RACES AND CULTURES
Darkplane attempts to reflect the complexity and diversity of the real world. Central to that is an array of races that are not only recognizable and interesting, but are also influenced by real-world cultures other than Medieval Europe. Here are some of the races of Vinramar.
Survivors of the ancient world, daemons and jharethil are the offspring of gods. Thousands of years ago, their civilizations blanketed the earth, warring against each other in the name of religion until little was left. Now they hide in the shadows, using anonymity as a defense, or as a weapon.
Daemons are the human embodiments of demonic spirits from an ancient empire, sent to the material world of Vinramar as agents of Daemoth. Each is born to a human mother by entering the womb, driving out the spirit of the true child, and taking its place. When daemons first enter the mortal body, the memory of their former life is lost, and only regained through disciplined meditation. Many forge a new path as they mature, consciously or unconsciously shirking their original purpose.
With practice, daemons can enter a powerful state that hearkens back to their ancient glory. In this elder form their presence becomes commanding, and they glow with an unholy light. Although frightening in this form, daemons can more often access resources and connections in human guise that would otherwise be unavailable.
The intent of this charade is to keep a strict eye on world affairs without the daemon’s presence being sensed as a threat. As opposed to the jharethil, who hide out of necessity, the daemons hide in human form because it suits their purpose, evil or otherwise.
Before Daemoth created the daemons, Jharus created his own progeny, the jharethil. Once a proud civilization, the jharethil now struggle just to stay alive. They’re hunted mercilessly by the Eitharmos, Daemoth’s militant sect, who keep the common folk living in fear of them.
The truth is that the jharethil were once the protectors of Vinramar, a symbol of honor and justice. When their final empire fell, Jharus took its cities into the heavens for safe keeping, sealing their gates against the unworthy. These hidden metropolises still hover in invisible space above the tainted world.
Like the daemons, jharethil can cloak their elder form, making them appear human. When viewed in all their glory, they have feathered wings, and a striking presence that can inspire either courage or fear.
Though the maahiset's ancient cities have been buried and ground into dust, there are still artifacts, ruins, and places of power to be found in these regions—remnants of the runemages’ forgotten art. Today, their descendants have little memory of them. They take for granted the folklore, nursery rhymes, and symbols of power that survive from that era. Those who can discover the secrets of the forbidden relics may live to regret it.
Though descended from the ancient maahiset people, the gugrum have a far larger stature than their ancestors. Once ruling a powerful network of kingdoms, the gugrum suffered an outbreak of civil war that left their civilization tattered. In the following centuries, humans claimed their lands and shipped them to Motta as slaves, ending any chance of greatness for their people.
Without much memory of their culture before slavery, the gugrum have become a quiet and subdued race, despite their height and strength. Very few gugrum manage to gain freedom during their lives, since the children a gugrum bears in captivity become the property of her master. Those who do might remain in Motta, where the population is racially diverse, but it’s more likely they’ll move to a place where they’re not mistaken for property.
Outside of bondage, gugrum live close to the earth in matriarchal communities. Though they're capable warriors when they need to be, pacifism and nonviolence have become their chief values.
The skin of the gugrum is a dusky grey color. Their blood is a deep blue, and shows clearly through the skin, giving them a lightning or tree-branch pattern. Every gugrum’s unique vein-pattern shows differently, and is one of their primary methods for indentification. Some gugrum grow thin hair, others don’t. Its color is usually a shade of grey. Their eyes are usually warm colors like yellow, amber, or pink.
The heathfolk are a technologically advanced race native to the moors and highlands that once belonged to their maahiset fathers. They’re descended from the original maahiset aristocracy, who, when the dragon-spawn attacked, fled into mountain sanctuaries rather than live underground.
As the highland settlers prospered, their sanctuaries developed into vast cities perched on remote precipices. They grew taller, hardier, more technologically advanced, and their numbers swelled. Today they continue to thrive as a result of their political neutrality and characteristic charm. Most heathfolk have a love of learning and art instilled in them from a young age.
Folk magic is a fundamental part of heathfolk culture. With the exception of the Yaelcar kindred, most of them treasure the arcane as part of their heritage. Their universities are the only formal institutions for magical instruction in the world.
