Tuesday 2 May 2023

Another take on demihumans as social constructs.

I had an idea knocking around inside my head, and then I saw that Dan had already done it over on Throne Of Salt, which rather undercut my brilliant originality.
More time has passed, so I figured I'd have a crack at the idea myself.

So. Demihumans (elf, half-elf, hobbit, dwarf, orc, half-orc, goblin, hob-goblin, dragon). Rather than positing each as a seperate species - and then getting our skull-callipers out to compare them - we'll just look at the position each occupies in our setting socially, and extrapolite backwards from that.
EG, let's suppose you're an elf because you do elf things and people treat you like an elf. But you're still recognisably an elf. What would that look like? How do you get that in society?

Suffice to say, this is all a thought experiment. I have no idea how this would play out in a proper setting or actual game.


"This person has autism, but their knowledge or power means we have to treat them respectfully."

An elf is quite possibly smarter than you, but (if you aren't also an elf) the ways they think don't make sense. They follow patterns and customs that most people don't, they prioritise things regular people don't, they just fucking know things sometimes. Sometimes unusually innocent, sometimes deeply worldly and old before their time.

Elves typically go into professions where knowledge is important, and people can't just reject you out of hand for being unearthly and weird. Mages, priests, artists, nuns, midwives. That air of oddness can be a perk; it lets people know they're dealing with an elf, and should be prepared to act accordingly.

You treat elves with respect. After all, they know things and they have sufficient power or clout that if you offend them, they can make you regret it. 

Most have at least a smattering of magic, some handy utility powers and maybe something like a magic missile to smack people who don't show respect. They take to it naturally, and often don't get that others can't just learn magic with the same fluency and focus that they do. Isn't it easy?

It doesn't have to be autism, but that's the most common one, and also the one the author has and is familiar with.

Different types of elves correspond to areas of focus. Wood elves like the natural earthy things like birds and trees, high elves like some 'respectable' topic like history or heraldry, dark elves know about something vaguelly taboo like poisons or spiders.

The term 'half-elf' is basically the same as 'high functioning'. Not really used by elves among themselves, but regular people use it to describe elves that seem more normal and approachable.

Generally, elf-ness is broadly hereditable, about as hereditable as autistic traits in the real world. A changeling is just somebody who turns out to be an elf despite nobody expecting it based on their family.

Elf communities exist. Cloisters and hideaways. They get weird fast.


"From a commoner family that knows marvelous trade secrets."

Being a dwarf means you've inherited the family name (or been adopted or married into it). You're one of a particular clan, and your clan knows how to do something that they guard jealously.

Metalworking is a common one. Mining and underground construction techniques are another. Warfare with specific secret techniques is another. Maybe a mix. Whatever it is, your clan has a secret way of doing things that gives you an advantage. Dwarf-made armour is just better than everybody else's. Dwarves who go to war fight in ways that seem impossible to replicate without their lengthy training, and are shockingly effective.

Dwarves often have magic of their own. More secrets handed down the clan. They have their own little sects of the mainstream religions, and their own priests.

The techniques of the dwarves give them an edge over other people. They're just commoners, but they can negotiate with nobles and even royalty, because if the dwarves aren't paid to their satisfaction nobody else can do it as well. And, really, a noble who's jewellery isn't made by dwarves is an embarassment. 

These secrets need to be kept, or the dwarves lose their wealth and power. Dwarves prefer to live away from outsiders, in innaccessable places like mountain villages or underground fortresses. They don't trust non-dwarves, who might try to steal their secrets. The exception is other dwarves, who have a vested interest in preserving dwarvish independence. 

They know how to hold a grudge. When you're jumped-up commoners bargaining with nobility, you have to.


"These people have fucked off to live independently, and its too much effort to get them to come back."

Hobbits have opted out of mainstream society to go and do something else. Maybe they dig holes in hillsides and make a commune that lives in a rural idyl. Maybe they have a caravan and travel the world with like-minded hobbits, trading goods and stories. Maybe they flee from persecution and live in floating villages hidden in the marshes.

Basically, they're hippies. They rejected the rat race and went to live some more authentic, satisfying or reasonable life off in the middle of nowhere. Their communities are tight-knit, idealistic and egaletarian, mostly. When a hobbit community goes wrong, it goes really wrong really quickly, and then falls apart entirely. 

