4th Movement: Species of Near

4th Movement: Species of Near

This movement reveals the Human Equation, the secret operating system of Near. The people, no matter what they seem like or think like, are all similar under the surface. The theme is prejudice, of course.

The Old Species have lived together forever, and have learned to get by somehow. Each has found their own role in the world.

Then there are the Beastkin, who are different. In what way, nobody knows yet. Too early to tell, they've been with us for mere generations.

The species are an opportunity for the players to consider: what would life be like if you were immortal, or could reinvent yourself every day? What would you think of another, who were so drastically different?

Human Equation: The Secret of Near

Adapted from Clinton's book with original additions.

Near is home to many different peoples, of which humans are just one, albeit a common baseline. Other Old Species, such as elves, goblins, dwarves and giants, have always been with humanity in one way or another.

What is not common knowledge is that all of these Old Species are in some fundamental manner human. Their differences, while considerable, are all to some degree surmountable.

Choosing a Species

Humans are the default species of the game, they don't have any special rules attached to them aside from some optional crunch on the facing page. Other species, however, do: each has a mandatory Secret they need to take to belong to that species. (It costs an Advance, too.) In addition, each species has various other specific crunch the player may sample at their pleasure.

The Old Species have a special place, as they are all long ubiquitous in all parts of Near. Thus all civilizations have had to form some sort of stance on them. Even the rare elves and giants are known as something other than pure fantasy to all but the most ignorant.

The Beastkin, meanwhile, tend to be local to certain parts of Near. Partially this is because they've been in the world for such a short time, partially because their instincts are adapted best to their home terrain.

Playing with the Species Matrix

As with everything else, the species are very much optional content that should be introduced deliberately; each of the Old Species can have some sort of role in every land of Near, but it's up to you to decide what.

In this case I'm not even close to joking. This material can have a huge impact on the nature of the game; if you haven't already, throw out that need to have an unitary canon reality where all setting material is under consideration all the time. For instance, consider this: the original TSoY book by Clinton featured a tri-partite, "classical" Human Equation where all creatures of Near were interpreted as either elves, humans or goblins. This is a beautiful and uncomplicated model, and I do not for a moment consider refuting it by merely including other species. Rather, consider the expanded Human Equation as an alternative model that intentionally breaks the metaphysics: the group has to actively work to figure out how these beings, and these only, fit into the Equation.

Changing Species

As a general rule of thumb, the species crunch of each species addresses how each Old Species can become human. This seems to happen through Key buyoff, incidentally. How humans become those creatures, if they do "“ that is for play to find out.

Love, Faith, War

It is practical to make humans the baseline of "people" in Near, as that's what we are. Humans of Near come in all colors, shapes and sizes we know from Earth. Most distinct ethnicities seem like one or other people from the coasts of the Indian Ocean, but everybody seems to be in there somewhere, such as the Caucasian nobility of Maldor, for example.

What makes humans distinct from other peoples of Near is their passion "“ humanity, simply put. Humans commit to values, beliefs and ideologies, make them part of their own identity. They find differences and similarities with each other and stranger beings. No other being is as responsive to religion or as prone to fear as humans are. Each and every one of them thinks on some level that he is special.

I wouldn't worry too much about the fact that non-humans are to a degree archetypal and one-dimensional as individuals when compared to the immense individuality of humanity. That is what they are there for: if you didn't want your character to have the weight of a whole racial destiny as part of his identity politics, then a non-human was a weird character choice to begin with.

The one thing humans have that distinguishes them from others is the ultimate passion, Love. In fact, it is such an important part of their being that the Human Equation runs mostly on it. Other Old Species do not know Love "“ whether anybody but humans does is an open question.

Secret of Sociopathy
A sociopathic character is, properly speaking, not a member of any species. He cannot take any species crunch. The sociopath can ignore any social conflicts he did not initiate himself; he simply doesn't have those strings to pull on.
(Species)-lore (R)
These Abilities are most likely for a scholar or sage of some sort, depending on what the given culture supports. In each case the player chooses one non-human species his character has studied and specialized in. The Ability can be used to predict and understand those creatures and their ways, and to know about their history in areas familiar to the character.
Key of Species Identity (specify)
The character idolizes a certain non-human species. 1xp: Talk about the species and their ways. 2xp: Emulate the creatures you adore. 5xp: Gain the respect and friendship of a member of the species. Buyoff: Accept yourself as you are. Requirement: Be human.
Key of Love (person)
The character loves another person. 1xp: The other person is present in a scene. 3xp: Express the love in action. Buyoff: Break the relationship up.
Key of Unrequited Love (person)
The character is romantic towards another person who doesn't return his love. 1xp: Make a choice influenced by them. 2xp: Attempt to win their affection. 5xp: Endanger yourself for the love's sake. Buyoff: Win their love.
Star-Crossed Key
Fate itself stands between the lovers. 1xp: Angst about the love. 2xp: Struggle to fulfill the romance. 5xp: A new obstacle presents itself. Buyoff: Succeed in love.
Red String Secret (person)
The two characters are fated to be together. Either player or the Story Guide can activate this Secret to introduce a coincidence to benefit their love. Cost: 1 Pool appropriate to the coincidence, cumulative through a session.
Secret of the Power of Love
The character's love is so sweet and pure that it actually influences events. Either member of the romance may opt to pay Pool (or even share the cost) to improve an Ability check result by one step when either acts to preserve their love. This may make a result TRANSCENDENT (7). I'd be leery about using this Secret without some sort of songand-dance number or such, myself. Cost: Points equal to the old check result, from the Pool pertinent to the check. Requirement: Appropriate KEY OF LOVE
Secret of Reincarnation
The character has the reincarnated soul of a lover. He may purchase crunch related to the old relationship whether he's met the object of the love yet or not. Should they meet, the character may have a flashback scene to their past life when the two are together. Cost: 2 Instinct per flashback

Elves: Monsters of Heaven

Fluff from Clinton's book. Crunch adapted from the book and forum discussions.

Elves are human-like creatures, yet more perfect and independent in every way. They do not spawn children nor do they grow old or die of violence or illness; they are self-sufficient and aloof creatures that are despised, feared or revered.

For the most part elves seem human, except that their bodies are too perfect to be real; an elf creates its own body by the force of their will. They all have a fair seeming, with skin color ranging from light olive to pale alabaster, hair white, golden or reddish sand. An inner light enlightens them so: all elves are unmistakable in that they have an AURA, a soft nimbus of light that surrounds them. It might be missed at mid-day, but at night an elf is obvious to the eye.

Elves tend to be solitary creatures without roots. This is not to say that they are not social; they can be incredibly magnetic. They do not, however, usually settle down in one place and form lasting relationships. It is said that one cannot trust an elf for "whatever good he does, he does for his own purposes".

Immortality

Elves are people who have looked deep within and found only one thing there: the self. Dedicated like a Zen master, they have realized the world is illusory and the only truth is what one thinks of one's self. Upon the death of the body, these souls do not pass on, but return again and again, as a more perfect form.

This sort of worldview kind of shuts the door on most religion. The elf recognizes no god or greater power, only more powerful souls. Strangely, this sort of self-absorption doesn't always lead to evil: many elves roam the world doing good to either appease something inside them or perhaps for amusement. Others strike down anything in their path, realizing the insignificance of others that have not achieved their enlightenment. Whatever the attitude, an elf lives on, seeking to know itself deeper.

Sometimes, an elf strays from this path. They were once human, after all, although it's not too wise to mention that. Any time an elf recognizes another life as greater than his own, he falls from Elfhood. If an elf either saves the life of another, dying or becoming mortally wounded in the process, or has children, they become somewhat human. (If the elf died for another, he is reborn a last time.) Their aura dims and becomes grey, and they begin to get older like a human: they have entered the Grey Age. Other elves usually despise a Grey One for his weakness.

Mechanically, an elf turns grey by buying off the KEY OF THE SELF. A grey elf loses his aura and all crunch related to it (losing the Advances, note), but retains his memory of the past. He can also gain human crunch afterwards.

Elven Magic

The most powerful magic of the elf is the fact that it's immortal. Elves come into this world at maturity, and do not age unless they want to. Most do, over their many incarnations, as their self-image becomes more wizened. They do not catch diseases, although they can be poisoned. Their body is only a shell they have created, and even if struck down, they return to the world of Near.

An elf, if feeling introspective "“ and when aren't they? "“ may speak of Heaven. This may be the only religious belief elves have: that when they achieve perfect enlightenment, they will leave Near and enter perfect oneness, when the illusion of Near disappears for them, and they see it for what it is, their own dream. This Heaven is as horrific of an idea to a human as it sounds "“ the elf sees himself as the dreamer of everything and everyone else, and he will take his true place in Heaven.

Elven magic manifests itself in other minor forms, however. Elven AURAS are very powerful Secrets and have many special abilities that protect the elf and project its will on others. The long age of an elf seems like magic to other peoples, as well: elves can draw on their many experiences to perform nearly any feat.

Aura Smithing

Elves do not usually practice craft skills, as their aura tends to have a strange effect on any equipment they carry on their person or handle regularly. Such items take on a part of the Elven aura, slowly becoming more perfect and ethereal versions of them. This can happen at Story Guide discretion spontaneously, but to control it in any way, the elf needs the SECRET OF AURA IMBUEMENT.

When imbuing an item, an aura smith does not make a distinction between mundane and magical effects; an Elven item may well have extraordinary abilities. The elf can only set ratings for things he has experienced and imbue Secrets he himself has known, however, aside from IMBUEMENTS that are only available for items. Specifically, all aurasmithed items have the ELVEN IMBUEMENT.

