Monday, April 29, 2019

Origin and Life Cycle of the Elves

The following thoughts were inspired by the posts on From the Sorcerer's Skull here and here.

NOTE: this information is known by all elves but is never revealed to other races. Other races, over long centuries, have gained hints and rumors of the elven life-cycle; whenever the truth is fully discovered, the elves ensure that the information, and those who know of it, are wiped out.

The basic truth of elves is that elves are not native to the mortal world. When the ancient elves first arrived in the mortal world from elsewhere (where has been lost even to elven knowledge) they were spiritual, non-corporeal entities made of pure energy.

The ancestors of the elves arrived when humanity was still in its infancy, only recently evolved from the proto-human, near-simian man-apes that preceded true humans.

The energy beings encountered these creatures and possessed them, becoming the first elves.

As the world then was covered in primeval forest, and the elves embraced the life-energy of the forest, they adapted their bodies to become best adapted to the forest. In all the long millennia since, the elves have never lost this connection to nature and the living world, not even the aloof gray elves nor the corrupted dark elves.

Over time, the first elves slowly molded the bodies they had possessed to what they considered a superior form, what is today known as that of the “sylvan elf” or “wood elf.” This form is smaller than modern humans, as humans of that long-passed age were smaller than modern humans (the sylvan elves were taller and more muscular than the humans of the day).

The elf-spirits did not like the hairy bodies of the humans, and so rid themselves of all hair save for that on their head and their eyebrows. Eyes were made larger, the better to enable darkvision and improved eyesight; similarly, ears were made larger and pointed, to improve hearing. The elves could also change their hair, skin, and eye color at will, the better to express their individuality.

Not wishing to limit themselves to either the male or female form, the elves made themselves capable of remolding the sexual form of their bodies, and thus they may become male or female, neither (neuter) or both (hermaphroditic) as they wish (a change that requires several days to go from male to either neither or both, then to female, and vice-versa). As a result, all elves are physically androgynous in appearance, even those who prefer the biological male or female sexual form to any others.

This sexual polymorphism was due to seeking out differing pleasurable experiences with the physical body; due to religious and cultural reasons, the idea of childbearing was anathema to the first elves (this is no longer true of elves in general, see below). The first elves would never use their own bodies for such distasteful activities (essentially, childbearing was considered equivalent to hosting a parasitical growth).

For long centuries the superior form and technology of the first elves (for the first elves quickly developed advanced technology and civilization from long-buried racial memories of their pre-energy life form) kept the elves alive and in good health. Then the first elves experienced the first physical death among their kind.

They sadly discovered that the spirit of the deceased had become too tied to the body it had long inhabited, and so could not possess another adult body. However, after some experimentation they discovered that the spirit could inhabit the newly-conceived fetus of a human child. The child grew to term, and then after its birth, they retrieved the child by exchanging the newborn with a wolf cub they had polymorphed into a human child. This was the first changeling (and also the origin of lycanthropy, as that human child became the first werewolf).

And so, the issue of the rebirth of existing elves was dealt with when the circumstances first required it. This sparked the issue of the population growth of the elven race, for the human population was growing even as human civilization was quickly advancing (by elven standards). 

In all too short a time elves would be grossly outnumbered and perhaps brought to extinction.

However, as the bodies they had taken and improved upon were still, for all intents and purposes, human, they believed they could reproduce with humans.

After some experimentation it was discovered that elves could, indeed, reproduce with humans. And not only physically; in half of all cases the child bore an elf-spirit, while in the other half of all cases the child bore a human soul.

Those of elf-spirit could, when taught properly, mold their bodies as did the original elves, and their spirits lived on to reincarnate as did the other elven spirits. Those of human-soul, however, could not mold their bodies, nor live on to reincarnate, for they did not have an elf-spirit, but instead had a human soul.

And so over long millennia, the first elves grew their numbers by mating with humans and then taking the elf-spirit children who would grow into proper elves (usually leaving a changeling in its place in payment). In most cases, the half-elf children were left to their own devices, though in some cases there might be some interaction, either with the parent or with the community, depending on the community of the elves.

Then came two schisms among the elves at the same time.

First, many elves noticed that humans had physically improved over the long age; they had grown taller and stronger, more intelligent and capable, and had taken to domesticating animals, growing gardens and grains, and settling in small hamlets and villages. Some of this they had learned from the elves, other things (such as primitive metallurgy) they had learned from the dwarves. And some of the elves were worried that as a people, they were being left behind.

