Greek character epsilon.

Labrys axe - Presumably ceremonial, associated with Minoan religion, therefore all minotaurs carry greataxes in D&D.

Kontos - The first light lances.

Sarissa - Alexander's Macedonian pike.

Falx - Dacian terror weapon, the first two-handed weapon Romans encountered. They temporarily up-armoured the dacian legions to counter it with banded iron armguards (manica), greaves, and reinforced helmets. Thus we have Roman segmented iron half-plate, if only for a short window.

Rhompheia - Basically the same thing.

Sica - Thracian shortsword, associated with assassins. This is the root of the word "Sicario."

Dory - The hoplite spear. 300 Spartans, phalanx warfare, etc.

Khopesh - Weird Egyptian bronze sword that developed out of axes, like a cut out epsilon axe

Spatha - Roman cavalry sword, longer than a Gladius, ended up becoming the main armament of the late empire, influenced the development of the migration period sword/Viking sword/Carolingian sword, would eventually stiffen and taper and develop into the arming sword.

Falcata/Kopis - Leonidas' sword, different name depending on whether you're Spanish or Greek.  Like a big Kukri knife.

In case it's not obvious for the armours I tried to use plain English to describe them. Breastplate instead of Cuirass, etc. So a segmented iron breastplate here is a "Lorica Segmentata" should you want to get that in-depth.

Simple Melee dmg notes
Club D4 B light or versatile
Dagger, bronze/pugio D4 P finesse, light
Handaxe, bronze D6 S -
Greatclub D8 B two-handed
Javelin D6 P thrown (30/90)
Javelin, amentum D6 P thrown (30/120)
Javelin, pilum D6 P thrown (20/60), near miss disables wooden shield
Mace, bronze D6 B -
Pick, dolabra D6 S/P versatile
Quarterstaff D6 B two-handed
Sap D4 B finesse, light, knockout
Sickle D4 S light
Spear, bronze/xyston D6 P thrown (20/60), versatile
Simple Ranged
Crossbow, hand-spanned D6 P ammunition (60/120), loading (1), two-handed
Crossbow, gastraphetes D8 P ammunition (80/160), loading (1), two-handed
Dart D4 P finesse, thrown (20/60)
Shortbow D6 P ammunition (80/160), str 11, two-handed
Sling (stone) D4 B loading (0), ammunition (30/90)
Sling (dart) D6 P loading (0), ammunition (30/90)
Sling (bullet) D6 B loading (0), ammunition (30/120)
Martial Melee
Battleaxe, epsilon/labrys D8 S versatile
Lance, kontos D6 P reach, thrown (10/30), versatile
Pike, sarissa D8 P heavy, reach (15 ft, cannot attack 5 ft), two-handed
Polearm, falx/rhomphaia D12 S heavy, two-handed
Shortsword, gladius/xiphos D6 P light
Shortsword, machaira/sica D6 S finesse, light
Spear, dory/trident D6 P reach, thrown (10/30), versatile
Sword, khopesh/spatha D8 S -
Sword, falcata/kopis D8 S/P -
Whip D4 S finesse, reach, knockout, no opportunity attacks
Martial Ranged
Net - special, thrown (5/15)
Shortbow, recurved D8 P ammunition (100/200), str 13, two-handed

Light: Ideal for off-hand use when dual wielding.
Versatile: May be used in one or two hands. Roll the next higher die for two-handed damage.
Finesse: May use DEX modifier in place of STR for attack/damage rolls.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Reach: Adds 5 feet to striking distance, unless more is indicated.
Ammunition/Thrown: A ranged weapon. The first number is short range (attacks incur no penalty), the second is maximum range, in feet.
Loading (x): Require the user to spend an indicated number of actions reloading the weapon. If the number indicated is 0 it can be fired once per round, but no more.

