Non-human races in Strategic Primer

Players in the current campaign of Strategic Primer, and others readers, may have noticed—in their results or in the “helper app” documentation I’ve posted in the last few months—that in addition to a name, “statistics,” and experience in Skills and Jobs, a worker can have a “race.” (This is “race” in the fantastical sense, not the modern political sense, of course.) Today we look at where this element in Strategic Primer came from, how I’m trying to make it not just another imitator of other games, what races the current campaign will include, and some ideas for the game more broadly than just this campaign.

Non-human races were originally added to Strategic Primer when I started describing workers more like characters in a tabletop RPG than like interchangeable parts, and started using tools like PCGen to manage them. I was borrowing so many game mechanics wholesale that one more seemed trivial.

But not too much later, I started really moving away from the idea of just copying game mechanics and borrowing content indiscriminately. As part of this, I reduced the game’s idea of workers from full RPG characters as described in PCGen character files to a name, a race, and a collection of Jobs and Skills, with the possibility of adding more information later. This change was made absolutely necessary by the number of workers players were beginning to have; it made sense to treat a fortress’s workers as an RPG “party” and use an off-the-shelf tool to generate and manage them when there were only ten or even twenty of them, but at about forty PCGen started to get unusably slow. And the character files would eventually add up to a not (quite) trivial amount of disk space.

While I was thinking of separating myself slightly from off-the-shelf RPG game design and content, I thought of using the races, and versions of races, from the Shine Cycle. There’s significant overlap; as you’ll see below, this is mostly “the same races,” but there are significant differences in conception that make things interesting.

I’ll describe each race (other than human beings, which are the predominant race in the game-world, as I’ll describe further below) briefly, and link to the “full” background essay describing it that I posted on this blog sometime in the past.

  • First are dwarves. They are still the great miners, smiths, builders that you’d expect (from Tolkien and his imitators) them to be, but this is because they desire knowledge rather than because of a lust for gold. They tend to be less than four feet tall, stocky and flexible of build. In war they make pretty good heavy infantry, but their elite soldiers—which you’ll rarely if ever see—are archers using repeating crossbows of their own design.
  • Next are elves. They are typically very long-lived, and desire things that last for several of even their lifetimes in the same way that human beings tend to desire power and (these) dwarves desire knowledge, and secondarily beautiful things. They tend to be somewhat tall, and slender but athletic. In warfare they tend to rely on agility, superior senses, and skill practiced over centuries rather than heavy armor to protect themselves, and to use light swords and longbows.
  • Third are a race unique to the Shine Cycle, the Danani. If a player’s results ever reported a worker as a “halfling,” he or she should note that the Danani are to replace halflings in the game-world, and read carefully here and in that linked essay. The Danani are tall, yet stocky, with awkwardly short limbs but long, strong, dexterous fingers and toes. They are capable miners, especially in shallow burrows. But if these are the post-slavery Danani (a point on which I’m dithering; if you have an opinion, please let me know in a comment below), with greater strength and endurance, they have developed an aversion to being too far underground (though a dwarf city doesn’t seem to trigger this) or in a cramped space, and prefer to take up farming, carpentry, or other trades rather than mining if there are other capable miners available.
  • And fourth are the gnomes. They are small creatures, with mole-like features with a touch of felinity, quite dexterous but not all that strong as a rule. To compensate for this, they like to improvise or “hack together” tools to help them. The race prizes cleverness and wit.

While I’m making these the dominant and “standard” conceptions of these races in the game-world, I’ll probably include some of the “normal” forms as very occasional variations, and also occasionally add a rarer race or version of a race from an RPG that catches my eye.

Before we move on, I should also mention that the Shine Cycle includes as “races” its versions of other creatures (for lack of a better word) that the game-world of this campaign of Strategic Primer includes, such as giants, fairies, and centaurs. In any given case, I may, or may not, make any given individual in the game-world fit the Shine Cycle version of that “race,” or the version described by a popular tabletop RPG, or another version entirely. You’ll have to see. Races may also be different on other worlds.

In ordinary population growth due to resource surpluses, using the current model and tools, humans are by far the majority of the newcomers players will receive. But the other races I’ve described above have equal chance of appearing in a list of newcomers. Villages, on the other hand, are not so cosmopolitan; each has a dominant race, usually but not always human (though that isn’t in the map yet), and volunteers and levies from a village will be of its dominant race.

I’m beginning to think that races might have something to do with specialties. But I’m not sure, and I don’t know what the connection should be. Again, if you have any ideas, please let me know.

Lastly, I should mention that none of this is essential to the “core” of Strategic Primer. If someone other than me were to run a campaign (in my idea of using the game in education, for example), that campaign could include no non-human races at all, or “standard fantasy” ones, or ones from the then-most-popular RPG, or ones invented entirely for the campaign.

Do you have any thoughts about any of this?

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