Gaming the System

Sometimes I Play the Game and other times I Game the System.  I have been gaming long enough that I am not a big fan of “imposed motivations” being placed on a PC.  In Dungeons and Dragons 5E, there is a section in character creation where the Player is supposed to select a Personality Trait, an Ideal, a Bond, and a Flaw; there are tables of options from which the Player can choose or on which the Player can roll randomly.  There are rules and sidebars designed to help a Player create unique Personality Traits, Bonds, Goals, and Flaws, but the default assumption seems to be that when the Player chooses his or her PCs Background that he or she will take from the provided lists.  This is not an ideal situation for me, since the suggested options are designed to be as generic as possible and I am presently running a very specific (Gnome) campaign.  However, it has provided some neat insights for me.

Years ago, Jason Holmgren of Ironclaw explained to me how he felt rules not only provide the framework of game play, they also set the style of play.  I think he’s right in that supposition.  I’d even go so far as to say, “Rules, not only provide the framework needed for game play and the style of play, they also provide assumptions about the setting.”  For an example of this in D&D, check out my complaints about 3E and 4E (paragraphs 5 and 6).  While I do believe it is possible to tell whatever story one wishes to tell, regardless of the rules system, it takes effort to mold those stories into the assumptions the rules system places on the setting. (2014.10.04)

In my Gnome Campaign, Nicki and JR are playing forest gnomes.  Nicki’s character, Roywyn, is a druid (PHB pages 64-69) and JR’s PC, Gimble, is a ranger (PHB pages 89-93).  While the quick build suggestion for druid is Hermit, Nicki chose the Outlander background (PHB pages 136-137).  JR stuck with the suggested quick build background for the ranger class, which is Outlander.  In addition to the four categories of characteristics that a background provides, the Outlander background offers a table for Origin.  Nicki rolled Hunter/Gatherer and JR rolled Tribal Nomad.  JR’s roll for Origin, along with Nicki’s roll of “I am the last of my tribe, and it is up to me to ensure their names enter legend,” as her Bond caused me a bit of a problem when it came to my setting.  Gnomes in the literature are not tribal nomads.  They are hill dwelling, warren digging, settled folk.  This is reinforced in the 2E supplement The Complete Book of Gnomes and Halflings (I book that I got when a friend was giving away his collection, but tha I had never opened, until two weeks ago).  How am I to reconcile this? (2014.10.04)

I believe the basic presumption of D&D is that the game is going to be a multi-racial, multi-class, pseudo-European milieu.  Also, a GM is unlikely to get someone who wants to play a truly weird character: a gnomish ranger from a band of tribal nomadic little people or a halfling barbarian.  If the GM does, then he or she can use the basic assumptions of the setting to say that the halfling was found as a baby abandoned in the wild and raised among the Ice Marsh Barbarians who had a band of gnomes that lived among them or something similar.  I don’t have that option in my Gnome-centric Campaign. (2014.10.04)

So, I have to come up with a reason as to why there would be nomadic gnomes.  I have to use the rules to make the setting.  Are all forest gnomes from Terah nomads?  I don’t think so.  What if the nomad tribes (I really want to write it as gnomad tribes) from Terah were not just made up of forest gnomes?  What if they were a mix of gnomish subraces?  Why would they have such a society?  Roywyn is the last of her tribe?  Gimble only knows of one other member from his tribe, Papi?  What secrets does Papi, a rock gnome, know about the now lost nomads?  This is all a case of me trying to making sense of the results of the rules, as I see them.  Hopefully, I will make world sense out of rules sense and have a compelling setting and campaign. (2014.10.04)

Game On!

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Gnomes and Rillmorn

Here is where I talk about my dislike of gnomes.  Here is where I talk about designing fantasy races.  Now, I’m going to let Matt Harris and the rest of my readers know what decisions I’ve made about gnomes in my world of Rilmorn.

After much debate with myself, I have come to the following decisions about Gnomes in my campaign world, Rillmorn.  1. Gnomes are not historically native to Rillmorn.  2.  A single mixed community of gnomes exists on Rillmorn.  It is located near the town of Duvamil (The fact that the 5E PHB list “Duvamil” as a female gnomish name is coincidental.  Duvamil has existed in Rilmorn since 3E, when I ran my Sanderzani campaign.)  3. Gmomes are a clan of dwarves caught, enslaved, and experimented upon by Fomorians, giants from the Fey Realm.  4.  Gnomes have close ties to Elemental Earth and are somehow related to the elemental creatures Salamanders, Sylphs, and Undines; fire, air, and water, respectively.  Having made these decisions, I will now attempt to explain how I got to them. (2014.10.02)

Number 1 is simply based on the fact that from March 1980 A.D. until August 2014 A.D. there were no gnomes in Rillmorn.  I had never used them.  I never allowed them to be played.  There were no gnomes.

