Monday, August 29, 2022

Pygmy Giants

Drawn by yours truly

Pygmy Giant
Number Encountered: 1d8 (5d8)
Hit Dice: 3
Attacks: 1 weapon
Armor: as leather
Morale: 8
Bullied Followers: Pygmy giants are often bullied or otherwise forced into submission by other giants and sometimes the few humans who come by their islands, and will often be found in the service of giants and sometimes in the crews of sailors and pirates.
Herding and Fishing: Pygmy giants are avid herdsmen and fishermen; they will react violently if their herds or nets are disturbed.
Weapons: Wield clubs, stones, and spears.

Pygmy giants are children of 'Ajuj and Majuj, the monstrous pair of the far north, the twin fathers of monsters, beasts, and giants... but unlike 'Ajuj and Majuj's other children, they are much, much smaller. Having been confined to isolated islands in the Sea of Giants, or distant frigid crags on the always frozen sea far to the north, they have undergone insular dwarfism, shrinking down to just under the average size of a human. They are just as muscular and dense as true giants, however, packing a lot of punch in a rather small package. Their heavily plodding feet leave deep furrows and prints in the wet sand of their salty islands, as they herd beasts of burden and fish from the depths. However, sometimes pygmy giants are pressed into service for their larger brothers and sisters, sometimes especially callous giants depopulating whole islands of their pygmy giant inhabitants for some raiding campaign thousands of miles away. The pygmy giants are xenophobic and wary of outsiders, and resentful of their elder brothers and sisters, but size and might makes right in the terrible family of 'Ajuj and Majuj.

Pygmy giants in the northern reaches of the Land of Darkness tend to be furrier and woolier than their more southerly cousins, but there isn't a hard divide of pygmy giants into two groups, and they can be just as visually diverse as other giants.

I just really love including real world biological concepts in my games and in my settings, and insular dwarfism is such a fun phenomenon! I also just love the image of little squat giants fending off adventurers trying to land on their island, or using these little guys as go to humanoid opponents in scenarios involving giants. Thinking up adventure locations using them as we speak!

1d12 Herds of the Pygmy Giants
1. Sheep
2. Walruses
3. Land octopuses
4. Cows
5. Coconut crabs
6. Giant (or normal sized) snails
7. Goats
8. Sturgeon (herded in water for their caviar)
9. Dogs
10. Pygmy wooly mammoths
11. Pygmy wooly rhinoceroses
12. Ostriches

1d12 Pygmy Giant encounter activities (home islands)
1. Spearfishing in the craggy shoals, the salty waves licking at their ankles.
2. Roasting a herd animal whole over a fire, filling the air with jokes and booming laughter.
3. Cooking one of those comically large cauldrons, or possibly a clay vessel, full of boiling broth over a fire.
4. Reciting poetry to one another in their gravelly deep voices.
5. Goading on a pair of crabs to fight each other.
6. Crushing seashells between two stones to create pigment.
7. Absentmindedly staring out over their herd, leaning on a club or crook.
8. Squeezing a very stressed looking sturgeon to push out its caviar directly into their mouths.
9. Painting an elaborate scene of dolphins and flying fish on a cliff face.
10. Curing beast skin into leather on a rack of driftwood.
11. Wrestling each other in a dusty circle on the ground.
12. Butchering a herd animal into pieces, and attempting to glean prophecies from its guts.

1d12 Pygmy Giant encounter activities (elsewhere)
1. Being beaten with a whip by a giant general.
2. Getting in a fistfight with one another, with brass knuckles made from seashells.
3. Getting their teeth pulled out.
4. Riding on wooly rhinos, two or three pygmy giants to a beast.
5. Practicing combat maneuvers in a field.
6. Roving the countryside harvesting branches to make wicker shields and arrows.
7. Rolling a boulder through the valley to bring to their giant master.
8. Hunting birds with spears and slings.
9. Groaning in pain, recovering from injuries.
10. Carrying armfuls of eggs in a panic, chased by angry chickens and/or peasants.
11. Sharpening their tusks to razor sharp points.
12. Playing games of dice carved from sheep bones, betting on meager pieces of fish and mutton.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Inhabitants of the World (Peoples of King of Kings)

I puzzled over what to title this post for a good while, mostly because I don't want to use the clumsy language of "races" that D&D stuff has been stuck with for a while, but inversely trying to puzzle out what the name for a broad group of people groups was really difficult and I didn't really want to use super scientific terms like "species", "genus", or "family". I think the incredibly vague and unhelpful word "inhabitants" does the closest thing to justice to the topic of this post, so it's what I went with.