A great number of elves, though not the majority of elves, decided that the elven people needed to evolve.

Against the advice of most of the first elves (who at this point were mostly in their fifth to seventh incarnations), many of the younger, third and fourth generation of elves morphed their bodies en masse, to something similar to or even superior to that of humans. These elves, the high elves, were also the first elves to abandon the strict forest lifestyle of their ancestors.

They then did humans one better and, using their advanced technologies and ancient ancestral memories, built towns and cities when humans had built hamlets and villages. They moved out of the forests and into the meadowlands. There they built vast fields to grow the grains needed to support an advanced civilization. Some humans they adopted like pets, others they enslaved to do their bidding. And so, the first great elven civilizations arose. They allied with the dwarves against the giants and the dragons, and created a time of peace and plenty, which even in human lore is remembered as a golden age.

The first elves who still led the sylvan elves watched all this in horror. Some of them even went mad when they discovered that the high elves had taken to procreating among themselves! Most of the first elves met in conclave and decided that they had to come up with a way to strengthen the sylvan elves against their erstwhile cousins. Of two minds – sane and mad – one group decide that they needed to outdo the high elves and transform themselves into the most potent elven form possible; the other group decided that it were best to call upon the life-force of the forest and to meld with it, to protect the sylvan elves and the forests from the expected depredations of the high elves, who they felt had become too human.

Then from the first elves (all but a few) were born the fairies – the gray elves, the ultimate form of elf (at least, in their own minds) known as faerie elves, and the fairy races, such as pixies, sprites, nixies, and others, born of the merger of the first elves and the life force of the forests. Which faction was sane, and which was mad, none today knows, not even amongst themselves.

In the case of the gray elves, they decided to remain aloof from both high and sylvan elves, seeking to live their lives as an example to their cousins. They moved to hidden mountain valleys and other isolated locales, there to further develop the ancient magic that was inherent in the elven form and to study the very nature of the cosmos and existence. Eventually, over time, these became their obsessions, and they mostly lost their way, though some gray elf peoples continue their self-imposed guardianship of all elven peoples.

The fairy folk, whatever their original ideals and plans, quickly fell into the eternal reverie and merrymaking that is the fairy way. They remain staunch allies of sylvan elves and guard the forests, though now more for their own purposes rather than for all of elf kind. Though they were born from the first elves, the process of unifying with the life force of the forest shattered the spirits of the first elves, and their memories, such that there are few among them today who recall their origins, and even fewer who retain any complete memories of one of the first elves, so jumbled have the spirits of the first elves become.

Over time, without the direct influence of the first elves, the sylvan elves and fairy folk turned to procreation within their own kind. However, many sylvan elves and fairy folk, and even some high elves, continue the ancient tradition of the changeling, the better to bring in new blood to improve the ancient bloodlines. But today, most reincarnation of elven spirits occurs with an elven mother, rather than a human host.

The gray elves have developed an intermediate form of procreation, having developed a form of parthenogenesis. Whenever one of their number dies, a friend, with whom arrangements were made previously, takes on the female sex (most grey elves prefer to remain biologically neither male nor female) and becomes host to the reincarnated spirit of the deceased, the host for the spirit forming via parthenogenesis.

The origin of the dark elves is intertwined with the arrival of the forces of Law and Chaos in the mortal world at the end of the golden age of the elves and dwarves. When Chaos was brought into the world through the civil war between the hosts of the gods of men, it sought power among all the peoples, not merely humans. Some high elves found the whispered promises of Chaos much to their liking, and so began a war of elf versus elf for the first time in all of elven history. In the end the elves aligned with Chaos lost the war and fled underground, where the survivors became the ancestors of the dark elves, held in thrall by the dark lords of Chaos.

Elves self-reincarnate; that is, when an elf dies, its spirit separates from the body and seeks a new host body. Most elves have made previous arrangements with friends to host their spirit prior to death. Unfortunately, elven spirits can travel no faster in incorporeal form than they did in physical form (though they fly, and terrain is not an issue), and until they find a host, their cohesion and memory slowly degrade over time.

Some elf spirits never make it back to a host, and they either fade away or end up being pulled into some other direction. Some are found by demons, devils, ghosts, and other spirits, and are lost. So not all elves reincarnate, and even those that do have usually lost a significant amount of memory.

Some elf spirits, weak and fearing being lost forever, reincarnate in beings other than elves. If an elf spirit reincarnates in a child born to a human, it will be reborn as an elf, though will seem to be a fey human until it attains puberty, upon which most of its remaining memories will return to it (unless it is found by elves and raised among them, in which case its memories start manifesting shortly after infancy).

