Sunday, April 3, 2011

B is for - Bugbears, Bodyguards, and Bolt-throwers

Bugbears are perhaps the most commonly encountered - although not the most feared* - of the Unseele Court's servants. Although mighty in battle, and fearsome both in appearance and demeanor, they curiously many of the mannerisms and depravities found in other servants of the Court - they are cannibalistic, but not rapacious, cruel, but not sadistic, and while they torture for information or intimidation, they appear to derive no joy from it. Even their warfare and raiding is goal-oriented in nature - although chaotic in aspect, and evil by nature, they do not seem to enjoy war for its own sake.

For these reasons, while few seek out dealings with the children of Hrugg (self-proclaimed god of the Bugbears), and war between the Bugbear tribes and "civilized" lands (especially the Dwarves) of Malaster are not uncommon, Bugbears enjoy somewhat less hatred than other servants of the Unseele.

But only somewhat.
*That dubious honor is bestowed upon the foul Orcs who revel in all of the sins that the Bugbears appear to eschew, and more besides. Or perhaps the Kobolds, widely regarded as cruelty and depravity personified, although their small stature and general xenophobia renders them less outwardly harmful, save to those foolish enough to brave their warrens. 

Bodyguarding is a somewhat popular way for low-born - but talented - individuals to rise up in social status - at least to some degree - without some of the hazards and risks of warfare, or "adventuring".

Bodyguards are hired primarily by nobility, by higher-ranking merchants, and in particular by the merchant-princes found in some of the more mercantile nations and city-states of Southern Malaster (particularly in the Hundred Islands). Merchant-Princes of Makorios make the most use of bodyguards, as befits their highly cutthroat business style and anarchic form of governance - even lesser merchants will have a small retinue of bodyguards to attend to their person and their loved ones, and the Great Princes of Commerce hire entire cohorts - really, small armies independent of and superior to their actual military forces - to oversee their safety.

Bodyguards are rarely considered servants, but at the same time, are not at all equals or friends - they usually occupy a somewhat grey area between the two. Their duties vary according to contract, tradition, and need - most often they are primarily concerned with the physical well-being of their charge, and others handle supplemental duties (like taste-testing for poisons, handling the charge's spiritual and magical well-being, etc.). Depending on the nature of the threat, they may - or may not - be charged with ensuring their protectee is not taken by kidnappers or the like - even to the point of making certain that if they cannot protect their charge, they must be eliminated.

The problem with guns in fantasy games is that they are immensely polarizing. On the one hand, actual interpretations of early firearms result in few characters using them - a weapon that reloads and fires at the rate of a crossbow (at best), creates clouds of choking smoke, is less accurate than a crossbow, and only slightly more lethal is rarely the preferred weapon for an adventurer. On the other hand, more modern(ish) weapons - or less realistic interpretations - often run into the massive amounts of mystique that surround modern firearms - the gun as magic wand of death - and the massive amounts of rules-lawyering and unwarranted assumptions that spring up around them.

But while Vlad Taltos is perfectly capable of swashing his buckle without the aid of a gun, he does have access to various tools to make this more feasible. And while swashbucklers and pirates are by no means a central concept to Malaster, they certainly are part of it (just because I love rapier-and-dagger work, if nothing else - hey, I grew up on Errol Flynn movies, okay?) and I felt that they needed something to make up for their lack of heavy hitting power, defensive prowess (armor), and the like. So they needed a proper, hard-hitting missile weapon of some sort... but guns are out. But gun-like objects are not guns, right? And so, Bolt-throwers and dart-flingers. Based on the mechanisms used in various trap designs, they are essentially crossbows, but instead of using a spring arm, they used a coiled spring mechanism, making them far more compact (if more expensive because of the higher quality steel needed, and additional engineering expertise).

Because they are still a fairly new invention (being less than a century old), and because they are still in the process of being worked out, there are many variations, but few recognized designs - nearly all currently are pistol-sized in nature (although a few arms-masters have begun producing something akin to a carbine - they're still rather nose-heavy, however, since the steel spring rides around the barrel), most have a pair of springs to allow a quick follow-up shot, and there are relatively few "pepperbox" designs, because of the massive weight involved.

And so - a gun that is not really a gun, and (hopefully) carries little or none of the mythology and mystique that surrounds firearms.

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