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The Cha’k

A Race For 4e and FantasyCraft

It’s not really my intent to make this blog nothing but an exercise in "Lizard talks about how much he loved Arduin back in 11th grade", but when I start tracing back my inspirations and thinking about where my ideas come from, an awful lot of them follow a winding path back to those three tan booklets. So it is with the Cha’k.

The what, you say?

When I do worldbuilding, I tend to start with writing essays and overviews and I don’t really think too much about what I’m writing. That is, I will throw out names, places, events, terms, and what-not, and only later go back and try to figure out what any of them mean. Often, a lot remains undefined, which is deliberate — to my mind, it makes the world seem more real if not even the DM knows everything about it, and I can always go back later.

So when I began working on my current world, Cret, for my 4e game, I found myself scribing the following paragraph:

Over time, Cret gave rise to several native intelligences — the lizardmen, the insectoid Cha’k, and of course, the great dragons, who in turn created the kobolds as their servants. Of these, the Cha’k were the most prosperous for a time, and their city-hives covered dozens of square miles each. Then came a dark plague, its cause still unknown, and all but a handful of the Cha’k perished, their organic city-hives crumbling and rotting without the millions of drones needed to sustain them.

And, pretty much, that’s all I had to begin with. Later on, I wrote:

North of it is Glimdrang, a nation ruled by arcane bioengineers who, building off the old Cha’k hives, have bred all manner of mutant insects and strange human/insect hybrids. Dragonfly riders, etc.

At the time I wrote the first paragraph, I knew nothing about the Cha’k except that they were insectile and mostly extinct by the time of the campaign; the second paragraph told me, or at least implied, that the Cha’k were masters of bioengineering, and that these techniques had been learned by other races. (I later decided ‘lifeweavers’ was a good term for masters of fantasy genetics.)

And, really, at this point, that’s all I know. I did do an article on grafts based on the Cha’k, but that just reinforced the two traits already mentioned — lost race, organic tech. The only other data point I can glean is that they had some kind of caste system, hence the "drone" reference.

Some people, reading this, might think that this practice of reading my own writing and trying to learn something from it, as if I was studying another author’s text, is madness. I do wish to be clear — I’m not some weird hippie visionary who tokes up on the wacky tobacky and produces some rambling, incoherent scrawl I have to look back on when sober and struggle to interpret. I have, in the words of Londo Mollari, "cultivated sobriety as my only vice". I usually have some idea in the back of my brain as to what I’m referring to, though it often shifts and changes, and leaving things undefined lets me define them as needed later on. Once I’ve "published", though, whether it’s to a blog or just to my own notes, I tend to think of that as fixed, and everything else has to fit in with what has gone before. So when it’s time to define something more fully — such as the Cha’k — I look back at what I’ve written, the established "facts", and see what they inspire. Regardless of the ideas I may have had percolating in my brain when I first drafted my notes on Cret, my only obligation now is to make sure whatever I come up with fits what has already been written.

(At this point, you may be wondering where the Arduin connection comes in. ‘Tis simple. One of the more bizaare, and thus interesting, races of the original Arduin Trilogy were the Phraint, mantis-like beings who were aliens, the descendants of survivors of a crashed starship, with all sorts of sub-breeds and vague hints and very little hard detail, just the way I liked it. As a result, I tend to have some race of insect-people in most of my fantasy worlds, just because they’re cool. How much the Cha’k will resemble the Phraints is indeterminate now, but hopefully, not much, aside from drawing on them for the initial seed of inspiration.)

Anyway… on to the actual race building! Over the course of the next few days, I’ll basically work out the race in both fluff text and game mechanics, for both D&D Fourth Edition and FantasyCraft. We shall begin…. here. (After the break)


OK. We shall begin with stats. The Fourth Edition mantra is "No negative abilities!", something I personally find limiting and which feeds into an aspect of 4e I find dubious, the idea that no one should ever have to suffer any kind of penalty for any choice. Fourth Edition tries to make every choice into a positive, that is, "You can get a +1 to this or a +1 to that!". I feel this is pandering to the spoiled brats churned out by the modern system of "education" which incorrectly and dangerously treats self-esteem as the source of, not the result of, accomplishment.  You do not do well because you feel good about yourself; you feel good about yourself because you’ve done well. But I digress. (Big shock there.)

Whenever I work in someone else’s sandbox, though, I try to play by their rules. While the WOTC Police will not come bursting down my door if I create a race with negative stat mods, doing so violates part of the "contract" 4e has with its players, and if I’m putting out material for others to use, I owe it to those readers to hew as close to the 4e "party line" as I can.

So we need two stats to give a +2 to. Of the six attributes, two of them seem to be Right Out for insects — Wisdom and Charisma. Others may disagree, but when I think of insectoid stereotypes, those don’t come to mind. Intelligence can go either way — insects can be seen as very clever, or as very dumb, depending on how you want to spin certain behaviors. Since I’ve established the Cha’k as masters of bioengineering, "smart" seems to fit. (Note that I could have made this something instinctive to them, as well, but I like the idea of clever bugs.) With Intelligence as the first bonus stat, what’s second? All three of the physical stats make sense — insects are strong, tough, and fast. Letting my mind wander, I see the Cha’k as tall, thin, and spindly, diligently working at vats of chemicals and manipulating delicate instruments. That pretty much spells out "Dexterity".

So I begin the 4e build with +2 Dex, +2 Int.

Size? Medium. There’s no inherent reason they couldn’t be Small, except that I just don’t see them that way, and the fact their hive cities have been taken over by humans strongly implies they were of human size. (Or larger, but no "official" Large races have been published, and there are often problems with Large creatures in Actual Play TM.) So Medium it is.

Speed? My initial instinct was to just go with 6, but then I think of insects as scurrying critters, and so, I raise it to 7.

Vision? Low-light. It just fits.

From a balance perspective, I now have two "better than default" traits, one of which — speed — is extremely valuable in play. 4e is much more movement-based than any prior edition of the game, and a single point of speed can make a big difference.

So what else?

Languages: Common, of course. Because I personally feel the whole "only 10 languages" thing is another sop to making sure players never have to actually be creative in overcoming problems, and because this isn’t a major balance issue, I am giving them their own language, which I shall now term "Hive", and a script, "Sklar". Writing in sklar resembles abstract pictograms formed of sharp, angular, lines of uniform width. And then I get a moment of minor inspiration.

Scent Trail: Cha’k can communicate complex messages by scent. Cha’k within 5 squares of each other can "talk" silently by means of scent, at about one-fourth the normal rate of conversation. A Cha’k can also leave a "scent message" of up to 30 words, which will endure for up to eight hours unless washed away. Leaving the message take 5 minutes. (This is, again, an area where my personal preference for complex and ‘simulationist’ rules takes a back seat to 4e’s goals of abstraction. Just wait ’till I do the FantasyCraft version, though!)

From a balance perspective, the above is a very minor ability, almost pure flavor text. It may come into play in interesting ways here and there, but it shouldn’t "count" against any more useful (i.e, combat oriented) abilities.

Skill Bonuses: Arcana +2, Nature +2

Those were easy. The defining cultural trait of the race, thus far, is that they’re masters of shaping life to their own ends, and that pretty much boils down to Arcana and Nature.

And, that’s all the time I have for today, folks. Tune in tomorrow (hopefully) when I finish up the racial traits and come up with a cool racial power.


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