Light Armour AC notes
Quilted linen 11+dex -
Breastplate, leather 11+dex -
Breastplate, linen 12+dex -
Heart protector, bronze 12+dex -
Medium Armour
Hide armour, crocodile 12+dex (max 2) -
Mail shirt 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale shirt, bronze/iron 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Breastplate, segmented iron 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Breastplate, bronze 14+dex (max 2) -
Half-plate, bronze 15+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage, str 13
Half-plate, segmented iron 15+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage, str 13
Heavy Armour
Suit of bronze plate 17 stealth disadvantage, str 15
Shield, bronze +2 -
Shield, wooden +2 -

Pictures are from books by Osprey Publishing. Check them out, really great stuff!
Here is a video that bears on the previous entry in this series (Prehistoric weapons). Making an atlatl spear-thrower:

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

[Guest Post] Revising the Weapon/Armour lists - Introduction & Prehistory

[My good pal, former protege and gaming Oprah, Steve has been haranguing me for a long time about realism & historical accuracy in the D&D equipment list. Finally I asked him to put up or shut up: give me something I can use at my table or blog about! Monday morning, the following came across my desk. Actually much, much more than the following... but we'll start with this and see how far we get. -HDA]


Switching from Pathfinder 1st edition to 5th edition D&D has been a breath of fresh air. While I adore Golarion despite its faults and appreciate the attempted breadth of simulationism with the rules, the situational bonuses and penalties clutter play at all but the lowest levels. I admire the OSR community a lot, and enjoy mining it for ideas, but the days of AC lookup charts, THAC0 and other trappings of the retro editions are behind me. More accurately, 1st edition is an exercise in futility in terms of getting anyone who would sit around my table to actually relearn those old ways, even as my players drown in the modern comforts of d20.

5th edition has struck a great balance with me between playable simplicity and tactical RPG gaminess, and I’ve been able to woo my players over to it despite what was initially perceived as fewer character options and a less granular, lower fidelity system of modifiers. The fact that the math doesn’t break down into absurdity after half a dozen levels is a pretty cool feature, go bounded accuracy! A lot has been written about this in other places and I’m not here to plug editions, but essentially for my group, adopting 5e has helped us (well, some of us) move away from the optimization death spiral, re-focus on play of the game, and value character creation choices that are meaningful instead of hunts to stack bonuses.

One thing that disappointed me about 5e was the weapon and armour lists. I understand their utility, but coming from Pathfinder, which has a robust gear list (even if many of those arms and armours are not only ahistorical but suffer from power creep as well), I felt like the options were not only bare-bones but pointed once again to a very few optimal loadouts. Essentially, I understand that the weapon and armour lists seem to serve as placeholders somewhat, with broad categories that might represent any number of different weapons in fantasy or history, or different time periods, somewhat jumbled together as is normal for the fantasy milieu. Ascribing gold piece values towards these items also seemed strange. I’d rather have the GM eyeball that according to the region, using the PHB as a guide. [1]

A project to create a complete equipment list that covered all these possibilities quickly grew to become too unwieldy, and I determined that what I was actually trying to do was interpret the broad categories of arms and armour into specific historical contexts. To that end, I’ve created several re-imaginings of the equipment list below. These could represent different periods of history or different cultures, as they did on Earth. They could represent different worlds with differing technological bases entirely. They might interact in interesting ways as well, when explorers from a far-off, technologically superior empire encounter more primitive humanoids living in a remote region whose equipment is simpler but more readily adapted to their environment.

The lists may also be juxtaposed, as they were in history for example when the Romans still employed bronze in some contexts or when stone age and bronze age weapons co-existed. Some of these changes re-balance the gear list a bit, and this is done according to my preferences for retaining combat utility while favouring realism. It results in weird situations like a stone axe being as effective on paper as a horseman’s axe. My suggestion would be to apply disadvantage against a weapon user attempting to attack someone armoured from a later period, or one-handed slashing weapons against heavy armour. Some late period weapons may ignore early period armour entirely (eg, firearms).

Simple Melee damage notes
Club D4 B light or versatile
Club, mere D4 B finesse, fragile, light
Club, sharktooth D6 B/S fragile
Club, stone D6 B fragile
Dagger, stone D4 P finesse, fragile, light
Greatclub D8 B two-handed
Handaxe, stone D6 S fragile
Javelin, stone D6 P fragile, thrown (30/90)
Spear, stone D6 P fragile, thrown (20/60), versatile
Yklwa, stone D6 P fragile, light, thrown (10/30) [2]
Simple Ranged
Blowgun 1 P ammunition (25/50), loading (0)
Shortbow D6 P ammunition (80/160), str 11, two-handed
Sling (stone) D4 B ammunition (30/90), loading (0)
Spear-thrower, atlatl D6 P ammunition (30/120), loading (0)
Martial Melee
Early sword, bronze/copper D6 S versatile
Macuahuitl D8 S fragile
Macuahuitl, great D8 S fragile, versatile
Tepoztopilli D10 S/P fragile, heavy, reach, two-handed
Martial Ranged
Net - special, thrown (5/15)

