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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Orthos's Observations: The Shadow Curse

I rambled on and on about all that bit on how prior games and GMs have colored my perceptions of Elves, and I completely skipped over the thing that took up half of the original article.

So the Shadow Curse. Kind of a nasty little thing, isn't it? A symptomless disease, pretty much untraceable, that screws up the mind of anybody infected - leaves them perfectly capable, doesn't mess with any of their physical or magical abilities, or their power to reason or their logic, just nukes their moral constraints and implants a strong tendency toward being pointlessly destructive. A wonderful weapon of war if you want to sit back and watch your enemy destroy themselves ... and since it only affects creatures of Elven blood, so long as you're not an Elf, you don't have to worry about it backfiring on you!

Ebon/Bella actually came up with this one. A lot about Elves is her doing; they're one of her favorite races. She got along better with people who generally played Elves than I did, though that first group of Smug Elf players and super-picky GMs got on her bad side as much as mine, she played alongside the second group for quite some time. We were always on opposite sides of the grand old Elf/Dwarf rivalry - I've always been a far bigger fan of Dwarves and she's always been more fond of Elves, even after both of their Finiens revisions.

So why would someone clearly a fan of Elves create something as Elf-hating as the Shadow Curse? The answer is a race that otherwise doesn't exist on Finiens: Drow.

We created the Shadow Curse to "do Drow right". The purpose of Drow, we decided, was to have an destabilizing element in Elven society. A bogeyman that lurked in the shadows of the "perfect" culture, turning everything beautiful about it into evil. We both like Drow, and we even kept their appearance - obsidian skin and pale gem-colored hair - as a standard for subterranean-dwelling Elves in the setting, since let's face it, Drow look cool, and there's a lot of good art out there that if we were to completely remove that appearance from the setting we'd never be able to use. Yet we didn't want to have the matriarchal, demon-worshiping, inherently-evil society that other settings have slotted the Drow into. I don't remember exactly what sparked it, but sometime she said to me something like "Wouldn't it be better and more evil if you couldn't tell a normal Elf and a Drow apart from just looking at them?"

We'd always intended to have the relationship between Elf and Drow be something transformative, where in the right circumstances an Elf could become a Drow; the original idea was actually something fairly similar to what Paizo has done, except instead of their change just being initiated by evil behavior, we intended actual possession to be involved. (I think there was a point where the idea was a specific spider-like demon, so that if a possessed Elf turned Drow lasted long enough, the demon would evolve further, creating a Drider.) But this new idea changed everything. It was the perfect chaos: an Elf would look no different, show no external symptoms, and thus give no clue to his/her surroundings that s/he was here to tear everything apart.

Thus was born the Shadow Curse, which did exactly that. We decided that for creatures who were supposed to be nearly all settings' epitome of mortal Chaotic Evil, the hierarchies and strict social structure and all the trappings of Drow civilization were just way too organized. We wanted these creatures to be disorganized, chaotic to the extreme, and completely without restraint, structure, or authority. No matron mothers, no archmages or high priests, nothing to suggest a pecking order other than pure power. More like the demons most Drow worship, actually, which is exactly what we were going for.

Most of this has been worked out for some time, and just waiting for me to get to writing about Elves before I went into much detail on it. However, two bits were added just in the space of the past couple of days in which I wrote the Elf article - the Curse rendering victims infertile and severing a portion of their soul. The former seemed only logical, otherwise I would have to explain why these demon-like people with no moral compass weren't copulating or raping their way to a society full of amoral psychopath babies.

The second is completely due to Mikaze over on Paizo. A few months back, in a discussion I can't quite remember the original purpose of, Mikaze pointed out how many different ways D&D and Pathfinder have to ruin a good person's soul, damning them without recourse or dooming them to a slow degradation of character they cannot avoid, so that even the promise of a blessed existence after death to those who do good in life is not guaranteed. Ebon/Bella and I always intended the Curse to be indiscriminate - there's no "increased chance" to catch the infection if you're already Evil or anything, nor does it specifically strike at those who would be more changed by losing their morality. So when I noted that the Curse can turn even the most kindhearted Elf into a raging psychopath, Mikaze's argument immediately popped into my mind. I immediately added a revision, adding in that clause about the soul being cast away to its eternal reward, whatever it was due, and thus the actions of the diseased body not being held against (or toward) the actual person they once were. Conveniently, it also helped explain a few things I hadn't considered before, such as why the disease wasn't curable - there's no one there to cure, the disease is all the body has left, and as far as it's concerned, it's exactly as it's always been, ever since it got there.

For those of you who want your scheming, conniving, plotting, House War-having, bizarre politics Drow, fear not. We kept that part of Drow in the setting too, somewhere else - the Yuan-Ti. If I were to ever run Second Darkness or any other Drow-centric plot on Finiens, I'd rearrange things so the Yuan-Ti are the ones behind the schemes. (Second Darkness + Serpent's Skull? Hmmmmmm....) I'll be getting to them fairly shortly, too: most Yuan-Ti in Finiens dwell on the continent of Stormwind, where the Elves mostly reside, and the rest of that continent's native or immigrated denizens - Half-Elves, Orcs, Kobolds, Leoni, and Glaistigs - will be elaborated on in the next few articles to follow.

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