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Friday, August 26, 2016

Lizard-men: Savages from..the future?

"The beauty of fighting lizard-folk," said Feral as he gnashed his teeth into the chunk of charred meat, "is that after ya kills 'em, you can eat em.  Tasty bastards, a bit like chicken but a little chewier."

Gargus moaned softly and stared at the small, hairy dwarf, unable to bring himself to try the strange delicacy.  "You eat little brother", said the large man with the child's face, "I'm not very hungry."  It was a lie, he was starving, but the thought of eating the razor-toothed scalers wasn't at all appealing.  He didn't want to eat anything that had spoken to him, even if all they said was 'sssssurender'.

"Have it your way giant, but you don't know what yer missin'.  These beasties are delicious, especially with a bit o' me mothers spice-salt."  The greasy-lipped dwarf tore off another wedge of the white flesh and chewed loudly.  Gargus wondered why the dwarf's mother hadn't also taught the tunnel-fighter some manners.  He pulled a bit of stale bread from the pack and faced the other direction as he ate, but he couldn't escape the noise.

We throw Goblins at them, and Orcs at them, and Kobolds by the bushel at them...but rarely have I played or GM'd a game where Lizard-Men got alot of play.  Often relegated merely to the swamp, these foes should probably get more attention, after all lizards can live in many climates.  Forests and prairies have a good number of lizards, and of course hotter, wetter climates and deserts have  their fair share too, so there aren't too many places in your game world where lizard-folk can't play a role.

Here's the interesting thing (to me at least) our world (the real one) lizards do not really live in cultural collectives.  They are usually solitary, and though they may gather in similar places where food and sunlight are in abundance, they don't exist in a community.  The game world is another story.  It assumes that these are evolved creatures with a society, culture, norms and mores, religious affiliations, and all of the trappings of culture.  Given that these societies exist to protect the individual, it's not hard to imagine that these might be very large communities.  While mating may only occur annually, there is a good chance that these creatures birth a brood, or a clutch, and so I always imagined that these populations would be at least as large as that of orcs or goblins. In other words...THERE SHOULD BE LOTS OF THESE GUYS!

As I spent more time thinking about them, it seemed like initially investigating the culture was the way to go.  In this article I'm going to try and pull together some of my thoughts about them as a people, and then I will break out some types/sub-types.  It's really hard for me to think about lizard-men and not take a memory-trip back to 1978, Saturday morning, Land of the Lost.  Enik, Pylons, and hissing.  Pushing ahead with this line of thinking, I came to the conclusion that it would be more fun if the current lizard-folk of my world were in fact a devolved species, and that their finest days as a culture were behind them, much like the Sleestak (boy, was Enik ever pissed when he realized that the Sleestak were his future and not his past).  If this was the case, and the lizard-folk were once an advanced society of warriors, arcanists, priests and artificers then it opened up an entirely new way for me to utilize them in-game.

Let's skip the normal here, passing over what we already know or use in-game.  Sure, there are Lizard-man warriors, and Lizard Kings, and probably a few Lizard-man shaman or hedge-wizards thrown in for good measure.  Maybe if you have the players stumble across a village of these creatures, the women will defend.  Perhaps the young ones have a venomous or disease-ridden bite that's highly potent.  OK, sure, we've all walked this path before...

Now we can take a trip into the past (or maybe some Lizard-men opened a magical portal to the future...hmmm) and look at Lizard High Society, a culture of Magic, Science, Art, and all of the highest ideals.

This guy looks evil...or is that just how we view reptiles in general?

With a great regard for nature and their place in the natural world, Lizard-folk build their cities and smaller satellite communities from natural formations of rock, deep within the earth as smooth burrows, and in the treetops.  The structures they live and work in will depend upon their location, so desert lizard-folk will live in ancient Egyptian-style dwellings, those that live in jungles will live in Ancient Aztec-like structures, and those found in the more moderate plains/mountain/hill country of a temperate climate will live in burrows or caves, albeit ones that have been artfully carved or created.

These Lizard-folk will have mastered many crafts, including that of building.  It's likely that magic will have played a crucial role in building the infrastructure of Lizard-folk society, using its power to help carve, shape, and even grow larger buildings of significance such as communal dining halls, temples, centers for magic, science and learning and all manner of places where large numbers may have gathered.

It's hard for outsiders to differentiate between male and female lizard-folk, though they have no such issue themselves.  Small identifiers might be brighter colors or slightly smaller size for males.  It is because they are so similar physically that they have moved past gender inequality in many respects (though not all).  Women are generally still highly invested in child rearing, even though the entire process is managed communally.  Lizard-folk will lay eggs or birth a brood in a centrally located nesting area that is tended by females of an age greater than child bearing.  It is this process which bonds lizard-folk to the community as a whole, and so each individual treats the group as family.  They often refer to members of the same general age group as 'sister' or 'brother' and elders as 'mother' or 'father' regardless of the original genetic line.

This is not a monogamous species.  Mating is not life-pairing, but instead an act of passion where the Lizard-folk allow themselves to be swept up in certain physical and emotional states that they generally and otherwise have purged from their society as a whole.  During the mating season when the females are most fertile, the males wear brighter colors, and can often be seen posturing in strange poses and positions that will confuse and confound outsiders.  It is only during this time that males may engage in combat among themselves, but this is highly structured and ritualized and takes place in designated locations built for just this purpose.

Not farmers by tradition, the Lizard-folk rely heavily on hunting.  They do raise some livestock, and over time have learned to farm some insects, which have always been a staple of the Lizard-folk's diet.  While they have adopted some cooking techniques, much of their diet is consumed raw, and often still alive.  Eating is something of a messy affair, which is why this too has a communal aspect.  Dining huts are commonplace, and members of the community may bring their own food or purchase food at the hut.  There are restaurants as well, preparing food for the elite classes, the priests, arcanists, lords etc., and occasional festival days where food is the key or is a large part of the celebration.

Law and order are maintained naturally, with all members of the community beholden to all others. Theft and murder within lizard-folk communities is a rarity.  It is a point of great pride that they have overcome their 'reptile mind', and violence for the sake of such is rarely an issue.  This does not mean that they have forsaken the martial ways, and in fact have a strong love and respect for martial prowess.  There are several forms of 'lizard' martial arts, and advanced practitioners also have access to strange and beautiful weaponry.  Long, softly curved blades on medium pole-arms are a common site, often wielded in a dual fighting fashion.  The tips of tails wrapped in silks and spikes another of the martial weapons frequently utilized by the lizard-men and women.

Lizard-folk do not live in a vacuum.  There are several Lizard-folk races (we will cover this a bit later on), and they live in a world rich with other races like elves, dwarves, humans, etc. but they possess a far more advanced grip on their respective regions than they might in a fantasy campaign that uses the more common lizard man-as-monster.

This is not to say that Lizard-folk are a completely peaceful lot.  They have been known to wage war, often successfully, against those who would enslave them, destroy them, or simply attempt to steal bits of technology or magic that the Lizard-folk have kept secret. Their unusual weapons, fighting style, and ancient magics makes them a powerful and feared enemy.  Rumors of an alliance with dragons, while unsubstantiated,  makes those who would bring violence to the Lizard-folk think carefully before doing so.

(wow...this is really turning into some colossal post...whew)

A culture of learning, of control, and of community, the Lizard-folk of this time and place are nothing like the savage lizard-creatures we may be more familiar with in our game worlds.  In my next post in the series, we will look at the the diversity among Lizard-folk...Specific species, castes, and a closer look at the fine details therein.

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