The Caretakers of Stoneholt
The Caretakers of the Vast City - Stoneholt, a race of great skill, persistence, and antiquity...
"And so as the Great Ones left the city, they said unto Trithiss the Elder 'We will return - keep this city for us until such time.'. And so we work, and wait for their return." - from an inscription common on Caretaker pottery.
Physically, the Caretakers, or Shagru, are 3' reptilian humanoids. Their heads appear like furry Caiman heads, but with a pronounced braincase and foreshortened snout. They are omnivores and their teeth function equally well with meat or vegetation. Their thin forelimbs end in clawed hands easily as dexterous as those of humans. They have short, mottled fur which runs to earth-tones - browns and dark yellows. Occasionally, like their Giant relatives, they are hatched with small sail-like fins on the top of their heads.
Another trait that they share with their relatives, is an unusual hybrid metabolism. They have the ability to shift from cold blooded to warm blooded. The process takes several days to transition from warm to cold, and nearly a week from cold to warm. In both cases, the process puts significant stress on the creature, but gives them great flexibility in their habitats. When in full cold-blooded mode, their fur tends to become thin and very light, and the opposite is true when they are in warm-blooded mode.
Shagru generally live 100-200 years. They are egg-layers and mate for life. They carefully raise their young until they reach 6 years of age where they join the general Shagru society as full members.
Society and Psychology
The Shagru are very disciplined and organized. As a species they tend to hyperfocus on tasks. This is both a strength and a weakness. When concentrated on a task, they neglect other tasks - including feeding. As a result, they are generally very thin and do not practice the best hygiene.
Should these shortcomings be pointed out by a superior, their focus will shift and they will become obsessed with correcting any such faults. When strongly and diligently lead, the Shargu are the most productive race on the planet.
The Shargu are very hierarchial in nature - once a structure is in place, they will adhere to the chain of command without question. They strongly respect seniority and any attempt to bypass authority is strongly resisted.
The Shagru have their own langauge that they share with the vanished Giants that is almost impossible for humans to speak, much less master. It is in the area of language that the Shagru show the greatest mental shortcoming - once they reach adulthood, they are unable to learn even a single new word (with the exception of proper names). This includes their own langauge. As a result, hatchling education is very important to the Shagru. Some Shagru can speak human langauges, but only because of intensive effort while they are young.
Magic and Religion
The Caretakers are largely a secular society, which special reverence to what they call the Spirit of Order and the long departed Giants. They are strong believers in reincarnation - the 'Re-hatching' as they refer to it.
The Shagru are not generally capable of battle-magic of any form - what spells they have access to are cast in long, communal rituals led by elder Shargu, but participated in by any adult Shagru. These spells can be very powerful indeed and can do such things as raise immense stones, meld stones into seamless rock faces, and many other mostly earth-oriented magics. They also can fabricate weapons of significant magical power through the same methods. In those cases, a wider range of elemental forms (Air, Fire, Water) are used.
One odd form of divination they practice is the use of recently hatched eggs. Both the way that a hatchling breaks out of the egg, and the shape and size of the resulting eggshell pieces are used to perform divinations. The details are so subtle, including queues from smell, that non-shagru cannot use this method effectively.
The Shagru make good use of their discipline in battle. If prepared for battle, they will equip themselves with a wide assortment of weapons which blend to form a dangerous 'system'.
Generally an attack force will include:
Mantlet-carriers and associated missile-weapon equipped troops (short-bows, javelins, slings).
Metal-mesh net carriers to foul weapons.
Glue-stones to impede shield-users and enemies in heavy armour. These stones are coated with a contact-glue that are then stuck against shields and armor. They are generally attached to the end of long poles or attached by hand. Each weighs about 5 lbs. The stones use the same
adhesive that they use to secure their Sleep-Hammocks.
"Shock Troops" with Giant Crab shell armor, shields, spears and axes.
It is well within the Shagru mindset to field Phalanx-like units with tightly linked shields and long spears. When unprepared for battle, their tools will serve as their weapons, or if need be, their teeth and claws.
Above all, the Shagur prefer to fight defensive actions in carefully prepared, provisioned and trapped hard-points. Their use of Elemental magic allows them to build very strong defences in relatively short order. Deadfalls, pits and other simple traps will be found in profusion in one of their strongholds.
Prior to the Human invasion, the Shagru formed a single well organized group in the regions of Stoneholt. The coming of the humans broke up the Shagru into three distinct groups.
