Humanity is undisputedly the most advanced sapient species in the world, both technologically and magically speaking. This is partially because humanity has been enthusiastically stealing and/or copying magic and secrets of other species. The other likely reason is the fact that humans, in addition to being far more unified than other sapients, are also more willing to trade with each other than the rest of the sapients of the world, who are largely tribal and insular. For all their infighting and wars, humanity is eerily well coordinated by other species’ standards.
Still, there are some sapient species that have managed to hold their own in the steadily human-dominated world. This article will tackle the most successful ones – the ones that are not just surviving, but have even managed to thrive in the face of human expansion. In some cases, it was precisely human expansion that empowered them, either by exposing them to novel magics and technologies, or by eliminating their traditional competition.
The largest continent in the world is a serpentine landmass closely hugging the equator. There are very few humans here – treasure hunters, adventurers and researchers occasionally launch expeditions to explore the area, but there are no permanent human settlements. The many unfamiliar and aggressive magical creatures that make their home in the jungles are one of the reasons why, but there is also the issue that the continent already has a dominant sapient species.
The lizardmen are the dominant force on Blantyrre. Their city-states and small kingdoms dot the entire continent, and though they quarrel often, they have a sufficiently unified identity that they cooperate against common threats. They were a stone age culture before human ships started trading with them, but even then they built great, walled cities and used surprisingly good tools made out of obsidian and some more obscure magical materials. With the coming of the humans, they have learned the secrets of metal working and even some of the human magics, allowing them to expand out of their traditional areas. Previously, the lizardmen lived almost exclusively along the coasts and rivers of Blantyrre, but now they push ever further into the continent’s interior with every passing day. The coastal communities are still the most advanced and powerful ones, however, due to easiest access to human traders.
By human standards, the lizardmen are still awfully primitive. They have no firearms or advanced machines of their own making, and their native magics are weaker than human ones and restricted to their priestly caste. Nonetheless, the few times that humans have launched attacks on their city-states, the lizardmen have inflicted crushing defeats on the attacking forces. Their greater knowledge of terrain, the sheer number of warriors they can muster in response to aggression and the tendency of their city-states to band together when faced with outside attacks have convinced humans that the only way to deal with lizardmen is through trade and diplomacy.
Lizardmen are perceived to be the only civilized species beside humans, which affords them a certain amount of respect and interest, but they are still a lesser species as far as most humans are concerned.
Lizardmen are just as intelligent as humans and stronger than them, but they tolerate the cold poorly and require moisture to keep their scales healthy, so they are far more limited about where they can live and form permanent settlements. Fortunately for the lizardmen, ‘warm and wet’ describes just about every part of Blantyrre. They are proficient swimmers and divers, but poor runners by human standards.
Socially, lizardmen are usually led by warrior societies (whose leader is also the king/chieftain of the polity), but the priesthood is a powerful and influential force. The two often butt heads over which course a polity should take. The warrior societies are usually more liberal and outward-focused, but warlike. The priesthood is more insular and traditionalist, but more inclined to solve problems with diplomacy.
In addition to performing religious ceremonies, members of the priesthood are also practitioners of traditional lizardman magic, which only they are permitted to practice. Some lizardmen have begun to adapt human magic for their own use, claiming that its human origin makes it exempt from such restrictions, which puts them at odds with the priesthood that wants to maintain a monopoly on magic use and considers human magic heretical.
Lizardmen travelers are rare outside Blantyrre, but not unheard of. The main problem is that most human polities have legal systems designed exclusively around humans, since wider definitions weren’t necessary at the time of their making. Lizardmen visitors therefore tend to be in a bit of a legal vacuum as far as law enforcement is concerned. They’re unlikely to be attacked on sight, but they will attract attention wherever they go.
The lifespan of a lizardman is roughly comparable to that of a human.
