On Playing a Dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms: Part 1

Yesterday, someone asked me the following:

Erin could you help me please? I’m starting a D&D adventure on Facebook and my partner wants to be a Dragonborn Noble Sorceress and I’m wondering if Dragonborn have noble/royal bloodlines? I want to keep it as true to the realms as I can and I feel you are the expert on Dragonborn.

Because it was on Facebook, I answered in approximately eighty-six replies. So, at the advice of the inestimable Joe Carriker, here they are, summarized for your reading pleasure. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, get thee to a library or bookstore and catch up on the Brimstone Angels saga!)

**Asterisks mean there’s a clarifying answer coming further down.**

 

PICKING A CLAN
The short answer is that they do not have royal/noble bloodlines. Bloodlines are grouped into clans. Clans elect a Vanquisher every ten years, who is essentially a benevolent, light-touch dictator, and it’s not always the same clan that s/he comes from. Ideally Vanquishers embody all the values of the Vayemniri*–strength, military prowess, (a bunch of things that can be translated as filial piety*), ingenuity/adaptability, and, let’s call it, “right-acting.”

Not every Vanquisher is awesome at all of this, and obviously, not every election goes without scandal. Still, every clan’s head elder (Patriarch/Matriarch) gets a vote in the end–but they can’t vote for their own candidate.

That said, while all clans are equal in their vote, they are not all equal in their power. So if what a player wants is a dragonborn from a venerable, wealthy, powerful bloodline, that is easy to get.

The first bloodline that comes to mind is Kepeshkmolik. Kepeshkmolik (means “lightning hide”) is old, wealthy, and powerful. Their most famous semi-Torillian member is Thymara, daughter of Kharadid, of the line of Shasphur*, who founded Djerad Thymar (“Thymara’s fortress”). That’s probably the closest you have to a royal family, though they don’t get any special laws or things the way queens or kings, etc., might. If this was your partner’s pick, she would be either three or four generations from Thymara. The current patriarch is Kepeshkmolik Narghon. His scion is Kepeshkmolik Uadjit (female). As of 1486 DR, she’s the clear favorite for a Vanquisher run, as Narghon’s young and she’s not going to need to be matriarch of Kepeshkmolik soon. (Vanquisher elections will come in early 1488 DR.)

Other options: Verthisathurgiesh (“the crippled mountain*’) can possibly claim to be one of the first clans, established way back in Abeir. At one point it definitely had the most bloodlines in it. It’s still powerful, still wealthy, but the last patriarch, Pandjed, was an abusive tyrant and exiled just about everyone who annoyed him. If you want to be a tragically exiled noble, this is a good family to pick. This is Mehen’s family. The current matriarch is Anala, daughter of Gharizani, of the line of Khorsaya (Mehen’s aunt).

Linxakasendalor is the family of the “current” Vanquisher, Tarhun. This is not technically canonical, but it makes sense, given the Vanquisher wears gold piercings* beneath the eyes and in descriptions, Tarhun doesn’t have visible empty piercings. So his clan might wear similarly placed piercings. (I don’t write much about Linxakasendalor and what has been written–the excellent Brotherhood of the Griffon series by Richard Lee Byers–has shown them in the background), so you’re wide open here insofar as further details.

**Shestandeliath is another well-established clan with serious bona fides in the city of Djerad Thymar. Not only did their ancestor Thuchir Who-Would-Be-Shestandeliath assist Verthisathurgiesh’s in the Battle of the Crippled Mountain, but they guard a powerful artifact, stolen from the grave of a titan, called the Breath of Petron, which can manipulate stone and helped to build Djerad Thymar. Their patriarch is Shestandeliath Geshthax, Son of Orothain, of the line of Haizverad. (Geshthax, if you decide to depict him, is missing his right arm)

.If you want a “special group” more than a powerful family, s/he could also be an Adjudicator. This is more like being a member of a religious group. An abbot/abbess or something. These are the Vanquishers court and agents. They are given by their clans to become Adjudicators as children, and so they’re pierced only with the gold piercings. Kind of like a police class for conflicts that aren’t under the control of a single clan (i.e. you take care of your own family’s shit, but if it spills out into the city? if it involves more than one clan? You may be looking at a visit from the Adjudicators). Rules apply differently to them, but they’re not technically supposed to marry–so that’s less royal.

