Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part III: Halflings

Oh, Halflings...

A lot of people have some pretty strong ideas and criticisms about Halflings--and most of it valid. The evolution of the D&D Halfling has strayed far from its Tolkien roots.

1. Field Mice and Citizen Soldiers
There are two quotes in the PHB that strike me as interesting regarding the Halfling racial character. First:
The diminutive halflings survive in a world full of larger creatures by avoiding notice or, barring that, avoiding offense. (p. 26)
For them, adventuring is less a career than an opportunity or sometimes a necessity. (p. 27)
This, along with the very pastoral and no-nonsense description found in the flavor text remind me of the romanticized small-town America in the early part of the 20th Century--plain talking, lawful, and pleasant farm folk who are willing to take up a noble cause when it is just to do so. However, there is also a side to them which attempts to remain anonymous. They integrate into other communities as easily as forming their own, often becoming an invisible, but vital, aspect of society. Even urban halflings, cooks and butlers extraordinaire, routinely move around unseen by the taller folk.

2. Subraces
Personally, it has been difficult for me to really get a strong feel for the subraces of halflings. The Lightfoot Halflings are sneakier, chattier, and more prone to wanderlust, while the Stout Halflings are hardier. And that's really all the differentiation in the PHB. The subraces appear to be almost more mechanical bonus options compared to living, breathing cultures.

3. My Halflings
What might differentiate the two is the environment they come from. Shire-based halflings, more rustic and laconic, might fit the traits that the Stout Halflings possess. City halflings mesh up well with the Lightfoot Halflings--the charisma bonus is suitable for members of the service industry and the Naturally Stealthy trait relies on being around tall people, something urban halflings have in far more abundance than their rural counterparts.

For the most part, I don't see much of a reason for Stouts to be out and about in the world unless there is a pressing need. And when they do leave their homes, they do what they need to do and then come home. A Stout who chooses the life of adventure would certainly be a bit scandalous. Lightfeet, on the other hand, could easily be brought on initially as servants of adventurers, evolving into adventurers in their own right and slipping into more mainstream culture. The majority of Lightfeet would probably cock an eyebrow and "tsk" the adventurous halfling, but urban halflings are far more tolerant of this behavior than the Stouts.

On Friday... HUMANS!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part II: Elves

Continuing my look at the assumptions of the world that would exist in D&D's fifth edition, I'm going to look at Elves today.

1. Basic Premise
So, the first sentence of the profile (after the Dragonlance quote) states that "Elves are a magical people of otherworldly grace, living in the world but not entirely part of it." This basic premise of elves has two things to talk about--inherent magicalness (what an awful word, can someone give me a better one?) and detachment from the world.

The first is easily explained thanks to the Fey Ancestry trait. But what does this ancestry entail? Are elves what happen to Fey when they stay away from the Feywild for too long? Are they creations of the Fey? Are they crossbreeds of Fey and something more mundane? Do the elves even know?

The detachment is likely a combination of their unusually long lifespan and their alien nature. I've got some ideas I'll share below.

2. Subraces
So, according to the PHB, there are two subraces of elf--High and Wood Elf (I know Dark Elves are in the book, but fuck those guys. Seriously.). The long story made short is that High Elves are a little more intelligent and inherently magical and Wood Elves are a little more wise and adept at hiding in natural surroundings. I do find it interesting that Grey/Sun Elves and High/Moon Elves were combined into one category of High Elf.

To me, this means that High Elves remain closer to their Fey ancestors and Wood Elves have embraced life outside the Feywild. Which means, in my game, I'll likely make that extra language that High Elves get Sylvan to further strengthen that connection. I've got a few more thoughts on how I will implement elves in my game, but first...

3. Drizzt/Drow Rant
You know how a lot of people hate Dragonlance?
That's how I feel about Drizzt.
First, The Crystal Shard was the first D&D novel I really loved as a kid. I thought it was fantastic. Drizzt was a rad idea, I liked the relationship between Bruenor and Wulfgar, and my exposure to fantasy literature wasn't all that developed, so it didn't seem as tired to me then as it does now. Then Drizzt became the spokesman for the Forgotten Realms and we got oversaturated with him. But what really pissed me off about the Drizztification of D&D is now every single swinging dick gamer wanted to play the "good" evil race. UGH. So yeah, I blame Drizzt for a lot of my annoyance in games. And I liked my Drow mysterious and unknown. Now there is just too much canon out there. And another thing--why do they need to be black-skinned? I'm not going all social justice here, but why should they have such a big target on their back (and face and hands and...)? If I incorporate some kind of Dark Elf into my game, they will be radically different than the ones in D&D canon.

4. Elves in my Game
High Elves. Holding on to their connection to the Feywild, they most certainly have a superiority complex over the rest of the world. Native practitioners of magic, they certainly look down upon the brutish methods the other races use to access the Weave. Bards, sorcerers, and warlocks would be exceedingly rare in High Elf society, Wizards dominating all aspects of magical culture in elven society. The Eldritch Knight and Arcane Trickster paths are very common coming from the High Elf enclaves.

Wood Elves, on the other hand, use very little learned arcane magic. I'm not sure what separated them from the Feywild, but whatever it was it sent them on a path to secrecy and evasion that granted them the Fleet of Foot and Mask of the Wild traits. They will still have spellcasters, but they will be the more native ones--sorcerers, druids, rangers, etc.

