Atlas Rules Resources Adventures Stories FAQ Search Links
Children of Azcaby John Calvin from Threshold Magazine issue 9
Children of Azca
Expanded Player Options in the Hollow World
by John Calvin
Right or wrong, I’ve always felt that the portrayal of Hollow World cultures was very monolithic. Beastmen populate the Beastmen Wastes, the Milenean Empire is comprised entirely of Milenians, Nithians live in Nithia, and very rarely do individuals from these diverse cultures mix. From a world building standpoint this may make a lot of sense, and I think that jives with the overall spirit of what the Hollow World is meant to be - a cultural archive, where the immortals can place cultures that they want to keep safe… and pure.
Unfortunately, when dealing with a role playing world, a world where players and DM work together to build a story the limited options for player characters can be restricting. Would a group of diverse players all want to play in Azcan lands if their character choice is essentially relegated to “Azcan” characters? Yes, building a multi-cultural party from disenfranchised individuals across the Hollow World is always an option, but in this article I would like to explore the possibility of building a racially and culturally diverse party, all from within the Azcan Empire.
This article started out as a thread at The Piazza (http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=944), in which several forum members participated. I would like to thank maddog, Andaire, Khuzd, Big Mac, Seer of Yhog, and Havard for their participation in that discussion, and for inspiring me to finally revisit it and formalize it in the article you see today.
Unfortunately, I was unable to include all of their ideas in this article, so I encourage you to visit the thread for yourself and to even expand on it! It is a topic that can continue to grow and mature. The Azcan Empire, after all, is expansive, and both DMs and Players should have plenty of territory and material to explore for years to come.
Following is a list of races that can be found within the Azcan Empire. It should be noted that any individual considering themselves to be a member of the Azcan Empire, whether human or otherwise, will be subject to all of the cultural biases of Azcan citizens, as defined in the Hollow World boxed set. Individuals visiting from foreign nations will be subject to their own cultural biases, whether or not they are living within the borders of the Azcan Empire.
Frogfolk have existed alongside the Azcans since before being relocated to the Hollow World. Their culture originated on Davania and dispersed across portions of Brun and Skothar even before the rise of Blackmoor. On the Outer World, along the northern coast of Davania and following the Immortal’s Arm to the southern shores of Brun, various frogfolk tribes were either conquered or assimilated by both the Oltec and Azcan Empires. Most frogfolk races descended into extinction shortly after the Great Rain of Fire, being extremely susceptible to the effects of the Wasting1.
Nearly half the size of their human counterparts, frogfolk in Azcan lands are brightly (colored/hued), having moist skin with padded fingers and toes, helping them climb even the sheerest of surfaces. Adult members of the species are able to secrete various poisons from specialized glands upon their bodies. Entire guilds exist, solely devoted to collecting and processing these poisons, employed for purposes both mundane and nefarious.
The size and dexterity of frogfolk, not to mention their uncanny ability to move through thick jungle terrain, make them excellent scouts and trackers. Such skills often translate fairly well in urban settings, where frogfolk take on roles as acrobats and thieves. Thus, frogfolk fill this niche in Azcan lands, the way halflings do on the Outer World.
Major human races in Azcan lands are of course the Azcans and Oltecs. Although Azcans dominate, there are several regions in the southeastern interior were Oltec populations predominate.
Numerous Neathar tribes, primarily in the northeast, have been subjugated by the Azcans since their arrival in the Hollow World. Some have truly been assimilated into Azcan society, while others only accepted Azcan ways out of necessity, waiting for the day when they are able to overthrow their cruel masters. Both factions may be found throughout the empire, largely in less populated northern territories..
Highly adaptable, humans may excel at nearly any task set before them, as long as they devote enough time and energy to the endeavor. Along these lines, Azcans place great regard in martial efforts; many of them aspiring to be great warriors, though just as many dream of entering the priesthood. Mystical and arcane arts, while not shunned outrightly, are perceived as lesser vocations, though devoted practitioners do exist throughout the empire.
Though the Malpheggi lizardmen existed on the Outer World long after the Azcan Empire perished; enclaves exist along the southern and southwestern borders, where saurians have been accepted as citizens of the empire. In truth fully assimilated lizardmen no longer associate themselves with Malpheggi, having fully embraced Azcan culture. Their skills and talents are especially appreciated when dealing with their southern swamp living brethren.
