Up From the Mud
Races of Solevon and Beyond
Native to the mountains and hills of the world, dwarves claim ancestry from the stones of the earth themselves; it is said that in the early days of the world, the first dwarves tore themselves from the living rock and soon after set to work pulling their brethren from the same source. Over time, their mineral nature was diluted, making dwarves the flesh and blood beings we see today. Dwarven civilization has never strayed far from the mountains, hills and the unknowable depths beneath both.
Most dwarves adhere to a very personal form of ancestor-worship, tend to keep shrines to their family elders in the home and pass stories down from generation to generation of their family’s glory. Dwarves tend to look down on human followers of Valorism, considering the religion’s mythology to be mostly just adaptations of dwarves’ own ancestor-stories, adopted by over-eager humans as their own in forgotten days.
Mountain dwarves make the most frequent and loudest claims to being the longest lineage of dwarves, and they still carry a bit of their mineral heritage in their blood and bones. They bore tunnels deep into the Great Spine Range in search of wealth and to make war with creatures of the deep, though they make their homes in great citadels atop the mountains themselves.
Hill dwarves have the same industrious nature of their mountain cousins but, living in the lower elevations, have a more cordial relationship with other peoples and are known more for their enduring construction, forestry and scholarship. They concern themselves less with being “true” dwarves the way mountain dwarves do, but hold sacred dwarves’ role in general as the oldest continuous known civilization, considering themselves stewards and masters of the earth.
Duergar: for as much time as dwarves spend toiling beneath the ground, it is a great taboo for any to actually make a permanent home too far down. It is believed that their twisted cousins the Duergar are the natural result of dwarves breeding in the corrupting influence of the underground. Duergar themselves build magnificent cities in the sides of great deep ravines and spend their lives locked in vicious conflict with the drow and other subterranean creatures.
According to their own traditions, the ancestors of today’s elves came here (along with those of the goblins) to fight a proxy war against an unnamed otherworldly threat to the fey realm and the land of the dead. Those fey creatures who stayed behind, enchanted by the material plane, eventually became more like the living creatures native to it.
High Elves follow a ritual path of self-perfection for their entire thousand-year existences on this plane, preparing for the time when they might, like a larva taking its final form, become like the fey lords who sent their ancestors here and return home, equal in power to these great enigmatic beings. They believe that their ancestors remained here in order to individually fulfill this purpose; some are reverent toward the fey lords while some bear a deep resentment and look to the day when they might overthrow them.
High elves spend the latter centuries of their lives segregated off in the great spire cities of Adhetu and Sausan, both of which are mystically shielded from “lesser” beings, but in their younger years, are encouraged by their elders to travel the world, learning and experiencing as much as they can, only coming home to complete their transformation once they have the martial capacity of a veteran warrior, the knowledge of a great sage and the serenity of a monastic hermit.
Infused with this purpose, the high elves care very little for other peoples in general; they might respect individuals and recognize the more admirable general qualities of dwarves and humans, but consider the travails of any other creatures as insignificant compared to their own great purpose. Even their own cousins don’t escape this condescension; high elves privately joke that wood elves’ ancestors literally bred with animals of the wild to produce them, and the cave-dwelling creatures called drow are considered especially repulsive.
Wood elves share a common origin with their noble cousins, but as a culture, they could hardly be any different. They make their homes in smaller, scattered villages in the world’s forests and jungles, incorporating the environment into their less permanent living structures, and nomadic wood elves can be found traveling across the more desolate parts of the world, even the great southern salt wastes. What they all have in common is a reverence for nature, which becomes a formal religion for many and a love of the experiences of life. Wood elves live far shorter lives than their noble cousins; the oldest might grow to be about four hundred years old, though their impulsive nature leads many to a far earlier, more abrupt end.
Deep elves, or drow, are elves which adapted in early days to the earth’s own underworld, where many of the war’s fiercest battles were fought. Since then, the drow have become, like fish the swim in underground seas, eerily suited to that environment. The deep elves’ skin is so pale it is translucent, laced with dark blood vessels that show through in the unlikely event one of them ever ends up in the light of the sun. Their eyes are perhaps the most disturbing feature: lidless, dark orbs lurking behind a thin layer of milky skin. Their surface-dwelling cousins consider them casualties of their great war, corrupted by the evil that lies in the deep; while it is true that a not insignificant number of deep elves turn to fiend-worship, the majority worship the spider goddess Lolth, whose chief virtue is a ruthless survivalism, as befits the harsh conditions deep in the earth.
