Tolrea is home to over three dozen races of sentient being, although many of them are rare. This figure includes a variety of races which, in a traditional Dungeons and Dragons setting, might otherwise be considered “monster” races. But because Tolrea loosens the restrictions on racial alignment stated in the Core Rules (see Monsters of Tolrea), a number of these races are suitable choices for a Player Character in games where they can plausibly be introduced into play and the Effective Character Level of the party is high enough to support any level adjustments or racial hit dice associated with them.
However, the majority of NPCs and Player Characters alike belong to the seven standard races listed in the Core Rules as suitable for players, and although the Tolrea setting does not enforce the idea that “monstrous” races are inherently (or even usually) evil, members of the “civilized” standard races sometimes subscribe to stereotypes that demonize such characters. Players interested in exploring the option of playing a monstrous race should be aware that the decision to play such a character may entail occasional challenges having to do with the racist attitudes of NPCs, and possibly even of other PCs.
The seven races enumerated below are all drawn from the Core Rules, and may be freely chosen by players unless specifically forbidden by the Dungeon Master. All of them are more or less accepted as “civilized” races, although barbaric and primitive cultures of all seven races also exist in various parts of Tolrea. In many locales, the civilized races are integrated into basically cosmopolitan, multiracial cultures. But in others, a degree of xenophobia, or even overt racism, leads to populations in which one race enjoys an overwhelming advantage in both numbers and politico-economic power.
The seven core races, in Tolrea, are generally referred to as the “great races.”
Human populations in Tolrea are widespread and numerous, since humans reproduce more prolifically than any of the other civilized races. Indeed, the history of humanity’s dealings with other races is a litany of expansionism as population pressures drove the inhabitants of this or that human-dominated territory to colonialism and military conquest. Humans also are conspicuously shorter-lived than any other standard race except for half-orcs, so they often are surprised or even offended by the hostility sometimes directed toward humanity by their longer-lived neighbors, whose memories often stretch back to a time when the “civilized” humans were a scourge just as terrifying and deadly as any horde of orcs or goblinoids.
Nevertheless, human civilizations are now so common that all but the most vitriolic human-haters among the elder races recognize that although they don’t have to love humans, they’re stuck dealing with them. Humanity’s adaptability, persistence, innovation, and overwhelming drive to exert mastery over its environment often puts it at odds with other races, but the vitality of human and human-influenced cultures has an undeniable attraction.
The human race is capable of stunning altruism and compassion, but its nature also encompasses shortsightedness, greed, selfishness, and abject cruelty. It gives rise to heroes and villains in equal measure. Humans adhere to a dizzying array of religious creeds, including examples of ancestor worship, shamanism, druidic mysticism, monotheism and polytheism.
The stout folk are enormously talented smiths, engineers and miners. The origins of Tolrean dwarves are lost even to the dwarves themselves, although some of their recorded history is 23,000 years old. This ancient “history” is patchy and semi-mythological, and some thinkers among both the dwarves and the other civilized races contend that it is fabricated as support for the worship of the Stone Lords, a trio of dwarven patron gods who figure prominently in many of the oldest fragments.
Regardless of the veracity of dwarven proto-history, members of the dwarven race are markedly longer-lived than humans, with lifespans of as much as 450 to 500 years. Since most dwarven populations speak languages that are clearly related, and since the veneration of the Stone Lords is geographically wide spread, there is some justification to theories that they either underwent a diaspora of some kind, or that dwarves were at one time the overlords of a vast empire that was subsequently broken under waves of orc, goblinoid, giant, human, and other “barbarians” invasions and conquests. The dwarven race suffers from attrition in times of war, since dwarves reach adulthood at the age of 40, compared to the age of 15 for many humans (and even younger for orcs and goblinoids). The dangers presented by their slower rate of reproduction often lead them to a defensive, conservative mindset.
As a result, isolated dwarven societies tend to be hierarchical, militaristic and somewhat traditional, with a tinge of xenophobia that makes it difficult to earn their members’ trust. In environments where they enjoy stable, relatively peaceful neighbors who are amenable to trade, these traits are softened by exposure to foreign ideas and customs, as well as by the luxury of being able to reduce their focus on self-defense. A few dwarves even integrate into non-dwarven societies, such as those of the Aureshan Empire and the Kingdom of Enteria, that have a tradition of cosmopolitanism. In many cases, this kind of immigration is encouraged by the rigidity of “pure” dwarf cultures, which often use exile as a way to rid themselves of malcontents and misfits. But many cosmopolitan cultures, even the human-dominated ones, are now old enough to include populations of dwarves who have never been part of a traditional enclave.
