Monsters & Madness: City of the Great Race(s), part 2

H. P. is my Homeboy

Continuing from the last post, I’m working on integrating traditional D&D races into Monsters & Madness. I don’t want them to be unrecognizably weird and in fact I’d like to have everything that can be found in core Dungeons & Dragons available in this game in some form. There are still woodland villages of elves and deep dwarven fortresses, they are just filled with paranoia and shrines to black gods. You know, small changes.

Continuing on with the other factions I need to take a step back and think about the differences between the Outer Gods and Dreamlords and the Great Old Ones and Primal Elders. Each faction is distinctly different, as I explained a few weeks ago, but there is a slight divide between last post’s dark powers and this post’s. First of all, the Great Old Ones and Primal Elders have vested stakes and strong presences in the Mortal Realm while the Outer Gods and Dreamlords do not. Each of last post’s groups claim some territory in other planes but the Outer Gods and Dreamlords have all of their territory in the greater cosmology. This makes them a little more stand-offish and a little more alien. It’s one thing to have a god-king occupying your city and demanding inconceivably large amounts of tribute, but in some ways this is like a mortal king writ large. The Outer Gods are cosmic beings without distinct form who speak through whispers in dark corners of the planes and the Dreamlords are enigmatic beings at once trapped in and in complete of the Dreamlands where all sleeping minds go. There is no going down to their palace or scheduling an audience even if you would want to. As more distant, estranged masters the Outer Gods and Dreamlords need some more self-sufficient and strange servants. Let’s see what we can find them…

Races of the Outer Gods

Of the original Player’s Handbook races there are two left there are still unaccounted for, and I think both would make good additions to the servant-races of the Outer Gods. The tieflings make a lot of sense when we consider that the Outer Gods live beyond the void of space, which describes the Astral Sea pretty well. The Nine Hells are there and that makes a good seat of power for at least one Outer God. We also have an opposition force to take down the Arkhosian Empire of the dragonborn: the Outer Gods sent their tiefling templars against the Great Old Ones’ dragonborn zealots and the two realms self-destructed. The eladrin are also pretty good fits… here me out. They are masters of arcane magic, the power source I associated with the Outer Gods, they have a mystical hierarchy which answers to alien, inscrutable masters. Since the Outer Gods are focused on the other planes (the Shadowfell and the Feywild) and the eladrin can be the Outer Gods’ emissaries to the Feywild making footholds in this strange realm.

Speaking of other planes, the Shadowfell is a natural home for the Outer Gods, deities from distant stars would naturally be drawn to a plane of perpetual night. As such, the races from Heroes of Shadow are excellent servants for the Outer Gods with very little adaptation. The shades are people who have sold their souls to these enigmatic beings, sacrificing their bodies for the power to survive. The vryloka have also paid a steep price for power, and thirst for blood and magic just as the Outer Gods thirst for sacrifice and secrets. The gnomes are also good planar servants for the Outer Gods with their love of arcane magic and secrets. In the core setting, gnome houses are filled with friendly puppets and quaint charms but in Monsters & Madness they are filled with skulls, dark tomes, and vials of poison.

Given their association with the Shadowfell, I think it also makes sense to ally the Vistani with the Outer Gods. They have dark magic and powerful witches, and they keep secrets and travel by night. They also broaden horizons a little, allowing players to pick a character of any race by giving them Vistani heritage. If you don’t want to play an oddball Drizzt character, any race that has Vistani blood will be a servant of the Outer Gods by the books and save some convoluted stories. The Outer Gods are also at home in the Astral Sea, however, so I want to give them that plane’s most striking enemies, the githyanki. These militaristic knights are excellent candidates for the arcane crusade of the Outer Gods to hunt down heretics. Living in the Astral Sea and swooping out in the night to raid enemies’ camps sounds just right for the Outer Gods, and making them friendlier with other races will help any players itching to play the githyanki.