One of the world’s two “young races” (dubbed this sardonically by a hill dwarf scholar, though the appellation stuck), halflings have, in their short time, spread over much of the world alongside humans. A popular story speaks of the first meeting between elves and early humans, which nearly came to violence due to aggression from both parties, until halflings, another recent discovery from the elves’ point of view, volunteered to mediate the dispute, leading to a beneficial relationship between all three; it is for this reason that the elvish word for “halfling” translates into the common tongue as “younger, wiser brother.”
Halflings display a deep curiosity about the world and about other people, but, unlike many others, have a strong “live and let live” ethic toward outsiders; haflings may chuckle and cluck at what they see as odd behavior from others, and might actively disdain truly vile acts, but they tend not to interfere unless they, their family or their community is affected.
This nonintrusiveness is sometimes seen as weakness by others, though those who would underestimate halflings live to regret it. They will humor and accept an outside power that demands fealty, as this is the way of things, but rapid changes to their way of life will awaken a side to the halflings that can be frightening to behold. Indeed, though few of them brag about it today, when the reforms from the Decree of Free Access upset the order of halfling shires in Balos, halflings themselves became the most ardent supporters of the Crofters movement. Not many fought on the front lines of the war, but halfling communities were instrumental in supporting the rebels and in giving Crofter leaders a place to hide from the scrutiny of the Coiner Princes.
Stout halflings are native to Solevon and live mostly in isolated villages within the Six Kingdoms. The villages themselves have no internal governing body or hierarchy; rather, a strong tradition of respect for the elders of any family maintains order; what problems do arise tend to be settled diplomatically by the older villagers (most often in one of the shire’s pubs). Stout halflings tend to pass their trades down from parent to child; the generations of refinement make stout halflings among the best at any given trade. The first labor guilds were founded by halflings as a way to share skills and educate laborers, though they rarely seek high political position within the guilds themselves.
Lightfoot halflings originate from the northern reaches of Saadtu, though most migrated to Solevon long ago; the legend of the Dawn of Dragons, they were forced out of their homelands along with the Pidahi humans when those areas became devastated in a great war between metallic and chromatic dragons. While their human counterparts settled in the northern parts of Solevon, the lightfoot halflings took up a more nomadic existence. Lightfoots travel in long caravans from place to place in extended family bands, headed by a single family elder (typically the oldest woman in the band). Lightfoot caravans are no meager affair; over time, they accrue enormous wagons, large herds of draft animals and luxury goods from far and wide. Some take this life to the water, living in rafts or ships instead of wagons, but otherwise the same. The arrival of a lightfoot caravan is often seen as cause for celebration in continental communities, as they are sure to bring fine and exotic goods from far and wide.
The more visible of the “young races,” humans have lived in Solevon, Saadtu and Kandark for at least five thousand years (that is at least the length of time since the first elven contact with humans is recorded). In that time, they have spread far and wide, founding kingdoms, city-states, clans and tribes everywhere they go. Being the shortest-lived of the known peoples, humans have perhaps changed most rapidly in the time they have existed in the world. Humans on the continent recognize four broad ethnic distinctions, though most humans on the continent have more than one in their ancestry. The names given here are very formal language that is rarely used locally. Rather, people use more common terms for each.
Lapialti humans (or hill-folk) are most heavily concentrated in the foothills on either side of the Great Spine in Solevon. Many make their livelihood as terrace farmers, merchants and miners. Of all the humans, Lapialti have the closest relationship with hill dwarves and stout halfling, with many villages peopled by some mix of the three. Valorism is the predominant religion among the Lapialti, and it is generally considered rude to a Lapialti Valorian to refer to the Tales as merely a source of entertainment in the larger continent.
