d20 – Blood and Intellect

Бородатая змея

What do you mean, "My bloodline petered out"?!?!

First up for today, it’s another question…

I have a question related to Legends of High Fantasy (The tide of blood and hand of the earth spellweaves) and the awaken spell:

What level would the effect have to be to be heritable? I find it odd that WoTC never had a version of awaken that  allows offspring to be intelligent when they did have a few variants (like awaken ooze).

– Derek

The answer to this one depends a lot on how you think “heredity” works in d20. It’s doubtful that it has much to do  with genetics when a human and an animated mass of fire can have a child. Given the existence of the half-ghost  template, presumably it’s something spiritual. After all, a spirit doesn’t have anything else to contribute.

There also seems to be a built-in tendency to revert to the “pure” racial templates. Wizards of the Coast never  addressed this issue – but otherwise, after a few thousand years, I’d expect everyone to be dragon-elf-human-demon-celestial-elementals. How that reversion-effect works is open to question – but maybe creatures with too  many weird ancestors are sterile, or perhaps when a bloodline gets too thin it vanishes, or some such.

As far as heridatory “Awaken” effects go, an increased attribute is pretty much ALWAYS an advantage. Ergo, if such a change was truly stable, and was passed on reliably, the talking intelligent animals should wind up as the default type of animals – and, in older settings, should have wound up that way a long time ago . Even without hands, extra skill points will help out – and welcome to the Land of Oz!

So, first up, we’d need a spell that can mess with a creatures spiritual nature – granting it sapience, the ability to make  moral choices, and advanced communicative abilities. That’s the basic “Awaken” spell – although it does cost a chunk  of XP (in its role as a transforming force that can bestow new abilities on something). Eliminating that would bump the  level a bit.

Now, if we want to make that change a hereditary part of a creatures spiritual nature we want something much subtler than an imposed transformation-spell, however “instantaneous”. I’d peg that one at around +2-3 levels, and with a  larger XP cost.

Eventually, however, the effects would fade – and later generations of your target creatures would revert to their  original spiritual template. How long will that take to happen? Well, for +2 levels, probably to 1-2 creatures per level  of the caster – allowing the creation of a large family or small group. For +3 levels perhaps 5-10 such creatures per  level of the caster – allowing the creation of a modest clan.

To make it truly permanent, and establish a new species we need to add the correct spiritual template to the universe’s current selection – which is definitely a job for Epic Magic (unless your GM is really kind and lets if happen naturally if  you just do your multi-generational awakening spell over and over again) or overcome whatever-it-is that keeps the various species relatively pure.

Given that I don’t know what that’s going to be in a given setting, that’s kind of hard to figure out. In this case, I’ll just go with a comparison to an existing level thirteen Eclipse spell – Evolution. Ergo, level twelve to fourteen, depending on just what the species purity-enforcing mechanism is and how hard it is to affect.


8 Responses

  1. Heh, the degradation is sort of like how tulips are bred. The Botany of Desire has a chapter on them and it turns out that there are many cultivars that are known only because of paintings, not because of extinction. The plants keep reverting, losing their characteristics they were bred for.

    And then there is Moreau. His creations also degraded over time. But that was a matter of months, rather than generations like the tulips.

    I like that a lot more than making a new species. Thanks!

  2. The picture got a red flag from my anti-virus.

    And now that I think about it, I don’t know if fading is a good idea for my kind of settings. They infer that there is a baseline that everything regresses to. Not a bad idea for a world where the gods have a set idea and are unwilling to allow permanent changes but I rarely use those.

    Maybe genetic swamping?

    • Hm. Well, the pictures from wikipedia, and doesn’t show up as any kind of problem on my antivirus; it might be a false positive.

      If fading doesn’t work for you, another mechanism may be in order. Genetic Swamping really won’t work in evolutionary time; even very small advantages will become near-universal across a few thousand generations. That may not be a problem if you’re running a young world, but it’s awkward in older ones.

