Seven Realms: Bestial Humanoids
One of my goals for Champions of the Seven Realms is create a set of standards for most non-human races. Whether they are considered top shelf alternates to humans or not, they have to have history in the world, something unique about them which separates them from the other races at least somewhat, and they have to be playable templates for characters.
I don’t think interesting character concepts should be stifled out of the gate. So if a “monster” race is not inherently overpowered (immortal and powerful because of it), has enough intelligence to act/react without being tied to fight or flight responses, and has both a way of communicating with other intelligent beings and a way to manipulate their environment, i.e. to be a tool user, then I provide a background for it.
I make no claim that every race in the Seven Realms setting is original, because I draw heavily upon old european mythology and fantasy tropes just as much as other designers. What I do claim to do however, is provide something a player might latch onto. Something they might flesh out.
Few players want to play full-blooded Tolkienesque orcs leading their fellows against the weak humans while contending with starvation, a tribal hunting lifestyle and constant fights for position. All told, they shouldn’t be able to work together, don’t have a valid economy, and serve only as battle fodder through most of his stories.
Orcs are usually described as a warrior caste with no worker caste to lean on, and they manage to flourish in some way which is rarely explained (slavery? mitosis?). Real world tribal cultures, which some might claim the orcs were based upon, have gatherers or farmers to go with their hunters or are nomads constantly on the move. They don’t set up shop in a region, they don’t patrol borders and they have civilians.
So while I have plenty of races which serve the same function as nomadic or settled savage tribes which don’t like humans by default, they have more explicit reasons for their anti-social cultural traditions. They also have traditions and a tribal lifestyle based on actual cultures so they aren’t just something to hand wave away about the setting. More often than not, these races in the Seven Realms raid humans because humans have better stuff and they are desperate.
Some of the races I’m most proud of are Serpentmen, Jackalmen, and Gargoyles. I’ve also got ogres, and true ogres, who are more refined long lived humanoids, trow, which are diminutive humanoids which share a common ancestor with true ogres, bugbears which share a common ancestor with common ogres, and goblins which share a common ancestor with trolls. Lastly, there are scattered populations of ape-men, and tribal humans as well who function very differently than their civilized cousins.
Because trolls are wooly engines of barely restrained violence and destruction on a good day, are practically invulnerable and are very large, and goblins are barely functional tool users much like tiny gorillas, they are the only ones on that list which don’t get the full template treatment. If you wish to play an exiled Ape-Man, or a Jackalman who was lured away from the hierarchy of his tribe, or even a Gargoyle explorer, you can.
My gargoyles are a race of reptilian humanoids native to the Inferno. In the distant past shortly after demons were banished to that realm, many of the native creatures fled to the mortal realm and took up residence in the wilderness of Arn. They were soon numerous in number, and when they marched upon the First Empire as raiders and conquerors, the human overlords cursed them.
Those gargoyles became little better than animals and scattered to all corners of the continent. However, some gargoyles can trace their lineage to the fraction of the original stock that did not partake of such aggression, or directly to the Inferno as recent visitors or colonists. These gargoyles retain full intelligence and an elemental link to nature.
Gargoyles are short in stature, and possess horns, retractable claws, scaly ears, tails and protrudent faces sporting an elongated nose and jaw. They have large teeth, but they are omnivores, so they have a mix of fangs and unpointed teeth. Gargoyles exist which sport wings, although this is usually the feral variety, which allow those lucky few throwbacks to fly very slowly.
It is unknown when humans began carving gargoyles as ornamental protectors of their buildings, but as feral gargoyles liked to perch on tall building roofs and would deter burglars, it was a logical choice. The gray skin tone of natural gargoyles matches the stony appearance closely enough that on first glance most people cannot tell the difference. Thus gargoyles who can remain still can pretend to be statuary in civilized areas or even ruins.
So, a potential player of a gargoyle is an elemental humanoid, meaning they have a tie to the natural magic of energies, with a history firmly entrenched in the continent’s past and have millennia of existence in a human dominated world where their distant cousins serve as a reminder of what unchecked war and strife can bring. They are small, lithe creatures and very few of them have wings.
The only major civilization which has accepted them as full citizens is Mysterious Jath in the Sanguine Lands, a non-human nation ruled by True Ogres refugees from the Unbounds. Because of these factors, a gargoyle from Jath has widely different background touchpoints than one from a volcanic island off the shores in the West, or one who hails from an underground cave structure in the Delving Deep somewhere near the Crucible.
Likewise, the Serpentmen are descended from demon-worshipping humans, the first sorcerers, and they have both a horrible history and untold secrets which they can unearth. Their outlooks are widely different depending on whether they live within Darpat in the Crucible, or Naim, also in the Crucible, the Delving Deep of the West, or in the wilds of the East. In Darpat they are treated as humans, so there is less call for them to struggle to reclaim their sordid past and create monstrosities from their own offspring and master esoteric sorceries. In Naim, their natural stealth is put to use in service of the government. It depends very much upon where the serpentmen grew up and what their treatment was like.
Similarly, Jackalmen are often considered wild, savage beasts in humanoid form which have no civilization and no desire or need for it. However, only in Naim are they integrated into the nation’s citizenry in any form. Hence, only in Naim are they not nomadic tribal raiders, even though they are common in Seboria, Erisia, Darpat and various less warm climes in the center of the continent such as the plains of the Midlands and the East.
Tribal Jackalmen are likely to covet the possessions of those around them, and they are trained by their upbringings to steal or rob to get what they desire. They do not have anything approaching a human concept of honor or duty, just reputation, risk and reward. Calling a jackalman a coward is a useless endeavor, and flashing your treasures in front of one when alone is a good way to get robbed. However, outside of the tribal dynamic, a Jackalman who does not have to filch food, or beat down rivals to gain a good share may develop other emotional responses and needs.