Dwarves often are covetous and miserly, perhaps as an outgrowth of their racial affinity for metalworking and stonework, and their pride in the depth and age of their history and culture can easily shade into racial supremacy, especially if it is combined with a dose of paranoia about the ill intent of “lesser” races. But many dwarves, even the stingiest and most standoffish, make up for their love of riches and their xenophobia by showing themselves to be staunch allies once their friendship is earned. Heroic dwarves often impress friend and foe alike with their straightforward, no-nonsense virtue and determination. Dwarven villains are especially dangerous because of their aptitude for identifying their victims’ weaknesses and then exploiting them unrelentingly, often thriving on the humiliation and despair they inflict in the process.
Elves in Tolrea are even longer-lived than dwarves, sometimes reaching the age of 750 years, but they pay for their incredible longevity with the lowest birth rates and longest time to maturity of any of the great races. Conflict with humans, orcs, goblinoids, or even dwarves and halflings usually is costlier for the elves than for their opponents, since elves don’t reach maturity until they have lived a little more than a century. Population growth is only possible for elves during long periods of relative peace. Even more than dwarves, elves have a traditionalist, conservative streak because they seek to mitigate risks of warfare and other disruptions that could lower their population so far that they can no longer replenish their populations.
Another similarity in outlook between many elven and dwarven cultures is that elven history is extensive, and elven language is remarkably similar across geographic distance. Like dwarves, elves also commonly venerate a pantheon of racial deities, which leads many scholars to the conclusion that they also dispersed from a single location or suffered the collapse of a global empire. The exceedingly long span of elven life accounts for the relatively sparse variation in the Elven tongue.
In several other respects, however, the elven world view parts ways from dwarves. The elven race’s vulnerability to deaths among its population of fertile adults has forced its members, by and large, to accept the necessity of diplomacy and alliance with other civilized races. Elves still number a fair share of bigots and racists among their ranks, but the bald facts of survival for elves are that they cannot afford to be nearly as choosy as dwarves when it comes to selecting alliances. This pragmatic streak in the elven viewpoint is sometimes obscure to outsiders, but elves’ insistence on living in harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds is really emblematic of a healthy respect for the threat posed by irate fey, elementals, and other spirits.
Elves can interbreed with humans, which is a matter of both attraction and fear for the elves. Human societies have an undeniable tendency to assimilate other cultures, which makes them an existential threat to the “authentic” elven way of life, especially coupled with the possibility that intermarriage could replace the pure elf species with a race of half-elves. On the other hand, assimilating into cosmopolitan human cultures like those in the Aureshan Empire and the Kingdom of Enteria has shown itself as a potentially viable means for the elven race to achieve the long term stability that is necessary to rebuild its numbers. Elven racial identity and survival are therefore very contentious topics.
As an outcome of the generalized racial value on pragmatism and survival, elven villians and heroes alike are often characterized by an ethical outlook that claims the end justifies the means. In heroic elves, this may be articulated as a willingness to fight dirty, using ambushes, trickery, and sabotage instead of confronting foes head on. Evil-aligned elves can be truly horrifying in their willingness to inflict suffering on the innocent in the course of pursuing their goals, and they display a real talent for indirect scheming that allows them to act from behind ranks of disposable, deniable pawns.
Tolrean gnomes enjoy similar lifespans and birthrates to those of dwarves, and their talent for alchemy is a point of interest to the stout folk, who often trade with gnomes for alchemical goods useful in mining and metalworking. But their small stature makes them less warlike, and their keen senses and connection to nature make them sympathetic to many of the same concerns that are nearest to the hearts of elves. In some respects, they are an intermediary between the two races. But gnomish racial history is a cipher, compared to that of the two larger races: there is no “gnomish pantheon,” but like the other two races, the Gnomish language is composed of a variety of more or less mutually intelligible dialects, hinting at some kind of diaspora event in the race’s past.
Gnomes are far more likely than either elves or dwarves to blend into the predominating cultures of the areas in which they live, although it is not quite accurate to claim that they assimilate into the local culture. It’s better to say that gnomes are experts at going along to get along. Gnomes know that they’re small, in many senses of the word: small in number, small in strength, small in size. It would be easy for them to get trampled underfoot in the inevitable squabbles between elves, dwarves, and humans, and most gnomish communities see it as a better policy to stay out of the way instead. Failing that, gnomish communities often take the same pragmatic approach to diplomacy and military strategy as elves do, and ally themselves with whomever offers the best chance at security for their race.
