Written by Adam Cieszlak, and first published on 2023-12-03
The latest in a series designed to provide DMs with encounter or location ideas to add flavor to their campaigns. In this installment, we focus on encounters taking involving the reptilian races of Athas.
The product Scale, Tail, and Claw - newly released by Athas.org - examines and expands upon the reptilian races of Athas (Jozhal, Tortles, Silt Runners, Ssurans, Lizardfolk, Nikaals, Dray, Pterrans, and Yuan-ti), providing expanded histories, legends, character ideas, and NPCs for each. Not every member of a group, however, conforms to the broad generalizations about that group - below are NPCs of each reptilian race that stand out from an outsiders’ expectations regarding their people.
While traveling through the wilderness, the PCs may catch sight of a child-sized lizard that vaguely resembles a crodlu. If the party does not seem to include defilers or templars and acts in a non-threatening manner, they may be approached by the lizard - a female jozhal named Hiba. Hiba is a preserver and scout whose family was killed by a defiler who razed their lands. Hiba now works with nearby druids and preservers to hunt down and eliminate defilers. Unusual for a jozhal, those she works with have described Hiba as “surprisingly vicious” when dealing with defilers.
Traveling near the Sea of Silt, the PCs may encounter Beppam, a surprisingly intelligent and urbane male tortle. Unlike most male tortles, Beppam is a powerful manifester who has suppressed (but not eliminated) his inherent aggression with his Will. He will offer the party a bag of silver to prevent a horde of tortle hatchlings from overrunning a nearby village. The tortle usually uses his mental powers to enthrall and herd new clutches of hatchlings, but this clutch has proven especially large and aggressive, and they slipped his control somehow. The PCs must either find an adult female tortle to round up or divert the hatchlings, or help defend the village themselves from the vicious tortle young.
Near the Sea of Silt, the PCs see a caravan on the road traveling at near-breakneck speed. Without slowing down in the slightest, the caravan master immediately attempts to hire the PCs (assuming they were anything less than completely hostile) as guards with no questions asked and even offers to pay them in silver pieces! If they accept, the PCs are quickly positioned as the caravan’s newest rear guards. Throughout the day, increasingly large numbers of silt runners relentlessly attack the caravan. Later (that night or over the next few days), any PCs that speak with the other caravaners discover that the silt runners attacked at a trade meet that the caravan had planned with the silt runners, and then returned later to attack the caravan. A deeper investigation will reveal that the trade meet was a diversion and the rest of the caravan went to raid the silt runners’ lair, stealing a great number of eggs and enslaving quite a few adults. The silt runners are quite understandably enraged.
Kath’ess is a seemingly average ssurran trader that the PCs might encounter anywhere throughout the Tablelands or the Forgotten North, extolling the quality of her wares to anyone who will listen. If given the chance to proffer her goods, however, it immediately becomes obvious that Kath’ess has merchandise of unusually high quality (especially for a ssurran). Kath’ess will not say where her goods are from, but many of them bear the marks of a well known merchant house - perhaps even one the PCs have had past dealings with - including clothing, saddles, weapons, etc., and her cloak appears to be made from the merchant house’s flag, of a size appropriate to fly from an argosy wagon. Where could Kath’ess have gotten such merchandise? Are they legitimate surplus or stolen goods? And why will she not discuss her source?
When near a convenient source of water - be it a small settlement, an oasis, or simply a merchant caravan stopped along the road - the PCs might see a ssurran-shaped creature trudging towards them. Garbed in a billowing and voluminous cloak, and covered in some kind of caked-on substance - though it’s impossible to tell if it is accumulated dust, dried mud or clay, or some other more odious material - the creature’s only observable features are a ganged snout, clawed hands, and a long tail. When it arrives, the creature can clearly be heard in a dry, rasping, sibilant voice, to make arrangements to procure more water than even a half-giant could drink with nothing less than a strangely-marked gold coin. Once negotiations are complete, the creature quickly moves to strip and immerse itself in the water with a deep and contented sigh, drinking none of it. The bather - who is not remotely shy - happily speaks with any PC who introduce themselves, giving their name as “Ss’hhusshh” - surely an alias - and clearly preferring the pronoun “they” in conversion. Though unwilling to discuss their background, changing the subject whenever their race, place of origin, interest in a bath, or source of gold coins comes up, Ss’hhusshh is interested in recent events, local news, and any nearby ruins. When the PCs move to leave (either the conversation or the water source), Ss’hhusshh offers to accompany them, assuming the party has not been belligerent or overly intrusive, wishing to take part in mercenary work or the plundering of ruins. Whether or not the creature makes such an offer or the PCs accept, everyone nearby will be intensely curious about any conversation the PCs did have, asking what the creature is, where they’re from, where they’re going, why anyone would think to waste water bathing in it, and why their seemingly strange lack of thirst.
