Sunday, March 13, 2011

Creating Another Bandwagon: Orcs and Goblins

From the post on Grognardia:

Goblins and their larger cousins the Orcs are a blight of unknown origin. They pay no heed to the worshippers of the gods, the spirits of nature or the demonic legions of hell. They just are.

Goblins are highly intelligent sentient beings, about half the size of a man. They are a nimble folk, covered with tough leathery green skin and a hearty constitution. Their meat is foul and inedible to all but other goblinoids, though they themselves can eat most anything the race of man can consume. Goblins have both male and female genders, though they have no distinguishing secondary sexual characteristics. A goblin female will lay a clutch of 1 to 3 eggs every season. The eggs will hatch by the next season, and the goblins will often grow up feral, maturing fully in a year and a half. Goblins bands will often round up small goblins and rope them into slave labour. A goblin will rarely live past 10 years of age, to cope their brains learn far faster than other races, often able to learn in a week what other races may take a full semester of study to learn.

Goblins however have no soul and thus sense of empathy, each one is a sociopath. Every action is taken solely with the best interests of the individual in mind. While would could train a goblin to be a nanny to ones children, it would not be wise. For the goblin may continue to properly raise and nanny the children should it be in its best long term interests, the first second a better opportunity came around the goblin would feel no ill will towards eating the children alive. The goblin would be puzzled that it should feel bad. This lack of soul likewise makes goblins immune to possession from spirits or demons, and worthless as worshippers. The fact that death spells oblivion makes goblins very cowardly.

Orcs are very similar to goblins, save they are bigger, averaging 6'6 in heigh and a solid 230lbs in a very muscular build. Orcs are fairly dim however, this actually leads into their great strength over goblins. While they also lack empathy and souls, orcs are not smart enough to truly grasp the concept of death. They do not grasp that they can die and in doing so cease to exist. Orcs are thus far more warlike, their short and impatient tempers frequently lead to their simple desire to take what they want and do what they want whenever they want. Orc females will go into heat and lay a single egg twice a year. The egg will hatch within 3 months and be mature within a year.

Orcs and goblins are thus dangerous pests, occasionally bribed to act as unreliable mercenaries or thugs but valued by none. Only their inability to form long term groups prevents them from being a sizable menace. Very rarely a warlord will manage to gather a large army of goblinoids and go on a warpath of violence and looting.

Realms of Adventure: The Mountain Dwarves of the North

To continue with Pseudo-Scandinavia as a setting for a sandbox game. Human settlements on the coast and in valleys of this mountainous realm already make a great setting with a reason for characters to be adventurous and for society to tolerate and encourage such behaviour.

This time I will craft a simple culture for mountain dwarves, out of common cliches with a few tweaks to show how to make dwarves ready adventurers.

So lets go with some basic cliches:

Dwarves live in cities carved into and under the mountain, this gives a reason to have underground dungeons, or it will with the next point.

Dwarves are a race in decline, they have not had to dig new cities in some time as they have more than enough existing space and a drive to recover lost and abandoned underground cities.

Dwarves are obsessed with family honour and prestige. This means they avoid shaming their kind and want to recover their lost wealth.

Dwarves are greedy and wealth obsessed.

So from this I envision a dwarven culture in which dwarves are separated into families, electing a lord or king from the most noble and high held of current families. This means families will be deeply ashamed of any of their kin who engage in (and are caught) in dishonourable practices. But just because your culture decries such practices doesn't mean they don't happen. There are thieves, adulterers and liars amongst dwarves, so how should they deal with it? If they are family and honour bound lets say kin-slaying is out, no matter how vile.

Lets bring in another cliche: The living dead dwarf. Be they GW Slayers, or Dragon Age Legion of the Dead or some other pastiche there can be a caste of Dwarves who seek immediate death in battle. This really can't be everyone, wouldn't be many left as most would die on the first goblin spear they find. So lets assume this is a worst case scenario for the truly irredeemable crimes.

So being a rigid society, lets assume that those who chafe under their family obligations or who are accused (but not proven) of crimes are either forced from their family or "suggested" they leave. These dwarves would be removed of any ties to their family in the eyes of society. Without family ties they need to go out to seek wealth to survive, and for some a more important goal, to gain glory and fame. If they gain enough they may gather acolytes from other Clanless dwarves and form a Hero Cult. If they become truly noble they are granted their own Clan name, and may form a new clan and start their own families.

But if battle gains glory and the society is somehow shrinking, perhaps we can bridge these two together and have a REASON there are so few dwarves. Perhaps a dwarven male must earn his right to marry his betrothed? Every young dwarf must prove his worth in battle, go out and slay to earn honour, the more honour he accrues through battle can be seen as a dowry. The menfolk gain honour that is gifted to the brides family while the bride pays gold for the upkeep of their daughter in her new house. Gain more honour, get more gold. Of course if you die gloriously your fiance goes right to widow..your family wants their money for your death after all. That cannot help their declining population.

Finally, a house may be poor and in the slums currently..but somewhere out there is their old estate, with coffers full of their gold. Why hasn't another dwarf taken it? Being greedy and suspicious, each dwarven family mints their own coins. To have the coins of another dwarven clan without a writ transferring ownership..why that would be a grave dishonour to your family...(perhaps you should avoid getting caught and melt it down).

So now the regions dwarves provide plenty of abandoned dungeons, a gradual loss of manpower they refuse to admit is killing their empire made worse by the young dwarves they sent into the dark on suicide rushes, leaving behind childless widows. We have clanless dwarves out seeking glory to found new clans, shamed fanatics out to die gloriously, and young dwarves out to earn their right to have children.

You now have reasons to adventure and places to adventure built into the culture, all utilizing familiar cliches.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Realms of Adventure: Pseudo-Scandinavia

Pseudo-Scandinavia can be a great place to set a sandbox game. Vast oceans containing hidden islands and far off undiscovered continents, lofty mountains holding dwarven keeps and dragon hoards, swamps crawling with trolls and deep pine forests full of abandoned elven palaces.

To make the area suitable for adventure there should be a handful of small kingdoms about. Each run by their own glory obsessed warrior king and his cadre of viking stereotypes. These places should not be all powerful bureaucracies or empires. If a kingdom has more than a few hundred warriors it can muster it is probably too large. Ideally the kingdoms should be small enough that a few potent warriors would be a noticeable factor in any war between two kingdoms.

There should also be enough fertile lands about that one could forge their own town, city, castle or even kingdom. Of course these lands should be plagued by monsters, thus forging your own country could be a great drive for adventure. This may require funds to build a castle and lure citizens...I hear English monasteries have a lot of gold. This allows for viking warriors, skalds and scouts (thieves).

Of course, these lands also have many warrior pagan faiths..and the new missionaries from the south aim to change all that. This type of strife allows for many clerics to have their own goals.

And of course in this barbarous land there are old and ancient magics..but no libraries of note. A handful of private collections, much of the magic must be learned from truly ancient cave paintings, chants of isolated tribes and ancient dragon secrets. A sorcerer or witch in these lands cannot rest in quite study...they need to be constantly on the move..seeking to uncover the secrets of others before others uncover their secrets.

This type of setting allows for easily understandable player driven goals, that players can figure out without needing to read through 40 pages of setting notes. Are you a southern missionary? Convert heathens. A viking? Get to Valhalla through mashing bigger and badder monsters. A noble? clear out that dragon and use its hoard to build a castle. Wizard? find the old man of the mountains and the swamp hag..steal their secrets.

Of course, this is just human culture. I'll detail a suitable dwarven culture for Pseudo-Scandinavia next.