Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mandrogi (grass golems)

Mandrogi have many, many names. Grass Golems. Grasslings. Grassies. Shake men. Slips.

The reason they have so many names is because so many different people have had the opportunity to encounter them. Mandrogi are little grass figurines that have been magically animated. They are most commonly made by Abasinian merchants, who see the know of having cheap labor on long caravan rides are famous for traveling with hordes of the little things.

Little grass golems, not higher than your thigh, sold by the bundle.

The secret to making Mandrogi used to be a closely guarded secret kept by The Pashetso, the largest mercantile group on the south Zeban coast. However, the cat has been out of the bag for a full generation of merchants, and now every caravan coming out of Shangalore travels with a full accoutrement of the little rustling servants. This is because they can only be made from drogi grass, which is ubiquitous in the dry plains of Abasinia but fairly scarce in other parts of the world. But you need to understand how common this stuff is--it literally grows by the side of the road. It's a weed in Abasinia. Everywhere else, its a rare magical component.

Abasinian merchants travel with bales of the stuff loaded on the backs of their wagons. It makes great bedding to sleep on. It can be fed to the gola or mules that pull the wagons. It can be used as kindling to start fires. It can be used as packing material to keep ceramics from chipping.

And it's damn easy to make a mandrogi. You just make a five-pointed star out of some loose bundles of grass, tie the tips with string, and paint a single symbol in the center. A practiced hand can make one in just a couple of minutes. And on long caravan rides, making mandogi is a good way to pass the time. And animating them is a snap, too. A wizard's apprentice could do it. And a decent wizard could animate them by the bundle. They are usually made flat, so they can be stacked easy. It's not uncommon to see an Abasinian merchant order his grassies to pack up his wares, and then order the grassies to pile themselves together and tie up the bale neatly.

Larger caravans, with dozens of wagons, might travel with over a thousand mandrogi and several scrub wizards, who spend the trip gathering drogi grass and constantly making more.

They are famously weak, and are torn apart by wind, water, cats, dogs, or age (they dry out pretty quickly). Even horses sometimes learn to chase them down and eat them. When they "die" from old age after a week or so, they will just keel over, midstep. Then the merchant usually just throws them on the fire. 

"You'd lose a fight to a grassy" is a cliched insult. They tend to walk around with a swift, swishing gait, and large groups of them on the move make a characteristic rustling sound. Mandrogi can carry water, gather wood, load and unload the wagon, stand guard, clean surfaces, and many other uses. They stand between two to three feet tall and cannot be made smaller or larger. 

Although they are weak, they work together (if ordered) to perform tasks. They walk a fine line between mindless (since they accidentally walk through the campfire sometimes and have a hard time navigating out of a sack) and intelligent (since they can follow moderately complex orders such as "collect timber from the woods until the pile is taller than you are"). Regardless, merchants from Abasinia rarely travel without them, and a large caravan might have hundreds of the little things running around the campsite. Kleshamanjurrogi insababamandrogi is a Abasinian rhyme that can be translated as "It's time to head home when we run out of mandrogi".

They can't directly hurt you, but they can be ordered to tackle someone and wrap around their leg like an amorous straw hat.  Not much a big deal, but if you have enough grassies on you, running will be impossible (and smothering may even be a risk).

Is Centerra a high magic setting?

Not really.  Certain kinds of potent magic (like mandrogi) are common and potent.  But the distribution of magic is irregular, asymmetric, and often contradictory.  Just because there is a simple spell to lower a temperature doesn't mean that there is a spell to raise it.  

So peasants might be able to buy a bundle of mandrogi down at the marketplace and ask his dog what it wants for dinner (because all dogs in this town talk, for unknown reasons), but the peasant will still starve when winter comes, and freeze to death in his clay hovel.


  1. does anyone soak them in tar and use them as suicide bombers?

  2. Oh, man. When I saw your post I misread it as "glass golems" and I thought they would be pretty easy to break


  3. Very cool & useful idea. Thanks.