The Nine Powers sample setting of Spyragia strives to use very old fairy tale races in enjoyably sensible new ways. All people belong to one of the six intelligent races. (The word "person" can refer to someone of any race, but not a monster.) There are no humans: for a "plain" person use a Therion who refrains from using Therianthropy.
|Race||Magic Ability||Free Talent Point||Other Traits||When Uncivilized|
Village dwellers that love games and pets, whose magic alters form or appearance...
|Therions||Therianthropy||Animals/Wilderness||must avoid becoming a snag||lone hermits or predators|
|Ogres||Semblancy||Alchemy||Ogre's hunger||mounted, reverential barbarians|
Short and sturdy races with large family-clan groups, that use personal energy to create magic...
|Dweorgs||Tempering||Wrestle/Disarm||may carry twice as much||outposts of artist-raiders|
|Kobalts||Sapping||Machinery||night vision||warbands of tinker-slavers|
Tall fey with secluded homes in the mountains or fields, whose magic affects the innocent or guilty...
|Bergtrolls||Worthiness||Disguise/Etiquette||may use Wonder for free||wild and haughty nomads|
|Hiddenfolk||Reprisality||Stealth/Track||pass through rock||impulsive and disingenuous families|
Why do most fantasy settings have multipe intelligent races? In real life we can make many reasonable guesses about a person's job, skills, and behaviors by their appearance. For example, age and clothing generally distinguish college students, lawyers, soldiers, and delivery men. But a fictional world lacks these social clues that provide helpful hints about NPCs. This handicaps the cooperative storytelling. A common replacement is to stereotype about make-believe races so that when a PC meets a new NPC the player then has at least a few informed guesses about what kind of person the PC is meeting, to take the place of the knowledge of appearances learned by someone who grew up in the setting.
What stereotyping is present? Most members of a fantasy setting's race share similar clothing, foods, building types, and family structures. Each race will favor certain arts and have a distinct style as warriors. Each race uses different roles and responsibilities for gender and age. (In many fantasy settings each race has a distinct religion and/or patron diety, but this is not true in Spyragia.)
Each of the six races can use one of six magic abilities. Each race also has traits that provide exceptions to the core rules. For example, as an exception to the "new characters have no talents" rule, each race receives a bonus point in one talent. (Members of that race always have a non-zero base skill rating in the corresponding skill, to preserve the rule that a talent's rating cannot exceed the corresponding skill's rating.)
The setting assumes that the PC will be a person (of these races) instead of an intelligent monster. The races made and use civilization. Stories about a PC monster would probably contain more culture shock than adventure.
Become a bird and what do you see?
Fiddle-dee-dee my lassie.
Become a hound and what do you smell?
Fiddle-dee-dee my lad.
Become a bat and what do you hear?
Fiddle-dee-dee my dear.
Become a snake and what do you taste?
Fiddle-dee-dee my friend.
Smell what's near and smell what's far.
See the ground and see a star.
Listen low and listen high.
No one loves you as much as I.
- Therion song
Therions are shape-changing humanoids who value family and pets.
Therions can use the magical racial ability called therianthropy to copy the form of some animals.
Therions gain an extra point in the Animals/Wilderness talent.
Therions always live above ground. They are very social. Therions are the majority population in all the aboveground cities, towns, and villages of the continent.
(Therions have a human size and appearance, except when they are using therianthropy. They are the "normal, plain people" in the setting of Spyragia. In most stories in this setting, most NPCs with whom the PCs meet, talk, shop, and work are Therions.)
Therianthropy is the ability to change into the form of an animal.
Therianthropy only works with animals. It cannot be used to take the form of a monster or person.
Therions can first use therianthropy in their teen years, if they have a favorite pet animal. They gain the ability to change into one type of animal. Often the animal form matches that pet, but sometimes it a different animal they know, and in rare cases can be an animal they have never seen before.
The person using therianthropy has up to three options, depending upon his or her Wonder skill rating.
Therions with a Wonder skill rating of 1 or more (nearly everyone) can adopt the normal shape and size of the animal. The Therion's clothing and possessions to disappear, as these meld into the animal form during the shape-change. (Many Therions own small clothes to put on when using a small animal's size: pockets can be convenient.)
Therions with a Wonder skill rating of 2 or more can use an animal's shape but retain their usual size and weight. A Therion using therianthropy while retaining its own size can choose whether or not clothing and possessions merge.
Therions with a Wonder skill rating of 3 or more can form a humanoid-animal hybrid shape (as in many werewolf films) that retains their usual size and weight. Clothing and possessions do not merge.
A person using therianthropy retains his or her own intelligence, mind, and memories. The shape-changer acquires the animal's abilities in perception and movement. However, these innate animal abilities are unpracticed and awkward unless the shape-changer has previous experience in that form.
A person using therianthropy may return to being his or her normal self at any time.
Many stories warn about staying too long in animal shape. After a few days in an animal's form the shape-changer's own intelligence and personality begin to dwindle, being replaced by the animal's. Eventually the shape-changer becomes stuck in the animal's form. This is called becoming a Snag.
A Therion in an animal's form will revert to his or her own form if killed, but does not automatically change back if unconscious or asleep.
The rules are purposefully vague about whether a user of therianthropy uses his or her normal skills or a new set of skills derived from the copied animal. It is simplest to keep the character's skill unchanged. However, if both GM and Player agree it can be sensible for some skills to change because of the new shape. For example, a weak person who adopts the form of a large bear could reasonably have increased Wrestle/Disarm skill and talent ratings.
Therions are gregarious and prefer to live in villages or towns. Many of these are deep inside forests, but Therions live equally well in settlements outside of forests when beside a river or road.
Nearly all Therion settlements are walled for protection from invaders and other dangers. A walled Therion settlement is quite resistant to being beseiged since many of its inhabitants can bring in food and harass the attackers by assuming the forms of birds or other flying animals. Those few Therion settlements without walls are built up in the trees.
Therions are the race who keep the most farm animals. Most only raise food animals, especially chickens, sheep, and goats. Many Therions have learned from Bergtrolls about domesticating pack and riding animals. Therions who live near Bergtroll kingdoms may raise mules, oxen, cattle, llamas, small sauropod dinosaurs, and sometimes horses.
