Sunday, 12 July 2015

Races of Fold: The Halflings

The halflings presented an interesting challenge. They are by virtue of their race, wonderfully vague, yet present such a strong, solid image.

To break it down; haflings are a small race, which means (stats and ability wise) they receive a bonus to attack rolls and armour class, a large bonus to the Hide skill, a large penalty to grapple checks and can only carry a fraction of the weight a human can (although equipment suitable to their size weighs less as well). This gives a clear indicator of their avergae height and build (no more than 4ft tall realistically), making them look to be human children.

Halflings also receive a +2 bonus to their Dexterity (the measure of agility and coordination), but a -2 penalty to Strength (the measure of physical power), suggesting they're nimble, but comparatively weak next to humans. To me, this suggests a kind of "physical inferiority" when stood next to the 'big folk', almost like they'd rather evade, maybe strike from range, rather than get up close. This is similarly reflected by their further ability; a +1 bonus when using thrown weapons and slings (so things such as javelins, shuriken and darts), but also suggests a preference for simplistic weapons. They also receive a +1 bonus on all saves (Fortitude, Reflex and Will), as well as a further +2 bonus against fear effects; which suggests to me a certain strength of spirit. They also receive a +2 bonus on checks to make Listen, Climb, Jump and Move Silently checks, an acrobatic and stealthy flair to this race. Their short stature also limits their speed to 2/3 that of a human (20ft as opposed to 30ft).
So I have, in my mind, the image of a short, wiry figure, defiantly whirling a sling, loaded with a "bullet"...

Halflings are also described as living nomadic lifestyles, travelling the land in caravan communities, rarely settling for too long. I like the idea of the caravans, but to me it seems impractical. Maybe the halflings have a few sheltered and hidden permanent settlements, farmsteads or rural communities. This makes me want to have them renowned for their culinary skill. This is purely a roleplay application and not a fixed ability; the halflings have an excellent knack for arable farming and cuisine, using herbs and spices and unusual ingredients to make masterpieces of food. It's joked amongst some races that halflings would actually be as big as humans for the amount they eat, were it not for how active they are.

But I digress... Why are the halflings the way they are? Semi-nomadic and agile little gypsy-folk with a penchant for stealth. The halflings of Fold weren't always a cheery, vivacious race.

They originate in the Age of Gods, created by a cruel, dark deity who favoured a ruthless and tyrannical human empire. Derived from human essence and, as a joke, made small and weak and given simian and feline traits to make them "laughably adorable", so that they could be a slave race to their imperial oppressors. Belittlingly referring to them as "halflings", the humans set about forcing them to work in horrendous conditions and allowed them few rights beyond being penned in together in walled and guarded slums. Living as kitchen servants, dogsbodies and novelties at banquets they were treated entirely as chattel.
The humans, however, were not expecting that through either a twist of fate, or the capricious machinations of their cruel patron, for the wee folk to have a strength of spirit greater than the human template they came from. Living in squalour, performing back breaking tasks, the halflings endured, finding comfort in their communities and using what freedom they had to create games throwing stones and performing acrobatics. Ironically, their human masters always forced them to be quick and quiet, attentive and nimble; often requiring them to shimmy up buttresses and the likes to complete tasks, the feline and simian elements woven into their nature helping greatly. Over time, though, new generations were born and grew restless and weary of the servitude.
Legend and lore both speak of dissidence rising within their slums across the empire, and of two firebrands rallying the camps around them, somehow managing to sneak between them all to spread their messages. One approached the families, espousing the virtues of togetherness and unity, encouraging strength in numbers. The other spoke out to the individual and spoke of self-empowerment, encouraging independence and cunning as well as underhanded tactics. They were Yondalla and Dallah Thaun, respectively, their ideals and spirits to this day forming the basis of halfling faiths. Yondalla is the very public side of halfling religion, the one known to the wider world, while Dallah Thaun is kept as something of a secret, her priesthood and their spies operating in shadow... Some even argue that the two women were actually one and the same, and that this "dual nature" has become intrinsic to halfling culture.
Needless to say, the halflings began to rise up, and strike back against their masters, their skill with acrobatics and shadowy movements suddenly becoming incredibly fruitful, and their surprising facility with seemingly innocuous slings and stones made their sudden uprising all the more successful. Their strength of spirit and fearlessness taxed the spells of the empire's magical adepts to their limits. Legend tells that the empire crumbled after losing the halflings, though, with the events of Godfall, these claims are impossible to prove.

Now, the halflings live free and unchained, forming hidden cities in wooded hills and highlands. Their buildings are hidden up the trees, where they climb and leap with ease and grace, the ground below home to their farms and plantations and any workshops and large kitchens that would be hazardous higher up in the trees. Frequent caravans move between halfling communities and those of big folk, allowing trade and even adventure to the wee folk, for they are possessed of a spirit that makes them itch for experience, as well as security.

Halflings are very short, ranging from 2'10" to 3'4" for males, 2'8" to 3'2" for females and they rarely weigh more than 40lbs in weight, and are considered "adults" by age 20. From a distance they could be mistaken for skinny human children, but up close the differences are apparent. Their ears are slightly larger than a human's would be, and pointed at the top, and seem able to move independently. They possess slender, long fingers, a great advantage for grasping handholds when climbing. Their faces bear a slightly endearing simian cast, with a suggestion of a muzzle and small, button nose, and when they grin they show sizable (but wholly harmless) canines. The most striking feature of their faces is their eyes, which are invariably catlike, in various hues of green, yellow and gold. Their hair is usually in shades of chestnut brown or rich auburn, with a few examples of coppery or gingery strains showing in some communities, and they prefer to style themselves in a practical manner. The other unusual feature of halflings are their feet, which are oddly tough and resilient, often requiring them to completely eschew footwear, or opting for such accessories that lack soles and allow their toes to be free. Their unusual feet also possess a big toe that is opposable, like a thumb, while their other toes are relatively long, flexible and strong, another sign of their simian traits, and an indicator as to why they're often skilled climbers.

