The sixth of my Summerlands races, for the (now long over) June RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Tales of a DM, the tunder are a blending of gnomes and halfings into something that might be a little more interesting to play than either one is, on their own.
Once, many generations ago, the halflings and the gnomes of the Summerlands were distinct races, each close to nature in their own way. They held their dinners and told their jokes and were welcomed as unthreatening and harmless by the taller races. They called no land their own, but were at home everywhere. Out of sight of the other races, however, the gnomes and halflings fought a hidden war against predatory fey. Masked by their silly inventions and second breakfasts, the small folk acted as the first line of defense against the otherworldly predators that would hunt mortal races.
As this war raged, the two races become intertwined through magic, marriage, and blood. In time, gnomes and halflings ceased to be separate peoples and become the tunder. In this blending, however, they became darker and less jolly. Where halflings and gnomes were welcome distractions, the presence of a tunder often reminds mortals that there are things they can neither see nor control. Most mortals are not consciously aware of it, but they know that a tunder brings an ill wind, and the warm embraces that halflings and gnomes always received has long since turned cold.
The tunder live at the intersection of mortals and fey. Conditioned from birth to be aware of a world the few mortals see, except in their last moments, tunder are themselves mortal. They live, love, and die like mortals, but they often think and act like fey. Tunder have a notoriously dark sense of humor and delight in pranks and jokes, in particular those that reveal some hidden truth. A prank that simply embarrasses is of less interest to a tunder than a trick that exposes a person’s secret fears. If a joke can reveal a shapeshifter or a spy, so much the better. The tunder know that they cannot fight their wars with the strength of their arms, so they use the weapons at their disposal: their wits and their insight.
With no lands or communities of their own, tunder live as unwelcome guests in other races’ homes. No one rejoices at the prospect of having a tunder under their roof, but they are never refused hospitality. While they are nomadic, their travels follow no set route or traditional path. Instead, they go where their whims or interests take them, and rely on their luck and the kindness of others (however reluctant) to see them through. While some members of other races are more accepting, building small houses on their property for tunder who might be passing through, even the most antagonistic landholder will make room in a storage closet if it means she can avoid incurring a tunder’s wrath. Sometimes, tunder will settle in one place for years and even take on a trade. Stories abound of tunder cobblers or merchants who become respected members of their community, all while owning nothing, but who disappear suddenly and are never heard from again.
The War at Home
The war the tunder fight is not one of armies and engagements. The field of battle is every house and village. A family with a fey infestation might not know, at first. Small items might disappear, or the mortals in the house may begin to feel unlucky. Treasured possessions break. Most fey don’t start with kidnapping and murder, although infestations frequently escalate before long. In fact, the only sign that most mortals see of a fey infestations is the tunder who comes to live with them. Invisibly, without drawing attention to itself, the tunder combats the malevolent fey, leaving only when the pest has moved on or been killed.
Wise homeowners treat the tunder well and wait for it to move on. Some might have heard rumors of other fey, but few will have encountered one. For most, the tunder seems to bring the return of luck and stability, both of which remain after a properly-treated tunder leaves. An ill-treated tunder, however, is just as likely to leave the fey unchallenged. In these cases, the family’s fortunes often seem to leave when the tunder does. A particularly abused tunder might leave signs for others to avoid these particular mortals, signs that fey can read. Those mortals never live well, again, and their lives are rarely long.
Most tunder do their work alone, or with a single partner. Though tunder rarely gather, when two tunder meet they great one another as long-lost friends. These meetings are cause for celebration and drinking, and many an ale-house has been drunk dry when a half-dozen tunder happen upon each other in the street outside. No matter how often two tunder meet, or how long they’ve know one another, their first act, on meeting again, is to ask for a name. Tunder change names the way members of other races change clothes and for similar reasons. A tunder will choose a name because he likes the sound or because it represents something important to him in a specific moment. Part of this is a genetic drive for reinvention: every time a tunder moves house, they can become a completely different person, if they choose to. As important, however, is that the ephemeral nature of tunder names is another tool if their war. The easier it is for malicious fey to find a specific tunder, the easier it is to exact revenge for their interference. Male names: Ale-heart, Azure-fletch, Mammoth, Robyn, Sunray. Female names: Aurora, Magenta-limned, Rooty, Stem, Zazzy.
Ability Score Increase. Choose either your Dexterity or Intelligence score to increase by 2. Your Charisma score increases by 1.