Elven items all have an aura recognizably similar to that of the item's creator. Should the creator ever lose his aura, the item will turn into a grey, mundane version of itself. An item with multiple ELVEN IMBUEMENTS has an even stronger aura and might even develop rudimentary sentience.

Because aura smithing does not require Ability checks, the patient elf can easily make his item ever more perfect. However, TRANSCENDENT (7) quality Elven items transcend at the end of the scene in which they are raised to this level, appropriately enough, disappearing from the world.

The Shadow Moon

When the Sky Fire fell to Near, all elves disappeared. Not a single one was seen for over two hundred years. As to where they went, no one knows, not even the elves. Elves' stories are varied: most purport that they were always here and have no memory of leaving or those two hundred years, while others speak of Far, another world they are able to visit.

Whatever happened, elves are loathe to speak of it. Since they have returned, though, it is obvious the Shadow Moon has had an effect on them. Once elves were friendly towards each other, greeting other ones on the path to enlightenment. Once, when an elf was asked about the logical fallacy in two elves both thinking the universe is their dream, he said, "It is not known whether I am dreaming him dreaming the world, or he is dreaming me dreaming the world. Either way, we'd better get along". Now, though, Elven friendliness is rare, and most elves despise the sight of another one. The power struggle to see who truly is the master of the dream has become intense. Some old elves blame the younger ones for the Sky Fire and Shadow Moon, claiming that too many competing for the dream has threatened to tear it apart.

Secret of the Elf
Elven bodies are formed from the aether by willpower alone. An elf that dies in Near returns within 28 days. The Story Guide and the player cooperate in choosing the time and the place; a story-relevant solution is preferred, but note that nobody has ever seen an elf rematerialize. The character loses a level from each Pool and a level from all Abilities, as the process of rematerialization is not perfect and the elf needs to readjust to his new body. The player can choose to have his character not return; in this case, however, the reason will not be established.
Past Lives (R)
This is the Elven Ability of remembering useful information from their countless past lives. It can be used to remember personal history and knowledge long lost. With time, an elf might even dredge up some useful Secrets or such.
Secret of the Polymath
In an elf's long life, many Abilities have waxed and waned. Using this Secret allows the elf to use their PAST LIVES (R) in lieu of any other Ability they are physically capable of using. This lasts for the entire scene. Cost: 2 REASON, and the next available Advance goes to improving the Ability used.
Secret of Enlightenment
The character Transcends, ascending to Heaven. The other players decide whether Near continues to exist. If it will, the character will not be heard of in Near anymore, but the player may opt to expend any of his Pools as bonus or penalty GIFT DICE for other characters as long as they last. Requirement: PAST LIVES (R) at Grandmaster.
Aura of Fading the Illusion
An elf with this secret can, through force of will, make the illusion of the world temporarily grow dim and ghostly outside his aura. To everyone else, it appears the elf has become translucent and incorporeal. This lasts for one scene, during which the character can pass through the smallest crack and cannot be harmed physically. Cost: 2 VIGOR
Aura of Protection
The character's aura grows thick and smothering, protecting him softly from the external world. The elf can spend REASON to lower incoming physical Harm. Cost: 1 REASON per step lowered.
Aura of the Imperator
The character's aura waxes as he enforces his will, making him appear taller and more majestic. The opposing player has no input into the stakes of this social conflict, which may cause the moment to resemble mindcontrol. Cost: 1 Vigor
Aura of Sight
The character's aura is no brighter from afar, but up close up it is bright enough to see in clearly.
Aura of the Ancient
The character's aura has a calm frisson. He can use CHARM (I) to calm down animals, and giants with temper have to overcome him in a direct contest of wills to act against his wishes.
Aura of the Tower
The character's aura is polarized, giving it a weird dark-and-light flavor. Passive Abilities are now all associated with the character's current strongest Pool.
Aura of the Lunar Sphere
The character has an affinity with the Moon. He suffers a penalty die to all social checks towards other elves, and cannot Transcend. When the character dies, he returns to Near during the next night. He does not lose Abilities; instead, he loses this Secret. Cost: 2 INSTINCT to return via the Moon.
Secret of Aura Imbuement
The character's aura is strong enough to influence any equipment the character carries on his person or handles on a regular basis. The character can create rated or imbued equipment in this way from ordinary items, which slowly grow towards perfection in the elf's hands; instead of an Ability check, the elf slowly invests into the item, one xp per scene, until he's happy with it. All items developed by this Secret have the ELVEN IMBUEMENT for free. Cost: 1 EXPERIENCE POINT per a point of quality imbued into the item, and 2 xp per Secret.
Secret of Aura Smithing
A skilled aura smith can further improve on the process: an appropriate crafting Ability check allows the character to immediately improve the item with the check result in xp (he himself pays only to activate this Secret, note). This can be done only once per month. Cost: 2 EXPERIENCE POINTS. Requirement: SECRET OF AURA IMBUEMENT
Elven Imbuement
All Elven items have an Elven aura. Any elf who is familiar with the item and at peace with its creator gains a 1 point discount to the Pool costs of any imbuements in the item. This imbuement can be stacked on an item, which increases the discount and also gives a 1 point discount to non-elves at peace with the creator.
Memory Imbuement (Ability, level)
The item has a memory of how it was used by its creator, at one level under the creator's Ability. The current user can loan these memories to make an Ability check at the level stored in the item. The effect lasts for the whole scene once activated. Cost: 1 REASON per level of Ability, and the next available Advance goes to improving the Ability used. Requirement: ELVEN IMBUEMENT
Ego Imbuement
An item with this Imbuement has developed a self-identity of the sort you'd expect from magical talking swords or such. It doesn't necessarily talk, however; the item can only do the things it has Abilities for, as determined by the MEMORY IMBUEMENT, which it uses for free. Ego items do not normally have Pools or Keys, but can use those of their operator. The item has no limit to its number of Imbuements. Requirement: two ELVEN IMBUEMENTS
Key of the Self
The character is an elf, a creature aloof and alone. 1xp: Ignore another person's request to pursue your own goals. 3xp: Ignore someone in need to pursue your own goals. Buyoff: Become human by either dying to save another or creating life.
Key of the Eternal Question (specify)
There is a reason behind the illusion that is Near, and the character cannot have peace before knowing what it is. Pick a specific question, such as "Is individual virtue more important than communal well-being?" or "Why can't I remember what happened to me at the south pole just before the Skyfire hit?" 1xp: Obsess over the question. 3xp: Apply the question to your practical situation. Buyoff: Answer the question.
Key of Deja Vu
The character has experienced much, to the brink of ennui. 1xp: You've already experienced something that happens to you. 3xp: Your prior experience actually has an effect on the scene. Buyoff: Have a completely new experience.
Key of the Bloodline
No elf alive remembers their humanity, but some do know their bloodline, and watch their distant descendants with interest. 1xp: Observe your bloodline. 2xp: Help your kin. 5xp: Help your bloodline continue. Buyoff: Reveal yourself to your family.
Key of Lifespan
The character cherishes the life he has now, here. He does not want to forget it, not even a little bit. 1xp: Enjoy the life you have built for yourself. 3xp: Defend your position and gains you'd lose if you had to leave. Buyoff: Die and be reborn.

Elves in Near

"Elves are assholes" is a joking dictum that's been developed through my own play. The experience probably has plenty to do with the fact that an empathetic elf would succumb to the Grey Age, leaving only the distant sociopaths and analytic personalities to seek Enlightenment.

Still, everybody is a person, and so are the elves. I've seen amiable ones and even those that seek to actively do good. The last ones are most strained by their identity, as the question is awful: when you are dedicated to an eternal mission, is there anything in the world worth your sacrifice? Saving another person, even a good one, would mean nothing in comparison to your own eternity, whatever the cause you serve.

Elves tend to be wanderers who don't really call any land or culture their own. Thus their relationship to the world is more a matter of how the society reacts to the idea of elf than anything else.

Maldor
is good for elves, as they will find ready employment in the courts for their unique skills and knowledge of the past. The only danger is that the elf might be seen as a potential pretender to the throne in a culture obsessed with lineage and noble blood.
Ammeni
Houses welcome elves, especially ones with black enough hearts. However, the Revenant Cult hates them as a matter of theology, believing fervently that their supposed immortality is a hoax.
Zaru
only rarely see elves, which might well be because I don't get much mileage out of the encounter, and neither would the average elf.
Khaleans
respect the fair folk, but do not trust them. They would rather see the elf take residence on its own, outside tribes, somewhere where they can be reached for mutual aid but where they are not close enough to betray the tribe. I could go for a full-bore fairy court here by introducing some goblins as well.
Qek
mostly gets elves as escapees from the north. Somebody out there captures and exploits the beings in some awful manner.
Goren
as a land has always attracted all Old Species, and so it is with elves, who are respected by the Old Faith most greatly. While usually men doing witchcraft would be looked upon askance, elves are not considered men or women by the Goddess.
Inselburg
has as little room for elves as strangers in general, but some have returned there "“ in fact, some claim to have weathered the Skyfire deep in the bowels of the fortress, and considering that some of the oldest Collegiums are held with a multitude of vows in elven hands, they might be correct.
Vulfland
attracts some mystically-minded elves who are fascinated with the southern lights and the dreaming, something they cannot normally access. The dangers are considerable due to how the aurora can interfere with the elven aura, but still individual elves flock to the glaciers to build their ice palaces and research human dreams.