Some people are first-generation hobbits, who - alongside a group of like-minded individuals - chose to live like this. Some were born into a hobbit community and decided to stay. Some found a hobbit community and got adopted into it.

They love their pipeweed, and they're good at hiding. Hobbits get on with dwarves a lot of the time, even if their relationships tend to be distant.

The author has dated a number of hobbits in her time.

When some horrible dark lord rises up, fueled by the fire and smoke of industry and averice, and starts building dreadful armies and dark satanic mills, hobbits tend to be among the first victims they go after. Them and other minorities. Hobbits don't tend to fight back in an organised way, they go to ground, move on, or form guerilla resistance movements.

They are probably living happier lives than you are. Why aren't you a hobbit, actually?


"Soldiers without homes."

Being an orc means fighting as a way of living. No farms, towns, shrines, capitals. Just a military camp that moves as the campaign moves. War is all you know. Home isn't a real concept, or isn't anymore, you just live wherever the fighting is, or wherever you go the fighting follows.

Some orcs are mercenaries. Poverty or desperation or persecution pushes them to sign up with a mercenary band. A tent in a military camp is still a roof over your head, sort of. Sometimes the orc is fleeing something, or ambitious. 

Maybe they don't intend to be an orc for long. Really, though, cashing out isn't likely to happen. You die young, or if you don't your so scarred - emotionally and physically - that regular society doesn't want you back.

Other orcs didn't have a home to begin with. An invasion took it from you, and now your home is occupied by somebody else. Or your home has been on the front-lines of a trench war for decades and completely fucking uninhabitable, and the conflict is all you know.

Orcs stick together. Their real loyalty is to their comrades. An employer has their loyalty only as much as they pay them, unless that employer is also an orc. 

There's a code. They treat orcs on the other side of the conflict better than the rest of the enemy. If you capture an enemy orc, he's one of yours now. He switches sides. Maybe his whole band surrenders and joins you, and they're with you now. Their loyalty is to the orcs, not to whichever kings and emperors started this war to begin with.

Sometimes orcs end up in the armies of dark lords. This lasts as long as the dark lord keeps paying them and doesn't expect them to break the code. They don't care what fucked up stuff the dark lord is doing, spend long enough as a mercenary and you get numb to attrocities, so long as the money keeps coming.

Other orcs take a more direct approach, and support themselves through banditry and conquest. 

There's a lot of overlap between orcs and goblins. There's surprising overlap between orcs and dwarves.


"Sentient vermin."

Even worse than being an orc. Somebody in power wants you gone, and now you don't have rights anymore. Basically outlaws. 

A goblin might be a heretic, a criminal, somebody whose land got stolen, a fugitive, or something like that. Or just born to goblin parents. You're not part of regular society, and regular society wants you fucking gone. There's overlap between goblins and orcs. People don't like to admit it, but there's overlap between goblins and hobbits.

There's absolutely no social safety net when you're a goblin. Individual people might be nice to you, but others won't be, and maybe there's a bounty on your head again. Best to hide from them, then.

Goblins get really, really good at hiding. They find places they can escape from the world, and they band together with other goblins. When society is your enemy, fuck 'em. Feed yourself through subtle theft, banditry, whatever it takes. Trust your fellow goblins to keep you safe. If regular folks look at you funny, kick their teeth in so they won't want to chase after you in a hurry, and go to ground. Fill your home with cunning traps. Fuck 'em, look out for your own.

The world wants you dead, but you're clawing and spitting and snarling and still alive.

Hobgoblins are when these outlaws arm themselves and actively fight back. Guerillas, terrorists, militias, what have you. They cobble together uniforms, and stick the heads of those who'd oppress or exterminate them on spikes before fading back into the shadows. They're probably also orcs.
Kobolds are when these outlaws are also dwarves, and have secret knowledge that mean you have to take them seriously, even while trying hard to get rid of them. Kobolds tend to be very good at building impregnable fortresses full of traps.



"Personally strong enough to do whatever the fuck they want with no consequences." 

The rule of thumb is this: if you can walk into an average town by yourself and demand they give you tribute, and get it without any noteworthy resistance, you're a dragon.

You probably weren't a building-sized fire-breathing carnivorous flying lizard to begin with. But once you hit a certain level of power, you realise nothing's stopping you from turning into one if you want to, and there never was. 