Otherwise, there’s not much reason you can’t choose any clan you want to from the PHB. There’s a lot of clans and not a lot of writing about most of them. would steer clear of Yrjixtilex, because they’re a really big clan that’s spread into farms and ranches and stuff–less high-brow, more willing to get their hands dirty. I’d probably also stay away from Daardendrien, who have been shown to be open enough to things like god-worship, that it makes them seem a little bit like upstarts, forgetting what’s important, to clans like Kepeshkmolik. (Different clans interpret that “adaptability” thing differently).

HOW TO BE “HIGH-BORN”
Now, if you want to be a high-brow dragonborn, you need more than just a clan. First they need to know their “full name”: that’s clan name, given name, parental distinction, and line. Example: Verthisathurgiesh Anala, daughter of Gharziani, of the line of Khorsaya.

The first two bits should be clear by now. The parental distinction is the parent who comes from the clan you belong to. You KNOW who your other parent is–that’s just not your identity. In a Vayemniri* marriage, part of the brokerage is which clan gets how many eggs.

The line declares which bloodline you descend from, naming an ancestor around whom that bloodline crystalizes. Khorsaya is the dragonborn from the story Farideh tells Dahl at The Dragon’s Last Drink in Fire in the Blood (see below). Another Verthisathurgiesh line is Reshvemi’s. These people are related on one level, but not on another (e.g. Mehen and Arjhani are both Verthisathurgiesh, but Mehen is of Khorsaya’s line and Arjhani is of Reshvemi’s. They share allegiance, they don’t share blood.) You can marry within your clan (although there’s a certain amount of “why would you bother?” You can’t build alliances or share strength that way. This is hatchling thinking!*) but you would never marry in your bloodline.

(Note: There’s a certain degree of “cross cousins” vs. “parallel cousins” distinction here, your off-parent’s bloodline isn’t your bloodline, but that’s some anthro geekery levels that you probably don’t need.)

When you meet someone who’s not dragonborn, you’d introduce yourself with just your given name (“Anala”) or–more formally–with your clan name and your given name (“Kepeshkmolik Anala”). Your WHOLE name is really for dragonborn, because all those maunthreki* have no idea what the rest of it means.

Another thing (or things) your character might want/need are ancestor stories. These are like dragonborn nursery stories–but they are not cute. They are hard. You’ll have heard these basically since you broke the shell, and they shape a lot of really fundamental things. Art. Sayings. The way your parents yell at you. They are also good for making maunthreki wig out a little. As such (from Fire in the Blood):

“I never understood that about dragonborn,” Dahl said, skirting the topic. He knew all too well the signs of a confession that burst its way out, that you wished you’d held your tongue over. “The gods are there. There’s no arguing it. What’s to be gained by ignoring them?”

Farideh was quiet a long time. “I grew up on stories of how my father’s clan survived in Abeir under the cruelty of the dragons there, of how they threw off those shackles, raised armies out of slaves and won their freedom at terrible cost. His great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Khorsaya Who-Would-Be-Verthisathurgiesh, killed the favored offspring of Emycharianatris, the Jewel-Born Empress, with a bowl of her own fermented blood and a knife carved out of her father’s thighbone and magic. Drugged him and then stabbed him through the gullet. The gods had nothing to do with it.”

A shiver ran over Dahl. “Gods’ books. He put you to bed with that?”

Farideh shrugged. “It’s what they lived with.”

If you’re a proper dragonborn, you also need facial piercings to indicate your clan. You get these when you’re grown enough to officially join your clan, and you can lose them if you piss off your elders enough to get exiled. For dragonborn in Djerad Thymar, having empty piercings is a bit like having a jailhouse tattoo–people are thinking “What did they do?”

