Tragic Villainy, Atheria and the Weasel Totem Birthright

Barbarians according to Chinese cosmology.

Yeah. They’re everywhere. 

Epic villainy… is easy. You need a powerful villain, some nasty minions, some generic innocents to threaten, and one or more difficult-and-dangerous ways in which he, she, it, or they can be stopped – hopefully forever. Sure, there may be a few people wavering in the middle – the confused, victims of blackmail, and so on – but the issues are black and white. Such characters choices will soon enough place them firmly on one side or the other, even if – every once in awhile – there will be alliances of convenience among those with opposing viewpoints.

Sometimes you want a little more complexity though. Then you want tragedy instead of villainy – people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, situations where both sides are in the right but only one can prevail, times when your obvious villains are simply desperate people coping as best they can. At least in role playing games, where player characters may often grow to possess skills and powers far beyond the powers of many mythological gods, such situations can usually be solved as well.

It’s just not as easy to figure out or as straightforward as “defeat the bad guy” is.

On Atheria, the land of their birth grants every child a Birthright – a suite of powers unique to that realm. In the “barbarian lands”, the realm of Totemistic Magic, newborns receive a suite of animalistic powers – normally taking after their mother, although there are occasional exceptions. 

So lets take a look at the…

Atherian Weasel Totem Birthright (Human)

  • Racial Bonuses: 
    • +2 Strength (4 CP, +2 Str, -2 Cha in worlds that are not using the half-price attribute rule).
    • +12 Dexterity (24 CP, only +6 in worlds that are not using the half-price attribute rule).
    • Innate Enchantment, Specialized for Half Effect (2500 GP, 3 CP): Serpents Strike (+1 Melee Attack whenever needed in a round) and +2 Strength.
    • Fast Learner, Specialized/Dexterity-Based Skills Only, only to keep Adept skills maxed out, +1 SP/Level (2 CP).
    • Adept, Specialized, two skills only (Weasel Form Martial Arts and Tumble) (2 CP).
    • +7 Racial Bonus on Weasel Form (Meaning that they all get at least four techniques when fighting unarmed – Strike (for 1d4, considered armed), Power 1 (raises the base to 1d6), Attack 1 (at +1 to hit), and Combat Reflexes) (3 CP).
    • Scent, Specialized (2 CP), -4 on saving throws against related assaults, must make (low) will saves to resist the attraction of food.
      • All of these powers are Corrupted: they give “barbarians” animalistic features and instincts (this may cause serious problems when they fail relevant Will checks), make them very distinct, create many social and organizational problems, leave them unable to move beyond a tribal civilization, and cause most other realms to see them as just a bit subhuman.
  • Racial Disadvantages (-10 CP):
    • Relentlessly Hyperactive: May not spend more than 1 SP on Int-based skills per 4 SP spent on dex-based skills, irritates people, must roll to stay focused on any one project for long, cannot use prepared spells.
    • Hypermetabolism: Must eat a LOT of high-energy foods, poisons require second saves in three rounds, can starve to death rather quickly. They also have an average body temperature of about 105, a heartrate of 160+, and age a bit faster than usual – but that’s not very important.
    • Feeding Frenzy: if they go more than two days without food, they will go insane with hunger and will not regain sanity until they’re stuffed full.
  • Restriction: Cannot wear anything beyond light armor; it’s just too confining – and they will soon become quite frantic if tied up or closely restrained (+1 CP/Level).

So how does this powerful “racial” package turn into racial tragedy?

The Weasel Clans… are pretty common villains around the Totemistic Magic Realm. They’re casual killers, eat their enemies and each other, allow – or sometimes even force – their children to fight to the death, and show virtually no remorse.

That isn’t because they’re “born evil”. It’s because they have no choice.

An adult with the Weasel (Ferret, Mink, Etc) Totem Birthright needs about 16,000 calories a day to survive. It simply isn’t physically possible for a human or near-human to eat enough vegetables and fruits to even approach that amount on a daily basis. They can supplement their diet to some extent with nuts, honey, milk, and a few sugar-rich items – but their digestion simply has to work too fast to handle complex carbohydrates as a major energy source. They need meat, and fat, and blood, and lots of it.

Even other carnivore-totem barbarians rarely need anything even approaching that amount of calories – which means that they may want a high proportion of meat in their diet, but they can still eat a wide variety of grains and fruits, and even some vegetables.

The land that will support fifty herbivore-styled barbarians by farming and gathering will support a dozen canine or feline styled barbarians through hunting, herding, and casual agriculture – and might support two weasel clan barbarians through herding and hunting if they’re lucky.

Individual weasel clansmen are deadly, and have a modest edge on a lot of the other barbarian types – but it’s nowhere near enough of an edge to make up for odds of six to one. The Weasel Clan inevitably gets pushed to the marginal territories that no one else wants – where there is even LESS food.

As a result, they survive on the thinnest of margins. They have no time for any kind of education or study even if they could sit still for that long. They live fast, they have many children – most of whom die, or kill each other, and are eaten – and even the ones who reach adulthood don’t have a very long life expectancy. They aren’t even generally valued much as slaves outside of speciality roles as killers and bodyguards; they eat too much and they can’t sit still to work on delicate tasks that take advantage of their incredible dexterity.

So periodically… either there are a few prosperous years, and their population shoots up (only to become utterly desperate as things go back to normal) or some disaster creates an opening – and the Weasel Clans come pouring out of the wilderness to kill, and eat, and perhaps to live – or at least to die fighting.

If they manage to hold an area outside of the Totemistic Lands for a time… their children are born with that areas Birthright instead of as Weasel Barbarians – and they will become the local population. If they manage to take a better area of the Totem Domain for a time… inevitably they are slowly pushed back to the barren wilderness.

Equally inevitably, some survive – at the very worst, people from other realms giving birth in the totemistic domain will produce occasional weasel-birthright offspring – and the cycle begins again.

As individuals, Weasel Barbarians can be friendly, playful, protective – and even fluffy and cute. In organized groups, working for someone who can keep them fed, they are deadly mercenaries. In large numbers… they are a murderous plague.

Is that horrific cycle fixable? Certainly! It wouldn’t be EASY, but very little is out of reach for a bunch of determined player characters. But until someone does fix it… it will be an ongoing generational tragedy.

Excuse me… Asmodeus, Count Dracula, Darth Vader, Freddy Kruger, General Zod, Hannibal Lector, Martian Invaders, Sauron, Senator Palpatine, Skynet, Smaug, and Wicked Witch of the West… You can all go home now. It looks like we won’t be needing you after all.

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