Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dungeons and Dragons, "Creatures of Nature"

Standard Introduction
            I have been writing about Dungeons and Dragons semi-regularly this year and in the course of writing those I found a 30-day blog challenge.  As I have done those a couple times before it seemed remiss not to jump on this one.
            If you want here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Disney Movies, here is a link to my 30-day challenge on Video Games, and here is a comically out of date 30-day challenge on Movies (it is old and the writing is rubbish).

Day 18- Favorite Elementals, Fey, and Plants
            There are 10,000 monsters in this gods damned game.  Expect several top 5 lists this week as there are not too many specific “favorites” more like “preferred”.  Today is Elementals, Fey, and Plants.  These are not boring, but they are also not terribly interesting (I mean, a monster made out of water would be interesting in many contexts, but they are not all that interesting by the standards of the fantasy kitchen sink approach of Dungeons and Dragons).  Let’s see what I can do with this.
            Let’s go.
This is art from a Magic the Gathering Card.
I just especially liked it.
#4: Efreeti
            Starting off, we have a classic figure in fantasy, the genie.  I found the old designation of “Outsider” to be misleading when talking about the Efreeti and other genies because they all occupy the elemental planes.  While that does make them extraplanar, they make more sense as elementals, as they are obviously coordinated to them.  They are living fire.  5th edition to the rescue they made them elementals.
            I have made use of one of these guys before.  A snuff box was stolen by the party’s rogue from a Mindflayer villain and the party had access to 3 wishes, which was pretty helpful when it later allowed them to kill a Lich without too much trouble, wishing for the villains phylactery to appear and then torching it.
            While wishes are potent, and require the DM to be clever in order to corrupt or bend them toward a useful story element they are something interesting to add to the game.  Too useful to squander, but too useful to leave unused.

#3: Azer
            No joke, before “Savage Creatures” and before I had any idea what I was doing, I let my brother play an Azer as his first character in a game I was GG for.  I had no clue how overpowered he was and how much he overshadowed the other players.  I had no idea how challenge ratings worked or how to make encounters fun.  It was a rough learning experience.
            I have not had an opportunity to make good use of these guys since (that is to say I have never made good use of them) and aside from liking their look, the basic premise of being flame dwarves, and the nostalgia for a time when I was still learning to play, I don’t have much to say about them.
Another Magic card.
Almost like Magic has produced more high quality fantasy art than any other fantasy franchise.
#2: Dryads and Nymphs
            I think I might be the only person that thinks Dryads and Nymphs should be rolled together into one creature with a weaker and stronger form.  Most people outside of gaming would have a hard time seeing the two as different things, and while they are different in the game to a significant degree, they still fill a similar role as the nice forest spirit that looks like a beautiful woman.
            I have made little to no use of these guys in the past.  In spite of running long campaigns with Druids, Rangers, Barbarians, and a Scout, I tend to play a more urban game, with the action taking place in a major city that serves as a hub for the story and several other communities that exist around it.
            Aside from having little experience with them, I like Dryads and Nymphs as story elements.  They are interesting when they show up, indicators of a pure and safe world that can serve as an oasis to the players in the midst of an adventure.  Also, their presence is kind of a reverse of the usual, they serve to protect and guide the heroes even though they are young (looking) women, normally such an archetype in fiction is the one being saved.

#1: Treants
            These guys are great.  They’re perfect metaphors for the powerful and ancient mind of nature.  They are kind and wise, but not particularly active and involved, much like the Dryads and Nymphs they serve as a tree to rest under to take a break from adventuring.  I actually had an ancient Druid reincarnate as one to guard an important forest in the game world and it served as a good recurring set piece that is not at all lifted straight from “World of Warcraft”.
            Since I have not run a game with staunchly evil PC’s in it, I have not had an opportunity to use them in a major combat encounter.  Much how I like the Kyton from my entry on “Fiends” animating chains to generate more attacks, Treants can animate trees for a similar boost to its attack power.  That is a cute idea.  Like the orchard scene from “The Wizard of Oz”.

For a Change of Pace: Some Shit Ones
            I give 4th edition a lot of props.  It took some chances (HUGE CHANGES IN GAMEPLAY MECHANICS for instance) and I feel the negative overreaction to 4e caused Wizards of the Coast to walk back too many things and drop many good ideas.  A “baby with the bathwater” reaction that I hope they revisit in the future to look for some interesting places to add in things to 5e.
            That being said, there was some god-awful shit in 4e too.  Let’s look at two big issues, the Fomorians and the Cyclops.
You can tell they are evil because they're fugly.
            I have no idea why the Fomorians were elevated to the status that they were in the 4e core books.  I do not know why they were given an army of Cyclops to do their bidding.  I do not know what appeared in TV, Literature, or Film that encouraged the developers at Wizards to go in for these guys.  I don’t know why they are fey when they are both clearly giants.
            Between the two, they take up 5 pages in the monster manual.  One of which is just a full page of two Fomorians looking ugly.  I cannot for the life of me see this as a logical use of page space.  I suspect they were to be the paragon (levels 11-20) monster races of choice, but that only works if you ignore the traditional giants who are there and in the same range of challenge.
            I do not see it.  I do not see the appeal of them as setting pieces.  I do not see the coupling of the two as a society.  Maybe there is a Celtic Mythology Nerd working at Wizards who was just super persuasive to pull for the Fomorians.  But then why the Greek Mythology creature, the Cyclops to go with them?  Why are they not giants?

            I know that when I talked about dragons yesterday, I encouraged going with the Oriental Adventures Dragons as my favorites and said they should have been made core in 5e for the novelty.  There is some novelty in the Fomorians and Cyclops’ status being elevated in 4e.  My issue is this, they didn’t take it far enough.
            If you want to make a whole new bunch of giants with the Fomorians as the ugliest and most powerful magically, fine by me.  You could unite the Ogres, the Cyclops, Trolls (even come up with different types), Ettins, and others and drop the traditional Hill/Frost/Fire/Cloud/Storm Giants altogether.  Hell, introduce other names for giants like Nephilim or Daityas.  Make new giants based on existing mythology, like a fire breathing race of giants named for Cacus.
            If you are going to break with something.  BREAK HARD.  Clever spins on existing material are not going to be noticed or appreciated.  Bigger departures are more interesting.  Again, I am the guy who likes “Spelljammer” and “Ravenloft” more than “Forgotten Realms” so my opinion should be taken from the perspective of wild imagination.
            The addition of “weird eyes for the giant guys” was different but didn’t displace the still present safe option of traditional giants.  They were just another monster given more space in the book than they really deserved.
Maybe I don't know what I am talking about.
To me though, the Cyclops clash with the Fairy Tale like atmosphere of the Feywild.
They should have been replaced with Trolls which at least originate in the same regional folklore as the Fomorians.

Coming Tomorrow
            Tomorrow I am going to talk about Undead.


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