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The Umba-Kara

by Carl Quaif

The Kara-Kara were detailed in X8, Drums on Fire Mountain, and mentioned again in the Creature Catalogue. I don't know about an on-line resource, but you may find the following of interest, concerning an offshoot of that race, called the Umba-Kara.


The Umba-Kara

Armour Class: 9 (see below)
Hit Dice: 1+1 or 1+4 (see below)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: By weapon
No. Appearing: 2d4 (10d10)
Save as: F1
Morale: 9
Treasure Type: R
Intelligence: 7
Alignment: Neutral
THAC0: 17
XP Value: 15
Monster Type: Humanoid (Rare)

General Description

The Umba-Kara are of Orcish extraction, with porcine snouts, muzzle-like mouths and tusks curving up from their lower jaws. They are completely hairless, and have pallid white skin. The eyes of an Umba-Kara are almost all pupil, whilst the irises are invariably a pale grey, verging on colourless. Adults measure roughly 5 feet tall. Clothing is restricted to simple, unadorned loincloths for both male and female, whilst personal decoration is usually made from bones, teeth and sinew. The Umba-Kara speak a debased form of Common, thanks to the influence of their Patron Immortal, Umba-Haet.


All adult Umba-Kara know how to fight, although only 65% of adults are actually warriors. The numbers appearing above are for hunting and raiding parties (the number in brackets refers to a village encounter). Non-warrior individuals have 1d4 hit points, and save as NM. Warriors have 1d8 hp, and save as F1. Headmen are equivalent to F4, Chieftains to F6. Shamans and Wokani are discussed below. All individuals fight with wooden spears, clubs, or bone daggers. Missile weapons are unknown.

Umba-Kara suffer no penalty for fighting in darkness; the race has the ability to see in the ultraviolet spectrum (an ability called Ultravision) which gives near-perfect vision to 180'. Ultraviolet light does not penetrate underground, however, and no Umba-Kara will ever willingly enter a rock-walled cave, or underground tunnel, under any circumstances.


There are five tribes on Umbra Isle, whose villages and hunting grounds occupy segments of land stretching from the central volcano to the shore. These territories may not be trespassed in by other tribes except during specific inter-tribal rites, or by the High Wokan and his Apprentices, who live within the dead crater of the volcano. This custom does not prevent war-parties from raiding over the borders, however. Total population on the island is around 15,000 individuals.

The tribes - the Jimba, Shova, Vawabi, Ferig and K'roo - are culturally identical; the race is both too new, and too restricted by the laws of Umba-Haet, to diverge from set patterns of behaviour. Each tribe occupies a number of small villages and one central "city" in their territory. The city is the home of the Chieftain and the Shaman of the tribe. Smaller villages will have a Headman, and possibly an Acolyte, as resident leaders. The tribes have roughly equal numbers of males and females, and either may be warriors or hold positions of power; the Umba-Kara divide their tasks by personal preference and ability. Children are reared in a central crèche, and are taught by the entire village. There is no equivalent to marriage amongst the Umba-Kara, and casual promiscuity is the norm. Umba-Kara are physically and sexually mature at age 15, when they undergo lone forays into enemy territories to prove themselves adults. Umba-Kara live to about the age of 55, given the opportunity.


The Umba-Kara occupy the top of the food chain on their small island; with no large predators and no other intelligent races to contend with, they resort to tribal infighting to satisfy their atavistic Orcish urges. The Umba-Kara mostly subsist on fish, with vegetable requirements satisfied by kelp and fungi. The Isle's animal population is hunted only on celebration-days and for sacrifices; Umba-Haet forbids the eating of red meat except at those times (which prevents the island's animal resources from being denuded by overhunting). Some fruit, magically adapted to grow in the dark, is available on the island. All food is eaten raw (apart from magic, the Umba-Kara have no concept of fire).

The Umba-Kara deal with their dead in different ways. Those individuals who die of sickness are burned to ashes by the power of the High Wokan, to avoid further infection. Those killed in battle, or who die of old age, are left for the animals to eat. Great ones amongst the tribes, however, are consumed by their tribe in a great feast - this ritual cannibalism is a holdover from their original culture, and ensures that the best of the ancestors is carried forward into the newly-born.


