Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Hunted: A gonzo racial class for OSR-style games.

Originally published in the People section of Secret Santicore 2014.


Those who have ventured into the deep forests often speak of the songs of the giants. Deep moanings can be heard, loud enough to be felt in the chest. The travel hundreds of miles, vibrating trees and sending the ears of animals up at the sounds. The forest itself seems to sing with deep sounds of the wandering giant tribes. But rarely is such a giant seen, even as the sound seems to emanate from right next to the travelers.

So rare are the sightings that some modern scholars insist that giants to not exist, that they are hypothetical inventions to explain the natural sounds the forest makes. 

The giants are real, however. They not only have their songs, but also language and culture. They stand as tall as two men and as wide as three. They travel in small, disperse groups through the forests, foraging for the moss, lichen, and bark they call their food. They can be violent, but they never war amongst each other. For the giants have a secret that few men know, a secret that is contained in the slow songs they sing to each other.
In their slow songs, the word the giants use for themselves is “Hunted”.

Background Information

The Hunted are a nomadic race of humanoid giants that live in seasonal forests, foraging food from their surroundings. They are a thoughtful, plodding race, and one that serves as a bit of a thought experiment: What would a conscious, cultured race look like that is not at the top of the food chain?

Because of their dangerous surroundings and solitary existence, the Hunted are hunted by the apex predators of the forest, particularly wolves. Because of this, they have developed a culture that both fears and venerates the Hunters, who they look upon as avatars of god’s divine wrath. They have  developed a culture that minimizes the risk that any giant, particularly young giants, will be brought down, but have developed a religion that helps them deal with the fact that most giants do meet a violent end between the teeth of their god.

The Hunted live and travel in large tribes of individuals, but because they require so much space to graze, they often will spend weeks not in physical proximity of each other. In order to stay in touch, to share information about the weather, predator movements, and just not to get lonely, the Hunted sing a low, deep, slow song that can travel hundreds of miles through the forest. This song contains information, but not in the form of words that make up sentences—rather, the information is contained in the grammar of the song, the way they sing it with each other, the musical points and counter-points of the various participants. The song is a low slow lumbering thing that holds multiple layers of meaning, much of it just out of the conscious awareness even of the Hunted. 

The Hunted are phenomenal bushcraftsment. They can predict the weather days and weeks in advance, can track any animal over long distances, can tell from the sounds of the forest where packs of wolves or other predators are. In spite of their size, they can hide well in any forest, and even their slow singing will not give away their location. It is only through an excellent sense of smell or by happening upon an unsuspecting (usually very young or very old) giant that one will be found.

The Hunted navigate the north-south length of the continent every year. The summers they spend in the North, taking advantage of the abundance of food and lack of predators in order to congregate for two months as they give birth and raise their calves to the point that they can make the long journey south. In the winters, they again congregate at the southmost reaches of the seasonal forests, doing their best to help each other find food until the worst of winter relents.

They thus spend most of their time traveling, and only travel through the forests. As the forest is not unbroken, many have wondered how the Hunted make it from the top of the continent to its inner reaches without ever being seen.

In each of their semi-permanent settlements is a convent for the very old. Those few Hunted who have managed to live to the point where they can no longer travel settle in these areas and become the spiritual leaders of the Hunted. The Old Men live in the South, and the Nans live in the North. As such, two separate versions of the Hunted’s religion have formed, which the Hunted believe simultaneously.

The Old Men tell of the importance of accepting what is in a philosophy not unlike Buddhism. The Wolf comes for everyone, and so accepting Him when He does come, regardless of his incarnation, is an important point of growth. Once the acceptance of things as they are has been made, a Hunted can himself sense better, communicate better, and survive longer. The Old Men promote doing willfully and experiencing mindfully, and teach meditation techniques that help all the Hunted live better in the world. 