A general theme that can apply to anybody, anywhere, is a deep distrust for the Monsters of Heaven. Who could trust creatures that refuse to care?

Elven Names

I have a trick here: take a list of familiar Greek words (incidentally, Wikipedia has one of those) and pick some that are not in your everyday vocabulary, but are still evocative. Works like a charm.

Goblins: Beasts of Hunger

Fluff adapted from Clinton's book. Crunch adapted from the book and forum discussions.

A goblin is a small, twisted creature. A human would call it debased, for it has neither values nor restraint. The goblin would not understand those terms: it is a creature of hedonistic pleasure, living for this moment, and the next.

Goblins are infinitely adaptable beings; their "natural" bodies, if you can call them that, manage to resemble demons, dogs, and men at the same time. They are mottled brown, black, green, and grey, and their hair grows randomly, in shape and color. Their bodies have an ability that cannot be explained by many: they evolve to match their environment even as they continue to age, and their offspring carry these same characteristic. Even strong magic and torture can warp their bodies, as many evil wizards have found, creating the dread urgoblins, bugbears, Hungry Ones and Violators from goblin stock. Most goblins are smaller and stouter than humans, although they can come in just about any size.

Goblins' curiosity drives them into all the forgotten places of the earth, and makes them decent apprentices for just about any job: they catch on quickly, but tend to cause as many accidents as they do help. They're easy to keep loyal, though: all goblins have an addiction, which if fed regularly, will make one your best friend. This addiction need not be to a drug: they can be addicted to a certain act, food, drink, or any experiences, really. (A tale has been told of goblin divers on the shores of Maldor. These beasts were amazing pearl-finders, and were addicted to the rush of adrenaline they got when their human handler threw them off the cliff-side.)

Goblin tribes can be found all over Near, and goblins may also easily live with humans who would have them. The regional variants in the appearance of the goblins are large, suggesting some regularity in their ancestry.

Secret of the Goblin
Goblins are all gripped by addictions that control much of their being, even being addicted to things that are in no way alluring to humans. The character does not pay Advances for the SECRET OF ADDICTION. The Story Guide may require Resist (R) checks from a goblin to avoid developing new addictions to experiences they encounter; each existing and active addiction provides a bonus die to resisting new ones.
Adaptability (V)
Goblins can change their body structure and even their mental build over time, although for most it is more of an instinctual than intentional process. The Ability can be used to perform feats of contortionism, both actual and metaphorical. The goblin might even be able to change his hair or skin color with enough motivation.
Secret of Adaptability
The character can change himself quickly and drastically to conform better with his current environment. When indulging an addiction, instead of regaining Pool, swap the level of ADAPTABILITY (V) with any other Ability. The change is permanent.
Secret of Deep Adaptation
In lieu of the normal activation of the SECRET OF ADAPTABILITY the character can regain Advances from Pools, Abilities and Secrets, and invest free Advances to the same very quickly. An ADAPTABILITY (V) check result determines how many Advances can be freed or invested. Cost: 2 VIGOR Requirements: SECRET OF ADAPTABILITY
Secret of Quick Adaptation
While other goblins usually do not warp into new form, the character adapts all but instantly. Furthermore, he may trigger an adaptation cycle at will. There is a downside: the Story Guide may cause an adaptation cycle to trigger when conditions suddenly change, should the character fail an ENDURE (V) check to control himself; if the addiction can't be immediately satisfied, this costs Pool. Cost: 3 VIGOR to trigger adaptation. Requirements: SECRET OF ADAPTABILITY
Secret of Ravenous Hunter
The character can smell things that satisfy his severe addictions, even if they do not normally carry a smell. REACT (I) can be used to make checks to this purpose. Requirement: SECRET OF ADDICTION
Secret of Connoisseur (specify)
The character has become an expert on the subject of one of his addictions. He can use the Pool associated with the addiction freely for bonus dice on any Ability checks where this knowledge would be useful. Requirement: SECRET OF ADDICTION
Secret of Animalism
The character's form has become recognizably animal-like. He can use animal crunch freely, as if he were beastkin himself.
Secret of the Chameleon
The character's skin changes color at will or instinctively to match the environment. He can use his ADAPTABILITY (V) when trying to hide from others. Requirement: SECRET OF ANIMALISM
Secret of the Fur
The character has a thick, warm fur that makes him both pretty and able to survive in cold environments. Weather is of no concern to him. Requirement: SECRET OF ANIMALISM
Secret of Ur-Pattern (specify)
The goblin has become locked into an UrPattern, reducing his adaptability considerably: each adaptation cycle now changes the character for one Advance's worth (with larger changes done in parts). He also gains the specified Ur-Form for free. His progeny will all have the Ur-Form for free.
Trollish Ur-Form
A troll shakes off any compulsions when indulging his addiction, realizing his true course. As long as he follows the course, he may support his social Abilities with his ADAPTATION (V). Trolls are large and powerful, and may learn STATURE (V) and SECRET OF BULK.
Ghoulish Ur-Form
Ghouls almost always are addicted to the flesh of dead people; each time they consume it, the character has to resist the addiction. A ghoul consuming a dead person's body gains a free Effect off his ADAPTATION (V) based on the person's life. Thus the ghoul learns the tale of his dinner.
Deep One Ur-Form
Deep Ones can breathe both air and water, although they suffer a penalty die on physical tasks out of the water. They move very efficiently in water, gaining superior LEVERAGE in comparison to human swimmers.
Orcish Ur-Form
Orcs have a dark side and an inclination for brutality; each time they experience war, they have to resist addiction. An orc who would be losing a conflict or failing an Ability check can try again with ENDURE (V) by taking a 1st level Harm.
Secret of the Ur-Goblin
The character can possess several URFORMS (bought as Secrets), but he cannot use the SECRET OF ADAPTABILITY at all. His progeny will all have the SECRET OF URPATTERN for free once for each of his Ur-Forms. Requirement: SECRET OF UR-PATTERN
Key of Affliction
The character suffers of the Affliction, which means that he pines over a love for a specific person, without quite understanding his condition himself. 1xp: Pine for your love. 2xp: Learn about love. 5xp: Get insulted, ostracized or ridiculed due to your state. Buyoff: Become a human by either beating your addictions or winning the love of your target.
Key of Identity
The character is not certain of who or what he is, anymore. 1xp: Your identity is questioned. 2xp: Your identity is asserted. 5xp: Reinvent yourself from physical appearance down. Buyoff: Settle down.
Key of Indulgence
The character knows how to enjoy life without going too far about it. 1xp: Indulge yourself, not your addictions. 3xp: Resist your addiction. Buyoff: Gain an addiction.
Key of Parenting
A goblinet or several have imprinted on the character as their parent. This happens to goblins from time to time, especially if they live with a tribe. 1xp: Goblinets in the scene. 2xp: Care for the goblinets. 5xp: A goblinet grows up and leaves. Buyoff: Refuse the goblinets.
Key of Goblinet
Little goblins get this Key when they're born. They usually buy it off when they become sexually mature. 1xp: Emulate another goblin. 3xp: Learn a new thing. Buyoff: Grow up.

Goblin Society

Left alone, goblin societies resemble anarchy to any outsider, although they tend to grow an alpha goblin among any tribe. Any goblin tribe of more than about two dozen of the animals tends to fall apart without an outside master, usually human. Goblins are actually rather good at organizing to make sure everyone's needs get met, but when they start to threaten each other's resources, tribes quickly split into rivals.

Goblin families are very loose-knit. All goblins are poly-sexual, and any mating between them, whether male-male, male-female, or female-female, can generate offspring. With a month-long gestation period, this doesn't really get in the way of their curious relations.

The goblin offspring are born as small, but capable goblinets, emerging as little flesh-balls about a foot in diameter. Within an hour of their birth, they grow feet, hands, eyes, and a mouth. Young goblinets pick another goblin in the tribe as their parent, randomly, and if that goblin doesn't push them away, they usually learn the same addictions and behaviors. Should it become an issue, goblinets begin the game with minimal Pools, their few Abilities at MEDIOCRE (0) and the KEY OF GOBLINET.

Goblins do not understand the human concept of love. It's an alien concept to them. They do understand mutual pleasure, of both the sexual and non-sexual form, and do actively work with each other. The greatest sins in goblin society are not wanting to trade "“ one goblin's poison is another's pudding "“ and betraying someone you're working with.

A few goblins have been observed in a bizarre state that resembles love, however. When a goblin is struck with this, known only as "the Affliction" in their rough language, they leave their tribe and travel, their only goals to prove their love or die. (They seem confused by their own emotions, and usually cannot express clearly what they are doing.) A goblin has never been observed in love with another goblin, however; they always choose a member of another species as their object of affection, almost always a human.

A goblin who buys off the KEY OF AFFLICTION becomes human. They lose their Adaptability and goblin-specific Secrets (losing the Advances), but may not necessarily lose all of their current adaptations; such a person may be left stuck in a liminal state as they are unable to shapeshift.

