Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fantasy: Races

Whew! Little break there for OrcCon, where Colin gave us all a solid education in running SotC. I just don't have it in me to be quite as dramatic (not to mention loud) as he is as a GM, but still -- good lessons to be learned there.

Anyway. Continuing on with "Spirit of the Sword," my unfortunately named SotC fantasy conversion (but seriously, throw out some ideas), today brings us to races.

Now races are at least three-quarters setting, and since I don't have a setting at the moment, I don't feel like I can get too comfortable outlining just what makes an elf an elf. That sort of thing depends on the world you're in, after all. But, at the very least, I can come up with a simple way to deal with nearly anyone's conception of "elf," regardless of the setting (and when the setting enters into this particular project, I can go back and be more precise).

The simplest solution is to just make race an Aspect, taken as part of the Origins Phase. Done and done. And for some people, that's all they'll need. If dwarves in your setting can smell gold, then it's a simple matter to just pay a Fate Point, invoke your "Dwarf of the Chalk Mountains" Aspect, and get a +2 to your Alertness roll. Ditto for compels. And that is, at the very least, where race should start: as an Aspect.

For those wishing to especially "elfy" or "dwarfy," though, there are Racial Stunts. My first thought on Racial Stunts was thus:

Elf: +2 Alertness when using sight or hearing to perceive something, +2 Athletics when covering ground, +1 Ranged with bows
Dwarf: +1 Melee against orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Endurance vs. poisons, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone
Orc: +2 Intimidation when not outnumbered, +1 Health Stress box, +1 Melee with two-handed melee weapons

Note: Only one Racial Stunt can be taken, and it must have an associated Aspect. Taking a Racial Stunt reduces Refresh by 1.

However, almost immediately I came to see this as far too limiting. Not only is it unattractive to shoehorn every member of every race into the same constricting loafer (to take that metaphor just as far as it can go), but reducing Refresh is just punitive for no good reason. After all, a "pure-strain" human can take the equivalent of Personal Gadget without reducing his Refresh, and that does the same as one of these Racial Stunts, more or less.

I decided instead to go with subraces, to better emphasize the different faces of something as broad as "elf." There are stealthy woodland elves, magic-infused elves, haughty elves in slender ivory towers, etc.

Wood Elf: +2 Alertness when using sight or hearing to perceive something, +2 Athletics when covering ground, +1 Missile with bows
Noble Elf: +2 Lore when researching arcana, +1 Magic with Magecraft, +2 Art when performing
Dark Elf: +2 Alertness in dim light or darkness, +1 Magic with Summoning, +2 Stealth in dim light or darkness

Cave Dwarf: +2 Alertness in dim light or darkness, +2 Endurance vs. Poisons, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone
Mountain Dwarf: +1 Melee vs. orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone, +2 Leadership vs. other dwarves
Hill Dwarf: +1 Melee vs. orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone, +2 Burglary when picking locks/disarming traps.

Note: Only one Racial Stunt may be taken, and it must have an associated Aspect.

This is better, but again, everything's so setting-dependent that it's impossible to account for what's "right" with any real accuracy. Like I said, when setting elements are added, I'll have more here. Who knows -- we might end up with graceful dwarves and greedy elves. Or no elves at all. Too early to say.

While this last option is closer to ideal, there's nothing stopping generic Racial Stunts, either, with a choice of three bonuses among many. E.g.:

Pick three:
  • +2 Alertness to perceive
  • +1 Missile with bows
  • +2 Survival in forests
  • +2 Stealth in forests
  • +1 Status
  • +1 Magic with Magecraft
  • +1 Magic with Summoning
And so on. I prefer setting-dependent racial packages, but the option to genericize things for those who wish it will be in there.

But wait! Is humanity not a race? Expand "race" to "culture" and you're on to something. Setting's just as important, but the same sorts of packages could be whipped up easily enough for humans, too.

Nomad: +2 Ride on horseback, +2 Survival on the plains, +1 Missile on horseback
Barbarian: +1 Melee with two-handed weapons, +2 Survival in native territory, +2 Endurance vs. natural poisons
Urbanite: +2 Rapport when haggling, +1 Contacting, +2 Craft for one type of craft
Highborn: +1 Status, +2 Lore regarding nobility, +2 Empathy when defending against Deceit

Note that all of these stick strictly to bonuses. As has been often observed, there are basically only three kinds of Stunts: ones that give a +1 to a skill, ones that give +2 to a skill under specific circumstances, and ones that let you use one skill in place of another. There are enough of the latter that I wouldn't want to make them redundant via Racial Stunts.

Also, I've made an effort to confine all the +2 bonuses to non-combat skills and all the +1 bonuses to combat skills -- mostly (the Highborn's Status bonus being an exception).

Complete non sequitur: After mentioning the "Origins Phase," above, I'm inclined to come up with a different word than "Phase." It's very chronological, and character creation in "SotS" isn't chronological, but conceptual. Maybe "Facets" would be better. Is that too much like "Aspects," though? Would people get confused? Hmm... I'll consult my good friend Theo Saurus.


Barna said...

Nice blog man! I´m a SotC fan too, I´ll be sure to drop by frequently. Rules for species are quite an issue for me (running a SotC SW game) since I´m not sure whether to handle them with aspects or stunts (perhaps a mix of both?).

Jonathan Breese said...

I am enjoying the blog.

I have to say, out of all the options, I think the "race as an aspect" rule is the most effective. It just makes being a specific race more flexible and allows it to enhance the story more. Of course, this only works really well if you have a single elf or dwarf. If you have multiple players playing elves, their race aspect then has to be personalized even more.

Mike Olson said...

Jonathan --

Race as Aspect is definitely the simplest, most elegant implementation, and for most characters, it should be enough. I like the idea of including a stunt, though, in case someone just really needs to be a paragon of elf-hood or whatever. Some people may want the extra mechanical crunch, but it certainly works fine without it.

Actually, it occurs to me that you and I typify those two types of people pretty well....

Javier said...

I think both Aspects AND Stunts are both a good idea. However, Racial Aspects shouldn't be constrained to just a word, like 'Elf' or 'Drow', or even two words like 'Dorky Elf' or 'Drunken Dwarf'. Maybe a catchphrase that captures the spirit of the race, like 'There's never enough food for a Dwarf' or 'Performer for the elven forest' or 'Gnomish contraption-maker'.



Mike Olson said...

Definitely, Javier. Adding personality to an Aspect is always a good thing. Not only does it make things more flavorful, but "Gnomish Contraption-Maker" will have more (and more interesting) compels and invokes than just "Gnome."

Jonathan Breese said...

"Actually, it occurs to me that you and I typify those two types of people pretty well...."

I actually like both, but I want the mechanics to serve a purpose. I think if you have multiple "Elf of the Shadow Forest" in your party, then giving them each a stunt to differentiate them is a good idea. Having the option is always good. So one could have "Untrackable" and the other could have "Tree Climber" as another stunt.

I am not opposed to the stunts, but I think a mix of both would be good. Treat race as a hybrid of Aspect and Skill basically