If an elf spirit reincarnates in a child born to a dwarf or gnome, the child is a gnome, and always remains a gnome; memories manifest at puberty, but the gnome remains a gnome. If an elf spirit reincarnates in a child born to a halfling, the child is a tallfellow halfling; memories manifest at puberty, but the halfling remains a halfling. In these cases, the gnome or halfling cannot be raised from the dead, and when it dies the elf-spirit is free again to seek an elven host.

Considering that most elves have been reincarnated many times, and each time memory degrades somewhat to nearly entirely, an elf has only glimpses of its past lives available. Only the first elves had near total recall from previous lives; these are now very few, most of them being gray elves, a few remain among the high elves and sylvan elves, and sadly, the memories of even the first elves among the fairy folk have been highly dis-articulated, disbursed into the life force of the forest and reintegrated in bits and pieces among the various fairies.

There are also odd cases where elves are reincarnated into non-human and non-demi-human forms. Some elf spirits, lost and weakened beyond consciousness, take shelter in the bodies of animals, and are born into animal form. In most cases these creatures manifest as highly intelligent animals that can speak Elvish (and perhaps other languages the elf-spirit knew).

In more exotic cases an animal born with an elf spirit morphs into a semi-humanoid form, becoming a most unique creature indeed! As this kind of thing has happened no few times over long, long millennia, there are forested regions where elves once live, but were wiped out, where strange animals reside in numbers. These creatures are usually allied with the fairy folk of the region. Some sages say this is the origin of dryads, treants, satyrs, bear-folk, harpies, and other sylvan creatures of semi-humanoid and/or high-intelligence. The elves themselves, of course, do not speak of such things…

Friday, April 26, 2019

G+, Bloggery, Legendaria, Campaigns, Labyrinth Lord, and Stuff

So lately folks have been reminiscing about G+, and if they miss it, or don't. For me, the loss of G+ was mostly a negative; I liked being able to read other's posts that were more than a Twitter and not yet a full Blog post. G+ was just right for that kind of activity without being a chat room or Discordia or whatever passes for such these days. I will miss it; I already do, but its Golden Age was long since passed, anyway.

I intended, after the closure of G+, to blog more (to get back to blogging regularly, as I was with Legendaria). But Real Life has been busy lately. I hope to be able to get blogging regularly again soon, maybe next week, more likely the week after that.

Legendaria is on the back burner and will likely stay that way for a while. I definitely want to return to it and make something out of it, but right now I am running one Labyrinth Lord game (the Western Realm Campaign) and playing in another. Both were intended to be Dungeon Expedition style, a la Rythlondar, but in both cases the party has been stuck in the dungeon between sessions. 

I think the major issue here is that due to time constraints we are only able to play three to five hours per session, which is really not enough to get as much done as one might think. Each campaign alternates every week, so meeting only twice a month does not help, either. Hopefully once the groups get a bit more cohesion each session will run faster and smoother.

I am still working on the Character Race and Class Quick Sheets, but for the initial release I am going to make them By The Book, rather than include any significant house-rules or new races or classes. I hope to have that finished in the next week or two.

After that I've got a couple of things I want to work on. Sadly, my Alien Summoner Wizard Lair Dungeon grew way the hell too much, too fast, and I dunno what to do with it now. It, too, goes on the back burner.

I may publish the adventure I am running now. So far it is working out nicely for a low-level adventure. Simple, with some goblins and undead, but with a few twists here and there to make it fresh. We'll see how the game goes; I already got a nice reaction from the players when they unexpectedly encountered a zombie bear; I haven't had that many players scream from surprise with an encounter in a while. :)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