Halfling fashions frequently make use of cotton and linen, as well as the wool sheared from their favoured beasts of burden, the sheeplike brixashulty, and are often made into hard-wearing and practical items. Pockets, padding/quilting and useful loops are commonplace, enabling them to carry items such as tools, coinpurses and the likes. Leather and hide is often used as well. Most clothes are kept in neutral, earthy tones, including various umber and ochre shades. Finery is often a little more vibrant, using reds, purples, blues and even oranges and pinks, should the dyes be available. Such clothing is often fanciful and decorated beautifully. Finery is always kept for celebrations and holidays, as their day-to-day life working or adventuring doesn't call for such things.

While halflings do settle into some of the larger multiracial communities, and become part of the day-to-day goings on, it is still noticable when a halfling caravan comes to town, with an influx of trade, resources and temporary offers of workers. Halflings are always willing to work and be helpful, but only if there is a fair return for it, either in pay or trade, and halflings rail against indentured service and slave labour. A happy halfling is a hard worker, but a maligned one is liable to be trouble. If halflings are unhappy things often go missing, or buildings are broken into with nothing taken, or with items moved around.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Races of Fold: The Kobolds

For some context: Within Dungeons and Dragons, Kobolds are one of the weakest humanoid races presented in the books. Over the years, they've become something of a joke as DMs use them as a low-level minion creature to throw at beginning characters. They rarely become a credible threat, or even seem "playable" for a character. Books were published that gave the kobolds some absolutely amazing fluff and character, as well as some options to make aspects of them seem playable (which are highly abusable if one chooses to attempt optimisation). I wanted to make the kobolds seem a lot more playable and balanced in my setting, as before they had very little in the way of abilities and suffered a massive -4 penalty to their strength score. The alterations to their stats have generally received positive feedback as being solid and playable without breaking any sense of power balance.

For some background on the origins of kobolds: 

The dragons of Fold are a formidable force; their motives often inscrutable to anyone except another dragon, and their power matching and sometimes surpassing the Titans and the giants of old. Their skill in arcane spellcraft and their sheer physical might in battle are both unquestionable. They hold ancient lore and hoard vast collections of treasure. The only thing keeping their numbers in check is their in-fighting; almost bred into them from being hatched in large clutches who must then conquer their clutchmates to survive. Their frequent use of an ability to adopt a humanoid form has led to them producing dozens of humanoids gifted with their innately magical bloodlines and is theorised to be one of the sources of sorcerous ability in many races.
One race, however, claims that it is directly descended from dragons, and professes supreme sorcerous power because of it... Much to the dismay of many dragons. They are the kobolds, small, wiry reptilian humanoids found in two environments; temperate hills, filled with cave systems and tunnels that link to the deeper world within Fold, and the searing deserts of the Wastes. Kobold communities are a genuine commune, where everyone contributes and wyrmlings are raised by the collective adults, and all are led by a chieftain, almost exclusively a sorcerer of some power. Kobold chieftains run their tribes with the advice of their selected council; these advisors are often priests, artisans and the occasional sorcerer, something between a rival and a protegé of the chief; their aim is to replace the chief, but also to learn their secrets. Kobold artisans have a strange reputation for making items of exacting quality, but never making them in a particularly exquisite fashion; as a race, they hold utility and function above form and decoration.

Kobolds in general possess a paranoid and suspicious outlook on the world, which is reflected in the preferred "artform" of both the mountain and desert races; traps. Kobold traps are simultaneously ingenious, simplistic and barbaric, and often rely on something heavier than a kobold to be triggered (meaning they rarely have to worry about their own traps). Due to their insular nature, kobolds have incredibly tight-knit communities and are rarely seen outside of their territories, those few that are seen frequently are either designated envoys, or exiles. Exiles will sometimes find employ in the mines of other races, or possibly as "security experts". These so-called security experts are either used to test the defenses of mansions, palaces and tombs, or to provide the 'security'. While they aren't seen as being anywhere near as savage as the orcs, or possessing the reputation of the goblinoids, kobolds are rarely found in the same numbers or in positions that grant them prestige or high regard. Kobolds will rarely cause trouble in a community, and if exiled will often "adapt" and try to blend in, feeling the need to recreate the sense of community they're used to, though some will be incredibly withdrawn and will cling to the ways of their people.

Mountain Kobolds

The "Mountain kobolds" have claimed an existence in the mineral rich mountains just below the freezing Northlands, where their underground mines and tunnels maintain a warmth from the earth itself. Being a cold-blooded race, they tend to avoid moving to the surface unless necessary, such as when they need to hunt or maybe trade some of their mineral wealth. While dwarves are unmatched in their skill of working with stone and metal, kobolds are supremely diligent in their efforts to mine the materials; even a wyrmling is trained to hold and swing a pickaxe. Kobolds are quite a xenophobic race, and while willing to trade for supplies and riches (they share their ancestors' love of pretty baubles and coins) they avoid other races as much as possible, even cruelly dispatching trespassers, unwitting or otherwise. Their fear and paranoia has led them to lay numerous traps within their tunnels, to the point where trapmaking is an artform. Should the traps fail, or if no other option is available, a kobold will fight tooth and nail (literally) to defend its home, but a kobold understands that its size and relative weakness will do it no merit when pitted against larger beings. Kobolds make up for their size by fighting with guile, and with large numbers; a kobold community will often band together to drive off intruders.
Mountain kobolds are small, rarely exceeding 3ft in height, and rarely, if ever, weigh more than 50lbs. Their scaly hide (called squamae) is strangely velvety, though bumpy and comes in various shades of orange and tan, often mottled with greys and browns. Their heads are broad at the back, but lead to a narrower snout. Their typically green or yellowish eyes are large and slightly protuberant, and the orbits are topped with six bony projections. Kobolds are a primarily nocturnal race, and coupled with their subterranean life, this has led them to eschew the sun almost completely; a kobold out in the mountain sun is at a disadvantage. A kobold's mouth is a considerable part of its skull and contains many sharp, needlelike teeth, and a slightly stretchy tongue which grants them a surprisingly powerful bite, should they need it. Another feature of the kobold anatomy are the surprisingly resilient claws on their hands and feet, as well as unusually textured pads that seem to provide an almost indescribable ability to find purchase on tunnel and cavern walls.