Goblin Ideas

Goblin adaptability makes them a creature on par with humanity in terms of variation. Different conditions "“ and sometimes, cultures "“ force the goblins to take shapes quite far from what might be considered their natural one. It's pretty fun to develop these critters from traditional fantasy memes; here are some examples:

Apes
are what goblins are called in the jungles of Qek. They live in troops deep in the jungle, usually staying out of the way of the humans. Individual troops will almost always include a seamless extent of speaking and tool-using critters, as well as those that are little but dumb animals.
Orcs
are big, savage goblins that have sprung up in northern Maldor and Ammeni through the recent years. They are cruel, addicted to the by-products of war ravaging their homelands. Orcs seem to develop spontaneously in goblin tribes, but at their worst they are in the Ammeni mercenary outfits, made up entirely of orcs.
Ghouls
are goblins as well, gaunt as they may be. Ghouls apparently developed during the Year of Shadow and quickly specialized in scavenging the flesh of the multitudes that perished. Now they haunt battlefields and cemeteries in Maldor. Despite the environs and diet, most ghouls are gentle and curious creatures not likely to attack living beings.
Trolls
are what goblins are called in Gorenite lands. There are also actual trolls: strong, enormous, thickskinned rulers of troll-kin. It is far from clear why there are so many trolls in Goren of all places.
Spriggan
is what goblins are called in Khale. They're shy creatures that live up in trees and down under their roots. They can change their coloring to match the environment, making them quite reclusive.
Yeti
is the name Vulflanders give to goblins. Vulfland goblins have thick, warm fur and an ability to hibernate for extended periods. They live in subterranean or glacial labyrinths they trap against their Vulfen predators.
Deep Ones
are water-breathing goblins, of course. I imagine they'd interact with land-lubbers near coasts and in the archipelagos. Their undersea skirmishes with the Talalag of Pere-di-Fey must be a sight to behold.
Imps
are a particular type of goblin in Ammeni, the sort that is especially suited for specialized tasks in harmony with their form and addictions. The definition is really just functional, a useless goblin is a "pest" instead. Creating imps is something of an art-form among some more debased House nobles, who pride themselves on their ability of reducing a person into a flesh automaton.

Dwarves: Stooped Under the Burden

Adapted from forum discussions with Josh and Troels.

Dwarves are a reclusive and strange species, more likely to delve underground than make demands of other creatures for their share of Near. Humans and other creatures are untrustworthy to the dwarves; this could not be otherwise, for a dwarf is all but incapable of betrayal.

A dwarf resembles a human, at least slightly. It is stockier and thicker, and bent, getting more so as age catches up on it over the decades. Were a dwarf able to stand tall, it might reach a man up to his shoulderblades.

Dwarves are creatures of tradition and purpose; purpose to change the world, tradition to constrain and regulate the limitless passion, turning it into patience and a heritage. Dwarven community is like a cornucopia of strange mystery cults scattered all over the world, cults that recognize each other by secret languages, signs and tradition.

Dwarven Rings

Dwarves live for their community, most of the time. A dwarf calls his social ties "rings", as they connect dwarves to each other and intersect to create the mesh of larger community. Humans are rarely accepted by dwarven rings, other species even less often.

The first ring for any dwarf is his FAMILY, the immediate working unit that stands or falls together. All family members know their place in the family; the one with the most respect is called the family ALDER, who speaks for them all. Disobedience towards the alder is certain to split the family.

When several families find it well to cooperate, they form a CLAN, ruled by a THANE. Just like family members have their places in a family, families have in a clan. Additionally, individual dwarves may hold a place in the thane's ring as clansmen, which might afford them greater prestige than merely being a member of a family within the clan.

This series of rings goes up to DOMAINS, ruled by KINGS, and finally the FEDERATION, ruled by the HIGH KING himself. Not only has the dwarven federation, parallel to the Empire of Maldor, disintegrated into kinstrife, but most if not all dwarven domains have also been lost; only clans and scattered families remain in Near today.

Aside from the vertical organization of family rings, dwarves also organize laterally into GUILDS, ruled by the GUILDMASTER. The guildmaster is like an alder, except that his ring is not connected by blood, but by craft. A single dwarf can belong in several guilds as long as he has the time for it; the SECRET OF DWARF limits how many rings the character can have without additional Secrets.

The smallest dwarven ring, and the most infamous, is that of BROTHERHOOD: in some specific circumstances a dwarven character might be obligated to offer the highest privilege to a friend or ally. This practice, while unavoidable in many legends, is a cause of great disruption and concern for dwarven society, and is therefore frowned upon when offered lightly.

In practice the dwarven rings make for a seclusive community. When dwarves live in human towns, they do so in their own quarters. When they live in the wild, they form their homesteads in places hard to reach, if at all possible. Often a dwarven ring has an assigned speaker whose job it is to deal with humans and anybody else other strangers who do not belong in rings; this is considered a very stressful task, fraught with unseen danger.

Ordination to Purpose

The central function of dwarven rings is to practice ORDINATION, the prioritization of dwarven wills in the rightful manner. Ordination is always between two dwarves, always explicit, but it is transitive: those who are lesser than I are also lesser than any towards whom I am the lesser. A dwarf of lesser ordination is expected to defer to the greater in all things, as that is what ordination means. Ordination is normally permanent, making older dwarves very likely to establish ordination towards younger ones at a very early age; only conflicting ordinations through multiple rings cause dwarves to re-examine the ordination of individuals. Dwarves of separate rings cannot normally negotiate ordination, which makes them strangers.

As to why dwarves need these stringent structures, it is because of their PURPOSE, the mental state of each dwarf individually. Dwarves are by nature fanatics, each focusing on a single purpose to the exclusion of everything else. The ordination into rings makes it possible for the dwarves to interact and cooperate meaningfully with those whose interests coincide with theirs. A dwarf whose purpose does not brook ordination to their family often becomes outcast and either finds a new family or learns to live on his own.

What all of this comes to is that dwarven families all over Near vary widely in their goals, lifestyle and philosophy. This may lead to a greater and greater seclusion for those families that do not have reasonable contact with other, amiable families. As most dwarves are keenly aware of the dangers of incest, this becomes an issue: it is not unknown for dwarves to steal human children to raise as their own, or to arrange for dwarfmeets wherein families with perpendicular interests exchange babies. This whole issue is a major reason for starting a clan or even a domain.

Dwarves wield no magics foreign to men, but their mind-set is perhaps all the more alien. Dwarven rings live in a tension that demands absolute fealty from individuals whose first instinct is to trust nobody with their secrets and goals. They often have secret languages that are trained and memorized by habit, all the better to protect the secrets and purpose of the family. Dwarven equipment is often superior to anything else, and often much too cumbersome, complex or delicate for a human to use effectively.

Rituals

Dwarven rings often practice various RITUALS, complex and codified surrogate actions towards definite goals. Mechanically rituals are exactly like equipment "“ invocation costs, equipment ratings and all "“ except that they are immaterial instead of being items. Dwarves do not distinguish much between a ritual and a piece of equipment: craftsmen of material make tools for a purpose, while craftsmen of the mind make tools for the mind. Such is typical for musicians, speakers, priests and storytellers, but nearly any Ability can be the basis of a ritual concerning its own slice of life.

Each ritual is designed for a particular ring tongue, without which it cannot be understood. A character can teach a ritual to another if both succeed in FAMILIA (R) checks and belong in the same ring that has a ring tongue through which the particular ritual can be transmitted and used. A ritual smith can modify a ritual he knows with appropriate Ability checks, paying for the changes just like if he was creating a new ritual.

A ritual always has a definite interval at which it needs to be repeated for the benefits to remain with the dwarf. When designing new rituals, consider making the ritual's requirements or drawbacks more severe for rituals that do not require as much repetition.

Living for a Reason

Dwarves lived traditionally below-ground, in places others would not want or need. Through the latter years of the Empire of Maldor the dwarven domains unified in purpose as well, forming a strange parallel society largely hidden from human view. At this time trade and cooperation with humans was at its height as well, resulting in the underground domains (the original meaning of the word) becoming some of the most beautiful and prosperous cities in all of Maldor.

The Shadow brought a time of disunity and kin strife to the dwarves as those individuals, families and even clans obsessed with the Skyfire and the science of astrology flew into confusion and rage. Trade relations with surface people deteriorated and underground domains were abandoned as families scattered to sustain themselves without trade. The federation was lost as the High King passed into darkness.

Today many dwarves still insist on living underground, even if it is hard: an individual family is little better than a rodent in its hole, with cold and dirty environs that protect them from the world. Underground clans have more reasonable arrangements, but still most dwarves today end up living with people in their own walled enclaves or homesteads away from the human village. For most this is not a bad life, despite their inborn distrust of humanity: dwarven craftsmen and other specialists, all according to their purpose, certainly have their place in most parts of Near.

Sometimes a dwarf stops to reflect on his ultimate, perfect fidelity of purpose. Sometimes the scales even balance against continuing a life of austerity among people who might not even be friends, despite being family. Such dwarves might seek to escape the life, although the risks are high: most dwarven communities tell stories of the horrible, twisted PETTY-DWARVES, creatures crushed under the burden of purpose without the support of their family. Even if this does not deter the would-be apostate, they probably know that each and every one of their rings will do something to get them back.

Provided that their family does not retrieve them and they manage to buy off the KEY OF APOSTASY, escaping dwarves become human. Such characters forget any dwarven languages they had in time (unless preserved by SECRET OF LANGUAGE) and lose their position in dwarven rings (losing the Advances invested). They even gain height and walk more upright when they are no longer burdened by purpose.