For those of you without a copy of 5th edition, a brief explanation of the weapon properties should you care to use them.
Fragile: Weapons crafted from flint, stone, bone, horn, antler, shark-teeth and obsidian. On a to-hit roll of 1 the weapon chips or breaks, treated as an improvised weapon thereafter.
Light: Ideal for off-hand use when dual wielding.
Versatile: May be used in one or two hands. Roll the next higher die for two-handed damage.
Finesse: May use DEX modifier in place of STR for attack/damage rolls.
Loading (x): Require the user to spend an indicated number of actions reloading the weapon. If the number indicated is 0 it can be fired once per round, but no more.
Reach: Adds 5 feet to striking distance.
Ammunition/Thrown: A ranged weapon. The first number is short range (attacks incur no penalty), the second is maximum range, in feet.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Light Armour AC notes
Breastplate, wicker 11+dex stealth disadvantage
Scale shirt, hide 11+dex -
Scale shirt, horn 12+dex stealth disadvantage
Medium Armour
Breastplate, rattan 12+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Hide armour 12+dex (max 2) -
Heavy Armour
Suit of splinted woven fibre 14 stealth disadvantage
Shield, hide/wooden/wicker +2 -


[1] - I have done this too, my old primitive equipment list (now rendered somewhat outdated by this article) had custom prices for everything. However, I do think Steve not including prices with these lists was a bit of an oversight. We may revisit this topic later in the series.

[2] - Yklwa: From the Tomb of Annihilation adventure, it's a very short-hafted spear.

[More great reading on armour, both primitive and otherwise HERE and HERE.
Sorry about the formatting. I have never used HTML before, so the tables were hard to figure out. Use these weapon/armour lists for a wild frontier game, maybe some neanderthals, lizardmen, ogres or something.

EDIT: Added in a few extra changes Steve sent me. Next up: the bronze age!! - HDA]

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Enemies of the New Sun in the Wilderlands

I read Shadow of the Torturer five times in a row before I got my hands on the rest of the Book of the New Sun. The whole thing was like a cruise missile right into my brain, and I haven't seen many people (except WWCD?) try to adapt anything from these books into their games. I introduced a Postulant of the New Sun in Land's End recently. I don't know if his involvement in the campaign will be significant, but I thought some highly enjoyable homework would be in order.

It's time to look at the mysterious ur-monsters of Urth! Details on these creatures are very scarce, so here are a few relevant quotes from the books. Glory in the masterful prose of Gene Wolfe for a little bit, and I'll try to make sense of it all further down.


Eric He

The Shadow of the Torturer:

- I saw a caique, with high, sharp prow and stern, and a bellying sail, making south with the dark current; and against my will I followed it for a time—to the delta and the swamps, and at last to the flashing sea where that great beast Abaia, carried from the farther shores of the universe in anteglacial days, wallows until the moment comes for him and his kind to devour the continents. Then I abandoned all thoughts of the south and her ice-choked sea and turned north to the mountains and the rising of the river.

- The water closed over me, yet I did not drown. I felt I might breathe water, yet I did not breathe. Everything was so clear that I felt I fell through an emptiness more translucent than air. Far off loomed great shapes—things hundreds of times larger than a man. Some seemed ships, and some clouds; one was a living head without a body; one had a hundred heads. A blue haze obscured them, and I saw below me a country of sand, carved by the currents. A palace stood there that was greater than our Citadel, but it was ruinous, its halls as unroofed as its gardens; through it moved immense figures, white as leprosy.

Nearer I fell, and they turned up their faces to me, faces such as I had seen once beneath Gyoll; they were women, naked, with hair of sea-foam green and eyes of coral. Laughing, they watched me fall, and their laughter came bubbling up to me. Their teeth were white and pointed, each a finger's length.

I fell nearer. Their hands reached up to me and stroked me as a mother strokes her child. The gardens of the palace held sponges and sea anemones and countless other beauties to which I could put no name. The great women circled me round, and I was only a doll before them. "Who are you?" I asked. "And what do you do here?"

"We are the brides of Abaia. The sweethearts and playthings, the toys and valentines of Abaia. The land could not hold us. Our breasts are battering rams, our buttocks would break the backs of bulls. Here we feed, floating and growing, until we are great enough to mate with Abaia, who will one day devour the continents."

