Friday, July 20, 2012

Alternate Rules: The Nel

Or: Why Do I Do These Things To Myself? Also, this one is going to be long. 

To paraphrase a post from a while ago (February 2010 specifically), I once read this series called the Fey by  Kristine Kathryn Rusch about a warlike race of magical creatures. They had faeries and shapeshifters and sorcerers and so on. They were powerful and innately magical. Some of the concepts behind the race seemed based heavily on Celtic/Briton folklore, which I really like. At the time we were playing 2nd Edition in a phase I like to call "Power Level 9000!" or "Its Over Nine Thousaaaaaand!" in retrospect. Basically, I had no concept of balance and didn't care. Made my players happy, but left me confused as to why I could never challenge them. Ah youth. 

So, I created a bunch of super powerful magically inclined creatures that were immortal and had...well, let me look at my old info here. Trolls had a +25 to Consitution (I extrapolated the ability score charts to all scale up to 50 prior to this), while Daoine Sidhe had a +6 bonus overall to their stats. Mind you, this is 2nd Edition where normal races had a strict +1/-1 balance to ability scores. They were also immune to poison and disease, didn't need to eat or sleep or anything like that, and they all had innate resistance to magic. They could also be harmed by dispel magic and iron. The initial representation of the fey had a job system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, which at that time I had never played. As the characters leveled, they gained elemental abilities or magical abilities based on their class. I won't go into specifics, but each class broke down into a tree of related classes with various bonus abilities and damage adjustments as they leveled in along that path. 

There were a couple variations on that theme as the editions progressed, more races were added. I eventually threw in a heavy dose of the Dresden files and broke them down into summer and winter fey ruled by Oberon and Mab. With 3rd Edition I tried making a vague skill system based on manipulating the elements/world around them via skill checks and also some bonus spells they could use X times per day. Most of this stuff was all based on their Charisma scores. Mind you, we really never ran any sort of campaign with any of this stuff. I mostly just did it for shits and giggles and because Eric liked them. 

I toyed with writing stories about the Fey, periodically working on something called The Last Blade about the creator of the Fey called Cromm Cruach (also known as Cenn Cruach, so for those of you that have adventured in The Known World before: wink), which was based on this sacrifical idol in Ireland. Interestingly, it is my thought that this idol in our real world is the Crom of Conan's Hyborian Age. Maybe some day I'll write a post about how neat I think it is that Robert E. Howard based all the nations and deities of his Hyborian Age on the myth and legend and ancient history of Earth.

As I wrote the story, it occurred to me that in the rare event that I potentially wanted to publish this mess, I probably couldn't use 90% of the names and places in it. So I hacked the fucker apart and changed a bunch of names and details, keeping the core concept of a super powerful magical race and the majority of the elemental ties, though there are still clear resemblances. However, it has gotten to the point where I can barely remember what anything used to be called, which is good I suppose. 

So, I recently purchased a pdf of the Pathfinder Advanced Race Guide, which has rules on creating and balancing races, along with lots of new options (alternate traits, feats, spells, class archetypes, and equipment) for races currently in the game. It breaks down a shit ton of racial abilities and stat adjustments into a point buy system and for shits and giggles I started breaking down the Nel, which is what I renamed the Fey.  

So, to break things down quick, the Nel are broken into courts just like the Fey were. They are as follows:    

  • Aubernel: Nel of summer, fire, and light ruled by Aubernach. A pile of fancy, aristocratic hedonists. Some of them have strong ties to nature.
  • Feronel: Nel of battle, crude and primitive and rowdy, no elemental ties, and almost extinct. Their Gifts are much cruder, but definitely pack more punch than other Nel. Once ruled by Keoroen Skathos (formerly known as Cromm Cruach). 
  • Loronel: Ex members of the Feronel that cut ties with their people and sort of became hunters and woodsmen. No elemental ties, still pretty crude and rowdy, but less primitive and less bloodthirsty than the Feronel. 
  • Sarownel: Nel of storms and lightning, savage creatures that live kind of in a brutal tribal society where the strongest rules. Once ruled by Herowen, the imaginary friend of Merobel. Universally reviled by other Nel and possessing barely any Gifts. 
  • Sokarnel: The restless dead of the Nel, because what is the point of immortality if someone can just lop off your head and end you? Nel that have been slain, but refuse to rest quietly in The White Halls of Oblivion. Creatures of rot and ruin and darkness, once the most loyal servants of Keroen Skathos, till he left Grenaldeen (which used to be called Avalon). Have no memory of who or what they were in life and have no elemental ties. Rule by the six Sleeping Kings and Nostathon. 
  • Utenel: Nel of ice and cold, ruled by Merobel. A pile of dour and bitter warriors, though their lastborn are pretty hedonistic and aristocratic. The lastborn have a strong tendency for poetry and the arts. 

The courts used to be called the Seelie, Court of Blades, Common, Shadow, Sluagh, and Unseelie. There was also an Atlantean court that never really got written down, aside from some ideas from folklore as to who might be members of the court.. 