Being unpierced is kind of unnerving–it would be like meeting someone who won’t tell you their name. But for dragonborn who live further afield, the piercings aren’t as necessary–either you’re isolated enough that everyone knows who you are, or you live with non-dragonborn and they don’t really know what it means.  So if you come from the homesteads out in the countryside or you were born in Waterdeep, you might not be pierced. After all you can’t be spared if you get an infection come harvest time, and if you’re in a human city, who’s going to do it? But if you go to the City Bastion, everyone will know you’re kind of a bumpkin.

Here’s a short list of established piercings:

  • Verthisathurgiesh: dark jade plugs along right jaw frill.
  • Kepeshkmolik: mother-of-pearl disks that resemble the waxing then waning moon across the brow.
  • Daardendrien: six bone/ivory studs piercing the left profile.
  • Ophinshtalajiir: Two light jade rings on right side of neck.
  • Shestendeliath: Silver chains from left nostril piercings to frill along left ear.
  • Fenkenkabradon:Branching steel piercings like miniature antlers jut from the temples.
  • Kanjentelllequor: silver skewers through the jawline
  • Yrjixtilex: Red jasper axe-heads along the right brow.
  • Prexijandilin: Enamel primroses pierced into cheeks and–for females–the tips of the “plumes”
  • Linxakasendalor: copper owl-shaped piercings in face
  • Clethtinthtiallor: silver falcons on right side.

CLARIFYING QUESTIONS
WHAT’S A VAYEMNIRI?
Look, dragonborn is a terrible name for dragonborn in the Forgotten Realms. They hate dragons for making them and enslaving them for centuries, they wouldn’t want to claim them as their origin. However, I think it’s plausible for people in the Realms to call them dragonborn. They sort of look like Dragonborn of Bahamut, right? So the common word is dragonborn, and the dragoborn have just accepted that that’s what these squishy people call them. It would be rude to say “Change your language for me!” especially as they don’t care all that much to be running around getting in everyone’s business, correcting every rando that comes up with this idea that they call them “dragonborn.” They call themselves the Vayemniri, which means “the ash-marked.’ And, you guessed it, that comes from a battle recounted in ancestor stories, the Tale of the Crippled Mountain.

WHAT’S A MAUNTHREKI?
That’s a kind of rude way to say “non-dragonborn.” It’s not like “the M-word” level of rude, but it’s othering. Havilar gets really mad when a dragonborn calls her and Brin this. Brin is unbothered and kind of amused.
WHY DID YOU STAR “FILIAL PIETY”? I KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS.
Well because there’s several kinds of filial piety.

  • Omin’ iejirsjighen—“What the clan writes on the blood;” the things you owe your clan because you were taught their importance. (e.g.serving your two in the Lance Defenders would fall under this, or being a good host*)
  • omin’ iejirkkessh—“The clan that is in the blood;” the things you owe your clan which you shouldn’t need to be taught (e.g. respecting your clan elders, the importance of the past, having a drive to be a good defender)
  • throtominarr—“the clan repeated” the honor you show your ancestors by improving on what they created (e.g. increasing your clan’s status, building a better mousetrap, making a trade agreement that was lost in previous generations) The art here is considered to be improving, but not undoing.

Failing at the second is worse than the first, and the third is kind of a specific application of the first two. The same way modern people might say no one should have to teach you not to murder someone, but maybe you have to be taught not to take things that aren’t yours, and then you have to make sure your children understand both of these things.

I starred the idea of being a good host, because it doesn’t make sense at first glance. They survived centuries of slavery and rose up by brutal uprising and not by being friendly. But given that, and given the clan system, the dragonborn of Djerad Thymar would have to realize one thing above all: you need allies to get by. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So anyone new is treated with cautious optimism in traditional Vayemniri culture. They are kind and accomodating, while being kind of suspicious in their thoughts. Offer guests tea, but ask why they’re visiting. Give them a place to stay, because that way you are protecting them and keeping an eye on them.

