Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Featured Creature: Wolf

NOTE: These stats have been edited to conform to the rules revisions posted on 9/8/15.
In ancient times, wolves challenged longpaws for mastery of the world.  The contest waged for generations, with each species learning from the other, until one day, those who would become dogs adopted some longpaw tribes and taught them the secrets of the hunt.  The results, from the wolves' point of view, were disastrous, and to this day, there is a deep well of distrust between wolves and dogs, despite their many commonalities.

Contrary to many human conceptions, most wolf packs are not ruled by a dictatorial "alpha wolf."  Instead, they are typically a family group composed of a mated pair and their (usually adult) children; some larger wolf communities are composed of multiple families, each governed by a mated pair. In such large packs, the mated pairs form a sort of governing council that makes decisions by consensus.

Adult children typically leave their family after 1 to 5 years to seek mates.  New mated pairs seek lands of their own in which to establish a new pack, or seek to join an existing group of wolf families, before having any of their own offspring.

     AC: 7

     AT (Dam.): bite 1d5 [1d6]
     Beginning HP: 9 [10]
     MV: 12
     SZ: Small

Species Traits:
  • Growth Spurt: At 2nd Total Level, wolves grow in Size from Small to Medium.  
  • Howl: Wolves have a secret language of howls with which they can communicate over long distances. All wolves are taught this language from birth, and it is never taught to other species, under pain of death.  Wolves communicating by howl can count on their messages almost never being intercepted by non-wolf enemies.  Even dogs no longer know this language.  
  • Low-Light Vision 
  • Scent  
  • Trip Maneuver 
  • Ultravision 
  • +2 bonus on lore checks to track by sense of smell  
  • Suitable Niches: Healer, Runner, Scout, Seer, Trickster, Warrior

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Thinking Like An Animal

Noisms over on the Monsters & Manuals blog has an interesting rumination on fantasy dolphins and failures of imagination that bears directly on the Great & Small project.

I've noted before that the best works of animal fantasy don't so much anthropomorphize their animal characters as they zoomorphize their human audience's perceptions.  That is to say, these works don't turn animals into humans with  the serial numbers filed off; instead, they successfully put a human reader's mind into a plausible facsimile of an animal's mind.  Self-centered as we are, we often mistake this for "anthropomorhpizing," but it's a different trick.

One of the reasons Watership Down was such a, well, watershed moment in this kind of fiction is because it de-mystified rabbits, showing human readers that rabbit society was anything but perpetual cuddliness.  A few other animal fantasy works have risen to this challenge, too;  Wayne Smith's horror novel Thor, about the battle of wits between a werewolf and the family dog (told from the titular dog's point of view), really conveys to the reader what it must be like to be a dog: the short attention span, the repetitive thinking, the self-perception of oneself as a member of a human pack, walking through a world dominated by scents, etc.

D&D fails on this project a lot, either treating animals as boring stat blocks with no distinctive traits of their own (sword-fodder, in other words), or playing them up as tropes rooted in pop culture.  As Noisms points out, the AD&D 2nd edition treatment of dolphins has way more to do with human projections than with actual cetacean behavior.  Which would be fine -- gaming is rooted in and reflects pop culture, after all -- except that treating dolphins realistically might have made them more interesting.

My humble project is an effort to bridge that gap.  When I get around to statting dolphins as PCs, (soon...), they're not necessarily going to be romanticized lifeguards for humans and sea elves.  They are a hell of a lot  more interesting than that.

But I think Noisms goes a bit too far in his analysis of animals as inscrutable.  He writes:
We have a failure of imagination when it comes to cute or intelligent animals. We have a natural tendency to impute them with emotions and ideas that are not their own. Animal lovers (I count myself one) are especially guilty of this. It's odd that the more time one spends thinking about and looking at animals, the more one tends to develop this blind spot about them. It often does them a disservice: it infantilises them. It reduces their complex and fundamentally alien nature.
Animals are very different from us, to be sure, but they are not "fundamentally alien."  At least, mammals aren't. 

