View Full Version : NPCs as social guinea pigs

08-13-2008, 12:12 PM
Put your sociology hats on folks - I'm wondering what interesting societal behaviors you've placed and/or encountered in campaigns.

I have dwarves living under theocratic fascism (at least in the cities), humans holding up the monarchic feudal norm, and elves are utopian, if slightly authoritarian, communists. I don't know what civilized thing to do with my hobgoblins yet.

Some quirks -
Dwarves' heavy drinking is explained by the tight controls placed on them by the Church,
Elves have been known to deliver their less-than-ideal children to a Trial by Nature,
Goblins make excellent covert professionals, despite their "obvious barbarism" derived from the fact that they don't speak Human or Dwarven, are short, and have dark skin.

The nice thing about NPCs as guinea pigs is they're imaginary, and they don't complain (much). The bad thing is that their reactions to situations are contrived, and the players are actually the ones giving the human responses (shhh don't tell them).

08-13-2008, 01:03 PM
I do this all the time. Alter the biology and the soical dynamics of the various races.

08-13-2008, 01:52 PM
Terry Pratchett's Dwarves were eventually revealed to be greedy due to their societal requirement that before they can marry, they must pay their parents back for every copper they spent raising them.

I once had a city that was administered by a group of dwarven refugees acting as a legal body- the king was impressed with their savvy for law, and appointed them the judges of the kingdom rather than having to make such boring decisions himself.

Another stereotype of Elves that can be used is that they're a dying race- an Elven Wizard I once played was a specialist in fertility magic, in hopes of reversing the trend. The Elven society as a whole was divided between those who wanted to keep Elven blood pure, even if it meant extinction, and those who thought interbreeding with the plentiful humans was the way to keep Elven blood alive, if diluted.

Something I was toying with for the new 4e races was to have the players figure out the hard way that terms like "Tiefling", "Halfling", and "Dragonborn" were actually racial slurs commonly used by humanity, while these races called themselves "Turathi", "Hobbits", and "Draconans". It never came up though.

08-14-2008, 01:05 PM
Never came up? That's the unfortunate part. Oftentimes, the only way you can include your social flavor is to make it part of the plot. Because after all, what socializing can be done between the bank, weapon shop, magic shop, and then the evil underground lair?

One thing I love about 3E dwarves that isn't explicitly mentioned: they're hardcore racist. Anti-giant training? Racial bonuses to kill goblinoids? Not to mention the generic stereotype that they dislike elves? I guess an interesting variation would be to go with egalitarian dwarves, but what fun is that?

My elves? They're not immortal. That's just a human wives' tale that children get told to keep them suspicious and elitist. Although the elves live about 20-30 years longer, it's from a healthier lifestyle, and their embrace of the unholy black magic doesn't hurt, either.

Tieflings and dragon-born are too much for me. It's like playing in a CS Lewis novel. Might as well have lion and elephant people walking around wearing suits. On the other hand, a half-dragon makes for an excellent villain, as long as you don't have towns of them dotting the landscape.

09-21-2008, 02:03 AM
Interesting thread...

I don't think I've done the societal definition as descriptively... but I used the Yrth setting for GURPS fantasy. I can describe what I know of it and how I interpreted particular issues.

- Humans were by far the most numerous race (kobolds multiply much quicker, but can't organize to form an actual society and have a very high death rate)

- Dwarves have their kingdom under the mountain, so they remain fairly numerous, and they sometimes live with humans. Greed is just part of who they are since they often earn a living by mining; metals and gemstones etc... They have their stereotypical racism against orcs, and see elves as annoying. Dwarves also racially have strong longevity, so they can get up to 300-400 years old in some cases. Some of the dwarven kings are as old as 600 or 700.

- Elves and Dark elves are interesting, at least to me. They are much less numerous than most other races. Elves will sometimes live among humans, or sometimes in small elven communities in the diminishing wilderness. Hidden knowledge is that at one time the elves were much more numerous and united in a powerful empire, but at some point before or around the time the humans showed up it collapsed. Humans see elves a beautiful humans with longer pointy ears, but racially they have a sense of duty to all nature, and a code of honor that they must always act elegantly. I haven't quite defined elves as a dying race, but they're on their way to it. They are long lived, but their courtship traditions and values constrict their population growth... Once they chose a mate, they will (nearly always) stay with them for life, although they may remarry if one of them dies. Also, elves will rarely have more than one or two children in their lifetime, although children are considered the community's most sacred treasure. Racially, elves are unaging once they're full grown, but they don't stick around forever. They're not really considered "adults" until they're about 100 years old. Its not uncomon to see 200-300 year old elves, 400-500 years old will be the elders of the community, and older than that is usually rare. Once elves get to be around 600 or 700 they usually some how "go away". They get up go off somewhere, or they might start seeking adventures continuously until they're eventually killed. Why elves older than about 600 are rare is a mystery, but if they have the will to remain in the world after that long, they can. There are a few very old elves over 1000 years old, and unknown to most of the world, the elven emperor was still alive at over 5000 years old. Dark elves are basically racist elves, they usually hate anyone who isn't an elf, although they may sometimes form alliances with other races.

Reptile men are primitive and tribally organized, and most humans see them as savages. The human Emperor has a legion of reptile men that has served as the emperor's personal elite body guards for generations, so they are organized into more of a military unit, but most humans still fear them.

Goblins live among humans, although they may have their own settlements. In GURPS fantasy, goblins aren't oriented well for fighting, they're often merchants, and sometimes make good mages.

Orcs organize tribally, with the strongest fighter being the leader.

Ogres don't have the sense to organize on their own, and will usually integrate with orc tribes.

I've pretty much followed the descriptions in the GURPS Fantasy supplements and Yrth background description. Orcs are around, but most people have never actually seen one.

09-21-2008, 04:38 PM
In my campaigns the history of the races are long and convoluted. and varies depending on which setting one is in. there are mergings and seperations and partial mixes and even extinctions on occasion. being "pure" blood is actually a very difficult task to accomplish. in the various timelines, i also track languages and lingual drift.

for example, to take a snapshot in one area of one campaign setting, there are some races that most would equate to dwarves, gnomes, and halflings. in this case however, they are all offshoots of one common racial heritige. and there are more than three offshoots. there are various human bloodlines. some of which are only so human. goblinoids are all from a common root which itself shares a common root with the fey, and thus by extension, elves. cousins really, even if they don't like to be reminded that they share ancestors. some of the fiercest enemies are family.....

and both goblinoids and elves (not to mention the fey) fear the wanderers... for the wanderers represent the heritige that went another way and refused to follow the path of the fey. especially since the fey are dying out. elves are slightly more resistant, but are on the cusp of a critical juncture for their race, while goblinoids have survived what was done to them and seem to be rebounding even.

even the wanderers have split into two and are trying to reconcile the differences between them.

this all serves as dressing for my settings... depending on the region and age of a given ruin, i know what language(s) was(were) spoken and written there, which races lived there, and some legends about those races. and i can usually describe the style of objects found there... i track art and style trends too.