|it is tough to find a cool centipede logo :(|
About 750 years ago, the world was ending in fire. Volcanoes were erupting everywhere. The skies turned black and the sun was forgotten. Farms were buried in ash; farmers were cremated. A tremendous number of volcano cults sprang up. Whole villages were thrown into volcanos in order to appease them, but nothing worked. It was a plague of volcanoes.
Anyway, no one had any idea how to stop this pyroclastic pox. People had conventions, kings and wizards convened, all in the effort to figure out a way to save the world. None of these had any effect except to launch a series of admirable-but-doomed plots. The population of adventurers dropped rapidly in those days, even faster than the rest of the world. Anyway, during one of these convocations of wizards and kings, Empress Kuth-Lassariac Boregal (KUTH luh-SER-ee-ak BOH-reh-GAUL) showed up, after a very, very long journey from her empire in the Darklands.
Digression: The Darklands
The northern boundary of maps in Centerra is the thick purple blob called the Shadowlands. If I mention phrases like "chaos wastes" and "opium fever dream" and "flyblown corpse of Gaia" and "+Logan Knight's standard campaign setting" you'll get a pretty good idea of the place. It's also about 2x the landmass of Centerra and has it's own cities and loose nations, none of which are human, and most of which are insane. Honest Centerrans pretend that the Darklands don't exist, for safety.
|don't visit the darklands|
Empress Kuth-Lassariac Boregal was a member of the Chelinauscan race (see below) and the leader of the largest nation in the world. Anyway, the Empress proposed a joint venture. Human forces would join with her chelinauscan legions, and she would lead all the armies of the world down into the center of the world, in order to face the fire at the heart of the world, and stab it until it was dead. In return, all the nations of the world agreed to swear fealty to Empress Boregal upon her triumphant return.
And so the largest and most diverse army ever assembled dug down into the earth so that they could kill it.
And they possibly succeeded. Nineteen years laters, the volcanos dried up. So while modern Centerra is mottled with cinder cones and plains of jagged lava rock, you won't find a single active volcano. (Except Lady Hellfire, but that's another story.)
And there was no sign of Empress Boregal, nor the Immaculate Legion. And while modern people are familiar with the story of "volcanoes were destroying the world and an army of heroes went into the ground and stopped it", modern renditions tend to omit any mention of Empress Boregal, or her contribution.
And of course, the Chelinausca are returning. Just a few scouts and heralds at first, but the huge armies of the Immaculate Legion are right behind them. And of course, they want what was promised 750 years ago--dominion over the nations of Centerra.
This is one of the overplots of the setting. Pieces of it are seeded all over the world.
They're centipede people, pretty much. Or centipede-centaurs. Above the waist, they resemble statuesque humans with vibrant colored skin (red, brown, or gold). Below the waist, they're just giant centipedes, 15' long. They're usually naked, except for all the precious metals and jewels that they constantly drape themselves in.
They're also big on perfumes, and each one chooses a distinctive smell that they wear for the rest of their lives. Each of these perfumes is strong and distinct enough that even humans can determine which Chelinausca visited this area in the last 24 hours. That's the whole point, of course.
Once they reach adulthood, they begin replacing their tergites (body plates) with metal ones. These metal tergites are called batella (s. batellum), and among Chelinausca, they are a Very Big Deal. First and foremost, they're armor (so older Chelinausca have higher AC). Secondly, they're art pieces. Each batella has enough filigree and wirework to put your friend's absinthe spoon collection to shame. Thirdly, they're heirlooms; each chelinausca will wear the batella of their famous ancestors, and will pay large ransoms to ensure their return. Fourth, they're currency; each batellum is worth about 100s when trading with the chelinausca, or about half that on the human market.
Above the waist, chelinausca look like humans, except for the last joint of each index finger on each hand, which grows long, black, and poisonous. From their waist, they also have a pair of large pedipalps, long enough to impale a horse, heavy enough to crush a skull.
Chelinauscan nobility cut off these heavy pedipalps. Instead, the nobility practice magic, and learn a martial art called ividauma, which focuses on poisoning an enemy and then redirecting their attacks until they succumb.
The chelinauscan knight caste instead cut off their long, poisonous index fingers, so that they are better able to wield weapons.
Chelinauscan society is as complex as ours. While the PCs are probably going to interact with the military apparatus of the Empire, behind the ranks there are artists, entertainers, profiteers, smugglers, camp followers, and pacifists.
