Brave New Worlds II: Non-Human Characters

I haven’t forgotten about my worldbuilding project from a while back, I swear.  I just got distracted by Constantinople and Vampires and Good Old Games having stuff I like for cheap and acting and occasionally doing stuff for money, as is my way.  Such is life.

In other ‘as is my way’ news I have the usual melange of ideas and influences that are all sort of being thrown into a melting pot for a D&D game that I swear I will run one sodding day.  This might just boil down into a ‘what Von thinks is cool this week’ approach to world-building: I am uncertain.  Anyway, non-humans:

  • Goblins.  I’ve obtained a copy of Goblins of Golarion at last and it’s reignited my interest in the revolting little buggers.  At present I am tending towards the idea of goblins/gnomes/kobolds as cultural variants on ‘deformed, bickering magic midgets with a diseased, deranged sense of gallows humour’.

Mechanically speaking, they’ll probably level as per Swords and Wizardry Elves with a lower level cap, and have a racial ability called anima animosity or something like that, which means that goblin bickering is a kind of chaos magic from which improbable things like this happen:

The idea being that one goblin, especially one goblin in a party of other races, is comic relief, but a whole bunch of goblins can out of their constant gibbering and innate magical talents make things that should not be happen.

Here’s another thought: a kobold is a goblin who has turned their back on magic in favour of fighting for Goblinka-jaran, the ‘goblin nation’ (in reality a loose coalition of wandering tribes, some of which have settled and ghettoised in cities and large towns), while a gnome is a goblin who has dedicated themselves to mastering the arts magical and consequently unlocked more of their potential in that area.  Since we have the capacity to model that in the Elf class from Swords and Wizardry, why not?  It adds some depth to the race-as-class model and to the world-setting, so let’s do it.

Furthermore, goblins originate from… somewhere else.  Beyond The Fields We Know.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  Right At The Second Star and Straight On ‘Til Morning.  They travelled into the world by a happy accident and they seem to like it here, but they’ve left holes behind them, which widen and proliferate when summoning spells are cast.  Sometimes people stray through them, or fall into them, and have strange experiences in some vast elsewhere.  This may well be a Cunning Device for dealing with absentee players and syncing up with other Flailsnails worlds if I ever do the ConstantCon thing.

  • The aforementioned lizard-persons, who dwell in the warmer parts of the world.  They are descended from dragons and make a big thing of this lineage, hence ‘draconian’ as the race name (avoids the whole lizard-folk rather than lizard-men because of the lizard-feminists issue, plus ‘draconian’ sounds cool and immediately suggests a Byzantine, bureaucratic hierarchy-and-rules-crazed culture, which is presumably what the Doctor Who team were thinking of when they did the same thing.)

Mine will, however, have a reptilian facial structure, a more forward-sloping build, and vestigial tails and wings, because I am not constrained by either a BBC budget or the dignity and physical limitations of actors.

They are ancestor worshippers, ruled by those lucky souls who have been blessed with more draconic traits than others.  Their various lineages trade with and are well-disposed toward other races but war among themselves at the behest of their feuding masters.

One small group of them has an ’embassy’ (not really, the bloodline has lived there all along, but the warm-bloods don’t really understand draconian legacies and think of the various draconian Caliphates, Emirates and Sultanates as a ‘bloc’ represented by the Everward draconians), which is a glass palace (read ‘giant greenhouse’) atop a dying volcano in a city which may or may not bear resemblances to Edinburgh and may or may not have an actual dragon underneath it.

They go about the streets of such cold places wearing magical heating amulets and swathed in thick garments that give them an ungainly appearance, but in warmer conditions (inside the ’embassy’ and in their preferred climes) they go naked and free, and are far more graceful for it.  They do not understand the concept of ‘clothes for modesty’ – garments are a vulgar necessity for them.  Having naturally tough skin and a predisposition for flexibility means they don’t like to wear armour, although it’s not impossible to craft plates for the parts that don’t need to bend.

Oh, and sexual dimorphism is strong with them.  If STR and CON are both higher than DEX, the character is a female draconian – larger, slower, but tougher.  Male draconians are small, nippy and frequently lower in social status.

