In this blog I will be detailing both lineage and class as they are presented in Faerie Tales & Folklore. Though the term “class” is relatively common within the vernacular of tabletop roleplaying games, “lineage” on the other hand is less common. Class, as presented herein, is a basic explanation of how any given character moves through the world they exist within. Lineage, as referenced in the game’s language, is a term which defines what branch of humanity a given character has descended from and has a profound impact on a character’s relation to the Otherworld. These two descriptive choices will make the largest impact upon who a character is and how they interact with the world around them. (Continued below)
Let us first approach the idea of lineage, or what many fantasy roleplaying games term as “race”. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, there are three primary lineages of men: common, high, and low. A fourth is also detailed, that being under men, but they have received a bit less detail and will not be detailed further here. These names have no bearing upon the power, social nobility, nor genetic superiority of a lineage. Instead, they speak more of their otherworldly connections and preferred earthly environment. One of the most important distinctions between these primary lineages is how each relates to the Otherworld. This can be shown most clearly by the category of creature they fit within: common men are mundane in nature, high men are spirits, and low men are monstrous beings. These categories are important and they appear throughout the game. A mundane creature has no otherworldly nature, though most are still reflected within the Otherworld. A spirit is itself native to the Otherworld and they are often seen as foreign within the mundane world. Finally, a monstrous creature is a product of the Otherworld’s ability to shape and reshape the mundane world. Each of these creature categories offers an important view of the world presented Faerie Tales & Folklore and the cosmology it promotes. All of the creatures within the game fall into one of these three categories, though a few blur the lines a bit.
It should also be discussed what the lineages of high and low men entail, and why more prevalent fantasy terms were not used. The idea within the game’s implied setting was to offer an experience that was easily modified to the various cultures and mythologies that are found throughout our world. This is important in the effort to avoid the necessity of piles of additional support material. A high man, being a spirit, can be a great many things: a hemitheoi of the ancient Greeks, or an aos sí of the the people of Ireland, or even the child of a lóng to the Chinese. A low man can also fill a great many mythic archetypes: an ancient seeming wizard, a shape shifting thief or pooka, and possibly even a dvergr who crafts items of great power. In this same manner, a common man may be of Asian, European, African, or of some other terrestrial heritage. In many instances this choice of lineage can itself blur some of the lines between monstrous, mundane, and spirit, sometimes even of the lineages themselves. This can be seen in the example of a low man filling the role of a traditional wizard.
Each of the lineages posses a few unique traits which provides a particular value for that lineage. High men are unique in that they may follow two classes if they so choose. This puts high men in the position to both fight and use magic with some proficiency. A high man may also more easily travel between the mundane and the Otherworld then many other spirits can. Low men also practice magic, though they may not attain the ability in such pursuits as a high man. Many low men have the ability to enchant items, which includes the creation of scrolls. This puts low men in the unique position of being able to choose the spells they learn in a way few other creatures can claim. Possessing the ability to enchant provides low men a unusual value within any game and is invaluable to any group looking to expand their capabilities. Lastly, common men may drive off spirits and call for their aid in the form of miracles. These abilities place common men in a position with an unusual amount of control, or sway, over the spirits of the mythological Earth and its greater cosmology.
If the lineages are the way a character relates with the Otherworld, the idea of class reflects a more practical choice. The character’s choice of class defines how they choose to interact with the world and outlines how they deal with everyday problems. A fighting-man will often charge headlong into conflict, facing a challenge with brute force or pure courage. A magic-user relies upon magic and the supernatural to solve the various issues they face. A sneak-thief relies on their wits, skill, and intelligence to navigate the world around them. These classes are not to be confused with a character’s profession, nor are they truly a facet of background, it is better to see them as a methodology. Each of these classes does not necessarily require vast training, though such formal education may certainly be a portion of one’s class. Furthermore, each class has a lineage which is not able to practice that class. Common men cannot undertake the role of a magic-user, a high man cannot follow the path of a sneak-thief, and a low man will not follow the way of the fighting-man. This is a fact of how each lineage approaches the world around them and is not to be ignored, nor should any be allowed to deviate from this rule.
The differentiation between the classes is both deep and readily apparent. A fighting-man will be able to engage in pure combat on a much greater scale then any of the other classes. They will also be able to lead armies and are most likely to build major fortifications. Fighting-men have the least knowledge of the Otherworld however and will generally be the least skilled, or educated, as such knowledge is often sacrificed for skill at arms. Those who take the path of magic-users will be capable of calling upon otherworldly forces to produce effects far beyond the capabilities of the other classes. They can bend minds, summon spirits, and call down lightning or meteors from the heavens. A magic-user will not be a highly functional warrior in standard combat however, nor will they have the breadth of practical skill of a sneak-thief. In fact, a magic-user will not even be as effective as a sneak-thief when a fight gets up close and personal. The sneak-thief can make the best use of their skill set and they make effective combatants when they can take advantage of an ambush or stealth. Sneak-thieves have a knack for creating large groups of organized, individuals with whom they work with to further their interests. As seen, each class has a very clear set of abilities and this should be maintained, especially in situations were a referee has decided to introduce their own “house rules”.
It is important to the power structure of the game that each lineage and class maintain a high level of differentiation, as this offers clear choices for the players to make as they create their characters. In many popular roleplaying games there is a heavy amount of homogeneity among the various lineages, with each capable of fulfilling the full range of classes and taking those to the highest levels of proficiency. In my view, this makes each choice less important and that does little to provide interest in such choices. In Faerie Tales & Folklore, each choice you make when creating a character has weight. If a player wishes to experience the game as a low man, for example, they will have a wholly different experience then the player who chooses to play a common man. This is equally true of a player’s choice of class. Choices of this nature have consequences and benefits that are immediately appearant and they directly shape a character. When such choices are coupled with the “Introduction Line” spoken of in my previous article “Introducing Your Character”, a vast array of archetypes can be created to fill almost any imaginable role within the confines of what is loosely human.
These two choices, each between three possibilities, present very dramatic shifts in a player’s roleplaying experience. Each possibility opens a unique set of doors and also closes others. It would be my suggestion that any “party”, or “company”, of adventurers have a wide range of the presented archetypes so long as it fits with the narrative being told by the referee. Not only does this increase the groups capabilities, but it gives each member a defined role to fill. In this differentiation, all of the players have an important place in the group which will not easily be filled by another member. When handled well, a healthy group dynamic is fostered and each player feels they have value at the game table. This is one of the reasons I suggest a “Session Zero” when starting a new game. Have the players create their characters as a group, the narrator should also create the primary villain during this session as well. In situations where a cooperative narrative is being told and referees will be swapped, all of the villains should be created at this time. This process will help foster a greater level of interconnectedness among characters, while providing more meaningful villains with which to challenge them.
The high level of differentiation in the basic choices available to players is very important within Faerie Tales & Folklore. This is but another example of the deeply intertwined nature of the games rules, both in its basic system as well as the implied setting. In a latter article, I will detail how this deep integration brought me to alter the classic “Rule Zero” of most roleplaying games, a change which no doubt has its detractors. For the space of this article though, I hope to have provided insight into two of the most important choices a player can make within the game, at least before play begins, and why I choose to go the direction I did with many of the classic fantasy tropes. I also hope to have shown a bit more about how the more ambiguous nature of class and lineage within Faerie Tales & Folklore allows a greater level of customization by both player and referee. It is that very customization that I hope makes this game more approachable to a broad audience without the need for either supplemental material, nor house rules and modifications by each individual referee.
As always friends, enjoy your time and the game table and have a happy New Year!