Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"Elves" in the Watchfires & Thrones Campaign

So far my attempt to keep Watchfires & Thrones firmly rooted in its pulp sword & sorcery roots has been successful. I'm very pleased with my decision to limit the available classess to fighter, cleric, magic-user, dwarf, and "elf", as it has resulted in a largely human party of adventurers. We've had one dwarf and three "elves" (only one of the four demihumans still lives).

I've placed "elf" in quotes because nobody has actually played a true elf of Tolkien heritage. Instead, they've been playing Old Bloods, who are a race of beings loosely based on Moorcock's Melniboneans with veneer of Howardian slapped on for highlights. It's taken me a while to summarize the class, but I've finally done so. That summary appears below. Astute readers can play "Guess where Mike stole this bit from?" as they peruse the piece.

Although dwarves haven't been as popular, I think I'm going to give them a similar treatment in order to bring them closer to the same "human but not human" status the Arane Dhyn have.

The Arane Dhyn (The Old Blood)

For ten thousand years, the Arane Dhyn, that ancient race of men who are not men, ruled the great island nation of Bal-Sagoth, which lay at the center of the Weary Sea. In this land of white walled cities and sapphire towers arose potent sorceries and unimaginable sciences, each more impressive than the last. Compared to the wonders of Bal-Sagoth, the advances of true men were naught but the inelegant drawings of dimwitted children in the mud.

Over time, the haughtiness and pride of the Arane Dhyn grew along with their accomplishments and they began to see themselves as superior to the young nations of men, whom they deemed lesser beings. The Arane Dhyn, with their strange magics and high science, waged war upon the nations that abutted the Weary Sea. Most succumbed to the legions of Bal-Sagoth and became vassal states, owing fealty to the Supernal Empire and its Imperatrix. Each spring, the great moon galleys of the Arane Dhyn would embark to collect tribute from the lands of men, taking coin, trade goods, and slaves, as well as certain individuals who proved themselves worthy of learning at the feet of the great Arane Dhyn scholars and sorcerers, back to Bal-Sagoth.

For ten millennia, the Arane Dhyn subjugated the nations of men and grew debauched on their island of white-walled cities and sapphire towers. Then, without warning, the Arane Dhyn faced an opponent whose sorceries and science outstripped their own.

This threat came not from the sea that surrounded the Arane Dhyn’s homeland, but from the night sky above. Strange stars fell from the heavens, bringing with them the creatures known only as the Silent Daemons. With unknowable purpose, the Silent Daemons waged war upon Bal-Sagoth, toppling its sapphire towers and razing its alabaster walls. The land itself was torn asunder and the sea rushed in to fill these chasms.

The end of Bal-Sagoth came in fire, but whose hand lit the flames is unknown. Some tales say that the Silent Daemons unleashed horrific magics against the island nation. Conflicting stories claim that it was the strange sciences of the Arane Dhyn which caused the conflagration. In either case, the inferno known as the Flame Deluge shattered the great island nation of Bal-Sagoth, sinking it beneath the green waves of the Weary Sea. All that remained behind were the mangled scraps of silver filigree from brooch or breastplates that lay upon the ocean sands or the tatters of checkered silk which floated on the waves.

Some of the Arane Dhyn survived the cataclysm, fleeing their sinking land on moon galleys or taking flight on magical wings. But those survivors were few and they found no refuge was to be had in the former vassal states of Men. With their civilization in ruins and their former servants now free and bearing great grudges, the Arane Dhyn scattered, seeking sanctuary in whatever isolated places they could. In dense jungles, atop forbidding mountains, and in harsh deserts, the Arane Dhyn built colonies and citadels where they could dream of their former glory, undisturbed.

Two thousand years have passed since Bal-Sagoth sank and the Supernal Empire was cast in ruin. Most of the Arane Dhyn remain sequestered in their hidden sanctuaries, but a few seek to recapture the glory of their race once again. Although still shunned by men and considered a cursed breed, this vainglorious minority takes up sword and spells in order to carve out a place in the world befitting their people’s former greatness.

Twinborn Souls

Although the Arane Dhyn appear indistinguishable from Men, they are a separate, alien race. No aspect sets them apart from men more than their dual souls.

Each Arane Dhyn possess two souls which are engaged in a constant struggle for dominance of their physical form. Each daybreak, when the Arane Dhyn rises from slumber, his physical form might be under the control of either one of these twin souls. Although these twin souls are seldom evenly matched, each ultimately gains the upper hand in the struggle from time to time, eclipsing the skills of the other and causing various subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes to manifest. Most Arane Dhyn spend their entire lives attempting to unify their warring spirits into a single whole. This state is called Caat, and, while not an impossible goal, it is uncommon to encounter an Old Blood who was successfully reached spiritual equilibrium. Instead, most Arane Dhyn rely on meditation, sorcery, drugs, or other means to keep their internal struggle in a state they can cope with.

In game terms, this means is that each Old Blood character has essentially two classes whose abilities and progression are kept track of separately. An Old Blood PC is both a fighter and magic-user, but never at the same time. He has two character sheets: one for each of these classes.

The ability scores are the same for each class but hit points fluctuate depending on whether the Old Blood is currently adventuring as a fighter or a magic-user, and it is the subtle physiological changes that occur when each soul is in control that causes the character’s ability to survive bodily harm to change. Likewise, his ability to use spells and his acumen in battle are also dependent on which soul is currently in command.

