"I want to see a race of wrestler-monsters, learn what sort of fucked-up culture they have, and see a magic item of theirs."
for Arnold K.
Gruntfolk live in idyllic farming communities, where they keep to themselves and rarely venture far beyond their farmers' fields. Their settlements are readily identified by their peculiarly sparse architecture. Every building seems to have a ladder leading up to the roof. There are impact marks, if not craters, on the ground around every cottage. By mid-morning broken carpentry and masonry is strewn about the streets, to be swept up over lunch. The scent of sweat and coconut body oil lingers in the air like the smell of a pie on a gym windowsill. Most strangely, surrounding the town will be a series of posts, with ropes strung taut between them, referred to by gruntfolk as “the ring.” There are no gaps, doors, or entryways.
The impracticality of these rope fences as fortifications and as nuisances to the transit of carriages for trade exemplifies the subtle lack of subtlety of gruntfolk values. The reason for both of these lapses in judgement is simple: if the ring was any good at keeping enemies out there would be no reason for the gruntfolks' sentries to beat them up, and if the ring was accommodating for visitors and traders there would be no reason for gruntfolk to lift them up.
Lift as in literally lift up, and then throw into the ring. This is what gruntfolk do to friends and to those who they would like to be their friends. This part of is why gruntfolk are rare among mankind.
What They Are
A popular theory goes that the various humanoid races embody the dreams and sentiments of human beings. It's well known that faeries are the made of the dreams of children. On this theory, dwarves are made of human ambition. Elves, human vanity. Halflings, the human need for comfort and community. Our best guess for what composes the gruntfolk – perjoratively, the “grabby-halflings” – is a simpler and sadder need: attention.
Whenever a wizard casts Polymorph Self to fill out his speedos, a gruntfolk is born.
Gruntfolk most certainly descend from halflings. The traveller may distinguish the two races are at a glance by the gruntfolks' orange skin, platinum blonde moustaches and perpetual bug-eyed staring. However, the races share identically short stature and an in-born cleverness, low tolerance for boredom and playfully competitive community lives. Gruntfolk, however, have degenerated (or evolved) from lyre-loving, storytelling bucolic farmers to a race of impetuous, bellicose, rarely beshirted show-offs. Where a halfling is stout and hearty and eager to show up a neighbour with a subtle trick at the pub, gruntfolk are invariably JACKED – often disconcertingly so – and establish their status among their peers by throwing said peers against as many hard surfaces as possible, with as many witnesses as can be stuffed (or likewise thrown) into the room.
If gruntfolks' appetite for cartoonish violence did not bar them from integrating into other cultures, the standings certainly would do just as well. Most gruntfolk are consumed by their place in them and by their ambition to climb them that they would never imagine leaving home. If they did, who would let everyone else know who they beat today?
Every gruntfolk ring is organized – surprisingly strictly – by the standings. Records of the standings are loosely kept, if written at all, but every gruntfolk in a particular ring knows their place in them. These are climbed by being the object of other gruntfolks' attention, most commonly obtained by pinning a fellow gruntfolk to the ground and forcing him or her to stare at you, exchange small talk or insults, or otherwise put up with you whether they like it or not. Of course, friendships, alliances, betrayals and counter-betrayals cause what would otherwise be a friendly spar or an orderly trial by combat into a neighbourhood-spanning brawl. It is not unusual for individual gruntfolk to gain or lose standing several times a day, and then go home to choke-slam their in-laws after dinner. Grudges run exceptionally deep and exceptionally long, even between the best of gruntfolk friends, and rivalries are public knowledge
These fracas are elaborated and controlled by a series of taboos the gruntfolk have, meant to preserve a minimal degree of fair play, to stave off boredom and to sort out the chaos. Since it is often hard to keep track of who pinned who and for how long, gruntfolk generally deem combatants who give the most interesting displays of power to count to have pinned their adversaries. “Interesting” is most often determined by loudly shouted cheers and jeers, following the end of a bout, making gruntfolk society an ongoing exercise in pugilistic participatory democracy.
At the top of the standings is the titleholder, traditionally draped in an extravagant gold-plated belt and vested with title to all of the community's land and goods. The whole gruntfolk community exists for the titleholder's aggrandizement. A ring's titleholder may burst onto any scene, take people or property at will, and generally make a big show of themselves.