The chelinausca are also the only ones who have figured out how to make steel. Not even the dwarves have figured out that much metallurgy.
The chelinauscan armies are composed entirely of human slaves called morlocks, descendants of the original human armies. The basic functional unit of chelinauscan society is a house, composed of a mated pair of chelinauscans (who share a rank are treated as a single citizen for legal matters--chelinauscans are potent monogamists) and about 50-200 morlocks.
Two things have allowed the chelinauscans to forge the morlocks into weapons of mass destruction. Selective breeding and loyalty.
750 years living miles from the sunlight has forced the chelinauscans to adapt to a new lifestyle. While the old armies originally brought traditional lifestock with them, they've been forced to adapt to new sources. Or more accurately, they forced the humans to adapt.
Each of the four sub-species of morlock is named after one of the ancient human generals, who led the armies 750 years ago, and became the Honorable Progenitor.
The Honorable Progenitors, May They Find Warmth, are venerated as saints in the chelinauscan-morlock culture. You'll find small shrines to to the Honorable Progenitors all throughout the underdark. Even chelinauscans will bow to the Honorable Progenitors when they pass their icons. (However, shrines to Empress Boregal are even more common. Morlocks are not worthy to pray to her, and so their prayers must detour through the Honorable Progenitors first.)
Two things most surface dwellers don't know about morlocks: they are diverse. The shaggy white ape-things you fought two caverns back are distant cousins to the pale-skinned dudes currently shooting you with narcotic arrows. And secondly, they're smart. They don't talk much to surface-cattle, but they're savvy.
Killian morlocks resemble their human ancestors the most. They are bred to resemble surface humans, and about 10% are indistinguishable from humans (though they usually dye their hair). The other 90% have too many canines in their mouth, or have pronounced hunchbacks, or dark shadows swell and pulse beneath their skin, or their shoulders are far too broad, or have foreheads more protuberant than any human, or have eyes like cats.
They are the the most common caste of morlocks, and it is rumored that many of them have infiltrated human society as spies.
Granger morlocks are beasts of burden and livestock. Bipedal, but with wedge-shaped heads and huge jaws. Shaggy all over, like a great white ape, except for the head. Like a cow, their eyes are widely separated, on each side of their head. Can pull a plow. Delicious in a mushroom stew. They're about as smart as a child and can digest cellulose (also like a cow). Constantly grazing on vast quantities of mushrooms and tefec reeds. Notoriously flatulant. 8' tall, and strong as an ox.
They're also the shock troops in chelinauscan armies. Usually covered in full plate that is then welded shut. Then they're absolutely bedazzled with spikes. Spikes on top of spikes on top of metal.
In morlock squads, one of the granger morlocks is usually saddled up, so a slavemaster morlock can direct the rest of the slaves.
|aa stygian morlock|
Varicose morlocks are the rarest and most feared of all the morlocks. They're the size of children. They're naked, except for their hands and feet, which are encased in gauntlets, each finger ending in a steel claw. (They have monkey feet, and those have clawed gauntlets, too. Their mouths have been filled with metal teeth.
They're feared because (a) they are tremendously stealthy when they want to be. You haven't experienced shit-your-pants terror in the underdark until a trio of these little bastards drops down on to your column from between a tiny patch of shadow between two stalactites. And (b) they fight like devils. Or wolverines. Disembowel one and it'll only run after you faster, now that it has less to weigh it down. Cut off its arm and you've only given it a weapon to hit you with. Stab it in the heart and you'll only piss it off.
No one is sure what makes varicose morlocks so angry and so durable, but scholars suspect that it is alchemical in nature. Their corpses, for example, squirm and writhe like living things. And several minutes after dismemberment, their internal organs appear to boil, hissing and popping with steam. By the end of its death throes, a varicose morlock corpse is cooked well enough to eat.
(In game terms, varicose morlocks get a +1 to attack and damage for every round of combat, stacking up to +5. Additionally, any damage that they take doesn't "arrive" until two rounds later. Aaaaand they recover 1 hp per round, exactly like a troll, except that they cannot reattach lost limbs.)
Outsiders have a difficult time understanding the adoration that morlocks heap onto their masters. For a long time, people suspected that they were magically compelled, or that the morlocks were gripped with so much fear that they refused to speak ill of their masters, even during torture. They didn't understand it. They couldn't put a word to it.
But then they realized that the correct word was love.
Morlocks love their masters in the same way that dogs love their masters. It needs no elaboration. Their masters are wise, just, and kind. Sometimes there is violence, but it is only when the morlock has broken some rule. And like dogs, they have very little desire to ever run away. Happiness is a sheep dog.
