The following conversation went through my mind as I contemplated why races are an additional choice on top of classes. Especially by 3rd edition.
Designers: You can pick what race you are as you determine what your character is.
Consumer: What exactly is a race?
D: its like a species or what kind of creature you are like human, or elf. You pick your race and then class like fighter.
C: Alright what is an elf in the game.
D: Well they are good at using swords, bows and magic and they live in the forest.
C: So all elves are good are good with bows, swords and magic even if they are a fighter or wizard.
D: Well no as a wizard they can still use bows and swords but as a fighter they don't get magic.
C: So not all elves get magic but they are all good with swords not matter what?
D: Yeah its part of their culture.
C: Then what if an elf was raised by humans?
D: The DM could rule you don't get that ability then.
C: So its really just training not what elves are, would he get the human adaptability though?
D: not likely they get so many other things.
C: like what?
D: they can detect secret doors and are better at moving quietly.
C: So now they are rouge like to?
D: no its just part of their racial traits like seeing better in low light conditions.
C: I thought they live in forests, what are they part nocturnal?
D: No they are just good hunters that are in tune with nature and fairies and the trees.
C: ok now they sound like a druid and why do they use steel swords if they are fey like.
D: Well um.. They also have elven mithril but anyway your getting it all mixed up, now their favorit class is wizard.
C: What? Wizard so these elves that are in tune with nature but use steel swords are also spending large chunks of their lives inside libraries and towers studying dusty tomes.
D: That's just one option anyway you can also be a dwarf.
C: Great everyone knows what a dwarf is like, resistant to magic and like to drink right?
D: well that's not in their traits, they are good at fighting giants and working with gems
C: So they are naturally good at fighting giants?
D: Yeah because of their size.
C: So all smaller races are good at fighting giants?
D: Wait no that was changed it is because they train to fight giants and goblins to.
C: So its just training again, what if a human trained against giants.
D: Well there is no giant slaying class although a ranger could train against them.
C: Do dwarves make good rangers?
D: They are best as fighters.
C: So they get bonuses to fighting.
D: No they get a +2 to con that helps but also they are good at stone work.
C: You said gems earlier, so they are biologicaly good with gems and stones?
D: No they are racially good with stones but the gems thing is just part of their craft.
C: This all mostly still sounds like training, what other races are there?
D There is the halfling.
C: The what?
D: Halfling they look like human children and make good thieves, weak but quick.
C: Sounds deceptive and dangerous so I guess no one trusts them.
D: Well they are also diplomatic and friendly.
C: Diplomatic and friendly thieves? I guess they would run the thieves guilds.
D: They are good thieves but they don't have their of civilizations and don't really band together.
C: So they are small and quick and thats about it? what if one was a fighter with an 18 str
D: They could only carry 3.4 as much and would need some adjustments to grappling and hitting and have to pay special prices for armor and their weapons deal less damage.
C: So they can be whatever class but then get additional penalties and adjustments, ok well are they hobbits or something.
D: No there are no hobbits but there are Gnomes.
C: So are gnomes like hobbits?
D: No, but they do have hairy feet like hobbits.
C: and halflings don't then.
D: Well some do we have even go over subraces.
D: yeah not all halflings and dwarves are alike.
C: What about humans?
D: their is only one type of human, we don't want to get racist here.
C (I notice they are white by default to) ok wel tell me about the gnome.
D: They make good illusionists.
C: So if they are wizards they make good specialists.
D: Yes exactly, and they start with spells.
C: just like all other wizards.
D: No I mean all gnomes start with spells.
C: Really even a gnome fighter raised by humans?
D: Yep still starts with spells.
C: Ok so gnomes are a naturaly magic race.
D: and good inventors.
D: They are mechanically inclined as well and have good smelling so they are better at alchemy.
C: Mechanically inclined magic users...
C: What bonuses do they get for it?
D: none but they also train against goblins and giants.
C: ok um big nosed magic users do they get the scent ability.
C: So they have a great sense of smell and fight stinky goblins but dont have scent does it help them spot.
D: No, but they get a +2 to listen
C: Lets just move on
D: ok there is also the Half-Orc.
C: half-orc, do they get along with humans?
D: not really.
D: nope they usualy get abandonded by their parents.
C: but live? ok well tell me about them.
D: They are very strong and brutish
C: sounds intimidating do they get a bonus to cha
D: no they are strong and ugly so we penalized their charisma
C: but its says cha is not just physical looks.
C: and a big strong brutish half-orc is less intimidating then a human
C: So what do they get
D: orc blood and darkvision
C: is that it they are strong but not intimidating and see in the dark.
C: do they learn to be diplomatic.
D: no being half of two races doesnt help them be diplomatic, but it does help the half elf.
C: So the helf elf fits in better.
D: not really the elves look down on half elves.
C: and I bet they get elven blood and not much else. So each of these races is defined by their cultural training and almost not all by their biology.
D: Well yeah each race is a culture.
C: but having more humans cultures in the core book would be bad?
C: and their are no default rules for like a gnome raised by elves in their culture.
C: you know they all kind of seam like humans but with cultural templates that just change stats and training.
D: No not all elves for example live thousands of years longer then humans.
C: so they reach much higher levels?
C: do they level up really slow in game.
C: How was all of this decided upon
D: no one knows for sure but some of it is from older editions, some from random stories and people just guessing and throwing things in, and also legal reasons most likely.
C: and it would be worse to have racial classes.
D: of course because then you couldnt play a halfling barbarian
C: which they still suck at anyway.
D: well they do have favored classes that reduce the multiclassing penalty.
C: but, what don't matter if you stay in one class.
C: what about an elven sorcerer with levels in cleric and warlock.
D: they would have an xp penalty.
C: Even thought they are good at magic
D: yep they are favored class wizard.
C: even though they live in forests
C:this all sounds really complicated how long does character creation take?
D: 30 mins
D: yeah just get opn your computer and run a program.
D: otherwise it would take hours.
C: So what if a charactor dies.
D: on no a good DM will balance all encounters to make sure that doesn't happen.
C: then there is no challang or earning anything in the game.
D: a good DM makes it feal challenging.
C: give me an example.
D: ok skill challenges
C: like what
D: you need to convince the king to listen to you roll a d20 for a diplomacy skill check.
C: that's it 3 hours to make a character who will never die and the challenges are handled by skill checks.
There has to be a better way to do this.