The ancestors of the Umba-Kara were the tribal humanoids called Kara-Kara, distant relations to the common Orcs. In 340 AC, following a particularly brutal intertribal war, one tribe of Kara-Kara (the losing side) were forced from their island home and set adrift in a number of outrigger canoes. Of the 97 individuals who started the journey, less than 60 survived by the time they reached land - a small, uncharted island to the South-West of Belissaria. This island, named Umbra Isle by a few Alphatian cartographers and Sages, had centuries before been the site of the mage Kromyn the Accursed's experiments. His multiple castings of the spell Kromyn's Creeping Darkness had created areas of magical darkness all over the island - areas which continually grew, eventually merging the time the Kara-Kara reached the island, it was almost entirely covered with a dark shroud. Lacking any other option - and being fortunate enough to possess limited Infravision - the exiles moved into the dark interior of the island.

About a month later, a scouting party of exiles found the crumbled remains of Kromyn's laboratory, at which point Kromyn - now an Immortal of the Sphere of Energy - became aware of their existence. Appearing to their leaders in dreams, as a cloud of impenetrable blackness, he offered to be their Patron if they would worship him. The exiles agreed, calling their new Immortal Umba-Haet ("the Great Dark", from an accidental corruption of Umbra, the name of the island), and renaming themselves the Umba-Kara - "the People of the Dark ". In return, Umba-Haet transformed the Umba-Kara, converting their poor Infravision into a unique ability, Ultravision. With this new sight, the Umba-Kara could see in darkness- even magical darkness - almost as clearly as daylight. Unfortunately, this transformation rendered them absolutely incapable of withstanding normal light; Umba-Kara are completely blind in daylight, and take 1d4 damage per round of exposure.

Umba-Kara society has changed little between then and now; worship of Umba-Haet permeates most aspects of daily life. The colony, after growing steadily over the next century, split into the five tribes known today (each one named after their first leader), and a few Umba-Kara were guided into becoming Wokani by their Immortal (himself a former mage). The Umba-Kara generally leave their home only three or four times a year, to hunt and fish in the deep waters outside the Creeping Darkness (which now extends several miles out from the island). Their lifestyle is simple and straightforward - which is just how they like it.

Magic and Religion

The Umba-Kara are monotheistic, and worship an Immortal called Umba-Haet ("the Great Dark"), envisioned as a nebulous, dark presence which even the Umba-Kara cannot see through. This is, in fact, an alternate identity of the Immortal Kromyn the Accursed, who in mortal life was the wizard responsible for the unnatural darkness that now enshrouds Umbra Isle. Shamans of Umba-Haet hold equal status to Chieftains, as only they can interpret the Immortal's will for the rest of the tribe. Each tribe has 1 Shaman, who has 1d6 Acolytes of 2nd-4th Level.

There are also Wokani on the Isle, who live apart and aloof from the tribes; at any time there is one High Wokan, 1d3 3rd-Level Apprentices, and 2d4 1st-Level novices. When the High Wokan dies, the Apprentices duel with magic to see who will be the next holder of the title; the winner takes the Novices as his/her new Apprentices, whilst any surviving losers must forswear magic forever and either rejoin their tribes or become hermits. Umba-Kara Shamans can reach the 6th Level of experience; Wokani can reach 5th Level. They use the standard Shaman/Wokani spell lists from the Rules Cyclopaedia, with the following exceptions:

· Light and Continual Light are not available, only their reversed equivalents. Continual Darkness is a 3rd Level spell for both Wokani and Shamans (ensuring only the Tribal Shamans and High Wokan can cast it).
· Invisibility (the normal form) is unknown, replaced instead by Invisibility to Ultravision (see below).
· The visual components of Fireball and Lightning bolt are altered, appearing under Ultravision as purplish flames and an ebon-black bolt, respectively.
· Shamans can also use the 3rd-Level spell Silence 15' Radius, a holdover from the original Kara-Kara settlers. The spells unique to Umba-Kara are listed below:

Shaman Spells

Dark Shroud
Level: 2
Range: 30' diameter
Duration: 3 days
Effect: detaches part of the Isle's shroud of Darkness
This spell, granted only to Shamans and favoured Acolytes (i.e. those most likely to succeed the Shaman to the post), allows hunting and fishing parties to leave Umbra Isle to raid other islands, or fish in deeper waters. Cast by the Acolyte or Shaman , it causes a 15' radius column of the Creeping Darkness effect to detach from the rest, centring on the caster, who stays at the middle of his tribe of hunters or fishers. The spell leaves the area the spell was cast in open to the sky, so the spell is usually cast at the periphery of the shroud. The effect lasts for three days before fading; however, the denuded area is not replaced at the termination of this spell, and must grow back together over time. Consequently, the spell is used sparingly.

Shaded Emissary
Level: 3
Range: 0' (caster only)
Duration: special
Effect: grants normal vision to Umba-Kara Shamans
This special spell is only available to Shamans of the Umba-Kara, and cannot be prayed for; it is granted by Umba-Haet to allow a particular Shaman to journey to the world outside Umbra Isle for a specific purpose. The spell causes a film of darkness to cover the eyes of the Shaman; this transforms the Ultravision of the Umba-Kara into normal sight. The Emissary (as those blessed with the spell are known) wears heavy, concealing robes to protect their skin from the harsh sun. The Emissary is rowed to the edge of the Isle's Creeping Darkness, casts the spell, and is set adrift in an outrigger canoe, trusting in the Immortal to guide the boat to its destination. The spell's protection lasts until dispelled, or until the Emissary returns to Umbra Isle. The spell has been granted only four times in 700 years; twice, the Emissary has failed to return. Consequently, each Emissary names his or her successor before embarking on the mission. Those Emissaries who have returned safely are considered the Chosen of Umba-Haet, and are treated with especial reverence for the rest of their days. The Chosen tell amazing stories of strange, tall beings with puny tusks and odd shaggy growths on their heads, who see without need for Umba-Haet's blessing, but these (and other such wild tales!) are usually considered to be poorly-interpreted visions, and are discounted by most Umba-Kara.

Wokani Spells

Invisibility to Ultravision
Level: 2
Range: 240'
Duration: permanent until broken
Effect: renders recipient invisible to ultraviolet light
This variation on the standard Invisibility enchantment was created by Kolomolah, the legendary Umba-Kara High Wokan, nearly 600 years ago. Umba-Kara Ultravision enables them to see objects and creatures which are invisible to visible light, making the normal spell useless; this version makes the recipient invisible to Umba-Kara, but completely visible to creatures with light-based vision. It is identical to the Invisibility spell in all other respects. Although apparently useless away from the confines of Umbra Isle, the spell does have an interesting side-effect; since ultraviolet rays magically pass straight through the recipient, he or she is rendered absolutely immune to sunburn.

Adventures using the Umba-Kara

PCs could encounter the Umba-Kara in one of three ways: by meeting an Emissary on a Divine Mission to the outer world, by coming across Umbra Isle itself, or by encountering an Umba-Kara hunting/raiding/fishing party on another island or in the ocean. In the latter two situations, the encounter will probably result in combat; the Emissary encounter could involve the Adventurers in a semi-epic quest with their strange new companion, perhaps culminating with a visit to the forbidding, dark-shrouded Umbra Isle...

Umba-Kara as PCs

Because of their extreme limitations, it is recommended that Umba-Kara be restricted to NPC status. However, DMs might wish to run an adventure on Umbra Isle, using Umba-Kara PCs, as a change of pace. Use the rules for creating Humanoid PCs from GAZ10: The Orcs of Thar, using the Orc as a base. PC Umba-Kara may be Fighters, Shaman-Acolytes, or Wokan-Novices, although the latter two should be in the minority. Low-level adventures - raids into neighbouring tribelands, adulthood ceremonies, or possibly raids on other islands - are the most suitable. Such an adventure could be a chance for some good role-playing; Umba-Kara are not stupid, by any means, but they are naive and unworldly, and likely to be terrified (or at least startled) by anything outside their limited experience. This could be a good change of pace for players used to running high-powered, world-beating supercharacters.