But take this dog brain and apply it to a thinking mind as intelligent as any human's (killian morlocks are actually more intelligent than humans). The result is a culture that has developed a deeply entrenched culture of loyalty.
As a rule, morlocks are not educated any more than they need to be, but in the depths of the Empire you will find erudite morlocks who can speak three surface languages and six underdark ones, and is willing to calmly and rationally explain why their enslavement is Good and True and Right.
Those captured by morlocks are usually proselytized aggressively. A steady regimen of mutilation, propaganda, and cycles of kindness-and-torture have proven remarkably effective at winning new converts. It usually only takes a couple of years for a captured surface-dweller to become a slavish devotee of their chelinauscan master, frequently exceeding even native-born morlocks in a desire to please (they need to make up for lost time, you see.)
|proud morlock slaves|
And of course, the gifts of flesh.
A gift of flesh is when a morlock pulls a Van Gogh, and gives his or her master a piece of their own body, usually as a congratulatory gift after a military victory or the birth of a child. After a great and successful battle, a chelinauscan commander can expect to receive dozens of ears, a fistful of nipples, a few teeth (that were coming loose anyway), and even a testicle or two.
|pictured: morlock pain meditation|
Morlocks who are especially devout (and have given a few pounds of their flesh) are allowed to keep the ceremonial push-dagger kukri to keep (one of the few pieces of property a morlock is allowed). The morlock then makes a sheath on their own scapula (in the backside of their own shoulder), where they will carry the kukri for the rest of their lives, brimming with pride and gratitude.
It's the most beautiful ceremony in the life of a morlock, and brings a tear to the eyes of the younger ones.
|full of morlocks|
For the same reason, a chelinausca will never eat a surface human, nor an adventurer. They would rather starve than taint their body with such unworthy flesh. (Morlocks, however, will take great pleasure in turning a captured human into a delicious stew. Human stew is the best, and is often the only source of meat in their diet when on a campaign. Meat is scarce in the underdark.)
Using a combination of tourniquets and painkillers (chelinausca also have better medicine than the surface world), the morlock is allowed to perform their own butchery. While seated in the center of the table, the morlock removes his or her own legs, and then directs the preparation of the meat. The master tastes the meat, and if it is good meat and the morlock is a devoted morlock, orders the further consumption of the morlock. The morlock then removes his or her own heart, and directs the preparation of it. (A 1st-level spell makes this possible.) Then the chelinausca eats the heart. When the morlock finally dies, usually sometime around the second course, it is usually with a heart full of pride. The chelinausca has a heart full of pride, too. Not the one on his fork--the normal kind of heart full of pride. That was a Good slave.
If the morlock was disobedient or wicked, the ceremony occurs differently. After the master tastes the leg-flesh, the leg-flesh is declared to be unclean, the unhappy morlock is thrown into the cooking fire, where he will be burnt until he is nothing but ashes, so that not even the worms will be nourished by his flesh. (In the scarcity of the underdark, this kind of waste is utterly blaphemous, and there is no greater shame.) Then everyone goes home hungry and ashamed, the master most of all.
If a morlock commits a great dishonor, or is has performed traitorous actions, his master will call for him to perform the Last Meal immediately. These are more akin to executions, and the morlock, of course, obeys unhesitatingly. The morlock can die honorably, if he performs the Last Meal admirably and without emotion, some of that shame will be erased.
Morlocks are like dogs, but even surburbia sometimes has packs of domesticated dogs that have gone feral. These feral morlocks are usually hunted down and killed quickly and efficiently.
Feral morlocks have no desire to overthrow the Empire. Obedience is still bred into them. Obedience in in their bones. If a chelinausca ordered them to cut off their own heads, they would still think about it.
But they are a wild card. An unknown variable. And that's interesting.
Could you have an adventuring group made up of morlocks? Fuck yes. There's even four subspecies to choose from. The campaign would probably involve fighting both the chelinausca and the surfacedwellers, trying to carve out a safe slice of real estate before the pot boils over and the world drowns in war-blood. (Thanks for the idea, +Patrick Stuart.)
I haven't written out morlock race-classes, but I know one feature they'll have: they'll have to make a save whenever they want to attack a chelinausca, or whenever they want to disobey a direct order given by a chelinausca. (This doesn't apply to running away. You can always flee in shame.)
|possibly a morlock|
i have no idea about the head