Friday, February 22, 2013

What Things Look Like

I get very irate about players not paying attention to details in my campaign. I have like a little mini-rage stroke every time someone types Gobleen instead of Goebleen or Serethian instead of Serevish. I am a little more forgiving when it comes to something like Orcunraytel, because that word doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, and I try not to get too irritated about this issue in general because my campaign world matters a lot more to me than to my players and I am overly sensitive. But still, it bothers me because I tend to put a lot of time into this stuff, which makes me really overly invested in it, which is why I am overly sensitive. I know I am obsessive and sensitive, and I know my players are great guys and don't mean anything by spelling things wrong or by thinking dragons in Heknioe breathe fire, but still, part of me is all butthurt about it. On the other side of this coin, when Jason calls Eldumans immortal, psychic, crystal dryads, it makes me giggle and blush like a little schoolgirl. #nohomo...?

I have a larger mini-rage stroke when people have a blatantly incorrect image in their heads of what things look like in my campaign world. I try real hard to write down what things look like so there is a strong impression and people aren't left wondering what the fuck their characters look like. This is all in our heads after all, so I have to do my best to make sure we all have basically the same picture in our heads where all this stuff is being played.

In Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos series (a really great series I have been reading since high school that I would recommend to anyone that is a fan of fantasy), there is a race called Dragaerans. For a while, Tony pictured them as dragon men. They were elves, flat out, straight up Tolkien-esque elves and Vlad's grandfather actually calls them elves at one point. It is important for everyone to be on the same page when envisioning this stuff because there are different questions raised by what a race looks like. Why do dragon men use swords when they have claws and fire and stuff? Why do they wear armor when they have scales? Why do the dragon men uses magic when the dragons in the world use psionics and have tentacles?

To preface the next section: I apologize for picking on you Eric. 

I was talking to Eric the other day about the Sereth and he asked me how alien they looked. I listed their standard features, which is a basically humanoid appearance as far is number of limbs and having a head and stuff, pointed ears, completely hairless bodies, extra long arms and legs, normal sized torsos, vertical slit pupils, nictitating membranes over their eyes, extra fingers and toes with extra joints, extra knees and elbows, and gray skin. I consider this to be a pretty alien appearance. If I saw such a thing walking down the street, I would probably try to fuck it or kill it with fire. Eric told me he has been picturing Sereth as grays. The aliens. The skinny, gray-skinned, black eyed, earless, noseless, hairless aliens. With giant heads. Though he did say he imagined them with smaller heads. My brain exploded. We cleared up what they look like and he said, "So they look like an elf with no hair?" and my brain exploded again.

Eric, again, I love you man and I apologize for picking on you. You are one of my truest friends and one of the main reasons I continue to play and love these games we play together. #nohomo...?

This kind of warped perception of how things look in my campaign world upsets me. This isn't art, it isn't subjective or open to interpretation, it looks like what I say it looks like. Sereth and Vyanth do not look like any fantasy race I have ever heard of. My knowledge is not comprehensive so there very well could be plenty of creatures that look like them in books and settings I have no knowledge of. The elfy aspects begin and end with pointed ears and having limbs and a head and stuff. Elves are five and a half feet tall in 3.5 Edition I think (which puts them at about a foot and a half shorter than Sereth/Vyanth), they have five fingers and toes, one elbow per arm, one knee per leg, human looking pupils, human amounts of joints in their fingers and toes, their limbs are not overly long and are appropriately sized for their torsos, they're typically pale, and they have hair. Humans and elves look kind of alike, and halflings look like small humans, though the Pathfinder versions are a bit elfy if I remember correctly. Elves do not look like Vyanth or Sereth. I refuse to accept that anyone can believe this, even if it is just based on the quick and dirty description I've listed in this fairly ranty post. It is inconceivable to me. It's like saying Dwenoren look like dwarves. You know what race in my campaign world looks like elves? The Nock. Because they are elves.

Interesting note, some goats have horizontal, rectangular pupils and the cuttlefish has kind of a W shaped pupil. 

Look, if you're going to say that Sereth look like elves because they have arms and legs and a head and pointed ears, you also have to say they look like goblins, because goblins have all of those things. So do half-orcs, gnomes, and halflings. They all have as many physical traits in common with the Sereth as elves. Goblins actually have more, because they're bald and have gray skin. So goblins look more like Sereth/Vyanth than elves do. Would you say the Sereth and Vyanth look like goblins? Does that sound like it makes sense? For a seven foot tall creature to look like a three foot tall creature simply because they share having pointed ears, having a head and neck and torso and limbs, being bald, and having gray skin? These are superficial similarities and it is akin to me saying that Eric and I look alike or that Ninja Kitty looks like a black panther. I guess maybe it kind of gives a frame of reference for what the Sereth/Vyanth look like, but this frame of reference excludes all the defining physical features of the race.

This is really my fault. See, when we started gaming in Hekinoe we had three new players. Two guys and a girl that had never played DnD before but played video game RPGs and read fantasy novels or at least were familiar with Lord of the Rings. We used 4th Edition because it was new to the new folks and the old hands too and that would put us all on equal footing as we learned the game together. To simplify things, I called the races Serethian Elves and Vyanthian Elves, because pointed ears. I didn't want to scare the new people with all the zany shit in my head, so I altered my background material a bit to make things a little more familiar to them so they could picture things in their heads a little easier. There were also Whurentian Dwarves and the Children of Volung were elves too. There were Goblins and Orcs as well. Sigh. Then the guys quit playing with us (one joined the Navy and the other gets high like it's his fucking job and he makes a hundred grand a year) and I was getting sick of hammering my square fucking campaign world into 4e's round high fantasy hole and we switched to Pathfinder. I had a lot of respect for the girl and figured she could handle the change. When the rules change happened I reverted everything to my 3.5 Edition vision of the campaign world. But, first impressions tend to be lasting impressions, so I feel like some of the names still have elf or dwarf tacked onto them, even if it is just in a player's head.

So anyway, I have to ask my players a question now. Past or current doesn't matter. What I would like to know is, how do you envision the races of my campaign world? What do they look like to you? I want to know how you imagine them. I want an idea of what you see when I say Dwenoren or Child of Volung so we can all be on the same page.

Fallen are kind of a freebie, as they were originally described as rotting undead when they should really be crystal humanoids with rotted fragments of faux-skin and internal crystalline structures that pulse with dark necromantic energy. I still can't believe I described them as typical sentient undead with rotten bodies and bones. They were Eldumans. They are undead, immortal, psychic, crystal dryads. Hmmm, I suddenly have an idea for a sect of Fallen that still practice psionics. A bunch of Soulthief Vitalists and Dreads. 

Anyway, as a refresher, my campaign races are Children of Volung, Conwighta, Dwenoren, Elduman Descended Uncout, Eldumans, Fallen, Fell Humans/Fell Descendants, Fell Soulless, Greenskin Abraxens, Okwighta, Rankethlek, Sereth, Solwighta, Soulless, Uncout, and Vyanth.
Thanks guys. Sorry again, Eric.

Edit After The Fact: Eric was fine with me posting this post, I checked with him before I set it to publish. He and I talked and he explained that my descriptions of races in the campaign book are kind of vague and hard to get a good handle on. So I plan on going back and maybe tightening those up a bit more so I'll probably post updated descriptions here on the blog or pass out newer versions of the campaign book. Still, if everyone could comment on what the races look like to them, I would appreciate it, as it'll help me shore up my descriptions in the campaign book.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, but I'm still giggling about Umberhulks cosplaying as Legolas.