How fast do you have to run when evil is on your heels?
I know the answer. You can never run fast enough.
They have no name. Names are a convention they dropped long ago. The closest thing to a name they have is what we called them.
The Uz. The Enemy.
They made us. Crafted us to be slaves. They crafted the uvandir to dig their underground palaces. They crafted the gnomes to hunt and breed their captive creatures. And they crafted us to serve.
They controlled us from their still, dark pools. I still remember the bathing. That salty water, spreading it over their bulbous skin. They controlled us with just their thoughts. Sending pain for punishment and pleasure for rewards. I have seen men drunk on wine. The uz kept us drunk so we would obey. And when we did not… I still wake at night from the memory.
Shaking. Sweat. Terror. A scream caught in my throat.
There is no hate in the world greater than the hate I have for my old master. And there is no love greater. Even now, I pine for him. Even now I wish to feel his thoughts caressing my mind. Reassuring whispers that calm my fears and still my troubled thoughts. Oh, if I could only return to him, the love he would give me would be worth the pains of my punishment…
– Vilhelm Gansj, haffun bulter
* * *
That is the only name they have. Long ago, they surpassed the need for names. Now, they are known by the name their slaves gave them. They say the name means, “enemy.” But that is only half the truth.
“Baln’Uz.” Beloved enemy.
But as far as men are concerned–and elves and gnolls and goblins and anyone else who asks–they are simply “the uz.” That is, if the underfolk even speak of them at all.
But who is this Enemy? And how did the underfolk escape their grasp? Now that, my friend, is a tale worth telling…
Creatures of Dim Water
The uz are an ancient race. Perhaps even as old as men. But men came to this place from another, traveling across the water. The uz came from elsewhere as well: a magical accident.
The continent men call “Estvere” is not the native home of the uz. They came from another world. And the accident that brought them here has trapped them here as well. There is no going back. Not that the uz care. They have found their new home to be a place of great opportunity. They have built an underground empire–through the hands of others–and created servants to serve them in this empire.
Each of the underfolk–the haffuns, the uvandir and the gnomes–were created by the uz for the purpose of luxury. You see, the uz have evolved beyond the need for physical bodies, although they have not evolved to the point where they can do without them. So, they created their slaves to undertake what they consider to be “dirty work.”
As for the uz themselves, there is a significant physical and social difference between males and females. To be clear, the uz are almost completely alien in physiology than the other races in Estvere. All uz could be considered cephalopods, although this is mostly a cosmetic similarity. Males are bloated, nearly immobile creatures. Females are generally slender and more physically active. This is because males dominate a dark, thick, oily substance they call oszthechnik (“dim water”) that provides nutrients through the skin and also boosts inherent abilities within all uz. Males keep it for themselves and make sure it does not get into the hands of their females.
Because of their dependance on dim water, male uz cannot exist long without it. But, if as long as their skin remains moist, they can move outside their pools for short periods of time. Most uz have servants who constantly “bathe” them in dim water, allowing the substance to seep through their skin, providing power, sustenance and pleasure.
Meanwhile, female uz are slimmer, more physically capable and are not as reliant upon dim water to survive. They can use it as male uz do, to augment natural abilities, but they do not suffer when they go without it. If a female does become dependent upon dim water, they can suffer the same withdrawal symptoms their male counterparts do.
All uz have abilities unique to the world. These are not magical or divine powers, but something else entirely. They are alien to Estvere, as are the uz themselves, belonging in another place with different rules. These abilities allow the uz to control the will of another, to bend his mind, to make him subservient to the desires of the uz. Because males spend their entire lives swimming in dim water, these powers overwhelm any need to pursue physical activities. A male uz can simply command another to do his bidding. He need never lift a tentacle his entire life. Also, dim water keeps all uz virtually immortal. A fact that has stagnated uz culture for thousands of years.
Female uz have a far different life than their male counterparts. The female uz, also immortal, serve as “wives” for the males. Each male has a concubine of females who all perform his bidding. They do so out of threat of violence and overwhelming willpower.
They are forced to serve, forced to mate and forced to do as their husbands command. A female uz has little choice in her life; her husband makes all her choices for her.
All females undergo a degrading and humiliating ritual that binds them to their male counterparts. They are forced to drink the water of their husband’s pool and perform other acts of subservience and submission.
After mating, if a female becomes pregnant, the male uz mentally kills the child. There are two reasons for this. First, the uz want no more children. Their culture is one that hangs on the edge of a blade, delicately balanced above a sea of chaos. We’ll explain more in a moment. Second, the uz make dim water from the minds of living creatures. They impregnate their women so they may kill the children and produce more dim water.
