Thursday, October 10, 2013

Odd D&D, part VI: The Lizardmen kingdoms

Still keeping my furlough of DARK•HERITAGE topics on while I talk about my ODD D&D setting development instead.  For those of you just tuning in, check out the tag ODD D&D and read the rest of the posts in the series.  Otherwise, here's a quick summary.  The premise of this game is that it uses 100% official D&D rules (3.5 edition, although it could easily be adapted to another edition, I'm sure) but it deliberately eschews the normal D&Disms that typically one finds in a D&D game.  So, the races are pretty shook up--there's no elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, etc.  The classes are a bit shook up.  There's no arcane or divine magic, and psionics instead provides all of the supernatural F/X (and keep in mind that especially with the Complete Psionic book, psionics can duplicate most of the effects of both divine and arcane magic anyway.)  There's no dungeons, and there's no dragons.  Rather, the theme of the game is a kind of vs. the reptiles--the PC races live in small, fringe communities that bicker and play dirty politics and skulduggery with each other, even as they are pushed to the fringes of a Greenland-sized continent by powerful lizardmen empires, and scheming yuan-ti empires.  The wildlands between their settlements cross dangerous territory where the reptiles hold sway, both in terms of their civilized warriors--who see the mammalian PC races as either interesting slaves or food--at best--and gigantic dinosaurian wildlife.

Anyway, for today, I'm going to talk a bit more about the lizardman kingdoms, or Squamousii, as they're collectively called.  Although often referred to as an empire, in reality, Squamousii is a collection of city-states united in more or less amicable alliance and by a common shared culture.  The leadership caste of the lizardmen are the priest-kings, who are almost always psions, or other psionic-using classes.  True psions often become morbidly obese and bloated with magical power, to the point where they can't even walk and must be carried always on a palanquin.  Pictured here is a young priest-prince; a priest-king in the making, just starting to become swollen with power, and not yet immobile.

Lizardmen don't live in regular family units--their females lay eggs in large nesting grounds, where a large number of nests sit in close proximity, and then guarded and tended communally.  The young are also raised communally, and lizardmen society has nothing that approaches marriage, since reproductive functions are not related to anything like familial or spousal love.  The lizardmen are much too pragmatic for that approach, and compared to the mammalian races, are viewed as cold and emotionless.  This is as much due to the totally alien nature of their faces, which do not emote in ways that humanoid races can interpret as it is to reality, but the way in which young are raised communally reinforces that notion strongly.

Around large nesting sites, which have been used for centuries by colonies, often even millenia, is where the city-states have grown up as the lizardmen acquired civilization--by adopting complicated building techniques and division and specialization of labor amongst the communities.  The largest city-states have literally millions of occupants, spread over many square miles--the equivalent of many smaller European countries, or US states in terms of size.  At the center of each city-states' area, is a megalithic, Cyclopean city, with strong, stone walls, gigantic, sheer-sided pyramids as big as mountains, a complicated social hierarchy built around the near-worship of the priest-kings and their chthonic gods, and the support of vast armies of soldiers and workers.
Some mammalian humanoids live in these cities, occasionally as guests of the priest-kings, but more often as slaves, chattel and livestock, for lizardmen see nothing wrong with eating mammalian humanoids (although they usually prefer other meat.)  These cities also have large embassy compounds, with representatives of their brother-kings from other city-states, as well as from yuan-ti states, which have a more guarded, and occasionally even hostile relationship with the lizardmen.  Mammalian humanoids also--occasionally--have embassies in these cities, but in general, the lizardmen think too little of the humanoids to treat with them as anything approaching equals.  The other thing that humanoids have recently discovered--through these embassies--is that they are not the only mammalian sentient creatures on the continent.  Embassies of intelligent apes have opened in a few of these cities.  The lizardmen actually seem to treat these intelligent apes as more worthy of respect than the humanoids, although it is unclear to most humanoids where they come from and what the extent of their kingdoms and power truly is.