The Claw of the Conciliator:

-"You were correct when you said Erebus and Abaia are as great as mountains, and I admit that I was surprised you knew it. Most people lack the imagination to conceive of anything so large, and think them no bigger than houses or ships. Their actual size is so great that while they remain on this world they can never leave the water—their own weight would crush them. You mustn't think of them battering at the Wall with their fists, or tossing boulders about. But by their thoughts they enlist servants, and they fling them against all rules that rival their own."

- "We watch the giant because he grows. In that he is like us, and like our father-husband, Abaia. Eventually he must come to the water, when the land can bear him no longer. But you may come now, if you will. You will breathe—by our gift—as easily as you breathe the thin, weak wind here, and whenever you wish you shall return to the land and take up your crown. This river Cephissus flows to Gyoll, and Gyoll to the peaceful sea. There you may ride dolphin-back through current-swept fields of coral and pearl. My sisters and I will show you the forgotten cities built of old, where a hundred trapped generations of your kin bred and died when they had been forgotten by you above."

The Citadel of the Autarch:

- Master Ash pursed his lips. “Your Commonwealth is stronger than I would have believed, then. No wonder your foes are in despair.”

“If that is strength, may the All Merciful preserve us from weakness. Master Ash, the front may collapse at any time. It would be wise for you to come with me to a safer place.”

He appeared not to have heard. “If Erebus and Abaia and the rest enter the field themselves, it will be a new struggle. If and when. Interesting."

- “But you were right when you called them the slaves of Erebus. They think themselves the allies of those who wait in the deep. In truth, Erebus and his allies would give them to me if I would give our south to them. Give you and all the rest.”

- "Why?” I asked. “Why?” I was on my knees beside him.

“Because all else is worse. Until the New Sun comes, we have but a choice of evils. All have been tried, and all have failed. Goods in common, the rule of the people ... everything. You wish for progress? The Ascians have it. They are deafened by it, crazed by the death of Nature till they are ready to accept Erebus and the rest as gods."

- And yet there is a third explanation. No human being or near-human being can conceive of such minds as those of Abaia, Erebus, and the rest. Their power surpasses understanding, and I know now that they could crush us in a day if it were not that they count only enslavement, and not annihilation, as victory. The great undine I saw was their creature, and less than their slave: their toy; it is possible that the power of the Claw, the Claw taken from a growing thing so near their sea, comes ultimately from them.

The Urth of the New Sun:

- "...Great Erebus, who has established his kingdom there, will soon be driven before them, with all his fierce, pale warriors. He will unite his strength with Abaia's, whose kingdom is in the warm waters. With others, less in might but equal in cunning, they will offer allegiance to the rulers of the lands beyond Urth's waist, which you call Ascia; and once united with them will devour them utterly."

- "The armies of Erebus follow the waves," he said, "and all the defeats they suffered at your husband's hands will be avenged."

- "When has Abaia sought our good?"
"Always. He might have destroyed you..."
For the space of six breaths she could not continue, but I motioned Valeria and the rest to silence.
"Ask your husband. In a day, or a few days. He's tried to tame you instead. Catch Catodon... cast out his conation. What good? Abaia would make of us a great people."

Putting It All Together

According to Wikipedia: Erebus means 'darkness,' and can refer to either a primordial god born of Chaos, or "a place of darkness between earth and Hades." Abaia is a huge eel from Melanesian mythology.

I suppose this might explain where Wolfe got the words, but not his inspiration in creating these entities. If it weren't for that underwater monster in The Knight (I think aquatic things are a bit of a preoccupation for him) I would say the inspiration is pure Lovecraft. To wit:

1 - Live in the ocean (Erebus in the cold northern waters, Abaia in the equatorial ones)
2 - Of enormous size, too big to walk on land
3 - Space aliens who landed on earth aeons ago
4 - Could destroy humanity but would rather enslave it

Sounds just like Chthulhu, right? But what it also reminded me of is Armadad Bog, the god of the Viridians! Reading through the Wilderlands book gave me a few ideas:

Erebus, Abaia, and Armadad Bog are aliens from a far-off planet. They fell to the seas during the Uttermost War and remained after the other races departed. They predate the gods and most other sentient beings. Perhaps they were bio-weapons created by the Markrabs? Perhaps summoned by the Demon Empires, or even the elder races? Nobody knows anymore.