HATCHLINGS ARE…BABY DRAGONBORN?
Sort of. You’re not considered an adult until you’ve done your Lance Defender service (i.e. compulsory military service of two years). In the olden days, you would have had to kill or help kill a dragon too, but realistically, that’s harder in this world. Until that point (and even after for very grumpy elders) you’d be referred to as a hatchling, even though you’re more like a teenager/young adult. You can do your service as early as about fifteen, but it’s possible to delay that for a few years and it could be delayed by TPTB if your cohort/age group is pretty big or if there’s a large number of people who’ve gone career (You can always become a Lance Defender for life!) and there’s not an immediate need for more bodies (This is probably not true in the post-Sundering timeline as shit happens during the Sundering, but it’s possible!)

ARE SAURIALS DRAGONBORN?
No. They are saurials! There are definitely factors that these reptilian humanoids have in common, but physically they’re dramatically different, and they’ve got nothing to do with each other, geographically or in a planar sense. Saurials haven’t come up much, to my knowledge, since the Spellplague. There’s room to elaborate. Maybe there could be a saurial quarter of Djerad Thymar post-Sundering?

But this touches on a point I feel strongly about: visual similarities don’t make for good connections alone. There was an element in 4E that some dragonborn had started to worship Bahamut, for example, and to me, that’s not a good fit. Bahamut may look the most like them, but that’s a double-rejection of what their culture is founded on; namely, that dragons (and really all tyrants) are the enemy and you (and your clan) can handle things alone. Shackling yourself to a god, who wants things from you and whose promises and return payment aren’t terribly testable, is like spitting in the eyes of your ancestors who fought and died to free you. Scaly doesn’t mean good. (An individual could certainly do it, but there’d be the same level of backlash, I think, as there would be if you became a pro-slavery Royalist in modern America. People are going to think you’re crazy, at best.)

Honestly, I feel like if dragonborn were going to worship a god, it would be like the Red Knight. Or really, a cult to (previously) dead Mystra, since if she hadn’t died, they’d still be stuck fighting off dragon attacks in Abeir. Or maybe someone else who could make the right offers…

Enjoy this breakdown of dragonborn culture? Consider pre-ordering Ashes of the Tyrant, the upcoming Farideh novel that ties into the Rage of Demons storyline and returns to Djerad Thymar. 

Have more questions about dragonborn? Ask ‘em here, or use the contact form and I’ll write another post.

Posted in Forgotten Realms | 7 Comments

Lazy Blog #2

Welcome to the second installment of my lazy blog. BecauseI blog better when I’m on a roll, but I can’t get on a roll when I haven’t been blogging. Also because I never seem to answer forum questions without a huge multi-paragraph explanation, so why not make that work for me?

Here’s a pretty open-ended question from Demzer on Candlekeep forum. This was posted in my scroll in the Chamber of Sages, where you too can get long rambling answers to your questions about the Brimstone Angels Saga!

Originally posted by Demzer

quote:


Originally posted by ErinMEvans
… the Blood War … (which I can ramble on about a lot, but I will hold back until someone actually notes they want to talk about that) …


*raises hand*

Please!

And don’t worry if it’s 0.1% “canon” and 99.9% Erin-M-Evans-Awesomeness, i just care for your opinion as a knowledgeable author. I wrecked the Lower Planes in my campaign and hearing/reading what others (who know what they’re talking about) have in mind regarding demons, devils, their planar homes and the Blood War is always useful and fascinating.

So please, go ahead.


With the following enormous caveats:
1. This is how I make the Blood War work for me, because I don’t like the Blood War. I don’t get it on the level that makes it compelling. In fact, most of the designer-types I’ve discussed Blood War things with feel that way. It’s compelling in a meta-sense—two kinds of evil that are diametrically opposed is interesting!—and in a mythological sense, but D&D has a tendency to make things very real and explicit in the execution. If you already love the Blood War, this might annoy you.
2. I’m not a scholar of Planescape. I’ve certainly read a lot, but usually for the purposes of writing a book so there’s not a lot of leisurely study so much as “Where is this sentence?!” I’ve also always gotten conflicting answers about how much of Planescape is canonical for the Realms anyway. But there’s a chance there’s an incompatible error in this, and I know that.
3. All of this is predicated on the assumption that the 4E lore changes happened and have reasons. So if that gives you a rage stroke, go read something else. Life is too short, dear readers.