Malpheggi lizardmen are also tolerated within the empire’s borders, even if not entirely trusted. As mercenaries lizardmen are afforded certain latitudes; however, most Azcan citizens remain suspicious of their motives..
Lizardmen from Azcan lands tend toward being slightly larger than the average human; both in breadth of shoulder and height. Their scale coloration can range from dull to bright green, with blues being uncommon, and reddish hues quite rare. Occasionally albinos are born, but they tend to fare poorly under the harsh, unsetting red sun.
Strength, persistence, and patience are all traits defining lizardmen, making them well suited to roles as warriors and mercenaries. Though often perceived as slow and dimwitted, lizardmen are just as perceptive as other races, though their thinking may seem alien. Often spiritual, many lizardmen serve as sagacious councilors and advisers among Azcans or their own kind. Within Azcan lands, lizardmen fill the niche dwarves do on the Outer World.
Were-jaguars were not present in the ancient Azcan Empire of the Outer World, which vanished before both the plague of Taymoran lycanthropy was unleashed, or strains of Alphatian lycanthropy were dispersed throughout the world, starting in Landfall2. Since their appearance in the Hollow World however, were-jaguars sightings are sporadic, if not commonplace, especially in more rural areas and in villages situated deeper in the jungles.
Like rakasta and shifters, were-jaguars are oftentimes idolized by common Azcans, though displaying a darker and more sinister side. In the Hollow World, a lycanthrope can only satiate their hunger by feeding in animal form; therefore a were-jaguar living amongst other Azcans must do well to control their darker instincts, lest they unwittingly feed on those they care for.
As with frogfolk, many rakasta, both pardasta and jakar tribes, lived alongside the Azcans on the Outer World. While some tribes were conquered or assimilated, just as many managed to remain free of Azcan rule in the untamed jungles3. Such is still the case inside of the Hollow World. Rakasta are most commonly found faraway from larger cities, inhabiting jungle regions near small settlements and villages.
Pardasta breeds tend toward a darker pelage in the jungled terrain of Azca, with many seeming to sport coats of pure black. Jakar pelts tend to be tawny and dappled with dark rosette spots, though darker coats often mask the marks. Though rakastodon breeds had long been extinct on the Outer World, their territories in the Hollow World overlap with the Azcan Empire. Some tribes have actually been integrated into Azcan culture. Within the deep jungles rakastodon are treated with awe and respect, and more than a modicum of fear, by fellow Azcans.
Many rakasta are idolized and often sought out as mentors by aspiring Azcan warriors. Their natural skills and instincts make them excellent candidates for warriors and scouts. The stronger, often more brutish rakastodons, are sometimes seen as uncivilized, often flying into fits of uncontrollable rage. In Azcan lands, pardasta and jakar frequently fill the niche that elves do on the Outer World, while rakastodon may take on a role normally fulfilled by dwarves.
Sidebar: Using Races from Eberron
I believe several of the races and classes from the Eberron Campaign Setting may be appropriate to use in an Azcan campaign, specifically the shifter and warforged races. In both cases, while the race mechanics can be used outright, I believe a certain amount of window dressing is necessary in order to better fit them into the Mystaran setting.
Shifters are humans with special beast-like capabilities. In Eberron, shifters may also exhibit animal-like appearances, possibly derived from purported lycanthropic ancestry. In Azcan lands, they are called tzatzli, which means “screamers,” and appear human. Their powers are tied to the spirit world rather than a lycanthropic lineage. This allows their existence on the Outer World, as well as in the Hollow World, to be a known and accepted aspect of Azcan culture since its inception.
Momoztli, or alterborn, are living constructs that have existed since before the Azcans were moved to the Hollow World. As such they are creations of Azcan sacrificial rituals, transferring spirits of the sacrifice into new bodies. Like the warforged of Eberron, these creations are still fashioned of wood and stone, however metal components are missing. In general they should appear as statues of Azcan humans with obsidian filigree and stylized masks carved as faces.
Shifters have long existed in the empire, both on the Outer World as well as the inner. Normally indistinguishable from other humans, a shifter’s body is closely bound with their chosen animal spirit. In the Azcan Empire, most shifters are aligned with jaguar or eagle spirits, but other spirit animals also exist. Only during times of agitation or duress does the animal spirit manifests itself, granting a shifter skills and abilities beyond human bounds.
