Saturday, May 18, 2013

Lore of the Kruthar

Updated - the party has fought a skrag now.
Art by Talon Dunning
Partholon is famed throughout the empire for its haunted forests, mysterious faeries, and the murderous Druid cult, but the greatest peril throughout the frontier baronies would have to be the Kruthar barbarians. These savages dwell in the Bleak Hills to the north, where they worship and breed with the foul spawn of uncounted hells. They strike suddenly and mercilessly, stealing livestock and equipment and abducting villagers, the fates of whom may never be known for sure, but are the subject of grim speculation. Common theories range from slave labor to sacrifice to cannibalism and worse.

Most Partholonians will tell you that Kruthar aren't actually men, but merely man-like animals. And it is true that when barbarian corpses are cleared from a battlefield, many seem to bear but a brutish approximation of human features, and others appear more animal than human, but for many the tattoos and war-paint and ritualized scars seem to disguise the face of mere humans.

Recently, Morgana of the Iron Wolf clan became attached to the treasure-hunters operating out of Sham. She has learned a little of the common tongue, and has taught her lover Brianne a little of her own. Though communication remains difficult, the party is at last learning a little about the Kruthar. Some of this new lore is summarized here. 
The Kruthar refer to themselves as the Free People. The ancient Firians, ancestors of modern Partholonians, referred to themselves the same way. They believe they once ruled over the whole of Partholon, but that they were driven into the bleak northern hills and mountains by the Firian tribes. To survive in the rugged highlands, they made pacts with the creatures of Chaos they found lurking there, and bound these pacts with their bloodlines. To this day, status is closely linked with the purity of this eldritch blood, as seen manifest in mutations and deformities.

Kruthar society is divided into clans, castes, warbands, tribes, and hordes. The interaction and overlap of these groups is more complicated than Morgana can fully explain, but their practical function seems to be to give warriors an excuse to fight for status and power while simultaneously giving them a way to join their strength against outsiders.

Kruthar religion venerates the spirits of the wild and demons of the underworld. They hold destruction, killing, and cruelty as sacred. Many believe their role in the world is to purify it of weakness. Some believe their role is to burn the world down, and that the only purity to be had is the silent eternity of oblivion. Kruthar ethics are mostly variations on "Might makes right." What you are strong enough to take is yours for the taking. What you are strong enough to keep is yours to keep.

Gender roles are assumed but not rigid. Men normally become hunters and warriors while women typically see to the clan's home and rear the children, but there is no social stigma for those who deviate from the norm. Breeding is a sacred responsibility, as the harsh lifestyle and unreliable fertility of the Kruthar means extermination is a perpetual threat. Contributing many children to the clan is a good way to gain status, and many Kruthar of both genders take on multiple partners. It is uncommon, but not rare, for Kruthar to take lovers of their own sex. As long as such affairs don't distract from the clan's need for new blood, there is no stigma involved.  
They respect strength as the primary virtue, but their definition of strength is quite broad. Charisma, cunning, and supernatural powers are included alongside battle-prowess and mere brawn. In essence, whatever lets you get your way is considered a virtue.
The caste of a Kruthar is determined not by his parentage, but by the mark of Chaos - the degree of visible mutation and deformity. Greater mutation corresponds to greater status. The castes usually segregate their warbands, but intermingle freely within their clans.A warrior of any caste may be gifted with the sacred madness of the berserker rage. Any Kruthar can advance beyond the status accorded by his caste by proving his strength. Tattoos, piercings, and ritual scars serve to mark improved status.
  • The majority of Kruthar are born to the caste known as donadar, bearing little or no sign of Chaotic deformity. Although they have the lowest status, they are the most fertile, making donadars prized as mates by all castes.
  • About one in four Kruthar will be a shalgar. Shalgars are bigger, stronger, and tougher than donadars, and are visibly marked by Chaos.
  • Less than one in twenty Kruthar will be a morlak. Morlaks are huge, hulking brutes, sometimes twice the size of a man, but frequently stooped or hunchbacked. They are heavily mutated, barely human at all, and some even grow one or two extra arms. Morlaks frequently have little more than animal wit, but the few who are gifted with both strength and cunning become great warlords.
  • The very rare skrag is among the most powerful of Kruthar. Skrags are even larger and more powerful than morlaks, more heavily mutated and frequently gifted with a burning madness. They are almost entirely inhuman, often growing scales, fur, and thorn-like spurs in patches. Extra arms are common, and some even grow an extra head. 
  • Clans are frequently led by a grugak, a magician with the power to bestow curses and change shapes. A strong clan will have a chief grugak and his lesser apprentices. 
With Morgana's information and the party's experience fighting Kruthars, some game data can be made available.

Kruthar Warrior
AC 14
HD 1
AP 1
Morale 8
Alignment: Chaotic
Sacred Madness: When Kruthar fail a morale check or are subject to any fear effect, there is a 1 in 10 chance that they will be overcome by a berserker rage. A berserk warrior of the common caste will have the following statistics:

Kruthar Berserker
AC 11
HD 1
AP 4
Morale 12
Alignment: Chaotic
Hard to Kill: A berserker with 0 hp can continue to fight until wounded again.

1 in 4 warbands encountered will be of the elite shalgar caste.

Kruthar Elite
AC 14
HD 2
AP 2
Morale 9
Demon Eyes: These Kruthar can see in total darkness, but reduce AP by 1 in sunlight.
Savagery: These Kruthar can fight with tooth and nail even if they are disarmed.
Sacred Madness: as above.

AC ??
HD 6+3
AP 7
Morale <11

The party has not encountered morlaks, so no reliable data can be extrapolated from Morgana's lore. They have battled a grugak in Stonehell, and are aware that changing form seemed to heal his wounds, but have no more concrete data beyond that.

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