Therion cultures are normally aristocracies. Their settlements are near or in the Wilder-ness, which requires a ruling class responsibile for dealing with monsters and other dangers. The nobility shoulders that burden, so most of the populace can live their lives more peacefully. An agricultural tithe pays the nobility, who are too busy guarding and maintaining the settlement wall, patrolling the surroundings, and venturing out to hunt monsters and bandits.
Some Therions have abandoned civilization and live alone in the Wilder-ness. Many are hermits who are friendly if treated well. A few are dangerous predators who use therianthropy to hunt both beasts and people.
In general, Therions live their lives with little desire for excitement or heroics, valuing peace and quiet more than any other intelligent race. Yet they are fiercely protective of their families and settlements, and will fight to protect those they love.
Therions believe that this world has troubles so that individuals can build and leave behind a significant legacy. Usually this legacy is measured in heroic deeds of monster-conquest, civic aid, or scholarship. Therions treat those with such a legacy with high esteem.
Therions also appreciate using teamwork to get a job done. They most respect a team's "go-to person" who solves small problems to keep the team productive, whether or not this person is the team's official leader.
Most Therions have no desire to amass wealth or social influence, seeing these as distractions from the peaceful contentment and addictive delight of caring for family and pets. However, in large villages and towns there are plenty of exceptions who do covet wealth and power.
Every now and then a person will find an animal that does not age: a very old Therion who has retired as an animal. These should never be kept as pets, since that would cross the ex-Therion's own desire to be free of intelligent society.
When Thereons wear armor they favor hard leather on the torso, either hard or soft leather on the limbs, and a soft leather cap. Metal armor is normally avoided because of its bulk and the care it takes to prevent it from rusting when worn outside extensively.
Therions have no typical style as warriors, except for training with bows and crossbows in time of war. They tend to be proficient with spears and nets but often this skill is used to capture animals rather than in combat against people.
In their fondness for pets, some Therions have learned how to breed fierce (and sometimes giant) animals. Those who do so consider it an art, but most other Therions view this activity with distrust or abhorrence. The Therions who breed these fierce animals are very secretive about these projects, but also eager to find more people who might become devoted to this strange hobby.
Therions consider animal breeding and training to be an artistic endeavor far more worthy than workmanship with unloving materials. Therions also enjoy storytelling, theatre, poetry, music, and dance.
Therions dress simply. Most seldom wear jewelry. However, in large villages and towns the influences of Bergtrolls and Dweorgs have made jewelry more commonplace.
In some places Therions attending formal events use ribboned piercings (primarily earrings and nose rings) to identify meritorious deeds. The colors of ribbons describe the meritorious deeds in more detail. When meeting a Therion stranger, it acceptable etiquitte to ask the meanings of any visible ribbons.
Therion literary traditions emphasize memorizing and retelling "wisdom stories". There are many such stories, most of which describe the world before the creation of the six intelligent races. Some of these stories are believed to be historically accurate, while others are recognized as fiction. The general theme of the stories is how the people of ancient times increased in wisdom and how it is now the duty of Therions to gather this wisdom together and preserve what was learned in those earliest years.
Therions of all ages and genders love to play darts. Youth play Grass-Stickers, a game similar to both golf and lawn darts using large, heavy darts. Adults also play Embed-Em, a drinking game involving three dartboards and five colors of darts.
Therions also adore herbalism. They have bred many herbs that have unusually beautiful flowers as well as practical uses for cooking or medicine. Most Therions have an herb garden.
Insulting or threatening a Therion's family is a sure way to make an enemy, and may provoke immediate violence.
Therions can live 80 to 100 years. Most do not grow weaker as they age, causing the Sagacious to theorize that therianthropy helps them maintain bodily strength and vigor. Therions do not die of old age, but eventually take on an animal's form forever. Remaining in the animal's shape so long causes their intelligence, personality, and memories to deteriorate until they fully become the animal.
Most Therions form lifelong monogamous marriages and have several children.
The decade of a Therion's age is important in Therion society: individuals are expected to socialize with members of their own decade and defer to "elders" of older decades.
Therion adolescents and young adults sometimes feel that peace and quiet is boring and stifiling. They might become adventurers or troublemakers until their youthful wanderlust fades.
Hush stolen baby, don't you cry.
Listen to my lullaby.
Quiet now and show some fear
Or I will eat you to gain a year.
- Ogre rhyme
Taunt. Plunder. Goad. Take.
Laugh and do these for his sake.
In ruthlessness we feed him power.
Their blood will bring our greatest hour.
Chant. Promise. Sing. Devour.
- graffiti etched near an Ogre altar to Gnash
Ogres are dangerous people: cunning predators who are born with an insatiable desire to eat the flesh of other intelligent creatures. This craving is known as the Ogre's Hunger.
In physical appearance Ogres strongly resemble Therions and Bergtrolls, unless they have tusks or horns.
Thankfully, the world seems to have few Ogres. But perhaps that is merely what the Ogres want everyone to think?
Ogres can use the magical racial ability called semblancy to disguise themselves.
Ogres gain an extra point in the Alchemy talent.
Linguistically, the words ogre and orc may be related, both derived from the Roman Orcus.
Semblancy allows an Ogre to look like any person it has tasted. The Ogre need not have eaten the person: even a lick or moist kiss can suffice.
Semblancy can also allow the Ogre to impersonate the person's mannerisms and voice, but this requires some time to "settle into" the new body and get used to its muscles and vocal chords.
Semblancy is one reason kings and other wealthy people do not let strangers approach them closely.
Semblancy ends if the Ogre using it is killed. It does not end just because the Ogre sleeps or falls unconscious.
Ogres are thought to be almost always solitary. Some live alone in the Wilder-ness. Most of the Ogres so far discovered were hidden among the population of large villages and towns, often disguised as their previous victims while preying off other local inhabitants.
Rumors tell of hidden villages of Ogres in the Wilder-ness. No explorers have ever reported finding one of these villages. But either these rumors are true or nomadic tribes of Ogres exist, for villages are sometimes raided by groups of a dozen or more Ogre barbarians, mounted on horses or theropod dinosaurs.
Ogres are intelligent manipulators as well as devourers. The classic Ogre described in campfire stories is a well-disguised assassin or kidnapper. But real Ogres are just as often hiding as apparently helpful advisors or friends.
An Ogre feels successful if it can control many other people. It may take captives, but more often uses rumors and disguises to make the populace of a village or town fear imagined threats while remaining oblivious to the predatory Ogre living among them.
