Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Demihuman Race-Class in B/X

Toucha toucha toucha touch me...
Real grabber of a title, innit?

So I'm not married to a Tolkeinesque racial makeup for my fantasy. I built Arcis Enumre as I did because I wanted to do cool crap with the book as off-the-shelf. Make it my own but also instantly recognizable to anybody else who has read these rules, jah? And I've no specific mandate zat only ze core classes may be used!!! Hell, I've got about a dozen custom classes. Of those, I've got a bunch of straight class variants, a gnome I quite like, the idiotic robots from She-Ra, Mario bad guys, a Crocman...

Here's something I notice looking at a lot of the race-as-class options in FLAILSNAILS or custom races in Pathfinder or 4e or whatever: they lean a lot more in animalistic or elemental directions than they do the directions of your elfs, dwarfs, or halfings. That is, they're less exaggerated versions of humanity's strengths and weaknesses whose assigned attributes overlap with more than one normal, human class, and more like a horse with human thumbs, or a lizard with human thumbs, or a frog with human thumbs, or an always-on-fire-guy with human thumbs.

Why is that?

It's the company these races keep, in part, I think. Weird amalgamations of human and animal features make up most mythological horrors and therefore most of the monster sections in these books. Orcs are hoglike berserkers but distinct from wereboars and devil swine, and kobolds are doglike lizardmen but distinct from lizardmen and theoretical dogmen, who, one imagines, must be distinct from werewolves. Elemental forces, both unliving constructs and living hybrid weirdos, also put in a strong showing, and the rest are various fungi that nature says fuck you with or else they're dead things.

I mean obviously all of these creatures are inherently a bit silly, and a seventh kind of goblin is a bit silly, too. And they're not really more silly than a Shyguy, I'd contend. Biscuit eating masters of shoeless stealth who are extra lucky are not an inherently more serious concept than "guys in masks with spears," it's just a question of association.

And just as obviously we like to humanize and anthropomorphize everything around us, from streetlights to mirrors to rocks to cats to hurricanes. Eastern mythology plays a lot into my default image of fantasy and it's a series of stories filled with animalist figures. There's plenty of room for everyone, right?

Why then do I keep feeling like the other direction is the more profitable one?

It's this method of modeling a game like Savage Worlds encourages in its race building, modeling extremes of behavior and concocting a society around that standard. I like this approach a lot and it's where my mind goes with demihumans for the most part. Well, apart from that Crocman class, but there were other motivating factors there.

I've been thinking about this a lot because I just ripped up some Pathfinder notes for a game I was planning on running. I'm going to do it B/X now, allowing my Arcis Enumre creations and a couple others I'm going to churn out in the next couple of weeks. I'd really like to get a bit more creative racial options on the table but...what in hell do you do? Just play Mad Libs and make a ____-Man? Or does one exaggerate masculinity or femininity, or pick a theme of seven deadly sins, or virtues? Or could a single individual inform an entire demihuman race in the way that Bilbo (who defined Frodo and Sam and the others and therefore all hobbits who matter) defined the D&D halfling?

Could a race of Nixons be worth investigating?

One thing I do know is that I've got my imaginary little world here pretty well kitted out to the gills. I've got some odd options but mostly when I need a spot on the map for an enlightened philosopher kingdom I use...humans. When I need a backwards suspicious zealot kingdom I use humans, too. Humans are surprisingly versatile when it comes to making villains, as evidenced by all of history and most fiction. My players will fight dragons, balrogs, gods, kraken, and liches and so on. The one place they never ever want to venture again is Klort, kingdom of the shit-burning, skullfucking, baby-eating barbarian culture. They could give a fuck about orcs or gnolls because what's a gnoll going to do to you that skullfucking you and eating your baby won't also accomplish? A mechanical fear effect? Fuck that, I've got a real live fear effect at the table.

So any option has to fit at least one of these criteria...
  1. They must be unobtrusive enough that I can drop them into the world without redrawing the maps. They can populate communities in the fringe.
  2. They must give me a specific and alien option outside of what I've set up for my existing geopolitical makeup but which I can't as easily replicate by just making another human kingdom.
  3. They need enough unique positives and negatives that I can't just use human stats, or Crocman stats for that matter, and change a thing or two.

I've got an idea for something along these lines. We'll see how it shapes up.