Number 2 is based on the background that I gave Christina and Nicki when they were creating their characters.  They are from the gnome warren Featherstone.  The warren of Featherstone was founded by refugees from the world of Terah, after the gnomes’ homelands were destroyed by the forces from the Caves of Chaos.  It is located northeast of Duvamil (a village known for being the intersection of the paths of Bazarene the Traveling City and forest giants’ tree city, The Walking Wood, and the site of great mill located on the Zagreb River – sometimes when a bag of flour or meal from this mill is opened, a large, 9” long dove feather is found in the bag). (2014.10.02)

Number 3 is based on the backstory of the dwarves and gnomes from 4E.  In 4E, dwarves were created by the gods.  Giants were created by the primordials and the titans.  The giants enslaved the dwarves for an uncounted age, before the race revolted and escaped.  In the Feywild, Fomorians (faery counterparts to the giants) enslaved the gnomes (fey versions of dwarves), until many of the gnomes escaped.  Since Rillmorn existed long before 4E and I had no history of the giants enslaving the dwarves, I ignored that backstory.  Now, for the gnomes, I have decided that gnomes were one of the clans of dwarves (there is recorded Rillmorn history for clans of dwarves that have become “sub-races”) and that they were enslaved by the Fomorians.  Uncounted generations of gnomes were the slaves, pets, and experimental subjects of the Formorians and over the ages, the gnomes changed from the dwarves they were to the gnomes they are today.  Eventually, the gnomes were freed when the Fomorians were forced to flee their enemies the Tuatha.  The freed gnomes spread out of the Fey Realm to uncounted worlds, but not Rillmorn…until now. (2014.10.02)

Number 4 is my desire to make gnomes decidedly different than dwarves.  Azer are fire dwarves.  They have strong elemental nature, so what makes them different than gnomes, who have a strong earth elemental nature.  Azer are not related to Paracelsus’ other three elemental types; gnomes are.

Now, we shall see how gnomes play out in my games.

Game On!

Fantasy Races: Design and Development

When one uses the term “race” in modern fantasy, the speaker usually means “species.”  Elves, dwarves, orcs, dragonborn, and humans are all different species; in much modern fantasy, they each have unique, independent creations and evolutions.  Even with the fact each is an independent species, many of them are interfertile and produce viable offspring.  While those more scientifically inclined may promote the term species over race, hominid shape and interfertility really make the common usage more accessible.

Common knowledge of the most recognized of fantasy races, dwarves and elves, can be traced to J. R. R. Tolkien.  I would posit that before the popularity of the Lord of the Rings, the common person did not imagine elves or dwarves in their present images.  Prior to Tolkien most fantasy races were the sanitized, post-Victorian children’s story images.  Now, very few can honestly claim the elves and/or dwarves in their stories or games are free of Tolkienesque influence.  I know I can’t. (2014.09.02)

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson gave gaming what is probably the accepted basic set of races in modern fantasy settings: Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Halflings, and Humans with two accepted hybrid races Half Elves and Half Orcs.  D&D and other sources of modern fantasy have expanded and experimented with various races over the years.  I, also, have made my own additions to the races collective: The Seven Races of Marn.

Rilmorrin has a myth about the creation of the Seven Races of Marn: Diavla, Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Idré, Kularin, and Orcs.  It says that the Four Elemental Elder Gods aware that the “Time of Humans Rising from the Clay” was nearing decided to create beings in human images.  Ymarza, the water god created Idré with the help of all the younger gods.  Yterga the earth god crafted Elves with the help of the four female elven deities and the Dwarves with the assistance of four male dwarven gods (thus hinting as to why elves are matriarchal and dwarves are patriarchal).  Ythuga created the desert, fire-based Diavla with the assistance of Shayton and Syadeena.  Finally, Ysarka the air god created the winged Kularin from the rising thoughts of the gathered gods and their creations.  A conflict between the Elemental Gods and their sibling Yrthyal led to the creation of the, so called, Dark Races: goblins, trolls, gnolls, etc.  The Orcish god Gargor-Mesh and his mate Lortin-Ac took the remains of Marn and Dark Races killed in the battle and used them to create the Orcs.  This is the basis for the elemental correspondences for the Seven Race of Marn (Diavla – fire, Dwraves – metal, Elves – wood, Humans – All, Idré – water, Kularin – air, and Orcs – None), why all Marn are interfertile, and why orcs can produce viable offspring with any hominid race.  This is my spin on fantasy races.