The Nans, those who have grown up charged with protecting their young, do not take such a laissez-faire attitude towards the Wolf. They teach that The Wolf is an unthinking force of nature as much as he is a cruel god, and as such the techniques that the Old Men teach are just as useful for understanding its ways in order to work around them and even challenge them. They teach the importance of sacrifice to the Wolf in order to satiate it, and the ways in which a Hunted can fight back with both intelligence and strength.

The Old Men and the Nans communicate between each other only through slow songs: at the beginning of each migratory season, as the Hunted leave a resting ground, those who will not be coming with them start a new slow song that will be sung that entire season. In this slow song is information that the Hunted will need to safely make it through the season, and when they arrive at their destination those Hunted who lived out the whole year since their last leaving will take in the song, help them sing it one last time, and then begin composing a new slow song for the traveling season ahead. Thus, the Nans sing to the new mothers and fathers of how to protect their children, while the Old Men sing to the young children of how to do well in the woods on their own and how to interact with society. 

How to Play

In order for the players to play as a Hunted, they must be willing to play a large smelly beast of a humanoid, a giant covered in green mossy fur and rough bark-like skin, with paddle-like hands of ridged leather that they use to scrub lichen off rocks, who will attract unwanted attention wherever they go. In return, they will play a creature that does not fear physical attack, has heightened senses, and can travel through the woods as easily as a whale through the ocean.

A Hunted can be played as a gentle giant, a dim-witted warrior, or a cunning barbarian druid. The player should know two things about the Hunted character: Why has the character left the tribe, and why has the character left the forest? These question can be answered in many ways: maybe a whole tribe has left the forest to live with men or halflings, perhaps he was exiled for wrongful conduct and chose to leave the forest for self-punishment, or perhaps she lost her first young child and in her grief forgot the ways of gliding between the forests and actually reached the edge.

For examples of how to play a Hunted player character, look at the “further reading” section at the end.


In game terms, the Hunted are a racial class that takes elements of Fighters, Halflings, and Dwarves and combines them with a large size and several custom abilities and disadvantages. I will be using Lamentations of the Flame Princess for reference, but rather than giving exact stats I will be explaining how to construct the Hunted class for your game using your chosen ruleset.

First, the size. Hunted require a minimum strength modifier of +1 and constitution modifier of +1. In addition, they receive a racial bonus of +1 to their strength or constitution modifier, as the player sees fit. So in most old school systems, if a player does not roll at least a 13 on both Strength and Constitution, they cannot play a Hunted (unless a kind system or GM is willing to let them swap stats after the roll). 

Hunted are good fighters with long reach. Male hunted take a +2 to the base melée to-hit bonus, and females a +3, although progression from there continues as a Dwarfs (in LotFP, to-hit never increases, in others it increases by the minimum amount per level). In addition, they all have a d10 hit dice, and a minimum HP of 6 at level 1. Finally, their tough hide gives them a +1 AC bonus for having “natural armor”.

However, the Hunted are not often trained warriors. Most know how to use a stone spear—it has fantastic reach even in melee (treat as a spear), does impressive bludgeoning damage (treat as a mace or warhammer), and can even be thrown (again, treat as a spear, although with no bonus to ranged to-hit), but cannot use any other weapons without training. In addition, any non-custom armor will do more harm that good by preventing the +2 to-hit bonus, and only increasing AC by 1/2 the usual amount. Custom-made armor does not have such restrictions, but costs 5x the normal amount due to added materials costs and the difficulty in sizing it properly, and can only be made by a master craftsman. 

In addition, while the Hunted are strong and hearty, they are not agile, lucky, or accustomed to magic. They have the saving throw progression of whichever class has the worst in your ruleset (the Fighter in LotFP), and start with the saving throws of a level-0 character even as they are level-1. This can often be role-played as the Hunted simply accepting the world as-is, as the Old Men teach.

The Hunted also have three special racial abilities, described below, and a special racial disadvantage, described below that. The players can invoke the abilities whenever they make sense. The GM should invoke the disadvantage whenever it makes sense, and play it out to its logical conclusions.

