Weekly Design Blog #8: Crunch Must Support Fluff & Vice Versa

This blog is being reproduced here, as it was part of the original Weekly Design Blogs for Steampunk Musha series that was lost when our information was wiped. The artwork is not fully reproduced. See This Post for more information on that. This blog was originally posted Feb 23, 2016.

Hello All,

So, the Design Team is still crawling their way through the Race chapter. Part of the reason for this is my insistence on a design principle — the mechanics should support the storytelling aspects. Put another way, the “crunch” of the game system should further the “fluff” and should clearly be related.

As a discussion of this, outside of Steampunk Musha, I would point to a classic fantasy RPG trope — the elf. Depending on what specific fantasy world you’re choosing to look at, “elves” can run from “wee fairy folk” to the half-human descendents of lost Arcadia, Land of the Fey, to just short and agile human-lite, to undying and eternal wise folk that adventure alongside the “lesser” races, etc. So many more options beyond those too. In the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, their hard-wired mechanics from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Core Rulebook look like this:

Elf Racial Traits
+2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, –2 Constitution: Elves are nimble, both in body and mind, but their form is frail.
Medium: Elves are Medium creatures and have no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Normal Speed: Elves have a base speed of 30 feet.
Low-Light Vision: Elves can see twice as far as humans in conditions of dim light. See Additional Rules.
Elven Immunities: Elves are immune to magic sleep effects and get a +2 racial saving throw bonus against enchantment spells and effects.
Elven Magic: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on caster level checks made to overcome spell resistance. In addition, elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Spellcraft skill checks made to identify the properties of magic items.
Keen Senses: Elves receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks.
Weapon Familiarity: Elves are proficient with longbows (including composite longbows), longswords, rapiers, and shortbows (including composite shortbows), and treat any weapon with the word “elven” in its name as a martial weapon.
Languages: Elves begin play speaking Common and Elven. Elves with high Intelligence scores can choose from the following: Celestial, Draconic, Gnoll, Gnome, Goblin, Orc, and Sylvan.

Mechanically speaking then, you can see elves have some natural magical powers and defenses, and have excellent senses even in the dark, even in the dark. They are more quick and more intelligent than “average” but less hearty (the bonuses to Dex and Int, but penalty to Con).

You ‘could’ attach a wide range of ‘fluff’ to these mechanics, because for instance, there is no comment about size (these could be 7′-8′ tall <and still be considered Medium> elves, or they could be 4’6″-5’0′ shorties) or age (they could be undying, long lived, or grow to maturity and die all in 15 years time) and a number of other things. The fluff you write “should” likely address their inherent magical nature, and it would be guessed that “wizard” and “sorcerer” are more common choices than say “barbarian” or “monk.” There’s even a bit of mechanics that “implies” that elven societies ‘should’ have a fair number of “magic items” as they gain a specific +2 racial bonus on Spellcraft checks to identify them.

It would then seem “out of place” if I were to present them then in a world with little to no magic, and suggest that “most elves are in fact warriors, preferring steel to the arcane” etc. A certain kind of fun logic could be made to account for it (saying instead that they’re NOT a race of spell CASTERS but actually much more commonly “hunters of spellcasters” as they gain bonuses ‘against’ magic in many ways… but regardless, if I didn’t mention magic AT ALL you should find it suspect.

Are Jinteki-Oni Just Steampunk Musha’s Tieflings?
So, returning then to the world of Rosuto-Shima and it’s races, a ‘quandary’ of sorts that the design team recently discussed was the Jinteki-Oni, a race described as…

Jinteki-Oni
The jinteki-oni are born of both human and oni ancestry. In spite of their demon ancestry, the large, powerful jinteki-oni seek to live in solitude and harmony. Despite their friendly and peaceful outlook, they are often shunned by the humans of Rosuto-Shima due to their frightening appearance and their heritage.

The “human and demon ancestry” has had a few fans of SpM refer to this race, I think, as our “tieflings” and when you read their basic description, you can see where the idea comes from…

Tieflings
Simultaneously more and less than mortal, tieflings are the offspring of humans and fiends. With otherworldly blood and traits to match, tieflings are often shunned and despised out of reactionary fear. Most tieflings never know their fiendish sire, as the coupling that produced their curse occurred generations earlier. The taint is long-lasting and persistent, often manifesting at birth or sometimes later in life, as a powerful, though often unwanted, boon. Despite their fiendish appearance and netherworld origins, tieflings have a human’s capacity of choosing their fate, and while many embrace their dark heritage and side with fiendish powers, others reject their darker predilections. Though the power of their blood calls nearly every tiefling to fury, destruction, and wrath, even the spawn of a succubus can become a saint and the grandchild of a pit fiend an unsuspecting hero.