The gnomish habit of living alongside rather than integrated into the settlements of other races has its good and bad points. On the positive side, gnomes often are overlooked when xenophobes are searching for a scapegoat. On the negative side, their predilection not to pick sides raises hackles among those of their neighbors who subscribe to the “with us or against us” brand of loyalty. Their racial tendency to maintain channels of communication on both sides of a dispute looks suspicious to some of their neighbors, and can contribute to bloody purges in retribution for their suspected scheming.
Gnomes have an admitted talent for stealth and subterfuge, given that alchemy (at which they excel) can manufacture subtle poisons, small stature makes it easy to hide, and keen senses are most useful to those who skulk in the shadows. But they are as variable as any other race, and most gnomes are perfectly ordinary folk, with perfectly ordinary hopes and dreams. Heroic gnomes often are motivated by loyalty to friends and family, or by a genuine desire to prevent the suffering of innocents. Wicked gnomes make frightening poisoners, or rely on back room innuendo, magic, or outright bribery to ruin their adversaries.
The offspring of a union between a human and an elf is a half-elf (or, as many elves call them, a half-human). But the nomenclature associated with this racial identity strongly underscores the tragic loneliness of life as a half-elf in Tolrea: elves and humans alike tend to view them as outsiders. A human looks at a half-elf and sees her elven parent, but with a more human cast to her features and attitudes; an elf sees her human parent with elven features and a less alien disposition. In either case, there is a strong tendency for observers to focus so much on a half-elf’s parentage that they miss the actual person.
Difficult as this can be for half-elves, it also comes with advantages. Because half-elves’ mingled bloodlines temper the alienness of their parent races, they are effective go-betweens for the two great races. This isn’t entirely an unjust proposition, either, since half-elves genuinely are different: they are a true-breeding race of their own! Half-elves are fertile with each other, although not with either of their parent races, so persistent communities of half-elves tend to develop anyplace where significant numbers of humans and elves are in contact with one another for more than a century or so.
Communities of half-elf descended half-elves are similar to gnomish communities, in the sense that they are accustomed to living alongside other races, rather than fully integrated with them. This is not a hard and fast rule; some cultures are more accepting of half-elf members than others, and half-elves’ larger size means that unlike gnomes, they can comfortably sit in the same chairs as most of the other great races of Tolrea. On the other hand, half-elves are even more likely than gnomes to find that their status as intermediaries between humans and elves can make them the object of suspicion when hostilities rise, since there is always the speculation that a half-elf’s “true loyalties” really lie with the opposing parent race.
Heroic half-elves often take advantage of their mystique as somewhat exotic outsiders, using it to insinuate themselves as the agents of compromise and peace between warring rivals. Their alienation from other races sometimes drives them into lives of adventure as a means of winning acceptance or proving themselves equal to their parents’ races, especially in the cases of those who result directly from elf/human liaisons or who are raised in half-elf communities that are distrusted by nearby elves and humans. Villainous half-elves often display a streak of rage against real and percieved mistreatment at the hands of one or both of their parent races, which sometimes broadens into a nihilistic, thoroughgoing spite towards civilization of any kind.
Life as a half-orc in Tolrea is hard. Humans often think of orcs as stupid, lazy, violent brutes; orcs frequently return the favor by characterizing humans as effete weaklings. As is the case with half-elves, their parent races have a strong and unfortunate tendency to project those attitudes onto their joint offspring. But if anything, orcs and humans have an even more difficult relationship than humans and elves, and the emotions that a half-orc’s parent races feel when they look upon him are even more ambivalent.
Half-orcs frequently experience the pinch of being caught between worlds. They are neither as intellectual nor as charismatic as most humans, but they are more perceptive and physically weaker than the average orc. Since civilized human cultures usually place a premium on brains and personality, this makes it hard for the average half-orc to feel welcome among humans. Most half-orcs who are raised near humans grow up feeling as if they are always a heartbeat too late to laugh at jokes or respond with quips of their own. It is easier for them if the local humans respect athletic prowess and martial skill, since those are where the half-orc shines . . . but even then, many young half-orcs feel like they are tolerated, not valued, and that they are secretly being laughed at when it takes them a little longer to pick up on subtleties that humans grasp intuitively. The feeling often persists well into adulthood, and it is often at least somewhat justified. Human-orc relations are often unfriendly, and frequently violent. A half-orc may be a living, breathing memento of the last orcish raid to sack a village, and the human majority often isn’t above taking out their resentments against the half-orcs in their midst. Some half-orcs raised near human culture, therefore, understandably come to a “get them before they get you” mentality, and take advantage of their strength and toughness to intimidate and bully people into leaving them alone.