[Advanced Labyrinth Lord] Rationalized Reaction Roll House Rules

One thing that has always bugged me about reaction rolls has been that they have never followed the basic curve that is presented with most ability scores. In BX and Labyrinth Lord, they are rolled on a 2d6 table, and so the Charisma modifiers are all on the 2d6 curve (as opposed to the 3d6 curve for all other ability scores); and AD&D had a d00 table which did not follow any curve.
And so, I have come up with the following new tables:
Note that Morale remains on a 2d6 scale, as I feel that works plenty well as it is.
The Charisma bonus of the party spokesperson affects how the encountered creatures react; if the character with the 18 Charisma stands at the back of the party and does not interact, their bonus is worthless; only one bonus counts, that of the spokesperson. If multiple party members try to speak all at once, any bonus is lost, but any penalty still applies; in such cases, there is an additional -2 penalty when dealing with Lawful groups.
Note that there are certain cases where a reaction roll is not needed. For example, certain humanoids always react with hostility and immediately attack certain demi-human races (and parties containing members of such races): kobolds always attack gnomes; goblins always attack dwarves; and orcs always attack elves. All humanoids otherwise react with a -2 penalty to any party whose members are of any demi-human race (such as orcs reacting to a party with dwarves, but no elves).
Chaotic creatures of extra-planar sort have a 5 in 6 chance of immediately attacking extra-planar Lawful creatures, and vice-versa, regardless of the reaction roll (as do Champions of Law or Champions of Chaos). Similarly, any group of obvious Chaotic nature that encounters a group of obvious Lawful nature has a 4 in 6 chance of attacking without even rolling reaction; Lawfuls encountering Chaotics have a 2 in 6 chance of immediately attacking (Orcs encountering the King’s Rangers; Crusaders of Law encountering members of the Cult of Chaos, etc.).
Other examples also include any party found in a creature’s lair, most especially if the party has already slain members of the creature’s clan or tribe or looted their treasury. In such cases, they will be immediately hostile and attack. They might, if patient and cunning, seek to trap the intruders in such a way that they gain advantage on their attacks and/or can eliminate the party without a fight (cf. The Hobbit, ex: Smaug and Barrel-Rider).
Otherwise, except in cases of immediate attack or immediate helpfulness, after the initial contact what thereafter occurs is up to how the party interacts with the creatures. If the party acts or the spokesperson speaks in a belligerent manner, add 2 to the chance of attacking and subtract 2 from the chance of helping. If they act in a friendly manner add 1 to the chance of helping and subtract 1 from the chance of attacking; if they act in a friendly manner and offer gifts, the modifier is 2 instead of 1.
Of course, all this is predicated on the fact that they can parley in a mutually intelligible language; if this is not possible, and they are trying to sign or use mummery to negotiate, add 2 to the chance to attack and subtract 1 from the chance to help.
If the party decides to attack suddenly, the chance of gaining surprise on an Indifferent, Friendly, or Cordial group is equal to the chance that they would have helped (2 in 6, 4 in 6, and 6 in 6); surprise only lasts for one round, regardless of the roll. A party that suddenly attacks cannot gain surprise on a Neutral, Uncertain, or Unfriendly group.
In the case of a Neutral and Uninterested group, there is a base chance of attack of 1 in 6 and a base chance to help of 1 in 6. After the first interaction, apply all modifiers and then check to see if the creatures attack or help.
If Lawful, first check the chance to help; if that fails, then check the chance to attack. If Chaotic, first check the chance to attack; if that fails, then check the chance to help. If Neutral, first check the higher chance, then the lower chance; if both chances are equal, then roll 50/50 to see which chance is checked first. If the creatures do not attack or help, continue the parley…

Saturday, March 23, 2019

[Known Realms] Map of the Northlands for Dungeon Crawl Classics

Back in early 2018 I started working on a campaign for the Known Realms of Aereth, the campaign setting for the original 3E Dungeon Crawl Classics line. Being me, of course, the first thing I had to do was set up a Hexographer map of the Northlands; nine maps, each hex 25 miles across, covering pretty much the entire Northlands except for the northernmost wastelands and Punjar (which really is part of the Lostlands, anyway).
As is normal with my life, other things got in the way of completion, and I moved on to other campaigns. However, the maps have still been sitting there, not complete but mostly complete, and now and again I've been thinking of them and what I can do with them.
Would anyone be interested in seeing these maps completed? Along with a Wilderlands-style run-down of major cities, towns, castles, citadels, ruins, islands, and lairs? Each of the nine maps would be sold separately with a gazetteer (under license from Goodman Games, of course).
Below is a small, stitched-together version of the first draft of the nine maps. Each of the nine has since been worked over more, with more details and corrections between the stitching areas, so this is merely a rough draft.
Let me know what you think...

Click to embiggen

Saturday, March 16, 2019

[Advanced Labyrinth Lord] Ransoming Player Characters

One factor in adventuring that has long been forgotten in Dungeons & Dragons, even through to Labyrinth Lord, is the possibility of ransoming captured characters. While the idea of ransoming captives is an old one in gaming, likely originated in and used to this day in RuneQuest, it was apparently only mentioned briefly by Gary Gygax in D&D in the module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. There, he mentioned that, “Organized  tribes can optionally be allowed to take player characters prisoner, freeing one to return to the KEEP to bring a ransom back to free the captives. Set the sums low – 10 to 100 gold pieces (or a magic item which the ransoming monsters would find useful) per prisoner.”

