09 April 2012

Pen & Paper: Creating a World part 2 - Fantastical Races

In this sub-series I will work out a setting for a game of (low-) fantasy pen and paper role-playing that I'm running as a GM right now. The series is inspired by this and the interpretation/variety of it by one of my friends, although it will be substantially different from both. I have introduced the whole thing over here and in this post I will tell you about the different fantastical sentient creatures that inhabit The World.

There are several different sentient races besides humans inhabiting The World. As I mentioned previously, they differ enough from humans to be a problem whenever they find themselves in human settlements so they live either on the fringe of the human empires or have their own empires. Let's introduce some of them.

The nagas are hybrid-creatures, with a female human torso as their top-half and a thick, about three to four meter long snake-tail instead of hips and legs. There are two populations of nagas living in The World, a feral group within the borders of the Western Empire (pseudo-China), living in the ruined temples of their once-great ancenstors, and the Naga Queendoms, an empire bordering the Eastern Empire (which is the European-style one). As nobody has seen a male naga, it is unknown how they fertilize the eggs they lay. Nagas usually live an amphibious lifestyle, as their strong tail allows them to move quickly on land and in water. As such, their settlements are often half-sunken buildings or constructions in swamps that human beings could never hope to traverse. The nagas of the Naga Queendoms pray to their snake-goddess, which is an enormous spirit-possessed snake living in their high temple in the center of the delta-swamps that form their lands.

Now, a snake-tail and an all-female population do not make the nagas that strange. Their way of thinking does. First of all, everything is owned by the local queen and owned collectively. That includes living beings, such as foreign diplomats and traders and even wanderers who have stumbled into their swamp. Then there is the problem that nagas have no taboo regarding cannibalism and will eat their own eggs if offspring is unwanted. They will also eat each other as a punishment and other sentient species can be considered fair hunting game. This leads directly to the thing people living close to naga-territory will fear most: They like to eat human babies. The nagas themselves raise their eggs, incubated in a compost-heap communaly, without ever knowing who was whose mother and they eat them for population-control in any stage of development. Thus they have little or no understanding why human beings get so upset when you slither into their homes and take their young to eat.

Nagas with their powerful reptile-tail are physically strong and have mastered to work bronce and iron for themselves. In combat they like to ambush their enemies, using the terrain to their advantage. Warriors of the Naga Queendoms are seen mostly armed with spears, shields, bronce armor, spiked metal clubs covering the tips of their tails, and sometimes crude but large and powerful crossbows, which can only be used if one has a tail to pull their string...

Giants are sentients that have been pushed ever further away by the spread of human population, now only living in mountainous areas that are hard to get to for humans, taking advantage of the fact that they can climb up edges that are taller than a human can reach. Giants are, as their name implies, rather large, ranging from four to five meters in height, being built considerably more rugged and squat than a human at the same scale would be, as their size requires strong bones to keep their bodies stable. Think of Neanderthals on a very large scale. Being very large, giants need quite a lot of food, which they usually get by foraging and hunting. Since their stomachs are very large and their digestion can take time, they can digest far more materials than humans can, including most bones and, when they are really hungry even leaves and grass.

Their somewhat low intelligence has prevented giants from using metal by themselves, they produce simple clothes from mammoth and other fur and generally arm themselves with small trees that they use as clubs. Throwing rocks is also a very common option for hunt and battle, as giants are large enough to hurl stones massive enough to be lethal for most creatures. Their somewhat dim-witted nature has prevented giants from forming larger groups than family-clans of no more than three dozen individuals, which leaves them somewhat vulnerable to large numbers of well organized smaller foes - many a giant who has found themselves in human or naga territory has fallen to hails of small arrows. Some giants have been enslaved by humans, often those who have been captured as infants. Those can be very useful during construction of large buildings and in warfare, once wargear of sufficient size can be forged and worn by the giant. Captured giants can also learn human languages to the level of a human infant of three to four years.

Albirds are large sentient birds. Visually, they resemble the eurasian eagle-owl, but quite a bit larger. Standing about 1.5 meters (five feet) in height, they have a wingspan of almost three meters and weigh up to fifteen kilograms. Albirds are highly intelligent apex predators of the deep woods, hunting mammals of all sizes up to full-grown deer with their bare claws. They form societies of several hundred around rare rock-formations that allow them to build nests where ground-bound animals cannot climb. They remain birds of the wild whilst practicing a high level of philosophy, leaving complex carvings in wood and stone depicting their theories about the cosmos and life itself.

Being able to see and fly in the dark, Albirds have always been at an advantage when defending their forests at night, dropping sharpened rocks on those they consider a danger to their habitat. They have also been known to learn human language just from observation. As they have a long natural life-span of about two centuries, it is very likely that when there are Albirds living near a human settlement, there are also those who have learned at least some of the local human language. It is thus possible to communicate with these birds and every once remote duchies have even hired some of the more adventurous Albirds to act as spies or messengers for them.

Albirds craft stone-age level artifacts with their claws and beaks but do not seem to value material possessions very much. One will have to offer other things to them, such as protection from their natural enemies or even works of construction to reinforce their settlements deep in the woods. As they like to hunt in forest-areas they usually live in deep wooded hilly or mountainous regions that are hard to traverse on the ground. Where humans have altered the landscape to farmsteads, Albirds do not thrive, especially as their eggs are a valuable ingredient to some alchemists, which always attracts thieves.

And that's it for sentient non-ghost/god species living around where the PCs start their adventure. More may be introduced once we get to the actual storyline. Next up: Geography!

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