An unending war without a goal or a victory condition is interesting as a backdrop, but when you start to put characters into it, put situations together that focus on it as a war not a sort of cosmic reality, it loses it’s shine. Wars are major resource drains. Why are they doing this still? What are they trying to acheive? And when you look at the versions where there’s a particular battlefield-plane this happens on, why are they doing it there? The reality is that while ideology is used as an excuse for war, there are always resources at play and you tend to fight as near to those resources as you can. Even the Crusades boils down to territorial control. While demons would throw themselves against a devilish army for eternity, but devils are planners, calculators, risk-reward analysts. They’re going to need a reason eventually.

Access to souls is a pretty decent reason, actually. This is a resource both want and want in different ways. They can’t really share safely, and the ideological difference between their methods and uses becomes an easy way to make it ideological, right? Whatever started it, this is a solid potential core, and feeding that competition with hatred is easy. We have to stop them, or we lose what sustains us.

So look at the sides: Demons corrupt to cause chaos, right, which ultimately means destruction, entropy. Break it all down to it’s component molecules and move on. Slow or speedy, most demons follow this pattern. Which makes sense–they’re predators, devourers. They are the wolves and mortals are the sheep. They’ll tear through a flock and move on to the next (let’s call these fairy tale wolves for the sake of not making biologists twitch).

Devils, on the other hand, work when playing off the status quo. What do you want? What do you yearn for? What has the world kept from you? Who can you exploit and rule over? If society doesn’t create things for you to crave, create structures that keep you from grabbing what you want, then none of that can happen. They need dead souls but really they need the living too, where the demons don’t. So if the demons are the wolves, the devils are the shepherds. They want the flock to persist, so they can get their wool and lamb and mutton without too much work.

Which sounds all gentle and nice…but if you’re a sheep, the end of this story is fresh mutton whether the wolves get you or the shepherds do. The devils have the better party line, but if you think about it for a minute it’s not exactly better.

So instead of this:

Demons<—->Devils 
PMP

that I think a lot of people depict the Blood War as, it would look more like:

Demons—>Devils | PMP 

They become the kind of protectors you don’t really want, but maybe can’t afford to get rid of entirely. They’re the tyranny that’s holding the lunatics with guns running around the wilderness at bay, while squeezing you the people dry.

And that’s why I think it makes sense for Asmodeus to seek out and claim divinity. He needs societies of mortals to corrupt and then claim souls—why not make that pull power too? Power from worshippers, power from the dead. Feed the sort of structures that make it easier to claim souls. That’s why it also makes sense for one of his first god acts is to hurl the Abyss away. That’s not going to end the Blood War, and I think he’d know that, but it buys him time to build up. (See also, snatching tiefling bloodlines. Graz’zt is going to be pissed.)

But I do think the way his worship’s been depicted doesn’t work great for this. He needs to cast a wider net than “those of you interested in human sacrifice” to get going. Fortunately, that ought to be a devil’s wheelhouse. And so I would depict the wider worship of Asmodeus as being kind of apotropaic. “Save us from the worse things.” Or even something along the lines of “absolve or absorb this transgression I made so the good gods don’t notice.” Or even “Hey man, do what you want. The gods are asking a lot from you and all Asmodeus wants is for you to be happy.”

I had an idea once for a Asmodean paladin whose schtick was basically being a bounty hunter for the Nine Hells. People request them and they track down whatever horrible threat or criminal Asmodeus sets them after, sacrifice the puppy kicker and claim his or her soul for the Nine Hells. Much gold and many prayers later, everyone’s happy. Good gods frowning from the heavens aside.

