Strange Ecology – Wet and Wild

In this series of posts on Strange Ecology, I am introducing various aspects of the ecological nature of particular regions in my campaign setting, Memory Fading. I hope to let you see a little bit about how I make the decisions I do, and how I am trying to bring just a bit more realism into my setting. The Chulgeth is a large archipelago in the equatorial region of Ord. This land encompasses two main islands, each over three hundred miles across, and a number of smaller islands that surround the two main islands, and expand further south in the shape of an open hand. The majority of the islands are covered with tropical rainforests.

The Chulgeth has some of the largest rivers in the world because of the tremendous amount of precipitation it receives. These mega-rivers are fed by countless smaller tributaries, streams, and creeks. The largest of these rivers, called by the Hiths the Yuruvoko, starts in the small Jivinto mountain range in the center of the main island, fed by scores of tributaries, and in turn feeding dozens of distributaries, is the lifeblood of the majority of the Chulgeth. It winds westerly across the island before dropping off into the sea, along its course, going through countless Hith settlements and villages, and supporting the life of millions of flora and fauna. It is a muddy brown-colored river, but not from any sort of pollutants, rather from the tons of sediment that are washed into the river from the tropical storms almost every single day.

The Yuruvoko is so extremely prone to flooding throughout the course of the year that many of the Hiths in the Chulgeth do not live at a ground level. Instead, in most communities, they build large, clustered villages high in the trees, far above the water level.

Hith High House

Other Hith communities are built atop the criss-crossed trunks of particularly buoyant trees known as dienwa trees, which act as stationary barges for various homes that are built atop them. Gangplanks and narrow bridges connect individual homes and buildings to others, so that it seems that entire villages float on the Yuruvoko. When the river floods, the houses just rise with the river.

The dienwa trees are an important part of the ecosystem in the Chulgeth. These trees mature very quickly, growing up to fifty feet tall in just a dozen years or so. Their extreme buoyancy was not understood until the Feng Tower recently did several years of study. Apparently, once the trees reach a certain age, they begin producing a fruit called pinwi, a soft reddish fruit that grows to the size of a man’s fist. These fruits are a major attractor to certain insects known by scholars as “kiselers,” which make their home beneath the thick bark of the tree. They feed off the fruits and build large, honeycombed nests beneath the bark. During the course of their nest-building, the kiselers secrete a substance that seals their nests from outside moisture. These water-proof nests cause the bark to expand outwards, giving the trees the very bloated appearance they often have. However, because of the extra air that gets sealed inside these nests, the trees have a much lower density than other trees, and can support massive amounts of weight before sinking.

When the trees age to about fifty years old, they tend to become very brittle (the reason for this is still unknown), and during severe storms (of which there are many in the Chulgeth), they will break and fall into the river. Often, at narrow sections of the river, these trees get bottlenecked together and form semipermanent bridges over the river.

Near the riverbanks all along the Yuruvoko grows a slightly bioluminescent moss called suri grass. This green glowing moss is part of a system that decays dead and dying wood along the river. Often times, the fungus will get swept up during storms and find itself attached to the dead and bloated wood of the dienwa tree bridges. These glowing bridges are the source of many a strange folkloric tale of ghouls in Hith lore, and are a very important part of their mythology.

Due to the climate and the heavy moisture, when it is not raining in the Chulgeth, it is often extremely foggy. Thick fog clouds hang over the rivers and streams, clutching with tendrils at the flowing rivers, and causing the forests overall to appear even more dense, crowded, and ominous than they otherwise would appear. Obviously, many predators (both Hith and animal alike) use this to their advantage, just adding to the strange forebodingness of the land.


Strange Ecology – Critters, Critters Everywhere!

In this series of posts on Strange Ecology, I am introducing various aspects of the ecological nature of particular regions in my campaign setting, Memory Fading. I hope to let you see a little bit about how I make the decisions I do, and how I am trying to bring just a bit more realism into my setting. The Chulgeth is a large archipelago in the equatorial region of Ord. This land encompasses two main islands, each over three hundred miles across, and a number of smaller islands that surround the two main islands, and expand further south in the shape of an open hand. The majority of the islands are covered with tropical rainforests. The ecosystem of these lands is very diverse, and in this post, we’ll expand a bit on the other unique creatures in the Chulgeth.

