Monday, May 23, 2016

Find the Path: Talking Animals.

One of the fantasy tropes I prefer is that of talking animals.  Not as one time appearances, but entire communities of talking critters.  The trope has its problems for use.  But in a tabletop RPG, I like using it nonetheless.

The trope of talking animals often comes across as cartoony.  There are potential pitfalls.  When I refer to talking animals, I mean animals who have the capacity to speak.  They can converse intelligently with humans.

My key inspiration for this comes from Fables (the comic) and all sorts of  mythology.

I can imagine the first pitfall to creating talking animal characters for a tabletop RPG.  It's a human, gamer-y one:  Thumbs.  The lack of them.  It's easy to see talking animals as being less successful PC options because of their lack of thumbs.  Or the means to use tools the same way humans can.

Maybe it's whimsy, but I don't think the lack of opposable thumbs necessitates problems in a game.  In Dungeons and Dragons (Pathfinder too), there often is a bit of advice.  Suggestions that animals could be limited in what they can or can't do in a situation.

I disagree.

I'm not just referring to hand waving here.  If there are communities of talking animals in a setting, then there should already be established methods to get around these limitations.  Not just magic items, but common ways that skirt or cheat to some animals' advantage.

Horses And Such.

Horses are the first talking animal that comes to mind for me.  But any quadrupedal mammal could do too.  Yes, they can talk, but they lack arms to wield tools.

Let's ignore rules concerns for now.  Any GM worth their salt can dream up whatever dice roll needed to explain what a player wants to do.  That's a given here.

Could a talking horse be a player character in a game?  Of course.  C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy two of the main characters are horses.  Their lack of ability to use tools the same way humans do never rarely comes up.

Outside of fictional examples, horses are capable of maiming a human on their own.  Like many mammals, their mouths serve as touch organs.  They have to be trained often to keep them from harming their riders.  Horses might not be able to use a gun or sword.  But they possess the muscle to win most brawls against human opponents.

So, there are fictional and real world examples of things horses can do.  It requires thinking outside of the human shaped box we live in, but possible.  A community of talking horses could have access to inventors who've developed prosthetic tools.  Apparatus that they can enable them to use tools.

In Crux, I've thought on horses that also use humans as proxy tool-users.  Cruel talking horses would use their bigger size to bully human victims.  Without superior weapons, such humans would have to do as they command.


Regardless of rules, a character should be interesting.  Rules exist to enable play.  They should be bent if a player has a fantastic idea for a character.   Interesting characters are worth the work.

The limits of a character might never come up.  Some characters are just too interesting, too intriguing, to be disregarded just because they can't open a door.

As for rules, my core suggestions remains to bend them.  If a player comes the table wanting to play such a character, don't penalize them for it.  Someone playing a talking pig shouldn't be hunted as food every session.

Talking animals should be considered a common sight in a fantasy setting that has them.  If they are, then like other fantasy races, they are possibly part of the community around them.  A talking animal is regarded as a fellow citizen of the city, not a potential target.

One could explore more in this vein.  Are there talking animals that fight for the rights of their nonspeaking brethren?  Or are there talking animals that abuse their intelligence and speech against their cousins?

As for humans, is it okay to enjoy bacon when your cleric is a talking pig?  Do you tolerate cats when the bard is a talking sparrow?