Secret of Dwarf
The character belongs in a number of dwarven rings at most equal to a FAMILIA (R) check, made into a free Effect associated with this Secret. He can determine ordinance with his ring-fellows, and may share Pools with them by simple companionship. Players may assume for simplicity's sake that a character has a FAMILIA (R) check's worth of points available in this manner at any given time; the obligation runs both ways, though.
Familia (R)
Knowledge of family history and values is of utmost importance to a dwarf. Aside from knowledge checks, this Ability is used to determine ORDINATION within a dwarven family. Ideological issues and family policy are also debated mostly with this Ability.
Secret of Purpose
The character has a personal PURPOSE in harmony with those of his rings. He may convert experience points into Pool points of his choice.
Secret of Alder
The character is the head of a family of dwarves, forming a family ring. By definition, he needs to have the highest ordination, others are expected to either relinquish ordination to him or leave the family. The alder phrases the family's overall purpose. Requirements: SECRET OF PURPOSE
Secret of Guildmaster
The character is the head of a dwarven guild. Guilds are like families, except that they count ordination with an appropriate craft Ability instead of FAMILIA (R). A dwarf may belong in both a family and a guild, and a guild may have members of several families. The guildmaster is treated like an alder for the purposes of other crunch if the guild has members of several families; like a thane if it has members from several clans and so on. Requirements: SECRET OF PURPOSE
Secret of Thane
The character leads several dwarven families as a thane, forming a clan ring. Alders of the clan automatically belong in the clan ring and determine family ordination against each other and individual dwarves in the clan ring; dwarves in the clan families may use this family ordination when they do not have any mutual rings. Requirements: SECRET OF PURPOSE, three alders willing to obey the thane.
Secret of Brotherhood (person)
The character shares his ordination with another; the two characters are considered of equal ordination, a concept otherwise unknown to dwarven society. The target of brotherhood may make free use of the rings of this character; the two are considered spiritually and legally same by other dwarves, to such an extent that one killing the other would not be seen as murder, but as self-amputation.
Secret of True Brothers (person)
The two characters are bonded not only in form, but in spirit as well. Either may use the other's Secrets when the two are together, and now both characters can use the rings of either character interchangeably. Cost: 1 POOL appropriate to the Secret. Requirement: the target has a matching SECRET OF BROTHERHOOD.
Secret of Ring Tongue (specify)
The character has invented a secret language supporting a particular ring's purpose. The player gets to choose one Ability that gains a bonus die to all characters that learn the language. Members of the ring learn it automatically within a year and a day of its release at the latest, and need no Secrets to know it. Others need the SECRET OF LANGUAGE.
Secret of Ringcraft
The character has learned secrets that are not even expressible in natural languages, which lack the necessary grammar. He can create equipment and rituals using any Ability a ring tongue of his supports, just like if he had the SECRET OF CREATION. All equipment created by him has the DWARVEN IMBUEMENT for free.
Dwarven Imbuement (language)
All dwarven items have this imbuement, reflecting their stark, alien function. The item's creator chooses one ring tongue for which the equipment has been designed; users of that ring tongue pay any introduction costs the item has only once per session, instead of per scene. An item may have this imbuement several times to make it usable for several languages.
Secret of the Wondersmith (theme)
The character has become a master of his craft, creating new things in obsession. Equipment and rituals created by the character do not need to be mundane, and may in fact be built to use any Secret mechanics in the game as long as they follow the THEME: the wondersmith has to choose a particular material, topic or function he specializes in, and all of his wondrous creations have to accord with it. The character can take this Secret several times to broaden his horizons, of course. Cost: An additional 1 INSTINCT per magical rating and 2 INSTINCT per magical Imbuement. Requirements: SECRET OF RINGCRAFT
An Example Rite
The war-dance of this dwarven clan in Qek helps them remove the heads of the unworthy to store zamani in. It allows the dwarf to use the SECRET OF SUDDEN STRIKE. The ritual remains in effect until the next time the dwarf sleeps. Ratings: +3 for removing the heads of the wicked. +2 for removing heads. +1 for fighting with an axe. Imbuements: Dwarven (chadu, the fighting tongue) (V) Sudden Strike (I) Cost: 1 VIGOR and 1 INSTINCT per session Requirement: Know chadu, the fighting tongue of the Headhunter clan.
Secret of Law-speak
The character can use FAMILIA (R) as a social Ability to issue orders to others of lower ordination, but only if he is speaking a mutually intelligible ring tongue.
Key of Apostasy
The character tries to refute his rings, breaking all connections. Whether he can survive without his people is an open question. 1xp: Interact with non-dwarves. 2xp: Disagree with members of your ring. 5xp: Break away from a ring. Buyoff: Become a human by either being defended against your rings by another, or by settling down in a human community.
Key of Ring-Heart
The character is very committed to his responsibilities towards his rings. 1xp: Help your ring. 2xp: Gain the praise of a higher ordinance dwarf. 5xp: The needs of two of your rings conflict. Buyoff: Prioritize your own purpose over the needs of a ring.
Key of Kept Secrets
The character has heavy secrets he has sworn to keep for his ring. 1xp: Secrets are discussed. 2xp: Refuse to divulge a secret. 5xp: Prevent a secret from falling into enemy hands. Buyoff: Reveal a secret to someone who shouldn't know it.
Key of Shame
The character is ashamed by some past misdeed that casts a shadow on his honor and ordinance. 1xp: Discourse upon your shame. 2xp: Get shunned. 5xp: Suffer a drop in ordinance. Buyoff: Recover your lost honor.

Dwarves in Near

Dwarves are a minority even among their own kind. I imagine them as crazy survivalists, cultists, esoteric experts of forgotten arts. A dwarven family could form the kernel of a human organization "“ and that organization could even have heroic goals. Perhaps this would justify the state of the dwarf.

My own favorite dwarves live burrowed in certain white cliffs on the southern continental coastline. They are the Domain of Kruse, just about the last dwarven Domain in Near, thanks to how they closed themselves away from the world when the Skyfire came. The whole domain is dedicated to Luxembourgian revolutionary communism, which makes them relatively nice when compared to the average sort of foreign colonist in Near. The fearsome thing is that their social model works for them, being dwarves, and they don't mind sharing the system with others. Fun times.

Goren is as much of a haven for dwarves as it is for the other critters; dwarven smith families are core value for the guild towns of Old Goren, and people know more or less how to handle the dwarves thanks to numerous lays that tell about heroes, magic rings and what dwarves do to you if you commission magical artifacts and don't pay for them.

Any place in Near is good for dwarves, considering how esoteric their purposes can get and what sort of lifestyles they're willing to adopt. There hasn't been much play yet, but I've heard about dwarven scholars in the Lost Academy, farmer communities in the Oranide hills, rebel survivalists on the Abandoned Coast of Maldor, religious fanatic dwarves of all seven sorts and so on and so forth.

Giants: Larger than Life

Adapted from forum discussions with Josh and Troels.

Giants, as the name implies, are a large, human-like species scattered all over Near. They vary widely in size from ten-foot brutes to beings capable of felling mammoths by hand. Stories tell of even larger giants, big enough to cast a shadow over a whole city and strong enough to lift castles off the ground.

Giants do not look pretty: their musculature knots like tree roots under their skin, with bones jutting at unpractical angles. Thick layers of dirt cake them where their arms can't reach to keep them clean; sometimes vegetation grows directly on their thick, unfeeling skin. Most are hairy and naked by necessity. Still, the lumbering creature works even as it creaks, rising with an earthquake to shout its rage.

Unfit for society

Giants are rare creatures, as often born of the Human Equation as naturally; they do start families, but only in the most distant parts of the world, such as the Roof of the World or Vulfland tundra. Elsewhere a giant is much more likely to be hunted down long before he meets his match.

This is not to say that people are hostile towards giants; for most they are little more than stories of far past, so rare these creatures are. Giants are not essentially hostile, either "“ they have a human-like intelligence and aesthetic, they enjoy the same thing humans do.

What makes this association so painful and impossible is the size of the giant, both physically and psychologically: giants eat a lot and often have little patience or care for those smaller than themselves. Stories know to warn of this: giants are depicted as buffoons or hostile rogues in many places. Living with the "little people" is simply too much of a challenge for most. Think of KING KONG, that's the sort of thing you'd get most of the time trying to interact with a giant.

Naturally enough most giants are loners and wanderers.