      You could simply rule that some combinations of heredities are inherently incompatible. Thus the “celestial gene” and “infernal gene” might “cancel each other out” (and, as spiritual tendencies, just vanish from the bloodline) or they might be lethal in the womb. Sadly, there are only a few really “opposing” templates in the game, and this still won’t explain why half the population isn’t – say – equipped with some natural armor and a boosted constitution courtesy of draconic ancestors. Kids with those adaptions would be considerably more likely to live to adulthood – and so that should spread through the population with great speed.

      You could use this to balkanize your setting, dividing up areas into patches of incompatible bloodlines. Thus if the locals have a celestial in their bloodline ten generations back, they might be automatically sterile when paired with people with an infernal or draconic ancestor – possibly leading to complex multiple-marriage customs (allowing genetically compatible mates to help out otherwise sterile pairings) or to regarding the neighbors as a different species. Over the long term the most advantageous combinations will still tend to dominate – but this will slow it up a trifle.

      One can simply rule that every special adaption incurs a magical developmental cost , and so reduces fertility and/or extends the maturation curve – thus accounting for the relative scarcity of powerful creatures – but that does require tweaking the descriptions of a great many creatures. Worse, in the end, it makes heroes a lot less necessary in most d20 worlds; the powerful creatures are both self-limiting and vastly outnumbered.

      Overall, most d20 worlds say that “a lot of creatures are interfertile”, “the offspring of mixed pairings inherit various advantages”, “the attributes of remote ancestors continue to influence their descendents”, “males like to father children and have no objection to doing so on weaker females”, and “we know that this works fine,because player-characters are allowed to have weird ancestors – and are normally subject to the same rules as anyone else”,

      Now, to keep the world from being overrun with kudzu-tiger-rat-pigeons, at least one of those assumptions has really got to go.

      It might be easiest to say that “species are not normally inter-fertile; hybrids are the result of major acts of magic or outbursts of random magic, and are sterile because it takes magic to hold their incompatible heredities together. Alternatively, hybrids might actually carry only one species genes, with their hybrid nature being a magical influence on their growth in the womb. This means that their conception requires weird magic again, but we can easily excuse that for PC’s. Either way, this eliminates later-generation hybrids such as the planetouched – but that’s not too big a change.

  3. Good points.

    It is the same problem I have with Gamma World, though I did find a solution in real biology- hemiclones. There are fish that are all female and yet take 1/2 of their genes from their fathers. When they create eggs, they cut out their fathers’ contribution and thus their daughters are half clones (clones on the female side). The only downside to this is every templated creature that has a family line would have to be female (not bad, just limiting).

    Another way to deal with it is social mores/conventions. You have a baby with dragon scales, drop it in the river and hope it drowns or never returns.

    Or have it a negative for sexual selection (which almost any template should be for non-sapient species). Just because some genes provide a better survival rate doesn’t mean they will be passed along.

    Or use fading, sterility and the 3 above. Biology rarely limits itself on the macroscale and more methods means more ways for the GM to tinker.

    • Just to insert my own thoughts into this. Another way to think of it is that it is possible that the various base forms are in fact the most advantageous and thereby outbreed any of the hybridized forms. Why this might be when things like breathe weapons, energy immunities, spells per day and such are available to hybrids I think might be done with a little creative interpretation of the rules and descriptions.

      Now, I don’t have my monster manual in front of me, but I seem to recall that most of the extra-planar, elemental, and other weird creatures that can mate with humans all typically had “Immunity to Disease”. Let’s reinterpret this as “Immune to Normal Mortal Diseases” instead and suppose there are a number of diseases that they can suffer from that in turn do not effect mortal races.

      Now, given this, you could then rule that while a half-fiend gets all those nice abilities and bonuses that the template gives them, it also makes them susceptible to two sets of diseases (infernal and mortal) as well.