Ability 1: Slow Singing

Wherever other Hunted are in range, the character can slow sing to communicate with them. This slow singing is available regardless of their relationship with those particular Hunted—the truth of the slow song does not follow the petty conscious social boundaries of regular speech. 

Slow song does not work like speech. There is no back and forth, not even symbolic concepts underlying what is being sung. The character sings along with the others as if in a trance, and like tapping into an animal collective unconsciousness, comes out knowing certain things. 

In practical terms, a certain length of singing will give the character certain knowledge. If the character would simply like to broadcast important information (“the forest is on fire!”, “the big baddie is coming!”), it takes only a half-hour of singing to broadcast it to others who will then incorporate it into their song. This song will continue to travel at a very rapid rate, upwards of 500 miles per day, but only to other Hunted.

If the player would like to know the answer of a yes/no question, they must simply sing for an hour, and then will know what the other Hunted communicated with them—although it may simply be “I don’t know”, and this they won’t know until after finishing the song. Singing for a longer period of time is more likely to result in a solid answer, as the song will have traveled a longer distance across multiple participants. 

If the player would like to know the answer to a more complicated question, it’s likely that they will have to sing all day. Traveling is a prime time to sing, and so the GM may choose to make this easy by simply letting the Hunted’s player ask one question for each day of travel where the Hunted did not engage in any encounters or speak with the other players (to simulate their focus on the Song). The GM should answer in a way that is helpful but cryptic, and if the Hunted asks a question that the other Hunted wouldn’t know they may receive an unhelpful reply back. The more relevant the question is to the life of the average Hunted, the more specific and useful the answer will be—so asking where the wolves are or how warm the summer season will be is going to be more straightforward than asking the movements of men through the forest or the goings-on in a forest village, and asking about the political situation in a kingdom far from the forest will likely result in confusion or laughter rather than answers. 

Ability 2: Bushcraft and Hiding

The Hunted excel in nature, particularly the woods. Whenever foraging for food or water, attempting to know the weather, or find their way through unmarked nature, they have the same chance of success as a ranger or halfling of the same level (so starting at a 1/2 chance in LotFP). This is true of all skills that could be construed as being “bushcraft” skills.

The Hunted can hide incredibly well when in the forest. They have no chance of being found by men when they put their mind to hiding, and a 1/6th chance even while they move and/or sing. If a druid, ranger, or dog is doing the looking, the chance of staying hidden decreases by 1/6th

If, while hiding, the Hunted makes a successful melée attack, that attack counts as a “sneak attack” under whatever rules you’re using. Or, if you’d prefer, the attack is a critical hit with all that implies under your system (acts as a roll of a nat 20, so it does full damage or roll on a special benefits table or whatever). 

Ability 3: The Word for World is Forest

The Hunted travel only through the forest, and have found a way to slip from forest to forest along magic lay lines, so that they never have to set foot in open plains even when any conventional travel route would take them there.

Slipping between the forests only works when groups are singing the slow song. They do not have to be in particularly close proximity, and indeed it is the slow song itself that anchors the Hunted to the forest.
To many Hunted, the space between the forest is but a myth, a sort of geographical boogymen that mothers tell calves in order that they not stray out of range from the safety of the song. To those who have seen it, it haunts them all their lives—either through fear of approaching it again, or through curiosity of what lies beyond.

A party with a Hunted can slip through the forests with it, as long as they’re singing a song as they go. Any possessions they are in contact with will come as well, as will any beasts that sing along—such as dogs howling, donkeys braying, or cats purring. The song, once it’s been taken up, is infectious, so this should all come through course. The hardest part is getting the party to sing together in the first place. It is only through a mindful but unselfconscious singing that they will align with the Hunted. The forest knows whether the song is sung sincerely or with only personal gain in mind. 

The GM might want to prod the players into actually singing along the first time. There will be hemming and hawing, but only once everyone is in harmony (as poor a harmony as it might be) and have found a song they can sing together can the adventure continue. The song itself does not matter. 
Traveling in this way does not cut down on the travel time, distance traveled, or resources required, but it does force all encounter rolls to be done on a forest table, the party has no chance of encountering settlements of any kind as they travel this way, and only druids, forest elves, and other Hunted will be able to track them. 