To me, this also makes a clearer distinction between the two. (It makes me crazy how much people conflate devils and demons. Partly because I spent the better part of two years breaking myself of the habit.) And it leaves room for the yugoloths (and now the succubi) of course. (I love the new succubi vision)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Lazy Blog #1

Good morning, readers.

I have an inertia problem. The longer I don’t post on this blog, the less I want to post on this blog. The more I imagine that it’s a pointless endeavor and the more I have flashbacks to trying to start conversations in the middle school lunch room.

Blech.

In order to break that inertia–because I know I should be blogging and I know that very few of you are scrutinizing my words for the merest hint of weakness, which you will seize upon in order to heave yourselves up the social hierarchy, if only for a moment–here’s something I’m calling a “lazy blog.”

Sometimes people ask me questions on forums. This often results in an enormous answer that might as well be a blog post. So I’m cheating and making a couple into blog posts, which is probably okay, since I suspect most of you don’t kick around those fora (and if you do, feel free to talk about Fire in the Blood more!).

Here’s Lazy Blog #1, a question from Entromancer on Candlekeep, a forum for Forgotten Realms fans.

quote:


Originally posted by Entromancer

Erin, I’d like to pick your brain on the writing process for the Brimstone Angels characters. How do you approach writing from the perspectives of the tieflings and dragonborn in such a way that someone couldn’t shrug any of these off as being interchangeable with humans?


There are four “directions” I think non-human characters ought to be considered from, assuming you want them to be relatable (e.g. if they have a point-of-view within a narrative, they ought to be relatable). To roughly sketch them out with categories I literally just made up:

Internal-Internal: This is who they are on the inside, their hopes and fears and goals and such. Their personality. This is the most “human” part, because again, we’re assuming relatability. Besides, when you’re talking about tieflings and dragonborn and even cambions, you’re talking about races that are part human. You can’t lose sight of that. Specifics here ought to broadly match up to the kinds of specifics you’d give a human character: What does she do to relieve stress? How does he react when a pretty/handsome counterpart flirts? Are they a morning person? Do they like snakes? What would make them barf? Etc.

But the next critical step to consider in terms of a non-human character is how socio-cultural pressures affect their personality.* The pitfall here is the PHB Prototype Trap: making your character The Tiefling or The Dragonborn or The Elf, even, instead of considering them as an individual within their culture/others’ culture. Characters shouldn’t exist solely to show off the PHB summary, you know? They need to have their own story, not just the story of their race.

The Brimstone Angels excerpt placed in the tiefling entry for the 5E PHB summarizes this: Tieflings don’t have a homogenous culture, but it’s fair to say many societies marginalize them in a predictable way and expect bad things from them. So what do you do? Do you fight that perception? Do you embrace it? Do you ignore it and push it all down? Do you happen to live in circumstances where you’re “normal” and you don’t need to think about what it’s like to be a tiefling somewhere else? The pressures on a tiefling in Calimshan aren’t going to be the pressures in Narfell or Impiltur or Aglarond or Neverwinter or Cormyr. Farideh’s grown up in a village full of tieflings who fled their home societies and so she’s been bombarded with a mix of internalized racism and kind of passive defiance. That shapes her.

Dragonborn in Djerad Thymar/Tymanther have most of my focus right now, and they actually have a greater risk of falling into the PHB Prototype Trap, because they do come from a really homogenous culture. The culture of DT is hugely structured. You have a place in a clan, which has a place in the whole of society, and signaling where you fit is a big deal. They wear the clan piercings, they have a strict division between adolescence and adulthood based on whether you’ve served in the Lance Defenders or earned your status weapon. There’s a kind of comfort for someone from this world in seeing these indicators, in knowing before you ever speak who someone is. That’s not a pressure that’s familiar in those terms to North American readers, but we might be familiar with the kind of conforming pressures that mean our outward appearance/dress fits us into a mold.