Dragons shapeshift. They look like people, until they don't. Every one is a legend. Every one is unique.

Kings aren't dragons. Their power comes from systems of laws and heirarchy and custom meaning people choose to follow them. Wizards might be, as might particularly mighty warriors. Subtlety and subterfuge aren't particularly inclined towards making you a dragon, normally, but often somebody who excels in those areas will - when their back is to the wall - reveal that they were a dragon all along.

If you can personally reduce anybody who speaks back to you to two whisps of smoke coming from a pair of shoes (or a red smear), you're a dragon.

Some dragons do their best not to act like dragons. They try to be benevolent, to blend in with society, to only flex their power in emergencies. The rest - the majority, even - are problems.

A typical dragon ensures those who follow them are loyal by making dramatic examples. They tend to enjoy skull fortresses, big piles of treasure, and appending titles like 'the terrible' onto their name. 

People who set out to slay dragons generally fail. Those who succeed normally become dragons themselves. 

Elves become dragons disproportionately often. It's the focus that does it. They're often the most reasonable dragons.

Orcs do too. We call them black dragons, and they burn bright and furious, leading a horde of orcs behind them until they inevitably perish doing something exciting.

Goblins also produce a lot of dragons, particularly kobolds. A goblin who becomes a dragon is really good news (for the goblins and hobgoblins and kobolds and orcs of the world) and really bad news (for the sort of people who decided you were a goblin in the first place). These get called red dragons, because of all the blood that they leave behind.

Red dragons tend not to be inclined to be merciful to their enemies. Their followers, on the other hand, often do pretty well for themselves. When you have a red dragon on your side, you might not have to be a goblin for long.

Very successful kingdoms have been founded by a red dragon with a big dream.

Friday 28 April 2023



In hell, they don't have physical matter to forge weapons out of. No iron for swords, lead for bullets, saltpeter for gunpowder, or wood for spear-shafts. Nothing but each other, and the souls of the damned. 

They still fight, though. When they do, instead of making armaments out of matter, they weaponise souls, hurling them at one another in huge salvos. 

This is a game about when that happens.


You are a demon. Or maybe not. Maybe an angel, a devil, a psychopomp, a reaper, or some other powerful spiritual being mucking about with souls. Get a model for yourself. Something big and impressive. Full of dark majesty. That's you, right there. 

At the start of the game, only you and your demon enemy are on the board, you'll have to summon souls in as you go.

You have thirteen Lives. If those Lives run out, you're defeated. Everything but your thirteenth Life point can be sacrificed. Have a little pile of tokens on your base to represent spent lives, or track it with a dice.

If you collide with an enemy soul, it deals its damage to you, and is then removed. If you collide with one of your souls, push it out of your way.


On your turn you have six actions to spend. Each one can be used to do one of the following:

Move: Move an inch in any direction. If you collide with an enemy soul, it deals its damage to you (you lose that many Lives), and is then removed. If you collide with one of your own souls, it's pushed aside to make way for you. If you collide with an enemy demon, or a terrain piece, your movement ends there.

Spawn: Place one of your souls touching you, and then move it its full speed in any direction. Follow the normal rules for moving souls.

Direct: Select any one of your souls and move it immediately, using the normal rules for moving souls.

Reap: Remove any of your own souls, putting them back in your available pool. Useful for if they get stuck behind something, or bugger off somewhere useless.


Less important playing pieces. Random dead humans under your power. If they didn't want to be the bullets in a bullet-hell shooter, they shouldn't have damned themselves, hm?

Each is defined by six values.

Cost: How much of your budget it takes to have one of these.

Speed: How far it moves, in inches.

Damage: How much it hurts when it hits something.

Health: How much hurt it takes to remove it.

Pattern: The direction it moves.

Quirks: Things this soul can do, that others can't.

Your souls begin in a pool off the table, and are put into play using the Spawn action. When a soul is removed, put it back into your pool, so you can summon it again. You'll recycle the same souls over and over. They're already dead, so they can't be properly killed, see.

A soul that moves off the table entirely is removed from play and can be summoned again. Obviously.


After you've acted yourself, all your souls activate. You can choose which order they activate in, but they all have to act before you pass the turn over.

Each soul moves its full speed in the direction indicated by its Pattern. Except for Kings, you don't have a choice in what it does.

