Why did it change: Tieflings

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zontoxira
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Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by zontoxira » Mon May 07, 2018 6:58 pm

Welcome to another episode of the Why did it change series (I made it sound so formal), where we bring forth discussions for creatures, places, and/or worlds in hopes of enlightening ourselves over the different design choices across the various editions, even books within an edition*. Today's topic is inspired by this post, so I decided to delve deeper into a race familiar to all of us (for good or bad reasons), the one typically identified with edgy characters and one of my favourites (flavour-wise, that is), the tiefling. And as always, I will look into the description from most books (those available, that is), to better illustrate the changes between editions.

Tieflings appear for the first time in Planescape Campaign Setting and are referred to as "part human and part something else" and as "humans who've been plane-touched" (A Player's Guide to the Planes, pg 12). The Planewalker's Handbook expands on that, claiming that the unknown heritage "in the tieflings' case is usually assumed to be lower-planar" (pg. 78). It is later stated that "somewhere in your family's distant past one of [your ancestors] was a fiend or other such being", clarifying that tieflings aren't direct descendants of a mortal and fiend union, and that the latter isn't always a fiend, though it usually hails from the Lower Planes. With such a highly varied race, it made sense that PWH presented tables to choose or roll randomly for distinct appearance (along with special abilities and side effects)**. Sample images include the chitchating couple, the factol of the Transcendent Order, as well as this prime example; they showcase the differences in appearance a tiefling would have.

Apart from being introduced to the Prime Material Plane (they were up until now an exclusively planar race), not much changes when tieflings appear in 3e***. Inhabitants of Faerun, it is now stated that they "are descended from evil outsiders [and some] have a minor physical trait suggesting their heritage" (Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, pg. 20). Evil outsiders are further explained to include "a demon [...], a devil [...], night hag, rakshasa, or even a servant of an evil deity" (Races of Faerun, pg. 125). It is often mentioned that tieflings are being persecuted, even in the planes (Planar Handbook, pg. 15), which seems to deviate from 2e's concept of tieflings being mistrusted, blamed, but usually left alone. Races of Destiny takes a different approach, presenting the tiefling as "the descendant of a union between an infernal creature and a human" (pg. 107), an idea quite familiar to us, now. The art direction is likewise varied, as it was generally in the 3e era, with images of tieflings from DiTerlizzi's originals, an infernal-looking one, and a possible candidate for giving us the edgelord characters we all hate/love.

So far, tieflings didn't change much, if not at all. It is with 4e that the race gets its major overhaul. Gone is the tiefling of old, a plane-touhed human with a mysterious past (and random abilities and features). A core playable race now, tieflings "are descended from human nobles who bargained with dark powers" (4e Player's Handbook, pg. 48) and used to rule ancient empires that have been ruined long ago. If their infernal bloodline isn't clear enough, it is later attested by their now standardised appearance (large horns; thick, nonprehensile tails; sharp teeth; eyes of solid black, red, yellow, etc. colour; reddish skin). Instead of being orphans or social outcasts, tieflings have formed small communities in various societies, and claim to descent from the noble Houses of old. The race bears both pride and shame for its past, and feels like a mixture of dark and sexy, upon which most edgy characters have been created. Sample images include this couple, a more colourful art, and perhaps the most iconic representation.

With the advent of 5e, the tiefling race changes again. Still a core playable race, tieflings now don't possess any culture or claim heritage from an ancient civilisation; instead, they are the result of some "pact struck generations ago [that] infused the essence of Asmodeus [...] into their bloodline" (5e Player's Handbook, pg. 42). Through a ritual performed a century ago, the Lord of Baator marked all tieflings as his own and as a result, each gained a unified appearance. Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, however, states that "not all tieflings are of the blood of Asmodeus", and so may bear different appearance and features (pg. 118). Nevertheless, tieflings don't have a place to call home, and are viewed with suspicion and mistrust, if not extreme prejudice. Good examples of images are the dungeonpunk edgelord, this fella from Calimshan, and the iconic tiefling warlock.

This is the troubled story of the tieflings. From the sober, brooding loners with a dark, unknown past to a prideful race claiming infernal heritage. It seems that the tiefling had the wildest ride across the editions, far more than any other core race. Judging by 4e's major shift in concept design, the race could be split into two eras: pre-4e and post-4e. 2e and 3e shared the design first conceived in the pages of Planescape. Some would say, 3e copied whatever was stated in Planescape and brought it to core books. Interestingly though, Races of Destiny, the last 3e book to mention tieflings, is also the first to incorporate the idea of infernal heritage, giving the impression that the designers wanted the race to have a clearer background, or present them as a more infernal character option. I can't say for certain that this inspired later design of the tieflings' common origin (specifically, Baator), but what is for certain, 4e's shared heritage called for the race to get its unified appearance. On the other hand, 5e ditched the story of Bael Turath and the ancient human empire to create a more vague backstory for tieflings that still bear the same appearance traits. They all have a clear infernal bloodline, and some even abyssal. Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (due late May) will expand more on the tiefling origin, so we might then have a better view of 5e's stance. I also have to say that 4e and 5e tieflings are firmly tied to their settings. So far, I have only read of Faerunian tieflings and those from Nentir Vale (where the Bael Turath legacy comes from, I think), but no mention of planar tieflings or from other settings.

