Friday, August 20, 2010

Bloodlines: Part 1

With a few concepts down, I set out to lay out exactly what this campaign setting would be about. The setting I wanted was obvious: a city connected to a million others, where anything and everything can happen, where everyone eventually ends up. The City of Lives. However, that notion, while a great high concept and place to start, is actually bewilderingly overwhelming. Were I to take that to my players, they would stare at me blank-faced: what kind of anything? Who is the everyone? People like some rules, some structure -- so I set out to create some.

The Neil Gaiman short story "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge" includes an off-hand remark where one character refers to another as "dead-blooded." I was intrigued by that notion. What would it mean to be dead-blooded? Would it mean to have actual dead blood running through your veins? How would that happen? Being brought back to live, but only partially? To be so lazy that part of you actually dies? But no! Obviously, this must be a blood-line, an ethnic group -- and so, therefore, at some point in the past, a dead-blooded person's ancestors had sex with the undead. An unpleasant thought -- and thus, unlikely to be willing. Suddenly a marauding band of pillaging, raping undead barbarians sprang up just outside the City of Lives, and their periodic raids on the City left an entire subculture of rape survivors.


And yet, somehow it seemed perfect. And this notion of bloodlines took a hold of me. I wanted to create some sort of "race" structure as per D&D, but I definitely wanted to avoid the normal "elves and dwarves" types -- and the anthropomorphic animals I'd created previously went too far the other way. So, bloodlines: all the Player Characters (PCs) would be nominally human, but with something unusual -- like the blood of the dead -- in their veins. I liked the metaphor, and the idea of turning metaphor into something solid and real.

I recognized that just throwing together a bunch of random concepts would likely result in messy and repetitious design -- and there a few recognized archetypes for fantasy races that I thought would be useful, given enough of my own spin. Heading over to (careful, it’s addictive), I found the Five Races, and I also recalled an old Dragon Magazine article (to be cited when I can find it) that laid out the race archetypes as used in D&D. Putting them together, I found myself with a list of archetypes I wanted in my game.

Mundane: The ordinary people, usually human, distinctive for, if anything, their flexibility.

Cute: Small tricksters or (sometimes) inventors, with a form of spiritual purity to make up for deficiencies in other areas. Usually less impressive, often less serious, than the other races.

Fallen: Manipulative, backstabbing, and deceitful. Usually evil, but that all depends on your point of view.

Fairy: The inherently magical race. Usually physically weak and somewhat removed from the mundane world.

High Men: Morally, physically, and intellectually superior to ordinary man -- but usually not in a jerk-ass way.

Misfit: Shunned and hated due to their culture or heritage. Often doesn’t have a culture of their own, living within another civilization.

Stout: Short, tough, often gruff and dour. Often overlaps with the...

Proud Warrior Race: Part of a warrior culture, usually obsessed with honor and glory.

Savage: Barbaric, violent, and none too bright. May overlap with the Proud Warrior Race.

I combed through my old half-written stories and unused settings, looking for ideas -- recycling isn't just for aluminum cans! Through a combination of scavenging and original ideas that popped into my head while brainstorming, I ended up with the following:

Dead-Blooded: As I mentioned, the descendants of rape victims. Stigmatized and usually hidden among the other bloodlines, they have necromantic energies coursing through their veins. They are Misfits, akin to the role Half-Elves or Tieflings have in D&D (depending on the edition).

Grate-Scratchers: A name from an abandoned project I always wanted to use, Grate-Scratchers were inspired by the stories of homeless living in the sewers. They can do a lot with a minimum of resources, and literally have sewer water in their blood. They are Misfits, akin to Half-Elves or Tieflings in D&D.

Iversdotters: When looking for a Proud Warrior Race, I wanted to avoid the usual tropes -- so, inspired by a family of female clones from There and Back Again (a sci-fi retelling of The Hobbit), a co-worker’s surname of Iversen, and the desire to have a street gang in the game, the Iversdotters were born. All magical clones of the bloodline’s founder, the Iversdotters value bravery, individuality (ironically), and loyalty to the gang -- which controls a fair bit of the city and acts as an unofficial police force. They are a Proud Warrior Race, akin to Dragonborn in D&D 4e.

Kipmen: An unabashed homage to the AD&D 2nd Edition optional race "Mongrelman," Kipmen are the descendants of human/animal crossbreeding (yes, it's supposed to be gross), likely to have a dog's snout, lizard tail, and feathers instead of hair -- or something equally bizarre. They are violent, stupid, and at the very bottom of the social ladder. They are Savages, akin to Half-Orcs in D&D.

Check in next Monday for the other half of my Bloodlines...