Re: Elementals; Elder Race PCs

From: Nick Brooke (
Date: Thu 22 Jan 1998 - 11:31:36 EET

Nils asks:

> Are there any summonable otherworld creatures other than
> elementals which have a very clear connection to a natural
> entity (air, darkness, earth etc.)... ^^^^^^^
                                                [My emphasis]

By saying that Air, or Darkness, or the Moons, or Chaos, *are*
"natural" entities, you're effectively prejudging the outcome
of your test. If the Dara Happans (or whoever) don't accept
this, the test never even starts -- Sylphs, Shades, Selenes,
Lunes and Gorp all fall at the first hurdle. "How can anything
which had no place in Yelm's Golden Empire be 'natural'?"

Sergio writes:

> (BTW, reservations are supposed to exist to help the reserved =

> 'defend their culture and heritage'.)

[Hollow laughter]. Scarily, I wonder if Sergio *believes* this.

> What I don't catch is why a troll that lives with humans will
> be stripped of his trollishness. It can happen, but in an RPG
> that's the player's fault most of the time.

Simple, really. Trolls have a different outlook, perceptions,
values and priorities. They have manners, customs and attitudes
shaped by existing within Troll culture. Bring them into human
society (a PC group, a human village or city, a human temple,
etc.), and two things happen.

The first is the GM has to decide whether to allocate equal GM
time between the five other players and the troll player. If he
does, the troll is "hogging" his attention (from the other PCs'
point of view); the GM is spending too much time indulging the
only member of the group to "ignore advice in the rules" and try
playing a non-human character. If he *doesn't*, the troll's own
contribution to the game is necessarily reduced, as he becomes
just a walking source of infravision (oops! I mean Darksense):
his own special perceptions, values, outlook etc. only enter
play when it's convenient for the humans that they should do so.

The second is the troll player has to decide whether to be a
"proper" troll (active at night, hungry all the time, crude and
obnoxious, ruled by his appetites) or to tone down this typical
behaviour. If he "acts trollish", he's automatically inconveni-
encing the rest of the group -- who will find the troll getting
in the way when they try to do the simplest things (like: travel
in the daytime; pass by a tasty-looking corpse; make friends and
influence people). If he "acts human", why's he playing a troll?

The dynamic exists, from both sides: denying it is foolish. So
that's "the player's fault" if something goes wrong? I'm not so
sure. It's easy to see how a troll PC can become either a game-
dominating bore or a "human with darksense, tough skin, and a
damage bonus". It's *great*, of course, when this doesn't happen:
but that takes effort.

The easiest way to play non-humans, enjoyably, avoiding *both* of
the problems above, is to do so in a non-human context. That way
the GM doesn't face the "perspective" issue (of communicating to
different species simultaneously), and the PCs don't have to act
"unnaturally" in order to get on with some weird alien species'
customs, biology and prejudices. When a GM presents the world as
trolls see it, and the PCs are all trolls, all runs smoothly.
(The same argument explains why one-culture or one-cult games
are easier to write and run well than the normal hotch-potch of
miscellaneous races, cults, cultures and beliefs: the GM can say
"You see a shamefully-dressed woman", not "You see a woman in a
short robe. Yelmalions, you think it's shameful. Orlanthi, you
think she's beautiful. Troll, you're hungry again...")

NB: I am a great *fan* of "inconvenient" player characters, when
I can play them. I also hugely enjoy "player-generated" scenarios:
what happens when you dump a grab-bag of disparate personalities
into a stressful long-term situation and watch them shake-down to
adjust -- like "Tarsh War", for example. But I recognise that many
games find them just that -- an inconvenience, getting in the way
of kicking-the-door, killing-the-monster, grabbing-the-treasure,
completing-the-scenario. I can only speak from my own experience
(as player and GM).

> in RW, when the dominant and the dominated are of the
> same race, the dominant can prefer not to enforce their culture
> on you to keep the line that separates both peoples well deline-
> ated. IMO the problem is not culture, it's power.

That's very perceptive. In most of the areas of human/Elder Race
"cooperation", it's easy to see that one or the other party has
the upper hand. But that doesn't mean they're not cooperating.
The dominators are often unwilling to "welcome the underlings"
into their own culture -- but that doesn't mean they're unwilling
to enforce their own prejudices on culturally- (and biologically-)
distinctive subject races. If only in such questions as religion,
urbanisation, agriculture, access to the ruler, access to sources
of power, etc., the "master race" is likely to possess unfair,
inborn advantages. Imagine a human trying to live long enough to
reach the head of a queue of dutiful dwarfs, all lined up to see
their Leader. Imagine a troll attending at the court of the Dara
Happan Emperor. Imagine a settler in forest lands wanting to cut
himself a clearing without treading on Aldryami toes...

Whatever the rhetoricians may say, the Shadowlands were "ruled
by trolls" -- not some happy-go-lucky free-and-easy everybody-
equal confederation of miscellaneous peoples and species. That's
why the Pharaoh was a "liberator" to so many of them. And that
also implies that *they* felt constrained by having shadowy Uz
overlords, whatever the overlords themselves may have said about
it. ("Oh, yes, they *love* being ruled by uz Trolls.")



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