So yeah, this is a setting post for King of Kings about the intelligent inhabitants of the world! It is more of a semi "world bible" of sorts, rather than an in universe statement of lore; the creatures and characters described in this post, and the categories into which they are placed in, are more for my benefit to define what sorts of creatures I use in the world rather than pure world building. I'm personally not a huge fan of the intense taxonomical drive that is present in a lot of D&D stuff, which you can read a very interesting and good post about here, from the wonderful Zedeck Siew. Obviously I am still putting things into categories in this post, but I'm aiming for relatively vague and general categories defined more by connections to fictional cosmology and myth than by how D&D races work, taking cues more from groups of spirits and creatures from real world myth and folklore. So there is still a taxonomic impulse, guilty as charged in that regard, but for King of Kings I want to keep taxonomy as light as possible, and instead emphasize geographic location, familial ties, or political/religious allegiance. If I ever make a KoK book in the future, I'd lean more in that direction for that more "official" presentation, but this post isn't the final official presentation, its basically just a collection of notes put together here for my sake and for anyone who wants to read about my setting.

Maybe that rant was unwarranted, I don't know, I just think about this stuff a lot!

Without further ado!

A person, on a rug

I think I would hope that everyone reading this post knows what these are. While King of Kings takes its cues from the world of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, fundamentally people back then were still just people! Humans are the main inhabitant of the world, living just about everywhere, forming tribes and nations and polities together, etc. etc. Not all humans are visually identical, however, and this is where KoK leans into ancient and medieval conceptions. People groups that would appear at first to be very different from humanity, such as dog headed men, amazons, men of the deluge, and the mouthless astomi, are all still human no matter their, from the perspective of people in the Enlightened Empire, strange customs and appearances. Here I'm trying to lean into ideas of the "monstrous races" from Ancient Greek natural histories and travelogues from Greece, Rome, and the Christian and Muslim Middle Ages. There's a really good book that I'd recommend about this topic that provides a detailed listing of such peoples from ancient and medieval sources, The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought. I find this topic super interesting, honestly kind of deserving of its own post, obviously of even more than a post because its a historical topic that has garnered plenty of attention in like, book length works and such. These ancient and medieval conceptions of people from faraway lands being monstrous are something to be careful about though because they're, yknow, tangential to and prefacing racism that developed in the modern period & etc. I find them to be a very fascinating and fantastical element of how real premodern people perceived their world, and I like using them as inspiration for KoK, as a basis to then provide some real depth and complexity onto, but just as with anything else really it's good to try and be mindful and whatnot.

Also people

But yeah uh, other than humans like the dog headed men and amazons, there are also humans that are closer to real world ancient human cultures. City dwelling Shahanistanis, rural farmers, nomadic pastoralists or raiding warriors, etc. etc. I'm going to make more posts in the future with more character backgrounds and stuff about different polities in different parts of the world, so there's plenty more to say. But yknow, its just humans.

from the Kitab al-Bulhan

Spirits, including Jinn
Possibly the broadest group mentioned here, spirits encompasses all manner of immaterial and supernatural entities that dwell all across the world of King of Kings. Mischievous kalikantzaroi, morning star worshiping liliths, burgeoning bakhtaks, all manner of ghosts and lingering auras, localized nature gods, and jinn of all sorts, including afarit like Fire Eater, ghuls, marids like the headless bull thing, and the half jinni half human nasnas. Spirits can be basically anything, which is kind of on purpose so that I can encompass all sorts of supernal immaterial entities and atmospheres in here. Jinn are to the world of spirits as humans are to the material world, and so jinn come in just as much staggering variety if not more than people do. They share in all being made from smokeless fire, and have a parallel and often very different society to that of humanity, but are otherwise incredibly diverse. I would never want to try to make any attempt at like, summarizing all spirits or all jinn in a single paragraph, let alone a whole post or book, though I do want to start writing up more spirits for King of Kings for the blog.

For resources that I've taken inspiration from for spirits and jinn in KoK, check out Legends of the Fire Spirits: Jinn and Genies from Arabia to Zanzibar by Robert Lebling, Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn by Amira el‐Zein, relevant entries in the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Encyclopaedia Iranica, and of course The Thousand and One Nights. Also I'd be lying if I didn't sometimes just take info from Wikipedia for folkloric creatures, or at least as a starting point. Who doesn't use Wikipedia as a resource these days? It's generally pretty good.

Sea Tyrants, including Amphibians
I've made a post about these before, although I'll definitely return to the topic in the future. The sea tyrants are the primordial once rulers of the world, the ancient despots from when the world was wet and the world was young. They flooded the world in an effort to take control of it in its entirety, but were rebuffed when some among them acted as a sorcerous Prometheus and stole star magic to give to mortals. Ever since then, they have dwelled deep at the bottom of the sea and deep in the depths of the earth, while humanity and the traitors to the sea tyrants thrive on the surface. The sea tyrants who betrayed their brethren and stole magic to give to humanity were the amphibians, namely the froglings, salamen, and elder olms. The froglings live among humans, in their cities and towns, and continue to practice magic and  serve as sailors and merchants, while salamen tend to live out on their own in isolated wilderness and swamp communities, and elder olms serve as a potential friendly faction in delves underground. I have so many ideas for sea tyrant related stuff, so keep an eye out for that in the future.

