Friday, January 11, 2013


Every campaign world needs a race that is truly outcast, truly deformed, truly ugly, truly untouchable.  And in a world of half-breeds, quarter-breeds, magical experiments, planar breaches, and more, there has to be a place for those born just…wrong.  Mongrelmen are it.

The best part is, mongrelmen fit in any campaign.  Need a subterranean race of sewer dwellers corrupted by alchemical sludge?  Mongrelmen.  A reason half-dwarves, half-gnomes, and half-halflings don’t exist?  Mongrelmen.  A fey market out of the Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, or Hellboy II?  Mongrelmen.  Need to people a forgotten space station, or emulate New Crobuzon’s Remade and fReemade?  Mongrelmen.  No matter how close to Golarion, Greyhawk, or Tolkien you stick—or how far away you run from them—mongrelmen have a place in your campaign.

Mongrelmen are lawful neutral, not in the dogmatic fashion of axiomites and inevitables, but in the quiet way of a community that knows it has to stick together to survive, and for whom revolution is not an option.  Of course, if one is not of that community, there are no guarantees.  So a mongrelman village might be a party’s lone site of refuge while exploring the Realms Below…or the village headman might offer them up to the next morlock tribe that comes calling (see James Jacobs and Greg A. Vaughan’s Into the Darklands).  The point is, mongrelmen survive—and they make few apologies for doing so.

A city is thrown into chaos when mongrelmen boil up out of the sewers.  They immediately take up residence in the poorest quarters, scavenging, collecting refuse, and otherwise doing useful menial labor.  When questioned, they say only that they have completed a pilgrimage.  The city fathers want the mongrelmen gone, despite their utility, and a party of adventurers is dispatched to find out more about this pilgrimage if they can, and to force the mongrelmen to move on if they can’t.  The investigation involves cryptic warnings about rakshasas and “worm-things”…and attracts ravenous morlocks who are even less welcome than the mongrelmen.

A village of mongrelmen toil as slaves, harvesting strange psychic fungi and weird glowing crystals for their derro masters.  The derro and the mongrelmen are separated by a great chasm, and any outsider can see the mongrelmen could free themselves just be destroying the three bridges where the ritual trade takes place.  Getting the mongrelmen to throw off years of custom and subjugation in order to strike is another challenge altogether.

The asteroid cluster known as the Hermit Hollows hides the system’s largest colony of mongrelmen.  It also hides the legendary Cygnus Solis, a swan-shaped elven cruiser that vanished at the end of the last war.  Retrieving the Cygnus will be difficult: the grotesque humanoids (led by a claw-armed, giraffe-spotted oracle) worship the swanship as a goddess of beauty who will one day rejuvenate the mongrelmen race, and they will defend their icon to the death.

Pathfinder Bestiary 2 191

I’m surprised it’s “mongrelmen” and not “mongrelfolk.”  Speaking of which, 3.5’s Fiend Folio mongrelfolk had an extraordinary ability that let them emulate other races for the purposes of using race-tied magic weapons.  I definitely recommend adding this to your Pathfinder mongrelmen to reinforce their role as the ultimate scavengers.

I missed noting we hit one more landmark: 250 Tumblr posts as of Wednesday.  That’s pretty cool, especially on top of our 400-plus monsters overall.

Meanwhile, I discovered this series while researching devas for yesterday.  And I wonder…

Wait.  I’m wading into dangerous territory, because I really, really, really don’t want to wade too deep into 4e/D&D Next waters.  Some people love 4e (I’ve heard it’s quite good for new players), others hate it; I meanwhile simply followed Pathfinder and never looked back.  So take everything that follows as the musings of one ignorant dude.

Anyway, I browsed the articles a little…and I can’t decide if this is a good exercise or not.  I know that Wizards of the Coast is trying to get lots of input for D&D Next…but is crowdsourcing monsters necessary? 

That’s not rhetorical; I really don’t know—crowdsourcing seems like an amazing way to test mechanics, but monster flavor?  Is rating these descriptions on a five-point scale really useful for Wyatt, et al?  It’s hard not to see this as playing everything too safe—after having been burned by 4e, WotC is determined in this edition not to tread on any toes at all ever.

The nomenclature dilemma for archons/devas/eladrin in the linked article points to another issue of 4e vs. previous editions—the way it ran roughshod over the world’s oldest role-playing game’s established conventions.  Sometimes that’s good.  Big bold change can be more freeing than incremental tweaks.  Mechanics-wise, for instance, healing surges were a great idea.  I love the idea of boosting wizards slightly so they always have something to do in the game.  (That’s one of the reasons I tend to play eldritch knights or clerics, so I’m never reduced to being a wizard with a dagger or dragging the whole adventure to a halt so I can nap.)  And Torog, the Raven Queen, and several of the other new deities were pretty cool.  

But—setting aside every other drastic change 4e made, of which there were many—4e’s habit of casually slapping old labels on new monsters/gods/settings often seemed to be disrespecting what had come before.  So instead of seeming like a revolutionary rethinking in the style of Dark Sun, it often seemed kinda…rude.

Of course, now I’ve written myself into a trap: first I’m tsk-tsking WotC for being too cautious, the next lambasting them for having been too bold.  Fair point. 

Maybe what I’m getting at is this: Creating fantasy is tricky.  It’s hard to conjure up a shared experience at the table.  In radically altering mechanics and monsters and setting all at the same time, 4e may have been asking too much.  It’s always great to rethink and reinvent, right down to the smallest goblin—that’s what we try to do here—but it should be a process of addition…the “Yes, and” of improvisational theater.  In replacing and reassigning old names to unfamiliar faces, maybe what was upset and lost obscured what was fresh and new.

(On a very personal note, I will stand by a comment I’ve made before, which is that there was also a very hard-to-pin-down but nevertheless very real failure at the writing and page layout level.  4e books (I’ve bought one or two here and there when I had a gift certificate) just never read right.  My eyes would just fall off the page, and I retained absolutely nothing no matter how many times I re-read.  And that matters, especially for GMs, whom buy most of the non-core books.  Everyone talks about Paizo’s playtesting and GameMastery products and the leg up/ease they had by “just” releasing “3.75”…but what doesn’t get said is that they put a premium on rounding up the best writers and giving them a place to play.  That matters.  And it’s a spirit I try to emulate here.)

Finally, speaking of devas, this diva will be on the air tomorrow for the first time in weeks.  Tune in 10:00–noon Eastern U.S. time.  I haven’t prepped at all, so it won’t actually be good, but it will be me.  And that’s something, right?

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