Age. Tunder attain their full size quickly, after just two years, and are largely self-sufficient after three. Their quick progression to adulthood may be a genetic defense against tunder capriciousness. Few are well-equipped to be parents for long. They can live to be as much as 300 years old.
Alignment. Most tunder are good aligned, placing their lives in the path of fey who would harm others. A few tunder tend towards evil, giving in to their fey natures. Most rare is the lawful tunder: chaos runs in their veins.
Size. Tunder average between 3 and 4 feet high and weigh about 30 pounds. Your size is small.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Fey sense: You are attuned to the presence of fey. You are always aware when there is a fey creature within 60 feet of you, although a fey may use disguise or magic to hide their exact location.
Cunning: You have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma saving throws against magic.
Nimbleness: You can move through the space of any creature that is of a size larger than yours.
Tunder magic: You know the thaumaturgy cantrip. You can also cast the spell speak with animals. If you do, you must finish a short or long rest before you can cast it, again. In addition, you can cast the spell unseen servant. After you cast this spell, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it, again. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for these spells.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and Sylvan. The tunder are a race in a constant state of war, and as a result they live life to the fullest. Tunder are not shy about making art, dancing loudly, or creating boisterous music. This aspect of tunder life is the only one that most members of other races see, and so most see them as flighty and unfocused.
When creating a tunder character from the Summerlands, you can use the following table of bonds to help flesh out your character. Use this table in addition to or in place of your background’s bond or a bond of your creation.
|1||Momenti mori. My life could be ended at any moment by an invisible attacker. I live loudly and with gusto in all things, treating each minute as though it could be my last.|
|2||Ab eterno. Compared to mortal races, I live forever. My perspective is greater than theirs, and they are like children, to me. I must protect them, but I rarely respect their opinion.|
|3||Lex talionis. No slight against myself or those in my care, no matter how insignificant, shall go unpunished. Equal retribution is never enough: those who act against me and mine must be destroyed utterly.|
|4||Dulce bellum. Nothing is sweeter to me than the war I fight. The death of a fey creature at my hands brings more joy to my heart than the greatest song or lightest dance ever could.|
|5||Risum teneatis. I see the humor in all things and strive to make others see it, as well. Sometimes, my humor is darker than others would like, but I do not jest for their benefit.|
|6||Gesta non verba. I trust actions, not words, and rarely speak of my own actions. I respect others who act with decisiveness and have little patience for those who prattle without meaning.|
Requirement: Tunder, must undergo the Ritual of Evolution
Fey magic warps the traditional effects of the Ritual of Evolution. Instead of becoming more in touch with your heritage and your race’s future, you become something else, altogether. You gain the following abilities:
- Your height decreases by half and your weight decreases to 1/8 of its original amount. Your size is tiny.
- You grow gossamer wings and gain a fly speed of 30 feet.
- You have disadvantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
- You can attempt to hide even when you are only obscured by a creature at least one size larger than you.
- You know the minor illusion cantrip. Intelligence is your casting stat for this spell.
Hacking the Halflings and Gnomes
I love small races, but not for the usual reasons. A four-year-old is about the same size as a halfling, but a halfling can (potentially) have a greater Strength score than a human. To me, there is something unnerving (and a little terrifying) about that. Small races, at least as they are presented in games like D&D, break the basic rules of anatomy and physics. I don’t think they’re goofy: I think they’re creepy. That said, halflings and gnomes have never seemed that different, to me. Neither is taken seriously by taller races. Gnomes are magical. Halflings are lucky. Whenever they’re in a party, they tend to be the comic relief. There’s not a lot to really set them apart.
I wanted something different, something that took the most interesting parts of each and blended them in a way that made sense. While the story might change, I think that the tunder could fit in to any campaign and replace both halflings and gnomes. They can be funny (if that’s what you really want), but they’re dark enough that they don’t have to be the jester character. They’re the survivors of an ancient war with an immortal enemy. In time, they become more fey themselves, to fight their enemy where it lives. The tunder are based, loosely, on the “hidden people” of Iceland and on stories of fairies that inspired gnomes, but which the game has moved away from. Those old fairy tales are, at times, terrifying, and I wanted the tunder to represent that. This is especially important if they’re going to fight they fey: the fey represent our primal fear of the darkness and the unknown, and the tunder, as an answer to that existential terror, should be a little frightening, themselves.
I’d love to hear what others, particularly people who don’t like gnomes or halflings, think of the tunder. Are they different enough to be usable? Do they have enough depth to be interesting, while still being mechanically playable?