Sunday, October 26, 2014

Adding Culture: Goblin Grave Bards

Adding Culture: Goblin Grave Bards

People always wanted to play as monsters in fantasy RPGs.  From 3.X's Savage Species to 2nd Edition's Council of Wyrms campaign setting, many gamers sought to move beyond the bog-standard array of Tolkien-clone Player's Handbook races.  Countless homebrew and commercial products have dipped their hand into this realm, some of it good, others bad and poorly thought-out.  Even if you get well-rounded, balanced versions of monsters suitable for player use, there's usually something missing especially in the cases of less iconic monsters.

A nuanced and three-dimensional society.

Dwarves, elves, and halflings are iconic races.  From JRR Tolkien's work to pages upon pages of setting detail across the decades, we have a very good idea of what kind of traditions and mores they hold.  With the exception of some settings, the more monstrous races such as goblins, giants, and centaur don't really have a lot going for them beyond some sparse detail and vile activities to make them suitably evil for heroic adventurers to slay.  In general, goblins are wicked, love to raid, constantly fight each other, and are more technologically primitive than the Player's Handbook races.  Some goes for orcs, ogres, ettercaps, a lot of evil giants, and other monsters.

I feel that departing from this standard can be good for many reasons: one, it allows for monster PCs to have more role-playing potential beyond "I'm a Choker, I live underground and hunt my prey!"  Two, it's just a lot more interesting to add nuance and depth to make them feel more alive than primarily as enemies to defeat.  This might not be suitable for all campaigns, but it can be a fun way to add some spice to the setting.

The Art of the Grave Bard

Goblinoid folklore teaches that spirits are capable of going to and from the Material Plane and spirit world through entry points of their corpse’s current location.  Like the humans of Aleria and adjoining nations, goblins entomb their dead in graveyards and mounds.  They figure that time spent in a graveyard can get dreary and gloomy over time, so goblin bards regularly visit sites of the dead and perform acts they figure will entertain the spirits.

Oftentimes they perform their work with no crowd, but sometimes others come along to watch.  It’s not uncommon for wealthy beneficiaries to hire such entertainers for private tombs and graves, their plays and shows personalized by the hobbies of the honored dearly departed.  More than a few people view such an occupation as disrespectful, feeling that the dead should instead be honored with quiet observance.

In the goblinoid homeland, bodies are buried in expansive tombs acoustically designed to carry sound vast distances, allowing music to travel far and wide.  Bards spend a great amount of time researching the lives of the deceased to tailor their songs and plays for maximum appeal.

Grave bards aren't always just done for aesthetics.  A grave bard with proper training and magical talent can actually infuse the area with protective magics, making it harder for necromancers and other such folk to tamper with the bodies and souls of the honored dead.