Monday, March 25, 2019

Svart Alf Dwarf Elf, Part 1

In the common parlance of the kingdoms of day in the sunset realms, dwarves are stubby but sturdy underground-dwelling folk, and elves are haughty and aloof tree-huggers with pointy ears. Both are rare and a bit weird, but not TOO different from humans at the end of the day.

That's because they are human-adjacent beings, on the borders of humanity but not removed. They mainly exist because they are in the BFRPG book and new players expect them to exist after reading through the book. I don't actively encourage players to play as elves, dwarves, or halflings, but the sky is broad enough to encompass them and I do take an approach where the setting has familiar starting points before it veers off into madness, so this is another lengthy setting document that will, alas, likely be far more useful to me than to you.

If you want to play a cool beauty,
Or at least someone who thinks they're a cool beauty
mysterious and much better looking than the average medieval peasant, with keen senses and fast reflexes, elves are the go to. They have slow but efficient metabolisms, slight frames, and feel cool to the touch. Elves are cool-headed, and do not panic as humans do when caught between flight-or-flight adrenal crises. They do not sweat, and so to manage body heat they tend to rely on cool baths after the battle or race or whatever, which is often misinterpreted as them being obsessive about cleanliness. They barely age, due to a superior elemental contract where their bodies are not taxed as severely as humans are for hosting non-elemental souls, and instead of relying on any external being or collective religion to support an afterlife, their souls reincarnate into new (soulless) elf babies after said baby is washed in a Lunar Mirror, a name for a body of enchanted water from the days of the 3rd sun. It is questionable if new elf souls can even be created at this point, or if it's all recycling. Elf cities(what few remain in the age of the 5th sun) exist for the sole sake of fortifying these soul-pools and keeping their existence secret and safe, and ensuring that no elf finds themselves inadvertently drawn into the Iron Moon after death. Their cities also exist to identify reincarnated High Elves and either contain them, either creating an illusion of continued elvish superiority and world domination to keep the Alf distracted and happy, or keeping them in formidable prison-dungeons that human treasure hunters inaccurately identify as magical item vaults ripe for audacious heists. Elves who leave their cities often decide to do so out of disillusionment with their single-minded, isolationist societies, and are willing to risk death, or more specifically, willing to risk reincarnating into the Iron Moon, for the sake of their own lives, or perhaps for the sake of some ideology spawned within the elven city. Some have no city or Lunar Mirror, and live in the wild as hermits or loose tribal units, untethered, for better or worse, from the chill and stagnant glory of elvish civilization.

They can see in the dark, but only in the kingdoms of day where true darkness is far away. Many elves who enter the moonlands are shocked by this development and feel a closer kinship with humans when faced with truly alien life-forms, out there in the dark... though they can still see by starlight. They are immune to the paralyzing touch of ghouls and infection from the Grinning Plague, but willing cannibalism will cause them to develop into ghasts. They lose 1hp if they force themselves to touch or speak to something really ugly, and elves with positive charisma modifiers are a bit Alfish and lose 1hp when touching iron. They do not have stat limitations, as is standard for all species, but otherwise are read-as-written.

Half-Elves and Quarter-Elves and 'Oh yeah I'm totally one thirteenth Elf' people exist and though they have varying degrees of pointy ears, slender bones, and small pores, they only 'count as elven' to other elves if their souls are drawn to Lunar Mirrors, and then after their first reincarnation they'll be pure-strain elf, but with a human cultural background. Due to the whole reincarnation thing, elves don't really go in for hereditary inheritance, but aren't above hijacking human inheritances that way and replacing hothead human political leaders with more cool-headed (and pointy-eared) elvish ones if that would avoid war.

To human visitor(for humans are not allowed to live in elf cities), an elf city is quiet, clean, stable and beautiful, but also unsettling, like a museum of a city. Elves lost a very high-intensity war against the Witch-Queens or the High Alves(depending on whose side they took) two whole suns ago, and they are still worn out by it, still remembering the wild excesses of sorcerous combat and the exiling of the High Elves to the Iron Moon, still dealing with the occasional reincarnated High Elf megalomaniac. Humans have forgotten, and elves have forgiven(not the megalomaniac high elves tho), and so the elves remain isolationist, keeping birth rates staggeringly low and carefully managing their environment to serve them in case of further calamity. Any conflict that would require mass mobilization is a conflict they will quietly defer from, and those who press the conflict to their gates will be met with a hail of elf-shot heavy enough to dissuade all but the stupidest would-be conquerors, and kill the stupid ones outright. Most Elves would prefer to simply outlive mortal problems while they concentrate on the eternal problems of the corrupted High Elves and the cycle of Suns and Moons.

