Wednesday, December 5, 2018

On Druidic and my latest 5E Game

For a fan of 13th Age and DCC RPG I’ve been running a lot of D&D 5E lately. I think that I’m a very weird 5E DM... to start some of my favorite rules are from the playtest notes (“D&D Next”) and from the Workshop chapter of the Dungeon Master Guide. However, I got a new and excellent party and they’re loving 5E, so let's keep 5E (for now).

This post is about languages, more precisely about Druidic because one of my players built a Wood Elf Druid. We are running a playtest adventure (which is kind of new for me and doesn’t allow me to “go crazy” like I usually do… but it’s an excellent change of pace… and the adventures that we’re playtesting are really great!).

I’m the kind of DM that loves social and cultural interaction. I like adventures where the party meet weird societies, with bizarre or different rules of etiquette (Jack Vance and Robert Jordan are some of my favorite authors precisely because of that). I find this type of “social exploration” as fun as the traditional “physical exploration”. When I wrote the races for Chronicles of the 7th Moon (a setting co-wrote some 10 years ago), I was given the task of giving a new flavor (but no rules’ change) to the D&D 3.5 Core Races (elf, dwarf, halfling etc.); it was a blast and I had a very good time precisely because I had to work with society and culture. My players really enjoyed it too.

So, I like to highlight different cultures. That means that I love languages! And languages with a twist. Tolkien is just the beginning, check Warren Ellis’ Ocean, Jack Vance’s Moon Moth or Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (particularly the Ascians). By consequence that means that I usually hate Common as an “universal language”, although of late I prefer to keep it, because I know that some players just hate to have to pay attention to different languages (it can get frustrating for some classes, like Bards).

That leads to other “universal” languages: the various Alignment Languages (something I always like to address, but not here), Thieves’ Cant and Druidic.

Thieves’ Cant is easy for me. It’s not a language but actually a way for members of the criminal underground to get in touch with each other. In fact, I usually employ Thieves’ Cant as a “free rumor” our “free contact” character trait - Rogues can use it to find other thieves in taverns or to know the latest heist in the area. It gives a social touch to the Rogue, something that I find quite missing in most settings.

Now… to Druidic. Sincerely, I see no point in keeping Druid in my D&D games. In fact, in my previous groups, I noticed that official adventures and DM’s Guide encounters used a lot more Sylvan than Druidic (so much that seriously considered removing it for Sylvan, which has a lot more use and flavor for Druids in most settings/adventures).

However, something came up recently: I was running the aforementioned playtest for an awesome adventure where the party travels through an exotic realm where most of the natives don’t speak Common (which makes language one of the challenges of the entire thing). At some point I noticed that the adventure didn’t provide any information on local priests or healers. Because of the nature of the setting I didn’t think that Clerics or Paladins fitted the local religion. Thus (and also because D&D 5E still doesn’t have an official Shaman class) I decided instead to place a NPC Druid…

… and that’s when Druidic made sense for me. It was actually an accident on my part, when I placed the NPC Druid. I had completely forgot about the language part. I don’t like to backtrack on my narrative (the now famous “Yes” rule), so instead of removing the NPC I played along and allowed the Wood Elf in the party to talk to him, using Druidic. In terms of flavor, it worked perfectly and enhanced the narrative (and everyone loved the scene).

Ironically that’s how I see Druidic now: the only universal and constant language among mortals. Old and almost sacred. You can be of any place or culture, but Druidic still is the same thing everywhere in my setting. That means that for many societies Druids are the only reliable source of information or communication between far or isolated communities. That also makes Druids a good contact options for Bards (which is a great homage to the original Bard from AD&D 1st).

It may seem dumb or too obvious, but this small detail gave lots of ideas about how Druids fit in my home settings. I hope it can help you too.