Fantasy Friends Design Journal

The other day I sent the first draft of Faerie Skies out to backers, along with a request for fans who are from the UK (or just knowledgeable about it) to offer feedback on how I portrayed the English countryside. Thankfully it looks like it’s mostly small details that I missed, and not anything really huge or offensive.[1] As I said in the backer update I’m more of an anglophile than the average American, but I’ve nonetheless lived in California my whole life. On the other hand I’m definitely going to take some liberties with fairy lore, just as Kamiya did with Japanese myths. This is partly because I basically have to make something that works with the GSS rules, and partly just to better fit with what I think would be more fun. Faerie Skies is going to need some fine-tuning and some more playtesting and such, but in the meantime I’ve been working on Fantasy Friends, mainly because being productive helps me not be crazy anxious about the whole Kickstarter thing.

monster_manualLooking through old Monster Manuals (and the Fiend Folio and Monstrous Compendium and such) for monster ideas was kind of daunting. In AD&D1e the monsters are for the most part terribly vicious things, many of which basically exist because an evil wizard figured out a demented new way to kill incautious adventurers. WotC’s takes on D&D focused that much more on monsters that you fight, and at times it seems to be full of angry, spiky, glowing things, especially in the higher-numbered books. Navigating the game towards having friendly versions of beholders and gelatinous cubes make sense feels a bit daunting, since unlike with more classic mythical creatures the D&D monsters have very seldom been made friendly. (Rusty and Co. is pretty fun though.) Fox spirits could be downright terrifying in Asian myths,[2] and the old, unvarnished fairy lore reads like a long list of things to stay away from if you want to stay alive, but the works of fiction around them make them relatively easy to picture as friendly. (And with fairies, the friendly modern version is now more prevalent, so there’s a lot more about happy pixies and elves and a lot less about Jenny Greenteeth eating children.) In GSS, the henge’s self introductions usually address the myths about them, and in some cases they “debunk” the myths. This is especially true of Kuromu the cat henge, who wholly rejects the veracity of folk tales about bakeneko and nekomata and such.

I realized that for the creatures I want to put into Fantasy Friends I essentially need to carry out this same process, though I have to start a little further back as it were. Under the influence of anime and Discworld and such (plus looking at real life), I hit on the tack that in this fantasy world most beings basically just want to live their lives, and it’s mostly politics, ignorance, and misunderstandings that keep them apart. Without that Dark Lord jerk mucking things up, the so-called Forces of Darkness would just be people (with a rather broad definition of people) being more or less decent to each other. For people in an unremarkable little village, the sight of a beholder or whatever is still quite a shock, but ultimately coexisting is better than fighting for everyone involved.

From WotC's Monster Slayers kids version of D&D
From WotC’s Monster Slayers kids version of D&D
I also ended up using Mononoke Koyake as my template for how to approach the new set of character types. In MK, each character type has a whole two extra pages that lay out basic info on the character type, eight or so possible reskins, the rules for how they transform, and advice on naming. This was basically the only way to even make a dent in the possibilities presented by “monsters from D&D and similar fantasy works.” I had considered doing something like this for Faerie Skies, but found that it didn’t really feel necessary, as the different types of fae didn’t lend themselves to there being too many sub-types. For D&D-type monsters on the other hand I ended up with things like an Aberration character type, which covers beholders, rust monsters, chimeras, and so forth. The others are Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, Shapeshifters, and Slimes. Some of these can be quite powerful in D&D terms, but then this is where the way that GSS operates somewhat orthogonally to typical RPG concerns is very helpful. In GSS’ later supplements there are new character types like the Elder Henge that have some very potent powers (snake henge actually have some powers that affect time!), but a power that costs a full 20 points of Wonder is unlikely to be usable until the story is winding down in the first place. And perhaps more importantly, when the final objective is to help people and heal relationships and such, special powers only go so far in the first place. I’ve seen Powers like Peek Into Hearts undo a GSS scenario’s Gordian knot, while flashier powers go unused.

One thing I’m adding in that’s pretty much new for GSS is magic items. In game terms these would basically be a “container” for 1-2 Powers and possibly a Weakness, and in story terms they’d essentially be a plot element roughly on the level of an NPC. Characters wouldn’t just own random magic items, but an item could play an important role in the story. Very much like with Faerie Skies, I’m rounding out the book with a sample town (“Grassdale”), some story seeds, and some new NPCs. So far the NPCs are basically just the archetypes that a fantasy town calls for, such as the priest, innkeeper, and hedge wizard, not to mention adventurers.

Overall it’s kind of surprising how different an energy this project has from Faerie Skies. Fantasy Friends is RPG-style fantasy, and while there are some tropes I want to hit, I’m basically making stuff up, whereas for Faerie Skies I culled through about a dozen different books for reference, from classic literature to recent RPGs. Not having to worry about getting a real-life culture right is also rather freeing. The tricky part is the volume of stuff I have to tease out to create a GSS character type. For fairies coming up with 12 powers and 6 weaknesses was basically a matter of digging until I found enough ideas in fairy lore, while D&D monster writeups tend to have relatively few things that can work as GSS-style powers, and in many cases not a lot of other source material on account of having come from the game with little to no basis in myth. Fantasy Friends also feels a lot more like I’m subverting a genre.[3] Taking something with violence at its core–in some cases so much so that it can obscure everything else–and making a nonviolent heartwarming version is challenging yet oddly appealing. Anyway, I should actually get something done instead of sitting here blogging about it, so I’ll stop here.


[1]People do seem to take the names of British pubs very seriously, though I assume that’s in part because British pub names are awesome.

[2]This is especially true of the Korean version, the kumiho.

[3]Though with this and Retail Magic and Dragon World that seems to be becoming a pattern with me.

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