Kobolds dress in utilitarian, hard-wearing clothing; for them work and toil is part of everyday life and ostentation and finery is to be left for special celebrations. Non-kobolds find it near impossible to differentiate between male and female kobolds when they're dressed in their 'work clothes'. In a typical community kobold priests will lead their community in worship of Tiamat, the now ascended and cosmically-empowered "goddess" and forebear of the chromatic dragons, proclaiming her the great progenitor of their race. Unlike most venerators of the Queen of Scalykind, kobolds don't make aggressive attempts at conquest and plunder, believing their diligent digging and harvesting of the earth is a fitting tribute of claiming wealth in her name.

  • Ability adjustments: -2 Strength, +4 Dexterity, -2 Constitution.
  • Race: Humanoid (Reptilian, Dragonblood)
  • Speed: 30ft land speed, 20ft climb speed.
  • Size: Small.
  • Darkvision 90ft.
  • Light sensitivty: Mountain kobolds are dazzled in bright sunlight or within the radius of a daylight spell.
  • +1 natural armour bonus to AC.
  • Kobolds gain two claw attacks (1d4) and one secondary bite attack (1d4).
  • Kobolds gain a +4 racial bonus on Craft (trapmaking) checks. Craft (trapmaking) is considered to be a class skill for kobolds.
  • Kobolds receive a +2 racial bonus on Profession (Miner) and Search checks. Mountain kobolds receive a +8 racial bonus on Climb checks and may always "Take 10", even when rushed or threatened. A kobold may use its Dexterity modifier on Climb checks instead of its Strength modifier.
  • Kobolds are proficient with light and heavy picks. Kobolds can also treat greatpicks as martial weapons.
  • Automatic languages: Draconic.
  • Bonus languages: Common, Undercommon.
  • Favoured class: Sorcerer.

Desert Kobolds

Within the scorching sands of the great Wastes surrounding the nations Kashia and Denfise, the land is scoured for water and the remaining relics of the ancient and collapsed human empire that lived there. Between the hazards set by the terrain and climate, explorers, nomads and adventurers are often beset by beasts of the sands, all seeking to slake their thirst, but there lies a less obvious threat; the desert kobolds. Through sheer luck of reptilian physiology, kobolds seemed oddly well-adapted to the desert lifestyle; they need heat to maintain a number of bodily functions and their incredibly efficient usage of energy and water means they don't need to eat or drink anywhere near as much as a human, or even a gnome or halfling. Desert kobolds live within the foothills and badlands of the Waste but, unlike their temperate cousins, they don't live underground as predominantly. As such, their ability to see in the dark is lessened, but they aren't as hindered by the sun. Their society is largely similar, but they are less inclined to dig for riches, often choosing to waylay travellers and caravans for their riches instead. This is less a sign of being braver or less paranoid, but more an indication of a slightly more foolhardy nature, possibly even a stronger connection to the avaricious nature of many dragons. That said, these kobolds also have something of a knack for finding food and water in the desert, and can often be encouraged to aid other races in exchange for gold, jewels and similar items, though their skill pales somewhat when compared to the ability of the goblinoid bhukas.
Desert kobolds are stockier than their mountain analogues and have a much rougher looking and slightly spiked squamae, and bear a strong resemblance to some of the desert species of agamids. Their heads are flatter and broader, with similar spiky protusions to their mountain cousins above their eyes, which are smaller and less prominent. Their mouths and claws are just as dangerous though. Their hide is usually a sandy colour, though stony greys and beiges are often mottled or marbled through it, with some individuals possessing flashes of vibrant earthy reds, oranges or yellows and their eyes are often shades of yellow or brown-green. Desert kobolds have the unusual ability to flex their muscles and skin in a way that makes the rougher and more spiny edges of their hide stand prominent. This is presumably some kind of defense mechanism against larger predators snatching them up, and often utilised as such.

Desert kobolds do not share the mountain kobolds' cultural bent for mining, and as such do not train in the use of a pickaxe, but do possess the same affinity for traps, owing to a similar xenophobia. Desert kobolds are also cunning and wily enough to utilise the landscape against their foes, understanding the terrain and flora of their homeland as few others do. Traps used by the desert tribes often involve the terrain features either as a natural trap, or as a way to make their victims more likely to hit their devices.

  • Ability adjustments: -2 Strength, +2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom.
  • Race: Humanoid (Reptilian, Dragonblood)
  • Speed: 30ft.
  • Size: Small.
  • Darkvision 60ft.
  • +1 natural armour bonus to AC.
  • Natural attacks: Two claws (1d4) and one secondary bite (1d4).
  • Kobolds receive a +4 racial bonus on Craft (trapmaking) checks. Craft (trapmaking) is always a class skill for kobolds.
  • Kobolds receive a +2 racial bonus on Climb, Search and Survival checks. Kobolds can use their Dexterity modifier instead of their Strength modifier on Climb checks.
  • When grappled by an opponent at least two sizes larger, a desert kobold can make a touch attack against the opponent grappling them as a standard action. If the attack succeeds they deal 1d6 points of piercing damage.
  • Automatic languages: Draconic.
  • Bonus languages: Common, Undercommon.
  • Favoured class: Rogue.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The Races of Fold: Dwarves as Player Characters

Honestly, I swear I'll post about other races at some point.

I've discussed how orcs fit into the setting, mostly because of how they're a "new" race. The dwarves haven't varied from the PHB in anything other than terms of appearence and some fluff, but I still think they need a 'breakdown', so that you can see how I feel they fit into the base classes.

The dwarven peoples generally have a lawful mindset, and the ferocity and chaotic bent of the barbarian doesn't mesh well with society as a whole. That said, dwarves are innately tough and able to perform certain acts that other races can't. Dwarven armies might utilise the rare barbarian as a "berserker shock troop."

