Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ethnicity in Dark•Heritage, part 5

After considerable delay, here is the concluding post in the Ethnicities of DARK•HERITAGE series.  Since the previous four posts have detailed all of the human ethnicities in the setting, this final post will detail the non-human (or demihuman, if you prefer--a more accurate label here than it ever was in Dungeons & Dragons anyway) races.  DARK•HERITAGE is fundamentally a very humano-centric campaign setting (hence the 4-to-1 ratio of posts) but the "demihuman" races are in important and integral part of the setting, which give it much of its distinctive flavor.

Changeling huntresses in ritual blood feud garb.
• Known as wildmen, woses, vucari, pucks, shifters, or--most commonly--changelings, there are some in the lands of the Three Empires who trace their ancestry back to werewolves of old.  While the potency of their blood has faded and true werewolves are now considered to be a semi-mythical relic of the distant past, changelings are indeed linked to the power of beasts in a way that normal humans cannot fathom.  With darker brown skin, and a great deal of hairiness that almost--but not quite--verges on furriness on the arms, legs and torso especially, and pointed ears, changelings are immediately obvious at a glance.  They also tend to have the golden eyes of a wolf, pronounced canine teeth, and their nails are long and thick--almost clawlike on both hand and feet.  Changelings usually go barefoot and eschew riding animals, and can lope along at great speed and for great distances, which they do somewhat hunched over, occasionally putting a hand to the ground as they run, although never running on all fours, as they are occasionally caricaturized as doing.

In addition to the obvious werewolf-like physical features of the changelings, they can also "shift" as a werewolf on occasion, although it tires them to do so.  This does not mean turning into a wolf, but it does mean becoming--for a few moments at a time, at least--even more bestial in appearance than they already are, their muscles bulking up, their hair growing thicker and sometimes longer, their teeth and claws growing into dangerous weapons, their hunched posture becoming more pronounced, their faces twisting into a visage of racial rage.

Urban changeling
Changelings are, as one might expect, consummate woodsmen and outdoorsmen.  They live natively in two areas, the southern Bisbal Forest, along the Erau river, where they are reasonably friendly and welcome some trade with the Terrasans, and the Shifting Forest (named for their presence) where they are fiercely territorial, xenophobic, and typically murder trespassers on sight.  Both areas are thickly grown old growth forests, which partly accounts for the complete lack of any tradition of horseback riding, as well as the ambush guerrilla war tactics for which the changelings are justifiably famous.  Despite these holdouts of changeling-dominated territory, however, there is a sizeable number of changelings that live as a minority in most Terrasan (and many Hamazi) cities in the Three Empires area as well--probably a considerably larger total number of individuals than which live in the native lands of the changelings.  For many years, they have served as scouts for the military, guards for caravans and travelers, mercenaries, and other occupations as well.  Although it's not unheard of, it's more rare for changelings to adopt to the settled, urban life of humans.  The sizeable populations of the cities is constantly in flux as individuals come and go, driven by a wanderlust that astonishes even the most transient of human groups, such as the Tarushan gypsies.

In recent years, these semi-urban changelings have also become indelibly associated with organized crime, as many individuals have become enforcers for the Cherskii mafia and other groups.  While most urban changelings are, of course, reasonably honest, regular folks, this association has brought mistrust upon them as well.

• The jann (also occasionally spelled djann, jinn or djinn) come from far across the sea to the east.  Having surpressed much of the genuine historical information of their origins, much of what is believed about where they came from has grown rather fanciful in the generations since their arrival on the shores of Qattara many generations ago.  It is reasonably certain that they did in fact come from across the sea, although to anyone's knowledge, no one has returned the other way successfully, and no one has repeated the feat.  In the legendry of the jann themselves, they come from a mighty Empire far to the east, made up entirely of jann, and they are merely a group fleeing oppression.  Or perhaps blown off course accidentally and driven, by the grace of the Gods, to establish their new empire in these fertile new lands.  Here, the jann are the minority aristocratic ruling class of the nation of Qizmir--where they are far outnumbered by their human subjects, who are of stranzero descent.  Throughout Qizmir itself, the language, customs, dress, cuisine, architecture and culture of the jann is ascendent, and many humans are simply Qizmiri by now, with little or no recollection of their stranzero past, but the nation also continues to struggle with nationalistic pride of the stranzeros, who have not gone under the yoke--however light it tends to be in most cases--of the jann quietly.