At the very bottom of the food chain are the gardlers, those small beetles that have a painful bite. The gardlers live in hives of mud and sticks that are built around the base of banyan trees. The Feng Tower is pretty sure the reason they pick those particular trees is because the large amounts of vines and roots of the banyans give the gardlers easy access to the canopy of the forest. Sometimes, these hives will connect between several trees, creating a massively frightening site of honeycombed mud and twigs with swarms of clicking beetles. These hives get up to dozens of yards around, between the banyan trees, and the Hiths steer far clear of these larger nests.

The gardlers have three main predators in the Chulgeth, the ezhrinoles, the beautiful zhurmbirds, and the frightening scergitur. The ezhrinole is already pretty well detailed, I believe, so let us look at these other two unique creatures.

Zhurmbirds (shortened, zhurms) are large, colorful birds with long, curved beaks made seemingly specifically for eating beetles. These beaks are nearly as long as the rest of the bird’s body, and have amazing power in them, able to take off a human finger, or the leg of a ezhrinole with little effort. The zhurms are arboreal and typically make their nests in already-existing treeholes like natural cavities and holes excavated by other animals. The birds are very long-lived, sometimes living at least fifty years, and they are monogamous, mating for life, and having few eggs in their lifetime. These birds are named as such after the Hith deity of beauty, Zhurma. Hiths have a deep reverence for zhurmbirds, and will go out of their way to protect the creatures. However, their beautiful feathers and beaks are highly sought after by other people of Alsa Eru, so much so that there is even a black market for these body parts poached from the birds. Non-Hiths in the Chulgeth have the very evocative and venereal name for a large group of these birds, a “radiance of zhurms.”

The scergitur is a creature that causes adult humans to jump in fear, and can kill most creatures smaller than a cat with little or no problem. It is a massive insect, with hundreds of legs and powerful pinchers, that can grow as long as an adult human’s leg. They are extremely fast, able to scale a tall tree in just a few moments, and even scarier, they can stand up like a cobra and jump up to five feet into the air. They have no poison, but their mandibles are terribly strong. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the scergiturs, however, are their eyes. They have four multi-faceted eyes that are pitch black, and seem to gleam with a malevolent intelligence. They burrow into the ground and many an unwary traveler has stepped into one of their holes and gotten quite a scary (and painful) surprise.

Other than the ezhrinoles, there are a few other unique reptiles in the Chulgeth, in particular, bhing dragons, circoidilles, and horlitors. Bhing dragons and horlitors are both just large carnivorous lizards, both of them able to grow up to around three feet long (though some people claim to have seen them up to six feet long). The bhing dragons are brown and spiny, while the horlitors are more green and slimy. Circoidilles are even larger reptiles, and feed on both of the two smaller lizards, as well as on most other creatures in the Chulgeth. They can grow up to ten feet long, and have grayish, bumpy skin. They have been known to be man-killers, one of the few creatures in the Chulgeth that goes out of its way to hunt humans, and are possibly one of the main reasons the Hiths live on stilts.

There are many different varieties of mammals in the Chulgeth, but only a few of them make themselves known to adventurers very often, and thus, those are who we’ll focus on next. The most abundant mammals in the rainforest are not large ground-dwelling creatures, but bats. There are dozens of varieties of bats in the rainforest, but one in particular is unique to this strange area.

The nosferubats are small, barely the size of a human adult’s open hand, but they fly in swarms of up to a thousand. They feed on small mammals and reptiles by latching to the poor victims, usually a dozen at a time, and draining the blood out of their prey with their hollow canines. They live in caves, or beneath ridges in a ravine, where they can avoid sunlight during the day. Mostly they hunt at night, but they are not harmed by daylight.

The other mammal unique to the Chulgeth is also the apex predator, and one of the deadliest non-magical creatures known in this part of the world. It is the jaduk cat, a massive and powerful feline that can wrestle a spineyback bear, circoidille, or human with equal ease. The cats grow to five feet tall and up to ten feet long, with paws large enough to cover a man’s head. The retractable claws are not unlike daggers, and the cats have an amazing amount of strength. The jaduks have yellow or brown fur with large, black spots on the fur. Perhaps the deadliest aspect of these creatures is that they make their layer on low branches of trees. More than one skilled Hith warrior has met his quick and bloody end by being literally lifted off the ground while walking beneath a jaduk’s tree. The fur of these cats is highly sought after by poachers from the mainland, but unlike the zhurmbirds, the Hiths don’t have too much problem with the jaduks being hunted.