Most Ogres worship Gnash. They listen for reports of greedy and ruthless individuals, whom they sacrifice on special altars so that Gnash can "feed" upon the victim's ruthlessness.
Some Ogres subtly encourage a community's elders and leaders to develop faulty moralities with greater ruthlessness.
A few Ogres belong to a Star Cult that believes their special altars are attuned not to Gnash but to his "sister" who waits at the star from which Gnash was taken. Once they give her enough ruthlessness, she will be drawn to Spyragia and will devour all people except the Star Cult members. The cult's origin debated. Did Gnash teach them? Is his "sister" real and able to communicate with cult leaders" Is it all a lie from the oldest Grand Ogres, invented as part of their complex game to control Ogre society, in which the winners feast upon the losers?
Many Ogres are skilled alchemists. According to some stories, an Ogre will postpone eating a captive if the captive hints that it knows interesting alchemical recipes.
Ogres usually own many sets of clothing and wear little or no armor, to allow the most freedom in disguising themselves. When expecting violence, Ogres will wear as much armor as their disguise allows—or as much armor as possible if they are no longer in disguise.
As warriors, Ogres prefer a combination of a blunt melee weapon and a ranged weapon.
The Ogrish interest in alchemy arises from alchemy's ability to cure the Ogre's Hunger. But the recipe that does this differs for each Ogre, motivating many Ogres to pursue a personal and intense study of alchemy. Those Ogres who have cured their Ogres Hunger call themselves the Sagacious. They usually choose to live in a Therion or Bergtroll settlement as the resident alchemy expert, enjoying a quiet life dedicated to scholarship.
Ogres consider plotting artistic. They praise well-designed and time-tested black operations—especially steganography, sabotage, and tricking others into fighting their battles. Some Ogres venerate august yet shadowy ancestors to whom stories attribute amazing acts of stealth and duplicity. Rumors describe some ancient Ogres using trickery and deception to compete with each other in games that manipulate members of the other intelligent races as pawns: the rules of these games are not known but victory seems to arise by working from the shadows to sow confusion and discord.
In addition to alchemy (and perhaps plotting), a Sagacious Ogre will adopt the artistic values of the community it lives within.
Ogres very seldom have children and do not die of old age.
Ogres progress through four different lifecycle categories as they age. Ogres believe they age more quickly if they kill intelligent creatures and eat them.
Ogre children are Tusked Ogres with large tusks instead of lower cuspid teeth. They are normally outcasts from Ogre society who must survive on their own in the Wilder-ness until adulthood. When Tusked Ogres meet they may temporarily partner together, but even then will consider the other a threat and a potential meal (and source of coveted age). Tusked Ogres spend much time practicing their combat skills: unarmed, with a few favorite melee weapons, and with ranged weapons. Unknown to non-Ogres, if a Tusked Ogre is fed by an intelligent creature then the Tusked Ogre must obey that creature's commands until the next full moon; this is the source of the similar false rumor about Kobalts. Tusked Ogres grow to a size of roughly 50 kilograms.
When an Ogre reaches adolescence it loses its tusks and grows small horns. The Horned Ogre often tries to blend in to village, town or city life. Horned Ogres have developed numerous tricks for hiding their horns, ranging from finding jobs that allow hats or helmets (guards, tavern bouncers, etc.), hiding the horns under thick or curly hair, or maintaining semblancy. Horned Ogres grow to a size of roughly 200 kilograms.
The third stage is the Plain Ogre, which lacks tusks and horns. Their natural size can be up to 300 kilograms. Some Plain Ogres enjoy staying in a settlement for years, secretly preying on travelers to feed their Ogre's hunger, and perhaps occasionally framing innocent locals for their murders. Other Plain Ogres enjoy being a wanderer, visiting many places and leaving a wake of wrecked lives.
When an Ogre is old enough it changes into the final stage, a Wizened Ogre. Wizened Ogres are rare. They still lack tusks and horns, and their natural size can be up to 400 kilograms. Their natural form has wrinkled skin, although semblancy can hide this. Some legends claim that a few Wizened Ogres are very old, peaceful, and the enlightened keepers of an ancient wisdom. But all well-known encounters with Wizened Ogres were quite the opposite of peaceful or enlightening.
Comes from deep inside the earth.
Tempered 'till it's strong.
Can warm a meal upon the hearth.
Can fight to right a wrong.
When hot flows quick to fill a need.
Rests warm once learned new role.
When cold has the strength to succeed.
Sturdy body and soul.
Carved in story. Beauty in jewels.
Virtue in shape. Humility in tools.
Wisdom in insight. Experience in rules.
Honor in works. Legacy in schools.
- Dweorg poem
Dweorgs are stout humanoids with phenomenal endurance who are skilled at mining and metal use. Wealthy Dweorgs hold the expectations of their family jewelry inviolable.
Dweorgs believe there is an intrinsic and beautiful connection between delving and smithing. A Dweorg only feels complete after establishing a legacy in both. (Most Dweorgs are still working towards that goal).
Dweorgs love the thrill of mild danger. They do not shun the unknown or unpredictable, and enjoy fun activities involving small risks.
A Dweorg may become stone-like in heart, mind and body. This is the magical racial ability called tempering.
Dweorgs gain a free point in the Wrestle/Disarm talent, and may carry twice the amount normally described by his or her Wrestle/Disarm skill without becoming encumbered.
The 9P sample setting uses old sources in new ways. Traditional elements of fairy tales and folktales are (hopefully) used in a manner novel enough to be interesting and thought-provoking, yet still somewhat familiar.
Since the popularity of Narnia and Middle Earth, most fantasy dwarves have resembled the dwarves of one of those settings. But older folktales feature dweorgs (an Old English word from the Old Norse dvergar) that were competitve raiders.
Many fantasy dwarves follow a trope Tolkein established in which dwarves represent logic, strength, technology, and the grittiness of industry whereas elves represent intuition, agility, magic, and pristine nature. These Dweorgs do not follow that trope. They can be intuitive, agile, fun, magical, and elegant.
Dweorgs, as their poem suggests, view metal as the core of Dweorg identity in much the same way water is the physical object that represents the Tao.
The cultural importance of Dweorg jewelry is an idea stolen from the Emblem Men of Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure.
