In Plain View:
Taking a look at Almeri’s grasslands

May 5, 2020 at 7:32 pm

“Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet.”

– Henry David Thoreau

Beyond the Rollers and to the east of the mighty Arástavar, the lands flatten and become arid, leaving the woods and hills behind and opening to the vast grasslands of the Sea of Blades. This wide swath of country is dominated by the sharp-edged dagger-grass and is home to only the hardiest forms of life. Herds of hardy beasts roam the planes eternally hunted by wily predators, and over it all lurk carrion birds in the sky.

The Sea of Blades is not all grass. Shrubs and trees dot the land, from the spreading acacias to the towering baobabs. It is said these mighty trees grow upside down, with their roots reaching to the skies for sustenance. That may not be true, but these trees provide shade and shelter for many of the creatures of the savanna, as well as fruit, edible leaves and even water for those clever enough to extract it from their vast trunks. However, the largest are also home to nests of harpies — cruel, human-faced, vulture bodied predators ever on the lookout for the weak or isolated.

New Creature: Harpies

ST13 / DX14 / IQ8 / MA8 or 16 / AD 1 / D1d

These monstrous carrion-eaters appear as oversized vultures with humanoid upper bodies and twisted human-like faces. They lurk in the trees or circling in darkened skies to drop on weakened or unwitting prey. If a happy can ambush an enemy this way, they can get two attacks from their vicious claws in a surprise round as they drop. Harpies rarely have the heart for a stand-up fight and will usually flee from prey that fights back hard, only to stalk them and attack again from unawares.

Another strange danger on the savanna are the swarming piranhakeets that huddle in shady areas. Even worse, during the dry months, the swarm will create shallow burrows under the soil only to burst our en masse when disturbed.

Harpies are as foul-smelling as they are foul-tempered, and rarely can more than 3-4 nest together. They are smarter than they appear and can speak the common tongue, and often hoard valuable objects in their putrid treetop nests.

The major civilizing factor throughout the length of the Sea of Blades is the Shagga, a breed of nomadic halflings that hunt and herd this harsh country. The Shagga are a far cry from the common halfling burghers or even the wily river folk. They are as hard as their land and always ready to stand up to a challenge.

The Shagga are bulkier than their brethren but slower, with a starting ST of 6 and DX of 10. They do retain the Thrown Weapons talent. The Shagga are also leaner and more sinewy, with thick shocks of hair (and even occasional beards!) that spreads to their shoulders and back as well as their feet.

They hunt the beasts of the savanna along with herding the slow, shaggy water buffalo of the region known as bubbles. They make clever use of these creatures, weaving their thick fur into cloth, tanning their hides, harvesting them for meat and milk and using their horns and thick hooves for utensils and vessels. Even their waste fuels the Shagga cookeries. It is said nothing goes into a bubalu that does not come out as value to the Shagga.

Aiding them and providing swift transport across the open land are domesticated diatryma — or terror birds — of the halflings. These fierce creatures can move at great speed and their claws and beaks can face off against even the largest predators in the region. The terror birds can be handled with a variant of the Horseman and Expert Horseman talent. These beasts are ornery and carnivorous, so that only a select warrior is chosen to learn to ride, and their mounts are kept away from the bulk of encamped tribe.

For the largest portion of the year, each tribe of Shagga is on the move, following grazing pastures and fresh water. But when the rains come in the mid-summer they gather in the great burrows of the southern steppes to trade news, trade goods, and form alliances. In these times the normally taciturn Shagga become quite boisterous; feasting, singing and courting.

Each tribe has a chief, but this title is largely ceremonial. As the men range widely after the flocks or on hunts, most daily decisions fall to the women of the tribe. So, the women of each tribe elect a ‘wife’ for their chief who is responsible for the guidance of the group. Any other wifely duties she may engage in is at the discretion of the wife. The chief has no say over these decisions.

In general, the male Shagga have embraced this idea and revel in their warrior pride. Status and glory are paramount to the males and they are prone to great boasts. They also take insult quickly, and duels are not uncommon. A typical Shagga duel involves blades coated with the poison of the death-blossom spider of the baobab trees. Any hit requires a 4/ST or it causes instant paralysis. If untended, a paralyzed victim will die in 1d minutes, A 3/ST test can stave off death for one minute. While these sex roles are commonplace, they are universal. There are many proud female warriors, and more than a few male among those who do not stray far from camp.

Most Shagga believe that magic is the working of natural spirits, and wizards command, cajole, or bargain with these invisible powers to perform wonders. Their wizards — whether they believe this or not — do not dispute this believe. If a stranger flaunts these beliefs, or argues against them, they risk being put to death to appease these spirits.

While by far the common folk encountered on the Sea of Blades, the Shagga are not the only ones to ever brave the grassy expanse. While there are no proper roads, you will find the occasional wagon train carrying goods to trade with the miners of the far southern Frostspur Range, or a slim elven sky ship flitting across a cloudless sky.