Conversely, half-orcs in the company of orcs often notice a shared feeling that they are just a little too sensitive and observant to fit in with orc youngsters. Sometimes, especially if they are in an orc society that raids to take prisoners of war or slaves from its neighbors, they are the sons and daughters of captives who may not be well-treated or respected. And, too, there is always the possibility that they were fathered during a human raid against the orcs, undertaken either in aggression or as retaliation for orcish attacks. As a result, half-orcs raised among orcs often have to develop as thick or thicker skins as those of their human-raised cousins. In a small mercy, those who manage to meet their fullblooded kinsmen on their own terms can find orcish society easier to navigate than half-orcs raised by humans.
In a few cases, orc/human contact is prolonged enough and peaceful enough to allow a stable population of half-orcs to spring up. These communities, including the city of Entera in the Kingdom of Enteria, may include so many half-orcs as to make the race account for one in five of their citizens. Like half-elves, half-orcs can have children together. In most cases, the half-orc community in a city like Entera evolves its own culture, usually blending features of the local cultures of both of its parent races.
Surprisingly, half-orcs often find dwarves easier company than most other members of the great races; more than any other group, half-orcs find that dwarves understand how it feels to be not quite glib and gracious enough to win friends and influence people in the way that comes so easily to elves, humans, and even gnomes and halflings. Relations between half-orcs and half-elves often prove tense: on the one hand, members of both races often have common ground to stand on because they know what it is like to be ostracized for their parentage. On the other hand, half-elves have a gift for exactly the kind of diplomacy and social networking that half-orcs find most difficult, and sheer envy can sour even the most generous and friendly half-orc.
Heroic half-orcs usually are more concerned with deeds than words, and prefer swords to spells. They frequently aren’t comfortable explaining the philosophy that leads them to the path of adventure; they just know evil when they see it, and oppose it with the straightforward brawn for which they are so well known. Half-orc villains are similar to half-elves in the sense that they frequently seem to be out for revenge against a world that doesn’t want them.
The halflings of Tolrea are the least understood of the great races, because they manage simultaneously to be similar to all six of the others, while also being similar to none. Culturally, halflings are nomads at heart, traveling with their herds and ponies across most of the plains of Tolrea’s central continent. They often live to be respectably past the age of 100 years, and it isn’t unheard of for them to have lifespans of nearly two centuries. Because they are long-lived, their outlook on life has some elements in common with dwarves, elves, and, most of all, with gnomes, who also share their small stature and the attendant challenges it presents for self-defense. Halfling cultures in Tolrea often place significant value on the virtue of patience, because they know they can afford to wait.
On the other hand, as nomads halflings are much less exposed to the risks and rewards of living in one place, where the consequences of your mistakes can catch up to you. Where dwarf might worry that his mining wastes will poison a water supply, or an elf might be concerned about the possibility that irresponsible logging might destroy the forests near his home, a halfling nomad’s outlook is that you move on, and don’t come back until the trees have had time to grow back and the water has had a chance to flow clean once more. Thus, a halfling’s focus on life in the moment is highly compatible with humans, half-elves, and half-orcs, whose shorter lives can make it difficult for them to take the long view.
Despite the traditionally nomadic lifestyle of most halflings in Tolrea, it is common for individual families of halflings to adopt a sedentary lifestyle when there is an opportunity to obtain wealth and security by doing so. Sedentary halflings usually adopt the customs of their host cultures rather than standing apart from them as a distinct community within the larger context of a city-state or nation, although most still speak Halfling at home, and thus teach it to their children.
The prevalence of a “racial” language for halflings is yet another similarity between them and the other non-human great races, but halflings don’t have a racial pantheon, and mostly seem to adopt the religious outlooks of whoever lives near them, melding those customs with ancestor worship and the veneration of nature spirits just as many other inhabitants do, regardless of race. It seems likely, to scholars who are interested in such questions, that halflings share the other non-human great races’ history of diaspora or collapsed empire . . . but their wanderlust makes it virtually impossible to deduce more.