The sport of Park Running is a tribute to Parkour and free running.
Note that the the only races whose members might die of old age are Dweorgs and Kobalts. If they do, that age is unspecified.
Tempering is a method of becoming tough and stone-like. A person using tempering becomes grumpy and gruff (a hardened heart), has trouble learning new things (a hardened mind), and his or her skin hardens to be almost stone-like.
Using tempering is a meditative practice that takes a few minutes. Its effects last for the rest of the day, then quickly fade away as the tempered person sleeps.
A person that uses tempering does not suffer losses when an opponents successful dice roll a 2.
Dweorgs are equally comfortable living aboveground or underground.
Many civilized Dweorgs live in towns and cities among Therions and Bergtrolls. They try to follow local laws, and often eat the foods of their non-Dweorg neighbors.
Most Dweorgs live in clan-sized groups of extended family. These Dweorgs eat cultivated mushrooms, fruit and meat stolen in raids, and locally gathered fruit, vegetables, and nuts. Some Dweorg clans also employ many snares and traps near the entrances to their cavern-complex to catch small animals. Most Dweorg clans have peaceful relations, but a few famous feuds exist between Dweorg clans
Dweorg Elders of underground settlements know a magic process that increases the security of their walls. Walls treated with this magic become too hard for most burrowing animals to dig through and also immune to transmutery. Since treating even the most important walls of a settlement takes so much time and effort, clans of Dweorgs seldom change where they live (as opposed to Kobalts, who often abandon one cavern-complex to live in another with a more strategic location).
A Dweorg secret is that once or twice in a century an entire clan will go to war. Usually an army is formed to conquer a Kobalt settlement, but occasionally the attacked settlement is of another intelligent race, including but most rarely another Dweorg clan. A war begins when a clan chief declares that his clan has amassed enough honor. Fighting in a war is the highest possible honor among Dweorgs, and only those Raiders, Artists, and Elders with the most personal honor may participate in the fighting. The rest of the clan serves by supplying the warriors with food, weapons, and other resources.
Some Dweorgs reject the structures and strictures of their normaly society. This is especially common at the Raider and Artist ages. These Dweorgs band together in groups with a few dozen members. They live a life loyal to each other, exploring the pros and cons of communal sovereignty. But their outpost camps are not self-sufficient. Most of their food is acquired by raiding and preying on large settlements.
Dweorgs are wary of strangers, but usually polite. Most civilized Dweorgs are only aggressive if provoked. Because part of a Dweorg's upbringing includes training in selling items he crafts, Dweorgs usually respect doing business and will help to a stranger if appropriately compensated.
In addition to the usual ways people worship the Powers, Dweorgs worship by offering gifts of cherished art at their temples. Usually the Dweorg personally and purposefully crafts a finely wrought and exquisitely decorated tool, weapon, sculpture, mural, or container to donate. But Dweorgs also donate found or purchased items if the artwork is worthy. For this reason a Dweorg who himself has no need of an excpetionally crafted item may still wish to purchase or trade for it.
All Dweorgs hope to live long enough to become an Elder who returns to the deep place of his childhood with a lifetime of wisdom, stories, and skills to pass on to the next generation. This longing causes Dweorgs to respond favorably to people who turn from a lifestyle of self-enrichment to give to their community.
Some clans of Dweorgs delight in flying and build all sorts of flying contraptions. Raiders from these clans are especially dangerous.
Many Dweorgs respect artfully constructed machinery. Even if they have no personal skill as machinists they will listen in fascination to a machinist detailing how his or her devices work.
As warriors, Dweorgs tend to wear chain or lamellar tunics and use large hammers and picks as weapons. Their magical tempering can make an army of Dweorgs especially dangerous.
Most Dweorgs dress similarly: shirt, knee-length pants or skirt, tall boots, thick belt, and either a tabard in clan colors or a heavy leather apron if the latter is appropriate for their work. Their clothing is often colorful, even their boots. Fabric is always thick and sturdy. Dweorgs do not wear hats, except when armored, in which case their metal helmets cover less than the helms worn by Kobalts and Bergtrolls.
Dweorg jewelry follows themes of jewels and carving on an iron background. Jewelry is the most culturally important Dweorgish art form. Associated with each Dweorg lineage and family is a unique pattern of color and inlay that identifies and establishes a pincipal virtue for that family. Dweorgs will speak of their jewelry "requiring" or "demanding" acts of bravery, generosity, loyalty, courtesy, or so forth.
Although most Dweorgs attempt to behave virtuously by all of Dweorgish morality, for wealthy Dweorgs a violation of their jewelry's principal virtue is completely unthinkable and would require ritual exile or suicide to atone for the deep loss of family honor. Also, the jewelry-determined family virtue, unlike other Dweorgish moral rules, remains equally significant when these wealthy Dweorgs deal with members of the other intelligent races. For example, a wealthy Dweorg merchant who might normally depart from honesty or loyalty when relating to Therions or Bergtrolls might still be willing to give his life in battle to defend one because "selfless valor" is his jewelry-determined virtue.
Other Dweorg fine arts also focus on metalworking, continuing the theme of jewels and carving on an iron background. Dweorgs prize heavy yet finely wrought sculptures of precious metals, decorated with gems. Instead of painting they create intricate inlaid murals of precious metals and gems on a large sheet of iron. Their most valued pottery items are decorative metal containers.
Tool making is also considered an art form, although tools are usually not inlaid, gilded, or bejeweled.
Dweorgs consider brewing and distilling to be arts. They are especially famous for their mushroom wines.
Dweorgs do not consider weaving an art form but are proficient at weaving and sewing for utilitarian purposes. Similarly, they make sturdy household pottery of clay or wood but never consider it artistic. They do very little theatre or dance but love ballads. Their songs are chants with long, rhyming adventure stories set to a simple yet catchy repeating melody.
The Dweorgs that live in Therion or Bergtroll towns and cities are famous for their sport of Park Running, which involves racing acrobatically along a predetermined route that connects two or more parks. Racers are allowed to throw or wield blunt objects to slow down competitors. The sport is tolerated by others, in part because the Dweorgs who participate always make generous financial compensation for any damage done to property. The Dweorgs avoid discussing the sport's history: some among the Sagacious hypothesize that the activity is an urban version of a traditional underground pastime.