  • Sentient undead as part of society.  Roger the GS got me started on this with his thoughts on how spellcasters become liches – it sort of meshes with the Hand and Eye of Vecna (which still haunt my dreams from when I first encountered the D&D system years ago) and with plague doctors and corpse carts and ‘bring out your dead’ taking on a new meaning as a corpse-tax on those living under the lich-god’s protection and strange androgynous women with elaborate coverings over their eyes and cracked, bloodless lips who have been likewise haunting my dreams of late…

(maybe instead of the moustache, which is silly, a kind of Dia de las Muertos thing with the lips going on there)

The point is that I want undeath as a viable and semi-acceptable lifestyle choice in at least part of my campaign world.   I don’t have the foggiest idea how it’s going to work; probably with various undead templates that can be added onto an existing character, altering stats and adding a few situational bonuses and limitations.  Presumably resurrection spells would turn a living character undead…

I also can’t quite decide if I want a world in which client city-states actively pay tithes to a lich god in return for its protection and in which ambitious spellcasters vie for the honour of becoming its apprentice and successor or a world in which this has been the case (paralleling Europe’s Dark Ages) until about three hundred years ago and there are various lich cults competing to bring him back through the medium of sticking bits of him on themselves.  Maybe I should do both, in different nations/regions/continents/whatever?

I’m settling down on a Regency-ised Backsword and Buckler as the base system for human characters, but what about the non-humans?  Here’s my brain splurge on the topic.  The idea is that the different mechanics for each race represent something about How That Race Is: humans have a wide variety of classes, goblins have one extremely flexible and open one, draconians have a tight group of extremely rigid ones.

There will probably be prestige classes available to administrate the development of characters beyond level ten, but those will be for NPCs at first and only for especially long-lived, lucky and legendary heroes in the long run: real ‘beyond the fields we know’ stuff, as discussed previously.

4 thoughts on “Brave New Worlds II: Non-Human Characters

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  1. Possibly stupid question: If living and undead co-exist, how is the population kept at sustainable levels (assuming it is)? Is the world filling up with the Differently Alive, or are mechanisms in place to keep some sort of ‘through traffic’?

    1. Good question! Depends where you are and what kind of undead are involved. There will doubtless be a full post on the topic but the short answer is this: not all undead are permanent, and the numbers of permanent undead are kept low by the expense and rarity of the materials needed to reanimate them (spell components), the difficulty of the sorcerous and surgical procedures of transformation and maintenance (spell level, need for NPC help with procedures), and often the fact that the victim… umm, recipient of the reanimation process must on some level be consenting for sentience to be maintained.

      Outside the shadow of the lich-god, most sentient dead are resurrected adventurers, nobility, senior tradespeople and the guardians of powerful wizards or priests. It’s personal or societal power that keeps them from being a totally ineffective minority.

      Within it, the corpse-tax ensures a steady churn of lesser undead – no more are raised than can be supported and fresh corpses are procured when a skeletal soldier finally gives up its integrity. In times of war, the mobile deceased frequently outnumber the living, and it’s only losses in battle that keep the numbers down. There have, in the past, been other ‘mortocracies’ which attempted to establish a permanent state of undeath for all citizens – eventually they run out of conscripts for the lesser undead and materials for the greater, or become the target of righteous adventurers or neighbouring states who know trouble when they see it. Ruins of these civilisations dot the northern land, haunted by those unfortunate dead who survived their collapse, and it’s largely to prevent that happening that the Regency of Hearth was established. But we’ll get to that later.

  2. Perhaps undeath isn’t the same as immortality. Sure, a noble can buy another couple of hundred years, but he’ll still slowly rot and crumble away. An absolutely horrible and drawn out end – and if no-one remembers to set your spirit free, perhaps centuries of misery as a forgotten skull – part of the bargain of becoming undead. Someone like the Lich-King would have the magic to delay this, perhaps forever, but not your average walking corpse.

    1. Absolutely. Sustaining a state of permanent undeath requires either a lot of magic (there’s a reason there are no non-magic-using liches, after all) or a lot of vitality-draining shenanigans (there’s a reason that non-magic-using sentient undead have some form of energy, characteristic or level drain things going on).

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