Secret of Giant
Giants are much larger than most people. When a giant can make his size count in conflict, he can annul the result by flexing himself; this does not by itself cause a simple conflict to extend, but if it does, the opposition cannot benefit from SURPRISE bonus dice. However, there is a price: the giant heals slowly, and any Harm he has at the end of extended conflict goes up one step (to a maximum of MORTAL (6)) instead of shaking down. Cost: check difference in Vigor to shake off the result.
Secret of Bulk
The character has an extra level in his Harm track, sharing a number with an existing level. This Secret can be gained multiple times. The first extra level is Mortal, the second Major, the third Minor, and repeat; the extra levels are distributed evenly to numbers in their categories.
Stature (V)
This Ability reflects the giant's size, and his skill at using his size effectively. We don't usually measure giant size in feet or meters; rather, a check of this Ability can be used to find out if a giant is "large enough" for a given purpose. I'm thinking of things like ripping trees from their roots or lifting a person on a rooftop. The Ability is also useful as support in anything where large size and strength would be of use.
Secret of Soft Touch
The character has learned to restrain himself when interacting with lesser creatures. His STATURE associates with INSTINCT as well, and he can buy penalty dice for it as well as bonus dice, should he wish to intentionally reduce the impact of his size on the environment.
Secret of Temper
The character has awakened his AURA. The character can shake off any social or magical compulsion by going into a rage; this does not by itself cause a simple conflict to extend, but if it does, the opposition cannot benefit from SURPRISE bonus dice. However, there is a price: anybody refreshing Pools with the giant is prone to suffer Harm equal to a STATURE (V) check when interacting intimately with his unrestrained nature; a REACT (I) check from the victim can be used to reduce the amount of Harm. Cost: check difference in Instinct to shake off the result.
Secret of Chaos Aura
The character's very movement causes a disturbance within his aura. Elven auras are suppressed in the presence of the giant, unless the elf succeeds in a RESIST (R) check against his STATURE (V). When the character rages, others nearby have to make REACT (I) checks against his STATURE (V) to regain their balance. Requirement: SECRET OF TEMPER
Secret of the Evil Eye
The character's eye holds such power that it kills on sight. Using the eye enables mortal stakes in conflict. A RESIST (R) check against his STATURE (V) may be used to resist. The eye cannot be turned off. Requirement: SECRET OF TEMPER
Secret of Colossal Size
The character is of an older breed, of a clearly larger scale than the average giant. He can feasibly use his STATURE (V) for Gulliver-style feats, such as damming rivers with his body. He also has superior LEVERAGE in conflicts where his size matters; he wins wrestling matches and such automatically against lesser creatures. However, the colossal giant does not recover normally: he cannot use natural healing or plain Ability checks to heal Harm. Requirements: SECRET OF TEMPER, more SECRET OF BULK than any other character in the campaign has at the moment.
Secret of Deep Sleep
The character's rest is deep and healing. By forgoing a refreshment opportunity and sleeping instead, he can shake down all of his Harm and make a STATURE (V) check to heal a level. Waking up to disturbance requires a RESIST (R) check.
Secret of the Sleep of Seasons
The giant can go into a long, deep sleep. The sleeping giant is considered a part of the landscape by the fauna and flora, and will not care for sustenance nor conditions of his environment while he sleeps. The sleeping giant can awaken by being Harmed or with a successful REACT (I) check in reaction to considerable disturbance; otherwise he continues sleeping indefinitely. The sleeping giant is healed of all Harm, and will not need sleep afterwards for however long the sleep of seasons lasted. Requirements: SECRET OF TEMPER, SECRET OF DEEP SLEEP.
Secret of the Giant Dream
The giant's dream world is somewhat real, reflecting his experiences and knowledge welling from deep inside. The character may have normal scenes framed for him within his dream, in which he is human and not a giant. Anything may happen to the character mechanically in the dream, except that dying in the dream ends the sleep. Requirements: SECRET OF DEEP SLEEP
Secret of Encompassing Dream
The giant's dream influences the place of his rest in subtle ways. The spot becomes a soft place of dream shamanism. The player of the giant can describe how natural forces and happenstance shape the terrain. In any scene happening in the place, the player can make a STATURE (V) check for a pool of dice, usable as bonus or penalty Gift Dice for anything happening in the scene. Requirements: SECRET OF THE SLEEP OF SEASONS
Secret of Dream Avatar
The sleeping giant's consciousness can possess the form of an animal in his place of dreaming. The giant is still dreaming, so the avatar's actions are non-aware, even if full of intent. If the giant's spot is a soft place, he can also manifest in a elemental shape or plant life. Requirements: SECRET OF DEEP SLEEP
Secret of True Avatar
The giant's dream avatar can be a person who visits the dreaming place. The giant is aware and can communicate with his avatar freely. He can also share his Pools with the avatar, as well as any Secrets the avatar is physically capable of using. Requirements: SECRET OF DREAM AVATAR
Key of Temper
The character suffers of a volatile temperament that almost has a mind of its own. 1xp: Over-react to stimulus of any kind. 2xp: Regret your indiscretions. 5xp: Go on a rampage. Buyoff: Become human by dying satisfied, or by slowly diminishing in stature.
Key of Awkward Size
The character is like a Disney movie protagonist, earnestly looking for his place in the world. 1xp: Cause humiliating trouble by being clumsy or inconsiderate. 2xp: Complain to a friend about how inconsiderate other people are. 5xp: Break a relationship out of frustration. Buyoff: Save everybody with your thews.
Key of Society
The character has managed to create himself a place in community. 1xp: Interact with the others. 2xp: Work around your size to participate. 5xp: Use your strength and size to help the community greatly. Buyoff: Lose your place and become outcast.

Adult Temper

Giants vary in size quite a bit, usually growing larger as they get older. Giants themselves do not look at size as the first thing, however: rather, a giant is only considered an adult once his TEMPER awakens.

A giant's Temper is not quite a natural thing from a human viewpoint: rather, it's the awakening of the giant's inhuman lusts and yearnings, like a beast within. Some giants fear their temper, and for a reason: it is not always controllable.

An unawakened giant is much like a large human. When the Temper awakens, however, the giant gains an AURA of sorts: natural forces start manifesting around him, especially when he gets angry. The aura is a dark one, not easy to see; many would mistake it for grime or body hair, except when the giant rages and it crawls all over him. The aura magic provides the giant with elemental, brute power unmatched in this world.

Born giants from the fringes of the world might sometimes talk of how they see themselves and their Temper. It is often a wistful story, one that touches on the First and the Ancient: when the world was made all was well, but ever since then people have started seeing farther and farther, which has made for less and less space for giants, who grow smaller and smaller, straining their Temper more and more. The First had no Temper, for they were permitted to grow as large as they would and could. What any of this means, I doubt a giant could say.

Sleep of Seasons

Giants do not grow old, or at least there is no proof of such. They do, however, grow tired. As a giant grows larger and older he heals slower and needs more food and sleep. Ultimately, the giant may go into a long-term hibernation known as the sleep of seasons. This may last years, decades "“ even centuries, if the giant is not disrupted and he needs the time to heal. Earth and vegetation gather quickly to cover these giants; in fact, their own skin sheds and provides a starting point for the protective coloration. The breath and heart of such a giant slow down to such an extent that it may easily be mistaken for dead.

Many places in modern Near are known as spots where a giant has presumably fallen, often during the chaos of the Skyfire or the Year of Shadow. Superstitious people tread lightly in these places, in fear of awakening the giant sleeping within the crust. Others seek these places in the hopes of awakening a powerful servant. Some worship giants, such as the eponymous King Khale of the Khaleans.

A sleeping giant seems inactive, but this is not quite so: the giant dream is powerful and may influence the world in different ways. The most dramatic event is when the sleeping giant happens upon an AVATAR, a representative it contacts to advocate for itself in the waking world.

A different form of the sleep of seasons is the sleep of rebirth, which may happen for dying giants who possess the Key of Temper. Unless his body is concernedly destroyed (not a mean task), the death of a giant may be near indistinguishable from his sleep. In time, the giant may awaken from this dream, provided that he succeeds in a STATURE (V) check: if he bought off the KEY OF TEMPER when he died, this rebirth happens in human form: the stony form of the dead giant opens to reveal the man inside. Such a character loses access to his giant crunch (not recovering Advances) and continues as a mortal. However, should a giant die in rage, he will only awaken from the sleep of death as a ONE-EYE, a dead, stony apparition driven by the giant's unspoken appetite. Should a character not awake at all, the player decides when to let the dreaming afterlife of his character lapse.

I should mention that there is one other way for a giant to become human through the KEY OF TEMPER buyoff: a giant who never rages will slowly diminish in size to match the people around him. This is a long and awkward process, but if he can build ties to a human community and keep his Temper in check, then a giant will one day find himself indistinguishable from the people around him. In practice I'd term this a QUEST if something is.

One-Eyed Memories

One-Eyes are not properly characters; rather, they are echoes of true giants that have died, but refused to give way to new life. Such is the giant's vitality that it animates earth and stone and weirder things to house the giant's Temper. The One-Eye is an artificial colossus, a mockery of what the giant was like in life.

One-Eyes, despite their origin, do not necessarily differ that much from living giants in their habits. If left in peace, they roam around, seemingly without aim, perhaps grabbing an animal and gnawing at it in imitation of hunger. They rest and wait as well, even if they need no sleep.

A One-Eye can be dangerous to people who do not know what it is and provoke it; it has no morality, and it will not hesitate to squash small people under its bulk. Sometimes tragedies happen when a One-Eye ignores habitation and walks straight in, crushing everything in its way.

One-Eyes were a much more common sight before the Skyfire, when Academy wizards of Maldor had found ways to influence them and even work them for the Empire. One-Eyes were once even collected and sent against the Hamouadi in a bid of desperation. This did not work too well, for the OneEyes then were tempestuous: whenever two of the kind would meet, they would fight to the utter destruction of both.

When the Skyfire came, the One-Eyes all stopped moving as one. Soon they fell over and did not rise, becoming like the earth they came from. It's taken centuries, but now these old One-Eyes are coming back, rising from the earth.

One-Eyes today have an unspoken connection to each other. When rarely two of the kind should meet, they often start building structures, such as long walls that snake over the countryside, and stranger things besides. Nobody seems to know what they are doing.

One-Eyes in Play

One-Eyes are not characters. In fact, they're not even monsters like the forgotten dead, but more like furniture or natural phenomena. They are purposefully mysterious: whatever is going on with them, the answers are only found in play. I have my own theories, but I'm not telling.

When a One-Eye is created, the giant's last STATURE (V) check becomes an Effect that represents the One-Eye's might. The player of the giant phrases the Effect, determining whatever scrap of the giant remains in his last creation. This Effect works exactly like any other, insofar as the rules are concerned. It just happens to be quite large in leverage, able to destroy fortresses that happen on its way. Characters will find it simple to destroy if they can match it's rating with an appropriate Ability or outmaneuver it in some way.

