BEASTFOLK: PEOPLE FIRST
Beastfolk are not beastmen.
In a land where horrible and monstrous beastmen terrorize the countryside, peoples with animal features are feared by the common folk. This means that even if they have good intentions, a person with animal like features is unlikely to be trusted or welcome company. Especially in the Free Kingdoms of Thule, where anything exotic is distrusted, unusual people are hunted down or run out of town. That being said, there are such people in Sublanarya that are no more inclined towards evil than humans or elves. Among the ignorant, they are "monsters" and among worldly peoples, they are called the "beastfolk".
Beastfolk come in many shapes and sizes, have a wide variety of cultures, and can be found in territories just beyond civilization (and others right under civilization's feet) all around Sublanarya and beyond. They may share animal instincts, but there are as unalike to each other as humans are to elves and dwarves are to elves, meaning that they have just as many reasons to get-along, or not, as anyone else. And then, on the issue of being unwelcome in many places throughout the realm, beastfolk mostly keep to their varied home environments with a few exceptions. Those that travel into lands dominated by human and elf alike, usually do so profit or for more noble causes.
Perhaps the greatest irony in the way that humanoids treat beastfolk is that, if they chose to work alongside them, they could fight the beastmen together. The beastfolk have just as much cause, if not more, to eliminate the threat of the beastmen. Beastmen are a corruption of nature and many beastfolk cultures revolve around natural order. And the beastmen are an insult to all beastfolk: whenever an innocent beastfolk is caught and punished by human hands, it is beastmen who are to blame for this discrimination. Lastly, just as humans, beastmen encroach upon the territories where beastfolk live and threaten their lives. The great irony is that while beastfolk are often erroneously lumped together with beastmen, they are often the ones keeping the beastmen threat from spreading into human lands. They are allies to the good peoples of this world, whether the good peoples realize it or not.
The beastfolk want the same things as any peoples; they want their homes to be safer and more prosperous for themselves, their loved ones and their children. Family is important and at the core of all beastfolk cultures. This comes from their tribal nature that is further nurtured by their reclusive lives. Most beastfolk tribes are far from humanity and, those that live aside them, are separated by choice or by threat of force. This means that most beastfolk seek friendship within their own tribes and through neighboring tribes. It is important to remember the strength and importance of beastfolk bonds as they inform everything they do. The catfolk warrior who rips the throat from a red mantis does so to protect her children. The dhole sailor traveling across the world owes a life debt to his captain. The blind ratfolk who steals bread from a cart has a sick father to feed. The grippli druid goes to the big city to convince the lord mayor to stop using the river that goes to her swamp.
The difference between beastmen and beastfolk is simple: beastmen are inhuman beasts. Beastfolk are people first and beasts second.
Let's take a look at each common variety of beastfolk in Sublanarya.
CATFOLK: PRIDE, FEROCITY, NAPS
The catfolk are a race of humanoids that share features with large predatory cats and can be found throughout Tazlan and Hamutia. They are a diverse race split into a variety of subraces adapted to each environment they can traditionally called home. The four most common varieties in Sublanarya:
Lionfolk are the most prominent and well-known of their race. They live in the savannah, deserts and jungles of Tazlani and south Shah-Hamut. Their pride and strength is their most well-known attributes. Each tribe of lionfolk consists of a patriarch, his wives, their younger siblings and children. Their tribal groups are all part of one "pride" and the most powerful tribal leader is called "king". The "king" trains elite warriors to protect the land and fight evil. It is not unheard of for a human prince or talented hero to train under a king.
Tigerfolk are the fiercest warriors of the catfolk. They call the jungles of Raj-Hamut home where they often live very solitary lives. They come together during times of great danger or to go to war to their greatest enemies: beastmen and rakshasa. The weretigers of beastmen hordes and rakshasa have given the tigerfolk a very disreputable face in Raj-Hamut. Due to this misunderstanding, tigerfolk are notoriously private and hide themselves away from humans. That said, among catfolk, their reputations as hunters of evil has earned them much respect, despite their brash and hostile nature often making them difficult to get along with.
Cheetahfolk are the fastest of the catfolk and make their lives as nomadic hunters, traders, and messengers across the Tazlani savannah. They have a reputation as show-offs and thrill-seekers that often rub more serious people the wrong way. Despite seeming somewhat foolish, their friendly demeanor and positive attitude allows them to win back anyone they've annoyed with their antics. Cheetahfolk are often found among lionfolk settlements, trading goods and delivering messages, and the two subraces are very close allies.
Leopardfolk are the cleverest of the catfolk. They build their homes in dense jungles and forests, away from prying eyes, and use this stealth to their advantage. Often they make their home near ruins from older civilizations. Leopardfolk spend a lot of time studying lost lore, technologies, and magics left behind by these ancient civilizations. This makes them renowned for their scholars, teachers, and healers of their kind. Furthermore, they are well-known for their practice of magic, both natural and unatural, which is unusual among the catfolk.
Their variety often makes it difficult for catfolk to get along but they all share one thing in common: they all despise evil. They consider the elimination of shapeshifters and beastmen to be a top priority and, against any such threat, are quick to combine their resources. Their varied talents and skills compliment each other brilliantly and together they are a force to be reckoned with.
