5e Homebrew Setting: Malebolge, Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy

I'm a little worried about starting this thread, but I figure that it can't really be that problematic... To make a long story short, I've been trying to build up a homebrew setting for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition - I don't have any gamers to run in it, I jus like the idea of world-building based on the theme that's stuck in my head. The problem is, I've never really world-built before, so I was hoping for advice, opinions, and other forms of brainstorming assistance.


Malebolge was born out of my enjoyment of two setting genres; high fantasy, and post-apocalyptic. Although the latter is more readily associated with science fiction or "realistic" RPG settings, the two do crossover. Post-apocalyptic fantasy settings of the "the magic comes back - disastrously" variant are more common, from the game of Rifts to 80s cartoons like Visionaries and Thundarr the Barbarian. What I'm going for, however, is the rarer "fantasy world suffers an apocalypse"; one example of this is the Dragonmech setting from 3rd edition, which is this plus fantasy mecha.


The setting's basic concept is that a magical world inhabited by humans and dwarves (also dragons, but they pulled their D&D standard "too cool to bother with humanoids" schtick and achieved nothing) is visited by alien elves on magical plant-based ships, with a culture revolving around magically controlling and reshaping life and death (flesh-crafting, animal-control, plant-control, necromancy) to suit their needs. Although the elves are allowed to settle, they provoke a war with the native dwarves that eventually destroys everything; a magical "nuke" barrage not only devastates the sides, but also triggers arcane disasters (planequakes, necrotic energy storms, transmutative fallout, etc) that ravage the world, completely ruining the old world empire and physically reshaping everything. Generations later, new races struggle for survival and dominance in a much-changed world, surviving amidst the horrors of that long-ago magical war. Sort of an Eberron meets Fallout with a dash of Rifts, for the obvious inspirations.


Essentially, the war provides an excuse for all of the standard D&D tropes; magical beasties/plants as leftover living weapons from the war, or mutated by the "fallout", destroyed cities and forgotten military complexes as dungeons, etcetera. Plus an excuse for the more "exotic" terrain features that 4e promoted; floating islands, living fortresses woven from still-growing vegetation, monolithic ruins, etc.


I do have a "history of the world" in complete outline, although not fully written up into "history book format", and I can post that if desired. But, I think I'll settle for just posting the "keys" of the setting, something I dimly recall 4e making use of, and let you all chew me out over how stupid this is now.


The World Was Broken: The mighty empires of human, dwarf and elf have fallen, and the world suffered with their fall. In many places, the laws of nature, however loose they may have once been, have been shattered utterly, creating unnatural phenomena or rifts between the planes. Magical fallout can mutate, corrupt, infect and destroy the unwitting and the unlucky. Monstrosities designed as living weapons or perverted through the sundering of old laws abound in the wilderness. The great nations are gone, and none have yet succeeded in retaking their mantle.


The World Is Reborn: But life goes on. Survivors of the old world and children of the new grow, live, fight, make peace, explore and otherwise seek to thrive in and master this world they have inherited. That which has fallen may be renewed, for life follows death as surely as death follows life. From the ashes of the old, the new is born and grows to its own glorious heights.


No Gods: Divinity never touched Malebolge, even when it was known as Eden. Mankind lifted itself to power on the strength of sorcery and wizardry, as did their elfin cousins from the stars, whilst dwarves turned their attention to mastery of metal and then magic. Though there are planes beyond the physical, the most powerful of the entities that dwell there are not the mighty gods of other worlds, but serve as the patrons to warlocks, or are studied and invoked by theurges for their unique powers.


Magic Is Everywhere: Arcane magic is the life's blood of the world. In the days before the Black Dawn, the societies of old built everything they had on the backbone of magic, and in days since, magic has been the key to surviving and taming the arcane wastes of the world. Eldritch knights and arcane tricksters, living shadows and aliens from otherworldly realms stranded here by the upheaval of reality, these are the kinds of champions seen in the lands of the Malebolge.


Relics Of The Ancients: The old empires may be gone, but their legacies remain. Some races were born out of the Great War, others were shaped by the Black Dawn. Ruined cities and ancient mysteries abound, and powerful magical relics from the time before are eagerly sought after for the power they may contain. A blasted city may be filled with terrible monsters, but is also a potential treasure trove of items that could be essential to survival.


Whimsy And Splendor: As twisted and scarred as the Malebolge has become, it is not entirely hellish. The world may bear its scars, but they have sealed its wounds, and life does continue. Innocence and playfulness are not forgotten, and there is both hope and beauty to be found here. From endearing and inoffensive creatures like the butterfly-dragon to the stunning beauty of a crystalline forest, the Malebolge is still a world worth living in and fighting for.


Glory And Madness: The loss of the old world gives potential to become anything in the new. Will you become a builder of empires? A king? Will you raise civilization further from the dark age and bring on the enlightenment? Or will you become a monster; a blood-soaked tyrant, a ruthless raider, or a raving beast? Your choices are yours, as are the consequences.
 
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MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
Just to tell you Malebolge is taken. It's the 6th layer of Hell in D&D Cosmology.

Not that that stops you from using the name or anything for your setting just felt you should know.
 
Yes, I know what it's called in core D&D Cosmology. Since I'm not using... well, almost anything from said Cosmology, I think I'm free for it.

Got to say, I'm disappointed in the lack of responses here. But... I figured I might as well share the setting bible as it stands so far.

Malebolge Setting Bible (Incomplete):
The world of Eden was once a beautiful land of majestic, fantastic vistas. Magic flowed in the wind and water, and pulsed from deep beneath the earth; it was the essence of Eden's soul, and it gave birth to all life on Eden.


In the beginning, there were two races of note.


The dragons were, in their eyes, the true children of Eden; great and powerful beings who drew upon and manipulated magic in their very blood and bones. Carefree and confident in their supremacy over all, they wheeled through the skies, content to live as beasts.


The other race was smaller and, at the time, seemingly insignificant. In the shadows of the great trees on the borderlands between forest and plains arose a species of naked ape that walked upright - a species that came to call itself "man". They too were touched by Eden's soul, giving them intelligence that they used to master their surroundings, forging tools from stone, wood and bone. But more importantly, they bore within them the spark of magic, and this is what propelled them into greatness.


At first, those who bore the spark - Sorcerers, they came to be called, meaning "The Gifted" - could only tenuously grasp the power of the WorldSoul. Their magic was raw and wild, a chaotic force that could not always be tamed. It served its uses, turning man from simple clans of primitives to fledgeling kingdoms, a budding empire, but man was not satisfied with it.


Man came to study the world around itself, and the magic within itself. In this, it turned inevitably to the dragons, studying how they used their powers until, miraculously, their sorcerers learned how to mimic the specific energies of draconic magic, rather than the wild magic they had wielded before. Though this permanently altered the way in which the sorcerers used their powers, it still provided a world-shattering truth: that magic was mutable and multifarious.


Almost as if a dam had broken, other studies of magic's aspects began to bear fruit. New forms of sorcerer, such as those of shadow, began to emerge - and the foundations were laid for more practical, practiced magic. Thus was born the art of wizardry; "The Learned Ones".


Humanity forged its first empire, but for all its magical marvels, it still used only the tools that nature provided them. Until the fateful day that they traveled to Nidavilir, the land of burning mountains, where they encountered the Sonnlinor - or, as they are still known today, the dwarves.


Whilst man had roamed the plains and forests, the Sonnlinor had dwelled in Nidavilir, mastering the stone and fire, enduring the storms that lashed their homes, and discovering something new to humans. They had discovered metal.


Humans had seen some forms of metal before, but it was the humblest and most easily worked forms; copper, silver, and the occasional piece of bronze. But the Sonnlinor had mastered iron and steel, creating weapons unlike anything humanity had seen.


But if the metal arms and armor of the dwarves were alien to humans, so too was the magic humanity wielded alien to dwarves. In their drive to master the gifts of the earth, the Sonnlinor had deafened themselves to the music of the WorldSoul. An individual Sonnlinor warrior was typically superior to his or her human counterpart, but they had no defense against the power of sorcerers and wizards.


Fortunately for all, humanity did not want to fight. They were too amazed to find they had kindred born of the WorldSoul, and were eager to make peace. Tentatively at first, diplomacy formed ties between the two races. Exchanges of material goods - acts of sorcery in exchange for forged metal - ultimately led the way to exchange of knowlege. Humans learned to work metal, and dwarves learned the arts of magic; through their own distinctive perception of the WorldSoul, dwarves focused their mastery on elemental control, favoring storm, earth, fire and metal, the elements that had given them life. They pioneered the arts of runic binding and of alchemy, building their own take on the arts of entrapping and exploiting the natural energies of the world around them.


And, in the process, humans learned from their dwarven kin, shamelessly assimilating these new discoveries into their own greater understanding of magic's many forms and arts.


The first of the Mulzhennedar were born from this era, unions of respect and admiration between man and dwarf leading to the mingling of blood and the surprising development of half-breeds. Though hardly expected, the Muls were welcomed and honored by both races, a living symbol of the fundamental kinship between the two races.


As the empires of humanity and the Sonnlinor spread across the world, inevitably, mages of all kinds looked outward, seeking to discover if Eden's WorldSoul sang alone in the cosmos or if its music was part of some aetherical choir.


The results were amazing. Through trial, effort and immense patience, the denizens of Eden began to slowly map out the cosmos around them.


Alternate planes of reality, places even more strongly steeped in magical energy and defined by its nature, were revealed. Although scholar-mages postulated the existence of others and eagerly sought, their findings in the modern day are mostly lost. But several major planes became firmly entrenched in the common knowledge of arcanists:


The Twisting Nether: This strange void-like realm, a place of swirling multi-hued mists, ghostly voices, and weird "bubbles" of abandoned reality, was the first alternate plane to be discovered, and is most well-known for its unique ability to allow one to literally walk to any other plane in existence. As a "transitive plane", many sages argued the proposition that is a spiritual reflection of the physical space in which Eden and other worlds orbit. It is no place for the unwary or the weak to travel; beyond its own native hazards, many strange and unearthly extraplanar beings dwell here.


The Feywild: A weird and mystical land, a place of maddening beauty and terrifying glamor. This primal realm seemed to be the very incarnation of life, a place where plants, animals and magic all thrived with an intensity unmatched on Eden. Its denizens, the fae, operated by their own peculiar rules and rituals, making them unpredictable and driven by extremely intense emotions.


The Maelstrom: Believed to be the raw building blocks of creation, the Maelstrom or Elemental Chaos is an infinitely vast plane where elemental matter and energy twists and shapes itself in fashions alien even to a magical world like Eden and to a degree even the Malebolge cannot claim. Moving forests of iron, rivers of lightning, floating continents drifting icy anti-lava, and other such wonders are born from the turbulence, sometimes lasting for thousands of years, other times barely lasting an hour before being dissolved into the next miraculous display of elemental majesty.


The Shadowfell: Least understood of the various realms, the Shadowfell is the dark counterpart to the Feywild. Here, in what are sometimes known as the Lands of Eternal Darkness, death is all. The souls of the dead make their final journey, vanishing to whatever mysterious fates await them, and strange entities of death, undeath and madness dwell in the endless night.


