First up for today, it’s another segment of the Introduction to Atheria series – the Great Savannah of the Ankorath Tribes. More information on the various d20 campaign settings for our games, on Eclipse Classless d20, and related topics can be found under the d20 tab.
There are places where layers of blown dust have become hills, mounded across the canopies of trees too deeply rooted in the magics of life to die – forming a hidden underworld of pallid leaves and damp and echoing spaces, roofs upheld by the gnarled trunks of trees grown harder than stone across the eons and populated by terrible creatures relegated elsewhere to the forgotten ages of Atheria.
Elsewhere, creatures grown huge across the centuries have burrowed deeper than the roots of mountains into the earth, creating a twisting maze of passages and tunnels in the depths, where they feed on endlessly proliferating mats of algae and masses of fungi.
There are places where the earth itself seems to breathe, imbued with an unnatural vital force which should have been reserved for the plants and beasts of the surface world.
On the surface, such underground vastnesses have drained the water from the land. The rain that falls, and the rivers that flow from the surrounding realms, are soon lost into the realms below, seeping through the soil, pouring through sinkholes, and thundering through gorges, crevices, and gullies.
But the magic of life reaches the surface as well. What would be a barren desert in any other land still supports occasional mighty trees, a vast sea of regenerating grasses, mighty herds of animals, the predators that feed upon them – and the Ankorath.
Still, even if many of the local animals can get along without it, humans need water – or blood from herdbeasts – to survive. As tough as the Life Birthright makes them, they also need defenses against the more hostile herbivores, deadly insect swarms, and mighty predators that populate the great savannah. Thus the Ankorath live in small villages, reliant on magic, the careful collection and conservation of rainwater through the dry season, and the occasional natural pool or spring. Settlements perched in single, massive, trees are not uncommon, while others are surrounded by living barriers of carefully cultivated trees and thorns. Occasional dangerous trips to visit the neighbors are made for trade, to arrange marriages (governed by a complex system of exogamous requirements revolving around band-, clan-, and tribe- relationships), and to exchange magical information and ancestral relics – thus establishing spiritual links (as well as advisors and spies) among potential allies and opponents. They normally survive as hunter-gatherers, supplementing their resources with herding and small-scale gardening.
The great savannah is rich in earth and clay, fiber, tubers, grains and other seeds (some best carefully ground before eating them, lest they take root in the stomach or intestines), well supplied with bone, hides, and flesh, relatively poor in stone (most smaller outcroppings have long been ground to soil by questing roots), and very short of metal: where would one mine? The better varieties of stone, such as flint, and most metals, are highly desirable trade-goods, often worth the dangerous trip to the borders of HuSung, Chelm, or even the Hundred Realms to obtain.
Ankorath normally uses a loose system of barter and reciprocal gifts for small exchanges, treat hides, livestock, and a selection of other trade goods as “money” in larger exchanges, and – thanks to a tradition of dying Goruam (Priests/Witch-Doctors/Shamans) investing a portion of their power in imbuing their finger bones with a portion of their powers – use minor relics for marriage-gifts, treaty-exchanges, inter-clan contest prizes, and similar major exchanges.
The Ankorath Religion centers on ancestor worship, and the worship of deified culture-heroes. In practice, this is sensible enough: it is very difficult for anyone who falls in this realm to fully die – especially while there are those who remember and call upon them. Still, the trickle of life-magic that such spirits links with descendants, worshipers, and the relics of their past lives provides is insufficient to allow spirits to intervene physically very often – but they can manage a bit of advice, or other minor assistance, reasonably often. Secondary patrons include – as usual – the local Fey, who traditionally take animal forms when they wish to interact with humans.
Virtually everything in Ankorath revolves around group relationships. People there tend to define themselves and their social roles by their band, village, clan, and tribe. Their clothing and ornaments can convey their social status and a summary of their relationships to a knowledgeable visitor at a glance, everyone knows everyone in the village (often all too well), and a complex network of kinships extends across the land, both loosely uniting the tribes and providing endless cause for squabbling. Strangers stand outside that social order, and will often be alternately ostracized and treated as objects of curiosity, as well as occasionally set up for confrontations with anything else that happens to be out of the ordinary. Regardless of such treatment, they obviously are not really people.
The plants and creatures of the Great Savannah tend to be oversize, extremely tough, and far stronger than normal specimens. Oddly enough, however, one of the major apex predators is an insect – to be more specific, a carnivorous swarm-species which functions like a school of aerial piranha. Fortunately, such swarms are very rare.