Thursday, January 15, 2015

Formian Warrior

When PCs accidentally stray onto formian territory, it’s the formian warriors who surround them, javelins raised.  When a formian seedpod asteroid crashes into a planet, it’s the warriors who wake first, instinctively driving off any beings they encounter until the royal castes and taskmasters have marshaled the hive as a whole.  When protean warpwaves mar the carefully manicured landscapes of the planes of Law, formian warrior conscripts guard the axiomites tasked with repairing the entropic wounds.

Formian warriors are amazons, sterile females fanatically devoted to their hives…until the day they’re not so devoted, because a lifetime spent patrolling the hive’s borders on their own initiative can open their compound eyes to other ways of being.  The second-lowest caste of formians, they spend their days climbing the rungs of a rigid military hierarchy…until the day they grow too old, when they volunteer for starvation or a suicide mission outside formian lands.

In other words, adventure options abound.  As a knight once famously asked, “Is this going to be a stand-up fight, my lord, or another big hunt?”  With formian warriors, the answer is both.

Tribesmen are encountering formian warriors of unheard-of size and toughness.  The reason for their might is in how they were nurtured: Their grubs hatched in the corpses of behemoths, the likes of which no one has ever seen.  No one, that is, except for one sage, who calls them “the most terrible lizards, the dinosaurs.”

There are other names for the clockwork demiplane of Law that juts out over the Linnorm Wastes.  But the locals just call it “the Contraption,” and they live among its many moving weights and spiraling platform discs as if it were the most natural thing of all (which in this realm, it is).  Not all of the plane’s omnipresent buzzing and ticking comes from the Contraption’s mechanisms though…as a town of axiomites and gnomes finds out when formian warriors hatch out of the ground to attack, mandibles clicking.

The Lyonessens’ first hint that not all formians are mindless shock troops comes from a disgraced formian warrior, T’war, who has had her ornaments ripped off but escaped before her stinger could be ritually removed.  She agrees to explain formian society to the invaders if they will protect her from the patrol of warriors sent to reclaim her by the taskmasters of the Hive of Chitin and Bone.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 112

I didn't have the right place to mention it above, but the Coordinate (Su) ability really hits home how preternaturally in sync formian warriors are.  And while none of my PCs have ever faced a formian, I bet Deadly Grasp (Ex) is nasty to be on the receiving end of.

I spent most of my summers growing up on Cape Cod not far from Plymouth, so I was basically raised on stories of Squanto, who provides the tiniest inspiration for T’war.  It turns out, by the way, that all those stories were crap and the real Tisquantum is way more interesting.

Speaking of which, uwtartarus wrote:

Now you got me all invested in the Lyonessens’ fate!

Me too. There are so many ways you could run such a storyline. And a Twilight Zone-style “It turns out we're the evil invading aliens” bent is only one possibility.

Glad you guys are liking these seeds!  Obviously, the Lyonessens’ ultimate fate is up to you and your players.  I pictured the scenario in the “Formian Queen” entry as the ultimate or penultimate adventure, with the rest of the seeds coming earlier in the continuity, because of their lower CR.

And yes, the Lyonessens are totally the invading colonists here, but their strategy is (to them at least) necessitated by the calamity of the Spectre Gout.  It’s also a strike back against the formians who invaded them first.  Right, wrong, and the price of survival are complicated issues in these campaign seeds—one your group may or may not wish to play out.

I’m really liking the Lyonesse adventure seeds. And while the Starship Troopers influence on the Formians is obvious, I also get a sense of the Buggers/Formics from Orson Scott Card's Ender series.

