Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Banishing Tolkien

                                 ... or, The Races Beneath the Broken Moon


Along with some of the inspirational material listed a couple of posts back, one of the underlying design principles for this new campaign of mine is to banish any and all references to Tolkien's Middle Earth from the game.  I know there are some who would have it that the good professor's influence on the original game was minimal, Gary Gygax included. More recent than Gygax's reportedly legal motivations for downplaying Tolkien has been the great showing of some bloggers in trotting out various pulp-literary examples to make the case for the essentially picaresque character of the game in contrast to the epic story, etc, etc, etc...  While I can meet those proponents half-way with this argument (Tolkien wasn't the only influence), the inescapable truth is that we're playing a game consistently inhabited with elves, orcs, goblins, dwarves, hobbits, ents, balrogs, ring wraiths, rangers, dragons upon beds of gold etc, etc, etc... that if not wholly creations of Tolkien, have certainly been interpreted through his lens.  Furthermore, I challenge any honest person out there to read the passage in the Hobbit where the troll loot is being sorted out and described (or watch it in the recent film) and not start counting XP in your head. 

Anyway, getting back around to my point...  I don't have anything against Tolkien, I'm just looking for something new and re-invigorating for my game and retiring some of the tropes and former expectations of something is as good a way as any to kick start the process of coming up with something new.  I know I'm not the first person this notion has dawned on, and a quick survey of some of the more original, popular and even controversial OSR offerings shows a general tendency away from Tolkien's set dressing.  But I have yet to find anything scratching exactly my itch (though Gabor Lux's stuff comes pretty close and will be borrowed from liberally), hence the recent bent of this almost abandoned blog.  

So I'm camped out in an ostensibly far, far future earth setting complete with an apocalypse moon and I have no use for orcs and elves.  I'll come back to this here and there as I document the process of building this next campaign with this idea of a Post-Tolkien or Anti-Tolkien or whatever-other-quasi-intellectual-sounding-name-you-want-to-put-on-it Fantasy.  It is relevant for today's blog only in that it informs my decision on playable character races.  There is but one playable race in far, far future earth and while many might hope for something more daring or unconventional, that race will be human.

That said, there are different kinds of humans.  These won't just be re-skinned elves and dwarves, mind you, but rather thematically appropriate offshoots of the humanity that you or I should recognize.  Let's see, there will be, of course, the humanity that you and I recognize.  Then there will be the ever popular sub-humanity of weird tales fame; those sorry few whose evolution seems to have worked backwards or stalled long ago.  Then there is, naturally, the super-humanity of science fiction fame, though these will be more or less intellectually enlightened as opposed to "super" in the costumed hero sense.  Then there will be tainted humanity, another weird tales staple (I'm looking at you, Lovecraft) who through contact with dark and alien forces has gotten, well, weird.  I may also opt for ape and lizard men, outcasts from their respective empires, but I haven't decided yet.

While the assumed roles of each of these races both broadly in the world at large and narrowly within the adventuring party will hopefully do something to shake things up already, I'm going to further excite (torment?) my players by making them roll randomly for starting race.  Again, not the first time this minor innovation has been tried in an RPG, but it's the first time I've used it for D&D.  I will eventually relent and allow the characters to pick their class; for while one cannot help being born beneath the broken moon one certainly has a say-so on how one spends their time there.  Well, everyone except for the slaves, at least.

So, so far we've established a straight 3d6 roll for ability scores and a randomly determined "race", including the possibility of being a genetically backwards mouth-breather or some poor slob tainted with Deep Ones blood. We're  getting more and more Gamma World as we go.  Hey, now there's a thought...

11 comments:

  1. Hah. A shame I can't play.

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  2. Was it the low ability scores or fish-headed sub-humans that drew you in?

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  3. I would wager that James might be persuaded to have an online campaign running.

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  4. Truly guys, I'm flattered. I'd have to think about it though. In all honesty I'd feel nervous following Alexis's online game.

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  5. Maybe you could have a species of diminutive humans like the ones they discovered in Indonesia.

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  6. The only possible problem there HE is finding a way to use them without appearing as if I'm trying to keep halflings in the game. I remember when that species was discovered (it's still considered a separate species I think) the headlines all read something along the lines of "Scientists Discover Indonesian Hobbit". Part of my goal with the final product is to make sure nobody's thinking about Tolkien when they play. I'd rather they think about HG Wells or ER Burroughs first.

    But that's not a stopping point, just an obstacle to move around. I'd probably make these diminutive humans frog-blooded Cthulhu worshipers or maybe instead more like the Eloi from The Time Machine, and in both cases ensure they had no mechanical similarities to D&D halflings. That still might be an uphill climb in terms of banishing the thought of hobbits from the minds of players.

    What are some other things one could do to a diminutive human species game-stats wise to make them not-hobbits?

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  7. Maybe make them not the common +Dex/-Str, but instead make them +Cha/-Con? Insomuch as that the get +Cha because they are smaller, therefore more childlike in appearance, and -Con, for exact same reason.

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  8. That's a good start maybe for the Eloi of Burroughs Time Machine, though if I remember correctly the time traveler found the Eloi clingy, annoying and apathetic after he got over their initial cuteness. But it needs more, Imon Fyre... some twist.

    Two of the better officially published D&D campaign settings in terms of originality were Dark Sun and Eberron. I never ran them but I did read through them. I believe halflings were cannibalistic xenophobes in the former and rode dinosaurs in the latter. Any idea would have to be at least as cool and preferably cooler than those.

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  9. Could perhaps having them have a sort of symbiotic relationship with a larger humanoid, a la Master Blaster from Beyond Thunderdome, where the Blaster humanoid is major transportation / food source for the vampire-like Master?

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  10. Now you're onto something...

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  11. Quite a unique vision. I like it.

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