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.