Sarabascan jann, showing multicultural influences.
Many jann also press forward into more westerly lands as dignitaries, merchants, or expatriots of various stripes.  There is a strong component of Qizmiri culture and jann in particular, in Sarabasca, and jann walk the streets of Porto Liure, Sènt-Haspar, and even Terrasa itself in sufficient numbers that seeing one isn't unusual.  They also wander as far afield as Simashki and other Hamazi lands, and occasionally are to be found even in Kurushat, although in the latter cases, seeing one certainly is a curiousity.

The jann claim to be descended in part from the ifrit from the City of Brass.  This certainly jives with their appearance--the standard jann has brick-red skin, and pale, wispy blond hair that occasionally dances around their head like an open flame.  Bright yellow eyes, and tall willowy stature complete the image.  There is also an uncommon, although not extraordinarily so variant on this appearance; sooty black or gray skin, with--again--flame-colored eyes and bright orange hair.  The appearance of this variation does not appear to be genetic, as it crops up from time to time amongst all lines of jann.  The jann in Qizmir have developed a social stigma against intermarriage with non-jann, but expatriat jann in places like Porto Liure or Sarabasca, or even on the Golden Peninsula who have married humans report that the jann bloodlines seems to be reasonably strong; better than half of all children born to such unions are themselves jann in every way, and even non-jann children can themselves give birth to jann children on occasion.

Many hamazin scholars see the jann as merely another variant on their same hellspawn race that has bred true, much as they have.  The jann find this claim offensive.  Many scholars in neutral areas, such as Terrasa, find that the claims are not necessarily unlikely after all; although the jann, probably by dint of their foreign origin compared to other hellspawn in the Three Empires region, are significantly different than other hellspawn even so.  Although when a jann (or a hellspawn) marries a human, the offspring of such a union are either jann (or hellspawn) or human, on the rare occasions when a jann and a hellspawn have married and born children, they have been known to be hybrids, with features from both parents, which is unusual, and often used as evidence by those who point to a distant unity between the two races.

• Hamazin are the former overlords of the Baal Hamazi empire, a polity which no longer exists.  Nonetheless, in the city-states that now make up that region, hamazin are still fairly common, and play an important role in the population--in many cases still enjoying a shadowy reflection of their former priviledged status.  That said, after the fall of Baal Hamazi, and in the chaos that ensued, many hamazin have fled their ancestral lands, and they are now quite common in the south, particularly in places like Porto Liure and Sarabasca, but in all of the Terrasan cities there are sizeable minorities of them.  Some still nurse dreams of reviving their ancient empire--in fact, the Cherskii mafia was founded on the principle of exploiting organized crime to develop resources and capital for just such a takeover of the fractuous city-states that still claim a portion of the mantle of Baal Hamazi.  Most, however, simply live their lives as they are, without being dazzled by dreams of the past.  Some, in fact, have specifically turned their backs on imperial dreams, and want nothing to do with such ambitions.

The hamazin are hellspawn, but one with a surprisingly uniform appearance which breeds true for hamazin to hamazin match-ups, and which can still produce hamazin heirs even when only one parent is hamazin.  With jet black to sooty gray skin, dark hair, and a "crown" of small horns adorning the heads of each hamazin, they are easily recognized.  The horn patters vary from individual to individual; the most common being six to eight horns growing in a ring around the head.  Some hamazin have traditionally shaved or removed all their hair to better show off their horns, but that style is rare today except in exceptionally conservative parts of the former Empire.  The hamazin themselves point to the iconic image of Ciernavo (Czernavog), the Black Pharoah and a chief deity of the region, saying that they are created in his image and are his special people and children.  Naturally, others dispute this, but the resemblance is certainly uncanny.