So the main changes pre-4e and post-4e are two: appearance and origin. I can only assume that the horn/tail/wicked tongue combo was a favourite amongst gamers and designers, so the 4e team, and subsequently art direction, settled upon this representation. When the infernal origin was inserted, it was only a matter of time before the tiefling looks were cemented. According to the authors in Wizards presents Races and Classes, there was a need to design a race encompassing everything that is edgy. Similarly, the need for a more streamlined character race called for a simplification and balancing of abilities; long, complicated tables with powers and appearance traits were out of the question. Was it then, I wonder, 4e's policy of simplifying and balancing everything that made the tiefling switch drastically in tone? Was the race being altered, in concept at least, earlier in 3e era? What made the design team of every edition to view the race differently?


* If you fancy this sort of discussion, check out the Githzerai, the Succubi, and the the Energy Planes.
** It's worth noting that the original tieflings from Planescape Campaign Setting boxed set were much more linear in their choice of abilities. Only their appearance could be variable, to reflect each character's different backstory.
** As willpell pointed out, 3e had the tiefling gain standard abilities, and not being varied, per PWH's tables. So it seems the effort to unify appearance and traits is not exclusive to 4e.

EDIT: Grammar and some extra notes
Last edited by zontoxira on Fri May 11, 2018 11:43 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by Havard » Tue May 08, 2018 10:18 pm

Great article! That is a fascinating overview of the history of the race.

It is interesting to speculate what was the behind the changes of the Tieflings across editions. It has been speculated that Tieflings, Eladrin and Dragonborn were brought into 4E as core races because they were not part of the SRD and thus could be used to sabotage future SRD based products from 3rd party publishers.

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by willpell » Tue May 08, 2018 10:39 pm

zontoxira wrote:
Mon May 07, 2018 6:58 pm
as well as this prime example
Which is apparently porn, according to the filtering software here at my public library, so I haven't seen this pic.

Anyway, there's one big flaw in your article - you say that not much changed from 2E to 3E, but you said that in 2E, they had random traits so they were all different. This has always been a pet peeve of mine - the Tiefling in 3E could be descended from Demons or Devils, but every single one of them speaks Infernal, not Abyssal, and they always have Darkness as an SLA, which makes more sense for Demons than for Devils (remember, Devils can see perfectly in even magical darkness, Demons just have darkvision with the usual 60-foot range and lack of color). Even Races of Destiny didn't change that, at least not in terms of rules.

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by Havard » Wed May 09, 2018 2:51 pm

willpell wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 10:39 pm
zontoxira wrote:
Mon May 07, 2018 6:58 pm
as well as this prime example
I haven't seen this pic.
Its this one:

Image

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by FaerieGodfather » Wed May 09, 2018 8:12 pm

I am still cranky that they randomly decided that the Tiefling's 2e Charisma bonus needed to become a Charisma penalty, ruining many previous Tiefling characters.

It's a real problem with Wizards, it seems: not understanding that, even if their games are not wholly backwards compatible, the camapign settings need some measure of continuity across edition changes and players are going to want to be able to bring their characters with them. Sometimes, I swear it seems like they change small things just to screw with us, on top of trying to reinvent the entire game every five years.
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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by willpell » Wed May 09, 2018 11:23 pm

Havard wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 2:51 pm
willpell wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 10:39 pm
zontoxira wrote:
Mon May 07, 2018 6:58 pm
as well as this prime example
I haven't seen this pic.
Its this one:

Image

-Havard
Right, that's obviously hardcore XXX that we must protect our children from. Thanks for clearing that up. :mrgreen:

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by willpell » Wed May 09, 2018 11:26 pm

FaerieGodfather wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 8:12 pm
I am still cranky that they randomly decided that the Tiefling's 2e Charisma bonus needed to become a Charisma penalty, ruining many previous Tiefling characters.

It's a real problem with Wizards, it seems: not understanding that, even if their games are not wholly backwards compatible, the camapign settings need some measure of continuity across edition changes and players are going to want to be able to bring their characters with them. Sometimes, I swear it seems like they change small things just to screw with us, on top of trying to reinvent the entire game every five years.
This has to do with a very unclear and constantly-shifting definition of what exactly Charisma is. It used to be treated as literally representing your appearance, then it shifted to being more like your personal confidence and ability to project yourself, and finally it's turned into a semi-mystical force which powers sorcerers and warlocks as well as marshals and bards. Constitution has similar issues; an Undead creature ought to have a ton of endurance and stamina, but because Constitution also represents lifeforce, Undead have to have a non-ability there. Wisdom is somewhat confused, and Dexterity is a little bit so. Ultimately, the Attribute system of D&D is showing its age; later games almost always present either fewer or more Attributes, so there are either broader or more specific categories. However, what really matters is not how many Attributes you use, but rather how consistently they are used across the entire game system. And with the amount of bloat and drift that D&D has endured over the decades, it can't really be helped that things get mixed up like this.

