Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The 4E Greek Mythology Campaign: The Races

As I work through the setup phase of running a Heroic Age Greece campaign my opinions on things change and I thought I would share some of the details here.

For power sources I am rethinking my earlier "unlockable" approach. I am not sure I want to mix in Norse and Egyptian as their own sections within the campaign including deities and the like. For one it dilutes the focus of the game on Greek Mythology and really becomes the "Popular Mythology" campaign instead. Additionally the timelines really do not match up historically  - not a primary consideration but one that nags at me a little bit. Finally the ideal in a long-running campaign is to have the same characters running through it, and if I open up the Primal power source at paragon then some players may want to switch characters in the middle of the game. I think I would rather focus this campaign on Greece then run another one (maybe next year) focusing on the Norse. Ancient Egypt will be present in the Greek game in a limited way but will not be the focus of the campaign over any long stretch.

Races, particularly player character races, are a big factor in the feel of a campaign world so I would like to get this right the first time. Here's where I stand right now:

Pretty solid:

  • Achaeans (Humans) - the mechanical flexibility of humans in 4E is a perfect representation of the Hellenes and how they viewed themselves. It also caters to the wide variety of character types in the mythology - the strong hero, the smart hero, the skilled hero  - all of these are do-able within the framework of human. This is the primary race of the campaign.

  • Minotaurs - I think they fit in this campaign better than in most standard D&D games. The island of Crete is their kingdom (Kingdom of Minos is the tentative name )and is considered a nation almost as civilized as the Achaeans themselves. They have a small population but they are feared physical combatants and are no slouch when it comes to magic either. The current king helped overthrow an ancient demon-worshipping cult that ruled the island for centuries and one of the themes a minotaur player can tap into is the hunt for the surviving priests and cultists who have now scattered across the world. This also conveniently explains the existence of wild bloodthirsty minotaurs in different parts of the world - they are too much of an iconic monster to lose. It also lets me add in demon worshipping cultists with an interesting twist.

  • Automatons (Warforged) - this is a new one for me as we do not use Eberron at all. The more I thought about it though, the more I liked the idea as a nod to everything from Talos to the minoton* to the works of Daedalus, and for giving Hephaestus a more active role in the world. I really like the idea of the man of bronze out adventuring and trying to fit into Achaean society. I might leave it up to each player to come up with an origin story but I may also have one built into the background, something like the Legion of Bronze - 1000 men of bronze created by Hephaestus to fight in some war against an otherworldly threat. Afterwards, he set them free to make their way in the world. It's not totally nailed down yet but it's a start. I would also assume that certain legendary inventors (like Daedalus) would have the ability to craft free-willed automatons but these would be fewer in number.

  • Nature Spirits (Wilden) - another race we haven't used but that seem to fit. These beings in default represent awakened nature are are somewhat plant-like. This would take the role of the dryad or nymph-like being that accompanies a party of heroes and eventually becomes one themselves.  