A heathfolk’s face has earth-toned markings, often centered on the eyes like a raccoon. This trait is genetic, and usually a child’s mark will resemble the parents’, but each is as unique as a fingerprint. They can be light or dark, intricate or simple.
Heathfolk have very thick, bushy hair that grows long. The men have a mane that surrounds their heads like a lion’s. It grows in one mass that covers the entire head, neck, shoulders, and chest, leaving only the face visible. They have high foreheads, and their facial hair stops at the corners of the mouth, further suggesting the appearance of a lion. Female heathfolk grow strong, thick hair commonly worn past the waist, but theirs doesn’t cover the shoulders and chest. Their hair colors tend to be shades of red and brown.
From their earliest history, the sarrow have been subjects of voracious persecution. Still enslaved by humans throughout the world, they are embittered and very slow to trust. Those free from bondage live in the most remote parts of Vinramar, understandably eager to avoid contact with other races.
More than any other Maahisite race, the sarrow still bear the stature of their ancestors, who were likewise about half the height of a human. They descend from a group of maahiset that delved deep under the mountains to escape the dragon-hordes that drove them from the surface, and were first to emerge once the enemy left their land. If they had known what lay in store for their people, they might have preferred to stay underground.
Sarrow continue to be bred in slavery to humans. Any evidence of their culture has been wiped from their native lands in the Trentsmund region by human settlers. Only two places in the world are home to free sarrow communities—one an isolated desert tribe and the other a colony of escaped slaves.
The telmatra occupy lands that conveniently serve as a bridge between the East and West. The trade traffic that passes through has caused their society to develop rapidly, leaving many remote communities in the dust. The conflict between traditionally xenophobic telmatra tribes and the progressive mercantile states is emblematic of what it means to be a telmatra in the industrial world. Each must choose between tradition and modernity, two ways of life that cannot coexist.
Telmatra tribes are built around warrior reverence. The more people a man has killed, for example, the more wives he is awarded. These sorts of practices are what put tribal communities at odds with the developed nations, who have incorporated the more “civilized” customs of their human associations. This is a deep-rooted conflict for most telmatra, and even those who detest the ancient traditions may have a more emotionally complex relationship to them than they’d admit.
The telmatra are often just taller than the average human. Their skin is earth-toned, meaning it might be brown, grey, green, or even red. Their lips, gums, teeth, tongues, and fingernails tend to be darkly colored.
Some characters are considered to have a certain race because their abilities are passed on to children they might have. These races aren't necessarily cultural groups (although some are), but they share certain genetic traits that cause them to group together when there's no one else to trust.
The looming threat of the Darkplane is an ever-present reality for mimessarchs, who have been cruelly deformed through contact with the unnatural climes of the Darkplane or its native creatures. Whatever the cause, mimessarchs manifest a powerful aberrant deformity while maintaining the at times vague appearance of their born race.
Mimessarchs know that they can’t escape their fate. The unnatural deformity remains as a permanent mark of the Darkplane’s influence over them. Many attempt to regain a semblance of normal life, hiding the deformity and the abilities it grants. Others throw caution to the wind and embrace the fear their alien features inspire.
Mimessarchs always give birth to mimessarchs, though the natural race may prevail until later in the child’s life. Communities have been discovered that span several generations of born mimessarchs. Such families cover a wide spectrum of deformity, from those who have not changed at all to those that are distorted beyond recognition. The deformity of the child nearly always matches that of the parent.
Whether reclusive or bold, a mimessarch is defined by her relationship to the aberrant. Some worship and revere powerful Darkplane entities. Others despise and fight against their heritage.
Ancient as the world itself, the vampire civilization descends from Iarmov the Maimed, one of the four sons of Daemoth the Creator. After Iarmov was cursed with undeath, he fled to the East of Vinramar, where his children live to this day. Their empire Perrith Gorr was in terrible decline over the last few thousand years, but the apotheosis of the dead vampire Volgothyde has thrown them into a new golden age.
There are five ruling families among the vampires: Bromraw, Calchoth, Carachun, Ferrialum, and Mannen. Each kindred has a unique culture and dialect, making unity among the vampires more of a show than a reality. The ruling families harbor thousand-year-old grudges against one another, but are willing to work together for the good of the empire, especially now that their former emperor has returned to rule them as a god.