Dwarves often find dealing with members of other races and/or societies difficult due to their brusque and guarded nature, so following the path of the bard is uncommon. When they do follow the calling of the bard, dwarves often act as historians and genealogists; acting as caretakers of their people's ancient lore and heritage. Dwarves often favour poetry and similar sagas, while their music frequently uses metal horns, drums and instruments like bagpipes and the occasional zither.

Dwarven religion mostly centres around worshipping the spirits of ancestors, as well as paying tribute to the elemental forces of fire and earth. Often, organised worship is led by the priests and clerics of 'the Forge Father', an ideal used to cover all the aspects of dwarven faith. Dwarven clerics are often teachers and tutors to dwarven children from all walks of life, with the more scholarly focused on academia and the less scholarly teaching various practical skills. In battle, dwarven clerics will focus on spells to improve weapons and armour, or even ones that replicate or replace them. Clerics are often found working forges and workshops, creating fine arms and armour, as well as more magical fare.

With the lack of naturally occurring woodlands in the tunnels and mountain caverns often called home by the dwarves, a druid might seem like an odd fit. While rare, they're not unheard of, and are often acting as informal wardens of the natural spaces on the edges of dwarven settlements; preventing either one from encroaching on the other too much.

This is the favoured class for dwarves. Their movement speed isn't reduced by armour, and they gain proficiency with some exotic dwarven weapons. Their natural toughness and the degree of resistance to poisons and spells means they're not entirely undefended either. Dwarven fighters are likely to be military specialists, or sometimes scions of noble houses acting as a representative of that family's might. Dwarven fighters often drill in a number of tactics, especially fighting as a unit and/or in confined spaces.

While it may seem an unusual choice, some monks flourish under the discipline and routine of a monastic lifestyle, so much so that some dwarves have attended surface race monasteries and abbeys, and returned to their people bringing the ideals and methods with them, establishing their own monastery in dwarven lands. Dwarves benefit from the heightened speed, ability to slow a fall and numerous resistances offered by the path of the monk.

Like the monk, the paladin's sense of duty, honour and discipline is a potent lure to some dwarves. Paladins of the Forge Father will often act as guardians, driving back evil monstrosities that threaten a dwarven city, and the families within. Some dwarves may struggle utilising a special mount, though, due to the confined spaces of their underground realm, and their shortcomings with general charisma will impact on some of their abilities as well.

As the druid suffers from a lack of "wilderness", as surfacers would view it, so to does the ranger somewhat. Not existing as "wardens of the woodlands", rangers exist in dwarven society as trackers, scouts and "specialists". Their emnity with certain races makes choices for their 'favoured enemy' ability obvious, especially with the races they receive bonuses against.

Rogue seems like another odd choice for a dwarf; their lack of maneuverability and slow speed make them unsuited for the nimble sneak. But their skill with stone and metal, and innate sense of anywhere it seems "unusual", makes them seem very well suited to a more mechanically-minded rogue. The resistance to poison might even make them more viable in other fields as well...

The biggest pitfall for dwarves as sorcerers is the charisma penalty they suffer, as this will likely limit the power of the spells they can cast, but it is possible for a sorcerer to utilise spells that don't entirely rely on this attribute. Spells manipulating earth and metal are often popular. Dwarven sorcerers are liable to become hermits, as they are an unusual occurence, and often differ greatly from their brethren.

Dwarven wizards are often scholars and advisors in noble courts. They may not track and record history, but they will consult it. They often work alongside clerics as scholars and crafters, creating items that the clerics cannot. Most dwarven scrolls are crafted by these mages. As with clerics and sorcerers, spells commanding fire, earth and enhacing or mimicing weapons and armour are commonplace.

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Races of Fold: Orcs as player characters.

Having now covered two races within my world, I wanted to take a moment and look at how the orcs fit into the eleven classes within the Player's Handbook.

This is the favoured class of orcs. The barbarian class plays to the strengths of the race; quite literally their increased physical strength. Their ferocious nature, toughness and often reckless nature meshes quite neatly with how a barbarian usually works.

Orc bards are uncommon, but not unheard of. Their low intellect often makes them struggle with lore and fact-finding, but their oral tradition is noted, and frequently orc bards have composed evocative poems, sagas and even ballads. Orc performers in larger settlements will often grab attention as something of a novelty, but prove they have the ability to go with it. Orc music often uses horns, drums and bone flutes.

Orc clerics are often worshippers of Gruumsh or D'zl. Those who follow Gruumsh merit strength and battle prowess above all else, frequently using spells to improve those qualities in themselves and their allies. D'zl priests are often direct and destructive, utilising spells that manipulate fire as often as possible. Orcs are unlike to follow a more scholarly path as clerics, owing to the clerics place in society as spiritual leaders, which frequently dictates a much more hands on role.

The history of the orcs as being tribal nomads in the wilderness means that few are surprised by the existence of orc druids. True survivors, orc druids can survive out in the wilds for great lengths of time and make excellent scouts, scavengers and hunters.

Almost as popular and common as orc barbarians is the orc fighter, marrying physical strength with skill-at-arms, instead of unbridled rage. An orc's training with the "double axe" opens up a number of options for orc fighters to pursue, as well as taking advantage of their strength.

Monastic orcs are a rare sight, owing to the race's tendency towards chaos, but the odd few find themselves drawn to the monk's path of physical perfection and self-sufficiency. While they may struggle with the discipline, orcs often find the rigours of the ascetic lifestyle easier to adopt owing to their wilderness origins.

Similarly, orcs are rarely paladins, as they chafe under the strict code. That said, some find glory and honour (something many orcs desire) in taking up the mantle and seeking to prove themselves stronger than evil. While many orders will think twice before recruiting an orc, those who accept them learn the value of having a strong, determined adherent like an orc.

The orcs' background means that the ranger's path isn't a stretch of the imagination; combat prowess, minor magics and survivalist skills are all things that would serve a wandering orc tribe well. Many orc rangers favour the use of the two weapon fighting style, often using their race's signature weapon, and surprising many foes who just assume them to be simple warriors using a weapon that seems unwieldy.