not gonna lie I included this mainly for that lovely cartoony donkey
If being ashort, wide, gruff, grizzled, no-nonsense human just isn't good enough, there are dwarves. They hail from the mountains of Mercia, and have long held a relationship with humans as a societal bedrock, where their long lives temper ambition from corrupting their tenets (at least on a human timescale) and dwarf society provides a constant backdrop to the roiling strife and eternal war of human society. Nigh-unassailable cavern fortresses, open to humanity in times of peace and locked implacably shut in times of war, retain vast stone libraries of information and hoards of goods and materials, the carefully curated and chosen contents offered out piecemeal to humans. There are two main pieces of tech the dwarves work to keep a monopoly on- clockwork, and gunpowder. Saresare, the perpetual rival of Mercia, has no dwarves, and as such Saresaren alchemists have developed gunpowder and dwarves have not been able to suppress the proliferation of the technology outside of Mercia.

Dwarves tend to be impatient with humans, and you must realize, from the point of view of a single dwarf(though not quite as immortal as elves, dwarves mostly just get rockier, not decrepit with age), humans are a gibbering horde of morons who undermine their own efforts constantly and are too short-lived to learn valuable lessons or ever truly master a profession. Unlike elves, who are typically isolationist and willfully ignorant of human society, a dwarf will see every step of their social engineering efforts wasted as crowns pass innumerable hands until they are sold as curios from a dead nation, a nation a dwarf probably outlived. Nonetheless, they soldier on, trying to forge the bad iron of humanity into a straight bar of steel, for the kingdoms of day are human-dominated, and for all their faults, humans are easier to get along with than the madness of the moonlands or the deep, dark earth. Some dwarves resent this simultaneously patronizing but servile role in relation to Mercian human society and leave, while dwarves who try to stay but do not conform to the rigid life in the underground are banished.

While humans surge and fall like the tide, dwarf society is crumbling from the bottom up, the darkness of the deep earth gnawing at their roots as it did their progenitors. Their subterranean cities tend to be half abandoned, with forgotten dangers in the lower levels that have been festering since the days when elves ruled the world. This is not well known to outsiders, but it is not a secret, it simply isn't talked about outside of grim and impossible quests to reclaim the lower levels from the dark. The dwarves are, so to speak, caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to choosing whether to live above the ground or below it, unable to shape human society to their satisfaction but lacking the ability to stand against the deep dark forever.

Dwarves do not technically see in the dark. They love fire, and glowing bugs, and eerie phosphorescent mushrooms, but in the absence of these things, they learn to navigate like bats via echoes of clicking tongues or tapping picks, callused but exquisitely sensitive hands tracing the stone, and to fight like this, though they prefer to have flame. This does not work well except in enclosed spaces. Dwarves do not like weapons- a tool that can only be used to kill is a tool that is a waste of space and iron 99% of the time. Dwarves also do not like ranged weapons- their subterranean hunts are very different from chasing a deer through thickets in the wilderness, and in the close quarters of the underground, even throwing weapons are a risky business. What a dwarf does like is a good trap. Bear traps, deadfalls, nooses and snares, caltrops. All very easy to set up with a bit of time and an almost assured path the enemy must travel. They can even automate and time traps with their clockwork contraptions ticking away in the darkness. Dwarves name their gear that they've had for more than one session out of a combination of code-efficiency and sentimental hoarder attachment, and lose 1hp if they lose a named piece of equipment.
This is not a dwarf city. A dwarf city looks like the inside of a very cramped dungeon room with some dwarf-runes informing you whose house/workstation you're inside, because dwarves don't have empty space for the sake of empty space.
To a human visitor, a Dwarf city is cramped, smoky, undersized, and impossible to navigate naturally. They are often given lodgings in a large cavern to give them a break from the claustrophobia, and,are rarely told that caverns are weak points in dwarf defenses, bubbles of old chaos in the earth, at odds with an orderly and regimented maze of tunnels. The only thing a human visitor is likely to enjoy are the mysterious mechanisms(usually clockwork) that pump water, move elevators, and keep air circulating. These mechanisms are also commonly retrofitted into deadly traps if the fortress is compromised.

The Beast Islands have little people living on them. They are the most like humans, simply shorter and more resistant to exotic ailments that are so common on the Beast Islands. Humans believe they shrunk to fit their small islands like the pygmy beasts and minimals so often found on the islands, while halflings believe it is humans who grew huge and clumsy when they found their way to the mainland from some lost island home in forgotten times. Some halflings adhering to this theory often call humans 'hugemans.' It is patently obvious to halflings and dwarves that they have nothing in common, though ignorant humans may confuse the two.
If you're playing as a human child, you may as well just use the halfling 'race.' The only difference is that you won't have any island-specific traits that a halfling would (low-light vision out to 30' being a common trait of Moonlander halflings).