Aranea are a species of large, sapient jumping spiders. All aranea possess innate telepathic powers, which they use as their primary method of communication and self-defense. They are native to the continent of Altazia, where they tend to make home in the shallower sections of the Dungeon next to human communities. They naturally congregate into small tribes (called webs) that maintain influence over a particular territory, and usually exist in a form of symbiosis with the local human communities. They rarely make their presence known to the humans at large, however, preferring instead to interact with a select few individuals and use their mental powers to make sure their trust is not misplaced. If their existence is exposed and their webs threatened, the aranea simply pack up and leave for greener pastures.
Aranea were originally a species that struggled to survive, being relatively weak in body and lacking tool-making capabilities that most sapient species rely on to thrive. Their mental abilities, though impressive, were often insufficient against the world’s various monstrous denizens. Worse, their habit of making their homes in the shallower portions of the Dungeon often caused them to clash with the local species of underground humans – the morlocks.
When the Ikosians started arriving on Altazia, they unintentionally helped the aranea by shattering morlock civilizations, getting rid of their main competitor. Since the Ikosians didn’t live underground and ventured into the Dungeon only in a limited fashion, the shallow Dungeon was effectively given over to the aranea, who enthusiastically staked out their claim. The Ikosians then proceeded to slowly push back and eradicate the most dangerous magical monsters out of their territory, which also helped aranea, who even helped the Ikosians sometimes by alerting humans to hidden monster nests and other common threats. Finally, the Ikosians also brought with them their particular brand of magic, which was both very powerful and versatile… and surprisingly easy to adjust to aranean purposes.
The aranean web beneath Cyoria was the first web to translate human magics into something suitable for an aranea, and they took advantage of their newfound power to rapidly expand throughout the continent, assimilating, coopting and eradicating the less magical webs. Though the resulting new webs were still independent, their common origin resulted in them all sharing a relatively similar identity, which has been a major boon for the aranean species.
Aranea range from 40-50 cm in length, about the size of an adult human’s torso. Appropriately for what is essentially a larger jumping spider, they possess impressive jumping ability and great reflexes. Also like regular jumping spiders, they possess two large, forward-facing, pitch-black eyes that give them excellent vision. This is supported by three pairs of smaller eyes that give them fuzzier 360 degrees vision. An ability to sense vibrations through their feet also plays a large role in their perception of the world, as does their ability to ‘taste’ things they are touching with their leg hairs. Most aranea are black in coloration, but brown hues and various patterns are not unheard of, and some have even lost all pigmentation and become white.
Aranea exhibit extreme sexual dimorphism. Males are much smaller than females, and subsapient. Contrary to what one may think, this does not cause the aranea to look down on males from other species. That said, most aranea are deeply prejudiced against non-psychic individuals, viewing them as fundamentally crippled and thus looking down on them as “flickerminds”.
Aranea grow up to sexual maturity in only two years, but they are not considered proper adults until they are six years old or so. They can live up to 45 years under ideal conditions.
The Cataclysm that turned northern Miasina into the Xlotic Desert did more than just devastate the Ikosian civilization through climactic changes. The desertification of the environment also allowed many magical creatures that thrived in the desert to extend their habitat northwards. One of those species was a type of giant, flying insects that the Ikosians named Sulrothum – which loosely translates into ‘devil wasp’.
Sulrothum are a species of large (3m long) intelligent insects, pitch black in color and vaguely resembling long-limbed, emaciated wasps. Despite their thin builds, they are incredibly strong and durable, far more than their build would suggest. They have no stingers, poisonous or otherwise, their wasp-like appearance notwithstanding. They can raise themselves into a bipedal position when standing still, allowing them to use their four forward limbs as arms, but they cannot walk in a human manner and must drop to a horizontal position and use all six of their limbs if they want to walk somewhere. Walking is not their preferred form of movement, however, as their forward limbs are more suited as arms than legs – instead they prefer to fly, using the four dragonfly-like wings growing out of their back. They can fly quite fast, but their endurance and maneuverability is passable at best.