The biggest obstacle for an orc as a rogue is their relatively limited intellect; limiting how skilful they can be, and limiting how effective some of their skills will be (such as disabling traps). Conversely, it is this very challenge that makes orc rogues effective; nobody expects these hulking savages to be stealthy or cunning.

Few expect orcs to wield arcane powers, but the innate power of the sorcerer can occur in almost any race, and orcs are no exception. They often favour spells that are destructive and/or enhance their already prodigous strength. With the right training, an orc "battle sorcerer" could be a fearsome opponent indeed.

Few orcs are capable of reading or writing, and most struggle with some of the more basic aspects of scholastic pursuits. Taking on the life of a wizard is a huge challenge for an orc, as they need a focused, orderly mind and a capacity for reason and study that many of them lack. The few that overcome this shortcoming find they're often underestimated in how much of a threat they are; similar to rogues and sorcerers.

The Races of Fold: The Orcs



Orcs were a tricky one. They have such an iconic place as "the evil villain's mook henchmen", and as "savage humanoid X". Here are the three most notable examples of orcs in existing fiction.

In Lord of the Rings (the origin of 'orcs'), they're the savage foot soldiers of the dark lord Sauron; a degenerate, yet technologically "advanced" race supposedly derived from corrupted elves, who represent a spreading, malignant force of darkness seeking to overrun the world.
 In the Warcraft series of games, the orcs first appeared as an invading race of hulking marauders, hellbent on conquering the world of Azeroth. However, they came from the bizarre, alien world of Draenor, and were whipped into their frenzied state by demonic forces, and with the corruption lifted, they showed signs of returning to their native attitude; proud, noble (but savage) warriors, with a shamanic bent.
In the Warhammer series (specifically the grimdark future of the 41st millenium) the "Orks" are an aggressive, brutish race of marauders, who frequently head out on "Waaaaghs"; an unruly blend of a pub crawl, interplanetary brawl and Jihad. Their trademark ability is an innate psychic power that almost bends reality to their will in bizarre ways; such as red paint making vehicles move faster and meaning that their ramshackle, bodged technology actually works for them (for example; a human using an orc gun has a slim chance of it firing, an orc using the same gun will make it fire consistently... but only if he yells "DAKKA DAKKA DAKKA!" whilst doing so.)

Within D&D, they're often portrayed in a similar manner to Lord of the Rings; savage raiders often under the thrall of a demon or evil mage; or sometimes just a raiding party under the command of a chieftain. They're represented, in the terms of their abilities, as cave-dwelling (darkvision with a light sensitivity) with great strength, but reduced intelligence, wisdom and charisma. This almost immediately places them in the roles of melee combatants, and discouraging them away from spellcasting roles. Obviously, this isn't set in stone, they can be spellcasters, but they will be handicapped in comparison to other races. In the Eberron campaign setting (Yes, I know I keep harping on about it), the orcs mostly exist in wildernesses, forests and marshes and the likes, and historically were instrumental in defending Eberron from the invasion of the Daelkyr and the Quori (nightmare beings from another plane of existence). The orcs are the originators of a druidic sect known as the Gatekeepers, who helped banish some of the nightmare beings and seal Dal Quor away from "reality". The remaining orc tribes are highly shamanic, living at peace with the wilderness, and are often protecting it from the marauding "Valenar" elves. I personally love this reversal of archetypes, and while I want something like this, I don't want to rip it off completely.

Since I picked up D&D 3.5 edition around nine-ten years ago, I have often felt that the orc/half-orc was beaten with the short end of the stick, and was woefully sub-par in comparison with the other races. Hopefully my setting's version will give them something of a boost.
With the removal of half-orcs from my setting, this left me wanting to place my orcs in their stead, so I wanted them to feel more like a playable race, as would be found in the Player's Handbook. These 'common' races get a +2 to one stat and a -2 to another, a bonus to certain skills, a bonus to resist something and then a collection of individual skills relating to the race. For example, the dwarves have +2 Constitution (the measure of their health and hardiness) but a -2 to Charisma (the measure of their personality and social grace), and they're slower (but never slowed by heavy loads or weighty armour) whilst receiving bonuses to resist poisons and spells, and gain bonuses to skills relating to analysing and working with metals, their unique ability is "stonecunning" which grants them the ability to detect unusual stonework (hidden doors, traps et cetera); this paints the image of the hardy warrior and industrious worker the dwarves are famed for in fantasy. So, I had to think about how to make the orcs follow this template; what image do they need to portray?

I wanted my orcs to be big and strong, a genuine icon of physical might. But how do I offset this? Are they slower and/or clumsier (this would fit the musclebound dolt idea)? Are they weak-willed and rash (easily manipulated and controlled)? I settled on making them "stupid" by comparison, giving them a +2 bonus on Strength and a -2 penalty to Intelligence (the measure of their skilfulness and ability to reason); essentially casting them in the role of "big, dumb guy". Obviously this doesn't need to manifest as the thicky who speaks in the third person or some sort of pidgin language, but could be portrayed as someone who is a little more direct in their approaches to obstacles. My orcs are big, hulking figures, standing upwards of 6' and weighing up to over 300lbs, with females standing about 6" shorter and up to 50lb lighter. Their skin is a warty hide, varying between green-grey and brown-grey, with mid-greys being the most common tone. Their eyes are small and dark (often described as "piggy"), and are usually shades of hazel, brown or yellow, and peer out from under a heavy brow which slopes over a domed head. Their vision isn't terrible, comparable to a humans, but they do possess the ability to see in the dark, much as a dwarf does. Orcs are frequently bald, but have sparse hairs over their body, with females having a tendency to having hair upon their heads. Completing their ferocious appearance is a powerful jaw and underbite, leading to a narrow chin; their jaw also holds large teeth and two prominent tusks. The whole image of an orc is somewhere between some kind of simian and a brutish porcine creature. An orc's strong jaw muscles, and large teeth aid it in being able to chew and swallow almost any organic matter (including the odd bit of soil and rock), which their intense stomach acid will often break down into digestible nutrients. Scholars theorise that the ancestors of the orcs were some kind of scavenger species, and to this day, the race are still able to survive on almost any food and are highly resistant to spoiled, contaminated and even toxic foodstuffs.