The Infernum: The sages of Eden were never able to satisfactorily discern if this strange, awful realm was in fact a plane in its own right or some particularly dismal corner of the Shadowfell or Twisting Nether. Its inhabitants refer to themselves as demons, grotesque beings caught up in an eternal war against both their own kind and against the denizens of the Paradiso - a race that the fiends claim were their progenitors, eons ago.


The Paradiso: At first glance a beautiful realm of crystal and precious metals, Paradiso hides a darkness behind its gilt. Like its dark mirror the Infernum it's unclear exactly where this realm lies in the cosmos. Its proud and haughty denizens, the angels, are known for both their absent-minded contempt for most mortal beings and for their eternal feud against the demons.


As studies of the worlds beyond grew, magical rites of summoning, binding and controlling were codified, founding the mage's school of conjuration.


It was also learned that more powerful extraplanar entities could offer strange bargains to willing mortals, imbuing those who had previously lacked such talents with unique magical abilities in exchange for service, creating the concept of the "warlock", the "oath-mage". Such mystics were never greatly popular, as it was seen as an admission of laziness or ineptitude to turn to an outside source for power instead of studying or honing one's internal power, but the art was never made illegal.


Some wizards instead approached these "patrons" from a different angle, creating an alternative form of conjuration that was close to, but different from, the art of the warlock; these were the theurgists.


As humanity looked outward into the cosmos, ultimately, they found something looking back.


From a distant sphere that they refered to only as "Aelfheim", they came on ships that had once been plants, only to be refashioned into vessels that could sail the sea of stars. Tall and eerily elegant, these alien humanoids called themselves the Aelfar, although humans and Sonnlinor alike tended to corrupt that into the name of "elf" and "elves".


Contact with these aliens was tense and difficult, hindered by Aelfarian arrogance and subtle nuances in language. Humanity managed to piece together that Aelfheim had been a world without its own soul, instead caught between the fluctuating energies of the Feywild and the Shadowfell, and that though this turmoil had given the Aelfar life, it had ultimately destroyed the world and forced the survivors to flee in search of a new home to claim.


Fittingly, the Aelfar had developed their magic around the principles of power inherent in life and death. But unlike some warlocks allied to fae patrons, the Aelfar did not consider themselves servants of the natural cycle, but its masters. Aelfar magical traditions exploited and controlled, dominating life and death alike. Plants, animals and fungi were shaped through magic into forms useful to Aelfar civilization, whilst even the bodies of the dead could be made to work until the Aelfar saw fit to release them.


Humanity had already grasped the principles of wood elementalism, but it was from the Aelfar that they learned the concepts of necromancy.


Despite the chilly superiority of the Aelfar and their oft-disturbing culture, humanity strove to be a good neighbor and welcomed the Aelfar to settle on Eden. After all, their world was large enough for all, and these cousins from another world had lost their home - it was seen as the height of bad manners to reject them when they were so in need.


Unfortunately for all, the Sonnlinor were not so welcoming. Dwarf and elf took a seemingly instant dislike to each other. Aelfar arrogance and dismissal of the dwarven-prized arts of stonecraft & metalwork as "lifeless" incensed the Sonnlinor. Meanwhile, the dwarven disgust for their practices of necromancy and flesh-shaping to create living tools infuriated the Aelfar.


Such distaste would have led to nothing more than a footnote in the history books, the two races simply holding each other at arm's bay, had it not been for the presence of hotheaded fools on both sides of the racial divide.


The names of those who ultimately fanned the flames that became the Doom War are unknown, and some humans just roundly curse both races for being idiots. What is known is that Aelfar and Sonnlinor began to clash.


At first, it was seemingly by accident; Aelfar colonists would unwittingly claim territories already possessed by Sonnilinor clans, or Sonnlinor expeditions would harvest minerals and reagents from fledgling Aelfar settlements without realising they were robbing their new neighbors.


As the years went by, though, such incidents became and more brazen, leading to acts of open sabotage, banditry and finally brushwars. Human diplomats strove to try and bring the two races to peaceful accord, but no sooner would one incident be smoothed over than another would occur.


War was the inevitable result, a cycle of vendetta that spread further and further, until both races were openly at arms against each other. Humans still upheld a neutral policy, but their diplomatic efforts were in vain. To this day, rumors persist of human war profiteers and spies taking advantage of the bloody conflict still linger.


The elfin/dwarfin conflict is now officially considered to have blossomed into the Doom War with a single incident; the Pestilence of Clanhold Urdinnar.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
So this is post-post-apocalypse? (There needs to be a better word for that)

The Plant-ships of the elves are rather interesting. But I have to ask how clerics and paladins work, if at all.
 
Doesn't post-apocalypse sort of imply any state after the apocalypse happened? I mean, Fallout 1 is set about 200 years after the bombs dropped, but it's still as "post-apocalyptic" as Eberron's Mournland, where the Reckoning happened... what, a couple years ago in-universe?

Fun fact; the plant-ships are actually taken from the Elf Navy (or whatever the hell it was called) in Spelljammer, where all "elfin jammers" were magically bred and reshaped living vegetation.

In essence, there aren't any. An abundance of healing potion-equivalents plus Life Domain Theurgists and borrowing a leaf from 4e and letting the most "essential clerical rituals" (Raise Dead, etc) be castable by NPC ritualists serve for magical healing in this setting. Warlocks and Theurgists are the closest thing you get to a "belief-caster" in this setting.
 

Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Doesn't post-apocalypse sort of imply any state after the apocalypse happened? I mean, Fallout 1 is set about 200 years after the bombs dropped, but it's still as "post-apocalyptic" as Eberron's Mournland, where the Reckoning happened... what, a couple years ago in-universe?
Well yes, but that's way too broad of a definition to be of any practical use. Some industrial world could have an apocalypse, just to have another species become dominate and go out to explore the stars, and it would still be considered "post-apocalyptic" despite the new civilization being far more advanced than the old one, and the old one not really mattering anymore. After the point where civilization is back up and running on it's own two feet, there should be a new term (or terms), and this line of terms should only be used if the old civilization is pertinent to the setting.

Fun fact; the plant-ships are actually taken from the Elf Navy (or whatever the hell it was called) in Spelljammer, where all "elfin jammers" were magically bred and reshaped living vegetation.
One of these days I'm going to have to delve deep into Spelljammer.

In essence, there aren't any. An abundance of healing potion-equivalents plus Life Domain Theurgists and borrowing a leaf from 4e and letting the most "essential clerical rituals" (Raise Dead, etc) be castable by NPC ritualists serve for magical healing in this setting. Warlocks and Theurgists are the closest thing you get to a "belief-caster" in this setting.
That's divergent enough that it could stand to benefit from different healing mechanics than the core rules. Have you considered a wounds/vitality system with doctors being "ritual healers?" Also, are Druids and Bards still around?
 
:shrugs: Well, the collapse of the old world literally reshaped the new one, so I guess it's still post-apocalyptic on that. They are still living in the ruins of what was.

Honestly, no, I hadn't considered tinkering with the healing mechanics. I mostly stick with 4e's view from one of the source books that the bulk of HP is "thematic immunity". It's not until you're bloodied (half or less of max HP) that you're actually being physically struck.

I hadn't thought about either class, but, honestly, I'm inclined to say no to Druids. Can't decide either way for Bards.
 

Herobizkit

Adventurer
I'd like to suggest this:
take out Wizards and Clerics
Keep Bards and Druids.
Druids become the shamanesque "plant guys" that learned their magic from the Elves and want to keep the Old Ways (New Ways?) by balancing tech with nature.
Replace the Bard's spell list with the Wizard spell list.
Bards become the "Technomancers"/keepers of Magic Lore.
 
Eh, I appreciate the suggestion, but I don't think that works.

The big reason I figure that druids don't exist in this setting is because it has a strong theme of "look inside one's self for the power you need". Humanity built its first empire on the ground of arcane magic, and never found a need for the divine. Druids, being essentially "the nature priest", don't make sense as a human development. As for the Aelfar...

I'm reminded of an article on magical plants from Dragon Magazine, where it explicitly noted that such things are near-universally the creation of wizards, as druids see them as abominations and their creation amongst one of the greatest atrocities one can commit against nature. The Aelfar's entire culture was based on using magic to control, transform, mutate and create both plants and animals to suit their needs, from their spelljammers to living weapons, and adding necromancy on top of that so that even death was not an end to servitude. Does that sound even remotely like a druidic philosophy?

Bards as they exist actually do make a pretty good class that developed after the apocalypse, as scriveners and jacks of all trades who scavenge all kinds of lore from the past, and I thank you for reminding me of that. But Druids proper... I'm probably going to stick with just homebrewing various "plantomancer" branches for the Wizard, Sorcerer and Warlock to represent the mastery of plants - I already have a Wood Elementalist Wizard, I'm sure I can make something for the others.

Thank you for taking an interest, and I do hope that this doesn't come across as personally attacking you. I just don't quite think that these suggestions work for me, I'm sorry.
 
Alright, so, I don't know if I should post this here, but I figured it can't hurt. This is the first of a "Voices of Malebolge" set of fluff articles, inspired by RuneQuest/HeroQuest/Glorantha's "Voices" fluff - just a way of showing off an "in universe" glimpse of the setting. This is my first time ever doing something like this, so I'm well aware that there's going to be mistakes, shifts in tone, spots of lackluster detail... So,please, let me know how I can elaborate, enhance and otherwise fix this up. The more lessons I learn here, the better I can make future voices.

Also, "rodushi" is very much a placeholder name; I just wanted something that sounded more believable as an "internal" racial name than Ratfolk, and would deeply welcome a discussion to create something better.


The Duties of the Palatine
(What My Mother Told Me)

Who Are You?
I am Palatine Thikka T'tep'mok, guardian of Hope's Vale, shield-queen of the Clan T'tep'mok. Wih righteous will and by the oaths of the Clan, protector of my people.


Who Am I?
You are Rissi T'tep'mok, my daughter, the first to claim that honor and that responsibility. I bore you amidst a litter of ten new souls, but of them all only you had the strength to remain in this world, with all its sorrows, pleasures, pains and joys. Know that your littermates' souls watch over you now, and that if your example is true, then perhaps they will deign to join you in turn, and you shall be elder sister to more children of the Clan T'tep'mok.


Who Are My People?
The Clan T'tep'mok of the rodushi, whom others know as "ratfolk", are your people. We bear the emblem of the blossoming blue rose, and wear beads of carved jade in our honor-locks. For this reason, others sometimes call us the Flower Rats or the Green Jeweled Clan, typically because they cannot speak our tongue.

But do not forget that the rodushi are all one people, at the heart. All our many great Clans are united in our calling, and share the same burden. Give respect to others of our kind that we meet, unless they are the scalp-shorn honorless, for they are kin, however distantly.