Male uz sometimes trade wives. When a male uz becomes bored with one of his spouses, he makes arrangements with another male uz for a trade. Male uz also force their wives to fight for their pleasure, betting on the outcomes.
Yes, the life of a female uz is dark, pitiless and near hopeless. They are slaves trapped in a world of wickedness and depravity. True evil. And any of them would do anything to escape.
A Labyrinth of Tyranny
The uz have no youth, no adulthood, no old age. Because of dim water, they are effectively immortal. The uz who exist now have existed for thousands of years. Even the females–who have little access to dim water–have been alive for just as long, their physical perfection maintained by minute amounts of oszthechnik.
The uz live in a vast labyrinth of caves carved out by the hands of their uvandir slaves. Each uz is the king of his own territory, the emperor of his own domain (the uz word is ukrull, or “overlord”) These domains extend to as far as their mental powers can reach. The more powerful a mind the uz has, the further his “reach” extends.
Each ukrull protects his invisible borders with slaves, hunting for intruders. All of the slaves are beasts created by the uz for specific purposes. Giant, bulbous and carnivorous oozing horrors that slide through the corridors, devouring everything in their path. Warrior insects that poison and kill those who infiltrate the master’s realm. Floating masses of eyes who scan the corridors for intruders. All of these creatures serve the uz, maintaining their strict borders.
For thousands of years, the uz have maintained a kind of peace. They seldom, if ever, violate the invisible borders created by their neighbors. The uz know that if war ever broke out, their delicate peace would be shattered. It happens from time to time–one uz invades the territory of another–but it has happened only three times in the history of their culture.
All three times, the population decreased by significant amounts. The uz then swear they will never shed blood again. At least, until it happens again.
However, this time, that oath may remain in place. The last civil war nearly destroyed the race. And with so few uz remaining, another war might drive the species to extinction. This is why the uz murder all their children: any new uz would compromise the balance they now have. There will never again be another uz overlord. The peace is too important and having children is too great a risk. At least, that is what the overlords tell themselves. The deeper truth may be that the uz have reached a geographical limit: their empire can stretch no further. Another ukrull would mean someone would have to give up ground, and no ukrull wants that. Therefore, all children are devoured while still in their mothers’ wombs. The act feeds the need for more dim water and keeps another ukrull from entering the world.
The uz have an affinity for corruption and manipulation. Over the centuries, they have created many species to serve them while they bathe in their dim water pools. Some servants are unique: only one exists. Others are entire races of slaves, specifically designed to serve the degraded whims of their masters.
Listed below are some of the species designed by the uz and how these slaves fulfill their masters’ needs.
Originally bred for tournament fighting, the uz also noticed the kaszh’nek had a knack for obeying orders without question. This profound loyalty made them the perfect personal guards.
An adult kaszh’nek stands a full head taller than the average human (about the same size as an ork). They are thin and wiry, moving as if their bones were made of rubber. Their blood is poisonous to most other creatures: cutting open a kaszh’nek’s skin risks a splash of venom. Kaszh’nek weapons are made from the bones of their fallen, and thus, their weapons are even more poisonous. kaszh’nek poison initially causes a sick, wretched broil in the guts, then limb weakness. Finally, the victim falls, spasming to death. Additionally, the kaszh’nek’s bones jut out from their skin. The bones are barbed and spurred, making them perfect tearing and ripping weapons.
The kaszh’nek bodyguard will fight to protect his master without any consideration to his own safety. The kaszh’nek love to fight. They were bred for it. A kaszh’nek does not think of “I” or “me.” He thinks only of the master. The master feeds him, gives him comfort, gives him everything he desires. There is only the master’s wishes and fulfilling them. Reasoning with a kaszh’nek is impossible. Trying to get him to betray his master is impossible. The kaszh’nek are not competitive. When they fight in the pits, it is not for personal pride, but because their master wished it. No other reason. The very thought of his own personal gain is a completely alien idea to him. He is the master’s limb. Does an arm or a leg think of its own needs? No.
The kaszh’nek reproduce through parthenogenesis (embryos occurs without sexual reproduction). Kaszh’nek become pregnant once per year. Pregnancy lasts for one month. After that, the kaszh’nek lays between five to ten eggs. The eggs are heavy and leathery. A kaszh’nek lays them in a clutch in their master’s dim water and they hatch approximately one month later. That time in the dim water mutates the embryos inside the eggs, making them loyal to the uz.
They cannot think. They cannot reason. They only hunger.