Dweorgs live a very long time. Many Dweorg Elders are over one hundred and sixty years old, and stories tell of Elders two or three times that age. Younger Dweorgs progress through forty-year lifecycle stages. They do not change much in size as they age, but their skin becomes more wrinkled and their bones become denser.
The youngest Dweorgs are Youth and live deep underground in a high-ceilinged cavern complex. Dweorgs do not discuss with others what their early life is like, except that in involves both "sweatwork" (crafting, smithing, mining, training for warfare) and "smilework" (playing, solving problems, inventing).
On his fortieth birthday a Dweorg becomes a Raider. Raiders still live underground, but not as deep and in cavern complexes that include both vast halls and small rooms. The raiding Dweorgs are responsible for getting food for their own use and that of the deeper-dwelling Youth. Dweorgs do farm mushrooms underground, but these are supplemented with fruit and meat raided from the orchards, poultry farms, and ranches of people who live aboveground. Yet raids are not only a means of acquiring food: raids are also a culturally important source of esteem for successful raiders. A Raider can gain important honor by fighting impressively or committing effective acts of precision theft. Similarly, being forced to flee or hide is a great source of shame. Raiders who are not directly part of a specific raid may involve themselves by betting on the successes of those who are directly participating or by helping prepare and equip those who directly participate. After a raid, the clan chief is responsible for archiving all the Raiders' heroic deeds so these will never be forgotten. A Raider who consistently fails to accrue honor becomes shunned and will no longer be invited to participate in raids; henceforth he only supports the clan by hunting small animals or by gathering wild fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Only a few Raiders leave their clan to live among the other races.
On his eightieth birthday, at his physical prime, a Dweorg becomes an Artist. Artists stop raiding and no longer live with their clan. They move aboveground and build a workshop-home, usually a free-standing cottage but sometimes a dwelling built inside a shallow cave or within the base of a large tree. A few move to a village, town or city. Artists begin to grow thick beards, which they wear proudly for the rest of their lives. Artists seek to perfect one or more metalworking skills and thus create works of art that will be treasured forever. Artists may study alone, join a commune, or participate in a guild. Artists sometimes retain a bit of their former raiding mentality: Dweorgs living in towns and cities suffer from a stereotype of occasionally sabotaging or stealing from business rivals (including other Dweorgs). Although Dweorgs do not consider the role of a merchant to be "artistic" some Dweorgs with wanderlust give up metalworking to become traveling merchants. Since Dweorgs may have large families, a group of brothers occasionally will move somewhere together after the youngest reaches Artist age.
On his one hundred and twentieth birthday a Dweorg becomes an Elder. Elders return to the deep caverns to raise the Youth. Elders are very rarely seen by non-Dweorgs. Elders are treated with great respect in Dweorg society, and although they have no special powers they do have a greater chance of owning or carrying interesting or powerful things. The oldest Dweorg in a clan is the clan chief who settles disputes, archives the historical records of that settlement, and authorizes warfare.
Great-grandfather sent me out today.
I wear my brand new hat.
Out to scout and take and play,
And hunt for this and that.
My crossbow's springs are tense and strong.
My wolf beside where he belong.
Our silent strides are quick and long.
I wait like a spider. I swoop like a bat.
I play far away on my first Hunter's day.
- Kobalt ditty
Kobalts are territorial humanoids with vicious temperaent who love their hats, revel in theft, and delight in making maniacal machinery.
Kobalts are smaller than Dweorgs, never more than a meter tall. Their skin is dry and leathery. They have long pointy ears, dark eyes, and sharp teeth. They move quickly despite their small stature.
Kobalts prefer to live nocturnally. They have keen night vision, and use the Perception skill outside at night without any situational penalty from having lesser lighting.
Unlike all other humanoids, Kobalts have four digits on their hands and feet. Their mathematics is based on eight instead of ten. For example, a Kobalt army is considered full when it has 512 (=83) members.
Kobalts have the magic ability to put unaware people to sleep. This is the magical racial ability called sapping.
All Kobalts have tinkered with machinery at least a little. They gain a free point in the Machinery talent.
In early Medieval European mythology there was only one underground humanoid, dangerous to miners, whose name and nature varied from region to region but was based on the Greek koba'los (rogue) and the German kofewalt (room spirit). Modern concepts of kobold, goblin, hobgoblin, knocker, bluecap, coblynau and perhaps even pixy and brownie all branch from this one ancient root. The metal cobalt is named after these creatures, and the color "cobalt blue" is the reason our young Kobalts are blue.
Sapping is a magical attack that drains the energy of another person.
Targets are immune to sapping when aware of the person who wishes to using sapping, or when alarmed about immediate danger. (A guard who hears noises and is "on alert" cannot be sapped.)
A person using sapping must hold apart his or her hands on either side of the target's body. The sapper need not actually touch the target.
A sapped target falls unconscious, sleeping peacefully until well-rested or woken up. However, being sapped drains a person's morale. They wake up feeling grumpy and discouraged, without any apparent cause or focus of their frustrations.
Kobalts live both underground and above ground. Kobalts prefer to steal homes rather than dig or build homes themselves. Their most valued dwellings are abandoned or conquered cavern-complexes built by Dweorgs.
Kobalts do not care well for their dwellings. Most Kobalts live in dirty, broken, worn dwellings because the damage done while capturing a site gets augmented by months or years of neglected maintenance.
Kobalts often hunt with trained animals (usually dogs or wolves, but sometimes large lizards or cats). Perhaps the Kobalts' own pack-like nature aids in working with these animals?
Kobalts live in large groups called Superfamilies. Each Superfamily is strictly ruled by a monarch called the Ancestor. All the Kobalts in a Superfamily consider their Ancestor to be their great-grandparent (irrelevant of the difference in ages) even when this is not literally true. When a new Kobalt becomes a Superfamily's Ancestor the rest of the group immediately modifies their family identity for all practical and emotional purposes.
Kobalts hunt wild animals, and immoral ones will steal livestock. A popular (but false) rumor claims Kobalts cannibalize those they slay in combat. Another rumor says that anyone who feeds a Kobalt gains its obedience to every verbal command, but no one can recall ever meeting a person with that type of Kobalt slave.
Discontent Kobalts sometimes flee civilization to become bandits. They call their groups "warbands" to make themselves sound less criminal. Many warbands capture slaves, and sell them to buy materials for unusual machinery projects.
