Rainbow Fantasy I – The Butterfly

There are so many kinds of fantasy to choose from. Old D&D was a mish-mash of everything from King Arthur to Hammer films to Elric (which is why I love it), Warhammer does dark and gothic, there are the oiled up barbarians from 80’s movies, fairy and folk tales, weird fantasy and horror … and also what I would have called in my youth “girly fantasy”.

OK – don’t get up in arms over the nickname, but when I was growing up this was the stuff more girls liked than guys. I think most folks know what I’m talking about – rainbows, unicorns, pegasi, fairies, etc. Let’s call it “Rainbow Fantasy”.

While Rainbow Fantasy may have ended up in 80’s TV cartoons and on junior high school folders, it started long before that. Old fairy tales made some use of it, Baum’s OZ, where people cannot die is within this category, and the “hippies” during the psychedelic 60’s who were besotted with flowers and nature and pleasure in all its forms certainly used it. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is like a hex crawl through this sort of fantasy.

Where Rainbow Fantasy has gotten short shrift, I think, is fantasy role playing games. I remember when a few guys in the neighborhood and me starting playing some D&D back in the 80’s. We invited a neighborhood girl (a close friend of mine, practically a sister) to play. She created a Rainbow Fantasy-style elf character, and we all looked at her like she was insane. He had a cutesy name. D&D just wasn’t for cutesy names.

Well, of course D&D is for cutesy names or whatever else you want to cram into it. It’s a system, not a genre. Jeff Rients said it best when he said, “You play Conan, I play Gandalf. We team up to fight Dracula.” As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate all sorts of things I didn’t as a kid, especially something as strange and creative as Rainbow Fantasy.

With that in mind, I’m going to write a few articles to bring a little rainbow into the deep, dark dungeon. Up first is a character class called the Butterfly, inspired by an old piece of fantasy art from a magazine that had very little to do with fantasy. I’ll then discuss the ways we can treat alignment and quests in this sort of fantasy to make it work, and I’ll follow up with a discussion of how existing classes and races might work in a rainbow fantasy campaign as well as introduce one more class.

You play She-Ra, I’ll play the Last Unicorn. Dracula will never know what hit him.

The Butterfly Class

Butterflies are a mystic calling of some people. Those with a lust for wandering in wide meadows of cool grass and chatting with hummingbirds, those who wish to escape the bonds of the earth and the boundaries of the mind. They can see the beauty of life and nature despite the ugliness and sorrow, and seek to spread that beauty far and wide. The butterfly is like a light in the darkness.

|Requirements & Restrictions|

Ability Scores: Dex 11, Cha 13

Alignment: Non-chaotic

Armor Permitted: None

Weapons Permitted: Club, dagger, sling, staff

|Butterfly Skills|

Butterflies add their level to the following task checks:

Communication: Butterflies can communicate with creatures that speak languages they do not understand. Much of this is through empathy and hand gestures (but not THAT hand gesture – it’s just so crude).

Fly: Butterflies can perform all manner of aerobatic stunts while flying with their natural wings or while mounted on flying mounts.

Handle Animals: Butterflies can calm frightened and hostile animals, and tame wild animals. They can teach tame animals simple tricks.

Move Silently: Butterflies can walk slowly and lightly without making a sound.

|Butterfly Abilities|

Butterflies can see auras. This includes magic auras generated by spells, magic items and the like, and alignments (Law, Chaos and Neutrality).

A butterfly can speak with all animals and is always considered a friend by non-predatory beasts. These animals will help a butterfly whenever she requests it, as long as it does not put them in direct danger and as long as she treats them with respect and kindness. A butterfly gets a +2 bonus to reaction checks with predators, and might be able to convince them to help her given the right inducements.

A 2nd level butterfly can shrink to tiny size, about 6 inches tall, and grow butterfly wings. She can do this once per day per two levels. At this size, the butterfly can fly at a speed of 60 feet per round. In this form, she can weave magic (see below). The butterfly can remain at this size for as long as she likes, and can return to normal at will.

A 3rd level butterfly can grow butterfly wings while at full size and use them to fly at a speed of 40 feet per round. She can do this once per day per three levels.

At 4th level, a butterfly can take the form of a cloud of butterflies. She can do this once per day per four levels. Treat this as the same as a magic-user taking gaseous form.

Whenever a butterfly is flying, she leaves behind a trail of glitterdust (per the spell) which falls on any creature beneath her flight path.

Butterfly Spell List

1st level – Audible glamer, calm emotions, charm person, color spray, dancing lights, detect secret doors, faerie fire, goodberry, hypnotism, light, reduce person, sleep

2nd level – Continual light, cure light wounds, darkvision, glitterdust, hold animal, invisibility, pyrotechnics, reduce animal, summon swarm (insects only), web

3rd level – Blink, cure moderate wounds, daylight, hold person, invisibility sphere, shrink item, sleep II, speak with plants

4th level – Charm monster, cure serious wounds, false forest, giant vermin, invisibility II, rainbow pattern

Butterfly Class Table

LVL XP HD ATK SV 1 2 3 4
1 0 1d4 +0 15 1
2 1,500 2d4 +0 14 2
3 3,000 3d4 +1 14 3 1
4 6,000 4d4 +1 13 3 2
5 12,000 5d4 +1 13 3 3 1
6 24,000 6d4 +2 12 3 3 2
7 48,000 7d4 +2 12 3 3 3 1
8 100,000 8d4 +3 12 4 3 3 2
9 200,000 9d4 +3 11 4 3 3 3
10 300,000 10d4 +3 11 4 4 3 3
11 400,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 3 3
12 500,000 +1 hp +4 10 4 4 4 3
13+ +100,000 +1 hp 5 4 4 3

 

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Dangerous Ground

Combat in D&D and its various descendants is abstract for the most part, making it fast (well, except in 3E) and easy to run, and thus pretty fun to play. So how about using abstraction to introduce dangerous battlefield conditions into a fight?

The Idea

While some battlefields may be perfectly safe to fight in, one can expect many fights, given where they occur and the genre in which they exist, to be fought in dangerous spaces. The floor could be slippery, there could be a fire pit in the middle of it, the roof could be caving in – just use your imagination.

flashVbarinActually staging a combat in such a dangerous space can be tricky, though, because the combat rules are abstract. You can use a battle grid and miniatures, but sometimes they are feasible, or you just don’t want the bother.

One way to get around this is to extend the abstraction of combat – Armor Class, hit points, etc. – to the ground itself.

As the Referee, you pick a number from 1 to 20. This is the unlucky number. When this number is rolled during combat – attack rolls or damage rolls – the roller of the number suffers an effect tied to the battlefield.

For example – the room in which a fight is taking place has a fire pit in the middle of it. The pit is about 2 feet deep and there are hot coals in the bottom of it. The Referee decides a roll of ’10’ (unmodified by anything) means somebody has stepped into the pit and burned themselves for 1d4 points of damage. He also decides this damage cannot reduce them to less than 1 hit point, and that the unlucky combatant must pass a saving throw or suffer a penalty to movement for an hour due to twisting an ankle or burning a foot.

Now – this is key – it is probably a good idea to let players know what the unlucky number is, and what can happen (in general terms) when it is rolled. Why? I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock explain:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

When the players know the unlucky number, every dang roll has some tension packed into it. You know how everybody stared with wide eyes and holds their breath when somebody has to roll a crucial saving throw or attack? You can bring a little of that to every roll during one of these fights, but only if people know the unlucky number.

A few things to consider if you decide to use this notion:

If the unlucky number is low, it means it has a more likely chance of coming up, since both attack rolls (1d20) and damage rolls (d4, d6, d8 etc.) can trigger it. If you want the effect to be more rare, make the number higher than 10.

Higher numbers also mean success can be tinged with failure; lower numbers can rub salt in the wound of missing an attack.

You can have multiple unlucky numbers. In the example above, the roof might also be in danger of caving in, so a ’10’ means stepping in the fire pit and a ’17’ means roof tiles fall on a person for 1d4 damage.

The effect can also be a time track. Using the “roof falling in” example above, each roll of ’17’ can bring the roof closer to collapsing entirely on the people in the room. Maybe it takes 3 such rolls before it happens. This introduces some great tension into the fight, and requires players to gamble a bit every time they roll the dice.

You could, maybe even should, permit people a way to avoid these unlucky numbers. Maybe they have to reduce their movement rate or accept a penalty to attack.

Whatever the unlucky number, carry the attack and damage roll through completely before the dice roller suffers the consequences. In other words, if the attack roll brings up the unlucky number AND scores a hit, the hit counts and damage is rolled before the unlucky attacker burns himself, slips, etc.

One could also use this to simulate the danger of engaging giant monsters, with a chance of being stepped on or knocked into or of a randomly flailing tail connecting for damage.

 

JMS-BLACK

 

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