Apart from a tendency towards individual halfling islands being a pastiche of whatever form of government I've read about most recently, I pretty much treat halflings as humans, just with frayed nerves from everything being bigger than they.

no, not this

True/High Elves, or Alfs, or Fey, have souls derived from the nameless and forgotten First Sun, self modified via the sorcerous Third Sun that begat the lesser Elves, then warped by exposure to a mote of True Darkness that brought about the end of their world-spanning civilization, combined with the revolt of the 'lesser bipeds.' Elven ruins scatter the moonlands, filled with bizarre wonders and terrors and things you recognize from legends only in how they aren't like the legends after all.
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You can think of them as Elves+, beautiful enough to make people go blind, more graceful than a cat, able to pick up a spell after seeing it cast once, with dance moves for combat and an unbridgeable cultural gap between them and mortal races. 99.9% of them are sealed away in the rusting hulk of the Iron Moon, where they plot escape and create new servitor races in the crumbling darkness. Each one is like elf Lex Luthor or something, hardly a unified species, just a bunch of immortal supervillains all nursing old, old grudges.

Unable to produce new elven souls after the Iron Moon debacle, they have swelled their ranks with the Fey, servitor creatures spun out of shadow and dream that are better suited for escaping the Moon. Fairies are actually spells. Goblins have no name, and their shapes are ill-defined save for being wretched, humanoid, and shadowy. If they can steal a name, they'll become much more real and human. Hmmm, best not to think too hard on that, eh? Moving on to Ogres, the muscle of the bunch, you get tough bastards who can turn into anything they've eaten, of a size of anything they've eaten. It's these 3 types of Fey you see most commonly in the trenches and ravines the massive chain of the Iron Moon digs into the earth as it wanders the sky, trying their dimwitted best to usurp the realms of men and usher back in the age of the Elves.

The original Dwarves, or Svarts, have souls indirectly derived from Yg-A, the undersun, and an accompanying greed that cements their true nature as dragon-kin. They are stone statues with bellies of fire, and must work constantly to balance the composition of their forms with the nature of the flame within, lest they hatch into a Dragon, or fade away into a lifeless statue (or more disturbingly for delvers in the Veins of the Earth, an almost lifeless and very hungry statue). They eat gems and gold and ore to gain experience, and flammable materials (especially alcohol) to fuel their inner flames. They also can devour light itself to fuel those flames, either from torches or souls. Their civilization is a thousand years broken, their deep ruins haunted by Grues and worse, their people lapsed into quiet dormancy. The last two great works of the Svarts were the Iron Moon, to contain the madness the Alfs fell to, and the Dwarves, who were instilled with soulfire of the 3rd sun, not the voracious 2nd Sun Yg-A, but not overcoming, their more fleshy sunlit forms. They fed upon light, but were consumed by darkness. Some are still born from the flaming wombs of the earth, stalactites dripping from the ceiling of magma chambers and forming a Svart instead of a Stalagmite. But they are born alone, and likely to succumb to the terrors of the deep earth before meeting another of their kind. Some Svarts live amongst Dwarves as semi-captive curios, each typically unaware of the other's true nature.

Preemptive link to Part II, in which I stop waffling on and on about ancient made up history and start waffling on and on about 'race as class' and possibly Ningen and Ghouls as well
Or maybe not, after all

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Meta-class: Secret Badass

This is not a 100% serious post. But it's not 100% unserious either. It is 100% a shallow exhortation to go watch Thunderbolt Fantasy though.

There's a trope in fiction of the god in disguise walking among mortals, or the ancient kung-fu master in disguise as a harmless janitor, or a witch who seems like a nice old lady but is also straight up Baba Yaga, or perhaps, on the lower power levels, simply an old military veteran slumming it with the rookies.. It's a fun trope, but at odds with the osr playstyle, definitely leaning more story-gamey. But perhaps it's not totally incompatible after all.


me writing this metaclass and you reading it, probably

First, pick a regular class (or maybe like a monster like a vampire or werewolf or something). You start at level 1 just like everyone else, but for you, that's where you want to stay, ideally. Your experience works backwards. You *lose* xp while others gain it. You are hypothetically already at the levelcap of your campaign no matter how much XP  is written on your sheet, and your apparent xp level is how far you've been pushed and forced to reveal your true power, whereas gaining XP represents you spinning things to appear less impressive, blowing money to remind people you're just a useless drunk, people retconning their memories of your actions to fit your pushed narrative of not being anyone important, etc etc.
I call this OVEREXPERIENCED for shorthand reference

The most obvious way you can be pushed to reveal your true power is by running out of HP. You can instantly gain levels until your HP is positive again, and then say something like 'Tch, I guess I'll have to take this seriously..." or some such anime rot. You can also gain levels if you fail an attack or saving throw, gaining enough levels to hit or make the save instead, or instantly gain levels to use class abilities you'd get later- such as suddenly getting a few extra % points in Open Locks, or suddenly revealing that you can prepare Explosive Runes. The GM might require Hidden Powerlevel and  Stashed Hoard to declare you have specific spells+the spellbook for 'em, otherwise they may be randomly determined spells
I call this the HIDDEN POWERLEVEL.