That should pretty much cover all the interesting critters of the Chulgeth, I’ll talk about the plants in the next post, and then bring everything together after that. The main purpose of the description of these creatures is to show not only the various animals PCs can encounter, but also to show how much is going on in this strange land. Any suggestions for additions, or other ways to use the creatures here? This post turned out a bit longer than I originally meant, I’ll try to make the next few shorter.


Strange Ecology – Even Smaller

In this series of posts on Strange Ecology, I am introducing various aspects of the ecological nature of particular regions in my campaign setting, Memory Fading. I hope to let you see a little bit about how I make the decisions I do, and how I am trying to bring just a bit more realism into my setting.

In my last post, I talked about a small little creature that will be introduced into Memory Fading in a region called the Chulgeth. Ravyn asked how this creature will relate to the overall ecology, considering that it is likely to be low on the prey-list of predators fearing being poisoned. So, we’ll take a look today at how the ecology works around this strange little creature. First things first, though, this little reptile has been given a name. The Hiths apparently believe these little lizard-like creatures have some sort of relationship to the feared God of Plague, Ezhrin, and have thus named the creatures “ezhrinoles,” or “plague-bearers.”

The ezhrinoles do not synthesize their toxins, but sequester them from their food sources. Ezhrinoles are omnivorous reptiles, and their two favorite foods are what give them their poisonous secretions.

The first is type of fungus, known as “bohrinfel” to the locals, that grows in tiny, five-stalk clusters, and have bulbous, blue heads. The fungus, when ground to a fine paste, can be used to coat darts and blades, and thus bring down large and otherwise deadly game by causing a short-term paralysis. Some amongst the Hiths have been known to use this fungus in various ceremonies for communing with spirits.

The second source of the ezhrinoles toxins come from small beetles called “gardlers,” which have a very painful bite. They are only the size of a human child’s thumb nail, but their bite can cause searing, tear-inducing pain in full-grown adults. The bites leave angry, reddish welts on the skin, before causing the skin to swell and blacken, and then finally return to normal. Sometimes this painful reaction can take up to ten days to run its course, which means that Hiths, and other knowledgeable explorers, will steer far clear from the little beetles’ nests. The Hiths have been known to set traps that involve releasing swarms of these beetles on unsuspecting enemies.

Due to the evolved nature of the ezhrinoles, the little reptiles are able to consume both of these food sources without pain or paralysis, and then the chemical reactions in their bodies secret the toxin they are known for. It is suspected by the Feng Tower that the deformities are caused by these reactions, but other than causing physical abnormalities, the creatures seem to be a strong contender in the local ecology.

The toxins on the skin keep smaller predators away, but any creatures at least as large as a wolf seem to have no significant issues by eating the ezhrinoles. They are a main food source for the much larger reptiles of the Chulgeth, such as the bhing dragons, circoidilles, and horlitors. Humans can even eat the lizards if they are properly washed, and in some Hith tribes, they are considered a delicacy.

In recent years, several groups of sirish scholars from the Feng Tower have begun studying these creatures, curious of the strange evolution that has led to the small reptiles being immune to this certain kind of poison.

It is very common in campaign settings and worlds for there to be these very practical uses for ecology (poisons, spirit-wandering, etc). However, what I really want to do is bring in the non-gaming aspects of these ecosystems. So what kinds of uses could indigenous peoples find for these sorts of things? Do you have different ways you may possibly use them in your campaign? Please let me know your thoughts, it will help me decide which direction to go next.


On Being Internetless, and Future Turtle Issues

While out of town for a week for a cousin’s wedding (who didn’t have internet), I’ve been thinking of a few different options I want to focus on. I personally am mostly interested in writing articles here that focus on the various elements of designing campaign settings and worlds. I do want to also help showcase other peoples’ homebrew campaign settings, but I’m going to need a bit of help from the community at large, namely in the suggestions of good settings which I should Showcase. I would love some suggestions on this, as well as if anyone has specific ideas as to what sorts of elements I could work on in the near future that relate to campaign building. I have a full series in the works on fantasy ecologies, and am starting work on a series on fantasy governments as well. If there are any suggestions, I am very open to them. Other than that, this post was mainly to let any of you who were curious know why I was gone for over a week! :)