Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Lightly Fantastic

Surprisingly, I'm prepping for a game.

As things go, then, I've been thinking about "stuff", and stuff tends to go in all directions.

This one is somewhat philosophical, and mostly stems from my wife being a biologist, who has occassionally taken umbrage with D&D's more ... practical classification metrics.

There is the concept of what's 'natural' and what's not - the difference between a hummingbird and a dragon, let's say. One of those is clearly mythical, and due to various characteristics, unless we demote dragons to  dinosaurs, eliminating the supernatural, they are not "beasts" in the usual term.

ACKS, as well as the maternal d20, classified various creatures into clean buckets in order to delineate what works on what, more or less. Some of these are more defined than others - undead is pretty clear, whereas vermin seems to be a catch-all for various non-magical invertebrates.

I'm mostly cogitating on the definition of "animal" versus Fantastic Creature.

There are several technical subcategories that immediately jump out. Anything sentient is rightly marked.

But what about griffons, let's say?

It's clearly a mix of odd pieces. There are, generally, several arguments against it being able to operate successfully in the real world.

But is it really fantastic?

At what point is there no difference between "evolved that way" and "a wizard did it"? Especially in an assumed world where wizards can indeed "do it"? As a sharper point than I  usually make on this blog, I expect I could walk down the street and find someone who, if I'd point out a robin, would tell me that it sprang from nothingness at the time of Creation, or some variation thereof.

Robins are marginally fantastic, yet a double-digit percentage of the population will argue that their origin is even more fantastic as that assumed for the griffon.

Added to that, then, is my SRTM map experimentation is for many purposes "solved", and I'm assembling a toolchain that will allow me to output hex maps of any* given section of the globe in proper** hex sizes with elevation and terrain data.

With that implies the real world, and real-world sorts of occurrences. There's no way humans would not have made every attempt at, and successfully accomplished, the domestication of things like hippogriffs and griffons. The news last year from the Ringling Bros. before their closure would have been just as likely to have been the decision to no longer use hippogriffs on their road show.

Add into that Lairs & Encounters (and Domains At War) allowing us to achieve a creature economy with regards to ownership, care, and training, thus enabling one to systemically manage the occurrence of the same in the campaign world.

But for the sheer cost, there's no reason a hippogriff or a griffon or some such wouldn't be found in the stables of the ranked members of society - especially those who display these creatures on their heraldry and such.

* some areas are 'unmappable' due to the construction of the spheroid, but those locations are centered in open ocean, and the ability to map near them is dependent on the defined hex size
** within a few square miles of area of the 768, 192, 96, 24, 6, and 1.5m hex sizes for my purposes, though there's many more options available

Anyway. With an eye towards finding what might work as a "real animal" without violating the basest of biological or physical assumptions, we can come into a new view of what's probably a creature that's only lightly fantastic.

Cutting out the sentient members, what do we get in the Fantastic Creature section?
  • Amphisbaena (L&E): Clearly out, as it has two heads.
  • Kraken (L&E): Would fall into the Giant/Prehistoric category, more naturally.
  • Yali (L&E): It's aligned Lawful - that, above all else, disqualifies it.
  • Basilisk: Turns people to literal stone. Out.
  • Cockatrice: The same.
  • Gorgon: Again, petrification.
  • Griffon: Mixed body shape, no supernatural abilities.
  • Hippogriff: As Griffon.
  • Hydra: Multiple heads and possible breath, so it's out.
  • Owl Bear: As Griffon.
  • Remorhaz: Supernatural heat - if it was intelligent, it may fit as an weird dragon type. Out. 
  • Rust Monster: This is a good one. Vermin which may be a better idea if one would assume the rusting ability is of more mundane origin.
  • Sea Serpent: Giant/Prehistoric.
  • Skittering Maw: I would argue that this body form would fall under Vermin.
  • Stirge: Completely normal, relatively speaking.
  • Wyvern: Technically a dragon in d20, but here? Giant/prehistoric at worst.
So, under this, we're left with:
  1. Fantastic Creatures
    1. Amphisbaena (L&E)
    2. Yali (L&E)
    3. Basilisk
    4. Cockatrice
    5. Gorgon
    6. Hydra
    7. Remorhaz
  2. Vermin
    1. Rust Monster (if rusting is "mundane")
    2. Skittering Maw
  3. "Animal/Giant Animal"
    1. Kraken (G)
    2. Griffon
    3. Hippogriff
    4. Owl Bear
    5. Sea Serpent (G)
    6. Stirge
    7. Wyvern (G?)
My own judgement aside, I think the main reason Hippogriffs and Griffons (...Wyverns?) are treated differently is because they are the "premium mounts" of the D&D world - owlbears are just good fun, and stirges are "trap  monsters". There's nothing truly fantastic about any of the five.

Given all of that, I'd rather categorize things as:
  1. Animals: what one would expect.
  2. Preternatural Animals: Giant, Prehistoric, Mixed type animals; up to Huge in defined size
The Huge limitation, which sets our upper bounds at about elephant size, is an attempt to cut out things like the sauropod dinosaurs, krakens, and such. Animals of such expanse that it seems improbable that a mundane human can interact with them in such a way that training can easily occur.

And, in order to see how this will work out in live play against a known antagonist with regards to these sorts of things (i.e.; my loving and loved wife, reprising her favored role as a druid, or how she styles things, Beastmaster of the Apocalypse)

Beast Friendship: ...taken a second time, the character gains a +2 to reaction rolls with, and may recruit as henchmen, creatures of the Preternatural Animal type of up to Huge in size.