Elven culture is isolated into various enclaves--High Elves out of arrogance (and the location's connection to the Feywild), Wood Elves out of paranoia--but the elven wanderlust mentioned in the PHB does bring elves into the world of man. I reckon that High Elves will send people out for a brief stay in short-lived society to keep an eye on them, make sure there is no threat to the enclaves and possibly some appropriation of culture and technology. The High Elves are too busy navelgazing and reminiscing about Fey times to really be doing any of that work themselves. So, a young High Elf might head out for about 20-50 years then return to the enclave for a century or so to process and philosophize about what they learned on walkabout. The elves on this Grand Tour would certainly be living opulently and refusing to do a lot of the heavy lifting for any endeavors they are involved in. While large swaths of the people hold them in similar disdain as they would some of the more foppish nobility, there is a sycophantic group of romantics and opportunists who form their entourages.

Wood Elves, on the other hand, would keep a lower profile when they move around in foreign circles. They would often interact with human society through interlocutors (maybe a human/half-elf order of rangers and druids). The rare Wood Elf adventurer would likely be ranging about looking for some kind of advantage for the Wood Elves, be they allies or maybe an artifact. I just have to suss out what the big threat to the Wood Elves is.

So yeah, elves.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Assumptions of a 5e World: Races, Part I: Subraces and Dwarfs.

So, I've had the 5e Player's Handbook for about two weeks now and I have slowly been getting a feel for it and the world that it implies. I'm going to start with the races, since that's the first thing that the PHB discusses. As always, your feedback is encouraged.

1. Subraces are back!
I am no expert on some editions of D&D, but it seems like every other major iteration of the game either adds in or subtracts out subraces. I don't recall hearing about them before Unearthed Arcana, and they seemed to be gone when 2e came around. 3e brought them back, 4e did away with them. I may be wrong here, but this might be the first PHB that actually has mechanically separated subraces. Personally, I like the idea of subraces. Your low-density races might be more homogenous, but in a D&D-trope-centric world, there are going to be plenty of dwarfs and elves, so it makes sense that there will be substantial differences in culture.

2. Dwarfs
Karkaz Axeshield, representing Mithril Hall Vocational Technical School,
scored his education on a throwing hammer scholarship.
Dwarfs in 5e are certainly your typical grudge-bearing, greedy, god-fearing grumps they always seem to be. They all get to use dwarfy weapons (hammers and axes--and the terrifying thought of THROWING HAMMERS (see the picture to the right)) and have some sort of vocational training. Of note, they don't get an attack bonus against greenskins--which means that a 5e world doesn't necessarily HAVE to have the Dwarf-Greenie conflict.

Hill Dwarfs are wiser and more resilient than Mountain Dwarfs and Mountain Dwarfs are stronger and more armored than Hill Dwarfs. Mountain Dwarfs are also 4" taller, on the average, than Hill Dwarfs.

The assumption I am getting from this is that Mountain Dwarfs have a much more militant society than Hill Dwarfs. I reckon they are on the frontlines of SOME conflict and have a mentality where EVERYONE is a member of the militia when push comes to shove. It could be a siege mentality similar to Israel or maybe an isolationist streak like Switzerland.

Hill Dwarfs have been a little less straightforward than their cousins. I'm seeing them as a more introspective and philosophical than the Mountain Dwarfs, but I'm at a loss to explain the extra hit points. Maybe the outdoor hill living has helped Hill Dwarfs provide a healthier and more balanced diet than the iron rations-chowing Mountain Dwarfs.

So, what I am taking from all of this is that the dwarfs who left the mountains became a little softer and more intellectual than the Spartan dwarfs in the mountains, fighting ancestral foes.

3. My Dwarfs
With all of these assumptions, I am wondering how the different dwarf subraces (to include the Duergar) came to be in my D&D 5e world. Greed and Grudges seem to be the main negative drives of dwarf culture, while family and faith are the positive drives.

Ten thousand years ago, the dwarfs ruled huge swaths of the Underdark, being at the top of the subterranean cultural pyramid. Unfortunately, they grew lax in their homage to the Stone Spirits that gave them their power to rule over the Underdark. One clan's hubris was so powerful that they forswore the Stone Spirits and declared themselves superior over all--even the Gods. The remaining clans, while not as degenerate, hedged their bets, providing lip service to both sides in the conflict, waiting for a clear victor before going all in. This angered the Stone Spirits, who cursed the Dwarfs. The rebel clan became the Duergar and the remaining clans became the Dwarfs we know today, exiled from their great cities to the fringes of the Underdark, closer to the surface. Some of the dwarfs repented their inaction and dedicated themselves to service of the Stone Spirits, hoping one day they will return their calls and prayers. They renounced the greed and hubris that led them to exile and toil in the mountains, hoping to regain a portion of their lost glory. Some of the dwarfs turned their back on the Stone Spirits and the mountains. They settled in the hills and took the gods of man as their own. Fully committed to their greed and lust, they are ruthless merchants, decadent profiteers, traffickers of flesh, and all manners of base commerce.

Next week, I'll try to finish out the Big Four races.