A shifters innate skills make it well suited for the warrior class, yet ties to the spiritual world also lead many down a more religious path. It is also not uncommon for shifters in more populous areas to gravitate toward careers thievery or even as military scouts. In Azcan lands shifters take on attributes normally assumed by elves upon the Outer World.
Although somewhat rare when the Azcans lived beneath the yellow sun and stars, warforged have become more abundant in the Hollow World, especially in the major metropolitan cities of the empire. Constructed of wood, stone, and obsidian, the warforged are living statues imbued with the essence of warriors sacrificed on Azcan alters. Although a warforged may remember flashes from their past lives, they are new individuals - reborn through divine power and rituals of the Azcan priesthood.
Warforged often serve as guards of temples and other places that are frequented by the nobility and priesthood of Azca. They also often join military orders and make excellent warriors. Some few have a gift for the magical arts, and the House of the Magician even has a sect made entirely of such individuals.
In Azcan lands warforged may fill the niche left by dwarves (serving as warriors) or by elves (as magic wielding warriors).
Other races are found throughout the empire, though neither in great numbers, nor within homogenous communities.
Beastmen sometimes serve as Azcan mercenaries in the northern frontiers, most often being pitted against Neathar tribes or even other belligerent beastmen clans. Therefore, it is not unheard of, seeing beastmen in the empire’s northern territories, despite most Azcans mistrust and contempt towards them.
Though the Krugal Hordes reside far to the east, occasionally a well armed group of traders will successfully navigate Neathar lands, looking to sell the spoils of former conquests. As long as such visitors come looking to trade, and not plunder, they usually find cautious welcome among curious Azcans looking to buy foreign and exotic merchandise.
By and large Azcans are wary of seafarers. Nonetheless they regularly welcome merchants from distant lands, whether arriving by land or sea. Consequently, Milenians routinely come ashore to buy and sell exotic goods, and are often found up and down the western Azcan coast.
Neathar Trappers and Hunters
Azcans clash with the Neathar tribes just as often as barter with them, but many craftsmen subsist through trade with the empire. Neathar hunters and trappers may be found along Azca’s northeastern territories. Though most are justifiably wary of aggressive Azcans, as Azcans are suspicious of them, cordial interactions do take place. Neathar become less numerous the further one travels into core Azcan territory.
Traldar come to Azcan shores as traders nearly as often as raiders. Thus, many Azcan cities are apprehensive upon spotting their ships at sea, yet once friendly intentions are established, Traldar traders find tepid reception in Azcan ports.
For good or ill, when recognized, these races and cultures are spurned within Azcan lands.
Unfortunately for the Gentle Folk, the Azcan’s most hated enemy are the Shattenalfen to the south, and while most Azcans are familiar with elves, or have at least heard tales of their description, few would be able to distinguish between the two cultures. Regardless, very few of the Gentle Folk ever leave their refuge to intermingle with their neighbors.
Like the Gentle Folk, Icevale Elves are the unfortunate victims of mistaken identity when it comes to dealing with the Azcans. Unlike the Gentle Folk, however, they are more than willing and capable of defending themselves. Though the two cultures exist in close proximity, their preferences for extremely different environments makes their interaction irregular at best.
The Azcans have engaged in far too many conflicts with sea raiders along their western shores to view ships of the Merry Pirates as anything but trouble. Larger towns and cities may have defenses prepared for this scourge, but smaller settlements are usually abandoned to the raiders with the inhabitants seeking shelter further inland.
Schattenalfen are the reason that Azcans hate elves. Though the two cultures have more in common than either would care to admit, despite - or rather because of - the fact that they both worship the immortal Atzanteotl, the Schattenalfen and Azcans have been waging war since the dawn of their first encounters. That is not to say Schattenalfen have not infiltrated Azca, but those that have either stay concealed or use magical means to mask their identities.
Jaguar Knights “Defenders”
Several martial orders exist across the Azcan Empire, though the Jaguar Knights are by far the most prestigious, in part due to the order’s association with the jakar rakasta upon which it was modeled. The order is most prevalent in northern and central Azca, coinciding with the largest jakar populations, headquartered in the city of Xochimilco.