DHOLE: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
While common folk would call them "dogfolk", the Hamutians and the folk themselves prefer the traditional moniker of dhole (pronounced "dohl"). The dhole are a race of humanoids with dog-like features found in Hamutia and in ports around the Zafarian Sea. Unlike catfolk, they are not known for their diversity but instead have a singular reputation as being one of the most earnest races in all of Sublanarya.
Dhole as a race have a history for more tied in with that of humans: dhole were enslaved by the ancient Hamutian kingdom, serving as guardians, soldiers and companions to the pharoahs long past, with a reputation for loyalty 'til death. Since the dissolution of that kingdom into the two modern states of Shah-Hamut and Raj-Hamut, most dhole are free of the shackles of ownership and seek out their fortunes elsewhere. The most common profession shared by dhole is that of a hired mercenary or sailor. Dhole families pass on these career traditions from parent to child, often working for the same family or organization for generations, and are thus often seen as permanent fixtures. Their natural inclination to honesty and loyalty makes them valued partners. Many patrons believe themselves the master of the dhole employees, their partnership is often built upon a contract, either verbal or written, and dhole take the breaking of such contract seriously. Only a fool would betray dholes, lest the dhole take their loyalty to a new master.
An important cultural act to remember with dhole is the concept of the life debt: when someone saves a dholes life, they feel inclined to return the favor. This can often mean offering their services for life to the other. If their new "master" proves to be a good friend, nothing will shake a dhole from their service, even the threat of death. This act is legendary among the hamutians and many old myths and tales include anecdotes about loyal dholes.
If a man is only as good as his word, than dholes are very, very good.
RATFOLK: THE BEST PEST CONTROL
Ratfolk are misunderstood.
Home to the northern continent, they're often misidentified as beastmen, and associated with disease & pestilience. They are strange creatures, small and awkward, preferring the cover of night to the day, and seeking shelter in subterranean abodes near civilization. They seem to have an odd fondness and rapport for creatures that other peoples would find repugnant. Ratfolk are quick to make pets of strange animals. Perhaps in these creatures, they see a little bit of themselves. And in them, most people seem to just see their animalistic features. But not all people see them this way.
Others see past their appearance and instead find value in the talents of ratfolk. Regardless of prejudice against this race and outright disgust from some, many villages grow and develop tolerance and even neighborly respect for ratfolk. They often clean the streets of trash in exchange for keeping any trinkets and goodies they find. In such situations, they make their homes in the sewers, under bridges, and in alley ways where they provide services as messengers, chimney sweeps, and, oddly enough, pest control. Their familiarity with such animals allow them to corral them out of sight and mind of the above world dwellers.
That doesn't make ratfolk evil, of course. But it does mean the opportunity for ratfolk to find themselves allied with evil is much more common than their defenders would like to admit.
GRIPPLI: FOR THE LOVE OF GROAKIE
Many of you have no clue what gripplis are but, if your dad played D & D, he might be able to enlighten you. Gripplis are, actually, a monster first introduced in 1982 and 1983 TSR products and I gotta admit I have a weird fondness for them. Personally, I think it comes from a good bullywug character I created in my Action Society campaign. He sacrificed himself to stop an evil god from killing the party. His name was Groakie and he is a legend among my players.
I am gonna go ahead and use the description of them I wrote for an article on my old blog Dumbledore Shot First.
A grippli's primary concerns are the swamps they call home and their tribal clans. The subsist off of giant insects and fish that call the swamp home, using nets and poison tipped arrows to overcome creatures that are larger than themselves, and live simple lives that revolve around family traditions and survival. Their main interactions with outsiders revolve around their interest in shiny goods, like pieces of precious metals, gems, and even pretty objects of little value, which they barter from other races in exchange for exotic and rare herbs, medicines, and poisons.
While normally neutral, they tend toward good alignments, and an evil grippli is rare indeed. Worshipping nature gods, giant animals, and a vague frog goddess, gripplis oppose those that would destroy their peaceful existence. They especially despise bullywugs, boggards, kuo toa, lizardfolk, and other evil monstrous races that would hunt or exploit them/their swamps.
Gripplis that venture from the swamp are usually seeking fortunes for their families in the forms of these precious metals and herbs.
These are the most common beastfolk races but there is one more playable race that could be considered "beastfolk".
CAIT SIDHE & CU SIDHE:
WITCH CATS & FAIRY DOGS
Folklore and old wive's tales warn villagers of black cats, cats with two tails and dog with two different colors of eyes. They may be a witch in disguise on the run or a pet of a fey lord looking for children to steal away. The specific mistreatment of innocent animals is the unpleasant way that commoners create an illusion of control and safety in a world filled with magical threats scarier thant their worst nightmares. Their imagination makes them turn innocent animals into magical threats. But the reality when it comes to the subject of witch cats and fairy dogs is actually much less threatening but also more unusual and disturbing.
Primarily, sidhe are used as spies by very powerful spell-casters, usually fey or other long-lived creatures. It is considered very dark magic to create a sidhe and the means to do create a sidhe are long lost by all but a few practitioners. Such a practitioner can create as many sidhe as they have years to spare but usually try to limit the number. After all, sending out creatures with a piece of your soul is a very dangerous act by a magic-user. An enemy with the right know-how can use a sidhe to find, harm or even kill the creator.
The sidhe are a strange race, extremely secretive and loyal to their creator, and very rare in Sublanarya. But not unheard of.