The Servitors are those Shagru who have been enslaved by the human population. These have been 'broken' and now consider humans to be the new 'Giants', if a little shorter and less scaly. They generally obey humans without question, though there are the seeds of rebellion slowly gathering in their society. These Shagru dwell in selected structures under guard overnight. These structures are well maintained by the Shagru but terribly overcrowded. It is ironic, given that even now, much of Stoneholt is unoccupied. The enslaved Shargu have the highest levels of self-neglect and tend to die earlier then the others/
Even with their apparent submission, the human inhabitants do not trust them not to flee to join either the Feral or Freecaretakers.
These Shagru have the blessing of being in sections of Stoneholt still unclaimed by humanity. They hold many of the Spires keeping the defences in order and continue their task of maintaining the city under their control. They have become far more wiley with dealing with humans then their ancestors and will defend their holdings with traps, ambushes, and if need be, pitched battles.
In areas that they control, they reside in whatever building they are maintaining. They carry specially hammock-like sleeping devices that they secure to a wall with special adhesive each night, along with a second bag that contains any other worldly possessions they may have.
These Shargu are the remnants of the Shagru in regions dominated by humans that were not enslaved or slain. They now reside, in tightly knit groups, in the cavernous sewers beneath the city (and also, occasionally, in the great underground temples which can be found there as well). They have managed to somewhat domesticate some of the Sewerbears - massive bear-sized rats - that dwell there.
Strangely, the extreme conditions of the sewers has triggered another latent transformation. They are far more formidable fighters then the Guardians with access to regular sunlight. Their teeth and claws are much larger and sharper, and their muscles are better toned. Their scales are thicker and tougher. The single-mindedness with which they approached work has been replaced by a savage ferocity in battle.
When the humans first found Stoneholt, it was in immaculate condition, cleaned and repaired by hosts of the Caretakers. At first the humans left the creatures in peace as they were completely harmless. However, as the newcomers attempted to change areas of the city into their new homes, they found their changes continually removed by the insistent Caretakers. When attempts to sow crops were made in the sprawling gardens, the caretakers uprooted the foreign plants and replanted native species. The 'harmless' guardians were transformed virtually overnight into pests, and from that point on, campaigns of extermination were waged against them.
In most areas dominated by humans, the caretaker population has either been destroyed, enslaved or driven underground. Within a couple of generations, the enslaved Caretakers have been bent completely to their new tasks and view the humans in the same way their ancestors viewed the Giants. The other caretakers driven underground have become much more autonomous and dangerous then their ancestors. Once pacifistic, they are now feral, maneating and largely unconcerned with their ancient task of maintaining the city.
The third group of Caretakers has retreated to the areas of the city not dominated by humans, including the many Greater Spires. They do not actively work against the humans, but they now include creation of traps and fortifications to hold onto their areas of the city. They are also investigating use of ancient devices of the Giants and of dangerous creatures to eventually push the humans out of their city and repair the damage.
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? Responses (9)
Additional details of this grand city and it's inhabitants will be forethcoming..
Poor creatures, harassed by humankind.
As I read this I could not escape the notion that the critters were a new take on Kobolds, a notion I quite liked. Nice work.
They kind of evolved in that direction, yes.
Part of a bunch of related but incomplete subs..
Updated: apparently I had not spellchecked...
I like the way these little guys came out. They are likely to be the major species encountered if Stoneholt is used in a game, and they are well-rounded, with a variety of roles they play.
Once they learn enough of human politics, the Caretakers might send envoys to different factions of humanity, either trying to "buy off" the humans or turn them against other groups of intruding humans.
Feral Shargu might try to abduct young from other groups, or human young, hoping to turn them into members of their warbands.
There may be "triggers", behavioral cues that force the Feral ones to become more peaceful, or that turn the more peaceful ones violent. Humans may not know of these, or an alchemist working in the city could inadvertently enrage a horde of previously-docile Shargu.
I like the plot idea of Feral shargu stealing young to recruit...
The ferals are more then more aggressive, they become larger - 4-5' tall and correspondingly heavier. Suddenly converting a large group of these fellows could be a bit disastrous indeed.
Linked to New Looks and Takes and Makeovers...
They're cute! Thats probably because they remind me of kobolds, as Scras mentioned. The details are great here, from their physical description on down. Love the warm/cold blooded thing, crab shell armor, hammock beds, and Sewerbears! (love dem' sewerbears!)
curious to know more about the sewerbears, and looking forward to seeing what the Shargu may or may not accomplish with some of these 'ancient devices'.