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by Zeromaru X » Thu May 10, 2018 1:51 am

In a "Lore you Should Know" podcast about tieflings, they said that one of the big reasons for giving tieflings a new, unified appareance in 4e was for marketing reasons. They wanted people to see a tiefling and recognize it as a character from D&D, something you can't do with 2e tieflings, that look more like generic half-devils from fantasy.

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by night_druid » Thu May 10, 2018 1:58 am

willpell wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 11:23 pm
Right, that's obviously hardcore XXX that we must protect our children from. Thanks for clearing that up. :mrgreen:
More likely the site itself triggered the filter, not that image in particular.
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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by zontoxira » Thu May 10, 2018 12:39 pm

Havard wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 10:18 pm
Great article! That is a fascinating overview of the history of the race.

It is interesting to speculate what was the behind the changes of the Tieflings across editions. It has been speculated that Tieflings, Eladrin and Dragonborn were brought into 4E as core races because they were not part of the SRD and thus could be used to sabotage future SRD based products from 3rd party publishers.

-Havard
Thanks Havard, what you're saying is very interesting. I'd like to see if that was the intention behind the introduction of the afore-mentioned races as core ones.
willpell wrote:
Tue May 08, 2018 10:39 pm
Anyway, there's one big flaw in your article - you say that not much changed from 2E to 3E, but you said that in 2E, they had random traits so they were all different. This has always been a pet peeve of mine - the Tiefling in 3E could be descended from Demons or Devils, but every single one of them speaks Infernal, not Abyssal, and they always have Darkness as an SLA, which makes more sense for Demons than for Devils (remember, Devils can see perfectly in even magical darkness, Demons just have darkvision with the usual 60-foot range and lack of color). Even Races of Destiny didn't change that, at least not in terms of rules.
You're correct. In fact, 3e's tieflings were much unified in their racial abilities, and 4e only standardised their appearance. But, since we're talking fluff and not crunch here, I decided not to mention any of the changes in its abilities/traits. Still, it's something that should not be overlooked, when discussing such things. I may have to edit my post for any references in rules etc.
FaerieGodfather wrote:
Wed May 09, 2018 8:12 pm
I am still cranky that they randomly decided that the Tiefling's 2e Charisma bonus needed to become a Charisma penalty, ruining many previous Tiefling characters.

It's a real problem with Wizards, it seems: not understanding that, even if their games are not wholly backwards compatible, the camapign settings need some measure of continuity across edition changes and players are going to want to be able to bring their characters with them. Sometimes, I swear it seems like they change small things just to screw with us, on top of trying to reinvent the entire game every five years.
To my knowledge, only 3e had them suffer a penalty in Charisma. While in the long term, tieflings benefited from bonuses in their personality, eloquence and leadership, it was these 8+ years of uncharismatic characters we had to deal with. Who knows? Maybe 3e was the teenage years for tieflings. Also, willpell made a good note of the issues with D&D abilities.
Zeromaru X wrote:
Thu May 10, 2018 1:51 am
In a "Lore you Should Know" podcast about tieflings, they said that one of the big reasons for giving tieflings a new, unified appareance in 4e was for marketing reasons. They wanted people to see a tiefling and recognize it as a character from D&D, something you can't do with 2e tieflings, that look more like generic half-devils from fantasy.
In sense, I agree. A social group (or in this case, a racial group) having recognisable features that you can identify with helps you become part of it. It also makes the art direction, which is comprised by a whole team of artists, much easier. It made sense, from a marketing point of view back then, and it seems it still does.
However (getting side-tracked here), unless Havard's speculation is true, the design team could have picked a more iconic (and already unified) race for that edgy character, the drow. Given that the elven race was split into Eladrin (high elves) and Elves (wood elves), I see no reason why not include a third option, Drow (dark elves). What I'm saying is, it looked too risky a marketing strategy to introduce dragonborn and tiefling, two rather unfamiliar races, as core back then. Were there any indications that these two fellas were popular amongst gamers? According to this article, they seem to fare moderately well now, but what about back then?
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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by Zeromaru X » Thu May 10, 2018 7:28 pm

From memory only, back them they started with a mixed reception. Some people believed those were not part of D&D and banned them from their games and critiziced those races. This still happens today, albeit to a lesser degree

Other people welcomed them with open arms, or at least open minds. Over time, dragonborn and 4e tieflings became accepted as they are today. I remember that people even asked WotC to add them to the D&D Next's playtests and stuff.

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Re: Why did it change: Tieflings

Post by willpell » Fri May 11, 2018 8:26 pm

My completely unsourced and unscientific suspicion is that dragonborn and tieflings are "cooler" than elves and dwarves to a young audience, who grew up playing Magic cards or World of Warcraft, and have never read a Tolkien book (or worse, their school forced them to read one and they hated it, because it's a huge amount of extremely dry writing and a lot of people won't be into that even if they choose freely, let alone being compelled). Pushing them forward was almost certainly a marketing effort to create a more distinctively D&D-branded fan community. It sure worked on me.

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