Evolution is a thing. And there is a thing within that thing called homology, which tells us that related species will share many traits thanks to common ancestry.  We know that the brain structures and functions that govern our emotions and behaviors are homologous within mammals, and some are even homologous across greater taxic expanses (the hippocampal system, for instance, appears to do pretty much in birds what it also does in mammals, which tells us that the last common ancestor of birds and mammals probably had this trait, too).

In short, animal minds are not a complete mystery to us.  Their most recent evolutionary changes create important differences, of course, but our shared heritage as fellow earthlings means that we still have a great deal in common, even mentally.  We actually can plausibly infer a great deal about what it is like to be a bat, as Kenneth Oppel does in his Silverwing trilogy.

The key to animal fantasy is striking the right balance for your audience.  You can find works that almost completely anthropomorphize their animal characters, to the point of dressing them up and putting swords in their paws (Redwall, Mouse Guard, some of the Chronicles Of Narnia...).  You can also find works in the genre that try to complete zoomorphize the reader's perception of the world (as in Robert Bakker's Raptor Red, written entirely in the present tense, with no dialogue at all).  Most animal fantasy falls in the middle somewhere, humanizing their characters enough to make them both sympathetic and empathetic, but also giving the audience a feel for what it must actually be like to be one of those animals.

In the Great & Small game, I plan to have options for all of these interpretations except for completely-anthropomorphized animals.

In the Trucewood Vale setting, the animals are all as sapient as longpaws, can speak fluent Common, and often adventure alongside humanoids.

In the Creepy Crawlies setting, the animal characters are capable of understanding humans with great effort and can talk among themselves, but remain largely in a world of their own.

And in the Legacy Of The Longpaws setting, there will be no magic, no humans, and the animals' cultures will be as realistic as possible.

Stay tuned for all of that later this year.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Do You Mean There's No Treasure?

Rough overview of a system to replace standard OSR treasure
Nonhuman animals don't typically collect treasure for its own sake, the way longpaws do.  Sure, some species enjoy the look or feel of shiny trinkets, but to them, a worthless strip of foil or shard of colored glass are as valuable as a gold coin or a priceless jewel.  In short, it doesn't make much sense for animals to go on adventures for the purpose of acquiring treasure.
An incalculably valuable hoard.

Or does it?

Just because animals don't use money doesn't mean they don't have economies of sorts, or that they don't require valuables.  It's simply that animals value different things than longpaws.  Namely, their focus is on Food, Shelter, and Reproduction.  (Of course, these are the ultimate focus of longpaw adventures, too, but they use money as an abstract route to such things).

These three types of valuables are included under the category of Resources.  Resources is a pool of points that each character can possess, which they spend as bonuses to lore checks related to acquiring the specific type of Resource they want.  For instance, a character with high Resources can spend a point to declare that she is storing some foraged nuts in a hidden place, for later consumption, then use the point as a bonus to her Scout role to successfully conceal it from others.  Or, she can use her Resources to improve the Attitude of potential mates, or rivals whose territory she would like to enter, by spending points to gain bonuses  to Storyteller or Seer checks, as appropriate.

Resources are rated from 1 to 9, with lower Resources being less impressive.   There is no maximum pool of Resources a character can call upon, but she can only spend 1 point of Resources per Total Level on a lore check.  For instance, a 3rd-level squirrel with a Resources pool of 8 can spend up to 3 points on a Scout lore check to locate food for herself and her companions.  These points grant her a +1 bonus to her roll for every point spent (in this case, a total of +3 to her Scout roll).  She could spend less if she wished, but not more unless she goes up in level.

The BM can reward Resources points on an individual basis, or assign a Resources rank to particular challenges.  All members of a party who help overcome these challenges can divide the Resources points amongst themselves, and the BM should scale the total Resources available in such a way that each member of the party acquires the same number of points once the challenge is completed.

Example:  the PCs are a group of various animals who've bonded together in mutual aid after a volcanic eruption destroyed their habitat.  The BM rules that successfully completing a quest to find a new home suitable to all their species is a Legendary challenge worth 9 Resource points to every member of the party.  So, for a party of 3 PCs, the quest would be worth a total of 27 Resources; for a party of 6 characters, it would be worth 54 Resources; and so on.  These Resources can be rewarded in small increments to individual characters over the course of the quest, or held in reserve for a big pay-off at the end, at the BM's discretion. 