Sulrothum are a desert species, and originate from the dry, rocky wastelands of the Red Valley in central Miasina. There, they dug their settlements into the walls of the many cliffs and rocky outcroppings scattered around the region. The desertification of Xlotic allowed them to spread far to the north, and their shocking strength and resilience, coupled with the considerable mobility advantage that came from them being all fliers, allowed them to push out existing natives and establish their own territories. This even included human communities, who were by then deeply hurting from climactic shift and the frequent civil wars that accompanied it.
The Sulrothum cannot speak a human tongue, their mouthparts incapable of producing proper sounds to manage it, but they are quite intelligent and some have learned how to understand nearby human languages. Originally a stone-age culture, the Sulrothum have adopted many human technologies, either by studying looted objects or questioning human captives. Things like firearms and complex machines are beyond them, but metal working skills and architecture are getting quite advanced.
Humans look at Sulrothum with great suspicion and distrust, seeing them as dangerous raiders. While they are not inherently aggressive by nature, desert living is harsh, and many Sulrothum communities are desperate or opportunistic enough to attack caravans and communities near their territory. Their great strength and ability to fly means they can strike hard and retreat into their desert strongholds before an effective resistance can be organized. The goal of these raids is to steal rather than kill, but the Sulrothum won’t hesitate to kill anyone who objects too vigorously to such appropriation.
Contrary to common human beliefs, Sulrothum do not eat human captives – eating intelligent prey is completely taboo to Sulthorum sensibilities.
Though largely antagonistic, more peaceful exchanges between humans and Sulrothum do occasionally happen. Sulrothum are perfectly willing to serve as mercenaries in human wars, or guide expeditions deep into the desert while warning them away from non-obvious dangers. Additionally, some Sulrothum tribes mine precious metals or cultivate rare plants, and will trade these to nearby human merchants.
The Sulrothum resist heat and drought extremely well, but they tend to rest during the hottest part of the day, only leaving their settlements in the evening… mostly to hunt, which is their main method of feeding themselves. They are omnivores, much like humans, but much of their diet is carnivorous in nature – they feed primarily on various animals they catch, but will gladly supplement those with any edible plants they discover in their territory. Tribes that live in areas that border with more verdant regions eat plant matter more regularly, and coastal tribes are often fond of fishing. In any case, their large size and poor environment mean that they have trouble supporting large communities, and tend to be few in number.
Socially, the Sulrothum lifestyle revolves around religion. They have an extremely developed pantheon of gods and goddesses, the most important of which is their goddess of the sun, who is the head of their pantheon and the patron of their species. According to their creation stories, they were not actually created by the gods, but are instead the children of angels who serve the gods as their enforcers and messengers. The Sun Goddess, upon witnessing their birth, took them under her wing and decreed them to under her authority and protection as well, just as the angels they descend from. Accordingly, Sulrothum consider themselves celestial agents and place great importance on living up to their duties and not breaking any of their religious taboos.
Sulrothum are very superstitious and see divine influence everywhere, always searching for omens and prophecies. They make heavy use of hallucinogenic drugs made from certain desert plants during their religion ceremonies, believing the resulting visions to carry great meaning and messages from the gods. They consider fire to be sacred, due to its perceived link to the sun, and will cremate their dead if possible.
Sulrothum are not a hive species, despite their wasp-like appearance. They do not have the centralized queen-drone structure that most colonial insects use, and are instead composed out of numerous male-female couples that work together to form a single colony. Females can choose whether or not to become pregnant, and in normal circumstances only the high-ranking ones are allowed to do so on a regular basis: resources are usually insufficient to allow every couple to raise their children to adulthood. Breeding restrictions are also the main reason for breakaway groups leaving to find new territories – if the lower-ranked couples feel they are being unjustly restricted (there is plenty of resources, but they are still not permitted to have children), they have a tendency to break off from the main colony and seek out a new place for themselves. The young start as maggot-like and non-sapient, but metamorphose into miniature, flightless versions of the adults within a matter of months. These ‘youths’ are sapient and will spent anywhere from six to eight years learning and performing various menial chores in the colony.