Orcs are from a barbaric, tribal culture, grown from eons of living as savage hunter-gatherers in the wilds of the world. They gather around campfires and share tales of great deeds and mighty hunts; emulating heroes and warriors who either slaughtered or overtook rival tribes and conquered territory for their tribes. The greatest warrior spoken of in orcish oral tradition is "Gruumsh". A hnandful of theologians argue as to whether Gruumsh was a real person, a conglomerate of ideals and people or even one of the lost gods. Orc tales of him vary, but some key facts remain; he lost an eye in battle with an elven lord, he waged war with the elves trying to claim the forests, his warband were exiled from their home by dwarves and he was a mighty and noble, albeit savage, warlord. Some believe the legends of the elves and the dwarves are simply an excuse by the orcs to pursue aggression against these races, as they occupy the two terrain types that the orcs favour; mountains and woodlands. Since the start of the great industrial revolution, and the subsequent turmoil in which nation's have clashed over designs and advancements, orcs were being left behind by the other races as they didn't share the need for progress or the drive to develop; they were content in their ways. When humans began using orc territories as outposts, even building fortifications, the orcs stepped in and retaliated. One particularly heated battle resulted in the human construction being completely levelled. Rather than being angered, the human leaders saw a potentially formidable force, and approached the orcs more diplomatically, offering them baubles and trinkets in exchange for fighting for them. The orcs agreed, though it is uncertain if they did it for the baubles or simply for a love of violence, and as time passed, they became used more widely as "berserker units" in armies, as well as bodyguards and, stranger still, saboteurs, owing to their unexplained facility with breaking objects. To this day, orcs are often welcome in groups of adventurers and tomb raiders purely for their ability to break open doors and chests, as well as being used as bodyguards and even thugs. Even in a world where dwarves are prized as being hardy, determined fighters, hobgoblins are disciplined and martially trained from youth and warforged offer a unique toughness and relentlessness, the image of an orc bodyguard or mercenary group still conjures an image of ferocity and power. Orcs are a highly intimidating people, and often practice "being scary", regardless of their occupational calling, as a means of getting their way; and often, the stronger and more physically imposing an orc is, the better he is at it.

Outside of their "employment" in the modern societies of Fold, orcs still live in semi-tribal groups; gatherings of extended families and clans, often within slum districts of a city. This is not to say that no orc is rich, it is just rare to see one living as a noble would; they share their wealth with their immediate family first, then the rest of their community second. Orc communities are led by the strongest, toughest and sometimes meanest member, and while merit is proved through strength, they recognise that without their community, they wouldn't be as strong. Often, this "chief" will be advised by something akin to an elder, or a shaman, often a druid, or sometimes a cleric, in the veneration of Gruumsh, and sometimes in the lesser "religion"; D'zl. The worship of Gruumsh's 'divine spirit' revolves around strength and power; to excel, one must prove he is the biggest, baddest he is. Orcish rituals held under Gruumsh's name are often little more than glorified riots and attempts to claim more of a settlement as part of the "orcslum"; fortunately these festivals are a rare occurence. Truly devout, and often zealous, worshippers of Gruumsh will put out one of their eyes in homage to the warrior, and in some cases this leads to the orc unlocking previously untapped abilities, and it is believed that these individuals carry the blood of Gruumsh in their veins. The worship of D'zl on the other hand is often seen as a more peaceful tradition... Relatively speaking. D'zl is chronicled as being some kind of progenitor of orcish ingenuity and artifice, which is to say, their ability to disassemble things and attempt to rebuild them. Orcs are not crafters, but often try to rebuild things, especially if it could benefit them, and as a result of their slight mental hindrance, the final product is often ramshackle and/or dangerous. Orc buildings, while sturdy, are rarely pretty, and their attempts at much more complex items, such as clocks, steam engines and firearms, are prone to malfunction... And explosions. D'zl, according to legend, stole numerous technical designs and taught the orcs to build them and "improvements" and even stole the dwarven designs for an internal combustion engine in the distant past. Given how recent the industrialisation has occurred, some doubt the veracity of these legends, but don't doubt that facets of them are true. D'zl, as a religion and/or idolised figure, seems to revel in destruction and chaotic accidents; orcish demolition crews often ask for the blessing of D'zl before beginning work, and consider themselves to have "been ignored" if something isn't on fire by the end of the working day. That said, D'zl is not used as an excuse for rampant, anarchic destruction; every act of destruction must be balanced by, or at least pave the way for, creation or progress, but is still seen as a chaotic faith. As Gruumsh worshippers are seen as traditionalist, and D'zl devotees are more progressive, it is rare that they will work cooperatively, and many see a true union of orcs as a warning sign that something akin to the hordes of marauders and barbarians is going to recur.

  • Attribute adjustments: +2 Strength, -2 Intelligence;.
  • Race: Humanoid (Orc)
  • Speed: 30ft
  • Size: Medium
  • Darkvision 60ft
  • Weapon Familiarity: Orcs can treat Orc Double Axes as a martial weapon.
  • Orcs treat Intimidate as a class skill. At 1st level an orc may choose to apply their Str modifier to Intimidate checks instead of their Cha modifier. This choice cannot be changed after 1st level.
  • Orcs receive a +2 racial bonus on saving throws against ingested poisons and diseases contracted though consumption of spoiled, contaminated or 'disease-causing' foods. Orcs can also be fully nourished by spoiled/inedible foods and by most organic matter.
  • Orcs receive a +2 racial bonus on Str checks made to break objects and on attack rolls made to Sunder objects. This bonus also applies on Str checks to break out of bonds.
  • Automatic Languages: Orc, Common
  • Bonus Languages: Goblin, Giant, Dwarf, Gnoll
  • Favoured class: Barbarian

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Races of Fold: Dwarven Subraces

Sorry it's been a while; since the last post I've lost the use of my laptop (leaving me with a laggy old desktop) and moved house as well. Step's are being taken to restore the laptop and I've just acquired a new desktop!