While in other cultures this level of power would lead to the pettiest of tyrranies, among gruntfolk it seems to work. The titleholder's power depends on its being used, and used publicly, and his or her numerous challenges spur projects of outrageous size, scope and expense. Many of these are quickly demolished, simply because the bored public cheers for it. However, it is not unusual for a gruntfolk settlement, goaded into action by a crafty titleholder and their own sense of competition, to accomplish dwarf-scale public works: gorge-spanning bridges that look like a bicep, whole rivers re-routed by hand, tunnels head-butted through mountains.
More normal measures of success still matter to gruntfolk. One may climb the standings through hard work, success in business, or having a sexy spouse or RIPPED heirs. However, these accomplishments are always affirmed in the community's eyes through theatrical displays of physical prowess. A gruntfolk blacksmith uses oversized and heavy tools, so that he can both be bigger and stronger and look bigger and stronger. A gruntfolk husband and wife have many children so the family can participate in bigger and more intricate tag-team fights. Whole industries revolve around both smashing and replacing chairs.
The entire surplus of a gruntfolk ring's economy is channelled into spectacle and excess, eclipsing and engulfing the possibility of either art or warfare. The gruntfolk have, in effect, blended and transcended the two. Gruntfolk philosophers believe their way of life to be divine in its meaningfulness and morality. They have written texts on the subject as thick as phone books, which they then rip in half to prove they are THE WORST NIGHTMARE of non-gruntfolk philosophers.
The standings are most commonly shaken up at an annual town hall type meeting. The titleholder will normally burst into the room, and describe at length peers he has beaten up, the many peers he plans to beat up in the future, as well as his or agricultural, industrial and financial accomplishments and how they have enabled him or her to beat more people up. This is met by similar bragging and threats from the rest of the community, which continue until all but the most and least likely candidates for leadership remain standing. The gruntfolk then throw the titleholder and these candidates into a large cage to continue the debate. While framed as an endless stream of taunts, jeers and outright threats, gruntfolk normally pierce the rhetoric and get to the issues at stake – namely, who among them is truly the strongest and most interesting to watch.
Relations With Other Races
While proud and egocentric, gruntfolk are both accepting of and interested in other races. They eagerly accept visitors, as it is difficult for outsiders to turn their eyes away from the daily acts of hyperbolic play-violence which, to gruntfolk, is very ordinary. Being the one to accept a visitor is also a point of pride for individual gruntfolk, and gruntfolk sentries will often fight each other for the right to throw a new acquaintance into the ring.
A non-gruntfolk thrown into the ring becomes an honorary gruntfolk and part of the standings. Upon regaining consciousness a newcomer's “manager” will introduce them to the community, arranging fights to help their new charge build a properly gruntfolk reputation. A newcomer – especially an unusual one – also improves the standing of their gruntfolk manager, since walking around town starting fights on behalf of some strange creature makes the manager an object of curiosity, that is, something to pay attention to. As a result, gruntfolk are especially motivated to throw passers-by with highly garish or stereotypical clothing into the ring. Magic users who dress like stereotypical magic users are especially susceptible to this sort of welcome.
Gruntfolk Characters and Monsters
Gruntfolk characters are halflings, with a few tweaks. If played seriously, you're probably playing them for less fun than they're worth. Their rules are a bit slippery, so rule in favour of letting gruntfolk do ridiculous things. Use the Swords and Wizardry White Box rules for halflings, with these changes:
Remove the deadly accuracy with missiles and near invisibility abilities.
Keep the halfling's bonuses to hit and damage, saving throws, weapon and armour restrictions, experience curve and level cap.
Change the experience bonus for DEX into an experience bonus for STR. Alternatively, since a life of wrestling involves all sorts of athleticism, a gruntfolk might gain an experience bonus for having STR, DEX and CON above 11, or a combination of the two above 13.
Add the following abilities:
- Wrestlemania: a gruntfolk's unarmed attacks do increased damage (1d4 damage, if your unarmed damage rolls are 1d2). Also, on a successful hit with an unarmed strike, a gruntfolk can automatically start grappling (instead of making the choice between attacking or grappling). Grappling should make some logical sense (gruntfolk probably can't grapple a dragon, though take a peek at the Oil of Flexing, below), but in the spirit of fun and of not breaking keyfabe the GM should allow grappling wherever it would be cool.
- If you want a progression for what a gruntfolk can grapple, here's a table:
- 1st level: dwarves, other gruntfolk, children and pets, chairs.
- 2nd level: humans, elves, ladders.
- 3rd level: ogres, bears, construction girders.
- 4th level: a giant (perhaps by suplexing their ankle), a pretty good shed.
Targets of a grapple can't attack, unless and until they can break free, or if they are large enough that the gruntfolk is not grappling all of them at once.