And remember always that the Clan is open to those who are worthy. Though they may not be rodushi-born, some outsiders have souls worthy enough to be counted as members of the Clans, and so they too are your people. They deserve your respect and your kindness, for kin must always stand by kin.


Where Do We Live?
We dwell within Hope's Vale, our ancestral home, and a living example of our oath as rodushi. Your great-grandmother, the Palatine Kubi, earned this territory for our Clan by slaying a fearsome beholder, which had carved out a demesne for itself amidst the barren wasteland. By watering the blasted earth with its unholy ichors and cleansing its corruption with her own strength of will, she wrought a change from the land itself. That which was once desolate bloomed with lush greenery again, the earth becoming verdant once more as a new spring bubbled forth from whence its heartblood had eaten into the rock.

That oasis is the heart of Hope's Vale, symbol of our Clan's strength and our people's great calling. With each generation that has lived here, working for, bleeding for, dying for, the bubble of life has grown slowly outwards, until it now stretches across acres of life amidst the deathlands around us.

We will keep this oasis until it has swallowed up the wasteland, or until the last drop of our heart's blood has been shed to preserve it against those who would destroy it.


How Do We Live?
That is a spear with two heads, my daughter; it asks "how does the Clan live?" and "how does my family live?"

The Clan lives through the efforts of our workers. Those good and forthright souls who, not having the taste or talent for battle, instead dedicate their lives to the tasks necessary for the Clan's survival as a whole. They work the land, sowing and reaping crops of hardy grains, edible tubers, root vegetables, fungi, and nut- and berry-bushes to fill our bellies, and tending to herds of goats for milk, wool and leather. They craft storehouses and homes from wood and stone, and dig tunnels for defense - and offense. Through all their myriad labors, are people are fed and clothed, given shelter and support, and all else that they need to survive.

But such is not the lot of your family. You are born to the Palatines, the warriors of the rodushi, and our lot is different.

Our calling is to do battle against all evil in the Malebolge. We may lend our strength to the tasks of the workers if need be, and shameful is the Palatine who does not cultivate some talent that can be used outside of war, but our purpose is to slay.

All Palatines must learn to fight. How, is not so important. Some master the arcane, honing the powers in their blood or decoding the secrets of the ancient to weave righteous punishment and purification through sheer act of will. Some turn to mastery of the arts of combat; whether they wield sword and shield, or spear, or axes, or many arms at once, their wrath imbues them with the strength to cleave through the unholy. Others seek to bring body, mind and soul together as one, becoming living weapons who can scourge and kill with hand and foot and tail. And yet others seek other paths still. But all do so for the same purpose.

To be a Palatine is to walk the path of sacrifice and blood. That is how your family lives.


What Makes Us Great?
The rodushi are great because we have a vision, a true calling. We look out into the darkness of the Malebolge, and we dare to light a torch. In this tumultuous world where raiders will slay the peaceful for the food in their stores, where blood will be shed for a mouthful of clean water, where a person may eat their own sibling's flesh for the strength to survive another day, we dare to say "this shall not stand". We hold these to be good and true; the right of all people to live in peace, the brotherhood of all whom will stand together, and the need to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

The Clan T'tep'mok is great because we are true to the ideals of our people. Your great-grandmother slew a mighty beholder and created Hope's Vale with its death. Your great-grandfather gave his life to slay a poxrider that threatened to unleash a plague upon dozens of innocent villages throughout the Cradlelands. Your grandfather brokered a peace between clans of gnomoi and ork that remains unbroken to this day... but, you will learn of these deeds and many, many more in the teaching halls. Suffice it to say that we are noble and true; our lands are peaceful, are people are well-fed and happy, we defend our lands, and we do our duty to spread light to the lands beyond.


What Is Important In My Life?
Honor, justice, valor, strength. These are the principles by which all Palatines must live, by which all rodushi should strive to live.

You are still young, yet. Your days ahead are filled with study, learning how to walk the path of righteousness. You must learn to summon the strength of wrath, but temper it, lest you be consumed by fury. You must learn to think before acting, to be a shield first and a sword second - but to strike swiftly and decisively when you must. You must learn to recognize the minions of darkness, and to aptly judge when to share mercy, and when to bring them a clean end.

Then, when you have matured enough that you teachers judge you fit to learn, you must find your Art of Blood. You will be tested as you grow, rained in the basics of self-defense, but it is when you are judged honorable enough, and wise enough to avoid dishonor, that you will be taught the true secrets of the combatant.

Honor, first, foremost and always, is your life. The rodushi cannot light the darkness with a flame fuelled by blood and cruelty. As you commit great deeds, your mane will be tied into long tails to show your commitment to path of honor, decorated with our Clan's tokens to commemorate your accomplishments. Foul your honor, shame your Clan, and your honor-locks will be shorn from you. Should you be shaved bald, then you will be driven from our clan, your name stricken from its register, never to be considered kin to us again.

The crusade is an endless quest... but, it is not a path you need walk alone. When the time is right, you will find a mate. He may seek to attract your interest first, or perhaps you may show him that you desire him; we Palatines understand that there can be no indecisiveness in our members, no matter their gender. When that blessed time comes, the two of you shall handfast; you may join his Clan, or he yours, depending on whose lineage is more noble. If fortune smiles, you will have strong children, who will go on to bring further glory to the legacy of your Clan.

And when you die, your deeds will be celebrated. Your achievements told and songs of glory will usher your soul to the Shadowfell. Your greatest honor tokens will adorn the Clan's halls, commemorating you forever in the tales of the clan, and your body burnt, its ashes rubbed into the pillar of names that commemorates all of the clan's Palatines.


Who Rules Us?
In a rodushi Clan, it is a chosen Palatine who rules. They are the shield-king or -queen, the one who has tempered their urge to deliver justice to the wastes ad now seeks the modest path of ensuring the Clan's survival. They forsake the quick and easy road to glory, vowing instead to focus solely on the good of the Clan.

This ensures that only those Palatines who truly care for their people will aspire to their rule. It is a method that has served us well for countless generations.

And if they do not serve well? Then it is the duty of an honorable Palatine to challenge their authority. And to make them step down by force if they will not admit their inadequacy. But such a shameful situation is truly rare in the histories of our people.


What Is Evil?
Evil is to make others suffer for your own ease or pleasure. It is to destroy that which is valuable to others simply because you cannot own it yourself. It is to take from others by force what you cannot or will not earn through honest communication.

Evil is the raider, who terrorizes and murders because he feels his strength and viciousness gives him the right to do as he pleases.

Evil is the trickster, who manipulates others and takes what they own without giving anything back, because she considers herself better than those who are willing to toil for their living.

Evil is the monstrosity, which knows only pain and can know no peace save that found in the blood of the innocent or in its own merciful death.

Evil is the defiler, those creatures warped enough to seek to pervert what wholesome life remains in this world.

These are only some of the things that make up evil. You will learn of these, and many more, in your studies to come.


What Is My Lot In Life?
To walk the long and difficult path, that should be your lot in life. To have the strength to uphold your honor, the courage to seek glory, and the wisdom to recognize which value to be true to.

The path of the Palatine is arduous, and I do not lie; some are not suited for it. If it is the path you cannot walk, then the tutors of the Clan will convene. You will be given the choice to leave the path, and seek a quiet life amongst the workers of the Clan.

There is no shame in doing this. In truth, some of our greatest Palatines have stepped from the path at some point, only to return when their souls had been properly tempered and quenched.

But, if you are given the choice, and choose to remain, only to falter again and again... then, you may bring shame upon you.

Learn to understand your limits, little one. That is one of the greatest secrets of all.


How Do Men And Women Differ?
Amongst the outsiders, males and females may pursue very different roles, but in the clans, both sexes are equal. Females may serve as great warriors, and males may devote themselves to the rearing of children, and no shame is there in either path.


How Do We Deal With Others?
First, one must establish if one is dealing with a kin or an outsider.

Kin are welcomed and trusted, for we are all rodushi on the same great path, even those kin-under-the-skin. When a travelling kinsman comes to our land, they are welcomed and shown only our greatest hospitality. If at all possible, we celebrate, for the lands beyond our borders are harsh and dangerous, and a traveler is an uncommon event in any case, never mind one who is kin. They are allowed to eat of our food, drink of our water, sleep in our halls, and replenish their supplies from our stocks. In return, they share with us what they have seen and heard, letting us know what they know.

For an outsider, though, we must be wary. We rodushi would rather be friends with all, but we know that in this world, we cannot trust that those outside of the Clans are friendly to us. First we must greet them with caution, to make sure that they are not enemies feigning friendliness to take advantage of us; a trick that evil is ever willing to try. Those who prove themselves peaceful, we hold at arm's length. With time and effort, we may build trust with outsiders, but until they do, they shall always be those we watch, keeping ready to defend ourselves should they strike.

And woe indeed to the outsider who dares to pass themselves off as kin, for that is a crime that can scarcely be forgiven. To commit a wrong against the Clan whilst wearing the guise of someone to be so trusted? That is an evil that can be cleansed only with blood.


Who Are Our Enemies?
In truth, we rodushi would rather be enemies with none, but that is a luxury we do not have.

In simplest terms, all who embrace evil are our enemies. Species has nothing to do with it. I have known noble orks and wise calibans, and also gnomoi who sought to engineer foul perversions of life, and humans who sought to exterminate all life that was not their own kind.

Those who seek to fight us are our enemies. That is the simplest maxim of we Palatines. Here in Hope's Vale, we are truly blessed, for relatively few would consider us foes to battle.

The kobolds of the Magmascald tribe are one such group, for they oppose our opposition to their mad experiments in engineering reptilian monstrosities from their own unborn children.

Likewise, the caliban clades of the Red Wind, a barbaric conclave of blood-crazed, murderous cannibalistic rapists, are our bitterest foes, for they see our land's existence as a blight upon their "beautiful" desolation. Again and again their crazed, drooling hordes crash against the walls of our villages, and again and again we beat them back. Several of our Palatines have sought to slay whatever deranged monsters hold this band of lunatics together, but none of them have returned successfully as yet.


What Is There To Do Around Here?
Much! Studies and training will take up the bulk of your time, young one. You must master the lore, master your body, and master yourself.

...Do not look so distraught. There is more to life than training! Discipline is essential, but a mind that is never given release turns inwards on itself, twisting and warping into something vile and unnatural. Even a Palatine must have time for the simple joys in life.

In truth, many of your training activities will be games you shall play with the other young Palatine-aspirants. When you have not the energy to scamper, climb, burrow, slink and otherwise scurry hither and yon, there are games of skill and foresight on which to hone your tactics, and contests of mental agility in which to compete. To say nothing of pursuing personal skills, such as music, painting, sculpture or calligraphy.

And, of course, there are the festivals! We celebrate the days on which Palatines of our Clan achieved great feats, with stories and music, with feasting and drinking, and with other entertainments suitable for the young - and, *chuckle* more private amusements for the mature.

Who knows, my daughter? Perhaps, one day, we will be celebrating a festival in your memory...
 