A healthy Sulrothum individual can live up to 65 years, but most die sooner than that to disease, warfare and accidents.
Few magical creatures have inspired more fear, or more admiration, than the mighty dragons. Large, fantastically durable, magically resistant, armed with powerful innate magic, flight-capable and smarter than humans on average… the dragons possess many advantages over humanity. Even the spread of firearms and the gradual increase in magical sophistication among human mages have only chipped those advantages slightly rather than rendered them irrelevant. Despite their constant clashes with human communities and even the occasional campaign to wipe out their nesting grounds, the dragons for the most part continue to stubbornly resist human encroachment into their territories.
Dragons are very large magical creatures, measuring up to 8 meters in length in their adult form. They are fast and enduring flyers, despite their size and weight. Although their flight is clearly magical in nature, they do need their wings to fly, and damaging them will ground the dragon until they heal. Though shockingly durable, and thus hard to wound or put down for good, dragons do not possess supernatural regeneration and any wounds they suffer in battle will linger with them for a long time. Lost limbs will likewise not grow back, and it is possible for a dragon to end up permanently crippled if a fight goes poorly for them.
All of this means that dragons, contrary to their fierce reputations, dislike getting into even fights. When faced with something they think can actually hurt them, dragons prefer to launch surprise attacks, making use of their flight and innate magic to stay out of range of attackers. The advent of firearms has complicated this tactic somewhat, but adult dragons are capable and canny enough to lure entire army groups into traps, drop huge boulders from huge heights on top of static targets and make use of their superior senses to launch raids during night hours, heavy rains, dust storms and other times of reduced visibility.
Dragons are highly magical creatures, and thus need highly magical areas to lair in. Fortunately for dragons, their powerful flight and huge mana reserves allow them to venture far from these places, which means this restriction limits them far less than most other highly magical creatures. They typically spend days or weeks touring their territories, periodically returning to their lairs to rest and recharge. If a dragon loses its lair, and cannot find a suitable replacement, it will either die of magical starvation or be forced to spend a lot of its time in vulnerable sleep in some less magical location. Since a dragon’s lair is so critical for their survival, and since highly magical locations are in great demand by just about everyone, dragons are fiercely territorial creatures, always ready to defend their claims against challengers – be they human, monster or a fellow dragon.
Dragons mature very slowly, taking more than a hundred years to reach full size and maturity, though they are technically capable of breeding while still in their 40s. Females produce 4-6 eggs with each pregnancy, and can get pregnant every four years or so. Parenting is done primarily by the female in most cases, though the father often helps by bringing her food and helping her defend her territory while she’s busy with their children. Despite their durability and impressive capabilities, most dragons will never reach adulthood, as their mothers have a tendency to kick them out of the nest as soon as they can fly and many things find young dragons to be a tempting prize. If they can actually reach full maturity, however, there is little than can truly threaten a dragon. Even if they encounter something that is beyond their means to defeat, they can usually retreat and live to tell the tale.
Dragons don’t appear to grow weaker with age, and several have been confirmed to be more than a thousand years old.
Dragons possess their own brand of structured magic, which has never been successfully copied by human mages. Quite simply, the issue is that dragons possess far bigger mana reserves than humans, and the sheer amount of energies involved in dragon spellcasting is virtually impossible for human spellcasters to match. Not every dragon is proficient in this form of magic, however – most don’t have the talent or patience for it, and instead simply rely on their innate magical abilities.
Probably the most serious weakness of the species is that they are highly solitary creatures. Although they do occasionally congregate into larger groups, this is usually induced by outside pressure and these groupings fall apart quickly without external threats to keep them together. Young dragons, especially siblings, will often form small bands and stick together for a while, but these tend to fall apart as they age, individual members gradually leaving to set up their own domains. There have been several known attempts by powerful dragons to start a dragon civilization, but all have ended in failure. Nonetheless, as humanity continues to advance and pushes into the wild corners of the world ever more insistently, these attempts are getting more common, and last longer and longer each time before they fail…