Thursday, January 5, 2012

What Fairy Tales Have Taught Me About Demi-Humans & Monsters

Elves, Dwarves, Giants, Goblins, Pixies, Nixies, Dryads and Snyads should definitely not have Type IV names like Elberenthon Autumnleaf or Bordan Stronghammer but they should have hokey, folksy names like "Green Jack," "Weeping Annie," or "Big Ted."

Also, prompted by the AD&D Demi-Human Level Limit discussion over at Rients' joint; my view is that you have to keep in mind that these aren't people we're talking about; they're demi-humans, some of them don't even have souls. By D&D standards they're practically monsters.

And, ultimately, they're also critters from fairy tales. I like fairy tales, and if I was an adventurer I would be terrified of facing something from a fairy tale. I can handle fairy tale beings being badasses. But can I handle them being the most-badass mofos? The Conans, The Gandalfs (okay, he was an angel; in human form), The Gray Mousers, The Rambos, The Darth Vaders, The Snake Pliskins? The Batmans? The James Bonds?

No; they are from fairy tales. Only the children of Adam and Eve are allowed to become the King Arthurs, the Alexander the Greats, the Merlins, the Solomons, the Moses', the Musashis, the Indiana Jones'. I think that in almost every supernatural worldview, there is the idea that there is something that makes human-people and the super-natural spirit people of the woods and mountains fundamentally different. And the greatest legends are about human heroes (and also deities).

Demi-humans get unlimited Thief advancement because it's a crap class, and I'm okay with fairy tale beings betting top-shelf, triple-A level tricksters.


  1. I am in this camp as well. I'm struggling as to whether following this line of thought to its logical conclusion means that I should only allow human PCs. Really, if a player can play it, it doesn't end up feeling very alien.

    I have a working draft where dwarves => engineers, elves => fighting magic-users, and halflings => rangers. It still allows a reasonable diversity of player options, and covers all the B/X mechanics. It's looking more and more attractive, but I haven't committed yet.

  2. just take care. merlin is a tiefling. or worse!

    [quote]Merlin's traditional biography casts him as a cambion: born of a mortal woman, sired by an incubus, the non-human wellspring from whom he inherits his supernatural powers and abilities.[\quote]

  3. but they should have hokey, folksy names like "Green Jack," "Weeping Annie," or "Big Ted."

    Their names end up that way at the end. My highschool dwarf started with something big and unpronouncible and compound and ended up with just 'Splinter.'

  4. But your standard hero with a thousand faces is a demi-human - generally supernatural on his (dark) father's side, he is special because he stands beyween, and can draw power from, two worlds. I'll see your Solomon, Moses and Bond and raise you a Gilgamesh, Jesus, Superman (that is, changeling) and pretty much anyone from Greek myth. Vader's an interesting case because of course he was Luke's Dark Father for the first 20 years or so - his supernatural connection to the mysterious world of Jedi destiny - until the prequels when we got to learn what a bunch of old women they were, and then Anakin turns out to be some sort of unstable spontaneous creation, a kind of Star Wars Bobby Fischer.

    Unless both I and Opossum101 have totally misread your intentions here and fallen into your trap, in which case well played, sir.

  5. Gilgamesh, Jesus, Superman (that is, changeling) and pretty much anyone from Greek myth.

    Yeah, but their hold on the world of humanity is tenuous and doomed to be severed.

  6. richard raises a very cool point, but I think the term "demi-human" becomes misleading because elves, dwarves, and gnomes are not beings that stradle both worlds the way the mythic hero does; they are beings entirely from the otherworld. "Demi-human" then is kind of a misnomer, it works for half elves and maybe halflings(?), but not the other races.

  7. Conan, Gandalf, the Gray Mouser, Rambo, Darth Vader, Snake Pliskin, Batman, James Bond, King Arthur, Alexander the Great, Merlin, Solomon, Moses, Musashi, and Indiana Jones all have something else in common:

    None of them were ever ambushed and murdered by giant white wolves, skeleton horses, or invisible ninjas.

    So I don't think that part of the argument really holds a lot of water.

    Also: John Carter? Elf.

  8. To be fair, if they were invisible we can't know whether or not the ninjas were there.

  9. Kudos! I tend to think of the non-human races in much the same way.