Friday, February 11, 2011

The Niontians

You walk along, the cloud cover above hiding the sun from view. You glance over at your shadow on the wall, then do a double-take, as nothing else has a shadow. You stare in horror as the shadow begins moving on its own, and scream as it raises a ghostly crossbow... You've just met your first Niontian. In a small departure from the plan, we're first going to spend a post exploring the origin of the Niontians, before heading to their Realm next post.

This story begins, as most of mine do, with the name. "Niontian" originated as a nonsense word used in the oft-mentioned short story that started this world (which I should finish one day, methinks). The story went through two drafts (or, at least, the first few pages went through two drafts), and in both "Niontian" showed up as an architectural term. In draft one, I mentioned "a brand-new Niontian residence shoved up next to a millennia-old Pestilence Prime guild hall," and in the other, I used as a setpiece "a Niontian museum that had long since been converted into a makeshift community." The name didn't long stay fallow -- when I decided to turn the story into a campaign world, I made a list of all the names, terms, and words I'd put in as fluff, deciding which ones to turn into something substantial. I liked the name "Niontian" quite a lot -- it sounded dark and creepy to me -- but it was voted down by my playtest group when I ran it by them for which names should develop into Bloodlines.

I was not to be dissuaded. When coming up with ideas for the "Outlander" Bloodline -- that is to say, all the weird creatures that live in other realms who would serve as enemies and player options for those who wanted something exotic (like the D&D player who always wants to play a race from the splatbooks, or even the Monster Manual) -- Niontians came back. I brainstormed a handful of ideas, trying to make them all bizarre and unlike what I had seen in my D&D days. Among those ideas was "living shadows." I thought the name "Niontians" seemed to fit with "living shadows," so I set them together and, without further explanation, called it good.

The next time Niontians came up was when I was creating the second playtest campaign. One of my players had requested a "big bad" race to fight against, something that could be pure evil and that would not overlap with the PC races -- "so we're not always just fighting people," as she put it. I didn't really get it, myself -- I think fighting people is far more interesting than monsters -- but I do like the idea of the "big bad" villains to bind a campaign together into more than unrelated adventures. So I looked through the Outlander ideas for a species that might invade the City, to provide a large-scale threat and so that the heroes would have a definite goal to mark an endpoint to the campaign. Of all my Outlanders, the two I found most interesting were the Niontians and the Fractal Elves, who are designed to be far too strange to understand, much less do something as mundane as invading, so Niontians it was.

Little did I know how complicated that would end up being.

A word of warning: should you ever decide to incorporate living shadows in your own campaigns, think long and hard before doing so. I have had quite a headache figuring out the ramifications of 2-dimensional creatures and how they would interact with a 3-D world -- and my players are not the kind of people to just let this stuff go without explanation.

So, starting with a few ideas I came up with from reading Flatland and concluding (for now) with a long, long conversation with my playtesters in the midst of a play session, we have these facts about Niontians:

  • The original Niontia Prime is a 2-D world where humans can’t survive. 
  • When in a 3-D Realm, the Niontians live on the surface of the ground -- or side of rocks, or structures, etc. 
  • Niontians build their own shadow structures that are barriers for them, but not for humans -- but 3-D barriers hold no problem for the Niontians. 
  • In nature, Niontians can see only along the 2-D place -- when a human’s foot leaves the ground, it vanishes. 
  • Niontian Crafters, especially Shadowshapers and Farsharers, can perceive the 3-D world. 
  • Shadowsteel is one of the only substances that can affect both Niontians and 3-D creatures (or “corporeals”/”corpies.” 
  • Niontians are essentially the first Shadowshapers -- they can create and control shadows, and are vulnerable to either too much light (extinguishing them) or too much darkness (they are lost in it and spread into nothingness). As in Avatar: The Last Airbender, where the first Airbenders learned it from the Flying Bison, the first corporeal Shadowshapers simply learned how to do what the Niontians know how to do instinctively. 
Well, now that we've spent a post on Niontians, let's move on to their nearest colony Realm... next time! See you then as we explore Niontia Unprime 236!