The Pidahi originated in the northern area of Saadtu and, according to legend, migrated to Solevon during the Dawn of Dragons, which despoiled much of their homeland. Pidahi are found in their largest concentration north of the Great Spine; House ________, heirs to ____________, is the only royal family of Pidahi origin, and they are fierce advocates for Pidahi people south of the Spine, where their social status tends to be much lower. Many Pidahi in the south find their calling in Ashoumite temples, serving as high creed clergy.
Pisucha or commonly “Easterners,” predominate east of the rivers in the southern portion of Solevon and across the bight in Saadtu; they are well represented among the nobility as well as the lower classes, and as many have ties across the bight, many Pisucha are merchants, sailors and shipwrights. Religiously, most follow Ashoum, slightly favoring the high creed, but those living outside the cities and larger towns are just as apt to support the low creed. The rest are mostly Valorian, with a rare few worshiping the distant gods of Saadtu.
Tapiesch humans dominate the larger western portion of Solevon and tend toward a more agrarian lifestyle. Though the nobility as well as the peasantry of the west is largely Tapiesch, these areas also have a slightly more egalitarian attitude between the classes (often to the distaste of easterners). Tapiesch make up the majority of low creed Ashoumites, and even their Bishops and Cardinals have spoken in support of the low creed.
The goblin-derived people of the world share an origin similar to that of the elves; long ago, an unnamed devil or demon from the lower planes posed a threat to both the shadow and fey realms, so the powers of those places sent lower-caste armies to fight in the material plane; after the war, many returned to their places of origin, but those who stayed behind adopted physical bodies and diverging over time into the goblins we see today.
Goblinoids in general are most numerous in Kandark, far to the north of Solevon and connected by the long archipelago of The Hydra. Mostly, the continent is divided into territories held by ragged warbands who fight among themselves for living space and resources. They are, however, an expansionist civilization and are often found in the islands and in the northern reaches of Solevon.
Goblins are by far the most numerous and adaptable creatures in the larger goblinoid family. It is assumed by elven scholars that these are the “original” goblinoids, closest to the ancestral creatures left behind in the war. Goblins are short in stature, but aside from this, bear extreme physical diversity, even within closely-related family groups. The stresses experiences by a young goblin shape their physical form in adulthood, with those raised in quiet environments developing large, drooping ears, those who had to climb to reach food having gangly limbs depending from a small central torso and so forth. In Kandark, goblins make up the majority of civilization, but tend to be relegated to menial labor in service to hobgoblin masters. Many seek to escape this and flee to Solevon or Saadtu, where they tend to make homes for themselves but are generally viewed with suspicion by the natives.
Hobgoblins comprise the bulk of the leading military caste of Kandark, and are rarely seen off their home continent’s shores, unless they are part of an invading force. Generally more educated than orcs and physically stronger than goblins, they rule their civilization with a strong guiding hand and seek to expand that rule farther in days to come.
Bugbears are the largest of the goblinoids, but retain a fair amount of the pragmatic savvy of their smaller goblin cousins. On Kandark, they typically dwell in bugbear-majority communities but are called upon by the hobgoblins to serve in a fighting capacity often. Goblins mistrust bugbears generally due to an antagonistic history between the two; that mistrust is mutual, and is one reason both groups are willing to accept hobgoblin dominance.
Orcs live in the southern reaches of Kandark, make up the bulk of the hobgoblins’ armies and are often seen by their hobgoblin superiors as little more than expendable troops and labor. Orcs often buck at strict military discipline and frequently find themselves subject to exile, sent by their superiors to the shores of Solevon as punishment for failing to fit in.
Half-orcs are born of one orcish parent and one non-orc, or to two half-orc parents. Either are common in Kandark, where humans make up a sizable minority of the population. In Solevon, they tend to be found along the northern coasts, where orcs make up the bulk of the goblinoid settlers from the far north.
Rarely seen in Solevon but quite prominent in the northern reaches of Saadtu, the dragonborn command attention anywhere they go. According to their own mythology, dragonborn are descended from ancient sects of dragon-worshipping humanoids. In the days when humanity was young, those who showed the greatest piety were transformed by their masters, gaining aspects of the dragon and some glimmer of their fierce persona. These early dragonborn resembled the draconic “breed” of their masters completely, and even took on their unique personality traits; the chromatic dragonborn became villainous and cruel while those resembling the metallic dragons strove to be paragons of virtue. One thing that all had in common was an immense pride, seeing themselves as clearly above the rabble infesting the world, even above those of their same sect. Even as the early dragonborn rose to the leadership of the human cults that spawned them, the dragons themselves lost interest. It seems that elevating the station of their lesser worshippers was, on a dragon’s timetable, a momentary fashion or diversion at best, a failed experiment at worst.