  • Thracian (Half-Orc) the Thracians live to the northeast of Greece and are a race of barbaric clans who spend a lot of time fighting amongst themselves and are totally non-Greek. When I first read through their history and customs they made me think of some depictions of orcs. There's some evidence that they are linked to the god Ares (in the Greek minds anyway) which fits right in where I want them to be. I'm thinking that they fulfill the role of barbaric human outsiders and the half-orc mechanical bits fit this to a T, favoring strength, dexterity, endurance, intimidate and a racial power called "Furious Assault".
Still thinking:
  • Cyclops (Goliath) -  This is mainly a cosmetic change - you're playing a one-eyed goliath.  I'm thinking they are the "country" cyclops who live up in the mountains of central Greece raising sheep and having occasional clan wars and don't interact much with the Achaeans as a nation or a race. They are known to the locals and mostly get along with them just fine, having no ambitions to conquest or bloodshed. Sometimes though one gets an itch and comes down out of the mountains and ends up in a heroic band going halfway across the world on some quest for the gods.   
  • Aegyptian (Deva) - I'm thinking of making them the nobility of Egypt as their theme in regular D&D is continuously reincarnated immortals and their skills and stats and power all back this up. Even if I go this way I'm still not sure I want them available as a starting race since the focus is on Greek Mythology, not Egyptian. I might make it an option if the party ends up in that area and loses a PC. Replacing it with a local would make some sense then.
  • Satyr (Gnome) - With all of the big bruiser races I'm looking at it would be nice to have a small race in the mix too. I want a race to represent the more animalistic nature spirit types so reskinning a gnome as a satyr might work, though the size thing doesn't totally fit unless we're basing it off of Phil from Disney's Hercules which is not totally out of the question. In mechanical terms they are good at sneaking and trickery which could fit but I am not totally sure just yet. 
  • Centaur (Shifter) - These are an interesting problem. I'm going to keep them to Medium size (Hey if an 8' Goliath or Minotaur can be considered "Medium" then so can these) but there are so many ways one can go to mechanically enhance the idea of  "Centaur" as some were wild barbarians while others were wise teachers and healers. Shifters as a race have two different mechanical options: one favors Strength, Wisdom, Athletics, and Endurance and adds a minor regeneration ability. The other favors Dexterity, Wisdom, Acrobatics**, and Stealth and adds speed and better defenses. I think this works as the first reflects the more brutish style of centaur while the other covers the speedy archer-centaur, and either can be played as wise or just strong-willed and rash. I could go one is male and one is female but I don;t want to limit things in that way for now.
To me these really fit the theme but it's pushing the bar. At some point I could end up with a party effectively consisting of a mutant animal, a robot, a one-eyed mutant, and a pure human and it looks more like a game of Gamma World than a game of Greek Mythology. Hmmm ... you know Greek Mythology looks kind of like a game of Gamma World anyway with all the half-this and multi-headed-that type creatures running around. Maybe I'm on to something here.

The "out" list
  • Dragonborn - no. They might turn up as the rulers of Atlantis or South America along with traditional dragons but they are not one of the starting races of the game. 
  • Dwarfs - no. Wait for the Norse Mythology campaign and we'll have all kinds of dwarfs there.
  • Eladrin - Actually these might be the Atlanteans - they are flavored as the highly magical, extra-skilled race . So they might make an appearance later but they won't be a playable race, they'll be more like Melniboneans than high elves.
  • Elf - no. Wait for the Norse campaign
  • Halfling - I'm tempted to put them in as natives from one of the islands in the Aegean Sea but I think it helps the flavor of the game if they aren't included and I don't have a good solid place for them.
  • Tieflings -the rulers of the Hittite Empire (Turkey) so they will be opponents (potentially) in the campaign. Not a player race for this one.
  • Githzerai - no. I don't see a place for them in the campaign. Wait for Plane Trek.
  • Shardminds - no. Wait for Plane Trek.
  • Drow -no. Wait for the Norse campaign
  • Changelings - no. Not in this game.
  • Mul - no.
  • Thri-Kreen - no. There are enough non-human options already. Wait for Plane Trek.
If we started playing today I would probably stash the Devas away for later and take the rest. That would give me 8 starting races including 2 versions of "human" and that's pretty good. Adding in all of the non-human races does mean that certain compromises have to be made with Greek history and myths and I will talk more about those in my next post.

*Yeah I know that one's from Sinbad but it's another Harryhausen movie and he would have fit into a Greek movie better anyway. I think Eye of the Tiger would be a cool outline for a D&D game.

** Let's think of this as "leaping over stuff gracefully" and not "tumbling with somersaults and cartwheels"


Taketoshi said...

Is there a particular motivation to including as many as eight racial options for this campaign? It seems like the perfect opportunity to have an anthrocentric party setup right from the beginning, but having only 1/4 of the available races be "human" makes it a LOT less likely that this will happen.

I'd just like to hear some of your specific thinking about that choice!

Blacksteel said...

Well for one I'm not sure of another human option that I could include, especially since I populated crete with Minotaurs.

Part of this exercise is to figure out what my outer boundaries are for races and I'm comfortable that these would work.

Now when it comes time to create characters (possibly this weekend) I may narrow it down a little more to avoid the Gamma World effect I mentioned in the post. That said, humans are pretty popular in our 4E games anyway as the mechanical abilities are quite good so it may not even be an issue.

Taketoshi said...

Thanks for the response! I like the idea of laying out some boundaries of what you're comfortable with so that you know right from the beginning--best of luck! I'm looking forward to seeing what the composition of the party ends up being.