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:crickets chirping:

...I must confess, I am underwhelmed with that response. :sigh: Well, I really do need to get working on this, so I will try to continue... to my best efforts, this currently marks my list of planned expansions to this setting so far:
* Continuing the Setting Bible by writing up the events of the Doom War and the Black Dawn than ended it by creating Malebolge.
* Write-ups of various regions (compare: Fallout's Mojave, Capital Wasteland, Point Lookout, Commonwealth, whatever the area Fallouts 1/2 are set in).
* An examination of classes appropriate to the setting, with possibly examinations of how they relate to established/canonical races of the setting.
* Detail the differing "styles" of the Old World Cultures, talk about how they thought about the world around them, their artistic forms, etc, just try and flesh out how you can tell an ancient dwarven ruin from an elfin one, or what makes a human-made magical item visually distinct from its dwarfin and elfin equivalents.
* Maybe discuss the races I'm planning on fielding, in order to better expand on them?

Actually, on that latter note, there is something I could use folks help with, if you're willing? Long story short, the plan I have for the Dwarves is that there is a minority of "purebloods" (Hill Dwarf stats) around, but the majority of them mutated, either partially (creating 5e Forgeborn Dwarves) or into a whole new species (Gnomoi - Rock Gnomes). I'm just kind of struggling with how to handle the fate of the elves in comparison.

Also... in case I haven't said it before, I envisioned the "old world" of this setting as being extremely magically advanced. I'm talking Eberron with a dash of Forgotten Realms Age of Magic. I had a project, once upon a time, about "hypertech" in 5e... and, really, a lot of "science fiction" stuff can easily be reskinned as magical. Do folks think it makes sense to talk about the possibility of such material lingering in the form of ancient relics? "Golemtech" artifical limbs, mana-fuelled energy blasters, chainswords, etc?
 
Really getting kind of discouraged by the lack of interest here, but I figured I might as well try and share something useful.

Races of Malebolge:
To explain my racial setup in advance... I'm a big fan of experimenting with more "gonzo" or "obscure" races, I like to try and put new spins on "classic" races, and I don't believe in the Always Chaotic Evil trope. So, the result is... more or less what you see here. I'm of course open to further expansion, alterations and additions; for example, the Diabolus race from Mystara, with its classic lore as "extraplanar aliens forced to migrate to the human world", could easily be spun into Malebolge as a race stranded there en-mass by the riftstorms or planequakes. So could a rip-off of Warcraft's Draenei race, but I wouldn't endanger this board by doing something like that.


I actually have a segment in my setting bible dedicated to discussing the races, but I figured I should list them and explain them here first before I share that. If folks want to see what I wrote up for the bible, please, ask me and I'll post it here.


Humans: Humanity's hat is basically "adaptability" (plus "breed like roaches"), so I figure that there's ample justification to have enclaves of (relatively) pure-blooded humans still surviving in the present day. They're just sort of the natural "go-to" race.


Elves: I'm torn between whether or not to have elves survive in this setting. Maybe only mutant elves like drow (who went underground to escape the chaos above) or shadar-kai (see below) are left to represent them. I just can't make up my mind.


Dwarves: In the current setting, "pure" dwarves still survive, but have become a xenophobic minority. Because the dwarfin culture made use of elemental magic, the majority of dwarves have either become "tainted" by that elemental energy - becoming a 5e adaptation of Forgeborn Dwarves instead of the "purebloods" Mountain Dwarves, or have wholely mutated into a new form; the Gnomoi (use the stats for Rock Gnomes and my homebrew "tinker gnome" fluff, loosely inspired by Pathfinder).


Orks: I discovered the Wicked Fantasy setting and I fell in love with its depiction of orks. Former monsters trying to redeem themselves, the whole "cult of pain" thing, the "honor is in the scars" culture, it's just fascinating. At the same time, I thought it'd be fun to try and incorporate the original LoTR fluff of them being "ruined elves". So, I tied the orks of Malebolge into the Doom War; a war crime committed by the dwarves in retaliation for the magical virus-bombing of one of their greatest cities by the elves, orks are the descendants of elves alchemically mutated into bestial supersoldiers - an experiment that went horribly right, as the orks broke free of their dwarven masters' control and turned on them. Still embittered at their creators, orks are defined by their struggle to find a place for themselves and to make peace with what they've lost. My current plan is to use the half-orc stats, but that may change when Volo's Guide comes out. Additionally, I'm currently inclined to use the alchemical experiment backstory to give them random mutants; goblins, which are smaller but more magical orks (use Forest Gnome stats), and trolls, which are bigger and tougher (Goliath stats).


Kobolds: I just love these little guys, especially the way they like to brag about being cousins to dragons to make themselves look more important. So, in the Malebolge setting, kobolds are the descendants of dragons - specifically, though the dragons themselves vanished after the Black Dawn, their abandoned eggs hatched into the first kobolds. An entire race burning with an inferiority complex, striving to find a way to undo what has been done to them. If dragonborn exist in this setting, and I'm inclined towards letting them, they represent the greatest success in the kobold experiments in mutagens on adults and unhatched offspring alike. The all-too-frequent failures? That's where the wyverns, the faerie dragons, the elemental drakes, the dinosaurs, and most other "almost-but-not-quite-a-dragon" reptilian beasties come from.


Warforged: How could I not steal so much inspiration from Eberron and not take these guys with it? Warforged in Malebolge are more magitek-mechanical looking than the "wooden muscles under steel exoskeleton" of the Eberron version, but they're still the same; looking for a purpose, and a way to ensure their species doesn't die out by finding and restoring the forge-creches that created them, back when humanity strove to gain the muscle to try and stop the madness engulfing their world.


Calibans: Humans survive, but not always unchanged. Calibans originate in Ravenloft, I think maybe 3rd edition? Essentially, they're human mutants, and so they fit into Malebolge far too well to just ignore them.


Shadar-Kai: These shadowy immortals were one of the more interesting races in 4e, I felt, and their "carpe diem" racial motto made them an interesting contrast to the standard cliches of post-apocalyptica. I just think that they fit the setting well, and they easily make sense as elves overwhelmed and mutated by surges of necrotic energy from necromantic spells gone haywire during the Black Dawn.


Ratfolk: I can't really explain these beyond they just felt right.


Aranea: I... don't know why it is I want to include these fellows. I guess it's because these sorcerous spider-shifters have always been an incredibly cool concept to me, but we haven't seen them since the days of Red Steel back in the late 80s.
 
So, I don't know how much it'll help, but I've started up a google doc to start keeping all the crunchy and fluffy content established for this setting. In addition to the things I mentioned in my last post, can anyone suggest any "blanks" in my current gazetteer list of topics?

On a different topic... I been listening to Miracle of Sound's Dark Souls 3 and Planescape: Torment homage songs recently, and it's started me thinking... would folks consider it "fair" that one of the myriad curses of the Black Dawn is the Darkfire; a perverted elemental force that manifests as a sickly black-green fire that radiates clamminess, unwholesome chill and taint, consuming life in order to feed itself? What I'm specifically thinking is that, whilst most people touched by the Darkfire are consumed utterly by it, some souls are strong enough to survive with it, becoming Darkfire Hosts. These individuals lose an indiscernible part of their souls, but can never find the release of death, as the Darkfire within them feeds on the life around them to restore their corpse afterwards.

Mechanically, that'd look something like this...

Darkfire Host (Trait/Flaw/Feat)
You are one of the cursed few who have been touched by Darkfire and survived. Now, its unclean flame burns inside of you, a hollow that strips the life from the land around you to sustain itself, ensuring you can never find peace in death.

  • You immediately lose 2 points of both Constitution and Charisma.
  • Your racial ability score maximum for both Constitution and Charisma is reduced to 18.
  • If your Constitution or Charisma score is ever reduced to 0 as a result of ability damage, then you are consumed by the Darkfire, reducing you to unclean dust. You die immediately and can never be resurrected.
  • You gain the Restless Soul racial trait.

Restless Soul: If you begin your turn at less than 50% of your maximum hitpoints, you immediately regain 1 hitpoint. If you die, then you return to life 24 hours after your death. If your body was destroyed, it reforms at a safe point within 1 mile of where your body was destroyed. This does not protect your equipment; any equipment that was stolen or destroyed before you rose from the grave is lost appropriately. You also no longer age, becoming immune to magical aging.


...Actually, on that topic, how fair is it to have mechanical benefits and drawbacks to reflect various "arcane taints" and similar mutations that a survivor in the Malebolge could have or pick up?​


 
Folks, I could really use your advice on something... see, I'm contemplating putting together a series of "racial gazetteers" for this setting - outlining the nature of the various sapient races of the Malebolge, much like how, for example, Races of Faerun/Eberron/Stone/The Wild and Destiny did in 3e. I figure this would give a deeper feel to the world without, well, compromising too much on the post-apocalyptic feel.


There's just one problem. Kobolds. See, lately, I've been unable to shake this rather peculiar interpretation of them. It entails them being semi-hermaphroditic - long story short, under the right circumstances, females can "switch over" to an impregnatory role, and males can do likewise - and both sexes being potentially capable of growing pseudo-breasts, in the form of chest-based fat deposits. There's perfectly reasonable justifications for both of these traits - the "any two kobolds can make new kobolds, it doesn't need 1 of each gender" is how they avoid extinction despite being at the bottom of D&D's absurdly lethal foodchain, the pseudo-breasts are a natural sex display/status symbol for a bipedal species, and in fact they actually get even stronger with the lore of kobolds in Malebolge. The hermaphroditism could have been an actual trait of dragons before the Black Dawn, thus strengthening their "independent and aloof to the point of weakness" characterization, whilst the pseudo-breasts emphasize their "mockery of a human form" attribute.


Thing is, as I'm well aware, this is very close to what 4chan would call a "magical realm", no matter how matter-of-factly and unfetishistically I present it. So, I find myself caught on what to do. Do you folks think I should:
* Fight the urge and dispel all such thoughts when I write the kobold gazetteer?
* Do two versions of the gazetteer, one without these aspects and one with them, so DMs can accept which one they're more comfortable with?
* Just go ahead and do it with the aspects, in order to cement how alien and different Malebolge's kobolds are to the bogstandard yipping lizard-runts of vanilla D&D?


Please, I really do need opinions on this before I can make my mind up.
 

GreenTengu

Explorer
Eh, I appreciate the suggestion, but I don't think that works.

The big reason I figure that druids don't exist in this setting is because it has a strong theme of "look inside one's self for the power you need". Humanity built its first empire on the ground of arcane magic, and never found a need for the divine. Druids, being essentially "the nature priest", don't make sense as a human development. As for the Aelfar...

I'm reminded of an article on magical plants from Dragon Magazine, where it explicitly noted that such things are near-universally the creation of wizards, as druids see them as abominations and their creation amongst one of the greatest atrocities one can commit against nature. The Aelfar's entire culture was based on using magic to control, transform, mutate and create both plants and animals to suit their needs, from their spelljammers to living weapons, and adding necromancy on top of that so that even death was not an end to servitude. Does that sound even remotely like a druidic philosophy?