Kobalts bredd very quickly. They believe the world has troubles because everyone is competing to fill it. Kobalts feel successful whenever they "fill" more of the world.
Kobalts are aware that, in general, they are physically smaller and weaker than people of the other races. This causes their society to be keenly aware of what to consider a "fair fight". From an unfair fight most Kobalts will refuse to cause more than temporary harm or gain more than temporary pleasure. As an example, a Kobalt might sneak up on someone, sap them, and go through their belongings out of curiosity. But the Kobalt will also catch the person as they collapse to prevent any injury, and do their best to return the other person's belongings to their proper place (althouogh food might be sampled, bookmarks replaced incorrectly, etc.)
Kobalts respect anyone who is strong enough to have personally taken captives in a fair fight. They enjoy having healthy prisoners, but for status more than slave labor. Overseeing slaves at work takes effort and is not fun! Kobalts might sell a prisoner, but no Kobalt would buy one, since that would be viewed as falsely bragging.
As warriors, Kobalts tend to wear hard leather armor. For missile weapons they use crossbows or devices that launch harpoons using springs (either small hand-held versions or larger ones mounted on wheelbarrows). At melee range they fight with claws and teeth, or with a variety of weapons.
In temperament, Kobalts naturally tend to alternate between annoyingly cheerful and depressingly gruff. When a social situation requires politeness they try to mellow their demeanor and adopt social graces.
Because Kobalts are an argumentative race their extremities often bear the signs of many past scuffles: missing fingers, torn ears, broken noses, and scarred skin. The accumulation of those wounds and an increasingly dour countenance make them appear more grotesque as they age.
Kobalts adore hats. Most Kobalts own several and are always wearing one. If you want to deeply insult a Kobalt, damage his or her hat. If you want to force an aggressive Kobalt to talk, snatch his or her hat and use it to parry—the Kobalt will hesitate to risk harm to the hat and might calm down enough to hear what you have to say.
The few Kobalts that live within Therion towns or cities are exiles from their Superfamilies. Most are of Worker or Hunter age, eager to please their neighbors and forget their past lives. These Kobalts are very territorial with respect to each other. They divide up the entire town or city into plots, each considered the property of a certain Kobalt. Thus to a Kobalt's mind any piece of property has two owners: the legal resident that claims it in "Polite Society" and the Kobalt who actually owns it.
Male Kobalts are skilled at woodworking, weapon crafting, and engineering. Female Kobalts also work at skinning, leatherworking, and making extra meat into jerky to save for days when no fresh meat is available. Kobalts are the only race to consider leatherworking an art: not only is almost all Kobalt clothing leather but most Kobalt clothing contains at least a few artistically decorated or woven leather components.
Kobalts excel at building machinery. They claim they were the first to dismantle and learn from Builder's machines. Kobalt machinery is easy to recognize, for they consider functional complexity especially beautiful and near-symmetry artistic. Their machines are compact and efficient despite having decorative gears spinning in many planes (some in pairs going in opposite directions) and pistons included only to harmonize the overall sound and center of gravity.
When Kobalts are not wearing armor they usually dress lightly in what they call a "full set" of clothing: a jacket or vest over a tunic or shirt, drawstring pants, a belt to hold pouches, and of course a hat. Fancy dress for a Kobalt is of similar but of higher quality material, with many colors instead of the plain earth tones of everyday garb, and with either skirts of varying sizes or pants with elaborate ruffles (both appropriate for either gender).
Kobalts can progress through five distinct social stages. Young Kobalts are a pale, almost pastel blue and are called Workers. Workers are given all the laborious jobs and are treated harshly even by their mothers. They are not allowed to leave their settlement or to use weapons or armor. They have short tempers but seem subdued and calm compared to older Kobalts.
Once they have grown larger and their color has darkened to a royal blue they become Hunters who hunt for food and join the military. The goal of a Hunter is to take a member of one of the other intelligent races prisoner in a fair fight, which promotes them socially to the role of Warrior.
Warriors of both genders acquire greater status in Kobalt society by taking more prisoners and keeping these captives healthy. Prisoners may be male or female: both genders could used for slave labor, but are most often kept in a prison so they take minimal effort to own. The Warriors with the largest number of healthy prisoners and thus the most social influence are Captains that command a platoon of 64 Warriors. Through successful intrigue a Captain can attain the highest social rank by becoming the current Ancestor of his or her Superfamily.
Kobalt Warriors and Captains often have skin colors other than blue. Kobalts refuse to discuss how this happens.
The Sagacious debate whether Kobalts would naturally die of old age. This question is purely academic because all Kobalts die from violence: fighting or an accident while constructing dangerous machinery.
Open eyes, pure heart.
Open mind, pure art.
Crowd's eyes, closed heart.
Crowd's mind, closed art.
Nature, muses, wonder, awe—
Sculpt, weave, paint, draw.
Iluminated, illative, illustrious, illimitable.
Stalwart, stainless, stately, stable.
- Bergtroll poem
Bergtrolls are humanoids who prefer to live under or above tall mountains. They have a confident and refined demeanors, and a mouse-like or cow-like tail.
Bergtrolls enter adulthood at a similar size to young adult Hiddenfolk, Therions, and Ogres. Yet they grow to be much larger. They are quite similar to Therions in appearance, and some Therions tales tell of Bergtrolls hiding their tails to pass as Therions.
Bergtrolls love elegant artwork, especially when decorated with gems. They can identify gems by smell, and smell them from dozens of meters away.
Bergtrolls treat each other with esteem based on how much their family has hoarded beauty. They can use a racial ability called worthiness to treat an item's beauty as strength and quality.
Bergtrolls consider etiquette a high art. They gain a free point in the Disguise/Etiquette talent.
Bergtrolls are so practiced at haughtiness and bragging that they are not easily demoralized. Their maximum fatigue is increased by the sum of their lowest Brawn skill rating and their lowest Brains skill rating.
These Bergtrolls are loosely based on the huldra and bergtrolls of Scandinavian folklore, and the huldre of Orkney. They look human (except for a tail), are expert crafters, and live elegantly in underground castles. Some are gigantic, but these are very rarely met. They beguile adults and are beguiled by children. But the child kidnapping and intermarriage in these sources is avoided.
The artistic skill and haughtiness of these Bergtrolls is inspired by the Ska of Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy to replace the traditional huldre desire to be more human.
