I wanted to make the players re-think the player races. I also don't believe in Evil races, or even Evil Gods. There are Evil individuals in the Dune Sea but they get no free pass from the GM. I also wanted to simulate different cultural groups as well as races.
There's much more detail to come but here I give you the quick and dirty guide to the Races and Cultures of the Dune Sea.
These are the default humans of the Dune Sea area. They don’t all live in the cities but they owe allegiance to them. They farm for the city or fish for it or ply the slow river barges that carry the heavy cargo. They are at home in all the cities but have no natural survival skills outside the fertile lands.
They come in all the regular shapes and sizes that you’d expect and are the most diverse of all the peoples of the dune sea . Most of the City Folk have olive or tanned skin, brown or gray eyes and brown or black hair but some have much darker skin. There are a few with fair skin and blue or green eyes and lighter hair but this usually means Norn ancestry.
Speaking of the Norn – they might look like Elves but they act more like Celts or Vikings. They tend to be a little taller than the city folk and have longer limbs, fairer skin and a lighter overall colouring. Norn come from the lands to the north. They are travellers who came in long ships and created a city on the coast called Bjornwen.
Norn make great warriors, they tend to favour the long bow, the spear and the sword and shield. They love highly decorated armour and will spend ages polishing it. In battle they are prone to a kind of rage that can make them cast aside much of their clothing and charge into combat with no thought of safety.
Norn culture has a powerful streak of nature worship running through it. Norn Clerics, or Skalds usually have access to weather based spells. There are many Norn Druids who can sometimes transform into animals unknown in the Dune Sea area.
Norn like elaborate hairdos, long moustaches, epic sagas that take a week to tell, and hanging out with Dwerg artisans.
Ah the Dwerg. Shorter and broader than the City Folk. They tend to be long in the body and short in the leg. The Dwerg are the hairiest of the Dune Sea races unless they are in mourning. All Dwerg have thick hair and side whiskers the males have full beards and moustaches and body hair.
The Dwerg are built for the cold, even more than the Norn and therefore are not that common in the lowland cities. They are a race of artisans, mages and miners. The Dwerg love all metals and are the greatest metal workers in all the world. Dwerg mages are common and they are nearly all Fire Mages. To a Dwerg metalsmith a Fire Mage is the ultimate portable forge and the Dwerg have developed a lot of specialist magic.
Dwerg Warriors tend to go for heavy armour and axes or warhammers for close combat and elaborate cross bows for ranged. Dwerg clerics are usually followers of Bez the Smith God and thus carry warhammers and have fire and earth magics as well as healing abilities.
The Dwerg do not have the mountains to themselves. The high mountain passes are home to the Gurpas.
The humans who live in the mountains. Though clearly the same race as the people of the cities the Gurpas have a very different culture.
Gurpas are very sought after as sky ship crew because they live so high up that they are resistant to altitude sickness. Though they tend to be shorter than the city folk and often look quite delicate they have a tremendous capacity to carry heavy weights long distances on foot. There are no roads in the mountains and the winds mean that sky ships are often impractical so everything has to be carried by humans or domesticated animals and there’s not a lot of grazing land for animals.
The Gurpas have a single city, Skyfell, carved into the side of a mountain. There are villages all through the mountains wherever there is enough flat land to graze animals or cut into terraces for paddy fields. The Gurpa and the Dwerg often work together to build the paddy fields and the irrigation for them and the Gurpa produce most of the food consumed in the Dwerg city of Scarcrag.
The Mountains are also home to an order of Monks who worship the Monkey God Tekli which may explain why Gurpa Clerics favour unarmed combat along with healing and wind spells. Gurpa Warriors tend to wear light armour over many layers of cloth and are fond of paired blades. Shield use is rare. Gurpas are too short to use longbows and usually use either Heavy Dwerg made crossbows or their own short, recurved bows.
There must be something in all that clean mountain air because the Gurpas produce a lot of mages. It’s traditional to travel and seek out many masters to learn from so Gurpa mages are common all over the Dune Sea which makes them almost as widely traveled as the Pygmies.
The Pygmies are the smallest of the Dune Sea peoples. Usually no taller than 4’2”. They have the darkest colouring with curly black hair, dark brown eyes and skin ranging from deep brown to bluish black.
They look delicate and other races sometimes have a hard time fighting them because they can resemble children but they are actually sturdier than many humans. They are particularly resistant to poisoning and it is well known that you can’t out drink a Pygmy. Pygmies are also very hard to hit. They are agile and quick and seem to shrug off damage that would floor a larger human. They even seem to be able to dodge injury from crushing and falling which should be impossible. Maybe it’s because they get so much practice.
The Pygmies come from the jungles to the south of the desert and are relatively rare in the Dune Sea area. In their homeland they have built a surprisingly large civilisation in the midst of the the deepest jungle by manipulating and understanding plant growth.
The Pygmy civilisation trades fruit and timber with the cities of the Alliance and some Pygmies travel north on the merchant sky ships. They are curious by nature and brave to the point of foolhardiness. They do not fear death, only cowardice and boredom. An extremely bored Pygmy will build a basic sky ship out of just about anything simply to get to somewhere new.
In their home cities the Pygmies live in tree houses and this may explain why they seem to have no fear of heights. This trait combined with a natural ability with ropes makes them sought after Sky Sailors.
The Traditional Pygmy method of bridge building is to tie a rope around one’s waist. Climb up a tall tree and leap across the gap to be bridged into a smaller tree. Then tie off the rope and one’s friends will follow. And that’s a pretty good example of how they think.
The preferred weapon of a Pygmy is the biggest one he or she can carry. The preferred tactic of a Pygmy is to charge at the enemy screaming. They are natural barbarians warriors. Pygmy Clerics, Druids and Mages have the same attitude to spells as the warriors do to weapons. The bigger, the louder the messier the better. Most Pygmy healing comes in the form of potions, rather than spells and Pygmy Alchemists and Apothecaries are surprisingly popular.
Pygmies don’t really do armour. They often don’t do clothes. In their homeland they never wear more than a strip of cloth to stop their tender parts catching on things but things are a little different around the Dune Sea. It doesn’t take much sand in the loincloth for a Pygmy to decide that the Sarouin might have a point.
Sarouin and Sand Walkers.
The Sarouin and the Sand Walkers are two races that form one tightly knit cultural group. The Sarouin are humans, the Sand Walkers less so.
Sarouin in the old tongue of the Dune sea means ‘Dweller in the dry’. They seem to be descendants of the people who farmed the Dune Sea before the coming of the great dry.
It is not known when the Sarouin rule of modesty first appeared. Perhaps it evolved out of the need to protect themselves from the sun and the wind and the sand. Wherever it came from it is now one of the few hard and fast rules of Sarouin society. The humanoid form is not for public display. The very least a Sarouin will wear outside their tent is a full length robe and a turban. Many Sarouin of both genders also cover at least part of their face with a scarf or veil.
It’s hard to tell what the Sarouin look like because they are always covered in layers of cloth. Ethnic Sarouin are said to have coffee coloured skin, brown or black hair and brown or grey eyes. However the Creeping city has become a safe refuge for anyone who wants to escape from the rule of Seth. The Sarouin accept anyone as long as they can follow the rule of modesty.
The Sand Walkers are the largest of the humanoid races. They are tall and heavy set with an average height well above 6 feet. True Sandwalkers have no hair but many of them have some human, or more rarely Dwerg or Norn ancestry. Their skin is thick and sand coloured and tends to be dry. Some say the Sand Walkers are scaly but actually they are just martyrs to eczema.
Of course it’s quite hard to tell what the Sand Walkers look like these days. Since they threw their lot in with the Sarouin they have taken to wearing the same robes. This leads to a certain amount of suspicion and mistrust from the city folk. They call both the Sarouin and the Sand Walkers ‘Sandies’ and discriminate against both groups.
The Origin of the Sand Walkers is lost in the mists of time. It is said that their ancestors built a great civilisation in the heart of the desert before the Great Dry. There are certainly ruins amid the dunes. The stories tell that the last and greatest of the Sand Walker cities, Irem of the Pillars, is still out there waiting to be found and plundered. The Sand Walkers themselves claim to know little of their own history.
Sand Walkers are hugely strong and resistant to damage and make great warriors. Sarouin Warriors are also common. Both tend to rely on loose robes worn over armour and curved blades paired with small shields. They use bows and slings and occasionally javelins for ranged combat.
The Sarouin have only one word for a magic user – Mystic – and they apply it to Druids, Mages and Clerics. Any Mystic will have access to spells that create fresh water and food. It’s a tough life in the desert.
All Sarouin have wilderness survival skills and make great guides. The Sand Walkers can also survive well in the desert but that’s down to genetics rather than skill and they are not so good at keeping humans alive. It’s important to remember that a Human from the cities or the mountains would be lucky to survive a single day in the desert but the Sarouin have built a city there, even if it is always on the move.