Bards as they exist actually do make a pretty good class that developed after the apocalypse, as scriveners and jacks of all trades who scavenge all kinds of lore from the past, and I thank you for reminding me of that. But Druids proper... I'm probably going to stick with just homebrewing various "plantomancer" branches for the Wizard, Sorcerer and Warlock to represent the mastery of plants - I already have a Wood Elementalist Wizard, I'm sure I can make something for the others.

Thank you for taking an interest, and I do hope that this doesn't come across as personally attacking you. I just don't quite think that these suggestions work for me, I'm sorry.
I think you may be looking at things entirely backwards there. The classes are fundamentally just sets of abilities. You can use the class without remotely incorporating every single bit of fluff ever written about it in any published book ever. It really doesn't much matter how or why one setting says the abilities a class has works, you are free to rewrite all of that. All that matters is if the raw crunch of the class, the way it functions and to an extent what the abilities are said to do, that really cannot be changed without major issues.

The question is simply which classes have the ability sets that most closely match what you imagine the denizens of the world using. You can even change the name! Who cares what they are called and what the finer details of their society structures and rituals and power source is stated to be in some other alien dimension. The fact that your world has no deities already demonstrates without question that this is not taking place anywhere in the D&D cosmology, so then nothing about magic is set is stone and all fluff excuses for a class's abilities should be entirely rewritten.


Folks, I could really use your advice on something... see, I'm contemplating putting together a series of "racial gazetteers" for this setting - outlining the nature of the various sapient races of the Malebolge, much like how, for example, Races of Faerun/Eberron/Stone/The Wild and Destiny did in 3e. I figure this would give a deeper feel to the world without, well, compromising too much on the post-apocalyptic feel.
There's just one problem. Kobolds. See, lately, I've been unable to shake this rather peculiar interpretation of them. It entails them being semi-hermaphroditic - long story short, under the right circumstances, females can "switch over" to an impregnatory role, and males can do likewise - and both sexes being potentially capable of growing pseudo-breasts, in the form of chest-based fat deposits. There's perfectly reasonable justifications for both of these traits - the "any two kobolds can make new kobolds, it doesn't need 1 of each gender" is how they avoid extinction despite being at the bottom of D&D's absurdly lethal foodchain, the pseudo-breasts are a natural sex display/status symbol for a bipedal species, and in fact they actually get even stronger with the lore of kobolds in Malebolge. The hermaphroditism could have been an actual trait of dragons before the Black Dawn, thus strengthening their "independent and aloof to the point of weakness" characterization, whilst the pseudo-breasts emphasize their "mockery of a human form" attribute.


Thing is, as I'm well aware, this is very close to what 4chan would call a "magical realm", no matter how matter-of-factly and unfetishistically I present it. So, I find myself caught on what to do. Do you folks think I should:
* Fight the urge and dispel all such thoughts when I write the kobold gazetteer?
* Do two versions of the gazetteer, one without these aspects and one with them, so DMs can accept which one they're more comfortable with?
* Just go ahead and do it with the aspects, in order to cement how alien and different Malebolge's kobolds are to the bogstandard yipping lizard-runts of vanilla D&D?


Please, I really do need opinions on this before I can make my mind up.


Hnn.. The fact that you seem to have put way too much thought into this, the fact that you are even aware of 4chan and those that have fetish for hermaphrodite reptillian/draconian things at all... well, that you would write this... your guilty mind is pretty clear.

From a purely natural, objective outsider approaching the idea... one just says "Kobolds have no natural gender, when it comes to breeding they are able to serve either role meaning that any two random Kobolds are able to produce a whole formidable tribe hidden away in unexpected places in a matter of decades."

The idea that if someone tries to wipe them out and somehow misses only two... or somehow only two sneak past guard and set themselves up in some cave or sewer or other place people never go or think about could cause a whole infestation of them somewhere and it is really hard to get rid of them because, again, you miss two and the next generation is going to have to deal with another whole tribe "invading" from within your own city.

Of course, you could make it even more dangerous than that... "Even though Kobolds are generally universally thought of as male lacking the typical female identifying features, they are in fact all female. Kobolds reproduce asexually and even one Kobold is capable of laying a dozen viable eggs every year. As they reach sexual maturity within 5 years, a lone Kobold can soon spawn and entire tribe."

Also... the fact that you spelled Orc with a "k" and you feel the need to include Rat-people simply because it "feels right" without seemingly having any sort of unique role for them to play (if you expand Kobold roles, it is hard to see what you even do with Ratpeople), it is rather clear where a lot of your background and inspiration comes from.
 
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I think you may be looking at things entirely backwards there. The classes are fundamentally just sets of abilities. You can use the class without remotely incorporating every single bit of fluff ever written about it in any published book ever. It really doesn't much matter how or why one setting says the abilities a class has works, you are free to rewrite all of that. All that matters is if the raw crunch of the class, the way it functions and to an extent what the abilities are said to do, that really cannot be changed without major issues.

The question is simply which classes have the ability sets that most closely match what you imagine the denizens of the world using. You can even change the name! Who cares what they are called and what the finer details of their society structures and rituals and power source is stated to be in some other alien dimension. The fact that your world has no deities already demonstrates without question that this is not taking place anywhere in the D&D cosmology, so then nothing about magic is set is stone and all fluff excuses for a class's abilities should be entirely rewritten.
All very valid points... but the basic fact of the matter is that I just don't see the Druid working as a nature mage. I simply can't explain it better than that. Maybe it's the Wild Shape thing, I don't know, but it really is something I struggle with. I've never been that fond of the Druid, and although I know I can refluff it, the fact remains I just can't get over that hurdle where it just doesn't quite fit the motifs I need.


Hnn.. The fact that you seem to have put way too much thought into this, the fact that you are even aware of 4chan and those that have fetish for hermaphrodite reptillian/draconian things at all... well, that you would write this... your guilty mind is pretty clear.

From a purely natural, objective outsider approaching the idea... one just says "Kobolds have no natural gender, when it comes to breeding they are able to serve either role meaning that any two random Kobolds are able to produce a whole formidable tribe hidden away in unexpected places in a matter of decades."

The idea that if someone tries to wipe them out and somehow misses only two... or somehow only two sneak past guard and set themselves up in some cave or sewer or other place people never go or think about could cause a whole infestation of them somewhere and it is really hard to get rid of them because, again, you miss two and the next generation is going to have to deal with another whole tribe "invading" from within your own city.

Of course, you could make it even more dangerous than that... "Even though Kobolds are generally universally thought of as male lacking the typical female identifying features, they are in fact all female. Kobolds reproduce asexually and even one Kobold is capable of laying a dozen viable eggs every year. As they reach sexual maturity within 5 years, a lone Kobold can soon spawn and entire tribe."

I... I'm sorry, but I can't really understand what you're saying here.

Also... the fact that you spelled Orc with a "k" and you feel the need to include Rat-people simply because it "feels right" without seemingly having any sort of unique role for them to play (if you expand Kobold roles, it is hard to see what you even do with Ratpeople), it is rather clear where a lot of your background and inspiration comes from.
Actually, the Orks are, as I said earlier, essentially Wicked Fantasy's Orks (which is probably why I've been spelling them with a K, beyond the whole "they were a dwarven creation and dwarfin uses a lot of hard K sounds" thing) with Tolkien's "orcs are corrupted elves" thrown in for flavor.

The ratfolk, meanwhile, are inspired by a combination of Rokugan's Nezumi and Final Fantasy's Burmecians and are currently set up as one of the noblest races in the setting, being lead by an order of what are essentially non-divine paladins. Kobolds, meanwhile, are torn between their "traditions" as power-hungry schemers whose desperation to return to dragondom has led to many disasters and hardships (all of the "drakes" that plague the world? Kobold experiments gone wrong) and trying to just find a place for themselves alongside their neighbors.

So, no, Warhammer actually doesn't have that much inspiration. I will admit that when I try to picture the "scavengerpunk arcane enviro-suit armor" endemic to the setting, there is a baroqueness to the design in my mind's eye that does make me remember older editions of Warhammer Fantasy.


Anyway, to get off the topic of my uselessness for once, I finally have the first draft of the setting bible complete, and I would deeply love any feedback on it that I can get. I'm worried about what I might be missing and how I can better define this foundation as to why Malebolge is something I want to build up.

The Doomwar
Clanhold Urdunnir was one of the most vocally anti-Aelfar of the various Sonnlinor clans who happened to dwell in the increasingly contested borderlands between Nidavellir proper and the territories claimed by elves. It was well-known to all three powers that Urdunnir was actively engaging in guerrilla activity against the elves, secretly training, supporting and hiding assassins, thieves and other terrorists. Though the incensed Aelfar demanded restitution for their role in the attacks, Urdunnir feigned innocence and was tacitly supported by the rest of the Sonnlinor clans.


It is unclear in this modern era what was the final straw, but it is believed that the assassination of the Aelfar noble Quillathe Holimion was the ultimate cause. This is because her brother, Paelias Holimion, is generally accepted as the Aelfar who ordered the destruction of the Clanhold at last.


This was achieved through the use of the first "megaspell", an epically powerful arcane ritual requiring the combined efforts of multiple powerful mages, to create a powerful arcane plague that erupted spontaneously amongst the population of the Clanhold.


Fragmented records survive amongst some ancient Sonnlinor clanholds, speaking of reports sent from the clan's Urthstar - an enchanted pillar used to communicate between various Sonnlinor Clanholds - by the desperate survivors of the clan. It speaks of Sonnlinor slain in horrific manner, the fallen rising from where they fell to become ravenous, flesh-hungry zombies, or mutated into fouler horrors. Eventually, trapped in their own homes, the survivors chose to give their lives to breach the Clanhold's magma-forges, incinerating the entire Clanhold in a massive storm of elemental fire that destroyed everything within before it could spread to attack other Clanholds.


With this attack, open war was declared between Aelfar and Sonnlinor. The two factions martialled all of their forces and marched out in open strength, the first and ultimately the last war to ever befoul Eden. The Doomwar.


The Aelfar proved lethally effective at first, wielding armies of engineered warrior-slaves crafted from magically-engineered plants and animals, all directed on by elite Aelfar warriors wielding enchanted weapons. This ferocity was met by the Sonnlinor with great fortitude, their enchanted arms and armor allowing them to hold their ground against the onslaught.


Seeing the odds they faced, the Sonnlinor sought to even the odds. Using stolen fragments of fleshcrafting lore and their own alchemical skills, they experimented upon captured Aelfar soldiers, mutating them into more savage and bestial green-skinned monsters. These corrupted elves were named the Uruk, a word meaning, loosely, "blood-damned". In time, they would come to be known by a looser variation of the word: Ork.


Having lost their magical powers and longevity, but being imbued with faster maturation, greater fecundity and violent, bestial temperaments, the Uruk were swiftly bred into mighty hordes that the Sonnlinor eagerly unleashed against their Aelfar foes. The Uruk would take the brunt of the casualties, and so what; for were they not expendable? The Aelfar soon realized what these savage new warrior-slaves were and become incensed, seeking to destroy them as an insult to who they were.


This new factor would have escalated the conflict anyway, but something happened that only ensured the Doomwar would speed to its ultimate, cataclysmic conclusion: the Uruk escaped the control of their Sonnlinor masters, and turned on both sides.


Humanity had tried to stay out of the fray as much as possible, but this was no longer an option. Now it was being attacked on all sides, its people slaughtered as collateral damage in Aelfar/Sonnlinor battles or attacked by wild bands of Uruk, bands from both sides stealing from human city-states to find an edge.


But they were outnumbered now, and so they turned to their own ways to even the odds. Whilst the Aelfar and Sonnlinor had mostly ignored megaspells after the Pestilence of Clanhold Urdunnir, humanity embraced the concept, researching ways in which battle magics could be employed to devastate entire armies or scour cities clean. To bulk out their lesser ranks, they turned to the arts of artifice, eventually bringing to life the artificial humanoids they dubbed, simply, the Warforged.


Armed with these new powerful tools, humanity struck back against all sides, hoping to shock and awe them into coming to terms. Legions of artificial soldiers ran down ravening hordes of wild Uruk and berserk Aelfar battle-beasts, whilst the sky rained down fire and blood upon clashing armies of dwarf and elf, shattering both powers in an instant.


In the grisly aftermath, humanity held its breath, hoping against hope that their first strike had done its duty.




The Black Dawn
It failed. The Aelfar simply declared that they would destroy humanity as well, whilst the Sonnlinor were incensed by what they perceived as the greatest of treachery - nevermind the countless humans slain and robbed by Sonnlinor beforehand. As for the Uruk, tormented by their artificially engineered battle-lust, they considered all life to be their enemy on principle.


And so the Doom War span outwards, growing ever more destructive. Having seen the power of megaspells, both Aelfar and Sonnlinor turned to developing them in kind, creating an arm's race in which ever-more-destructive magics were brought into being.


Inevitably, there could be only one outcome.


How, precisely, it happened, none can say. What happened is both vague and all too clear. Megaspells were unleashed by all factions at once, perhaps deliberately, perhaps accidentally, and the resultant conflux of magic was too great for any to control.


Reality itself quaked as the megaspells erupted into magical storms that wounded the very WorldSoul itself. Mountains were levelled and raised high, rifts between worlds opened, the earth buckled and heaved, the sky burned and venom rained from the angry heavens.


Words cannot truly describe the thousand and one horrors of that day, when the world screamed and bled in torment. All that can be said is that the old world was wiped away in a storm of metal and fire and blood.


It is immortalized by those who remain as the Black Dawn. The day the sun set on Eden, and rose on Malebolge.


Generations have passed since that day of violent reshaping. New people have sprung up to take the place of the old. But all of them still live amongst the legacies of those who came before. For good, and for ill.
 
So, just to prove I've been working on this project - in fact, I got the first racial guide done this morning, but I'm not sure if I should show it here, because it's the kobold and I'm still looking it over for sheer creepiness...

A thread on beastmen races in fantasy on /tg/ made me think of two seperate things.


Firstly, whilst I don't like the Always Chaotic Evil trope, I don't mind the Usually Chaotic Evil version - in a fantasy world, it makes sense that there are cultures messed up enough to usually make for antagonists. And I also rather like subverting expectations - hence the Rodushi being not the "always chaotic evils swarming filthy ratfolk" you see in every fantasy setting, but a slightly Eastern-tinted culture of noble paladin-types dedicated to restoring civilization, inspired mostly by Final Fantasy's Burmecians with a little of Legend of the Five Rings' Nezumi thrown in.


Why am I bringing this up? Essentially, there's this obscure card game called Hex: Shards of Fate, and one of the races there is the Shin'hare, an incredibly ruthless and imperialistic species of bunnyfolk who make extensive use of blood magic, necromancy and human wave tactics to compensate for their physically unimposing nature. We're talking a species that routinely butchers its children to power blood magic rites that produce enchanted arms & armor for its warrior elite, and where the primary ruling caste is an elite band of female sorcerers who use magic to produce unnaturally large and quick-growing litters.


http://hextcg.gamepedia.com/Shin’hare


To finally ask my questions, do folks think that an expy of the Shin'hare could work in the Malebolge setting? I can honestly see them, with origins in a cabal of Aelfar mystics whose souls were displaced from their bodies during the Black Dawn. Rather than dissipae, they possessed the first living creatures they could - a warren of rabbits. To their horror, they found themselves stuck. Through a combination of their spiritual contamination and arcane rights, they mutated their bodies and the children of those bodies into the first of the (Bunnyfolk).


Now, they rule as an elite council of lich-wraiths; foul-hearted mystics who continually reincarnate whenever their bodies give out, for even now they can only live a fraction of their original elven lifespan. Cruel and arrogant to begin with, the generations have twisted their minds and left them quite mad, causing them to shape their offspring into a brutal, ruthless society hell-bent on subguating the rest of the world.


Emphasis here would be that it's not so much the (Bunnyfolk) are born evil as that their culture is seriously messed up, and that's due to the influence of the "Eternal Emperors". You can easily have defectors from decadence, but the bulk of the culture are your traditional badguys, with a touch of black comedy.


But, I don't know if other folks could buy this race, so that's why I would like to get opinions while I'm here.




Second question; as a result of that same thread, I've been idly contemplating how to make a race of horsemen. I'm fairly confident I've got something decent, but would they fit in Malebolge, or would I be better off saving them for some other project?




To touch on a topic that's been bugging me... I've never really liked druids that much. My plan for them in Malebolge is just to leave them out, because there's no divine magic in the setting, but... well, on Enworld, it was pointed out to me that class fluff can be reworked. I know this to be true, but... well, do folks really think that the Aelfar's traditions of enslaving and mutating animals & plants to serve their will really sounds like something that can be done with the Druid class? I don't know, it just doesn't seem right to use it...




I've been contemplating writing a "Scavver's Guidebook", an in-universe text detailing at least fragments of a scavver (professional scavenger) manual talking about the architecture of the Lost Empires, how to differentiate between the magical items of said cultures, traps, natural hazards, magical hazards, dangerous and useful plants/animals/minerals, stuff like that. Would folks be interested in that?




Speaking of magic... I've always envisioned Eden during the "golden era" as being sort of like Eberron meets... whatever that Forgotten Realm sub-setting set in Faerun's past during the height of Netheril was. Age of Magic? Whatever. Still, even with this in mind... would it break folks' suspension of disbelief if I said they had firearm-equivalents, expies of Warhammer 40000's chain-weapons (which 4e already did, via the Fleshgrinder "enchantment" in Adventurer's Vault 2), artificial limbs based on replacing lost appendages with golem versions, and things like that? Keep in mind this is all Lost Technology at this point.
 

Chaosmancer

Adventurer
First of all

Holy wowza, there is some really awesome stuff here man.

Secondly, don't be too discouraged with the lack of response. I was slowly doing my own homebrew stuff, and I don't think I've ever received any feedback ever, even from friends. Link here for shameless promotion and guilt http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?470819-Chaosmancer-Homebrew-The-World-of-Arista

Onto some of the things you asked about, and perhaps some you didn't


Hermaphrodite Kobolds: These honestly sound really cool, I've never used kobolds in my games (I prefer goblins) but this lore as fallen dragons and having this weird biology is tempting. I would say, if you aren't going to use the lizard breasts, don't mention them. If they are simply there because you can, it isn't worth it, if you've got some rock-solid stuff (like the change in biology requires the movement of a bunch of mass, meaning the males end up bulkier but the females get the curves) try it, but it seems completely unnecessary and takes away from the coolness I already find in there.

Ratfolk: Are really cool, just wanted to throw that out there, but I'm curious if you are homebrewing them or just using the Eberron unearthed arcana and taking the shifters.

Guns: Ancient tech guns make perfect sense for the setting, but perhaps make them experimental or more like stationary cannons. I could see delving into a destroyed dwarven stronghold, finding a huge nasty beastie, and then trying to figure out how to work the experimental cannon to aid in the fight against something hunting the party.

Bunnypeople: Hit or miss honestly, the idea of these eternal lich-wraiths running a society to destroy the world is amazingly cool, but most of people are going to laugh at the entire idea because they are bunnies. There will be no end to the jokes at the table. Maybe have them be some sort of corrupted elves, hit by some aftershock that altered them irrevocably into something unlike their original forms but still humanoid. Having them forced into a cycle of being reborn as Orks could be interesting, stuck inbodies that were a mockery of their former forms for all eternity, the only way to free themselves from this shame and torment is to make sure nothing is left alive so they can finally be free of this twisted hell of a world.

Playable Races: So, it sounds like you want the majority of these races to be playable, but maybe consider either not having them all playable or having a subset of them available at the start of the game. Mostly because of flavor. Your players are going to inform how the race is perceived, if you really want to drive home how wierd and off-putting a culture of non-evil people is, consider making them all NPC's. The players are outsiders looking into this well of information, but they just don't understand everything they are seeing. It's what I did with the Yuan-Ti, because they have such a strange and off-putting religion in Arista that I didn't want a player trying to portray or explain, because that would take away from how uncomfortable I want it to be for the table.

Druids: Tough one. I'd advocate cutting them entirely, unless someone insists on playing one. They are incredibly rare individuals perhaps, not a rote culture of knowledge and abilities but something that happened because of a confluence of events. My first thought as to what that could be is some sort of "solar flare" of the Worldsoul. You said in the Black Dawn paragraph that the WorldSoul was damaged, perhaps it is "bleeding" and that takes the form of spikes of magical energy, pure power that allows one magic never before seen, and the ability to phase your body into other forms, taking on the flesh of other creatures of the Worldsoul but maintaining your spirit. Definitely not common and maybe you'd want to talk to the player and hash out a unique backstory for how they came into this power, something other people just aren't going to get.


Question: If you are planning on running this, how do you plan on driving home the sheer dangerous brutality of the landscape without TPKing the party or just toying with them? Ive had highy dangerous environments before, things many times worse than the standard, and I've never felt like I've been able to pin the feeling down quite right
 
Thank you very much for your interest in this setting! It really does light up my day when I see somebody saying that this setting has awesome ideas in it. And I appreciatey our trying to comfort me about the lack of responses.


On Hermaphroditic Kobolds: I'm not entirely sure what you mean about "using" the lizard-breasts. The lore-angle I was going for is that it plays into how kobolds are, or traditionally view themselves as anyway, cursed with a "mockery" of a form, a bleding of "elegant dragons" with "inferior humanoids". They should be dragons, but instead, they're this pale imitation that looks more like a humanoid aping a dragon. I figure it can't hurt anyone too badly, so I'll go ahead and post their current racial gazetteer, let you see how I ended up working it.


On Ratfolk: I'm glad you like the idea. And I'm homebrewing them; if you check out my "QB's Homebrew Races" thread, you can find the ratfolk stats I've currently got going on for this.


On Guns: Hmm, I hadn't considered that angle.


On Bunnypeople: I'm aware that the idea of chaotic evil bunnypeople is something folks would laugh at. Initially. When you run into the megalomaniacal bunnyfolk warlord wearing a cloak of screaming human faces and who sends wave after wave of grim-featured, emotionless underlings to die on your swords, even as his horrifically bloated sorceress consort spawns replacements that throw themselves into the fray with nothing but their hands and teeth... who's laughing then? There is comedy in the concept, but do it right, and it's black as pitch, perfect for the spiritual heir to the Shin'hare.


On Playable Races: The basic principle I work for with my races is "Never Always Chaotic Evil, But Usually Chaotic Evil". There are inherently antagonistic races, but they're not monocultures that you never see any difference in. That's why kobolds have gone from "mad scientists whose desperation to turn themselves into dragons creates mutant monsters" to "aggressive, somewhat xenophobic reptilians who are trying to get away from the remnant tribes who still want to turn them all back into dragons". If my "blackbunnyfolk" idea does get done, you would still have defectors, renegades and those who just said "screw this!" because it's not that they're evil, it's that they're ruled by evil tyrants, and that screws things up for everyone.


On Druids: A very interesting suggestion, thank you so much for sharing it.


On Your Question: I actually don't have plans on running this. I've never DMed, I don't have anyone I can play with, and I don't really think I'd be much good at it. I'm building this world because it's an image in my head that I need to exorcise, and it's good personal training. As for the query you ask... I don't have an answer for you, I'm afraid. As I said, I'm no DM, so I don't have the skills to properly answer you.
 
And this is the first edition kobold "racial gazetteer", a sort of guidebook to kobolds as they exist in Malebolge. Please, try not to freak out about things too much. But, at the same time, I am open to people pointing out aspects I missed, or which contradicted themselves. This is being done in the open because I want to refine my ideas and make them work as best I can.


Kobolds
Who Are They?
Cursed by the Black Dawn, ashamed of their inability to live up to a glorious legacy that exists only in their own minds, the kobolds are the corrupted children of the mighty and arrogant dragons that once wheeled across the sky of Eden. Obsessed with reclaiming their ancestral glory, kobolds are notorious for their willingness to achieve their goals, no matter the cost to others or even themselves.




Physiology
Kobolds are a diminutive race of reptilian humanoids, standing between 2'6" and 4'2" tall and typically weighing 35 to 50 pounds on average. Females are usually larger than males, as is common for reptiles.


Kobold heads consist of lizard-like skulls with blunt, rounded snouts capable of remarkably human-like expressions. They have two eyes consisting of a colored iris and a vertical slit pupil, a long, dextrous tongue with a forked tip, and a mouth filled with sharp, carnivorous teeth; predominantly needle-like canines, with specialized pre-molars and molars at the back, allowing them some omnivorous tendencies in their diet.


Kobolds all bear horns on their skulls, which can be white, tan or black in color; the precise number and shape of these horns is rather randomized, but does tend to run in familial lines. These horns may consist of paired rows rising from the top of the skull (the mark of a male kobold) or a singular row that runs down the spine (which is only found on females).


In typical reptilian fashion, kobolds hear through small earholes hidden against the back of their necks. Some kobold family lines may have mutations that augment their ability to hear, from fin-like crests that help funnel sound to strangely dog or rabbit-like flexible ears.


Like the dragons they descend from, kobolds bear hides covered in tough, flexible, tightly meshed scales. The precise coloration varies widely from individual to individual, but on the whole they tend towards red, brown, gray, blue and green. Kobolds usually bear very distinct markings on their hides, patternings of spots, stripes, splotches, socks, masks, muzles and even underbellies, usually based on shifts in tone. Kobolds with patches of brighter colors like purple, yellow or orange are rare, with metallic colored kobolds being rarest of all.


A kobold's hands consist of three fingers and an opposable thumb, all sporting claw-like nails, whilst its digitigrade legs end in reptilian paws consisting of three large toes and a smaller dewclaw higher up the foot towards the ankle.


The tails of these beings are rat-like in shape, being long, slender appendages that are highly flexible. Kobolds are adept at concealing their facial expressions, but their emotions tend to leak through in the motions of their tail, an easy tell for the rare soul adept in their way.


To the eyes of mammalians, kobolds can look rather androgynous; their petite frames, wide hips, slender limbs, large eyes, short statures and generally lithe builds all give them a "cute" or "feminine" air to the untrained eye. This gender confusion is only furthered by two distinct peculiarities of kobold physiology.


The first is the most startling; kobolds are a quasi-hermaphroditic species, in that although they do have recognizable male and female genders, peculiarities in their anatomies allow females to impregnate and males to become pregnant, should a kobold so desire. This trait undoubtedly stems from their draconic ancestors, who were well-documented for being hermaphroditic. This is in part why dragons were so solitary and never established any sort of community; any individual dragon could either mate and then focus on raising its own clutch, or simply forsake mating and self-fertilize, meaning the race never had to learn to work or live together longer than was required to engage in a sexual union.


The second is less explainable. Essentially, if a kobold eats sufficiently to build up excess fat reserves, it stores the bulk of the fat into two protrusions on the upper torso, which look remarkably like humanoid breasts. That this happens to both sexes possibly has something to do with the aforementioned quasi-hermaphrodite satus, but why it happens in the first place is a mystery. Depending on the tribe a kobold hails from, such growth may be seen as either desirable, showcasing the kobold's status and strength, or as undesirable, either for being a mockery of the kobold form or signifying laziness.




Personality
Intensity is perhaps the single-most defining trait of the typical kobold. These reptilian beings are definitely not slow and sleepy, the way some may think of lizards. Kobolds feel emotions passionately, and are by their natures a very driven people.


The typical kobold is fierce, stubborn, impulsive, and proud. An average kobold has a very strong sense of self-identity, quick to take offense at perceived mockery and slow to admit failure or weakness. It is common knowledge that the greatest weakness of kobolds is the struggle between their emotions and their logic; a kobold may be aware that she is small and weak compared to even a dwarf, but her stubborn pride may compel her to engage in foolish actions all the same, simply because she can't stand to be seen as inferior.


Well-aware of this, kobold tribes place a great deal of emphasis on training kobolds to control themselves. In a world where their bodies are a weakness, they must learn to compensate by mastering their minds.


This does give kobolds a reputation for being somewhat unstable, as their natural passion results in a lot of emotions being repressed until, inevitably, something explodes.


Kobolds also have a very strong possessive streak. Although this is usually considered to be mere avarice, in truth, a kobold's natural inclination is to define things as either "mine" or "not mine". MY food, MY weapon, MY tribe, MY children... What the item actually is doesn't matter; so long as the kobold can define it as belonging to him, then he will be fiercely protective of it.


As kobolds are also a naturally vengeful species, with a strong instinctive urging to enact retribution for slights, then this possessiveness can be dangerous to others.


However, it also makes kobolds extremely loyal to those they bond with. Kobolds will never betray their kith and kin, and expect the same sort of loyalty in return. Few things more readily incense a kobold as a traitor.


Of course, all of this means that kobolds can easily fall into cruelty and abusive behaviors born of their arrogance. A kobold who considers herself superior to others can easily let the power go to her head, becoming the worst kind of petty tyrant. Of course, kobolds will not stand to be abused or dominated, and the fate of those who try such things on their fellows is execution or exile.




Courtship
Kobold tribes do not usually place any sorts of limitations on when or how a kobold may choose a mate. Although the tribes do usually expect kobolds couples to produce offspring, their unusual physiology means that this is hardly a great issue, and as a result, kobolds do not have any taboos against same-sex pairings.


In most kobold tribes, kobolds mate opportunistically; a kobold who proves him or herself strong and desireable in some fashion earns the attracted interest of others, who seek to bear (or, more rarely, father) the successful kobold's young. These couplings usually only last a short time and end after one or both parties lose sexual interest, with any resultant progeny being reared by the mother.


This does not mean long-lasting bonds are unheard of. In many tribes, kobolds of particularly high status will assemble harems who eagerly share physical pleasure with their "alpha" in exchange for food, comfort and protection. And, of course, the highly individualistic kobolds may form more stable unions, usually due to political reasons or shared interests; these can vary from forming small networks of sexual partners that intersect with each other to lifelong monogamous unions, especially in those tribes that live closer to more monogamous cultures.


Kobolds are an ovoviparous race with a particularly unusual reproductive strategy. A pregnant kobold conceives a clutch of, on average, 2 to 6 eggs (half that for males), but this number can increase quite markedly; kobolds actually get increasingly fecund as they age or are fed especially well. These eggs develop to the point they are ready to be laid after a period of two weeks - but, kobolds can consciously delay laying their eggs up until they actually hatch, which takes approximately seven months after conception.


This means breeding requires a certain level of risk balancing for the gravid kobold, as retaining the eggs in the womb brings both advantages, such as keeping the eggs properly heated and protected from parasites, and disadvantages, in the form of encumbering the expectant mother.


Most kobold tribes have a communal hatchery where kobolds can lay their eggs and return to their usual lives until their hatchlings are ready to be raised. On the rare cases a kobold doesn't have a hatchery, it typically establishes a burrow to lay its eggs in, protecting it with an arsenal of traps that seems paranoid even to other kobolds.




Culture
Kobold culture falls into roughly two camps; the "traditionalist" faction, which has become increasingly uncommon over the generations, and the "modernist" faction.


At their hearts, both kobold factions are similar, focusing on the survival of the kobold species and banding together in large tribal groups for safety and support.


Traditionalist kobolds are driven by their obsession with their draconic ancestry. Almost invariably led by powerful fleshcrafting kobold mages or the rare dragon-touched kobold warlord, these tribes are determined to undo the curse of the Black Dawn that turned them into kobolds. Such tribes are notedly xenophobic, at best regarding other races with arrogant dismissal as their inferiors, at worst actively seeking to conquer or slaughter them.


At the same time, they are among the most progressive of kobold tribes, as they constantly seek new ways to elevate and transcend their present state. This means they are the most active in seeking out and reclaiming ruins, creating new magics or redisocvering lost ones, and similar feats of advancement.


Such progressiveness, however, is usually fuelled by a sociopathic disregard for the lives of individual tribemembers. The Tribe is portrayed as all the kobold should care about, with individual lives being insignificant in comparison. These are the kobold tribes who pioneered the dubious "art" of experimenting upon adult and unhatched kobolds, creating the Dragonborn - but also producing the various drakes that now roam the land and prey upon all humanoids indiscriminately.


This willingness to experiment on their own people has led to the traditionalist camp waning, although some stubborn tribes still cling to the old ways, and it sporadically receives revival when kobolds find themselves particularly hard-pressed by their neighbors.


The modernists, by comparison, have mostly forsaken their draconic past; whatever their ancestors were, it is the present that matters. Kobolds are who they are, and they should take pride in themselves.


Consequently, modernist tribes tend to be the most friendly towards outsiders - for a given value of friendly. So long as they are treated with respect, they will extend the same courtesy, focusing on simply trying to build up their culture based on their own strengths.


Irregardless of faction, certain traits remain true of kobolds throughout the known world.


