Faerie Skies: Design JournalJune 6, 2013
The pre-release of the Golden Sky Stories PDF is off to backers, which means that people are getting their first taste of the full version of the game. (Also, Channel A has reached most backers, and is now available in the Asmadi Games web store.) We have a ton of stuff to do yet (a good portion of which is in other people’s hands besides mine just now), but I wanted to take some time to talk about what I’ve been doing with Faerie Skies, the first of the two alternate settings I’m developing for GSS.
For Faerie Skies I’m sticking very close to the basic rules of Golden Sky Stories, essentially adding fae as a new group of character types and providing supporting material to go with them. The challenges then are more aesthetic than mechanical, since I’m setting myself the task of creating a suitable take on fairies out of the great mass of folk tales and their many reinterpretations. There are certain major archetypes of fairies, but once you include all the regional variations (even just within the British Isles) there are literally hundreds of different types, often with oddly-spelled Celtic/Gaelic names. With some help from a friend who’s well-read on the subject I’ve settled on a set of six character types: brownies, elves, gnomes, nymphs, pixies, and pucas. The aim is to put together a set of archetypes that cover a reasonably wide range of types of fairies while avoiding a lot of the decidedly non-GSS elements of the folklore. The original folk takes are largely a series of warnings; “stay the hell away for faeries” is the most common moral. I don’t want to wholly go into Disney Fairies territory, but I also need to make something heartwarming for GSS.
In Faerie Skies, elves are specifically the faerie nobility, the Tuatha de Danaan and such, beautiful, magical, and melancholy. Gnomes are workers and creatures of the earth, nymphs are nature spirits (which can be water spirits, wind spirits, dryads, etc. depending on how you flavor them), brownies are helpful household fae, and pucas are shapeshifters with animal traits. On top of that there will be guidelines for using henge and mononoke to create other faerie characters. A cait sith can simply be a cat henge, the Black Dog can be a dog henge or a michinoke (or a bit of both) depending on how you flavor it, a will-’o-the-wisp is hands-down a michinoke (and basically a Western equivalent of a hitodama), and so on.
Teasing out enough material to come up with 12 powers and 6 weaknesses for each character type is one of the more difficult parts, since creatures from folk takes tend to alternately be totally vague or flagrant deus ex machina in terms of the special powers they display. Elves and pixies have been fairly easy to come up with traits for, while brownies have been a lot harder. On the other hand the sum of fairy lore has more potential ideas for powers and weaknesses than even the 108 slots I get from 6 character types, and I may end up making some optional powers and weaknesses players can slot in to further customize characters. (Which is actually the approach they took for the Touhou Yuuyake Koyake book.)
Faerie Skies is also going to include a selection of NPCs, similar to the archetypes included in the GSS rulebook, where they’re not so much character writeups as a delivery system for plot hooks. Some of these are simply more Western/British character types (like the Vicar), while others are people with distinct relationships to the world of the fairies (like the Sighted, who is touched with the ability to see through fae illusions). Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black’s series of children’s books The Spiderwick Chronicles is turning out to be an excellent source of inspiration for how it shows different ways human characters can interact with fairies. Along with the people I’m putting in some animals (like sheep) and faerie creatures (gryphons, unicorns, the White Stag) that might play a role in stories. I’d like to do a writeup of an English town too, though being an American city kid makes that quite a challenge.
Digging into fairy lore and works of fiction for ideas has been a pretty interesting experience. RPGs instilled in me an interest in mythology, and while I wasn’t more interested in fairies than other kinds of mythical creatures (and maybe less so than the likes of the tengu), I always found them interesting, enough so to inspire a flirtation with Changeling: The Dreaming. I’ve also been rediscovering things like the movie Labyrinth that I haven’t been near in ages. All in all this is proving to be a really fun project, though there’s still quite a bit of work to do all around.
Having been a victim of an oddly-spelled Gaelic name my entire life, the likes of the Cait Sith and Gwragedd Annwn have my sympathy.
I’m using the word “pixie” in the modern sense here. In the actual folk tales a pixie is a kind of brownie, and to the extent that the little people with fluttering wings are a thing, they’re more typically called sprites.
It also doesn’t hurt that Mark Hamil did the voices for the audiobook.
Thinking about it now I’m feeling a little nostalgic for trips to the Sunnyvale library, which had among other things a bunch of AD&D books and stuff like Folk Legends of Japan.