Few Solevesi are intimately familiar with the dragonborn, but in their own lands, it isn’t hard to hear another side of the story about the “failure” of the dragonborn. It is known that dragons are prideful creatures even at the best of times, and in rewarding their worshippers with a breath of their own essence, this pride went along with the scales and terrible breath weapons. Some dragonborn, having commanded cults of humanoid worshippers, overreached their position and began worshipping the dragons’ own gods – Bahamut and Tiamat – directly. This turn of events was repugnant to the dragons, who cut the dragonboen and their humanoid followers out of the picture entirely. They would not destroy the dragonborn for their blasphemy out of respect for their draconic heritage, but no more would they have anything to do with them.
Rather than being humbled by this, the dragonborn turned to their herds of humanoid cultists, taking it upon themselves to look after their cults. Ostensibly, the Mansserei led by dragonborn were communities dedicated to the worship of dragons, but in practice, they became slave pits or cults to the dragonborn masters themselves. Even the metallic dragonborn engage in the practice to this very day; while an outsider would see their station as little different from a slavemaster, these dragonborn see themselves as providing protection and much-needed moral guidance to beings incapable of understanding virtue on their own level. The practice of Mannserei waned over time, reaching a nadir in the days just before the Dawn of Dragons; it was at this time that many dragonborn reinstated the institution with a vengeance. Drgaons, which had been roused to untold violence against humanoids (and humans in particular, it seemed), were less willing to attack those “under the wing” of a dragonborn. Some saw it as a moral necessity to provide succor to those in need, while some saw it as an opportunity to stock their desolate holdings with humans desperate for any solace at all.
Dragonborn, like dragons themselves, are genderless; as native draconic speakers, they tend to be unaware of the linguistic implications of the common tongues of other people. Though they are familiar with the concept as heads of mansserei, they often interchange genders when speaking foreign tongues, whether they are speaking about themselves or others. Often, a dragonborn in unfamiliar lands will default to using even gender-neutral forms of proper names to avoid embarrassment or offense (a habit which agrees with the proper form of noble address according to the custom in Solevon just nicely. Any dragonborn may, whenever they decide, reproduce entirely on their own, laying a single egg at a time and seeing it through to its full term. A dragonborn’s offspring resembles its parent strongly, but both in personality and in appearance, it carries traits of all other dragonborn that its parent has been in close contact with during their lives. Early in the existence of dragonborn, it was considered a mark of high esteem for a dragonborn’s scales to strongly represent a single color or metallic sheen, and thus most dragonborn shunned even casual contact with “outsiders” for fear that their offspring would be affected. The waning of mansserei preceding the Dawn of Dragons left many dragonborn living in far more cosmopolitan surroundings, however, and many less-affluent dragonborn do the same now; therefore, today, most dragonborn represent a blend of draconic appearances, though nearly all show one type or other more strongly than the rest.
Across Solevon, “You got the devil’s mark on both ends” is considered a serious insult, despite the fact that most people will never meet a tiefling in person. Tales abound about their heritage, with some claiming that Upan’s spawn live among normal people every day, only showing their true forms in the dark before they breed yet another generation; some say that wicked people who never pay for their sins directly are cursed to bear tiefling children and yet more say that every child born outside of wedlock will grow into their demon-spawn nature.
The truth is somewhat more complicated: it is possible for otherwise normal parents of any people to give birth to a tiefling child, born with horns and a tail; some others display subtle clues to their devilish influence as children and only upon reaching adulthood display the physical marks of the devil upon them. Yet others are born of fully tiefling parents, often themselves part of an arcane conspiracy. Unable to make their way in polite society as a result of their deformity, the tales of tiefling evil often beome a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they are left with few options other than the brokering of souls for power, making their ways as sorcerers. The few tieflings who do manage to conceal their nature (or those which move in circles that simply don’t care) become powerful leaders of men and beasts.