Or on a more meta level, upon finding a fortress full of brigands, you could rocket up to level 9 fighter and be like 'At ease lads- they're with me' and then the rest of the party is all 'wtf Ol Barflozz is actually LORD Barflozz' and the brigands are all 'Ah yes Lord Barflozz, didn't recognize you in the fake beard sir, come on in.' Extra retainers and allies fall under this as well- you can gain a level to declare individuals are your retainers, pets, cowed past foes, satisfied former employers, etc etc.
I call this NAMELESS DOMAINLEVEL and if your GM's main objection to the class is the shared narrative control (that's storygames) this is the ability that should be cut first.

Another use is by revealing you have a magic spell, item, or ability that you've been sandbagging with. Like your waterflask is actually a Phial of Water Elementals, or your sword is actually the very same +5 Holy Avenger the church has been looking for. The GM must adjudicate the cost of this ability, but as a rough rule, each +1 or ability an item has is probably calling for a mandatory level-up. If you simply know where you stashed it instead of it being on your person, the GM may relent the multi-level gains required to use this ability and just throw it in a dungeon to be recovered unfair and square instead. It also works for monster abilities if you wanted to be a secret vampire or summat.

 Also, if you ever actually reach the level cap or are more than double the level of the lowest leveled party member, you get to finish up the scene you're in and then must walk into the sunset, never to be seen again, not even as an NPC. This is the FUCK OFF, ELMINSTER principle and assuming your players aren't trash you shouldn't really need this, but I also just read a forgotten realms sourcebook(0/10) and I really wanted to get that bold text out there.

And finally, there's the reason(s) you're lying so low. You probably have to roll a d20 each session and if you roll under your current level, your past shows up to bedevil you somehow.
  1. Pursued by 4+ Overt Badasses who are out to get you for whatever reason, each one being your equal and together being damn near unstoppable.
  2. Haunted by guilt over past failures and misdeeds. Unable to confront your past, if you lean too hard on your old tricks, the bad memories come back and you'll end up running away again, possibly all the way to hell this time.
  3. Curse stating you'll drop dead if anyone speaks your true name to your face. As you were super famous, you had to flee and adopt a new identity.
  4. Ancient prophecy about blah blah chosen ones, one of the other PCs fits the bill and you're caught in a balancing act of protecting them from the Dark Lord and calling down the Dark Lord's minions on everyone's head by your mere presence.
  5. Your power is stolen in some way, and the original owners are looking to collect. Deal with a devil, stolen goods, does it really matter?
  6. You just really hate domain level play and are trying to recapture the fun of being a low-level adventurer. If discovered, you'll have to slink back to your palace and go back to levying taxes and going to dinner parties where nobody even gets killed.
  7. Secret agenda you're pursuing. Has to remain very secret, lest rivals/enemies catch wind and shut you down, so you absolutely must avoid drawing attention to yourself.
  8. You're a gruff mentor figure with a dim suspicion that your role is to die after helping some young male take a few steps on the Hero's Journey, and so are doing your best to swerve the narrative into a different genre that's kinder to elderly people. Romantic Fantasy is probably too much to hope for, but Swords & Sorcery seems survivable enough so long as you avoid the lurking Survival Horror and Cosmic Horror on the edges.
just look at the detail on this puppet

Design Thoughts
This is pretty much the epitome of 'play it once to get it out of your system' design, allowing players to taste the high levels or play as a high HD monster and realize it's less of a big deal than they imagined. The trick, I think, with exotic oddball classes and so on is to scratch an itch a player might have, without making everyone else itchy in the process. Some oddball classes end up fitting into the world well enough, while others get quietly dropped after a while, and this is actively designed to fit into the latter category. Curiously enough, I think this class is actually less of a problem the lower the powerlevel of the game is. A level 20 BFRPG character honestly doesn't have all THAT much going for them in a vacuum- someone who organically reached that level would have all sorts of odds and ends, but shooting up to level 20 in an already bad situation might do nothing but buy you a few extra rounds to live... and since you CAN bloat your levels, you're more likely to try that instead of something sensible like hiding in a coffin, and so end up dying anyway. In later editions like 3e/pf, 4e, or 5e, it would be a whole nother story of course.
It also might be fun to run a semi-cooperative semi-competitive game where everyone is a secret badass with conflicting secret missions going through somewhere very lethal like Tomb of Horrors, but their true powerlevel is kept secret (true powerlevels being 10+1d10 I expect) so the idea is to suss out everyone's capabilities. And of course if you manage to stay at level 1, everyone else has to tread carefully lest they be banished by the Elminster Principle.