An Azcan warrior must consistently prove himself in battle if he ever hopes to become a Jaguar Knight. Once his prowess is established the warrior must petition a current member to act as his mentor. Upon induction, a knight typically abandons local loyalties and obligations and assumes the responsibility of protecting the Empire. Many are itinerant, traveling throughout Azcan territories, honor bound to render aid4 to any and all Azcans in need.
Though allegedly a secret organization, whispers of the Blue Dart assassins constantly flow across the upper echelons of Azcan society. The order’s history stems from the mists of antiquity; frogfolk tradesmen then banding together into a cooperative guild. Their headquarters are secreted within the city of Yuzihuapac, near the northern extant of the Malpheggi Swamp, though branches exist in most cities and towns south of the Atizapan River.
Blue Darts are renowned for their stealth, their ability to retrieve information and items undetected, and above all for their skills in poisonous arts. Azcan nobility seek out Blue Darts as spies and assassins, though gold alone is insufficient incentive for a Dart to accept a higher profile job. Darts covet artifacts, magical and mundane, and it is rumored that their guildhall in Yuzihuapac harbors a museum of relics rivalling all others across the empire.
Lizardmen are fierce and deadly warriors, especially among the marshes of the deep jungle, and Azcan war parties make use of them whenever possible. Several mercenary bands exist in the villages around the Tolmecac Swamp, and south to the Snake River. Though these bands are much smaller than the troupes hired from the Malpheggi Swamp, they have a reputation for being especially trustworthy, for the lizardmen that form them follow Azcan ways and tradition.
Sometimes these mercenary bands commission themselves, effectively becoming thrill seeking adventurers, that journey across the Azcan Empire in search of gold and a good fight. These lizardmen are also often appointed to deal with actual Malpheggi Mercenaries, especially when Azcans mount campaigns into Schattenalfen lands.
House of the Obsidian
A cloak-and-dagger magical order comprised entirely of warforged mages, the House of the Obsidian is an offshoot of the House of the Magician. The order is based in the capital city Chitlacan, and never spoken of in more than a hushed voice. A rivalry exists between the House of the Obsidian and the ruling theocracy. The order’s main objective, unlocking the mysteries and past lives of its members, has been deemed an extremely dangerous endeavor by Atzanteotl’s priesthood. Should the warforged ever fully reclaim their past lives, they may become a threat to the ruling class.
Despite this, the House of the Obsidian continues to operate, responsible for most of the Empire’s magical reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering. In the Empire, one is never sure if the statue they pass daily is actually carved of stone, or is a patient, and ever-seeing member of the House of Obsidian.
The following campaigns can be run in the Azcan Empire, either by a party of Azcan natives or foreigners to these lands.
The Games of Chitlacan
The PCs are all foreigners to Azcan lands having been captured and taken to the capital city of Chitlacan. There they are forced to participate in the annual tlachtli games, a brutal sport where two teams compete to throw a small rubbery ball through a stone circle. The stakes are high however, as the losing team will be sacrificed on Atzanteotl’s alter. Many teams competing do so willingly - lizardmen opportunists from Uexotzinco, Jaguar Knights and their rakasta allies from Xochimilco, and even a team composed of frogfolk and shifters from Inxi.
Victors of the games may fare little better, as their fate is also to be sacrificed, in this case upon the altars of the House of the Magicians, creating a new band of warforged. Should the PCs continue to win, and find this fate undesirable, they must devise a means to escape their captors and flee the Azcan Empire. Their best escape route is ascending the pass at Mount Kalaktatla and seeking refuge in Colima, where they can book passage on a ship to farway lands. Should the PCs need assistance in this endeavor they can be joined by fellow captives Spart, a bruteman warrior, and Akuss, a lizardman scout, who can help them navigate the jungles, avoid Azcan slaver parties, and help defend against the various dinosaurs roaming the area5.
The Obsidian Mask
The streets of Chitlacan are abuzz with activity as the city prepares for the next Obsidian sacrifices - a ritual creating the next generation of warforged to serve the Azcans. Heroes and legends from across the Empire, now worn and past their prime, have come to the great temple hoping they might be chosen for the sacrifice, so that some portion of their knowledge and wisdom might live on in the stone beings. Such rituals, while far from common, are well known to the Azcans, and in fact greatly anticipated. After nearly a quarter circle of celebrations and games have passed, the chosen few will be led into the temple and their spirits will infuse newly fashioned warforged frames.