Ransoms are actually part of the original DNA of the game. In OD&D, brigands, bandits, nomads, pirates, and buccaneers all kept prisoners for ransom (or to sell as slaves). Historically, ransoms were actually the way many such groups – as well as nobles – got cold, hard cash to add to their treasuries. And so, ransoms – or at least, the potential for them – are going to be added back into campaign. This enables player characters to have a third “out,” so that combat does not always end in death or retreat.

Of course, not all creatures are willing or even able to take on prisoners with the hope of gaining a ransom. Most humanoids have long come to the understanding that in exchange for taking a pass at a fine dinner of man-flesh they may earn themselves a significant treasure – but not all have learned this, nor do all care. Under no circumstances will a humanoid or monster take prisoners for ransom if the player characters have slaughtered their young or elderly, defaced their places of worship, or otherwise caused such pain and consternation that the treasure gained would never outweigh the desire for revenge. Also, humanoids never take their ancient racial enemies prisoner for anything less than torture and sacrifice – goblins never give quarter to dwarves, nor orcs to elves, nor kobolds to gnomes, except as  ruse to capture them for torment and worse.

Human scum – bandits brigands, nomads, pirates, and buccaneers especially – are always interested in taking prisoners for ransom. They have no desire to battle to the death, and they find it a very lucrative trade. Nobles usually only take other nobles or wealthy merchants for ransom; others are enslaved or killed out of hand. Slavers are more likely to take prisoners to sell, unless the captive is very wealthy, while berserkers and cavemen take captives only to torture and/or eat. Pilgrims generally turn dangerous adventurers over to local authorities (if Lawful) or keep them to sacrifice at their unholy shrines (if Chaotic). Druids keep interlopers prisoner until it is time to light the Wicker Man; dervishes release their enemies back into the desert, though without equipment or even clothing, to let the wastelands be judge, jury, and if needful, executioner.

Other monsters and monstrous races may take prisoners to keep for ransom if they are intelligent, capable and willing to work with two-leg creatures, and greedy for treasure. Vampires, medusae, manticores, dragons, lycanthropes, satyrs, and centaurs are all likely to take prisoners for ransom. Most other monsters are either too inimical to humans and demi-humans, too hungry, too disorganized, or just too stupid to recognize the possibilities to taking prisoners for ransom (these others are more likely to take prisoners for their larder or for torment).

Creatures of lesser intelligence and non-discerning temperament such as humanoids will usually ransom anyone for 10 to 100 gp, regardless of social class or station (they will keep all equipment and treasure found on the character, of course). But be sure that the messenger they send back to civilization hurries – they are not known for their patience, and sometimes their lust for entertainment or hunger will get the better of them!

Humans and intelligent monsters are more likely to try to suss out their prisoners and find out just how much they are worth – a noble is obviously worth more than a mere peasant, a 5th level son of a duke is worth far more than a 5th level mercenary, and magic-users and clerics are often worth as much as a noble to their guild or temple! In such cases they will usually set the ransom at 100 gp per level of the character, more if of noble family or wealthy connections, less if of poor or modest means.

Failure to pay the ransom in the demanded amount of time ensures the wrath of the captor. Humanoids and monsters either eat or enslave the offenders, while humans are more likely to kill or sell their captives into slavery. And of course, in the case of captors of thoroughly Chaotic sort, there is no guarantee they will honor the deal even if they are paid the ransom!

On the player character’s part, in order to even take advantage of the opportunity for ransom, they must set up a ransom with someone back in civilization – someone close and readily accessible, someone that they can trust to pay the ransom when demanded. Player characters with families can usually count on them to pay a ransom if it is within their means, or even if they have to borrow heavily to do so – provided the character is on good terms with their family. Black sheep need not apply.

Characters who belong to guilds or similar organizations – temples, mercenary guilds, wizard guilds, thieves’ guilds, and the like – can count on these organizations to come to their aid, again, provided their fees are up to date and they are in good standing. Ion any case, the character, unless he has the fund on deposit, will be required to pay back the ransom paid, with interest, and is beholden to the family or organization even moreso until it is paid.

So, as players, please remember this third option! Not all battles need to be to the death. You now have the option of living to fight another day – and seeking revenge on those who captured you and ransomed you!