By crossbreeding humans with aquatic races (merfolk, deep ones, skum, etc) and their own alien genes, they created three of the peoples of the wilderlands:

-In the Sea of Five Winds, Abaia created the Orichalans, purple-skinned and hated by everyone for the excesses of their lost Dragon Empire.
-In Trident Gulf, Armadad Bog created the Viridians, decadent green-skinned imperialists.
-At the same time[1] in the Uther Pentwegern Sea, Erebus created the Avalonians, tall & pale ice-wizards of the far north.

This Lovecraftian crossbreeding was essential to the system. The entities can only exert psychic control over:
a) those who open their minds to them (the Ascians, madmen, or your classic Chthulhu Cult)
b) their children: the Viridians, Avalonians and Orichalans.

None actually know it, but the Viridan and Orichalan Empires were driven onwards in their conquests by the alien seed in their blood, which wanted only the enslavement of all humankind. Tragically, these cultures continue to choose their leaders from the "truest" among them: the greenest Viridians, the tallest & palest Avalonians, etc. In other words, those who have the most alien blood, and are most susceptible to influence by these malignant beings! Emperor Hautulin Seheitt of Viridistan has been acting strangely of late, and nobody knows why. Armadad Bog is stirring in the Gulf, and his dream of a global Viridian Empire rises in his children once more...

Armadad Bog is worshipped clandestinely as a god in Viridistan, and Erebus is venerated in Valon as Aram Kor, patron of wizards and lord of ice. Almost nobody knows the truth about them except a hidden sect which has guarded this lore throughout the ages. In Viridistan it's called Mer Shunna and I'll write them up for the next Nameless Cults!


[1] According to the Wilderlands timeline, the cities of Viridistan and Valon were founded only 19 years apart.

Thanks to Steve for giving me the idea for this post in the first place. I'm pretty sick and have a harsh headache right now, which is why I'm writing this up instead of working on playable material for next game (or doing work). Oh well!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Lich Name Generator Table

In best gaming-blog fashion, I am writing about my solution to a problem I ran into today in my home game. I hate coming up with NPC names. It's horrible. I was struggling to decide on the name for a lich in a dungeon, and I thought of that old article I wrote about the Abhorrer. Let's use the same formula for lich names. Once you use a result on one of these tables, cross it out and add your own.

Note: This is not meant to be accurate or 'meaningful,' I want a table that will give me a good-sounding name real fast. That's all.

Dave Trampier classic


1A - Male Old Testament Figure (d20)

  1. Abimelech
  2. Abraham
  3. Absalom
  4. Ahasuerus
  5. Belshazzar
  6. Cain
  7. Eliazar
  8. Elkanah
  9. Ephraim
  10. Holofernes
  11. Issachar
  12. Jephthah
  13. Lamech
  14. Manaaseh
  15. Melchizedek
  16. Mordecai
  17. Naphtali
  18. Nebucadnezzar
  19. Sennacherib
  20. Zebulon

Yeah I know, that's why we have this next table. I didn't like the sound of the Old Testament names for women though, they are either perfectly acceptable modern names (I wouldn't name my lich-lord Adam or Michael, we can't have a swords-&-sorcery lichette named Sarah or Ruth) have that 'ancient world heavy metal' vibe like Abigail or Salome, or sound indistinguishable from the male names (Naamah, Ephrath). So I went more ancient-world with these ones:

1B - Female Greek Names (d30)

  1. Amarantha
  2. Andromeda
  3. Artemisia
  4. Antimony
  5. Calandra
  6. Callixenia
  7. Cressida
  8. Cybele
  9. Cynara
  10. Diamanda
  11. Euphemia
  12. Euridice
  13. Hecuba
  14. Ioanna
  15. Iolanthe
  16. Jocasta
  17. Lilika
  18. Medea
  19. Melantha
  20. Orphea
  21. Philomela
  22. Phaedra
  23. Sybella
  24. Sophronia
  25. Theodosia
  26. Thessaly
  27. Xanthe
  28. Xenobia
  29. Yolanda
  30. Zelenia

2 - Greek, Roman & Persian Official Titles (d66):

11. Aesymnetes
12. Agonothetes
13. Agoranomos
14. Akhoond
15. Amphipole
16. Anax
21. Apodektai
22. Archiater
23. Archimandrite
24. Argbadh
25. Asapatish
26. Baivaparatish
31. Basileus
32. Chiliarch
33. Choregos
34. Dathapatish
35. Dilokites
36. Dikastes
41. Dimorites
42. Diwan
43. Ephor
44. Kanstresios
45. Kolakretai
46. Lochagos
51. Marzban
52. Mirza
53. Navarch
54. Nawabzada
55. Pirani
56. Proxenos
61. Prytaneis
62. Sakellarios
63. Sebastokrator
64. Sebastos
65. Tetrarch
66. Theoroi