Those vampires that leave Perrith Gorr do so for various reasons. There are plenty of dishonorable motives—greed for blood not least—but some have a genuine objection to the horrors of vampire decadence. These exiles can control their appearance enough to blend in well with humans.
Victims of a tainted land, the vorruqun are a form of quasi-vampire who become dependent on consuming living flesh to stay alive. The infection usually enters their body through food. Crops grown in the blighted earth of Perrith Gorr, and even animals fed on those crops, can carry the plague that transforms the eater gradually into a vorruc. For the thousands of humans imported to the vampire lands as blood chattel and slave labor, the vorruc infection is a death sentence, since during captivity they’ll eat nothing but corrupted food. Once defiled themselves, they’re cast off into the blighted wild to starve for want of flesh.
Only undead in the strictest sense, vorruqun maintain a considerable intelligence once infected. In most circumstances, they’re indistinguishable from who they were before succumbing to the blight. It’s only once they become hungry that the inner beast in unleashed.
Those vorruqun that haven’t fed on fresh blood or live meat in several days will begin to look pale and grey-eyed. Blood rushes into their lips, cheeks, gums, and tongue, causing the entire mouth to swell like a snout., and their teeth to slide outward into prominent fangs. The “devil’s grin,” as it’s called, is truly frightening.
Most of the vorruqun that find themselves in settled areas make an effort to hide their infection, feeding in secret, and maybe even avoiding the flesh of intelligent creatures. In Wellusk, however, where the survivors of the Desolation hide among the ruins, the vorruqun lure and hunt their former friends without remorse.
Most shudder when they hear stories of the bloodthirsty lycanthropes, men and women cursed to transform into raging beasts and kill their loved ones. But the truth about the werekin is that they come from a civilization older than most. They control their ability to shapechange, and don’t view it as a curse. For them it’s a pivotal part of their connection to primeval nature.
Each werekin is born with a spiritual connection to a specific totem animal. The type of animal depends on the werekin’s family and clan. It determines not only her humanoid appearance but also how she can shapechange. If she lives in the kinlands of Arwest, she’ll spend most of her life among her own in hybrid form, which they consider the ultimate achievement of nature. But when she has business among other races, her human and animal forms become invaluable.
The totem animal of a werekin defines its forms. As humanoids, they tend to be thick-haired and have a semblance of the animal’s coloration. In that form they can pass easily as human, though they also resemble their ancestors the vampires. In animal form they’re indistinguishable from any other of the species, although at times their uncanny intelligence gives them away.
Werekin’s third and greatest form is a hybrid of the previous two. They maintain an upright, bipedal posture as well as dexterous fingers that can use tools and weapons. Their hands, legs, and face, however, shift in the direction of the animal, perhaps growing claws, fangs, snouts, and elongated ears. Hair or feathers commonly cover the entire body, and some sprout wings, a tail, or extra legs, depending on the totem animal. Whichever breed they’re born into, the werekin’s hybrid form is to be respected and feared.
Human settlements are to be found in every corner of Vinramar, often built over the ruins of previous civilizations. Even more so than in most Dungeons & Dragons settings, humans have incredible variety, both physically and culturally. Whether their communities are urban, rural, industrial, tribal, militant, peaceful, or colonial, humans find their diversity is a blessing and a curse. It makes them innovative and adaptable, but it also makes them intolerant toward other races and even each other. The most human-looking races—like the heathfolk—tend to escape the worst of human racism.
Humans first appeared during the early years of the Elder Dark, when the daemon empire Mohtra was beginning its longest period of expansion. Mutated children of the lesser daemon houses, humans were seen by their parents as malformed weaklings, suitable as slaves because they were expendable. In this capacity, they thrived, proving themselves intelligent and passionate, though at times intractable. Several millennia of revolts and mass escapes culminated in the human slaves conquering Mohtra and transforming it into their own empire, Motta, which still exists after more than 8,000 years.
From the latter part of the Elder Dark to the present, human colonies have cropped up in every region of the world, where they form distinct cultures and traditions. The number and diversity of these ethnic groups is nearly endless.