Worthiness is a magical enhancement of physical items. In the hands of a Bergtroll, an item's physical beauty also acts as structural integrity and quality of workmanship.
Worthiness explains how Bergtroll towers can have such graceful, lace-like architecture.
During skill use, worthiness allows any item held by a Bergtroll that costs as much as the next impact category to be treated as having remarkable quality, to receive the +1 bonus to skill use. For a Bergtroll, a jeweled letter opener is as potent as a very well-banced sword with an exceptional edge, and slippers with remarkable embroidery help climbing as well as the best climbing boots with pitons attached.
Bergtrolls normally live under or on mountains. They believe living elsewhere would slowly and fatally weaken their constitutions.
An underground Bergtroll dwelling consists of a single passage down to an enormous cavern in which is built a castle of elaborate and fanciful architecture. Each such dwelling is called a "kingdom" since it is ruled by a monarch who swears no outside allegiance. An aboveground Bergtroll settlement is also centered around a castle (much smaller but even more exquisite and airy than those underground) but will also include a small village and its surrounding farmland and pastureland. Aboveground settlements are usually part of the kingdom ruled from a nearby underground castle.
Bergtrolls are fond of domesticated livestock and raise both riding animals and food animals. Most Bergtroll families living aboveground raise poultry and own a few sheep and/or goats. Some Bergtrolls live on ranches and raise horses, cattle, llamas, camels, and/or small ornithopod dinosaurs.
A rare Bergtroll will spend up to a year in a Therion town or city. These live as diplomats or artists-in-residence that cooperate with local nobles, museums, or architects. They view themselves (usually correctly) as the pillars of that settlement's artistic endeavors.
In a few places, Therions have built a village around an existing Bergtroll settlement. The Bergtrolls consider their district to be an oasis of high culture. They are proud of its art museums, sculpture gardens, herb gardens, and elegant castle.
Very few young Bergtrolls leave civilization. Those who do become nomads who move their livestock between various mountain and hill pasturelands.
Bergtrolls tend to excel at whatever they attempt. They often act with a confidence that members of the other intelligent races find astounding. (Many Bergtrolls feel doubt so rarely that indecision stuns them wonderstruck.) Bergtrolls are so polite and gracious that adults of other races usually find their confidence charming and inspiring, not rude or haugty.
Bergtrolls love children, will play with a child for hours, and are very distracted by seeing or meeting an unfamiliar child. A Bergtroll that is nocturnal will become diurnal if it lives near children, to be awake when the children are playing. This change takes several weeks, so there are many stories of the hardship endured in a home when a newly hired Bergtroll advisor or caretaker wakes up the children (or sometimes only the youngest child) frequently during the night with music, sing-song, or tossing toys into the crib.
Bergtrolls memorize and exchange many sing-song chants with morals about wise living. These are called "nursery rhymes" and sung to children whether or not the children are old enough to grasp any social advice or philosophical insights.
No matter what their age, Bergtrolls strive to act as young adults. Elderly Bergtrolls remain playful and alert for small sublime experiences.
An adult Bergtroll's deepest desire is usually to increase the esteem of its family name by accumulating beauty or other sources of renown. Even Bergtrolls who seldom spend time with family members insist their family name receives proper credit for its notable artwork, monetary wealth, charitable works, and famous deeds.
Bergtrolls are easily affected by fads and temptations. They view this succeptibility as a shameful weakness. The most respected Bergtrolls have the self-control to develop a unique artistic style. Bergtrolls who act as part of a homogenous crowd are treated with scorn.
Bergtroll society is as comfortable with violence as with luxury. A Bergtroll merchant values his splendid clothing, but will not hesitate to dirty it by fighting with someone who tries to pick his pocket.
Bergtrolls are known for their peculiar sense of honor based on being above subjugation. They might be hired by a wealthy patron to do a job as artist or consultant, but never stoop to "work for" a boss on an ongoing basis. They might cook a fancy meal and charitably share it with the local beggars, but never stoop to "waiting on" people by serving food they did not themselves prepare. At parties they can laugh at themselves and do not mind being the target of a good-natured joke, but will challange to a duel anyone who maliciously tries to "put them down".
Bergtrolls have no typical equipment or style as warriors, except for always fighting with grace and finesse.
Bergtrolls will use precious metals to make the famous silver, gold, or platinum threads that hilight their elegantly embroidered clothing and tapestries. Yet Bergtrolls do not enjoy mining, and prefer to obtain precious metals from merchants of the other races.
Bergtrolls are unsurpassed at architectural theory. Often members of the other races hire a Bergtroll to design large structures such as a castle, guild hall, or important religious building.
All Bergtrolls consider themselves artists. Most Bergtroll art is focused on what they call the "solid arts" of embroidery, painting, herbalism, pottery, sculpture, architecture, candle making, metalworking, and weaving.
Bergtrolls value oration, and for entertainment attend presentations of witty oration. They are the only intelligent race that considers debating an art form. Most Bergtrolls are fond of the other "airborne arts" of poetry, music, and theatre.
Bergtrolls only rarely have children. They age slowly and never die of old age. Compared to their size as a young adult, Bergtrolls double in height every 80 years. Thus, for practical reasons a Bergtroll settlement is home to only Bergtrolls differing by no more than 160 years in age. A Bergtroll who outgrows one settlement will move to a physically larger one. The largest known Bergtroll was 561 years old and almost 13 meters tall (having reached seven 80-year "doubling birthdays"). Bergtrolls of this stature are the probable source of stories of giants in the mountains.
Bergtrolls often remarry when they move to a new, larger-scale settlement. This is socially expected and happens peacefully, even if the old spouse also moves to the same new settlement. However, many Bergtroll love poems idolize couples who remarry each other after moving to a new home.
One is unseen, two is dreams.
Nothing now is what it seems.
Three is earthquakes, four is stones.
Deep earth shakes its fires and bones.
Five is coffee, six is kings.
Who can know such secret things?
Seven is peaceful, eight will scheme.
Guard your livestock, leave us cream.
- Hiddenfolk chant
The Hiddenfolk are a secretive people who blend into rocky landscapes literally and figuratively.