Disadvantage: What Is that Smelly … Thing?

The Hunted aren’t readily accepted in human company. They are large, somewhat smelly, awkward, scary creatures. Their hands are flat and ridged, their brow sticks out past their snout, and their mouths are wet and gummy and full of rows of tiny molars. They can speak the common tongue well enough, although it sounds not unlike if an elephant were to speak English out its snout—deep, sonorous, and undignified. To men, they look like terrifying alien creatures, more animal than human.

And as such they are treated. Most who meet with the party will assume that the Hunted among them is either a beast of burden or a slave. They will cause villagers to run into their hovels or band together to drive it out, they will often not be allowed within city gates, and the best lodging they can expect at an in is in the stables—and only if there are no horses there to be frightened (other animals besides dogs will largely ignore the Hunted and goats may even befriend them). In some of the more baroque cities, association with a Hunted may be a mark of social good amongst the nobel classes, but only as men of high standing in Europe used to keep on “savages” as boarders—they are a mere curiosity to be paraded in front of their friends, and are still regarded as less than human. 

Hunted generally do not feel comfortable in the presence of man. Man is, after all, an apex predator himself, one who was able to conquer all other predators and even domesticate the Hunted’s god. 

Speaking of which, the Hunted have a fearful venerations of dogs bordering on insanity. Female Hunted will often attack them on sight, unwilling to stop until the last one is dead (or they are). Male Hunted will do their best to hide from them, and if seen will pray loudly to the dog in hopes of a good clean death. Of course, many human-bread dogs are more scared of the Hunted than the Hunted are of them—although packs of dogs or well-bread war dogs will often attack the Hunted, or at least get very aggressive in their presence. 

Being Hunted in a human world is not easy nor comfortable for the Hunted, and while the party might be quick to befriend a strong, intelligent, and skilled giant to help them on their quests, most of society will not react similarly.

Further Reading / Works Cited

Much of the society and behavior of the Hunted is based on real life behavior of the giant grazing mammals of the oceans, and the general concept for the slow songs is based on the mysterious songs of the humpback and blue whales. Any documentaries about humpback or blue whales are worth watching if you’d like to know more. I particularly like David Attenborough’s BCC documentaries, such as Ocean Deep or Life

The old communal language of the dolphins in Startide Rising by David Brin was an influence as well.

A possible backstory for a Hunted player character can be found in the book 1491 by Charles Mann. Mann describes the true story of the person we know as Squanto, the Indian Tisquantum (a name that literally translates as “Wrath of God”). Squanto was trained to be the personal bodyguard of the king of his tribe but was captured by a slaver ship as a young man and taken to England. He traveled Europe as the charge of various men who used him either for labor or as an ornament to show off to their friends—that is, he was little more than a slave. However, he twice learned the language of his captors, befriended them, and convinced them to help him return to his home. When he finally did arrive home, it was just after a plague had wipe out his entire tribe, and a neighboring tribe captured him, put him in a cage, and forced him to translate for them in their dealings with the Pilgrims. Some day I’ll write a fantasy book based on the life of Tisquantum, but until then steal this story for your Hunted character.

The idea of slipping through the forest was taken from Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star. Honestly the book isn’t worth the read, but that was a pretty sweet idea to steal for an RPG. The name of the ability I stole from the Ursula K. Le Guin book, The Word for World is Forest, which I must admit I’ve never read. It would be easy enough to use the Hunted in an SF setting as a peaceful sentient race on a forested planet of some sort. 

Finally, this is an updated version of a race I created several years ago in a thread on the worldbuilding forum on reddit. If anyone would like to see the original incarnation, just email me, but I promise it’s not that exciting. 

If you do end up using this racial class in play, I’d love a report on it! Any questions, additions, comments, or corrections are always welcome as well. 

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