Races of the Dreamlords

As the source of psionics in this setting, all the psionic races in the Player’s Handbook 3 and the kalashtar from Eberron Player’s Guide are obvious choices. The kalashtar make a good baseline race, and I think they fit a neat triad with the elven races since they are also lithe, long-lived, and skilled spellcasters. The elves serve the Great Old Ones, the drow the Primal Elders, the eladrin the Outer Gods, and the kalashtar the Dreamlords. The shardminds require some explanation of the Living Gate since that is so central to their character. Rather than a connection to the Far Realm (which seems extraneous with the Dreamlands already in place) I’m going to say that it’s a connection to the Dreamlands, the original connection that joined both worlds at their birth.

Although it’s not a perfect reflection, the Dreamlands in Lovecraftian stories is often portrayed as a strange, misty version of the waking world. I’m going to take this approach for the most part with races as well, such as the githzerai which can be explained as a dream version of the Outer Gods’ githyanki knights. I don’t want to cut the Far Realm out entirely since it’s so prominent in the core setting, but there are already more than enough sources for twisted aberrations. Instead, we’ll make the Far Realm a vague, distant region of the Dreamlands from which the mind flayer threat spread. Just as in the core setting, the githzerai fought the mind flayers, though in M&M they were created by the Dreamlords in the form of the githyanki who so fiercely defend the Astral Sea. The Dreamlords also can be responsible for the devas, recurring dreams given form which risk turning into insane nightmares called rakshasa, and the changelings, mutable half-dreams which can shift into any being they can imagine.

From Psionic Power, there are also the elan and foulborn bloodlines which provide the option for dream versions of any race. They are two sides of the same coin, capricious dreams and rapacious nightmares given life. Like the Vistani this opens up the option for players of picking up any race they want and fitting it into the Dreamlords faction without having to create a Drizzt-clone.

The Exception That Proves the Rule

So, now we’ve portioned out all of the races to the various factions. They are intrinsically tied to the dark powers of H. P. Lovecraft’s novels with room for core D&D elements to be brought in as the DM sees fit. What’s the next step? Build in some backdoors! Just like programmers hacking a computer code, when hacking a gaming system you might want to think about leaving yourself an out to undo your work if you need to. In this system I’ve left several different backdoors.

Not all races have been assigned. All of the races from the published settings and many from the three Monster Manuals have been given a place in the Monsters & Madness cosmology, but there are still some that remain. Monstrous races like the bladelings, gnolls, and kenku have been purposely left out so that DMs and players can feel free to place them how they want. If you have a player that riles at being strong-armed into something you can point them towards these races to let them create the world they want. There is also the possibility of racial variants which have different allegiances than the majority of a race, including the variants presented in the upcoming Neverwinter Campaign Setting, which can provide some wiggle-room. Dwarves might be devoted followers of the Primal Elders, but perhaps gold dwarves, with their psionic resistance and affinity for the Elven language, are servants of the Great Old Ones who hunt Primal Elders’ abominations in the depth.

Creature origins can be changed for different forms of races. In Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond, it is said that the residents of the Shadowfell adopt the “shadow” origin rather than “natural” and become shadow versions of the normal races. This can be applied to Monsters & Madness as well in order to create versions of creatures which can be loyal to different factions. Maybe natural elves are servants of the Great Old Ones but the rare shadow elves have been seduced by the Outer Gods while elemental elves have been bred by the Primal Elders and immortal elves are dream creations of the Dreamlords. With this simple change you can make a lot of excuses and introduce unusual cases for races which break the norm.

Races don’t exist in a vacuum. If you want to play a race from a different faction, consider what races might provide an entrée for you into that group. Drow may be in the Primal Elders’ camp but the other elven races aren’t. Perhaps your drow is from a small clan which allied itself with the elves and swore its allegiance to the Great Old Ones or they sympathize with the shades and vryloka who also live in darkness and your character’s family are servants of the Outer Gods. You can also consider connections that are more subtle than what’s written here. The wilden are obvious servants of the Primal Elders but there are bound to be Great Old Ones and Dreamlords who are wild and untamed. Maybe a small fraction of wilden have jumped ship to those facations. I have a few ideas for this sort of thing which are included in the pdf below but I would love to hear more from fans.

If you like what you saw here and in the last post, check out this pdf where I’ve written it all up. This is the first installment of a big pdf that will bundle together the whole setting. If you have any feedback you know where to write it!