Someone like Mehen who’s clanless, who has no place in society, really agitates people. WHO ARE YOU EVEN? And that in turn agitates Mehen, because he grew up here. He used to have those same reactions. Being who he is, he kind of shrugs it off and gets more and more angry. On the other hand, someone like Kallan–who grew up in the homesteads raising sheep and became a sellsword–hasn’t really felt much pressure for lacking clan piercings. His society has been his family and maybe some far-flung neighbors who all know him personally as So-and-So’s boy. Followed by a life where very few people even know to look for piercings. It annoys him to have people act like he’s this unmoored ghost, because this is a new-fangled pressure, but to him, that’s just city-folk nuttery.

And then if you take them out of Tymanther, both of them get treated like novelties. Mehen uses that to intimidate people into leaving him alone, mostly. In Ashes of the Tyrant right now, he’s made Brin a sort of figurehead leader of the party, because he’s come to realize humans pay their own kind more fairly.

TL;DR: Think about ways that the character’s personality is shaped by the way the people they regularly interact with treat them.

External-Internal: This is the next step from the above. The people that your non-human characters interact with are going to notice that they’re not human. They will have a variety of opinions on this fact. Showcasing a variety of reactions and interactions helps shape the world the non-human characters live in. Whether that’s not-reacting (“What’ll it be?”), acting SUPER OKAY WITH IT (“I think it’s so cool you have a tail! My babysitter was a tiefling!”), getting skittish (“…Yeah, I’m going to need that coin up front. You know. Just in case.”), being a full-on bigot (“We don’t like your kind around here.”) or anything in between, people are complicated. And showing those interactions and your character’s reaction to those interactions is important. This, IMO, is the best way to display that PHB Prototype: reader’s will pick it up in the differences between the expectations and the realities of your character.

Internal-External: This is simpler. It boils down to remembering that physically, these characters have attributes that aren’t human. Farideh and Havilar’s tails. Mehen’s facial structure/teeth. Lorcan’s wings. These are all tools for signaling emotional reactions. Dragonborn in particular are hard to describe in ways that indicate emotional reactions. They don’t have human faces and so they can’t, say, wrinkle their noses or stick out their tongues the way we do or smile or frown in as subtle a way (assuming that your viewpoint character is a human; a dragonborn would likely pick up a lot of nuance a human would miss entirely).

And in a broader sense, just reminding readers that those parts exist (and are absolutely normal to those characters!) makes a difference.

Example: All my dragonborn tap their tongues against the roofs of their mouths when they’re nervous. Because I’ve seen people say that they’re functionally reptiles or functionally monotremes, this is me taking that to the logical step of giving them an enhanced Jacobsen’s organ, which lets them smell better. So, the biz gets tense, you introduce some air to that organ out of reflex, you taste that this dude you’re talking to is nervous, you react accordingly. Nothing more beneficial, really, than reading someone’s body language, but more tailored to a character who experiences the world in a very different body.

External-External: This is the inverse of the above. How do your non-human characters interact with the world beyond? Do they fit? How do they adapt to make themselves fit? What do they do to survive? What kind of jobs might be open to them and what would they never be able or willing to do?

A really obvious, basic example is furniture. Tieflings are going to be really good at sitting down carefully since their tails could easily get in the way. In Fire in the Blood Farideh gets strapped down to a chair and she can’t get comfortable because her tail doesn’t fit. They need room to either let it trail over the back, or to wrap alongside their leg. But they live like this so it’s something they consider—other places aren’t going to think about that. Similarly, dragonborn are sized like very big humans. Imagine going through doorways and using furniture as a 6’8”, 350 lb person. Not everything is going to fit you. So is this the kind of character who brings their own campstool with them? Is this the kind of character who wordlessly breaks off the arm rests of a chair so they can sit comfortably? Do they complain about it or suffer in silence? Do they just stand? Do they sit on the floor?

The takeaway here (but for all of this really) is to put yourself in the shoes of your character as much as possible, and think about them as an individual first and foremost.

Hope that helps!

Best,
Erin

*This is all important for human characters, too, by the way.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments