Skies of Helvanta:
GM Notes on the world
Helvanta is a realm of soaring cliffs, floating islands, and many miles full of layered surfaces all hanging in a void. It is a world fractured, but that still supports life. Many fantasy races dwell here in the oft-harsh terrain offered by the floating amalgamations of dirt. Towering mountains, vast plains, rolling hills, and yawning canyons dominate this world, offering a vast array of wildlife and opportunities. Large lakes supply fresh water to the settlements and cities, fed by thunderstorms that can engulf whole islands in their fury. Oceans are nonexistent, though some sky islands hold vast expanses of brine, salt water, or other waters filled with dissolved minerals that can host life similar to an ocean. Deep oceans are non-existant as the sky-islands never get more than a mile thick themselves. Resources on any island must be tended extremely carefully, lest they be gone from the place rendering it unfit for life and civilization.
Erosion is a serious issue here. Dust-storms can grow to hundreds of square miles, mud-storms can bury communities, and in some instances whole boulders can rain from lands above. These are unlikely, as islands don’t often pass directly over each other in a meaningful way.
Most every variety of earth-like and fantasy vegetation can be found on Helvanta, either exactly like they are or with variations to make them exotic. Mountainous regions are home to conifers, oaks, and aspens while marshy areas can house mangroves and swamp plants. Plants that rely on oceans are rare, existing on salt-water islands alone. Several varieties of aerial plant life exist as well, some resembling coconuts with levitating seeds, others like giant dandelions, and still others with intricate and bizarre mechanisms for keeping seeds aloft. Many of these seeds tend to stay between certain altitudes, the currents and air pressure having as much to do with their dispersion as their buoyancy.
It is often the case that most animals that live by the 'shores' of the islands are flight-capable. Many varieties of giant insect populate the low, oxygen rich altitudes while strange beings live high where the air is too thin to support most life. Creatures with natural gas bladders are capable of traversing many layers of altitude while most of the more familiar creatures need to remain within a tolerable level of oxygen. Many species native to this world are adapted to be on the wing for extended periods of time. Inland, most creatures will be more 'earth typical', needing only to fly between trees or crawl along the ground. Many islands are populated by the swirling vortexes of air that can fling creatures for miles, landing them on new islands.
On this world, flight magic is a relatively simple thing. It's high affinity for air magic lends itself to fuel arcane spells and devices that work on keeping people aloft. The wind, however, is a fickle thing; being that it is typically more powerful than the average wizard can harness. The islands stay aloft through unknown means, though theoreticians, miners, and arcane scholars abound with explanations and claims that they can harness this natural phenomenon. Hucksters typically present these findings, along with bunk powders, potions, mineral specimens, talismans and various and sundry others to cheat folk out of their money. These miracle aides have sent countless numbers of gullible folk plunging to their deaths.
The most important aspect of military in a world such as this is aerial dominance. He who controls the airspace, controls the war. With limited space and resources even on the largest islands, survival is difficult no matter how hardy the species. Islands dominated by voracious monsters, unfamiliar habitats, or even devoid of vegetation can be impossible to settle without shipping lanes and concerted displays of force. Guns and cannons are unheard of in this setting and most military uses projectile weapon of a magical or biological nature. bows, crossbows, ballistas, even trebuchets and catapults are common sights among the militaristic races. Depending on which race is selected a range of mounts, tactics and equipment are available; from the devastating wizardly artillery of the Dolbethans, the imposing flying war platforms of the Quintethus Order, the stoic and maneuverable aerial infantry of the winged Haspoh, or the innumerable aeries of Kan. Inevitably, each race has it's own corps of aerial cavalry, magic users, and airships, but the quality and abilities of these vary greatly.
Twelve peoples, all from different homeworlds who have come to colonize Helvanta, inhabit the world. Each has arrived through portals lost to mystery and age. Concerned with their own survival, none of these races trade off-world and few even know of the original portals' existence, let alone their locations. Most will trade with each other and all struggle to survive. These are:
Dolbethans - a race of fair-skinned, bald humanoids with a bluish cast to their skin. Their wide almond eyes sport pupils reminiscent of a goat's eye and are typically green, violet, turquoise, or dark blue. Their fingernails are thick, ochre things that must be sanded down periodically to keep their shape. Many wealthy, non-labor-class Dolbethans will have their nails carved with intricate patterns and designs. Once cast off, these nail sculptures are seen as useless and disgusting by the Dolbeth population and only 'weird' folk ever collect them. Dolbeth nails are shed once every three years, during which time their fingers are extremely sensitive. The Dolbeth have keen minds and roughly one out of every five thousand are wizards. They lend themselves well to efficiency, but can easily be bogged down by logic and daily minutia. They typically go to war in very methodical manners, their strategists taking months to map out contingency plans. Their birthrate is typically one child per two years.
Quintethus Order - Short, stocky, scaley humanoids with brown, patterned skin. The Tethus are a caste-base society with five ranks of existence. One is easily distinguished from the other by caste; all those in a caste having similar patterns in their scales. Their scales are non-overlapping bumps with thin areas of porous skin between making both harder, and easier to harm depending on the method used. Their eyes are unblinking, covered with hard scales that keep out dust and water equally well. Their caste system is non-enforced, with young Tethus typically deciding their life's work well before their patterns develop. Of the castes there are the movers, the makers, the talkers, the hoarders, and the takers. Takers have excellent minds for the acquisition of resources and often claim to have 'special senses' in finding things. Things are gathered by the Takers and either sent directly to the Makers for crafting into useful things or given over to the Hoarders for storage. The Hoarders have an innate sense for spatial awareness, preservation, and the needs of their fellows and serve as quartermasters and clerks. Movers have a talent for movement, whether it is shipping the Taker's haul, flying tamed beasts, guiding caravans, or even clockworks and transportation devices. And finally, Talkers bring harmony to the order. They compose the songs, settle disputes, lead the order, and translate the desires of the castes between members (Makers usually having little idea of the concepts that Movers wish them to build from, for example). A group without a Talker could easily descend into chaos. Tethus are asexual, producing one to three self-fertile eggs every six months. Each egg has a 75% chance of hatching. While any Tethus could perform most any task, they prefer tasks that fit their caste. Wizards are uncommon and can be from any caste, arising at about one in twenty-five thousand Tethus.
Haspoh - angelic, or demonic, looking humanoids, Haspoh are tall, lithe, and feathered. Females are large, well muscled, and reminiscent of the demons in many forms of folklore while the males are small and thin, resembling angels. The Haspoh are an amazonian race with a long and brutal history. Females can be nearly twice the size of males and are impetuous, quick to emotion, and determined to do anything to get what they want. Males tend to be demure and passive, glad to catch the attentions of a female, upon whom they rely for protection and resource. Males are excellent craftsmen, making most everything that their females will need from weapons and armor to food and shelter. Females tend to keep harems of males that they readily share amongst themselves. Females and males are fertile year round, able to conceive readily, though since males bear and care for children and are responsible for crafting and labor, there evolves a natural balance for bearing children. Typically a new group of children comes from a female's harem every twelve months. Females spend much of their time hunting, gathering, and training for battle. Left alone with many resources, Haspoh are typically very loving to each other and, despite the insistence of other races, they are largely content with their roles.
Kan - stout, rocky skinned and wildly haired, the Kan can easily be mistaken for dirty wretches by those who don't know them better. Minerals are excreted through their skin, giving them an ever-dirty look that quickly spoils cloth and abrades even the toughest leather. Their hair is also mineral-rich, making it almost unmanageable as it grows from follicles in random directions and often defies gravity. Despite this, very few Kan would ever think to cut their hair short, as many attribute status and respect to those with the largest and wildest manes. Males and females look very much alike, neither having facial hair, both standing about the same height, and both having similar builds. They are incredibly lightweight despite their earthen nature and enjoy little more than soaring through the air on the backs of their mounts. Their nature tends to allow them to quickly tame even some of the more unruly sky-beasts. The Kan are famous for their massive aeries and rookeries, build along the edges of their territories and stretching for miles. They rely on these places in a similar way that other races rely on farms... for food. The Kan are detritivores, eating carcasses, droppings, and rotten vegetation to the exclusion of all else. Fresh food is distasteful to their palates, alcohol intolerable to their senses, and baked goods abhorrent in both smell and texture. Because of their diplomatic knowledge of other races, they typically avoid discussing their preferred diets and will not eat in the company of non-Kan. Despite their eating habits, Kan have no natural odor. Kan can have between one and five children each year, twins being most common. Siblings tend not to get along and identical twins are all but unheard of. About one in every twelve thousand Kan has the talent for wizardry, their focus typically being on their mounts or on construction.
Brrrt'k'tk - wildly colored, tentacle covered, and large, the Brrrt'k'tk resemble monsters more than other sentient species. These peaceful horrors are an agrarian race who do not easily come to anger. They are farmers without peer and ranchers without equal, but their basic nature tends to hinder them in the world's economy. These creatures resemble nothing more than a wide, squiggly blob of writhing tendrils. Despite their slick, shiny appearance, they are actually quite rough to the touch, akin to a starfish. No two look the same and their color is akin to the effect of one wrapping twisted cloth in tight string and dipping it into various dyes. They communicate through a variety of fricatives and clicks that they can form into the buzzing semblance of words. Their focus is typically on farming or ranching, though every now and then, one will arise who is an excellent planner, communicator, wizard, or other oddity. These tend to find no joy in the raising and growing of things and will seek out adventures, wealth, or new technologies. Most other Brrrt'k'tk just shake their collective heads (such as they are) and do their best to encourage the strangelings. Still, a Brrrt'k'tk farmer can coax crops from the soil in ways that are the envy of other races. Due to their peaceful nature, they willingly and readily trade with other races and are often taken advantage of because of their giving nature. They reproduce at the rate of once every ten years, with four Brrrt'k'tk coming together to form a 'mating ball' and exchange genetic information. Eggs are then sown into special plots of ground and allowed to develop. Roughly a thousand eggs are laid per group, though only a fraction ever survive to adulthood. Brrrt'k'tk can also reproduce through regeneration if a large enough portion of a body is severed. Brrrt'k'tk are difficult to damage, however, and harder still to kill. As such, most of this race never reproduce this way. Brrrt'k'tk make poor slaves and, if captured will rather starve and die than serve an abusive master. Strangelings occur at about one in every three hundred Brrrt'k'tk, with only about 0.2% becoming wizards. Brrrt'k'tk have four genders, but only other Brrrt'k'tk can tell which is which... and only the Brrrt'k'tk really care.
Holbies - insectile, grey, and robust, the Holbies are a scourge among the world of Helvanta. They are piratical, with a gang-like mentality, and contribute nothing of value to the other races. Among them, there are no crafters, farmers, diplomats, or philanthropists. Neither are there poor, infirm, or elderly, for they quickly disappear. The Holbies have three pairs of wings, the upper two hard like beetle-shell that covers their thorax, the lower two also shells that sweep down over the abdomen, and two strong, wide, and membranous wings for flying, all six covered in tiny urticating (nettle-like) spines. They also have twelve legs (six for walking, six used as hands), six antennae (two long and whiplike, two short and feathery, and two settled into pits on their head), and massive compound eyes on short stalks. Their mandibles are capable of chewing through bone, though they tend to prefer soft foods. Females are most common, with males only appearing during mating season during which time they are mated, killed, and eaten. From their abdomens are two long cerci that serve no identifiable purpose. Holbies will bully other races if they can and kill and steal from those they can't. A Holbies will not stray in loyalty from her fellows, staying with a group until they are killed, and will always act for an equal share for all the gang. Their weapons and technology is inevitably stolen and if a canny rogue is able to open dialogue (usually involving gifts) they can usually either buy stolen property that is not directly useful to the gang or hire the gang to perform raids on their behalf. Holbies gangs typically develop an odd sense of 'honor' among themselves, though the rules vary from gang to gang. Holbies mate every year, producing thousands of eggs that hatch into wingless copies of the adults. Once these mature, they typically gang up and start raiding. The rare Holbies that is the lone survivor of a gang will seek out a new gang. It is these Holbies that are found as adventurers, mercenaries, or members of a settlement (if they are unable to find a new group of Holbies first). They readily integrate themselves into any group they are presented with when utterly alone. One in about three million Holbies are wizards, most focusing on magic that helps with raids.
Terrighu – A race of medium-sized bear-like beings with calico coats, the Terrighu are hardy, self-sufficient, and ubiquitous. A typical Terrighu has a very outgoing and jolly attitude that often houses burning desires within. These desires can be lusty, greedy, gluttonous, or any of the other excesses of life. Some are simple, such as having the largest mushroom collection, and some are reckless or dangerous or even incredibly disruptive, such as attempting to sample every form of cuisine, mate with every form of life, or even leap from the highest peak. For the Terrighu, this is a well-known and understood fact of life that is taught to their young as a coming of age (ala ‘the talk’). Among other races they keep their true desires hidden, understanding that these things can make relations difficult, but in private or with others of their kind they are very expressive. Most members of other races who know this fact tend to give them a wide berth and avoid being alone with one. Terrighu can go for long periods without food or drink, but when able will consume huge amounts of sustenance. A Terrighu can gain and lose up to seven times their median body-weight in a single year, making feeding a terrifying prospect for underprepared settlements. Still, the Terrighu are publicly polite and easy to get along with in group settings. Terrighu typically have one offspring every three years. Almost none are known to be wizards, though legends abound of those who have the gift.
Khalfast – These people appear as caricatures of humanity, long of limb, wide of feature, and disproportionate in body. Many races consider them comical... at least until they speak with them. Khalfast are passionless, monotonous, and extremely un-funny folk. They take to life driven by necessity without concern for philosophical things like happiness, spirituality, purpose, or even morality. A Khalfast will eat when it is hungry, sleep when it is tired, mate when the time comes, and work so that it has food to eat, shelter to sleep in, and mates to produce more Khalfast. This is not to say that they are harmless, for when the Khalfast need new things or when their population is too great, they go to war. In battle they are fearless combatants, fighting without regard to personal loss, the death of comrades, the suffering of others, or the damage done. Their strategists are cold and calculating, sending waves of infantry in hero-less charges, knowing that if they win, they gain and if they lose, there are fewer Khalfast to use up resources. They breed and train their own mounts and forge their own weapons. Most times they will avoid other races, sending traders only to scout the opposition. Very, very rarely, a Khalfast has real emotions. These outcasts typically leave the settlements at an early age to mingle with other races and learn of those boiling emotions that come like a geyser through their souls. These Khalfast are invariably wizards and occur at about one in fifty thousand. These Khalfast will NEVER aid their native race, whom they grow to find repulsive. Khalfast reproduce as quickly as humans.
Malice – These blistery looking humanoids seem as if they were formed out of bubbling pea soup rather than skin. They are typically isolationists, wanting nothing to do with the other races whom they consider impure. The Malice speak their own language and do not actively teach it to outsiders. In their tongue the racial name they carry means simply “Chosen” and they believe it is their manifest destiny to own what land they live upon. As such they are an expansive race, though luckily they breed slowly. Malice live in a strict hierarchy, each citizen being assigned a task to which they are suited and expected to perform until the day they die. A strict honor system binds them to this, with great pains being taken to continue their work throughout their life. Of course, many fall through the cracks and become rogues and mercenaries. In Malice culture, however, these ne’er-do-wells are understood, expected, and even mandated by the community rulers. Some fall further, however, and leave the communities altogether to form the Outcasts. Outcasts are still bound by an innate sense of honor and are typically very xenophobic. Outcasts are the ones others are familiar with and, despite their tendencies, can work with other races and often do, though they typically make a pilgrimage to a Malice community at the end of their lives to deliver what information they have gathered to the leaders. Malice reproduce by budding and have no genders. Two Malice bond for a time to share genetic material and then both can produce up to three offspring every seven years, though usually this interval is longer. Malice wizards are common, but almost never leave the community.