Although the lizardmen (and the yuan-ti) are both reptilian, that does not mean that they are slow, sluggish, or cold-blooded (i.e., ectothermic, or poikilothermic.)  Like the early archosaurs of our world, the ancient ancestors of the lizardmen (and many of the dinosaurian creatures that are their ecological room-mates) developed a degree of warm-bloodedness, which has been refined and developed until it is as complex and efficient as that of the mammalian humanoids.  Young lizardmen hatchlings are actualy covered in a fine coat of downy pelage, which they lose as they grow, and the thick, scute-like scales that cover their bodies become more prominent and hardened.

As they grow older, their metabolism does slow down (as it does in you and me, for that matter, but the effect is more marked in lizardmen) but when younger, their metabolism is actually quite a bit faster and their internal furnaces burn even hotter than in mammalians, leading to a great consumption of food resources.  In the rare times of very severe famine, lizardmen are known to eat their own young.  Because the metabolism of the older saurians is slower, they need to eat less than the young do.  Sometimes, the young subadults are strong and powerful enough of as a population to turn the tables and instead eat the older, slower full adults when this happens--but the circumstances have to be extremely dire for either situation to occur.

Lizardmen, as their mouths and teeth indicate, are obligate carnivores, and have a very poor ability to digest or derive nutrition from any plant material.  They also retain water vastly more efficiently than mammals do.  Because of this, the strongly tropical--both dry desert and wet rainforest and jungle habitats that cover much of the mainland are better environments for lizardmen than for mammals, and the lizardmen thrive where humanoids struggle.  Because of this obligate carnivory, lizardmen are not farmers, but are instead rancher and hunters or fishers, and keep vast herds of smaller dinosaurs (hypsilophodonts and protoceratopians, mostly) which are raised for both meat and eggs, which the lizardmen greatly like to eat.  Hunted meat is more varied, and can include the large dinosaurs, as well as any mammals (including humanoids) although such meat is considered poor fare, and is only usually given to lower caste lizardmen, or eaten in times of duress.

While lizardmen are united in their disinterest or even disdain of humanoids, and their opposition to the ambitions of the yuan-ti, they are not truly united politically, and it is not at all unheard of for one city-state to march to war against another.  When they march to war, the adults and subadults are conscripted into the army and equipped in a somewhat ad-hoc fashion.  These conscripts are strong, fast, and fierce, but are poorly trained and disciplined, and make good fighters, but poor soldiers.  More highly trained elite forces, on the other hand, make up the core of such armies, and are much more difficult to fight, both individually and as units.  The massive blackscale lizardmen, a variant that can grow to nine to ten feet tall and weigh up to a thousand pounds or more of muscle and bone and massive battle-implements, are thankfully rather rare. They are not s subspecies or breed; rather, certain eggs, during incubation, develop the signs that they will hatch a blackscale, regardless of who laid it--becoming larger and darker in color before hatching.  Blackscale hatchlings are not separated from their smaller, green brothers, and while still tiny hatchlings, they often eat their nest-mates.

Perhaps even more frightening and certainly more dramatic, are the beasts of war that that the lizardmen utilize.  As Indians or Carthaginians in our world used war elephants and howdahs, the lizardmen do the same with much more dangerous and ferocious dinosaurian inhabitants of the land.  Some ride on gigantic carnivorous beasts, while others ride on horned and armored dinosaurs, using them almost as tank-like platforms that are very difficult to assail.

Even when not in war, caravans and travelers use domesticated dinosaurs as mounts and beasts of burden, which can be extremely dangerous to any traveling humanoids that they may encounter.  Humanoids are, unless somehow specifically invited, strongly discouraged from seeking out any contact with lizardmen of any kind.  The best defense that humanoids have developed to avoid being swept off the continent entirely and into the sea (or the lizardmen's larders) is that they inhabit marginal terrain where the environment is more hostile to the lizardmen--in the cooler mountains, and deep in the fjords along the coastline, mostly--or other more easily defensible and inaccesable locations.

No comments: