Stroll along a sandy beach when the sun softly sets behind its backdrop of seaside scenery and you may hear the soothing sounds of a solo set or an ensemble band wail and welcome the night. Sat on a rock or a hunk of driftwood you’ll find between one and ten Shellsongs, depending on how fondly Fortune smiles upon you. Short and stocky, with stubby arms and round little fingers, Shellsongs are a race of seaborne songweavers who live off the coast and come ashore to hash out a harmony and enjoy an improvised intermission between daytime and nightfall. Docile and easy-going, these rhythmic reptiles mean no one any harm, and their reputation as mellow musicians earn them a degree of protection among their fellow sentients- it’s considered poor form by local standards to wish ill upon a Shellsong, and may the pantheons protect anyone who would bring harm to a seaside evening band.
Shellsongs’ first love is their craft, the music. Playing the evening set is their sole drive, it’s what they live and breath and strive for. All other love comes secondary to the music, and while two Shellsongs may find a common flame, it’s often a short fling until they move on. Sometimes an egg is born of this, buried in the sands to incubate and hatch, their young greeted not by parents, but by whatever band might find them. Young Shellsongs are fast to grow, and as they develop they begin to explore the sounds in their souls, and how they can best bring them out to share with the world. Each Shellsong builds his or her own instrument as they grow, some finding the windy whine of a seashell matches their wavelength, while others string taut, dried kelp and let the strings sing on their behalf. Every Shellsong’s song is different, fitting like puzzles with their peers to fill the glowing, fiery sunset with beautiful, calming sounds. There’s never need for rehearsal, just play what’s in your heart!
Beneath the snow-capped mountaintops, between great walls of earth and stone, entrenched below the earth’s surface in dark chasms where even the seas themselves dare not tread, one can only wonder what horrors slither and writhe in the shadow of the world itself. What mindless beast might dwell in such a cold, godless pit, shielded from the sun’s warmth? Many who dwell amidst the grass and trees fill in the gaps of the underground unknown with visions of malevolent monsters, befanged and bloodthirsty, ready to rend to ribbons any who would pierce the veil of their sinister sanctum. And while the truth may deviate from the fiction of their fears, those same fears that has prevented expedition into this continental rift are not altogether unfounded.
They’re called Abyssal Horrors by surface-dwellers- or at least the idea of these creatures are so labeled- and they are anything but mindless. A rich and thriving civilization beneath the earth, Abyssals have built whole cities into the vertical walls of deep, lightless rifts in the earth’s crust. A set of tough tendrils allows them to grip stone facets and climb within their chasmous communities, their six eyes granting them superb vision in low- or no-light settings. An Abyssal’s head is covered in chitinous plates, protecting a network of nerves that allows the creatures to detect movement and vibration. Their mouths rest directly on their abdomens, taking food and minerals directly into their digestive systems. Thes tongueless maws are omnivorous and ill-equipped for speech, though the Abyssals are able to communicate thoughts telepathically. Their favored weapon is the barbed spear, able to provide balance and punch into stone surfaces for support. And any would-be explorer’s fears about piercing the veil of the Abyssals’ shadowy lives are entirely merited, as the Abyssals detest any who would bring the light of the world above into their dark, quiet lives, and among their diet of insect and mineral, meat is a rare and coveted delicacy.
Meet Necro Ned. He’s the son of two powerful geomancers who grew up in the midland hills and studied earth magic like their parents and their grandparents before them. Ned’s been pushed to study geomancy all his life. He hates it. ”Listen, Nedrick,” his parents would crow, “Geomancy is a noble profession, and as long as you’re living under this roof you’re gonna study the Earthen Arcanum! Your Pepah would be spinning in his self-woven gravechamber if he ever found out you left the family trade to study, what?” Necromancy. Ned was fascinated by the darker, much cooler magical art of the dead. Ever since the Iron Bard came through their humble village to weave his spell of thrashing chords Ned has been transfixed by the rock-and-roll lifestyle of the kids across the river who talk to ghosts and raise bands of skeletons from beneath the earth. What’s Ned ever raised from the earth? A protective wall of dirt and stone? Please, he thought, I might as well just stuff myself into my school-issue lockbox. No. Ned was going to become a necromancer, and he was going to do it by any means necessary. Working his part-time job commanding lawns to mow themselves, Ned saved enough coinage to slip across the river to the next town over and buy as many secondhand tomes of necromancy as he could. He absconded home with the right tools and the proper spell components he saw the cool kids use to summon their spectres and studied his spells in secrecy.
Months of tiny trials and experimentation passed and soon Ned was ready for the big test. Under cover of darkness he’d sneak into the village graveyard and raise a band of buddies to show the whole world and the kids in black what a cool necromancer he was. So he prepped his spells and raised his hands, uttering blasphemous invocations to summon and command the dead. Lightning cracked across a cloudless sky… and nothing happened. Distraught, he tried again. Nothing still. How could this be, Ned thought. I followed the spells to the letter and did everything by the book, how could it end in failure? He choked back tears of despair, his posture slouched, and just then he felt the ground beneath him start to rumble. The earth swelled and cracked, and up from the graveyard soil rose the coolest earthen golem Ned has ever seen! Bristling with tombstones and caskets and filled to the core with awesome bones, Ned didn’t raise the dead from their graves, he raised the graveyard itself! Oh man! It was all he could do to keep from crying, but he wasn’t fighting tears of sorrow this time. His parents were right, he had the heart of a geomancer all along! But more importantly, geomancy was just as cool as any other arcanum, and Ned couldn’t be happier. He hugged his newly-risen friend, his mind racing with excited thoughts- wait’ll the kids across the river see what I can do now! The moral of the story is to be yourself, you’re probably a cool person no matter what your talents are, or something.
Carpenters, blacksmiths, architects and other workers of wood often select different materials for their different desired properties when working on one project or another; whether it’s a softer, more flexible wood or something thick and sturdy, craftspersons will hunt down different strains of lumber to produce their wares. Among the most-coveted is Ironwood, a type of tree occasionally found growing in every biome on the planet. Ironwood is renowned for its metal-like stiffness and wood-like weight, making it an ideal choice for applications where strength is valued but weight can be a detriment, like shipbuilding. Unfortunately, Ironwood is in extremely short supply, as the sturdy trees are slow to grow and even slower to cut down, as their assets as materials make them a troublesome crop to harvest. Some arborists devote their entire trade to the growth and maintenance of this rare stock, and a stack of lumber can fetch a hefty price on the right markets. Ironwood Arborists are as rare as the wood they farm, due not just to the difficulty of raising the trees but of finding a seed to begin a business with, but every grower devoted to the plant is committed fully- feverishly so- each one aspiring to acquire something so unpredictably rare that only one grower every generation or so will ever have the fortune of finding- the Ironwood King.
Ironwood is a robust and durable plant, individual trees found growing anywhere from the balmy tropics to the bitter frozen wastes, but never more than two of the trees have been found together, except around the Ironwood King. It’s growth is marked by the raising of two gnarled hands from the soil, clutching a glowing green crystal, soon to be followed by a thick and mighty trunk bearing a broad and gnarled face shaded by a canopy of thick, windchiming leaves. The Ironwood King’s roots spread deep and wide, making it nearly impossible to uproot and transplant, and around it within two hundred feet a rich and bountiful thicket of Ironwood trees will grow. The Ironwood King sits at the center of this fertile iron crop, often gazing silently into the green crystal believed to give the Ironwood King total omniscience within a mile of its domain. It seldom speaks, but when it does the Ironwood King reports of conditions that could threaten its sturdy crop or of intruders into its domain, making it a valuable asset for any arborist who can earn its trust. Bandit leaders and military rulers of old have been known to build their hideouts around Ironwood Kings, as this worldly omniscience is of immense strategic value. But Ironwood Kings grow so rarely and unpredictably that their existence can’t be planned around, they can only be hoped for. And for Ironwood Arborists looking to maintain a rich crop of ironwood to process and sell on market, the cultivating of an Ironwood King spells the end of their financial troubles forever, and sometimes spells the beginning of whole new troubles yet to come.
Ours is a world of balance and harmony. Where there is light there will always be shadow, where sadness reigns joy will always blossom, and where there is disease there is always a cure… you just need to know where to find it. And for the noble Plaguefeathers, devotion to the pursuit of learning these cures is a way of life. Cousins to other sentient avian races, Plaguefeathers are a line of bipedal birdfolk with long pointed beaks and powerful winglike arms capable of on-demand flight even when draped in heavy wool or leather cloaks. Much like their relatives the Razorwings, Plaguefeathers hail from the windy mountains of the northwest territories, where they maintain ancient communities in walled, wooden villages outside the easy reach of potential aggressors. Plaguefeathers are practiced herbalists, maintaining rich floral gardens, meticulously-curated in spite of the seemingly-inhospitable mountain peaks on which they live. Unlike the Razorwings and their love of grilled meat, Plaguefeathers keep a strict vegetarian diet, and they enjoy few things more than a hot cup of tea; their special blends are famous worldwide. They don’t simply grow plants for the sake of gardening and tea service, however. Plaguefeathers are experts in the field of herbal medicine, and they cultivate their collection of curing elements carefully. A Plaguefeather always carries an assortment of treated leaves and roots to treat the most common ailments, but they’re also known to keep a sweet-smelling flower on their persons as well, as the simple presence of pleasant fragrance can do wonders to lift the stricken spirits of the sick.
The tradition of medicine has been passed down through countless generations of Plaguefeather, dating back to time immemorial. Their medicinal modus operandi is one of natural balance- for every ill that plagues the earth, somewhere grows the cure. A proper Plaguefeather can read the symptoms of his or her patient, ask the right questions to divine their internal state of discomfort and draw from their wellspring of knowledge which herbal treatments will counter the disease and restore their patients to a state of balance and internal harmony. While based in their mountaintop medical centers, these avian apothecaries travel far and wide- often by the beat of their own wings- to practice their trade and collect seeds and specimens of new or rare strains of plantlife, bringing them home to add to a centuries-old library of medicinal knowledge. The coming of a Plaguefeather to a stricken home is a blessed event, and these gentle doctors are never unwelcome. And while they brush shoulders with disease and death on a daily basis, they don’t carry anything with them and they rarely succumb themselves, and it’s not uncommon for one to wonder how they survive where so many others grow sick? The truth is that over countless centuries of exposure to disease and close experimentation and consumption of herbal remedies, the Plaguefeather immune system is extremely resistant to new strains of illness and outright invulnerable to common ailments, while their close connection to the herbal arts keeps dormant disease from carrying on their persons from patient to patient. People trust the Plaguefeathers because they know when they come to town the only thing they’re bringing with them is comfort and cure.
Croakeyes are a breed of toad found in the murky, muddy waters of sweaty swamps and wetlands. Growing about the size of a hefty stone, croakeyes are thick, fat and voraciously omnivorous creatures who stubbornly stalk their surroundings for fresh food on which to feast. Nuts and berries, as well as bugs, worms, fish, frogs, young snakes and even other croakeyes have been found in the bellies of these insatiable eaters. Unlike other familiar amphibians croakeyes don’t have long sticky tongues with which to snap up their victims at range- they instead have large powerful jaws and thick muscles designed for short bursts of speed. When stalking their prey a croakeye will often get one opportunity to strike, and if it misses it starts the hunt all over again from square one. But unfortunately for their meals-to-be, the somewhat-lethargic croakeye has a few very unusual tricks up its grimy little sleeve…
Imagine time as a narrow window traveling across a wild tangle of separate threads, each strand pulling into a central point and winding into a thick cord as the narrow window of perception passes by. We see the now, we remember the then and we can guess at a number of nows-to-be. For a croakeye on the hunt this perception of time works a little differently from other creatures. The gullet of a croakeye is made of elastic tissue bearing a round, pink mark made of tightly-woven nerves. When a croakeye inhales sharply and fills this neck sac with air it stretches to take on the full, round appearance of a third eye, and in doing so the croakeye’s window of perceived time dilates, enabling it to see past, present and future as a single passing moment. The croakeye can see the narrowing threads of possible futures winding into the single cord of events and discern which outcomes are more likely to transpire and act accordingly. In essence the croakeye can see where their prey will zig or zag so it knows where to jump to intercept it before their prey themselves even knows to jump. Likewise this dilated time gives the croakeye a clearer view of the past, allowing it to see unseen dangers it may have missed- like another predator lying in wait for it to make its move. It only has this enhanced perception of time when its gullet is puffed, however, so if its mouth is currently stuffed with food it can’t tap into this natural power. Shamans, wizards, potion-brewers and seers all value these creatures as magical ingredients for time-related spells, rituals and concoctions; and while the croakeye can be very hard to catch, those who dabble in the arcane have passed down their hunting tricks from teacher to student for generations.
Some cities are build of brick and mortar, others are carved from sandy stone; but if you hailed from the noble Goldclaw, then earth and wood would be your home. Large and hearty, Goldclaws are a race of bear-like sentients known for their splendid beards and their namesake golden forearms. While some believe the Goldclaws’ gold claws are made from solid gold, the truth is they’re actually organic, their fleshy forelimbs growing a thick alloy of chitin and aurum. Legend tells of the Goldclaws’ ancestors, the Boneclaws, living within a network of caves high in the mountains, subsisting on a diet of stone and gold ore. This is the root of their heartiness and the origins of their gold-alloy chitin claws, which are tough enough to splinter a spruce tree. Modern Goldclaws are omnivorous, however, and not even the most braggadocious of bears has ever been seen eating raw rocks, let alone metal ores. Stories circulate of caches of old Boneclaw treasures in the mountain caves, however, and more than a handful explorers- Goldclaw themselves or otherwise- have set forth on the hunt, though none have returned any richer for their efforts.
Goldclaw society straddles the line between civility and savagery. Theirs is a land of law and order, of jobs and housing in buildings intricately carved from great and ancient trees and stone. They have their own written language and speak the Common tongues, and they trade openly with other cultures. Everything the Goldclaws make, however, they make by hand, dismissing the use of handheld tools as strictly the crutch of weaker races. Their earthen wood homes are carved by hand, they fell trees by hand, they’ll slice lumber into thin plates by hand and they will carve their runic language into written word with the tips of their sharp claws. Tailors do not exist among the Goldclaw, although their culinary artists do make use of bowls and containers carved from stone and clay. Being so closely connected with nature, Goldclaws run excellent fisheries and are masterful florists- traders look to them to acquire rare and valuable seeds or flavorful fresh fish for use in delicious dishes- Goldclaw smoked fish jerky is a travelers’ favorite, coming in a variety of flavors ready-to-eat and seasoned so as to never spoil on a long journey. Many wealthy outsiders have been known to pay handsomely for unique strains of tabbygrass grown by Goldclaw gardeners, as they alone have been able to mix these floral felines with budding flowers to create one-of-a-kind, colorful body marking and blossoming tails favored by young and old alike.
Thirty robberies in forty days. That’s what the constables’ report says. Thirty unrelated shops, market stalls, warehouses, banks and restaurants, all reporting money, food or valuables stolen right out from under their noses. Never anything major but always just enough to notice, and taken as a whole the bits add up to a big bite of crime. The frequency of these felonies tells us it isn’t a chain of coincidental co-criminalities either; this is the work of a single group, but who? Who could it be? It’s too petty and disorganized to be a Razorwing operation and there’s never any antiques stolen, so that rules out the Seekers. No, there’s only one thicket of thugs in this town small-time enough to raise such a mild ruckus: the Gumball Gang.
Hailing from a species formally known as psyospheres, the Gumballs are a basket-sized bunch of ball-shaped beings possessed of neither limbs nor tail, but rather a strong innate psychic ability. Mostly bloblike in constitution, psyospheres roll about by giving themselves a telekinetic push with their minds and letting momentum handle the rest. A single psyosphere can produce enough force to turn a handle and push a medium-sized door open, but they can’t lift very much on their own. This suits them fine, though, as the cakes and sweets they love to eat never weigh much at all. Alone a psyosphere is laughably innocuous, but when a group of them come together their psychic powers resonate with one another and they’re capable of much stronger feats. And in the case of the Gumball Gang, they’re wholly able to go on a rampage of petty theft and inconvenience, staying just out of reach of the actual-arms of the law, but how? How could a wiggling heap of pink puffballs piled into an ill-fitting cloak elude detection so easily? With the whole gang together their collective psychic abilities tricks the eyes of those around them into seeing what they’d expect to see wherever they’d see it- a constable may see a child at play, or a restaurant owner might think they’re encountering one of their own employees taking inventory, or they may even see an overcast of shadesparrows gathered around a market stall. To whoever is looking, the Gumball Gang never appears out of place. And thankfully for all of us, they’re not malicious, cunning or even very ambitious; the Gumball Gang just wants cakes and sundries and enough money to buy more cakes. But they’re still criminals and justice must be served, so the law will find them and haul them off to jail… somehow.
Gardening is a labor of love. A lot of work goes into raising a healthy and bountiful kitchen garden, and when mice and voles and rabbits and moles get to chewing your crops you may not ever taste the full fruits of your labor. Fortunately nature is a force of balance, and so we have the pest-pursuing tabbygrass. A rare leafy garden breed, growing a tabbygrass is quite easy! Assuming one can get their hands on the hard-to-find seed, one need only plant it in rich, fertile soil and allow for ample sunshine in a cozy, warm climate. In a few days a small leafy bud will break ground, growing longer and longer over a fortnight until two additional leaves pop up at its base. Care for the plant for a full phase of the moon and you’ll wake one morning to find one of these floral felines roaming and rolling in your garden, and you can kiss your pesky pest problems goodbye. It’s as simple as that!
Tabbygrasses look like animals and drink lots of sunlight and water when they’re growing, but they’re actually very animate carnivorous plants. A typical tabbygrass sports a soft turfy coat, a mossy underbelly, sharp teeth and a full set of retractable thorns in each paw. Since these catty crops are all fiber and no fat they’re very agile runners and excellent jumpers, and with their appetite for small meaty critters and bugs they make great garden guardians! Tabbygrasses like to stalk their prey, camouflaged among the greenery, waiting for the perfect moment to strike- the only warning before it pounces is a subtle wiggling shake of its long leafy tail stuck straight up in the air. They aren’t all tuff turf and predatory plants, though; tabbygrasses are well-known for their softer side as well! It takes a bit of persistence to gain their trust, but once earned a tabbygrass makes for a very loving-if-conceited companion. Some families will find a tabbygrass seed to give to their daughter or son, in hopes of teaching them responsibility by letting them grow their own cuddly kitty in a large soil pot. Even the grouchiest of grumps can’t help but smile and spare a scritch when this adorable, affectionate purring herb rubs against your leg or plants itself in your lap. Everyone loves a tabbygrass!
In the murky fog of swamps and bogs a flickering, fleeting light is known as a Will-o’-the-wisp, but amidst the ancient evergreens and rolling grass fields such an encounter is more likely a sign of the noble gladehorn passing on its merry way. A tall, limber creature with a mossy coat, gladehorns carry themselves swiftly through forest or plain on their agile legs- the trails they wear into their regular routes are known as “gladeruns”. Herbivorous and nocturnal, gladehorns live on a diet of leafy greens and juicy berries, their large eyes able to spot a meal easily in the shadow of nightfall. One of the gladehorns’ most prominent features are their large curled horns which, unlike some of their cousins, they do not molt. These horns are more than bony decoration, as they serve an important role among the social strata of the duskborn deer.
Within a herd of gladehorns one or two are known to carry a lantern, locked in the curl of their horns. These are the herd leaders, and their lanterns fill with the luminous lifeblood of the forest itself, glowing brighter as the lightbearer grazes from the earth’s bounty. A herd leader takes point when the group takes flight and guides his or her fellow gladehorns through the uncertain shadow of the moon. A gladehorn either inherits his or her lantern from an aging elder or- if it is fleet of hoof and sharp of wits- steals one from an adventuring party. While such a daring attempt at status might seem like a nuisance to travelers, it’s considered taboo to kill the gladehorn for sport. Many a traveler who lost their way through the thick of the forest tell stories of following a glowing green light through the gloomy shadows, guided to well-beaten trails by these nocturnal navigators. Among hunters, adventurers, explorers or simple travelers, claiming the life of a gladehorn is an unspeakable act- one which may find you abandoneded by your party, looking for a lantern to guide you to safety.