Last entry covered the dwarves. This time, I'll look at the 'subraces' of the dwarves.

Subraces can be a bit of a contentious issue amongst players. Some supplements give a subrace for almost any environment or reason! I want to limit the spread of subraces for my setting, providing either an environmental reason for the subrace, or maybe even a cultural one. The dwarven subraces are the Dream Dwarves and the Dvergar (aka the Duergar or Grey Dwarves).

 The Dream Dwarves aren't so much a seperate race as 'mutant offspring'. The majority of the dwarven race choose not to speculate on the origins of these births, welcoming them as auspicious. Somehow, dream dwarves hold a closer bond to the Elemental Earth than other dwarves.Dream dwarves all 'touch' upon a great subconscious presence referred to as the earth dream; a powerful force, though it is not restricted to just their subrace alone. In dream dwarves this connection manifests, physically, as slightly more mineral tones in their skin, hair and eyes, in other respects it manifests as less of a focus on the 'earthly crafts' and combat training, followed by their kin, and more consideration of philosophical matters. Dream dwarves reflexes and general agility are lower than those of their brethren, but they are generally better in matters of interpersonal relations, and are gifted in matters of diplomacy when dealing with "earth" creatures (such as some elementals and Outsiders). Upon first impressions they may seem withdrawn, but they are more often than not they are just reserved, choosing their words and time to speak carefully. Their philosophical bent also manifests as a seemingly innate facility with magic of the Divination school, also reflecting their thirst for (and love of) knowledge and lore. Dream dwarves are, more often than not, followers of druidic practises, becoming advisors on spiritual and natural matters in their communities, though some may feel drawn to other roles (such as priests, arcanists or even follow a martial path). It has also been recorded that dream dwarves are capable of seeing ethereal beings, just a clearly as they would any other material being, but can differentiate between them easily. Aside from a few minor cosmetic differences, the dream dwarves are largely physically and culturally identical to the 'prime race'.

The Dvergar are a tricky area. Less of a subrace, practically a seperate race in their own rights, the 'grey dwarves' are a grim, aggressive and hateful race with a superiority complex and a murderous streak. Some scholars believe the dvergar to have been the original race created by the ancient giants, to act as subterranean servants, their size allowing them to go where giants may not. Certainly, some of their abilities attest to this, as their ability to see in the dark is greater than that of their cousins, but comes at the cost of reduced sight in stronger illumination, and they certainly carry the innate dwarven ability to sense unusual minerals, but are also seemingly immune to poisons and paralysing effects; something frequently used by subterranean terrors. Dvergar are possessed of innate 'psionic' abilities as well, specifically those of invisibility and 'expansion'; being able to grow their body to giant proportions, and fortunately their usage of these is limited and temporary, but suggests a link to the older world, when magic was still 'young'. The giants used the dvergar to find and extract rare, precious and powerful minerals and metals from the depths of Fold, and had them produce weapons and artefacts of great power, that fell into the pages of legend as weapons of the Gods and their ilk, but few legends tell of anything other than 'the grey ones who forged'. The dvergar grew hateful of others, but highly conceited in their abilities, and delved further and further underground. Some stayed nearer the surface and began becoming more and more like the dwarves known today, while the dvergar became more and more twisted and insular. In the depths of the world, their society gathered round the figure of 'the Deep Queen', their religion touting the power of their race, but crushing their joy and individuality. The race became bizarrely prideful and encouraged individuals to excel, but not to differ from the socially accepted norm; being different practically makes a dvergar one of the lesser races. In their home in the Deepworld, the dvergar hardly encounter other races, other than the drow (dark elves), with whom they contest vast tracts of territories, or sometimes ally with to overrun other regions. Physically, dvergar are slightly leaner in build than 'mountain dwarves', with visibly corded muscles, from lives spent in tireless toil, but generally about the same height and weight. Their skin is, unsurprisingly, grey; which ranges from stony to ashen, and their eyes are universally a dull amber colour. The barbels possessed by the dvergar are longer and thinner, adding a much more alien appearence to the race, not aided by their tendency to keep themselves completely bald (and those who do have hair never grow any on the tops of their heads.)

So there we have the two prominent dwarven subraces. More updates will come soon as I continue to move my files across and get back into writing this up semi-coherently.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Races of Fold: The Dwarves

Previously I spoke briefly about the basics of the races of D&D. Now, I wanted to do something special with my setting; I wanted to keep the races familiar, but with a twist. Something to make them stand out, but not wanting it to feel arbitrarily tacked on in an attempt to shoehorn interestingness into them.

The dwarves presented an interesting challenge, as they are such a stalwart fantasy race, with such an established image, and this whole stigma attached to them of being obsessed with beards, axes, gold and beer; it's arguable that many games have existed where an axe-wielding dwarven warrior who is immensely proud of his facial hair and almost constantly drunk has been the centre of attention at the table. Now, I'm not saying I don't like the idea of the dwarven warrior with his axe; it's one of those iconic images (harking back to Gimli from The Lord of the Rings), but it doesn't have to define the race. I'm not against them having a cultural relationship with beer or gold, but again; do they need to define the race? I think what I'm railing against so much is the "race of hats" ideology that crops up in sci-fi and fantasy so often. Again, referencing Eberron, they included this idea that the "Dragonmarked House Kundarak", the Dwarven Dragonmarked house, was in charge of banks and loans and finances (and associated security) within the continent of Khorvaire. I like this idea that dwarves are involved in accounting, and it may be something I incorporate.

