Monday, 3 April 2017

Terrae Vertebrae: Non-Humans (Caprines) and why I wouldn't touch Gnomes with a Ten Foot Pole

So: there's no way round it. The 52 Pages offer Gnomes as a character class.  It fits an interesting mechanical slot - one can only choose to play as Gnome with all the various offers that advances if none of your ability scores have a positive modifier. Gnomes themselves have an interesting set of skills that mollify the effects of these low rolls. (See here for a blog post on the subject over at Roles, Rules and Rolls).

But, Gnomes just don't feel like a good fit. Not for Terrae Vertebrae anyway. Not for any mechanical reason - not really. One could argue that they jostle for space with the 'Underground Skill set' with the Dwarves - but some duplication seems inevitable.

All this is ultimately dependent one how a player chooses to act, but fundamentally Gnomes occupy a space that doesn't seem right. The image they have is of manic, mischievous creatures, prone to wild ideas and reckless extravagance.

I might offer two objections to this.

Firstly - and anticipating how one might attack the stereotypes of Elves or Dwarves - there is almost a rule in mind for adapting pre-existing Non-Human races in my mind that gets them 'off the hook'. Call it the 'Two Image' rule; Elves can be envisaged as Wild Men of the Woods, Creatures of Nature - or as Haughty Lords of the Elder Days. Dwarves likewise have the potential to slot themselves between Dour, Skillful, Underground-Dwelling Artisans and Ferocious, Lust-for-Life Warriors. least in my mind....don't. They sit firmly in the 'mischievous sprite' camp, pointy hats or no. Tolkien's Hobbits (and anything like them) sit squarely between Down-to-Earth Farmers, Gentleman-Scholars and Wide-Eyed Naivete. The spells gifted to them in The 52 Pages prevent me form just calling them Halflings. The notion of Dragonlance's Kender is, well, unspeakable.

Secondly - and knowing the potential pomposity in my words - they are just silly. Yes, this needn't be a downfall in a party of adventurers, nor is comedy shunned at the gaming table. But ask yourself about the sort of humour involved.

A party of adventurers walk into the dungeon. The Rogue trips over her bootlaces, the impassioned speech by the Paladin goes down like a lead balloon, the Wizard casts fireball at just the wrong moment, the Barbarian is taken out of the running by a series of dice-rolls from an unusually resilient kobold. The party leaves the dungeon singed, battered, none the richer for all their travails; everyone round the table has a chuckle at the best-laid plans Of Murderhoboes and Men.

The Gnome...well, if the Gnome falls flat on his face, that's practically expected. It's the equivalent of somebody entering to an obnoxious laugh track. A race of comic relief is less than desirable; one might see the adventurer as Straight Man - the GM and the Universe she operates are the Comedic Foil.

What alternative do I offer, and how does it differ?

A leaf not out of Northern European myth and legend, but Southern. The Faun and the Satyr - I refer to these collectively as 'Caprines' (this link, interestingly, suggests the possibility for Terrae Vertebrae of antelope-men in southern climes).

Do they pass the 'Two Image' rule? At one end, we have Mr Tumnus and the denizens of Narnia; on the other, the wild revelers and Dionysiac figures of Greek myth. They have some of the same qualities associated with Gnomes - but without the puckish element.

Within the world of Terrae Vertebrae, I conceived elements of Caprine life thusly: Fauns are settled, urbane if not necessarily urban and often smaller than Satyrs as a result of lifestyle. Both look to satisfy pleasures in relative idleness and comfort. Difference being, Fauns wonder down to the pub each evening for a glass of wine and a chat; Satyrs wander into town from the country when they wish to paint the town red. Think of the two as Highlanders and Lowlanders. 

Satyrs often worship the Old Gods. This is worrying to local Churchmen and faithful; conversion is next to impossible. Fauns tend to look to the more indulgent kind of Folk Saints and to keep their heads down in Church.

They are generally Nirvanite natives....though are less seen in the Novopolis. Plenty live and work among humans, but a stranger is, by nature of being an unknown Faun, especially strange.
As half goat, they are nimble, swift creatures and have some minor magics as an elder race. 

Now, no player ever yet chose to play as one. But their rules would not be so very different to Gnomes: something like Rogues and something like Magic-users. Naturally, they are of a different size. A different set of backgrounds would be necessary (eliminating the Dwarf-Gnome Underground clash discussed above), and less underground-centered languages. Perhaps the mind save might also be reduced, to emphasise the unfocused nature of the Caprines - but in return, their magical abilities might be less prone to failure. 

Thus, then, mechanically, Caprines are skirmishers and supporting spellcasters - just as Gnomes. But without the pointy hats.

It did strike me that my other Non-Humans exists in comparison to one another. If this is the case, the Caprine seeking of worldly fulfillment (if not necessarily to hedonistic extremes; Hobbits are not decadents!) should be offset by a somewhat more spiritual, thoughtful race. This never quite came to fruition, though some ideas relating to C.S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet emerged.

Are there any offering a defense of the Gnome? Is the Caprine an acceptable substitute?

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