If you couldn't tell, the main point of reference for these guys is almost entirely Lovecraft stuff, yknow Deep Ones and Cthulhu and the subterranean city of K'nyan from The Mound and all that. Add in aboleths and mind flayers from D&D and other underdark goodies and you've got it. And with regards to the froglings, I can't help but bring up my love for Frog from Chrono Trigger, even if my frog people here don't have That much to do with him. Sure these are some of my most overtly pop culture inspiration creatures but who cares its my setting.

Moses tells the giant Cuj ibn Canaq how to curb an appetite

Giants, or the Children of 'Ajuj and Majuj
Far to the north, in the snowy Land of Darkness, dwell the ancient 'Ajuj and Majuj, twin fathers of monsters. Their offspring form monstrous man-eating lineages that roam the wintry vastnesses, attack human settlements of northern nomads, and on occasion raid down south. The Conquering King, when he took hold of all the world, built a great metal and stone wall with a great looming gate in the mountains on the southern edge of the Land of Darkness, to keep the Children of 'Ajuj and Majuj out. Also, I have an idea for a horizontal megadungeon of sorts which would be the slowly rotting body of a giant that you could dungeon crawl in, I think it'd be super fun and cool.

Like I keep on saying, keep an eye out for more posts about giants, especially since I haven't posted really anything about them so far. With regards to references, check out the Penguin book Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North and certain versions of The Romance of Alexander. King of Kings's giants are another example of taking cues and inspiration from how premodern people perceived people from other parts of the world, similarly to the dog headed men et al. I discussed in the section about people above.

Don't know the source of this one unfortunately

Daevas, or Divs/Dews
Dwelling on the upside down underside of the world, daevas are embodiments of all forms of evil and untruth. They are more than simple unclean spirits, they are the living forms of deceit and lies, and live completely alien and surreal lives on the flat plane of the underside. Some divs are collaborating with the sea tyrants in their efforts to slowly seize the surface world, but most divs are lonesome creatures serving only deceit. Like I keep saying, keep an eye out for more posts about these guys.

Here, the main point of reference is to daevas from Zoroastrianism and, later, the Islamic Persianate div; while the names are super similar, it's an important distinction to make, I think, between these religious/historic references and devas in Hinduism, especially since Zoroastrian daevas are comparable to demons. Just sorta making a note of that. For stuff I've taken inspiration from, the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi which I need to read more of, I haven't actually finished it and Manifestation of Evil in Persian Mythology from the Perspective of Zoroastrian Religion by Elnaz Bakhshayeh and Reza Ebrahimil. Also the Encyclopedia Iranica and Wikipedia again. I wanna do more reading to find good inspiration for these entities.

Skeleboy with some carvings made by the ancient Dinosaur Kings

A bit of an outlier for this post, because the dinosaurs are more or less all dead. Once the rulers of the eastern satrapies and other lands before the time of the Conquering King, many of them were killed or forced into hiding once they were defeated by his armies, either by his very soldiers or by their human subjects' retribution. Today, they are little more than carvings on walls and rumors of ancient tombs.

Beasts and Birds
Yknow, animals. I wasn't going to include them in this post because I feel like it's kinda self explanatory that animals exist in the setting, but I figured hey why not I can still say some stuff about some weirdos. Obviously, most beasts and birds are just normal animals, but King of Kings has some unusual creatures, whether they are fictional animals that are still more or less comparable to real world things like the lizardmen herded and bred by the Dinosaur Kings, or intelligent beasts like manticores or pigmen, or birds so beautiful that their plumage inspires awe like the huma, or monotremes like gryphons, owlbears, or the swamp dwelling platypus. Just figured I'd note them.

This is what came up when I googled "byzantine elf". Source

Elves, namely the Gnostic Elves
A last but not least, the newcomers on the scene, the Gnostic Elves. The Gnostic Elves rule an empire directly to the west of the Enlightened Empire, the two neighbors being in a constant slow and grinding war that has been going on for generations. They took over the western archipelago and their portions of the mainland a few centuries ago, having come in from across the sea on pale white boats. They wrap themselves up in full body coverings and often wear masks, and believe that the flesh is sinful and must be destroyed, and that through ascertaining hidden knowledge the material world can be transcended. There are, however, heretic sects of elves who reject that gnosis, most notably the Hedonist Elves who dwell underground in isolated colonies.

I know I sound like a broken record but yeah keep an eye out for more posts about the gnostic elves and about the never-ending war between the gnostic elves and the enlightened empire. The Gnostic Elves have taken a lot of inspiration from a variety of sources: obviously their religion is derived from ancient Gnosticism, while visually and with regards to their role in the fictional world they take cues from the Eastern Roman Empire (for which I really like to refer to The World of Late Antiquity by Peter Brown and the History and Secret History of Prokopios), and their history of having come here from across the ocean to conquer takes inspiration from the Tarascans/Pur├ępecha of Mexico who have a similar story of coming from across the Pacific, and the Seljuqs who conquered Anatolia from Central Asia.

And that's it! Those eight inhabitants of the world are going to serve more or less as a guide for my world building and adventure location making, and a bit of a taste of some posts to come as I elaborate on some more of these in more detail! Hope you have a lovely day!