Tuesday, August 09, 2011

easy peasy demihuman clan relations

When two dwarves meet do they fight or do they buy each other drinks?  Obviously individual personality quirks come into play, but you can juice up your campaign a bit by introducing clan relations.  Make this easy on yourself: generate 6 clans and start their names with the letters A, B, C, D, E and F.  That way when J. Random Dwarf shows up you can throw a die (who doesn't have a d6 handy?) and you'll remember that 3 equals the clan that starts with C.  Give the clans names you and your players are likely to remember.  Like this:

1) Axehammers
2) Bogbeards
3) Coalfists
4) Dragondungs
5) Electrumeyes
6) Flintdoodles

This is how the clans get along:

Red lines indicate grudges.  You can make this up ahead of time or throw it to the players when it comes up.  Do your best to make sure the grudge cuts both ways.  Instead of victims and victimizers, shoot for mutual jerkiness.  Examples:
  • The Bogbeards live in dank, substandard caves because the Axehammers drove them out of their ancestral lands.  But the Axehammers never would have invaded Bogbeard territory if the latter had honored the Treaty of Blackanvil and supported the Axehammers in Goblin War VII.  The Axehammers lost and now goblins live in their halls.  Both sides are haunted by grumpy ancestor spirits, who constantly complain their grandkids have abandoned the ancient homelands.
  • When the Dwarf Throne sat empty 7 centuries ago the Electrumeyes and Flintdoodles both made plays for the kingship and both ended up ruining each others' chances.  Now every time the fortunes of the Electrumeyes clan goes pear-shaped they all remind themselves that they'd be living the easy life if those jerks the Flintdoodles hadn't interfered, and vice versa.
Green lines represent allied clans, if only because they both loath the same people.  Clans with no direct connection are generally apathetic to one another.

Now, in addition to a little extra texture to dwarf-on-dwarf encounters, you probably also have the makings of one or more epic quests.  Any PC that can unscrew centuries of dwarven grudgery deserves mountains of accolades.

The same basic system works for halflings, but make sure the grudges are over the smallest, pettiest stakes possible.  E.g. the Bottomrumps and the Dingleberries argue every year over who is in charge of the Christmas pageant.


  1. Awesome stuff, as usual!

    And if you really want to mess with your players, you can use this for orc clans, as well. Imagine fighting alongside a clan of orcs because they'd rather fight against their blood enemies than against you!

  2. -Beavis says-
    Hee,hee,hee you said "Dingleberries"

  3. barrataria10:26 AM

    This is really a fantastic suggestion. I'd even use it during early world-building, whether for countries or horseclans (although I'd vary the numbers from 6, just to keep them honest.

  4. For a book which was never published (I finished it just as the D20 market imploded), a guide to cities in D20, I created a somewhat similar system for randomly determining power relationships among factions in a city. I find such things are a real boost to imagination, because you're going to end up with patterns you'd never have picked consciously but which you must then be creative to explain. (Traveller world building is like that, too.)

    PS: My capcha word is 'boner'. Go figure.)

  5. I like this idea for giving texture to spacey RPG conflict. I can see warring planet-states jockeying for the galactic throne.

  6. I am particularly taken by your idea of Halfling conflicts being over petty stuff, because my two halfling players have turning arguing over a key they found into a slightly epic and ongoing gag in my campaign.

  7. more genius from rients.

    In case anyone is interested in having someone else join the dots for them, this is how I named & explained the clans.

    Alldarks, Broadswings, Cattanachs, Dreadspokers, Entwhittlers & Fieboulders.

    ALLDARKS - live in dank, substandard caves because the broadswings drove them out 2 000 years ago. Broadswings claim they wouldn't have had to if they hadn't lost their ancestral halls when the alldarks failed to honour the treaty of Bleakhammer. Also see Cattanach entry.

    BROADSWINGS- see above. Also have a grudge against the Dreadspokers for being allies of the Alldarks & demanding weregild under law when by law they should have been helping the Broadswings enforce the treaty of Bleakhammer.

    CATTANACHS- The Cattanach claim the alldarks fouled the river Cattan's underground source when they found their new halls & began smelting there. The Alldarks say the Cattanach are whining babies & if they were dwarf enough to delve deeper they'd see it was the trollnest they allow to fester below their own tunnels that fouls their waters.

    The Cattanachs also hate the Entwhittlers. The cattanachs gained that Throne of Kings when the Entwhittlers missed their chance & claim the Entwhittlers have been jealously sulking ever since & never given them their proper due.

    The Entwhittlers in turn find it grating that the pathetic Cattanachs are so proud of their kingship when everyone knows they only have the throne by default because the far mightier Entwhittlers & Fieboulders got in each others road. How dare the Cattanachs behave so high & mighty when all they had is the luck of fools.

    DREADSPOKERS- see also Fieboulder entry.

    Dreadspokers lost much of their slavetrade when the Broadswings drove out the Alldarks & claim they are still owed weregild by the Broadswings.

    ENTWHITTLER- When the Throne of Kings sat empty a dozen centuries ago the Entwhittlers and Fieboulders both made plays for the kingship and both ended up ruining each others' chances. Now every time the fortunes of the Entwhittler clan goes pear-shaped they all remind themselves that they'd be living the easy life if those jerks the Fieboulders hadn't interfered, and vice versa.

    Also see Cattanach entry.

    FIEBOULDERS- see above.

    Also, Fieboulders hate Dreadspokers since they stole the mines of kunmar 300 years ago & then lost them like the weaklings they are.

    Dreadspokers maintain that the Fieboulders tricked them by giving them a set of ruined, infested, trapped mines as settlement for a debt & they abandoned them in disgust & await proper payment.

  8. Anonymous9:11 PM

    What a delightful system!

  9. Aaaaaaand now you've invented politics...

    The Dragondungs and the Electrumeyes jointly decide to host a feast with their common allies, the Axehammers. They decide to try to pleade with aide in against their common enemy; the Flintdoodles. Now, the Axehammers have no qualms with the Flintdoodles, but it wouldn't take much of effort on the part of the D & E to obligate the Axehammers' to aid them against the Flintdoodles.

    In fact, I think this is how WWI was started; someone assassinates someone and everyone's agreements draws them into a war.

    Leave it to you to describe a gaming mechanic and end up discovering just how simple all socio-political complications are.

    Good stuff.