Wednesday 4 May 2011

A campaign without humans

I was having a chat with Mummy Grognard the other day, principally about the new Team Adventure sessions. We've already agreed that following Gygaxian guidelines on females and young in lairs is out - no families to be slaughtered. To be honest, I've never played the females and young option, even back in the day.

She also had misgivings about the boys facing human opponents, since they are playing human characters at present (the demi-human options are going to be filtered in as we progress and - inevitably - have to roll up new characters). Her justification for avoiding human on human action is that we're getting enough of this in the real world and for her (and for the boys as well, I suppose) D&D is an escape from the nastiness of the real world - yes, it contains killing but it's in a fantasy milieu, a conceptual step removed from reality and can be contextualised as such. The logical end of this line of thinking, of course, we thought, would be a game in which the boys played demi-humans to the exclusion of other options - in short, a game with no humans.

Now, that set me thinking - I know that there are campaigns out there where there are no demi-humans or the demi-humans have been redefined so as to be unrecognisable from those contained in the PHB but are there (or have there been) any campaigns where the world contains no humans at all?


  1. Any of the campaigns that specialize in anthropomorphic animals would probably by my first guess.

  2. Hmmm...none that I'm aware of, but Padre has a good thought.

  3. Here's a weird thought: perhaps the PCs are the *only* humans in the world, a la Narnia. They stumble into a world of elves/goblins/talking animals/whatever via inter-dimensional gate or intercontinental voyage; they have to learn who to trust, and explore this new world for a gate back (or baubles to take back over the sea, depending).

  4. The MouseGuard RPG game has no humans. Its a pretty family friendly game, It doesn't run anything like D&D, but a D&D game could be set in the world easily enough.

    It is cool.

  5. I'm not sure that changing the race of the principals takes away the moral problem of killing sentient beings. IMO you're better off making a clear distinction between monsters to be fought and NPCs to be dealt with. Or institute an "A-team rule" where 0 hp just means you are knocked out or flee.

  6. It's an interesting concept, but I tend to agree with Roger the GS: you're still killing something and perhaps the obvious removal of human beings from the game draws attention to that fact rather than slides away from it.

    To avoid human-on-human killing I suppose one option would be to make all combat scenes with monsters and the more monstrous demi-humans, only reserving the people for conversations in towns and villages only and keeping them (apart from the party) out of the dungeon.

  7. The concept of killing (and stealing as well) is built into the very notion of D&D as a dungeon-crawl. It raises some very interesting questions about D&D's moral compass, and indeed that of all RPGs which are combat-based.

    MG's qualms about human/human violence were raised by the feeling that it would bring real-life resonances into a game which is billed as fantasy, clearly imaginary in its setting and intended as an escape. Neither she nor the boys seem to have a problem with killing monsters, since they (deprived of their social environment) become markers, as it were, of moral delineation.

    I will (and have already started to) move towards a system whereby the humans are encountered solely as plot instigators, high-powered healers and NPCs "in town".

  8. I think your plan sounds good to me. I think the Star Wars (original trilogy naturally) approach is best where your goodies are good and your baddies are bad. Shades of grey evolve with time.
    When I was about 7 seeing Star Wars, 1978 Australian release, I never worried that storm troopers died.

    But orcs produced from slime like LoTR is a helpful image to remove women and children from orc lairs. An arch enemy like Sauron is also a helpful plot device to keep evil, evil.

    The other alternative is to base the campaign around non-humanoid opponents. Dragons, giant spiders, snakes - but that limits oneself over time.

    Playing anthropomorphic animals just would have seemed lame at a similar age. Though modern kids, who can tell?

    Let us know what you decide.

  9. I've been toying with the idea of a setting that approximates the myth cycles of Europe but simply removes the humans from the equation (so you have kobolds in central Europe, frost giants and angry gods in Scandinavia, and so on and so forth). I say 'approximates' because the role humans play in the 'ecosystems' of those cycles has to be accounted for somehow (how does Valhalla work if it's not a staging ground for the last battle where human heroes go?).

  10. I understand the concerns, but removing humans altogether seems like a step too far in my eyes. Even without humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings are so human-ish that killing them would seem about the same. I suppose that you could do away with those races too and make an alien world type setting forcing your players to choose between things like Gnolls, Lizardmen, and Thri-Kreen (bug people).

    I'm on board with removing monster non-combatants from your game without explanation. As The Jovial Priest suggested, having monsters hatch fully grown from eggs, pods, or whatever is a good work around. Maybe there is some kind of dangerous larval stage like in the Alien movies?

    If it was me... I'd probably keep humans on the surface, and have all the monsters live underground except for some goblinoid races (possibly) to use as bandits, pirates, and evil armies.

    You might also consider tossing out the Thief and Cleric classes. It might help avoid some sticky questions about religion, and prevent your players from romanticizing criminal behavior. I'd simply give M-U's access to Clerical spells, and make Turn Undead a first level spell. Rename Thieves as Scouts, or simply give those abilities to Fighters and call them "Dungeoneering skills" with penalties for heavy armor. Then the fighters who want to make better use of these abilities would stick to the lighter armors. Removing Pick Pockets or renaming it as Slight of Hand might not be a bad idea either.

    Good luck, tell us how it goes.

  11. I think removing the humanoids completely from the game is possible without changing the game much. I typically have very few encounters with orcs, goblins, bugbears, hobgoblins... they just seem like near humans with weird features (green skin, warts, etc..). Being that they are all mooks with different skin color and the PC's get so bored with fighting against them I completely removed them from my last forgotten realms campaign. As this last campaign was an adult setting with all the players in their 20's and 30's I replaced almost all those encounters with dynamic human NPC opponents.

    However, in your Team Adventure game, just make all the bad guys by using Raggi's Esoteric Creature generator. Explain all this away with the "there are these interdimensional cosmic holes out there that bring in creatures of evil and chaos, brave adventures are needed to defeat these beings and defend the lawful people of the civilized lands".

    All the bad guys will look like various pokemon creatures. If they are defeated have them "pop" back into their realm instead of spilling out blood and guts. This was the approach taken by Buffy the Vampire slayer to avoid having a teenage girl stabbing what looks like real people in the chest and then having 15 or 20 corpses around. The vampires poof away into a cloud of dust, causing nothing more than a makeup issue if a little bit gets on you.

  12. Kids aren't stupid. They are extremely perceptive, and the first thing they notice is hypocrisy. Go ahead, remove humans from the game and see what happens. I guarantee they will never look at you the same again.