So, what do I think are important aspects of the dwarven race, considering the abilities they're given in D&D? First and foremost; they're granted an increased Constitution (the value by which their health, hardiness and physical fortitude are measured) but a decreased Charisma (the value by which their interpersonal skills and force of personality are measured), suggesting physical toughness, but a guarded, brusque or blunt manner. Despite being smaller than humans and as such, slower, they're not slowed by heavier armour or loads, and they are given "darkvision" the ability to see in black and white in dark environments, which ties into the concept of them living underground, and as such, I see this as possibly the most important aspect of the dwarven race. They live underground, but why? There are ancient eldritch horrors and cruel humanoid races in the depths of Fold... Perhaps they evolved to where they are from an earlier lifeform? In connection to my world's creation story (more on this later), dwarves are derived from giants; specifically bred to be smaller without sacrificing too much strength, to venture into the deepest caverns to mine ore for the giants, which brings me to the next point; they have this affinity for working stone and metal, even the ability to detect unusual stone workings (such as hidden stone doors, stone-based traps etc.) and can even determine how deep underground they are as easily as a human can tell which way 'up' is. I went about thinking 'How do they do this? What kind of biological advantage would provide this kind of "sixth sense"?' This lead me to thinking about about fish, who have sensory receptors that detect electrical fields of other creatures in the water, and the barbels (the fleshy whiskers) on some species of bottom-feeding fish, such as catfish and the plecostomus species, and how these sometimes appear as a moustache and/or beard on these creatures. Plus I'd been watching a lot of Farscape at the time... And as such, my dwarves lost the iconic beard and gained barbels (tipped with some hairs), which grant them the ability to notice subtle changes in electromagnetic fields, even granting their own minor magnetic field (which can explain their racial bonus to resisting certain spell effects). And there we have it, we have the appearance of my dwarves. Though, this is still in its R&D stages, and being refined as a visual.

Now, culture, where to take this? The "planet of hats" preconception for dwarves is one of a race of loutish, blunt, beer-swilling, bearded brawlers with a severe hatred of goblins. Now, the D&D 3.5e sourcebook "Races of Stone", goes into some detail concerning dwarven culture and psychology, but I know not every D&D player will either own or have read this fully. Suffice to say, the entries regarding the dwarves have inspired some thoughts. First, I want to focus on their underground life, and how this would affect a society. First and foremost; clothing, without access to flax for linen, cotton plants and probably sheep fleeces, they're very limited in terms of materials. Races of Stone posits the use of underground roots and similar plants, probably leading to hardy but rough and uncomfortable articles, and also the use of fungi to make a kind of silk, which I find a little far-fetched (even for fantasy), however, I've no doubt that underground there is a plentiful supply of cocoon-spinning grubs from which silk could be derived, as well as the cured or tanned hides of various beings, such as reptiles and moles. Clothing would ostensibly be practical and hard-wearing, as an underground lifestyle would lead to a neglect of finery (dark, possibly damp conditions, potential hazards that would damage such items), probably sticking to muted earth tones, and colours that matched the type of stone they live near.
Second, I want to touch on the 'boozing' aspect of dwarven culture; I'm not saying that I don't agree with the idea of them being fond of drinking regularly, but it shouldn't be the defining characteristic. Also, where does an underground race get malted barley and hops from? As such, I turned to a throwaway gag from Dragon Age: Origins, made when Oghren the dwarf berserker you meet tells you about how much he loves surfacer beer, marveling at beer made from wheat, commenting on how beer in Orzammar (a grand dwarven city) is made from fungus. Beers, wines and spirits made from fungi, molds and subterranean plants all the way, and in a culture that drinks to celebrate another day ending, which leads to my next idea.
The dwarves are a race of dichotomies; they're immensely serious and prideful workers but as soon as the working day is over they like to unwind in large social groups, with communal bathhouses. They're also incredibly withdrawn around strangers or outsiders, but share openly with close family and friends, making them strangely gregarious and sociable, but they are oddly guarded about themselves as a result of their lack of personal privacy. And, either because of these close familial bonds, or the bonds resulted from this, the dwarves place a lot of honour on veneration of your ancestral line, and the 'collective' ancestral concept of the Forge Father, a deified figure connected to their love of crafting and the protection of the home; telling of the dwarves' lack of any traditional kind of god, even before Godfall. Dwarven homes are often, but not always, a married or bonded couple working in tandem, with one living as a breadwinner and the other as 'homekeeper', but this isn't exclusively a male-female divide. The breadwinner will often be working in the forges or mines, or as a warrior or sage, while the homekeeper obviously maintains the home (seen as an honourable deed owing to the cultural emphasis on family) but is also in charge of finances. No household has two breadwinners, for that is the highest taboo. Dwarven education is often undertaken by the homekeeper, but is also publically provided by the clergy in their communities, as well as some scholars and genealogists (frequently Bards and Archivists), and sometimes even Wizards and Druids.
Dwarven weapon selections are unusual given their underground lives. The favoured weapons of warriors are various kinds of axe, though spears are sometimes preferred. Axes are typically seen as tools for chopping wood, and require space to swing, so would be unsuitable in confined tunnels, which is where spears can be more useful. That said, the caverns beneath the surface are often vast and spacious, and one weapon overcomes this; the urgrosh, a combined axe and spear. Hammers are seen as a little more sensible, being favoured by their Clerics and priests, something of a metaphor in their positions as teachers, as hammers are tools frequently used by carvers, sculptors and smiths.

In dwarven society, life is regimented into 'classes'. I will admit now, I have taken a lot of inspiration from Dragon Age for this, as while the dwarves in this were visually very dull (short humans with big noses), their culture fascinated me. In Dragon Age, the dwarves are born into their caste (Noble, Merchant, Warrior, Smith, Scholar, Casteless and Surfacer) and their children share their caste. If a Warrior were to marry a Noble and produce a child, the child would share the caste of the parent with the same sex (Noble mother, Noble daughter, etc). I wanted something similar, but different for my dwarves. There's a caste system, in that certain jobs and professions are regarded more highly than others. There is no caste that is seen as being 'scum' or worthless; everyone has a place within society.

The dwarves weren't actually seen by humans until a century or two into the Age of Mortals, and not until some exploration into the subterranean caverns of the world unearthed giant statues with an abstract and highly geometric interpretation of bearded, stout humanoids. Further expeditions revealed vistas and cities designed in a similar fashion, from the very stone itself, before eventually the first contact was made. Initial reports listed dwarves as being bearded, hence numerous jokes regarding facial hair as opposed to their actual barbels. Now, they are frequently found on the surface, usually as industrial workers, traveling merchants, mercenaries or 'guards-for-hire' or representatives of dwarven trade families.