Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hex Reassignment Surgery: Humanoids, assembled!

Right now I'm still reading the Blackmarsh hex list. It's interesting to note that the material looks pretty sandbox-y to me on the surface, but actually has some story baked right in.

Today I'm looking at races and making notes on how to use them. Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque takes an approach that I think is interesting:

"Since my campaign setting is humans-only for the player characters, I tend to associate each human-like race with a fear linked to the human condition; that is, each demi-human race represents some problematic aspect of mankind that we like to pretend doesn't exist."

So, I'm making a list of things that will help me keep towards the uncanny side of demi-humans. Its intended to be a kind of quick-n-dirty reference to remind me what I'm aiming for when I use or re-skin demi-humans from the Blackmarsh source. I intend to "lump" some of these together and so they are listed together.

Dwarvesthe fear of Avarice
Dwarves should always have a price. One that is high, strange, and inflexible. Dwarves should always have the most unique gear and / or services that can be crafted and bought. Dwarves will always insist on being paid in the clearest of terms. They should be blunt to the point of rudeness about what they will and won't do; do and don't want etc. Dwarves should also behave as though their greed is normal. They will expect those they interact with to have a price, and will want to know what that is. Graft and nepotism are expected...then you'd want to run their societies kind of Roman. Patrons, and favors and bribes, and obsessions. They might be kind of Hanseatic, or Mafioso...I'm not sure. The entire race should be in some sort of protracted war against another non-human race over a failure to pay a debt. These are the folk who created the idea of interest as a thing that accumulates, they may have invented money too.

Drow, Eladrin & Elves:  fear of Decadence, Alien-ness, & Chaos
My first lumped group, and one of the more problematic demi-human races for me personally. I don't really like fantasy elves of any stripe, its just a problem I have. I like that Jack has removed the color coding from his elves, so I'm keeping that and renaming them all Faeries until I come up with something better. Every Elf, Nixie, Sprite, and Mermaid in the Backmarsh source needs to be filtered as I go. That shouldn't be hard to do because one of the stories baked into the setting has to do with Elves and where they stand on the idea that they have the right to govern the other races. That can be spun in a gothic way, right?

Where you find a Faerie will tell you a lot about them. If they are rustic, they might be Elves; urbane and social, possibly Drow; aloof and hermit-like...maybe Eladrin. Fey should have a modestly knowable set of logical operators. They should keep their word (perhaps strictly), have long memories, and have a hard time relating to shorter-lived races. They should not use magic, but rather be magical. They should distribute boons and curses frequently per the TotGaD source.

My list from before applies here. Making them weird and unique will be necessary as they have a large part of the Blackmarsh back story, and I might get bored with them if I don't lean into the challenge.

Giants, Trolls, & Ogres fear of inebriation, the abject, & cannibalism
Two words for you...Troll Hunter. There is plenty of swamp in Blackmarsh and plenty of Trolls in the TotGaD Compendiums. A broad selection of Troll-ish goodness lets me have good, old-fashioned monster fun times. I like that Jack gives Trolls a kind of antipathy. Their nearness assaults the mind and drives out reason. They curdle milk, and pollute clear streams of water. They rage through the countryside and consume mass quantities. If they do talk, they talk of the greatest meals they've ever had (or the bravest people, or the most valuable item) and may be goaded and tricked easily. This includes Hags though, too so don't get too triumphant there, Finn McCool.

Gnollsfear of Animality
Maybe it was all the He-Man and Thundercats in my early days, but Hyena / Jackal dudes are completely rad. They should attack in packs, have alphas, and be red in tooth and claw. Anytime you start to put a wolf encounter in, change it to a Gnoll encounter instead. Gnolls are often linked to slaving in D&D...who are they taking people to? They don't keep them.

Gnomesfear of the Unheimlich
If used correctly, the players should assume the Gnome in question is a kind of representation of Satan. Maybe there's only The Gnome, and it serves some similar cosmological role as the adversary / tempter. Rows and rows of shark-like teeth is a great image to use to startle and disarm. They should offer great power at a terrible price, or seemingly easy solutions to tough problems.

Goblins & Koboldsfear of science run amok & misrule
Basically Gremlins. They should spawn like crazy, die in droves and be mostly reptilian...keep the "dog head" for extra strangeness if you like. Should be known for eating the flesh of Humans, diabolically-trapped warrens, dangerous war machines, weird magical automatons (made of what: wood? bronze?), and unexpected explosions. Their leaders should be a major cut above, with ageless shamans and wizards maintaining enough organization to keep the Man-flesh supply steady. Goblin as a name has a lot of baggage attached to it for me, so I will probably use Kobold in its place. "Kobolds ate my baby!"

Halflingsfear of place
What happens to a Human when they have no hope? What does it look like when they succumb to the mundanity of life? Hobbits. Thats the answer. Over time, Humans can literally shrink as their spirit of independence withers and they become a caricature of the free-willed individual they were once. Halflings, are therefore mundane in every outward aspect and sinister in every interior manner. Interactions with them should be a kind of "hey this could be you, if you'd settled down and started pig farming..." or "Damn, down-and-out is really down and out..."They might be used as a kind of house-fairy analogue as well...the ones you leave little gifts for in hopes they don't ruin your life. They should certainly be a kind of gleeful parasite on human societies.

Orcsfear of savagery
Bred for war, but by whom? Everywhere you find a Faerie who does not want to get its hands dirty, or whatever...there will be an Orc. Guards, brutes & enforcers. Orcs without masters leave the "civilized" areas and wind up with even more sinister masters. TotGaD has them listed as a created race, so there may not be any sexual dimorphism. Being created raises lots of interesting questions. How do you control them? Can they be commanded to do anything other than delight in savagery? What vile rituals and ingredients come together to create them? 

Tieflingsfear of racial degeneration
Caliban & Half-bloods. Interbreeding rarely goes well, and there are dark, corrupting forces out there everywhere. Curses, diabolic-pacts, and magical mutations are just a few ways you could wind up with a messed up humanoid. I personally don't like Tieflings (see Elves above) so I wont be using them in the strictest sense. Maybe some cultists and sorcerers have to hide their forked tongues, and file their horns down...thats fine. What I'm thinking of is more along the lines of Mike's Half-Elves. Setting aside the willfully mutated, I want some slice of half-blooded freaks to be victims, or innocents. That might be too Quasimodo...I don't know.

That's everything I have that overlaps between what I want in the game, whats in Blackmarsh, and what Jack has written. I'm resisting the urge to kitchen sink a whole bunch more monsters. Snake-men, for example, make an appearance in any game that I run (...too much V: The Final Battle for me as a kid...) My counter-argument to myself being that any more 'monsters' should be unique rather than assumed as a 'species' ... which serves my ethic of trying to fight the Vanilla Fantasy Creep.