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Not-So Gentle Folk?by Andrew Theisen
As should be obvious, I've been toying with the Hollow World cultures a lot, and trying to find ways of fleshing them out with a view towards making them able to be campaign self-sufficient. That is, to get away from a lot of the "one-off" encounters that many of them seem to exist as (to provide an "isn't that weird?" experience for Outer World PCs), and to find a framework for making them cultures with tangible ties to their neighbors, and to provide a sustainable campaign culture for players to create PCs from.
The Gentle Folk are one of the toughest to do this with, for the very simple reason that they seem to be just a one-shot "Pacifist Elves" concept with no framework beyond that to do anything with. Right now, all you can do with them, really, is have the PCs run across them, maybe come to their rescue, and leave, realizing that this fatalistic culture is hopeless. Even the HW DM's guide writes them off as being a culture "in a decline that will never end" (or somesuch).
Which just seems, well, boring, to me, especially when there are rules for Gentle Folk PC creation in the Player's Guide. So how to make them better/more interesting?
First off, I'm trying to work up some ways in which their culture might be different from that of other elvish cultures in the HW and OWs. Just "pacifist" elves doesn't seem like it is unique or interesting enough in its own light. So that's one thing.
On another level, it seems to me that the Gentle Folk currently suffer from Spell of Preservation Tunnel Syndrome. That being, that it seems to me the SoP is often regarded as complete stasis- except when it isn't. A lot of the HW cultures, and even the HW rules, note that various cultural traits can wax and wane, so long as the "base" culture remains to some level, and that even new cultural elements can be introduced. Yet, oftentimes, this seems to be disregarded and the notion that "they are always this way" creeps into things.
I'm going to assume that's because the HW book just didn't give enough space to develop everything sufficiently. That said, I see two factors that could conceivably work towards making the Gentle Folk have something more than just somnanbulistic, pacifist elves going on.
1) The Gentle Folk were forgiven in a ceremony some time (anywhere from immediately to "shortly" before) they were transported to the Hollow World. That cultural element should still exist within their racial memory, then, even if it wasn't a huge part of their culture before the SoP hit them (and, something like that, I'd argue- should have been a major part of their culture.) As such, there should be some Gentle Folk, at least, who realize they don't have to shoulder the blame for everything and strive to do better; in other words, some more "normal" elves.
2) There is at least one group of Azcans who have reverted to a pre-agrarian, pre-literate culture (in HWR1). Given that the SoP can allow for even those far distant cultural elements to recur, it is conceivable that some part of the Gentle Folk culture might at some point revert to a distant level of civilization- perhaps even a pre-Great Rain of Fire level, in which they are not "roll over and take it" pacifists, but maybe more warrior-like?
Either of these could emerge as something like an elite caste of warrior-defenders of the people, or something else (perhaps something along the lines of the Creek Red and White towns, where red (militant) towns would lead the tribe in war time, and white (diplomatic) towns would rule the tribe in times of peace.