As the One-Eye is not an intentional creature, its Effect rating is only ever compared against a character's check when the character gets directly in the One-Eye's way. Otherwise the One-Eye mostly causes circumstance penalties or provokes simple Ability checks. In this regard it works exactly like a sandstorm or landslide or other natural disasters; in fact, the One-Eye is pretty much a fantasy disaster for the Story Guide's toolbox.

One-Eyes are more dangerous when they get numerous, especially now that they cooperate instead of fighting each other. There is a mud-flat in the eastern parts of the Sea of Teeth where a hundred One-Eyes struggle to break free from the slowly drying sea. When they do, who knows what they will do.

Giants in Near

Giants are usually encountered only one at a time. Were a character to meet a whole family, or a tribe, he'd know that he's surely on one of the very edges of Near "“ Roof of the World, perhaps, or other places where giants can live in peace.

In the civilized lands there is hardly any room for giants, whose bumbling ways, troublesome size and temperament are sure to make them enemies of organized government sooner or later. Merely existing among people of normal size is story enough for a giant; indeed, where giants have worked their feats of strength, they've rarely been anything but legendary figures.

Goren is something of an exception to this rule in that the Gorenite Jošland has plenty of room for giants. Even in Old Goren probably half a dozen different families herd sheep in the frontier valleys and gorges of the Roof, journeying east to trade with Gorenite towns. The age-old ways tend to be disrupted by Highland Saints, however, as they have learned in the Roof to not trust in the goodwill of giants.

Beastkin: Children of the Moon

Partly adapted from the Finnish edition of Clinton's book and forum discussions with Josh.

Something happened when the Moon rose. Or perhaps it was the Skyfire, or the long Year of Shadow. Whichever it was, that was when the ratkin started to appear in Near. And not just ratkin, either: although these are localized phenomena, other sorts of animal people have also been sighted. These are the children of the Moon.

Beastkin Characters

Beastkin (anthropomorphized animals, furries "“ why not?) are mostly the same as humanite characters, mechanically. Each has a mandatory Secret that belongs to that creature only. They are not part of the Human Equation, however, and neither do they have any obvious relationship to each other, apart from the human-oriented view that they're all "like animals".

Beastkin characters can access their own racial crunch, generic beastkin crunch and animal crunch freely. Like animals, the assumption is that a given character only gets the sort of crunch that fits its animal qualities "“ no SECRET OF SMALL SIZE for a large creature and so on.

Beastkin are not psychologically or physically similar to humans like the old species are, so the Story Guide might well throw in some well-chosen circumstance penalties and such when the two breeds interact. Beastkin can refresh their Pools with animals of their own approximate type as well as people.

Secret of Centaur
Centaurs are large quadrupeds from the Great Plains, just my example of yet another Beastkin all but unknown in Near. They get a RUNNING (V) Ability and never run out of VIGOR: they always have one point left as long as they get enough to drink.
Secret of Gharial
These crocodile-men would be found in very small numbers in Qek; I'm told that they worship death gods in ancient temples there. They do not grow old, ever, and they grow larger and stronger with age, gaining Pool points.
Secret of Losing the Mind
A beastkin may make a BESTIALITY (V) check to fall into a seizure or frenzy that removes the check result in Advances from the Reason Pool, (R) Abilities and Secrets associated with intelligence. All but one (or two if even) of the Advances are immediately distributed between VIGOR and INSTINCT Pools. The change is permanent.
Secret of Animal Speech
Animals are actually not much for speaking, but whatever degree of communication they manage, this beastkin understands without Ability checks and regardless of prior experience with the animal in question. Most beastkin understand animals related to them naturally, but for others they need this Secret. Cost: 1 REASON
Secret of Moon Instinct
The character always knows where the Moon is, even if hidden. Cost: 1 INSTINCT
Bestiality (V)
Practically all animals have this Ability, depicting their ferocious, unthinking nature. It is useful when the animal has to overcome obstacles with pure force and speed. It's not so much that this is the only important facet of being an animal; rather, we decide that dramatically the only reason animals are going to triumph in conflict is due to their being "good animals", represented by this Ability.
Secret of Sociality
A social animal associates its BESTIALITY (V) with INSTINCT as well. It can engage in social conflicts over dominance, initiative and other cooperative issues.
Secret of Cunning
A cunning animal associates its BESTIALITY (V) with REASON as well. It can conflict over avoiding traps, understanding what happens around it and other such issues of rudimentary intelligence.
Secret of Tameness
A tame animal can refresh Pools like people. It can also learn the TRAINING (R) Ability.
Training (R)
A trained animal can support a person with this Ability. It can also try to understand human intent and fulfill tasks set to it by using its training.
Secret of Natural Weapons
An animal with this Secret has equipment ratings that depict its natural strengths, such as thick skin, teeth or wings. The "equipment quality" of the beast is established with a BESTIALITY (V) check, which may be rerolled in a refreshment scene. Natural weapons do not have imbuements.
Secret of Small Size
An animal with this Secret is smaller than a human, and thus gains a bonus die every time being small helps them; others gain a penalty die when the small size impedes their actions.
Secret of Great Size
An animal with this Secret is so big that it has STATURE (V), which it can use to overcome small obstacles with mere size. The animal can also get the SECRET OF BULK.
Secret of Flight
An animal with this Secret can fly. The cost is paid whether the animal flies or not. Cost: 1 VIGOR per scene
Secret of Nocturnality
An animal with this Secret is usually awake at night, and has adapted to low-light conditions. The animal associates all of its Abilities with INSTINCT at night-time and does not receive circumstance penalties for lack of light.
Secret of Man-killer
The animal does not fear people. When fighting with BESTIALITY (V) against a member of the old species, any Harm it causes is increased one step, but not over MORTAL (6). Requirement: has killed a person.
Secret of Trad Animal
The old TSoY rule for animals is to give them any Secrets that make sense for them, sort of like how item imbuements work. You can do that here as well: have the animal use its BESTIALITY (V) or TRAINING (R) or Passive Abilities instead of the Abilities the Secret requires, of course.
Key of the Predator
The animal is predatory by instinct. 1 Pool: Lurk or roam. 2 Pool: Attack prey. 3 Pool: Attack an unusual prey.
Key of Herding
The animal likes to live among its own kind. 1 Pool: Remain with your herd. 2 Pool: Follow the herd's lead. 3 Pool: Defend the herd.
Key of Nocturnality
The animal prefers being active at night. 1 Pool: Be in a scene at night. 2 Pool: Refuse to come out in daylight. 3 Pool: Feed or mate at night.

Crunch for Taming Animals

Animal Imbuement
The equipment is an animal. The character may use his ANIMAL KEN (I) or other animalhandling Abilities in lieu of BESTIALITY (V) or other animal-only Abilities to activate imbued animal Secrets.
Pool Imbuement
The equipment has a separate Pool. This mostly makes sense for animals, but there are other places in the book for this as well. The Pool is one point in size and can be used whenever the character uses the equipment, as whichever type of Pool. It replenishes when the equipment is maintained.
Secret of Beastmaster
The character can tame normally untamable creatures with his ANIMAL KEN (I), forcing them to take the SECRET OF TAMENESS. He can also make any animal he tames a sidekick with the SECRET OF SIDEKICK regardless of Ability levels. When he tames an animal that doesn't have established statistics, the player gets to allocate his check's worth of Advances for the animal, while the Story Guide allocates twice that.
Secret of Behavior (specify)
The character gets along especially well with animals that have a certain Behavior Key. He has no Pool spend cap when interacting with the specific sort of animal.
Key of the Animals
The character likes animals a lot, perhaps even more than people. 1xp: Help an animal. 2xp: Tame an animal. 5xp: An animal helps you out. Buyoff: Kill an animal.

Natural Animals

The fauna of Near is just as varied as you'd expect of a good and nice fantasy world. The environs of the Sea of Teeth are particularly rich in all sorts of life, but everywhere in Near there are animals fitting the environment; some even say that this is what Hanish gave Near, a living biosphere.

Animals are not intentional creatures, so they don't get Motivation Keys. What they do get are BEHAVIOR KEYS:

Behavior Key Framework
Keys of this type depict inborn instincts. 1 Pool: Fulfill your routine. 2 Pool: Struggle to fulfill your routine. 3 Pool: Fulfill your routine despite exceptional circumstances.

As can be seen, Behavior Keys do not provide experience points (and do not have a Buyoff condition) "“ instead, they provide Pool points for whichever Pool is running the lowest at the moment. This is useful for animals, as they get only one Pool point from a normal Pool refreshment.

The typical animal has very few Abilities; in fact, only Bestiality (V) and Passive Abilities are a given, while anything else depends on the animal's nature. Pools are also likely to be low, with Reason practically non-existent. Animals usually can't learn non-animal Secrets, although I do use the generic Secrets (SECRET OF SPECIALTY and whatnot) to depict important animal characteristics when I feel like it.

Of course, most of the time animals are secondary characters run by the Story Guide, so it's not very likely that these details would matter much. Still, there are some ways for player characters to access their animal side, too.