A rough ranking system for Resources follows.  This ranking is applied to whole adventures or campaigns, not to individual encounters or particular lore checks.

Resource Value (Ranking)
1 (Easy)
2 (Average)
3 (Tough)
4 (Challenging)
5 (Formidable)
6 (Heroic)
7 (Epic)
8 (Near Impossible)
9 (Legendary)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Featured Creature: Bats!

NOTE: These stats have been edited to conform to the rules revisions posted on 9/8/15.
Millions of years ago, bats were banished into the night, either by the gods or the other  animals, for some long-forgotten crime, real or perceived.  Since that day, they have embraced the darkness and spread to every corner of the world, quietly serving as pest controllers and pollinators for their friends, the trees and flowers. Next to rodents, they are the most widespread group of mammals in the world.

They are especially appropriate in a Creepy Crawlies campaign, where they can adopt the Familiar niche.  In classic fantasy settings like the Trucewood Vale, they can also be Magic-Users.

There are two main types of bats: megabats and microbats.  Each shares certain characteristics, while also maintaining unique traits.

All bat characters have the following Species Traits:
  • Confuse Foes:  Bats can flitter about the heads of land-borne opponents, confusing their senses.  For every 5 (megabat) or 10 (microbat) bats co-operating on a confusion attack (minimum of 1 bat),  one Medium-sized terrestrial opponent can be affected; each such target suffers a -2 penalty on all attack and saving throw rolls for the duration of the attack.  Spell-casters or other foes with abilities that require concentration or precision must make a Paralysis save (at the above -2 penalty) or be unable to concentrate  well-enough to carry out such tasks.  Thus, their spell-casting is ruined.
  • Flight Ability: Bats are the only species of mammal capable of true natural flight.
  • Flyby Attack
  • Low-Light Vision
  • Scent
  • Swoop Maneuver

Most megabat species are frugivores or nectarivores, and have an intimate knowledge of plants.

AC: 6
AT (Dam): 1 bite (1d3)
Beginning HP: 3 [4]
Habitat: Any 
MV: 1; 8 flying
SZ: Tiny

Species Traits:  In addition to the common bat traits above, megabats have the following abilities.
  • Growth Spurt: Megabats become Small in SZ at 2nd Total Levels.  The largest megabats have wingspans of 5 feet.
  • Plant Lore: Megabats get a +2 bonus on all lore checks involving knowledge of plants.  In fantasy settings, they automatically know the languages of treants and other plant creatures.
  • Ultravision
  • -4 penalty on all lore checks involving feats of strength
  • Suitable Niches: Herbalist, Runner, Scout, Seer, Trickster, Warrior

Microbat species are almost all insectivorous, though the (in)famous vampire bat feeds on the blood of large mammals.

AC: 5
AT (Dam): 1 bite (1d3 [1d4])
Beginning HP: 2 [3]
Habitat: Any 
MV: 1; 8 flying
SZ: Diminutive

Species Traits: In addition to the common bat traits above, microbats have the following abilities.
  • Blindsense
  • Echosight:  Though not truly blind, microbats rely more heavily on their hearing than on their sense of sight or smell.  Thus, they suffer no penalties when making Scout lore checks  if using their hearing, but a -2 penalty when using sight or smell. They can ignore the effects of attacks or effects that blind their targets, provided such attacks do not also deafen them.
  • Growth Spurt: Microbat characters have the option of becoming Tiny at 2nd Total Level, but are never required to do so.
  • -5 penalty on all lore checks involving feats of strength
  • Suitable Niches: Healer, Runner, Scout, Seer, Storyteller, Trickster

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Disabled Google+ commenting

I noticed that many people seemed to be trying to comment on my posts, but were unable to do so because Blogger automatically enabled Google+ comments when I created this blog.

I've now disabled that function, so more people can comment.  Hope this helps!