3 - Titles Used by Dictators & Emperors (d30):

  1. Dear Leader
  2. Supreme Commander
  3. The Father/Mother
  4. Great Architect
  5. Brilliant Genius of Humanity
  6. Gardener of Happiness
  7. Conducator
  8. Great Guide
  9. Perpetual Dictator
  10. His/Her Excellency
  11. Uncrowned King/Queen
  12. Lord/Lady of all Beasts of the Earth
  13. Last King/Queen of [inappropriate, distant or ancient place]
  14. Brotherly/Sisterly Leader and Guide
  15. Head of All Men/Women
  16. President for Life
  17. General(issimo)
  18. Captain
  19. Chief
  20. Caesar/Czar/Kaiser
  21. Bottom of the Steps
  22. He/She to Whom Homage is Paid
  23. Ruler of the [cardinal direction]
  24. The Pole-star
  25. The Divine Order
  26. Who Rules all Under Heaven
  27. August One
  28. Sage-King/Queen
  29. of Ten-Thousand Years
  30. The One to Whom one Asks an Apology

Roll once on each table and arrange them to taste! Here are a few trial runs, I rolled these straight through with no editing:

Diwan Antimony, the One to Whom one Asks an Apology
Agoronomos Ephraim, Gardener of Happiness
Czaress Iolanthe Dimorites
The Great Architect, Ephraim Archimandrite
General Baivaparatish Holofernes

Yep, this is good. I'm into it. Thank you to: WIKIPEDIA.


Now it's the weekend, so go have some fun!!

Friday, February 7, 2020

Humans of the Wilderlands

I started running an open-table game set in the City-State of the World Emperor. We'll see how it goes. Some rank beginners to D&D have come out to play, and this is great, but does come with its own set of challenges:

What grinds character-creation to a halt is asking players to MAKE ANY DECISION. I think this has to do with the amount of information people need before they're willing make a choice. In 3rd edition there are dozens of starting feats available to 1st-level characters (I had to create a 3.5 character on the weekend to play in a friend-of-a-friend's game, and hated every second of it. The choices I mean, not the game itself!). There is no way a brand-new player can sit down and make any sort of informed decision about his feat choices on the day of play. He needs to take the book home and study it. Bleah!

Veterans with a given ruleset are fine here, but there is also information about the setting that must be considered, and this varies from DM to DM and game to game. Even one-axis alignment (law, chaos, neutrality) is too much setting info to absorb for some people I know to make a decision! Forget about adding complexity to PC races beyond "I'm a dwarf." You're going to hear that Scots accent whether you like it or not.

In the Wilderlands, a human character's origin might actually matter later on, but all cultures and races seem interchangeable at first with only short descriptive blurb. Thus I must force players to roll on a table. If they don't like what they get, they must pick a different option right away, and we can move along to the game itself!

EDIT: after James Mishler's great comment (thanks mate), I thought I should re-write these tables in alphabetical order, to better accord with his descriptions.

Human types in VIRIDISTAN (d%)

01-10: Alryan
11-15: Altanian
16-19: Amazon
20-29: Antillian
30-35: Avalonian
36-39: Dunael
40-45: Ghinorian
46-55: Mixed
56-57: Orichalan
58-61: Skandik
62-71: Tharbrian
72-00: Viridian

Of course distributions will vary based on location, population and political concerns. On the edge of the world, things are different, and it might look like this:

Human types in LAND'S END (d%)

01-10: Alryan
11-35: Altanian
36-45: Amazon
46-55: Antillian
56-57: Avalonian
58-60: Dunael
61-62: Ghinorian
63-77: Mixed
78-87: Orichalan
88-95: Skandik
96-98: Tharbrian
99-00: Viridian

For Wilderlands vets: I have omitted the Gishmesh and Karakhan because I decided that continent is a foreign and mysterious place known to very few. PCs being from there would squash that. Yes the game world does "shrink," but it's pretty huge to start with. The Land's End group have only ranged about 35 miles from town so far!

If a player already has an idea for their character there is no need to roll, but now I have this lying around should the need arise.