If it collides with an enemy soul, each deals its Damage to the other. If that damage is equal to or higher than the other soul's Health, remove that soul. Then, continue the movement in the same direction it was already going, if possible. You might have both souls removed, both survive, or only one prevail over the other.

Damage to souls DOESN'T stack up over time. Either it's enough to remove the victim, or it isn't.

If it collides with one of your own souls, or an enemy soul it didn't have enough Damage to remove, or a terrain piece, or you it stops right where it is. End its move right there.

If it collides with the enemy demon, it deals its damage to them. The enemy loses that many Lives. Then remove it.


First, you and your opponent select the souls you're bringing to this fight. You have a total cost of 40 to spend on souls.

Then you and your opponent place terrain on the board. Do it however looks suitibly dramatic. Once you both agree that the board looks nice, you're done.

Then flip a coin roll a dice to see who goes first.

The player going first puts their demon on the board anywhere they want. Then the other player does. 

The player going first takes their turn: they use their demon's six actions, then move all their souls. Then their opponent does, alternating until one demon has no Lives left.


You have eight types of soul to pick between: Pawn, Knight, Bishop, Rook, Jack, Queen, King, Joker. You have a budget of forty to spend on them.


Cheap useless souls you can sacrifice in vast numbers. The worst type of common soul, but you can throw out lots at once.

Cost: 1

Speed: 2

Damage: 1

Health: 1

Pattern: Moves straight forward in whichever direction its facing.

Quirks: When you Spawn an Pawn, one action can spawn up to three of them in one go.


Souls that still have faith. Fast and slippery and hard to block. You need to destroy them, because you can't hide behind stuff from them.

Cost: 3

Speed: 5



Pattern: Moves towards the nearest enemy demon.

Quirks: Moves through terrain and (if it survives the collision) other souls, rather than ending its movement.


Martially minded souls, dead soldiers. Decent at everything, and can get in among the enemy and ricochet around among them, wrecking stuff.

Cost: 3


Damage: 2

Health: 2

Pattern: Moves towards the nearest enemy soul or demon.

Quirks: When it contacts an enemy soul, after dealing damage, it picks a new victim rather than keeping going in the same direction. Point it towards the next closest enemy it hasn't been aimed at yet this turn, and continue its move.


Solid, defensive and stubborn. Probably died at, like, age 120, and even then only after a frustrated relative applied a pillow to their face. A good unstoppable wall to hide behind (but beware bishops).


Speed: 2

Damage: 1

Health: 5

Pattern: Moves directly away from you.

Quirks: When a rook collides with another soul (friendly or enemy), and that soul survives, the rook keeps moving. Push the rook the rest of its movement, and push the enemy soul back with it.


The best souls. Absolute wrecking balls that smash things to bit and don't give a fuck about anything. Girlbosses. Many demons secretly want this sort of soul to step on them.

Cost: 8

Speed: 4

Damage: 2


Pattern: Moves towards the nearest enemy.

Quirks: Double damage against souls.


The smartest souls. Not particularly strong or anything, but you can get them to do unexpected stuff and keep your enemy off guard. Sneaky scheming bastards you need to keep an eye on.





Pattern: Moves in whichever direction you want.

Quirks: Can even change direction in mid-move. Goes wherever you want.


Quiet, supportive souls. Not much use on their own, but they can coordinate with others. Throw them out alongside other souls to support them.





Pattern: Moves towards the nearest friendly soul its not touching, or directly away from you if there aren't any.

Quirks: If a Jack bumps into another friendly soul while moving, after the Jack's move is done, that friendly soul gets a bonus move for free. PEW!


Wildcard souls. Who the fuck knows what they're going to do. Maybe they're the fastest, hardest hitting souls available to you. Or maybe they're fucking useless. Who knows? Throw 'em out there and find out, baby!


Speed: d6



Pattern: Moves towards the nearest enemy soul or demon.

Quirks:A Joker's stats are random. Each time a stat matters, roll a six-sided dice to see what its value is right now.

Use 28mm. Or bigger, I'm not your boss. You're looking at a maximum of 41 models (you, and forty pawns, you fucking maniac), and a minimum of six (you, and five queens/jokers). Make them suitibly gothic and horrible.
Zombies, ghosts, demons etc can all make a good base for this sort of thing. Be creative. My souls are all bright yellow nighthaunt, and my demon is nagash converted to have a hood, scythe, wings and a fucking halo.