Posted by : David Guyll May 26, 2017

Over on a much earlier, maybe even the first public alpha document for FrankenFourth (which is over a year old at this point, and there's even a link to a later one at the top of the document), one David L left the following response to a line in the Races section where I state that we're going to have "more mythologically accurate kobolds".

Here's the comment in its entirety:

The phrase "mythologically accurate" makes me highly skeptical. First off, what even counts as 'accurate' when it comes to centuries old stories passed down orally with countless variations? I mean, just looking at kobolds, are you going to use the version where they're the Germanic equivalent of brownies or of knockers? If mythological accuracy is all that's important, why pick one over the other? And of course, when it comes to how they fit into a game world, the brownie-like kobolds are tied to their house and can't leave, which greatly limits adventuring options. And if you go for the knocker-like kobolds, then they're going to start overlapping uncomfortable with dwarves (or rather, dwarfs, since we're being mythologically accurate, here).

Second, and much more importantly, as a fantasy game... I mean, do you intend on reverting elves back to their Nordic origin of "this may just be another name for 'dwarf', but it may be something else entirely, we can't tell"? Elves that stood more than a meter high did not exist before Tolkien*. To draw this line at halflings is incredibly arbitrary, particularly given the way the rest of this seems to be intending to evoke classic, old school D&D in terms of flavour. If you want to make a game that's more faithful to mythology that's great, and I would love such a thing, but it would be wholly distinct from the Tolkienesque high fantasy that is iconic to D&D, and you'd be far better off decoupling your system from its legacy (at least overtly, basically every system today can trace itself back to D&D one way or another, so don't worry about ripping off the mechanics).

*The description in myth is vague at best for dwarf/elf height, simply indicating that they were shorter than typical Norsemen to some unspecified degree. However, this is the general consensus in artwork up until Tolkien, and really, up until D&D.

Before I go about responding to it, I want to say that I got on the kobolds-instead-of-halflings train back when we worked on A Sundered World, but I forget exactly how it got started. Best I can recall, I think while looking up information on kobolds I realized that they're waaay more interesting than halflings, and can even look like halflings to boot.

Of course that wasn't the first time Melissa and I mined real world mythologies for ideas. I'd been doing that since those Wandering Monster articles during 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons development, during which I quickly realized just how much more awesome the source creature was than whatever the D&D team was coming up with.

For example, take the ghoul: the mythological ghoul is a type of jinni that can assume the form of an animal and take the form of the last person it ate, while the D&D ghoul is basically a humanoid undead creature that can paralyze everyone but elves. Former sounds way cooler, so that's the one we ran with.

With that out of the way, let's get back to that comment.

The phrase "mythologically accurate" makes me highly skeptical. First off, what even counts as 'accurate' when it comes to centuries old stories passed down orally with countless variations?

For the past three editions of Dungeons & Dragons, kobolds have been little draconian people with dragon's blood that typically serve or worship dragons. I recall Pathfinder actually linking their scale color and appearances to specific dragons, and I'd be surprised if no one else has done that, too. They're also good at digging and setting traps.

So, I'd say our kobolds are more mythologically accurate, which succeeds at our stated goal.

I mean, just looking at kobolds, are you going to use the version where they're the Germanic equivalent of brownies or of knockers? If mythological accuracy is all that's important, why pick one over the other?

As described in the alpha document, we're using three types. Players can pick whichever type they like the most, and there will be a talent in the Red Book (which is the full core game that will come out after the Black Book) that lets you choose a second and even third spirit type if you want to do that.

I never said mythological accuracy is all that's important, so I don't know why you're saying it now.

And of course, when it comes to how they fit into a game world, the brownie-like kobolds are tied to their house and can't leave, which greatly limits adventuring options.

Hearth kobolds (the closest thing to kobolds that live in homes) aren't tied to a house, obviously because no one would choose a race that is restricted to a house in a game where you're supposed to go on adventures. We gave hearth kobolds the ability to conjure flames in their hands, which in the full game will lead into you being able to fully transform into fire if you want to take it that far.

Remember: more mythologically accurate. We are ignoring certain things. Maybe. The mythology behind lots of things gets muddy and sometimes contradicts itself.

And if you go for the knocker-like kobolds, then they're going to start overlapping uncomfortable with dwarves (or rather, dwarfs, since we're being mythologically accurate, here).