When his martial soul is in power, the Arane Dhyn is a fighter with all that class’ abilities, saving throws, and weapon proficiencies. They do not, however, gain the ability to “Chop When They Drop” that pure fighters do.

When their mystical soul is at the forefront, the Arane Dhyn functions as a magic-user and has all that class’ saving throws, “to hit” probabilities, and spell-casting ability. They may not wear armor and cast spells, and they are limited to only two weapon proficiencies, which must be chosen from the four they possess in their fighter guise.

Legend

It is said that the Arane Dhyn race is the product of their ancient deity, Gol-goroth. Eons ago, long before history was recorded or Men walked upon the earth, Gol-goroth created twin daughters, A-ala and Dyru Ro, to delight him and to take as brides when they came of age. In almost every way, these two girls were opposites. Dyru Ro was dark and beautiful, while A-ala was pale and of fierce visage. A-ala was blessed with the gift of sorcery and Dyru Ro was a warrioress without equal. Rivals from the very first, each constantly strove to outdo the other in the eyes of Gol-goroth.

It was A-ala who brought about the tumultuous inner struggle that afflicts all Arane Dhyn. Having observed her twin’s practice of eating the hearts of slain foes to absorb their strength and prowess, A-ala set a snare of magic for Dyru Ro, then lured her into its jaws. Once imprisoned, A-ala consumed the soul of her twin with the intent of both assuming her martial prowess and permanently removing her rival.

When Gol-goroth next called his brides-to-be into his presence, he found only one answered his summons. He questioned A-ala, inquiring where her sister might be found, a query to which A-ala denied having any knowledge. But the spirit of Dyru Ro was not so easily consumed and Gol-goroth saw its fire burning behind the eyes of A-ala. The sorceress could not hide her crime from her creator and Gol-goroth banished her from his presence, sending her to live in the harsh lands to the west.

There, amongst the low creatures that would eventually become Men, A-ala found refuge and ultimately a mate. When the first of her children were born, A-ala discovered that Gol-goroth had punished her offspring for her crime. Each was born with two warring souls: one of sorcery inherited from their mother, the other martial and bearing the traits of their aunt. The Arane Dhyn race has suffered for their founder’s crime ever since.

Racial Traits

Because of their twin souls, Old Blood characters are extremely resistant to both charm and sleep magics, and avoid succumbing to these enchantments 90% of the time. They possess a keen sense of sight that allows them to detect the flame auras given off by all living creatures up to 60’ away (as infravision) and can notice the slight imperfections that indicate concealed doorways, hidden niches, secret doors, and the like 2 times out of 6.

Physical Appearance

Although the physical appearance of the Arane Dhyn is just as varied as that of Men, there does exist two general types. These two broad physical stereotypes usually indicate which of the two conflicting souls is dominant most often in a Arane Dhyn, but this is not always the case.

The following two examples are taken from Earth literature as they coincidentally resemble the two most common physical appearances of those of the Old Blood race. The first is an example of one whose martial soul is more dominant; the second, one whose sorcerous souls is most active. (Thanks to my regular player, Jack, for reminding me of the Kull description.)

“He was built much like the Vikings, at once massive and lithe—tigerish. But his features were not as theirs, and his square-cut, lion-like mane of hair was as black as Bran’s own. Under heavy brows glittered eyes gray as steel and cold as ice. His bronzed face, strong and inscrutable, was clean-shaven, and the broad forehead betokened a high intelligence, just as the firm jaw and thin lips showed will-power and courage.”
-Kings of the Night by Robert E. Howard


“They were old eyes in a fine featured, youthful face…He nodded condescendingly to the other four and walked with lithe grace towards the fire… [He] was tall, broad-shouldered and slim-hipped. He wore his long hair bunched and pinned at the nape of his neck and…affected the dress of a southern barbarian…His bizarre dress was tasteless and gaudy, and did not match his sensitive face and long-fingered, almost delicate hands, yet he flaunted it since it emphasized the fact that he did not belong in any company—that he was an outsider and an outcast.”
- The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock

6 comments:

moonlapse vertigo said...

It's a nice write-up, and definitely gives them a more interesting twist(at least in my mind). Still, I think you should have just kicked them to the curb altogether. I hates me some elves!

Dave said...

Very nice, makes them very spooky and strange. Good how the game mechanics really work with the backstory.

I originally didn't want elves in my swords & sorcery style campaign either. They weren't included at all; no nonhumans were. Then, 2 of my players wanted to be elves. I mean really, really wanted to be elves. So, okay, there are elves. Who am I, a mere GM, to say no to my players?

Anonymous said...

GREAT job making the rules for elves make sense using backstory within the campaign.

Justin Alexander said...

Just wanted to add one more "me too" to the pile of "this is awesome". The OD&D rules for elves always left me a little disgruntled by the illogic of it all; but this polishes it up with a nice sheen of AWESOME.

Roger the GS said...

There ain't no elf like a Vulcan* Suloise Melnibonean elf. Great job!

* Even more fittingly in the Abrams Star Trek world than in Trek Prime.

Risus Monkey said...

This is the first time that I've seen an in-game explanation for those goofy "fighter one day, wizard the next" rules. I would love to play one of these guys. Very cool.