Additionally, the Nel are broken down into specific breeds. The appearance of each breed is dependent upon the kingdom that gave them life, as are some of their innate abilities. Nel are created by the Gifts of Keroen Skathos that he flung out into the world to be absorbed by shapeless phantoms that lingered in his homeland. The Gifts gave these phantoms the ability to animate/become one with elements of the world around them. They don't really breed, they just kind of spring into existence, its weird. The types of Nel are as follows: 
  • Drake-kin: Nel with heavy lizard/dragon/snake elements. 
  • Earth-kin: Nel made of dirt and clay and other kinds of earthy stuff. 
  • Forest-kin: Nel made of plants and briars and trees and such.
  • Lastborn: Ruling class of each kingdom, the most humanoid of the Nel, though they are more like tall elves with cat eyes than humans.
  • Mountain-kin: Nel made of stone and metal ores. 
  • Primordials: Nel that are basically uplifted animals. 

There also used to be shapeshifter and psionic varieties of the Nel, but I pulled them out because I didn't feel they fit with this re-imagining of the race.

So that is a quick and dirty primer to the Nel. If you let me, I could do a fucking An Evening With Kevin Smith length monologue on this stuff. You're getting off light here. 

Back to the Advanced Race Guide. On a whim one day when I needed a break from putting together the third scenario of our Pathfinder campaign I popped open some of my old material and started putting together some ideas for the Utenel Mountain-kin. Think of them as nine foot tall giants hammered out of rock  and sheathed in chunks of glacial ice. Building them, they stat out to 45 race points. The core Utenel attributes (darkvision, lack of need for sleep, food, and water, spell resistance, cold damage resistance, bonuses to saves vs. poison and disease, immunity to sleep, bonus to saves vs. enchantments) stat out to 15 points alone, so the ability scores and general toughness of the Mountain-Kin cost about 30.  

At this point, I feel I should mention that the story I wrote alters the nature of the Nel, severely weakening and limiting them in a variety of ways from their mighty past. So, that 15 + 30 = 45 race points is a weak Nel, fyi. 

The most powerful core race, the Dwarf, stats out at 11 race points. The weakest, the Half-Orc, stats out at 8 race points. Of the more uncommon races in the book, the Fetchling (think of a Tiefling [13] or Aasimar [15], but from the Plane of Shadow) stats out at 17 race points. Drow Nobles, by far the mightiest of the races in the Advanced Race Guide, stat out at 41 race points and are suggested to start play at one level lower than the rest of the party. Most of their points come from their innate per day/at-will spell abilities and their high ability score bonuses.

So that kind of gives you an idea where this Utenel Mountain-Kin stands in terms of power. Unfortunately this does not account for the Gifts of Keroen Skathos. The Gifts have always been hard to represent with DnD mechanics because it basically amounts to "do whatever the fuck you want," which is hard to represent in game rules. In this iteration I've given it more structure, basically making each Nel a Sorcerer with capabilities based on their Charisma score. Here goes:
  • Charisma of 10 = Level 1 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 11-12 = Level 3 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 13-14 = Level 5 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 15-16 = Level 7 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 17-18 = Level 9 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 19-20 = Level 11 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 21-22 = Level 13 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 25-26 = Level 15 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 27-28 = Level 17 Sorcerer
  • Charisma of 29-30 = Level 20 Sorcerer
  • Gifts are based on the character's actual Charisma and are not increased by temporary increases to Charisma or external increases to Charisma such as magic items that boost stats when worn.
  • Nel do not gain bonus spells per day for their sorcerer abilities based on their Charisma.
  • Bloodline must be Boreal, Boreal (Rime-Blooded), or Elemental (Water/Cold).
  • No Bloodline bonus feats, save increases, hit points, skill points, or attack bonus increases
  • Are considered to have Eschew Materials, but do not actually have the feat except in the context of their innate Sorcerer spellcasting abilities.
  • May only cast Sorcerer spells with components that can be covered by Eschew Materials (i.e. ones with components that cost 1 gp or less).
  • May never take levels of Sorcerer.
  • The Gifts make Nel spontaneous casters and do qualify them for feats, prestige classes, etc that have a spontaneous arcane spellcaster requirement for them.
  • A Nel with more powerful Gifts than another Nel (i.e. higher Charisma and Sorcerer level) ignores the innate spell resistance of Nel when using their Gifts against them.

I have determined that The Gifts of Keroen Skathos cost 9000 race points.

Edit After The Fact: Wow, looking at this almost a year later, so much of this nonsense is irrelevant. I think I've finally figured out how to do the Nel with Pathfinder's rules and it works much better than the stuff I wrote in this post. It is still wildly unbalanced and powerful, but I think it is an easier system to work with and still uses an effective Sorcerer level, but it is based on the Nel's character level and not their Charisma score. Maybe I'll post it all on the blog once it is completed. I like it a lot better than any other way I've tried to represent the Nel/Fey using DnD rules. 

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