Nazra is a rare and especially brutal nikaal gladiator. Armed only with her Tkaesali, Nazra has defeated all opponents in the two years she has been enslaved in Balic’s arena, and she intends on winning both the Criterion’s championship this year and her freedom. Nazra craves her freedom so that she can hunt down and take revenge on the soldiers who slaughtered her caravan and their templar commander. Nazra uses her prestige as a successful gladiator to collect information on the soldiers via Balic’s Veiled Alliance. If the PCs are sent to the Criterion, they will be quickly befriended by Nazra and identified as either potential rivals to be closely watched or fools to be used and discarded. PCs who attend the Criterion’s games might be spotted by Nazra’s extensive network of spies and informants - her adoring fans - and perhaps even recruited to investigate her intended victims in preparation for her eventual revenge.
Only a few short years after having struck out from her parents’ community, Claldrith Yrrina achieved the dubious distinction of being the only third-generation dray to serve as a templar for a sorcerer-monarch. Claldrith was born with an unusual psionic gift - the ability to see things as they truly are (Claldrith understands this ability as being similar to the effects of true seeing). When she came of age, Claldrith set out from her home, her head filled with the glorious legends of her people and an urge to see the world. She soon came to Nibenay and, catching sight of a (then) rare appearance by the sorcerer-king himself, Claldrith saw through the king’s illusions and gazed in wonder upon his true self. Recognizing a kinship with the partially-transformed dragon and recalling her people’s tales of their creator, Claldrith immediately settled in the city-state and set out to learn all she could about its king. Within a year, she had distinguished herself enough to be selected as one of the Shadow King’s new templar-wives; now, Claldrith leads a platoon of soldiers in the Crescent Forest, protecting the various logging camps - though she does still return to the city regularly to meet with her husband and king. The gossip amongst the templar ranks is that Claldrith (who is not recognized as a dray, but is instead seen as a New Race freak) is simply Nibenay’s taste of the month - an unusual wife to sate his stranger lusts. Nibenay, for his part, does consider Claldrith one of his favorites and does appreciate her new and unusual appearance - a rare thing for a nigh-immortal sorcerer-king - but immediately recognized Claldrith as a dray and is deeply intrigued by her origins and physiology. Should Claldrith discover the existence of Giustenal and Dregoth, the truth of her people’s origins, and the link between Dregoth and Nibenay, it is safe to say she should not be pleased.
Nistu Brownscale is an uncommon individual - a faithless pterran assassin. An exile from the Obsidian Claws tribe of pterrans that roam far south of Celik, Nistu uses the Tablelanders’ preconceptions about pterrans to his advantage, presenting himself as a traveling merchant and devout believer in the pterran faith. Though he does transport goods for sale throughout the Tablelands, this only serves as a cover (albeit a highly effective one) for his true profession - that of killer-for-hire. An outcast from his tribe due to his apparent immunity to the mind-affecting disease that has long-since reduced his brethren to sadistic raiders, Nistu is nonetheless a remorseless killer and more than happy to leverage his seeming uniqueness for financial gain. Nistu often interacts with other mercenaries and adventurers as both allies and enemies, hiring them as ‘protection’ when traveling between jobs and slaying them as necessary to get to his targets. Nistu’s greatest weakness is perhaps other pterrans - having been raised in a completely different society than them, Nistu neither understands not wishes to interact with other pterrans (especially “those fools’ from Pterran Vale), which tends to make the generally more sociable pterrans confused, concerned, or outright suspicious.
While traveling along a road, the PCs come upon a group traveling on foot to a nearby village or other small settlement. The group is composed of several novice priests, about a dozen lay followers, and their leader, Tui. Tui introduces himself as a Silt priest and, though his followers don’t know it, he is a l’sstan-ti - an exiled yuan-ti herald (pureblood). When Tui (his assumed name, his name within the coil was Zumil) fled his coil, he was filled with despair and emptiness, but a chance encounter with a (poorly informed) adherent to an elemental faith changed his life. Tui immediately set about becoming an elemental priest, throwing himself into his new faith as much as he had his cult’s teachings. Tui’s beliefs, however, will strike anyone knowledgeable about the Elements, Paraelements, and Elemental planes as quite confused. Tui believes that Silt is the most powerful of (para)elements and that, unopposed, Silt will consume all of Athas. But, he believes that the Silt lords are simply jealous of the Lords of Earth, Air, Fire, Rain, and Water, only wishing for their fair share of respect, worship, and love. To that end, Tui teaches the proper manner of sacrifice to the Silt Lords, sacrificing a portion of food and liquids into silt, consining bodies and animal carcasses into its embrace, and caring for living plants and stopping defilers in the Silt lords’ name. Those well-informed about the Elemental powers might recognize such teachings as those of an Earth priest, but Tui cannot be dissuaded, believing himself and his followers to be faithful servants of Silt. Tui’s group travels the wastes, clearing the roads of beasts and raiders, proselytizing to villagers in an attempt to them convert them to the “Silt” faith, and teaching them the proper means of appeasing the Silt lords - to keep their destructiveness at bay. Tui, his three junior priests, and all their followers wear their patron element - holy silt - on a thong around their necks; these take the form of small sandstone blocks, which Tui claims is “The best way to carry Silt with them - in its hardened, sated state.”
Scale, Tail, and Claw is currently available for download here.