With that in mind, I’ve been working on gnomes.  There are many clans (sub-races, if you will) of dwarves: Mountain Dwarves – the base stock, Hill Dwarves – dwarves with human blood, Azer – fire dwarves, and Uldra – winter dwarves.  So, what if gnomes are dwarves, but dwarves that have been blended with fey, demonic, and/or angelic bloodlines?  Another option is that gnomes are dwarves with halfling (rock gnomes) and elven ancestry (forest gnomes).  The latter option gives gnomes less of a mystical nature and grounds them more in the world, but I’m inclined to go with the former.  Forest gnomes have dryad or tree spirit ancestry.  Rock gnomes have (I don’t know yet) bloodlines.  Deep gnomes have been infused with earth elemental essence.  This idea lets me grant gnomes a magical nature and engage gnome players in the plots and machinations of their non-mundane relatives.  I’ve got other ideas for gnomes, but I’m still working on them and will likely put them into another post. (2014.09.02)

Sarah McCabe has a very interesting take on the Common Fantasy Races. (2014.10.13)

Game On!

Gnomes: The Other Dwarves (or Gregory May Need to Let Go of Old Biases)

Long time Players in my games can tell you, “There are no gnomes on Rilmorn.”  That changes tonight.  Christina, my wife, long bothered by my anti-gnome stance, has convinced me to let her and Nicki, our daughter, play a gnome bard and a gnome druid, respectively.  With their eminent appearance in a Rilmorin campaign, it is time for me to delve into the anti-gnome history of my games.

In the 1500s A.D. the alchemist Paracelsus wrote about Gnomi.  He equated them with the Pygmæi of Greek legend and classified them as earth elementals.  I would not hear about them until 1976 A.D.  In 1976, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet (illistrator) was published.  It spawned gnotebooks and other such fripperies and they annoyed me.  I was a pretentious junior high school student, who had a rod stuck up my spine.  The inundation of gnome-related items irritated me and by the time I found D&D, gnomes were persona non-grata.

1E gnomes were uninspiring; they didn’t even appear in the size comparison illustration on page 18 of the Player’s Handbook.  They were poor cousins of the dwarves and the writers of 1E knew it.  They decided to give them an upgrade…Tinker Gnomes!  (Loyal Readers may recall how I feel about that – 4th paragraph.)  They were a joke race, even more of a joke than gully dwarves.  This trend was only acerbated by the treatment given to Tinker Gnomes in Spelljammer.  I really loathed gnomes, by this point.

I will only say Gnomes in Warcraft added to my annoyance.

When I ran my doomed Namori Campaign set on the Word of Terah, I allowed a gnome NPC in there.  He was in Quasqueton and my Players thought he was a weird dwarf or a dwarf/halfling mix.

Dungeons and Dragons 3E did little to change my perception of gnomes.  Their change of making gnomes bards, instead of illusionists left me…meh, but I did enjoy Chris Perkins’ joke in the Shackled City Adventure Path about how the illusionist gnomes of Jzadirune caught a magical disease called the Vanishing.  Ebberon’s gnomes seemed okay, but by this point I did not care.

4E gave gnomes a dark backstory and initially pulled them from the ranks of Player Characters.  Yet, when Wizards of the Coast were promoting 4E with some cool animated shorts, the gnome was a joke again.

I never got to run my players through the D&D Next adventure Reclaiming Blingdenstone, but it was set on my game world of Terah and was all about the Deep Gnomes.  It would have been interesting to see how my players would have reacted to gnomes there.

5E seems to have settled for a fairly straight read on the race of gnomes.  Christina and Nicki are not Players who tend to go for slapstick or comic relief characters, so I expect them to play their characters as realistically as possible.  It may give me a new perspective on gnomes and change my feelings about them.

The background I’m working on for these gnomes is the idea that they are a mixed colony of rock gnomes, forest gnomes and deep gnomes from Terah.  They have fled the destruction of their homelands and crossed dimensions to start a new life on Rilmorn.  They live in Featherstone – a tiny, hidden, mining village nestled between the Zagreb River and the once ore-heavy Laudervai Hills near the Village of Duvamil.  Christina has suggested that the focus of the campaign could be on the flutes given to each PC by Christina’s PC’s late grandmother.  I think I can make this work.  This is looking good.

The Games Librarian has a post in response to this post of mine.  Go Enjoy It.  I did. (2014.09.10)

Game On!