Most adult Hiddenfolk are about the same size as adult Dweorgs or Ogres. But Hiddenfolk have widely varying height and some are much shorter or taller. Most have the bodily proportions and posture common to those humanoid races. But a few have unusually long limbs and hunched posture, which can help them be surprisingly strong and fast. A very few have two heads, but these are often shunned and called derogatory names such as "troll" or "ettin". (These often depart to live alone in the Wilder-ness, where they neglect hygiene. Their skin becomes slightly stony in texture, their fingernails become dirty claws, and some even let moss grow on them.)
Hiddenfolk homes are underground or behind a cliff face, and are only accessible by walking through rock. A Hiddenfolk can spend an hour drawing or carving runs on a boulder or cliff face. When the ritual is complete, any Hiddenfolk can walk through the rock near the runes.
Climbing on these stones or portions of cliff face offends the resident, who may react violently.
Hiddenfolk love both water and fire, and with practice many become expert sailors, chandlers, firework makers, or arsonists.
Some legends say that very old Hiddenfolk are only active at night because exposure to sunlight turns them to stone.
Hiddenfolk use magic named reprisality to be invisible or seek vengeance.
Hiddenfolk gain a free point in the Stealth/Track talent.
The Hiddenfolk are loosely based on the hidden people of Icelandic folklore.
The magic named reprisality happens passively. When someone commits a crime against a Hiddenfolk that involves the transgressing property or contract, the legally affronted Hiddenfolk becomes invisible to the offender until that Hiddenfolk has made retribution.
Often the Hiddenfolk will not seek retribution, and instead remain invisible to that person.
A Hiddenfolk is not inherently aware when reprisality is activated. For this reason the Hiddenfolk often approach members of the other races individually and slowly. Perhaps the adults of the neighboring farming family notice them ad wave, but the farmer's son cannot see them because he has been climbing on the boulders that guard their home.
When a Hiddenfolk does retaliate, the intent is usually to drive away a troublesome neighbor. The Hiddenfolk might cause an avalanche, ruin a well, or steal livestock. Only rarely will an invisible Hiddenfolk cause bodily harm, and then only indirectly by arranging for an accident to happen.
The Hiddenfolk is not required to make retribution, and may instead declare forgiveness aloud.
Some stories claim that an invisible Hiddenfolk can communicate with his or her offender(s) using dreams.
A few stories credit Hiddenfolk with creating earthquakes or lava flows. But the Sagacious doubt that reprisality grants the Hiddenfolk such dramatic control over nature.
Hiddenfolk live in family groups.
The orchards and farms of Hiddenfolk are above ground in secret locations. The Hiddenfolk grow fruits, vegetables and grains. They do not normally keep livestock, but will occasionally steal a cow or pig from a Therion or Bergtroll neighbor who has wronger them.
Hiddenfolk do no mining. They make little use of precious metals.
Some Hiddenfolk families are so isolated they are almost uncivilized. These secluded families are often the most capricious and dangerous, lacking the morals of hospitality.
Most travelers are unaware of entering a Hiddenfolk's land because this counts as tresspassing and triggers reprisality. Travelers who are simply passing through are usually watched by the Hiddenfolk but not greeted or bothered. The travelers may even be helped along their journey if they appear lost or hungry.
Hiddenfolk find fishing with rod or net relaxing, and will often spend a few hours at the bank of a pond, lake, or river to rest and fish. Because Hiddenfolk do not consider the banks of bodies of water "their land" the most common way to meet a visible Hiddenfolk is to meet one who is fishing.
Only Hiddenfolk have learned to grow and make coffee. They keep the plant and its processing a secret from the other races, but will trade roasted coffee beans for favors. They are also the only race who has discovered the secret to making fireworks. Most of the few Hiddenfolk decide to travel or live among people of the other races are coffee or firework merchants.
The traditional way to offer to befriend or begin trade with a Hiddenfolk is to leave gifts of pastries or cream near the runed rocks that mark their homes.
Hiddenfolk are nimble of arm and leg. They enjoy activities that test coordination, especially games and contests of juggling, mumblety-peg, footbag, and shuttlecock. People of any race who win such contests are respected.
Hiddenfolk are omnivorous. Their favorite food is fish. Many excel at net fishing and also use fences and nets to cage off part of a pond or stream to farm fish. Hiddenfolk also eat mushrooms, nuts, roots, and animals they can catch. Hiddenfolk are the race most interested in cooking. (Although Bergtrolls are more expert at using spices when cooking, a typical Hiddenfolk has wider experience with numerous recipes that combine foods to enhance and contrast their natural flavors.) When Hiddenfolk make small talk, they share recipes instead of discussing the weather.
A family of Hiddenfolk feels successful when it has "found its place". This includes both finding a respectable place to live, acquiring respect their community, and achieving enough fame with cooking, fireworks, or song so other artists will visit.
Hiddenfolk families practice a fighting style that combines slings and stealth with tactical teamwork. For melee weapons, Hiddenfolk prefer one-handed or two-handed maces. Usually these melee weapons are made of ash or hickory with fire-hardened heads, soaked in a alchemical decoction that penetrates the wood's fibers to waterproof and further harden it.
Hiddenfolk treat cooking as an art, as mentioned above.
Hiddenfolk adore firework displays. They claim these are the most exciting and dramatic type of art, and those non-Hiddenfolk who have witnessed a Hiddenfolk firework display begrudgingly agree.
Hiddenfolk also love performing songs that have instruments accompanying singers. All Hiddenfolk consider themselves beautiful singers. Many play musical instruments. They have a phobic dislike of stale food, which they believe damages their voices.
If a Hiddenfolk does have multiple heads, each turn of combat it may make a second action.
Hiddenfolk have few children. Most births are twins. Children develop quickly compared to the other intelligent races: a Hiddenfolk is fully mature at a dozen years of age.
Once mature, the passage of time does not age a Hiddenfolk. Instead, it physically ages as more and more lies are believed about it. These lies must be "facts" someone else cares about and for which no one knows the truth. With physical aging it becomes physically frail but mentally fierce. Hiddenfolk do not die of old age directly, but can become so frail that the slightest illness or accident proves fatal.
Most Hiddenfolk enjoy eternal youth by keeping nothing secret: with no truths hidden, they forever remain young adults. However, Hiddenfolk who pursue arcane knowledge value strength and quickness of mind more than strength or quickness of body. They use guile to create lies whenever possible and develop impressive strength of mind that includes resistance to distraction, interruption, and hypnosis.