Another thing: the Formian Queen's prairie town seed makes me think of an insect-Western kind of thing. Formians have settled a boomtown at the foot of a mountain in the badlands, and are the owners and operators of the silver mine they've dug there. Relations are strained with the Thriae hive next town over after some disagreements about land claims, and with the nomadic Thri-Kreen who have lived in the desert for generations. Suddenly, the Thri-Kreen start swarming out in the wastes, half-panicked by some awful, muddled ancestral memory, and the Formian miners begin running across pre-existing tunnels under the mountain, made by a group of Azruverda who are determined to let them dig no further. What the Azruverda know and the Thri-Kreen can barely remember is that the wastes were once a fertile land, and they were only ruined by a great, devouring swarm of Apocalypse Locusts, which now slumbers beneath the mountain. Can a posse of travelling adventurers intercede between the Formians and the Azruverda before the Locusts are awakened, or will they have to saddle up and get the chitinous folk of the wastes to set aside their differences in order to weather the coming swarm?

I love it!  A badass badlands insect-focussed campaign could be really cool.  Way too go, Anon!  Add a couple of undead (like a pale stranger) or bulette/drake encounters so players don't get tired of bugs and I think Anonymous has a hell of a campaign.  (For Pathfinder players, there are plenty of conversions for thri-kreen online, or you can just cheat and use kasatha stats.)

As for the Ender connection, I can see where you could make that case.  It wasn’t part of my thinking though when I wrote these seeds.  Of Card’s novels, I’ve only ever read Ender’s Game, and I did so way later (grad school) than most people who fall in love with it, so it doesn’t form part of my landscape of influences.  I was (spoiler alert) one of those G&T kids who EG might have really struck a chord with if I’d encountered it at the right time, but by the time I got to it my reaction was more like, “Yeah, I see why people like that.  Back to Autobiography of Red.”

(I had a similar experience with Redwall, which I never read as a kid, but one of my friends loved.  As a (sort of) adult, my reaction was basically, “I have no response to that,” but I’m still glad my friend loved it, especially as he wasn’t a huge reader otherwise.)

Of course, you can't mention Ender’s Game without mentioning its author, Orson Scott Card.  The nicest thing I can say for him is that he is a problematic figure.  Now, typically “problematic” is a word people use when they suspect something is bad, but they don't have a convincing argument laid out yet as to why.*  But in this case, I’m using “problematic” to mean, “I do not want to open this can of worms in this space.  But I’m glad of the wonderful irony that his books gave comfort and strength to countless children who would grow up to be the confident, loving adults he fears.”

That’s all I’m going to say about that.  If you don’t like Card’s work, then I recommend you read Kate Bonin’s “In the Bugger Tunnels of Planet Eros: Gay Sex and Death in the Science Fiction of Orson Scott Card.”  If you do like Card’s work, then I recommend you read it twice, and take notes.

See you tomorrow, folks.

*Oh right, about that asterisk: Seriously Tumblr [and apologies to my Blogger readers I’m boring], let’s resolve in 2015 to work harder than this word. If you ever find yourself using the phrase “I think that X is problematic,” what I’m encouraging is that you please follow that phrase with “because” and then explain your thinking, no matter how inchoate and unformed.  “Problematic” is a useful word—a lot of the Internet, our favorite geek entertainments, and hell, life in general is hella problematic.  But too often we use it as a discussion ender; we say something is problematic and then walk away from the microphone, using the word itself as a judgment.  That’s a dodge, a cheat, a way of appearing to take a stand without saying anything.  We need to see “problematic” for what it is, which is a discussion beginner—a sign of discomfort, a disruption or a conflict that deserves to be examined.

I have a lot of readers who are in college and a lot of readers who are outspoken activists of one sort or another. I want all my readers to be the best, most vocal, empowered, intellectually honest thinkers and world-changers they can be.  “Problematic” is a useful word, but by itself it’s lazy word.  If you’re reading this blog, I already know you’re smarter, subtler, and more confident than that.  In 2015, let’s kill “problematic” until we’ve done the hard work it asks us to do.

1 comment:

  1. I like Redwall too, and I've often thought of running a D&D or Pathfinder campaign in such a setting. It wouldn't have a lot of the features we think are standard, especially spellcasters. Although, I suppose you could adapt some of the monstrous humanoids to represent the different races, like ogres minus the intelligent penalties as badgers . . . hmm, I might have to try that.

    I was never a big fan of Orson Scott Card, but I do feel like Earthsea has more potential as a reference point for campaigns than it gets credit for.