Man's Best Friend

Animals are tamed with ANIMAL KEN (I), simply enough. Most animals aren't naturally tamable, though. For those that are, the player needs to choose how he wants to handle the animal as a game element:

  • EQUIPMENT: animals might be made into equipment reasonably enough. The ANIMAL IMBUEMENT even allows the animal to act, sort of. The character could even become professional in training animals with the SECRET OF CREATION (ANIMAL KEN). This approach makes the animal a tool for the character; the animal won't act independently nor possess individual interests.
  • SIDEKICK: a tame animal, such as a horse, can be made into a sidekick with crunch appropriate to its nature. The character communicates with his sidekick with ANIMAL KEN (I) in this case, of course. A sidekick is assumed to not generate any drama by itself, so the Story Guide will have it get difficult only if abused or endangered. Note that the sidekick can't use BESTIALITY (V) to support or directly aid the character; it needs to use TRAINING (R) for that.
  • EXTRA: If the player doesn't really care about an animal, it's an extra and does not have mechanical impact on the game. It might still act as momentary leverage for the character, though, and be a cause for circumstance penalties and whatnot. An ANIMAL KEN (I) check may also be used on it easily enough to get an Effect or change it into equipment by declaration.

In other words, quite straightforward once you remember that the same fictional thing need not have the same mechanics.

Jari's Zoo

My brother Jari, after playing a campaign in Qek, came to develop his own Story Guiding technique for animals. Because we have a bit of extra space here and I find this stuff interesting, let's review.

Boars
have the SECRET OF KNOCKBACK, which they use to knock out the largest (highest VIGOR) enemies. Their behaviors are SOLITARY and RAGING
Bisons
are similar, except they start knocking with the most annoying targets, those with the lowest INSTINCT Pools. Their behaviors are HERDING and RAGING.
Leopard
skins are valuable. They have the SECRET OF SUDDEN STRIKE and they can't be tracked. The leopard attacks from hiding and escapes if its first attack fails. Its behaviors are NOCTURNAL and PREDATOR.
Giant snakes
are of three kinds. The constrictor has the SECRET OF CRUSHING, which breaks armors and burns Vigor from the opponent every round in extended conflict. The devouring snake is larger and meaner. The third one is poisonous snake, which delivers a potent natural infusion. All three snakes surprise the most careless victim, or the one with the worst Reason Pool. They will only let go if injured. The snake behaviors are PREDATOR and SOLITARY.
Gorilla
has the SECRETS OF THROWING and NATURAL WEAPONS. It throws stones and wrestles people, and escapes when injured. Its behaviors are RAGING and CLEVER.
Rhinoceros
is a jovial creature, unless irritated with fire or loud noise. It has the SECRET OF MIGHTY BLOW and a naturally thick skin. The rhino's behaviors are HERBIVORE and RAGING.
Giant Frogs
are encountered in the jungles of Qek; most fearsome. They have the SECRET OF FLYING LEAP and they can disarm people with their tongue. They also swim facilely. Avoids people, but tries to eat anything smaller, such as goblins, dwarves and children. Behaviors are CUNNING and PATIENT.
Lion Heart
is a legendary lion encountered most often in the western savannah, but it does get around. Lion Heart has the SECRET OF CONTACTS and the AURA OF FADING THE ILLUSION. Lion Heart is curious, only kills when hungry and likes to talk with anybody who knows Feline speak. Its behaviors are PREDATORY and NOBLE.
Polar Bears
have the SECRET OF NATURAL WEAPONS, nasty claws and a thick fur. King of the glacier, eats everything with a total mass less than its own. Behaviors are PREDATOR and SOLITARY.
Vampire Bat
has the SECRET OF VAMPIRE and SECRET OF VAMPIRE BEAST. It's a nocturnal beast that usually hangs with other bats and drains them when nothing else comes around. Its behaviors are PREDATOR and HERDING.
Kung-Fu Panda
lives in Ammeni and has one UPTENBO TECHNIQUE. It's a placid herbivore, but doesn't hesitate to protect itself. Behaviors HERBIVORE and SOLITARY.
Moon Moose
are Khalean Moose that have eaten moonmetal. They have the SECRET OF MOON HEART, moonmetal antlers and the SECRET OF BERSERK. Their behavior is completely berserk, they never give up and run off.
Paradise Birds
live on the atolls of the Sea of Teeth. They each have a PERFECT CHORD, usually JOY. The ones that have lost their mates can be recognized because they have the PERFECT CHORD OF SORROW. Their behaviors are SHY and SOCIAL.

The Lesson of the Intermission

OK, so I haven't thought to go to this direction with my animals, but now that Jari's shared his zoo with us, I certainly could. Some of those creatures are pretty wild. Jari's using the TRAD ANIMAL, by the way.

This comes in a strange place in the book, but the occasion suits us: I like hearing about ideas and gaming technique people have for THE SHADOW OF YESTERDAY, so please do share yours if you get around to playing with this stuff. As you can probably perceive here, practical play techniques can be really different for two people: I wouldn't know where to begin with this bestiary, but apparently Jari has it all sorted out!

Nadir & Andreth

The Imperial Age wrought many stories in Near, and brought some to wider knowledge, so that they would be repeated in all lands of the Empire and beyond. One loved by the people even after the Shadow is the romance of Andreth, whose songs are still sung today in the west.

Andreth was the daughter of Arni, a great Lord of vast appetites and greater domains. Unusual for the time, Andreth was a trobairiz, singer of songs and teller of stories. Her wit pleased Arni, who would elsewise been likely to forbid all contact with the outside world from a daughter he was preserving for fine marriage.

As a trobairiz Andreth was well-spoken and knowledgeable of all things of men, beasts and fair unseen. She carried herself proudly in court and dressed beautifully to accentuate her fair mien and lithe frame. It was justly said that her ways made her a fetching prize for whomever Arni would choose for her husband.

Nadir at the time was a one of the Elven-kind, creatures known for their fickleness, immortality and fearsome magic. He was a wellknown companion to travelers high and low, for Nadir was always moving, never still. He was seeking for something, it was said, and he left many a philosopher and scholar in ruin when they could not satisfy his thirst for knowledge.

Finally crossing the Wedge (a great bridge then built over two rivers it was), Nadir came to hear of fair Andreth of Hemmel and her wisdom. For reasons only known to himself Nadir then decided to match his wit against this woman.

Arriving at Hemmel, Nadir was well received by Arni, who had grown puissant in the highland wars, but sought supernatural might as well. There Nadir also saw Andreth, who could hardly match him in fairness, but could, would and did answer each and every one of his questions. However, more questions were raised, and not only for Nadir, but for wise Andreth as well.

After that first meeting Nadir would return to Hemmel several times. Each time Arni would court him in the hopes of allying himself with the fair folk; each time Nadir would demur, but in such a way that he would not offend the host. Arni, however, grew hungrier and badtempered over time.

Andreth, on the other hand, stayed amiable yet distant to oftvisiting Nadir. They sparred in words and sat long into the night over old books, yet neither did Nadir leave her weeping with her wisdom wanting, nor did she scare him away.

One time Nadir came back to Andreth with a gift of music: a harp of exquisite make, its strings of unbreakable steel. She looked upon it curiously before inquiring whether she was now to compete with the guest in song; matching strength against strength had been the reason of Nadir's every visit in the past.

But no, Nadir exclaimed then: it was to be a courtship present, for he had decided to be in love with this woman whose demeanor would not leave him even in the farthest reaches of Near, and of whom he now dreamed, when he had suffered of dreams never before.

Nadir's was not a fine amour, as Andreth came to learn: he would leave with no word and then return, sometimes against the knowledge of Arni, her father. In time, however, she came to expect his return and desire for their time together.

What's more, each time Nadir returned, he brought her a miraculous present. These gifts were of Nadir's craft, for he was a maker of things, an Elven smith. Each, he said, were in equal part of him and her, through his image of her. Each time Andreth would return the favor to his paramour, gifting him with a new song; these songs, she said, were in equal part of her and him, through her image of him.

In the meantime, Arni had grown still greater, becoming larger than other men. His patience was wearing thing even as his suspicions were fed by Andreth, who had become ever more distant to her tempestuous father.

As a mighty Lord growing mightier still Arni traveled far and wide; first on horseback, later by his own stride, or pulled in great carriages. He was away often, and thus could not ascertain for himself his suspicions concerning the elusive Nadir.

However, ultimately an opportunity came to him "“ or rather, he came to it, as Arni grew in determination and hired a magician to bewitch himself. Soon after, while traveling away from home, Arni had a dream of the elf on the escarpments of castle Hemmel. Fortified with his dream visitation, Arni knew to return home.

Surprising the two lovers at his castle made Arni furious, but also satisfied, as now he knew that he could always trust his instincts in the matters of men and the Elven kind. Nadir he threw into a dark oubliette, Andreth was locked away in a tower; Arni would think long and hard on their punishment.

As already established, Arni's temper was awakened by the imagined slight to his honor. His rage doubled when he discovered the treasures of Nadir, and tripled when he discovered the songs written by his daughter; beautiful new things in the world, but not made for him.

Finally, unable to come to decision, Arni made one anyway: he had the elf brought forward and told Nadir that he would deface and slay Andreth himself should the elf seek escape by his arts. Then he had Andreth brought forward and gave the two a cunning choice: one would have to die to calm the giant's temper, but the choice would have to be in their hands. In this way Arni bound Nadir's Elven magic to his own purposes.

They say that later on Andreth and Nadir would live together in humility. To this day their progeny, considered Half-Elven, lives among men. They are much loved for their cunning craft and courteous manner, and the songs Andreth taught everybody to sing.

More important still for many is the seeking of treasures: men in Maldor swear up and down that they've seen the magical harp, the mask and other things made by Nadir, still glowing bright golden, still with wondrous powers, proof of his love for Andreth.