Heroic halfling characters are like humans in their capacity for goodness and bravery, but they tend to achieve their goals through stealth and indirection rather than by confronting their foes head-on, if only because it’s a better route to success if you’re three feet tall and weigh about 40 pounds. Villainous members of the race, likewise, share the same rapacity and callousness as most human villains, differing primarily in the clandestine means they use to achieve their nefarous ends.
The great races of Tolrea are not the only races, or even the strongest or most numerous. Many sentient humanoids in Tolrea belong to races that would, in most Dungeons and Dragons campaign settings, be relegated to the status of “monster.” In Tolrea, they are still monsters in the sense that they often are demonized by the great races, or considered unlovely or uncivilized by them. But despite this attitude, goblinoids, orcs, and other savage humanoids are no more likely to be evil than a human or elf.
Players should consult the Dungeon Master before deciding to play as members of the monstrous races below. Almost without exception, they are the objects of racist sentiment, the presentation of which may undermine the tone that is intended for a given campaign. If your DM is seeking to present a game predicated on light-hearted, epic adventure, for example, an orc may not be the best choice.
As both the largest and the most bestial-looking of the goblinoid races, bugbears are justly feared by anyone who might feel the brunt of their anger. An adult bugbear stands around seven feet tall and might weigh nearly four hundred pounds, most of it dense muscle and bone. Add a shaggy pelt and a short, upturned snout, and a bugbear resembles nothing so much as a walking bear that happens to have large, prehensile hands and the power of speech. Bugbears are hardy and agile beyond what might be expected based on their massive physiques, and their mental faculties are as acute as the average dwarf. But most members of the great races never look beyond the hair and the impression of brute strength, so most of them badly underestimate bugbears’ intelligence.
Bugbear societies usually are small and loosely organized, so it is difficult to speak of a general bugbear culture. That isn’t to say that bugbears don’t have a culture; it’s just that theirs varies considerably from one band to the next. As a rule, they organize themselves in extended family units of between a dozen and two dozen adults, with about the same number of children and about half that many of their elderly. Their groups usually are led by the oldest male of an age to fight and hunt; on the whole bugbears are strongly patriarchal, although matriarchal bands are not unknown.
Larger social organizations, consisting of multiple family units, are likewise rare but possible; they are most likely to occur when intermarriage between several neighboring bands quiets their usual tendency to squabble over hunting and foraging rights at the same time as some larger threat looms against all of them. On such occasions, bugbears have been known to coalesce into a small clan or tribe under the leadership of a particularly charismatic or warlike chieftain in order to defend themselves.
Hostilities between bugbears and the great races usually start when a settlement inhabited by one or more of the great races either grows large enough that its outlying farmlands impinge on a band’s hunting territory, or when a new settlement is created and does the same. Since bugbears depend on relatively large swathes of unsullied wilderness for their supplies of food and raw materials, the disruption of a hunting range is an existential threat to a band’s existence. Most of the time, it provokes a devastating ambush against the immediate offenders, which enrages any surviving members of the great races in the area. Most of the time, this leads to war, and by sheer numbers the great races usually manage to push bugbears off their lands. These victories are usually at horrendous cost, since bugbears are neither stupid nor weak, and their lifestyle as hunters and foragers makes them brilliant guerrilla fighters.
Peaceful interaction between bugbears and the great races is possible, but usually gets off to a slow start after years immemorial of bugbears finding themselves driven away or killed in battle trying to defend their territory. When they are offered the chance to trade for manufactured goods and similar amenities, few bugbear families are averse to the notion of trading some pelts or leather for steel tools and weapons, cloth, cooking utensils or other practical items. Prolonged trade relations of this kind often leads to entire bands of the creatures seeking employment as mercenaries in the great races’ wars. For their part, many of the great races’ leaders, especially those with a tyrannical bent, find it useful to obtain the services of a group of strong, skillful troops with little interest in their employers’ politics and even less connection to the communities they keep under control.
Despite the race’s tendency to end up in fights with the great races, either on their own or as soldiers of fortune, they are neither evil nor particularly cruel. Between themselves and towards members of the great races who show themselves as true friends, bugbears usually are as pleasant and loyal as any other race. Heroic bugbears put the lie to their bestial looks with strength, cunning and fortitude that “civilized” heroes find difficult to match. A bugbear with evil on his mind is even more terrifying than most can imagine, since he possess the strength, agility and ferocity of a large predator along with an intellect to match the average human or dwarf.