- Submission holds and body slams: while grappling, a gruntfolk can check (roll under) their STR to deal damage (1d4) to the target of their grapple, or end the grapple by body slamming the target against the floor or the wall or somebody else (doing 1d6 damage, possibly more).
- Gruntfolk and their GM's are encouraged to reward creativity. The GM might allow the target saving throws against passing out (or against breaking limbs or backs), or might adjust morale rolls for the target or their allies in the face of such BRUTAL PUNISHMENT.
- Awesome Accuracy with Stuff You Can Throw: gruntfolk dislike the subtlety of archery and only briefly appreciate the attention-grabbing potential of slings. They prefer throwing furniture, foodstuffs, their peers, and construction hardware. If there are normally penalties for using improvised throwing weapons, gruntfolk ignore them, otherwise they receive +2 to hit with these attacks. They can, of course, use the target of a successful grapple (see above) as suitable ammunition on a STR check.
Rarely, a gruntfolk is born with all the bombast and ego of his or her kin, but little of the attendant physical strength. Refusing to be beat down but unable to beat back, they find a place among their fellows by ingratiating themselves to stronger peers, regaling them with blow-by-blow commentary in a debased tradition of halfling epic poetry. With time and practice, these charismatic gruntfolk hold great sway in their societies, arranging fights between the ring's most prominent personalitiess and often conspiring to have their chosen combatants rise to prominence and dominance.
A gruntfolk announcer at the peak of their powers is not physically imposing (having maybe 2HD at most), but makes a dangerous leader. Gruntfolk treat suggestions from an announcer about who to fight (so long as there is enough buildup and fanfare) as Suggestions, and when doing so have +2 to hit and to damage.
Magic Item: Oil of Flexing
A wondrous concoction used by gruntfolk in their very public feats of strength. Anyone who slathers their naked body in the Oil of Flexing looks exceptionally RIPPED, and can perform incredible(-looking) feats of athletics. They can perform dozens and hundreds of pushups. They can backflip all over the place. They can jump off of things onto other things and look totally fine. None of these effects are really real, but they sure do look it. Oil of Flexing offers only the appearance of peak physical strength. When used solely on a single character, it offers bonuses to intimidation and, in the right company, seduction based on LOOKING MAD HARD.
What distinguishes the Oil of Flexing from mere glamer and illusion is how it affects multiple characters and objects, acting on one another. The Oil's various effects are ultimately unified by the Gruntfolk's love of spectacle, a need towards which the Oil always works its magic. Anything greased by the Oil bends to the task of making people look BUFF and BADASS.
Persons both slathered in Oil of Flexing are perfectly harmless to one another, dealing only non-lethal damage despite looking TOTALLY BRUTAL. They may engage in outrageous throws, jumps and very tight hugs that would be impossible, given their normal strength.
Physical objects coated in Oil of Flexing suffer seemingly opposite effects: they weaken insofar as a character covered in the Oil is acting on them: oily chairs shatter harmlessly against oily faces. Oily swords bend in the grip of meaty, oily hands. Oily copper pieces are as chewable as soft candy and literally shit out as brass tacks. You can grease up and jump off a cliff onto a similarly greased up plateau below and the only thing that will break is your ENEMIES' WILL TO OPPOSE YOU.
Oil of Flexing will soak a shirt clean through to the skin, and gruntfolk commonly apply the oil to themselves by soaking their shirts, which they then tear to shreds with ease. This is a common part of many of their coming-of-age ceremonies.
Any character who can brew potions can make Oil of Flexing. Various recipes exist. The Gruntfolk cookbook The Joy of Juicing recommends boiling a few gallons of fire giant sweat with a potion of strength (which distils down to enough Oil of Flexing for 1d4+1 applications). Any one application of the Oil of Flexing lasts for 1d6 hours before being sweated away.
It is exceptionally flammable. It burns like spark cannons and fireworks and makes dramatic curtains of smoke. Setting a wearer on fire will make them look very, very AWESOME for 1d6 rounds before the oil is used up. Paramedics should be standing by.
Oil of Flexing
- Applied to naked, muscly bodies or inanimate objects. Effects last 1d6 hours.
- Characters covered in oil appear exceptionally fit and strong.
- Improves reaction/morale rolls when interacting with people who respect audacious or grotesque physical strength (GM's discretion).
- Characters covered the oil cannot be harmed by items (or surfaces) also covered in it. Characters may interact with these items as though they had STR 18, and these items fail any saving throws or other checks made to resist being destroyed by characters covered in oil.