On Sundays I’m normally posting some illustrations I’ve made to use in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. This time folks on Twitter voted for svirfneblin (deep gnomes), so here are some svirfneblin from Out of the Abyss: (a svirfneblin mage, a svirfneblin priest and a svirfneblin ghost):
Svirfneblin are gnomes who live deep under the earth, in search of precious gems. Deep gnomes have to be resilient because their love for gems calls them to live in such a harsh environment. They have a reputation for being very serious and hard-working. Even so, in the midst of the darkness and confinement of the earth, the svirfneblin find ways to celebrate and recreate.
My experience has been that when you’re working in a difficult environment it’s really important to be able to find ways to recreate an celebrate. Can you find things to celebrate in the midst of difficulty?
Painting: Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, Anatomy lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617
Each Sunday I’m publishing a monster illustration I’ve made for use in tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. (So there’ll be a new one tomorrow.) You can download the files and use them in your own games if you back me on Patreon: Patreon.com/ChrisABooth
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Dr Nicholas William Moll’s broadcast the first two episodes in a series of podcasts about humans in fantasy RPGs, at Tabletop Vulture. I’d recommend listening to them if you appreciate some deeper reflection on what is going on in games. I would sum up the first two episodes as saying that in RPGs it tends to be that humans are presumed to be the default kind of person. What’s particularly problematic is that this default is often depicted as a light-coloured, European, heterosexual male. (I have to acknowledge that I think in 5th Edition they’re putting in a lot of effort to change this.)
I think one of the problems I have with humans is that, as the default race, they tend to be pretty uninteresting option. Since I started playing 3rd and 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons I haven’t once chosen to play as a human character. When I’ve run games for others I’ve barely ever had my players choose to play human either. In fact, it seems to me like the other race options are almost like more interesting versions of humans:
dwarves as resilient, underground humans
elves as agile, forest-dwelling humans
halflings as short, sneaky, fortunate humans
tieflings as devilish, marginal humans
I think that if humans are to stand out there needs to be something more interesting that would make them more distinct. How would you make humans more of an interesting character option?
You might be wondering why I’m posting a drawing of a fantastical creature on a blog called Ordinary Time. Fair enough! One of my working assumptions about stories, however fanciful or mundane they might be, is that they always have something to say about ordinary life. I’ll write a bit more about this tomorrow in a post about Dungeons and Dragons.
In the main D&D adventure that I’ve been running, the adventurers have previously encountered kobolds, which are considered to be a bit like small, unintelligent, cowardly dragons. What I’ve appreciated while reading the most recent D&D book, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, is that familiar monsters are described in much greater depth. Volo’s Guide suggests that kolbolds are part of a collectivist society, which is why one kobold might choose to fight aggressors alone, while their comrades escape. It might seem foolish to other creatures, but it might also ensure the survival of the wider group.
I’d say that rather than being alien to us, monsters are very human, and they invite us to explore the monstrous and alien aspects of our humanity.
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I’ve just today kicked off my Patreon page, where I’ll be posting weekly monster illustrations for folks to use in fantasy RPGs. Head over and become a supporter: patreon.com/ChrisABooth