Yzzlit – these are a group of animal-headed folk that live in the wilds upon dozens of isolated islands. They are savage people with no set language (though they communicate among themselves just fine) and nothing in the way of culture. They make no art, fashion crude weapons and tools, and live by instinct. Through some quirk of magic or nature, they have humanoid bodies in a wide variety of natural colors, and the heads of animals. The head-shape varies wildly with no predictability whatsoever. Many roaming tribes have been encountered and they typically react with hostility. Many scholars consider these Yzzlit to be a devolved race of people who came to settle and lost their way. Many stories make use of them to scare children into behaving, teach about the dangers of excess, or simply to entertain with reference to their crude antics. Yzzlit are roughly human-sized and reproduce roughly as often.
Gaftis – A race of giants, standing easily twenty feet tall with a stooping posture. The Gaftis are quite rare among the cloud islands, staying upon mountains on islands able to support their monstrous appetites. The Gaftis are roughly humanoid in appearance, though their hands support a dozen opposable, exceptionally flexible fingers arranged around their palms. Gaftis are the premier craftsmen of the world, their works being famed on every island they pass. Gaftis are secretive, working in small communities usually no larger than fifty, and only offering their services with the greatest of care. These are also the great Dragon Breeders of the world, raising the flame-belching beasts in their mountain homes and training them as mounts for other races. Magic flows innately in the Gaftis, with only the most unfortunate member NOT being a wizard. Because of their size, their magic, and the resources they have on-hand, they are extremely difficult to defeat, intimidate, or harm. That they train large dragons to serve them as mounts and are capable of wizardly flight as well means that it is a foolish commander who thinks to anger a Gaftis community. Gaftis can live for centuries and typically reproduce once every twenty five years after the age of seventy.
Tuchamoo – Tuchamoo are an amphibious race of wonderful performers and beastly villains. Due to their reliance on water bodies, they do not frequent the skies, but rather infiltrate large water sources and colonize them. They have bred many varieties of giant flying insects, flying fish, and other strange creatures to aid them in their pursuits. They have beautiful voices, are naturals with musical instruments, and have a wondrous way with words and language. However, to look upon their slimy, toadlike skin, their jagged, irregular teeth, their bulbous eyes, and their sticky, clawed hands is to find revulsion. Worse still is their smell which, when out of the water, is reminiscent of low-tide, rotting fish, and effluent waste. Given a large enough body of water, a colony of Tuchamoo can go unnoticed for years. Typically for the unwary, tales of beautiful voices and song rising from the waters preclude an invasion of horrid proportion. The waters tend to go foul, either driving away settlers or causing the stalwart to suffer thirst. Ideally, the settlements are abandoned and the Tuchamoo move in. Once a Tuchamoo colony has been established, little can be done to dislodge them. Even poisoning the waters tends to do little as the Tuchamoo can survive in even the filthiest of fluids, just as long as they have some access to air. Tuchamoo can live equally well in salt and fresh water. Their excrement is toxic to most other races. Tuchamoo breed throughout the year, their populations growing steadily as most do not live very long. It is unknown how many Tuchamoo are wizards, but all conflicts with the race in the past have had at least one. Diplomatic efforts are largely unsuccessful, though tales tell of other folk gaining great inspiration and art from a lone Tuchamoo who has been appeased by large amounts of food and careful flattery. Tuchamoo believe they smell wonderfully and look appealing. They call themselves “the beautiful race”.