      Next assumption we can make is that while mortal creatures are immune to infernal/celestial/elemental/oddball diseases, they can also be symptomless carriers of those diseases as well.

      So Anne the adventurer has a son with the Silver Archon of Light and this child thereby has the half-celestial template with all the goodies that implies. That child then in turn has more children with the mortal women in the same village he grew up in and things look like they are well on their way towards spreading the celestial genes throughout the region. Then a merchant comes by that sells some blankets that were used by a gravely ill Arch-Angel before he died. The merchant checked the blankets himself with the local priest and found them to be free of anything that would harm a human. So what is the harm in selling them?

      Until all of the descendants of Anne the Adventurer in the village begin to fall gravely ill and start dying in droves as they catch a disease no one was even looking for. Local priests show up and try to cure the plague, but to no avail since this isn’t a mortal disease. Soon enough, without major outside intervention (possible campaign quest there), all of the local villagers with celestial blood are either dead, dying, or badly weakened.

      Have these kinds of diseases spread by ticks and come around every few generations (like the Black Death did), and you can quite readily start exterminating large sections of the gene pool that would otherwise be causing the species to increasingly hybridize (look at blood type distributions for Europeans versus other groups). With a little more creative ingenuity, you can start applying this basic principle to Half-Elves, Half-Orcs, and other more “common” hybrids and use this to explain why the races in the player’s handbook haven’t melded together.

      Of course this idea can be used in combination with most of the above concepts on reducing hybrid fertility. Now, in the real world, hybrids tend to be more disease resistant than purebreds, but that doesn’t mean it has to work that way in your campaign. After all, the rules on diseases, how they work, and how they spread are awfully sparse in the various rulebooks I’ve read.

      Just my thoughts.

      • This does require rather a lot of new rules of course. As far as d20 diseases go, most of them can affect almost anything and are easily magically cured; the only ones which aren’t are basically curses rather than true diseases. Still, coming up with some more detailed disease rules should be easy enough.

        It does have the interesting effect of making the prime material a plague pit for creatures from the outer planes, neatly explaining why they so rarely move in.

        Of course, then you have to watch out for such diseases evolving themselves and jumping hosts…

        An interestingly subtle possible curse there; render someone vulnerable to whole new groups of diseases which could never normally affect them.

        For less subtle measures, you can always simply note that mortals with celestial blood are primary targets for infernal creatures and mortals with infernal blood are primary targets for Celestials. That can keep that particular type of crossbreed down very nicely.

    • Sorry about the delay; it’s been a very busy week…

      The hemiclone solution will work – although it’s a bit problematic in the long term since it doesn’t allow for superior genetic contributions from one or another parent to be passed on effectively. It doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to females though; there’s no reason why a similar “genetic” (or whatever in a d20 universe)-deletion effect can’t be applied to sperm. It does open up the possibility of meta-dominant templates though – say “The dragon heritage is always passed on thanks to their magical dominance. Ergo, a half-dragon mating with any other species produces a half-dragon, and two half-dragons mating produces a dragon”. That could lead to all kinds of fun.

      The problem with this solution as far as the standard rules goes is simply that it effectively disallows stacking hereditary templates – which is fine (and possibly preferable), but does make it incompatible with the basic d20 rules set.

      The Social Conventions solution is a bit doubtful I think. It will work over short periods (presuming that grandpappy the dragon isn’t taking some interest in the welfare of the grandkids, which would make infanticide a bit dangerous) – but social mores can change drastically within a single generation. They’re unlikely to hold up in evolutionary time.

      A negative for sexual selection does help a great deal in explaining why animals with conspicuous differences might not reproduce successfully, although it probably won’t help a lot with attribute bonuses and other “invisible” advantages.

      Using multiple methods will also work nicely – especially since relatively few players dig deeply enough to worry about this sort of thing. As long as you have an explanation good enough to answer the occasional question and to satisfy your own world-building criteria, there’s no problem.

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