Mages from the House of the Obsidian have been striving to ensure the rituals performed this year will not go as planned. Deep beneath the temple they have hidden the Obsidian Mask, a powerful and ancient artifact dating back to construction of the first warforged. With the mask in place, the ritual will consume the life essence of the participants and use that power to fully unlock the memories and past lives of the masters of the House of the Obsidian. As warforged bodies are immune to the effects of aging, some of the masters have existed for centuries, if not millennia, should the modified ritual succeed, it could have detrimental effects throughout the Empire. Ancient heroes and warlords, long since dead across the expanse of the Empire will awaken, finding themselves within powerful warforged bodies. It is unlikely after their awakening, such individuals would hold similar goals, possibly fueling the flames of civil war, and splitting the Empire into several opposing fiefdoms.
Temple of the Poison Darts
Murmurs of a foul curse fill the streets as the city’s nobles fall like flies. At first many of the nobles appeared to perish in freak accidents or petty squabbles, but as deaths become recurrent, the populace fears some maleficent hand is at play, and people across the city of Yuzihuapac begin placing protective runes upon their dwellings. In truth those investigating the deaths will soon discover that most are the result of poison… and shortly thereafter will find themselves evading the real culprits perpetrating these crimes - Blue Dart assassins.
The ancient frog cult plans to remove all leadership from the city, as well as prevent all travel and communication between it and the outside world. Unbeknownst to all but the highest ranking members of the Blue Darts, the cult is more ancient than any surmise; its goals more sinister. In fact the assassins guild can trace its origins back to mythical Ythlil6, before even the time of the Carnifex, when frogfolk dominated Mystara. The BLue Darts have unearthed an ancient evil7 from that time in the nearby swamps, dormant for eons, and are preparing to awaken it. If successful they intend to offer the entire population of Yuzihuapac to appease it and slake its ravenous hunger. Eliminating the city’s leadership and communication network is the first step in their plan. PCs must expose and prevent this diabolical plot, or the entire Azcan Empire - even the whole Hollow World - may be threatened.
Sabre Toothed Warlord
Unrest has been growing near the city of Teotihuatli, south of Lake Chitlaloc. Rumors abound of a great Jaguar Knight in the adjacent jungle calling warriors to his banner. Chicitztli, the “strong tooth”, is in fact a rakastodon warlord of great renown, having fought both in the arena of Chitlacan and against enemies of the Azcan Empire on the northern and western fronts. His enthusiasm for the precepts of the Empire is waning however, and Chicitztli has utilized various pretenses to gather support. Namely, a return to the old ways under the guidance of the immortal Otzitiotl.
All is not as it seems in Chicitztli’s camp however. His rule is brutal and bloodthirsty, and many of his rakasta generals are cruel and capricious. In fact most of them are not rakasta at all, but were-jaguars. Neither is Chicitztli a true follower of the New Way, but rather Atzanteotl’s servant. Instructed by his dark immortal patron, the rakastodon’s plan is to ferret out as many traitors to the priesthood as possible, leading them into a trap. When his forces are ready, Chicitztli will march against the fortress of Cuetzpallinan. Unfortunately the real battle will come once the rebel warband is surrounded by rakasta and were-jaguar warriors, Chicitztli and his lieutenants turning upon their own men. PCs caught up in this scheme must strive to discover the truth about their brutal commander, or failing that find a way to prevent the ambush and insure the safety of Otzitiotl’s faithful.
History And Evolution Of Rakastas by Simone Neri, http://pandius.com/rakhevol.html
Mental Ramblings by Geoff Gander, http://pandius.com/mentramb.html
John Nephew, HWR1 Sons of Azca, TSR 1991
1 The Wasting is a term used to denote the sickness and disease caused in the aftermath of the Great Rain of Fire. For more information see the Mystara 2300 BC Campaign Setting http://pandius.com/Mystara2300BC_SettingOverview.pdf
2 Taymoran lycanthropy is theorized by me (and others working on ancient civilizations) as starting somewhere circa BC 2300 and evolving over time. In canon Alphatians are credited with bringing lycanthropy into the world when they made Landfall in BC 1000.
3 It is possible that rakasta populations, untainted by Azcan culture, still exist within the borders of the empire.
4 The rendering of aid may take on many forms, including participating in raids and skirmishes.
7 This may in fact be one of the ancient Burrowers, or perhaps even an entity related to the Outer Beings.