A hunger (a name dubbed by the gnomes) is a large, viscous blob of ooze that wanders the labyrinths of the uz. The blob takes up the entire width of the cavern, allowing nothing to move by it.
Hungers are not born but bred. One of the side effects of living an entire life in dim water are the pustules that grow on the uz’s skin. The uz use these to breed hungers.
A hunger moves through the labyrinth looking for food. It can smell, but it cannot see. It also feels vibrations and follows them. When a hunger finds a target, it emits an electrical shock (up to 20”). The shock stuns its target, immobilizing it. Then, the hunger oozes over its target. The ooze contains oxygen, so the victims do not immediately die. Rather, they remain alive as the hunger digests them. The hunger also acts as a kind of “mental amplifier,” sending the pain and despair of its living victims into the minds of future targets.
This often causes those around the hunger to suffer from despair and helplessness.
Hungers are vulnerable to fire, but their size often extinguishes any blaze. Covering the oozing substance with oil, and then igniting the oil, is the best way to harm a hunger.
Once a proud people, the adon’de’nadoi are now slaves of the uz. The uz conquered the adon’de’nadoi while they travelled the astral plane. They made war with the adon’de’nadoi, conquered them, and made them slaves.
Now, the adon’de’nadoi serve as astral guardians for the uz, monitoring the regions around their labyrinth. The physical bodies of the adon’de’nadoi are trapped in the physical world, bound by silver chains, while their astral forms wander the plane, looking for intruders.
In the physical plane, the bodies of the adon’de’nadoi are pathetic creatures. They look like thin, nearly mummified corpses. Slaves feed the bodies drops of dim water to keep them alive, but only barely. This way, if an adon’de’nadoi chooses to return to his body, there is no hope for escape.
Meanwhile, on the astral plane, the adon’de’nadoi are impressive creatures. Humanoid and beautiful. They fight with silver swords and other weapons designed for astral combat.
In other words, “designed to cut your silver cord.”
Enslaved in their physical bodies, the adon’de’nadoi have little choice but to serve their masters. Disobedience means death.
Not all the underfolk escaped the uz. Some were captured, others did not have the courage to flee. Some even disagreed with escape. And so, there are haffuns, gnomes and uvandir who still serve the uz in the Labyrinth. Those who lament never leaving and those who are content in their servitude.
A Silent Revolt
The male uz are confident in their control of the Labyrinth, but under their notice, a small rebellion is taking place. The females have been working for centuries against the males, plotting and scheming. In fact, the female uz were a key component in the Escape. Without their assistance, it would have never worked. The females made an agreement with the leaders of the Escape: We assist you and you bring back help.
It has been a few hundred years since that agreement was reached. Only a few underfolk even know about it. Most believe they escaped on their own accord. Meanwhile, the females wait in the Labyrinth. Waiting for the underfolk to fulfill their end of the bargain.
Even hundreds of years later, the females maintain hope. And they still find quiet, invisible ways of working against the males. And there are so few ways to do it. Because the males use the females as spies on the other males, they spread misinformation and distrust. But the females practice a much more important form of revolt…
The males believe there have been no new children for a millennia. They are wrong. The females have been hiding pregnancies, giving birth, and sequestering the children. This is a deadly game. Any disobedience at all requires a slow, painful and public death from the males. And so, the females have been careful. In the last one thousand years, they have managed to sequester only a dozen or so children. But these are children free from the influence of the males. Children unbound to any master. Soon, they will have an army of their own.
My continuing blog about game design at Ancient Scroll is now up!
Last time we talked, you and I went over the goals Jessica and I have for our urban fantasy RPG. We also talked about how those goals serve as a compass when we got lost in the morass of game design. Well, one of those goals is about to take physical shape. That’s the goal of making the characters we play in the game heroes.
Read more here: http://ancientscroll.pl/4084/episode-2-h
My first journal entry on game design for a new urban fantasy game is up!
Jessica and I are both fans of urban fantasy, but if you look at the choices for games in that genre… well, there’s a problem. It isn’t a problem with the games, per se, it’s more like our problem. What is that? Well, all of those games are rooted in other people’s settings. For me, whenever I make a character, it feels a lot like writing fan fiction. I’m playing with other people’s toys. Also, I have ideas for characters that just don’t fit those settings, and I have to modify my character to fit the setting.
Read more at http://ancientscroll.pl/4023/episode-1-m
The DLC for The Reign of Men is up at Drivethrurpg.
And it’s FREE!!!
11 more pages of Wicked Fantasy humans including a new archetype, a new mystery, alternate rally rules and more! Check it out!
(Did I mention, IT’S FREE!!!)