SO — should we take the easy way out and just grab the Tiefling stats, “scrub the serial number” so to speak, and slap Jinteki-Oni on it?

Tiefling Jinteki-Oni Racial Traits
+2 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, –2 Charisma:  Jinteki-Oni are quick in body and mind, but are inherently strange and unnerving.
Native Outsider:  Jinteki-Oni are outsiders with the native subtype.
Medium:  Jinteki-Oni are Medium creatures and receive no bonuses or penalties due to their size.
Normal Speed:  Jinteki-Oni have a base speed of 30 feet.
Darkvision: Tieflings Jinteki-Oni see in the dark for up to 60 feet.
Skilled:  Jinteki-Oni gain a +2 racial bonus on Bluff and Stealth checks.
Spell-Like Ability:  Jinteki-Oni can use darkness once per day as a spell-like ability. The caster level for this ability equals the tiefling’s class level.
Fiendish Resistance:  Jinteki-Oni have cold resistance 5, electricity resistance 5, and fire resistance 5.
Fiendish Sorcery:  Jinteki-Oni sorcerers with the Abyssal or Infernal bloodlines treat their Charisma score as 2 points higher for all sorcerer class abilities.
Languages:  Jinteki-Oni begin play speaking Common and either Abyssal or Infernal.  Jinteki-Oni with high intelligence scores can choose from the following: Abyssal, Draconic, Dwarven, Elven, Gnome, Goblin, Halfling, Infernal, and Orc.

The short answer is — No.

The longer answer is still a “No” but followed with a whole host of things about how these are from Oni specifically, not demons OR devils, and how Oni have fundental differences in design from other “evil outsiders” like the following from their subtype listing:

Oni Subtype: An oni is an evil spirit who takes humanoid form to become a native outsider. All oni have the following traits, unless otherwise noted in a specific creature’s entry.
Darkvision 60 feet and low-light vision.
Change Shape (Su) All oni are shapechangers with the shapechanger subtype, but an oni takes only other shapes similar to its normal humanoid form.
Humanoid Shape: As evil spirits clad in humanoid flesh, all oni possess a humanoid subtype.
Regeneration (Ex) The rate of regeneration and damage type that suspends it depends on the type of oni, but is typically acid or fire.

So no — Jinteki-Oni are not “just tieflings by another name” smelling as sweet.

So What ARE We Doing to Differentiate Them?
We’re still working on that. But a good example of how we’re trying to find mechanics to meet fluff (which, those “500 pages of notes” really are some lovely fluff for the setting, and we’re having to make sure we have crunchy mechanics to fit) is if you re-read that description of the Jinteki-Oni again above, specifically…

These are my “friendly” neighbors, totally “friendly”…

… the large, powerful jinteki-oni seek to live in solitude and harmony. Despite theirfriendly and peaceful outlook, they are often shunned by the humans…

SO — mechanically, how can we account for an entire race of demon-blooded humanoid types trying to live in “solitude and harmony” and being “friendly and peaceful.” In the real world, you can even find crazy examples of people from the most sterotyped of “peaceful and loving” that don’t match that description, so why would an entire race “go that way?”

What if we gave every Jinteki-Oni a real, mechanically important “struggle” that the player character needed to contend with. For instance, what if all Jinteki-Oni could “call upon” the oni spirit and rage and desire for destruction etc., but doing so risked “losing it all” and turning into an oni outright (and thus, going from being a PC to an NPC ‘monster’ effectively).

This could take many forms, the one I’ve toying with right now is some kind of racial “rage” ability (as the barbarian or bloodrager classes) that any Jinteki-Oni could “choose” to tap, even if they’re not those classes (and if they were those classes, they could “add” it to their normal abilities, etc.). BUT whenever you’re done using these rounds of rage, or inner magical reserve (maybe an alternate racial trait gives you bonus arcane pool like an arcanist or magus?) or what have you, your character must make something like a Will Save vs. DC = your character level, or “fall to the Beast-Within.”

Like I said, we’re still working on it, and those are the extent of my ‘notes’ at this point, but we would like to do SOMETHING to account for why an entire race of demon-blooded humanoid types would ALL choose to be “friendly and peaceful” when no group or population is ever normally so homogeneous in nature.

Lucus Palosaari, Editor & Project Manager at Fat Goblin Games (Like us on Facebook!)

 



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