Monday, 20 April 2015

Building a Sandbox Campaign, Part Six: Non-Playable Races

Queen Mab, by Henry Meynell Rheam

The Fells is a sandbox campaign in which PCs have forsaken the relative mundanity of the medieval-Celtic Valley Kingdoms to explore the mysterious highlands, home to lost treasures and strange magic. What is the nature of the inhabitants of the Fells? What creatures inhabit this wyrd realm?

Let's start with what has been established so far:

  • Humans inhabit the Valley Kingdoms. Magic and wyrd creatures are part of their mythological traditions, but largely regarded as superstition.
  • At society's hinterlands, belief in magic and minsters is more widespread, They've seen stuff.
  • According to ancient myth, humans were once the slaves of a tyrannical precursor race who were overthrown by an alliance of fey creatures and humans.
  •  These fey creatures are said to live in The Fells, a realm where magic is very real.
  • The Keowosithe are an elf-like, iron age people who keep a close eye on their human cousins. their heritage is a mixture of magical fey and mundane humans.
  • The Keijuk have a similar heritage, but were created by the precursors as a slave race (presumably they rebelled at some point). 
Let's establish the following founder races:
  • Fey- ancient, magical beings inhabiting a world parallel to that of humans.
  • Humans- mundane beings that rule the Valley Kingdoms, former slaves of the precursors who created them.
  • Keowosithe and Keijuks born of mixed fey and human blood.
  • The Precursors, a tyrannical race who once ruled over all the other sentient species.
Ultimately, all "humanoid" types have their origins in either the fey or the precursors, or both. In the earlier piece regarding setting the tone, I looked at Rich Burlew's assumptions about standard fantasy settings:

  • There are hundreds of intelligent species, but 99% are monsters

  • ...and responded to it thus:
    •  There will be many humanoid species, but...
      1. Most of them will be treated as "fey"
      2. They will have more magical abilities (even kobolds)
    In Rich Burlew's article on world-building he is reluctant to include a panoply of humanoid races, on the basis that civilisation should be the purview of the campaign's dominant species. The subtext here is that humanoid creatures are essentially battling for the same ecological niche, and it undermines the verisimilitude of the setting for there to be hundreds of such sentient races. Furthermore, he wishes to preserve "the medieval feel, for monsters to be Monsters-creatures [sic] that are unknowable and frightening...".

    I like this philosophy but tackle it from a different angle. Rather than living in independent, human-esque societies, why not return dome of these creatures to their mythological roots? Goblins and kobolds were thought of as malevolent sprites, a kind of anti-fey rather than organised cultures. I'm picturing two "courts" under the jurisdiction of the fey: one of high elves, sprites and the like, dwelling in the Otherworld; and a shadowy, malevolent court of dark elves, goblins, kobolds and the like, dwelling in the Netherworld. Following the loose naming conventions established in previous posts, I shall name the "light" fey the Ao Sithe and the "dark" fey the Dao Sith. The light and dark analogy is probably not to clever, given that all faeries love moonlight. Good and evil doesn't cut it either, given that both groups operate outside of human moral paradigms. I'll stick with light and dark for now, if only on the basis that the Dao Sith prefer underground tunnels.



    One thing that's been buzzing round my head is that whilst these monsters might be "amped up" somewhat, especially in terms of things like natural spell-casting abilities, they will also suffer restrictions. I'm absolutely forbidding these creatures to enter the mundane realms, unless summoned by a magician or somesuch. So, whilst a party might suddenly find the spell-casting, teleporting-at-will goblins a tougher prospect than a standard goblin encounter, they can always retreat to non-magical territory if the encounter gets out of hand.

    The exception to this rule would be those hybrid races already mentioned: the Keowosithe and the Keijuk. This is in part born out of their status as playable races, but justified in terms of their mundane heritage It follows that there might be other creatures created by the precursors who are similarly able to traverse the world of the magical and the mundane. This gives us the option of adding more conventional humanoid races.

    Finally, I've been using the word precursor a great deal, and my employment of this term has been somewhat disingenuous. The implication of this ambivalent term is that I have not yet decided on the nature of these semi-mythical beings, when in fact a fairly clear idea developed as soon as I started to consider the setting. These creatures were giants. This is by no means an original idea, but it tallies nicely with precedents in various RW folklore and myth, from the classical titans to the biblical nephilim to the Irish fomoire.
      
    In laying down the ground rules in broad strokes I have left many questions unanswered, but that shall be the subject of further updates. For now, I must press on with the design of the sandbox itself.





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