Actually they won't: just compare the dwarf and kobold entries (specifically compare dwarves with mine kobolds). If you're just looking at mechanics, dwarves are really fucking tough, and I'm considering giving them another racial trait that makes them learn weaponsmithing and armorer skills twice as fast as other races.

Kobolds right now don't have much of a mechanical focus. The Charisma bonus will make them ideal for bards and sorcerers and the like, but for now they're the go-to race for social skills. The game doesn't assume certain numbers at certain points, so they're still good enough to get by at anything. Considering changing it so that your spirit type gives you a different stat bonus (so mine kobolds might get +1 Constitution instead of Charisma).

Again: more mythologically accurate..

Second, and much more importantly, as a fantasy game... I mean, do you intend on reverting elves back to their Nordic origin of "this may just be another name for 'dwarf', but it may be something else entirely, we can't tell"?

Check the elf entry to see what we did.

Elves that stood more than a meter high did not exist before Tolkien*.

When researching elves for A Sundered World, I came across stuff that mentioned elves being short, human-sized, and even taller than humans. One book stated that Tolkien's elves were actually pretty close to one particular elven mythology, and I'm inclined to agree. I also read stuff that described elves as being akin to gods or spirits of the dead.

So, I simply ran with elves being as tall or taller than humans. Seems to fit one mythology, and there are plenty of small things to choose from if I want to add another small player race.

To draw this line at halflings is incredibly arbitrary, particularly given the way the rest of this seems to be intending to evoke classic, old school D&D in terms of flavour.

Again, near as I can tell D&D elves were pretty close to an elven mythology, but I didn't "draw the line" at halflings.

First, our kobolds are a much more interesting race choice than a small, stealthy and maybe lucky human (and if you really want to use halflings it would be very easy to add them to the mix). Second, we've given a similar treatment to (for starters) chimeras, angels, ghouls, rakshasas, and gorgons (or what D&D typically calls a Medusa).

Mimics and doppelgangers are getting reworked, there's not going to be 20+ elven subraces to choose from, we've changed tieflings into cambions and tied them to sins, and instead of aasimar we've got ishim (and tied them to a Domain or virtue).

Basically, we're looking at the mythological source or equivalent or whatever you want to call it for a monster (when it exists), and if we think it's cooler we're doing that, and if we also like the D&D version we can do something different with it if we think it's cool enough to stand on its own.

As mentioned above, we're going with the mythological ghoul, and not bothering at all with the D&D incarnation. I like the look and ideas behind the current D&D  kobold (plus I've got a shitload of kobold minis I want to use), so we're going to keep the appearance, call them something else, and maybe change up their abilities.

If you want to make a game that's more faithful to mythology that's great, and I would love such a thing, but it would be wholly distinct from the Tolkienesque high fantasy that is iconic to D&D, and you'd be far better off decoupling your system from its legacy (at least overtly, basically every system today can trace itself back to D&D one way or another, so don't worry about ripping off the mechanics).

Being faithful to a specific mythology for it's own sake isn't really the point: we're going with what we feel makes more sense or is more interesting, rather than sticking with D&D because nostalgia or ease.

As mentioned above (a few times), Tolkien elves aren't that far off from one interpretation, and I don't really mind them like that, so we're just going to leave them alone. Mostly. They can still get access to minor magical powers at 1st-level (couldn't find any specifics so just went with a free wizard talent).

But, you're forgetting or ignoring other aspects of D&D, like pseudo-Vancian magic that gets incorrectly labeled as Vancian by people that have apparently never read The Dying Earth, the paladin, paladin mount, swanway, and other things from Three Hearts, Three Lions, and other things from various works from Appendix N roster. It's not all Tolkien.

That said, there's a bunch of stuff in this game that makes it distinct from D&D, while at the same time still giving you that D&D feel: just read through the Google Doc (specifically the much more recent one).

Announcements
If you're curious about FrankenFourth and/or Dungeons & Delvers, you can find public alpha documents here and here respectively.

Dwarven Vault is our sixth 10+ Treasures volume. If you're interested in thirty dwarven magic items (including an eye that lets you shoot lasers) and nearly a dozen new bits of dungeon gear, check it out!

Just released our second adventure for A Sundered World, The Golden Spiral. If a snail-themed dungeon crawl is your oddly-specific thing, check it out!

By fan demand, we've mashed all of our 10+ Treasure volumes into one big magic item book, making it cheaper and more convenient to buy in print (which you can now do).

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