• While the hamazin are a true-breeding "race", they are also seen as a subset of the hellspawn, humans touched by the power (or seed) of some ancient god or demon.  The hamazin outnumber the other hellspawn by considerable margins, but the existance of other hellspawn is still well-known to most people in the Three Empires region.  Curiously, the birth of a hellspawn appears to be random and unpredictable, and what causes one to be born are mysterious.  Curiously, some even claim that one can be corrupted into this state from being human, although there are no such documented cases (with the possible exception of the semi-mythical Hutran Kutir, the founder of Baal Hamazi.)  Also called darklings, tieflings, teuflings, and diablings and other names besides, the hellspawn often have a difficult life, as they are often mistrusted.  This causes many of them to turn to a life of crime to support themselves--which perpetuates the cycle of mistrust.

There is no common physical appearance for non-hamazin hellspawn.  All look more or less human, but have some feature that sets them apart and serves as a sign of their infernal corruption--small horns, a thin tail, unusual skin tones, scales, a forked tongue, etc.  Hellspawn are not common in any part of the Three Empires setting, but are uncommon everywhere.  Many hamazin see them as long-lost cousins of a sort, or kindred spirits, but in reality, few hellspawn have much in common with the hamazin, having no history or link to powerful polities of the past, or thriving city-states of today.

• The Cavusto--or Kvuustu in their native language--are a Neanderthal-like race of ancient peoples who live in the far south on the high and windy Cavusto Plains.  In ancient times, they wandered as far noth as the southern shores of the Mezzovian Sea--which had a much lower sea level in the past, it is believed--but they never made their homes on the warmer northlands or the deserts.  The cavustos are slightly short, yet robustly built, with thick bones and thicker slabs of muscle.  Their faces are fairly easily recognizable, with large noses, sloping foreheads, pronounced brow ridges, weak chins and an occiptal "bun" at the base of their skull.  There are not very many cavustos relative to other peoples in the area, but some have served as mercenary units outside of their homelands for a time, returning with great wealth and prestige.

Cavusto hunter
The cavustos are amongst the most carnivorous of peoples--they don't farm at all (although they will eat plant material that is gathered) and they hunt extremely large and dangerous game on foot in the semi-wooded plains of their homeland--aurochs, musk oxen, bison, elk, moose and occasionally even mastodon or mammoth.  They claim that long ago, before "regular" humans came to the area, that it was cooler, and great sheets of ice covered the lands far to the south.  Their own lands were cold windy tundra in those days, and game included mammoths that were smaller and very hairy compared to today's nearly hairless, gray-skinned beasts.  Others find these legends of an "ice age" far in the past to be unbelievable and fanciful.  Nevertheless, it is true that the cavustos are more comfortable in cooler climates than others, and find the hot lands for to the north extremely uncomfortable.  Despite their mercenary tradition, few have served or visited in any capacity the lands north of Calça or the northern borders of Terrasan influence.  The existance of the cavusto amongst the lands of Baal Hamazi is nearly mythical.

In their own lands, they live semi-nomadic lives, hunting game in small family-oriented bands.  They don't have a proper nation, and their sense of belonging to a people beyond their small bands and their neighbors is somewhat slight, and is a recent innovation in their culture, no doubt borrowed from the vast, teeming multitudes of their neighbors.

4 comments:

fictivefantasies said...

If you want, I can put together templates for these races in Old School Hack, the Fictive Way. What do you think?

Joshua said...

I wouldn't say no! I'd love to see what you come up with.

Curiously, I'm using some houseruled OSH rules already as my "preferred" ruleset, although I didn't make races as templates/classes (one of the old Red Box affectations that I never much liked) but instead came up with a different way to make race matter mechanically--at least a little bit. Mostly, it's just a roleplaying schtick.

fictivefantasies said...

In looking them over, I could do the races as templates, or overlay templates. (Explained here. http://fictivefantasies.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/osh-overlay-templates/)

I'll see what I can do. I am glad you are using my stuff. If you want to contact me and be more specific about balance of talents, I'd be happy to talk that over with you.

Joshua said...

Eh, I don't want to be too proscriptive. Half the fun is seeing what you come up with that I wouldn't have thought of doing myself, after all.