Kobolds are avid artists, particularly favoring sculpture, kinetic artwork, and scrimshander. Most kobolds learn to whittle or carve, and idly work on wood, stone, bone, teeth, shells or other such mediums to create personal decorations and tokens for themselves when not busy with the usual tasks.


Although it's true that kobolds make predominant use of snares and traps to catch meat for their tribes, hunting is also an entertainment for the tribe in and of itself. Kobolds, however, pragmatically aim to either kill their quarry with projectiles or to chase it into traps that either kill or immobilize the prey so it can be safely dispatched. They consider antics such as trying to spear boars to death in close combat as foolishness of the utmost degree; a successful hunter returns with food and without injuries.


Kobolds are surprisingly adept at training beasts, and usually keep a variety of creatures near their lairs in order to suit a variety of roles. Although this also tends to serve a practical purpose - giant badgers make excellent tunnel-diggers and giant weasels make skilled hunting beasts, for example - the simple truth of the matter is that kobolds actively enjoy the company and loyalty of trained animals.


Kobolds typically dine communally, with designated cooks preparing meals that are shared in central safe areas. Only the most elite members of a kobold tribe dine alone, and meal time is generally considered a time to relax, talk, enjoy leisure activity and even make advances on potential mates.


Although they are not great fans of intoxicants, their alchemical interests means that many kobold tribes do produce brewed liquors, either for trade or their own use. Their usual environments mean that most kobold alchohols are based on fruit and fungus, rather than grains.


Mead is perhaps the most favored alcohol for kobolds who dwell in forests. Not only is it energizing and tasty, but the bees can make formidable defenders for the tribe's settlement. As a matter of fact, kobolds will attempt to brew mead from any poisonous insect that produces sufficiently sweet "honey", including wasps and ants. Consequently, kobold mead is not recommended for the inexperienced drinker.


Kobolds are opportunistic feeders, consuming whatever they can manage to reliably get. By preference, their diet is predominantly carnivorous, supplemented with root vegetables, nuts, fruits and berries; even settled kobolds rarely grow grains or cereal crops. Although kobolds readily hunt small to medium game when possible, the bulk of their protein comes from rodents and invertebrates. All kobold communities have worm-farms and rat-farms that provide the bulk of the meat that the tribe consumes.




Settlements
Kobold settlements are tpyically established in areas where kobolds feel comfortable; mountain caves, dense and tangled forests, ruined cities and underground tunnels like old mines are the usual dwellings of choice for kobolds.


Wherever they dwell, though, kobolds build firs and foremost for defense. Natural terrain that provides protection is carefully charted, integrated and enhanced before the kobolds begin bolstering their lair with ring after ring of traps. Establishing and maintaining traps is considered not just one of the most essential duties in the tribe's lair, but an artform in its own right, and kobolds can win great status on the inventiveness, efficiency and sheer viciousness of their additions to the home's defenses.


Almost as important as the traps are the escape routes. Kobold settlements are invariably filled with concealed routes that allow the inhabitants to outflank or escape from would-be intruders, making them nightmares to beseige.


Aside from traps, priority is given to the chambers most useful to the tribe as a whole; a collective eating/sleeping hall, storage chambers, a communal hatchery, etcetera. Once these essentials are in place, comfort is generally left to the discretion of individual kobolds - a kobold who wants more privacy than a patch of warm earth in the main hall to curl up on is given a pick and a shovel and then told "start digging".


More respected members of the kobold tribe might be able to entice, coax or demand that others build lairs for them, but the truth is that such a privilege is rarely invoked. Kobold possessiveness and desire for privacy most strongly manifests itself when establishing a personal den, and the typical kobold considers establishing its own nest to be a personal right, allowing them to make sure everything is perfectly to heir taste.


Allowing another kobold to share their den is a great indication of trust and respect amongst kobolds, and usually only seen amongst mated pairs. Even when traveling with members of other species, kobolds prefer to sleep apart from the rest of the group - if they must share a room with another companion, the kobold will usually wedge itself into the darkest, "safest" nook, such as partially behind a cupboard or under a bed, so it has some measure of privacy. Openly sleeping where the rest of the party can see it, or doing something like huddling together for warmth, is done only when absolutely necessary, or if the kobold truly trusts its companion(s).


Although some kobold tribes are semi-nomadic, settling in one place only long enough to stripmine it all of its valuable resources and then moving on when it's exhausted, most tribes prefer to permanently settle down. It's simply far more work to properly build up a region to kobold tastes than is generally worth it. That is not to say that they won't retreat from their land if pushed hard enough, just that the kobolds will do everything in their power to make life a misery for those pushing them out.




Adventurers
Despite their reputation for xenophobia and arrogance, kobold adventurers are relatively common. Many are champions, emissaries or otherwise agents of their tribe, setting out to complete some task that will bring salvation or glory to their people. Others are exiles, seeking to build personal power, seek revenge, or just find a new tribe to belong to. Kobolds motivated by genuine curiosity about the outside world are something of a minority, but still far from uncommon.


In general, kobold adventurers gravitate towards classes where their stature will be less of a disadvantage, with a preference towards focusing their skills on stealth and magic. But the Malebolge is a wide world and kobold heroes can come in many guises.


Barbarians: These are, without a doubt, the rarest of all kobold adventurers. Although the kobold passion makes battle-rage an easy emotion for them to grasp, kobolds are well aware that their short statures make them less than suited for this bluntly offensive class. Those kobolds who do become barbarians are almost always Berserkers, having a level of pent-up fury that their culture simply cannot help them control. Though still a tiny minority in comparison, Battleragers are the next most common form of kobold barbarian, essentially representing berserkers whose tribes sought to make them into living suicide weapons rather than exiling them for their frenzy. Totem Warriors are the rarest of the rare, but also more respected, as those kobolds who can form spirit-pacts are usually best able to control their emotions and are seen more as warrior-warlocks than "real" barbarians.


Bards: Although other races may stereotype kobolds as humorless, they actually produce a great many bards, who often serve both as workforce leaders, lorekeepers and entertainers. Because of their role in the tribe, the majority of kobold bards are either loremasters (Collge or Lore) or jesters (College of Satire) - the former keep the histories of their tribe and typically adventure to chart the progress of their people across many different regions, whilst the latter are entertainers who amuse with savage wits, ribald humor and physical buffoonery. The more combat-related forms of bard, such as skalds (College of Valor) and blades (College of Swords) are far less commmon, as most bards are considered too valuable to get into the fray. Such a bard most likely trained under an outsider bard allowed into a kobold tribe's stronghold, or was even adopted by a traveling skald/blade - on the other hand, a few kobold bards who survived the destruction of their tribe turn to mastering weapons in order to better defend themselves as they travel across the wasteland.


Fighters: Although certainly more common than barbarians, kobold fighters are still an uncommon sight, because kobolds are well aware that their physique makes them unsuited for straightforward combat. Other kobolds respect a kobold fighter, but also hold them slightly at bay, certain that a fighter's destiny is to die. This conviction means that kobold fighters tend to, stereotypically, either be grimly stoic self-sacrificers or else hedonists who seek to cram in a full life with the expectation that they may die any day. Of the various subclasses of fighter, no particular variety is especially prominent, though Champions are a definite rarity, as they are seen as most strongly playing against type - Scouts, perhaps, may be most common of the kobold fighters. Perhaps the most surprising thing to outsiders is that kobolds have a comparatively strong tradition of Cavaliers, who typically ride giant versions of lizards, amphibians, vermin or burrowing or cave-dwelling mammals like weasels, bats or badgers.


Monks: Kobolds do not have a well-developed monastic tradition, making monks a rarity, but they do have both a strong racial belief in self-sufficiency and inner strength, combined with combat training, that makes monks possible. Kobold monks, however, are more individualistic champions, focused on harnessing and refining their inner strength and tapping into their true potential, making them surprisingly emotional and materialistic compared to the stereotypically chaste, controlled and spiritual monk. All forms of monk are seen amongst kobolds, but there is definitely a slight bias towards the Ways of Five Elements, Shadows, and Long Death.


Rangers: More common than fighters, but less so than rogues, kobold rangers tend to make up the elite of kobold hunters and warriors. They are vastly more likely to favor the archery and defense fighting styles than the duelist and dual-wielding styles, but otherwise, all three conclaves of ranger can be found amongst kobolds. There is a definite preference towards the Beastmaster, with boars, giant badgers and giant weasels being most common; DMs are encourage to discuss the environment that a kobold beastmaster hailed from and consider alternative animal companions.


Rogues: The most iconic of all kobold classes, most kobold "warriors" are actually members of this class, learning to use stealth and precision to compensate for their diminutive stature and lackluster reach. Because of their tribal culture, Thieves are the least common of all kobold rogues, and usually only develop amongst kobolds who spend a lot of time working around other races. Inquisitives are, likewise, a fairly rare class, for similar reasons. In contrast, Assassins are the most common of all kobold rogues, given their focus on using the class to refine their skills at killing. Arcane Tricksters are less common than Assassins, but considered equally respectable to kobolds.


Sorcerers: Most prized of all spellcasters for their symbolic ties to the inherently magical nature of dragons, it is obvious enough that most kobold sorcerers wield the internal magics of their people. Though Dragon Blood sorcerers are the most cherished and respected in traditionalist tribes, Kobold Blood sorcerers outnumber them in both camps and are more respected by the modernists. Whilst those are the two most common origins, other kinds of sorcerer are certainly possible; virtually every elemental magic can potentially manifest itself, from stormsouls, icehearts and flamebreaths to earthbones, greenbloods and rothearts. Only Wild Magic sorcerers are particularly rare amongst kobold sorcerers, and they also the only sorcerers to be distrusted and shunned by their people. Traditionalists look on Wild Mages with scorn, unable to control their "glorious birthright". Modernists simply tend to push their Wild Mages to the outskirts of the tribe, under the not-unreasonable excuse that someone whose powers can go so drastically out of control is not safe to be around.


Warlocks: What might surprise many to know is that warlocks make up a distinct minority amongst the spellcasting ranks of the kobolds. Both traditionalists and modernists regard the practice as suspiciously close to servitude, something that their pride rebels against. Kobold warlocks usually view their pacts as a case of mutual benefit, or even of themselves being the dominant party - whether this is true or not. There are no particular biases towards or against any of the various patrons.


Wizards: Although not held in the same respect as sorcerers due to having to study their magic rather than relying on what is in the blood, wizards are still greatly favored by kobolds for their power, which is not dependent on the body. Wizards often rise to lead kobold tribes - but are also often expelled as a result of political strife. All of the various Traditions are practiced by kobolds, although Transmuters are especially predominant amongst the traditionalist kobold tribes.


Mystics: Slightly rarer than sorcerers, mystics are a source of great pride to kobolds, for they truly emphasise the potential power of mind and soul over flesh and bone. Though this means that most kobold mystics belong to the Order of the Awakened, a significant minority instead focuses on the Order of the Immortal. The philosophical similarities between the two means that Immortal mystics often multiclass as monks, particularly in the Five Elements, Sun Soul and Open Hand styles.
 

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