Tolrea’s goblins have a reputation for being sneaky, cowardly, treacherous and capable of breeding replacements almost as fast as “civilized” races can kill them. On the other hand, goblins are tall if they stand at three and a half feet, and muscular if they tip the scales at 45 pounds. In the circumstances, an adage concerning wizards is equally applicable to goblins: there are old goblins and bold goblins, but practically no old, bold goblins. So although the stereotype is true, it would be a mistake to insist that it is a virtue for goblins to approach conflict as a human, dwarf, or elf might. Similarly, comments about the ugliness and nasty demeanor of goblins aren’t really justified, since they are comparable in both respects to dwarves and half-orcs.
In other words, goblins are widely demonized by the great races for, in the first place, refusing to approach conflict as straightforwardly as an honorable human, dwarf, half-elf or half-orc might, and in the second place, not being as personable as elves, gnomes and halflings. The speed at which they reproduce, likewise, is often mentioned in a derogatory fashion. But then, elves say some remarkable things about humans and half-orcs when they are behind closed doors.
The hard truth about goblins is that they are runty, socially awkward, and pragmatic to a fault. And they breed quickly enough that a goblin tribe can grow to incorporate 300 to 400 new members over the course of as little as a decade. Tragically, the pressure exerted on goblin societies by the explosive growth of their populations is stressful enough that they are essentially forced to invade others’ territory, or starve, and it makes for uncomfortable living quarters, since they have difficulty making the size and amenities of their living spaces correspond to the needs of their tribes.
In essence, goblins’ fecundity traps them into a never-ending cycle of overpopulation, warfare, mass die-off from slaughter or disease, and then more warfare. Their small stature and lack of physical strength ensures that warfare, for them, is a series of hit-and-run raids, ambushes and sneak attacks rather than decisive battles. Given civilized infrastructure and some means by which to control the growth of their population (other than celibacy or exposure of unplanned infants), so that their numbers don’t outgrow the food sources available to them, goblins would be as peaceful and civilized as any dwarf.
As it is, the sheer misery of life in an overcrowded goblin warren is one of the drivers that pushes adventuring goblins out into the world. Whether they are heroic or villainous, the feeling is prominent that no matter how awful things get, it’s still better than a lifetime in a stinking, overcrowded warren. At its best, this is a source of optimism that makes heroic goblins almost impossibly persistent and upbeat. At its worst, it clears the way for truly appalling villainy on the part of evil goblins.
If bugbears are feared and goblins are despised, the hobgoblins of Tolrea come as close as it’s possible for goblinoids to being respected by the great races. They usually organize in large tribes or clans that jealously guard their territories against trespassers. Although the great races often characterize hobgoblins’ possessiveness in a negative light, most of the time the hobs are interested in keeping strangers away from their livestock and fields, and this makes them more relateable to most of the great races, who often see the bugbears’ hunter-gatherer lifestyle as a sign of primativism and view the goblins’ endless cycle of overpopulation, starvation, and invasion as a plague against civilized life.
Hobgoblins have the advantage over both of the other goblinoid races, in the sense that they are temperamentally disposed to form large societies in a way that bugbears usually do not, and that they reproduce only about as quickly as humans, so they avoid most of the goblins’ problems with overcrowding and population pressures that drive them into war against their will. With time, it is in fact probable that they could become one of the great races themselves, just by virtue of their superiority as soldiers and their enthusiasm for competition and aggression.
The overwhelming majority of hobgoblins’ conflicts with the great races arise from their expansionist tendencies. This is a quality that they share with humans, and it should be a source of no great surprise that most of them fight humans more often than the other great races: a lot of the time, they are competing for the same lands, and often both races are trying to take land from elves or dwarves at the same time. This sets them apart from bugbears, who avoid conflict unless something impinges on their hunting grounds, or goblins, who aren’t interested in conquests so much as they are forced by nature to invade, strip an area of resources, and move on in search of greener pastures.
Hobgoblins often adopt warfare as a profession, leading many of them to live among the great races as elite bodyguards and mercenaries. The most conspicuous example of this practice is in the Aureshan Empire’s use of hobgoblin berserkers as the personal bodyguards of their emperor. A career of such mercenary work in service of the rulers of the great races is often sufficient for a hobgoblin to return to his clan in wealth and prestige, since hobgoblins’ superhuman agility and stamina allow them to command premium wages if they are otherwise well-trained in the arts of war.
If goblins were six feet tall, weighed over 200 pounds and were endowed with superhuman strength along with a racial predisposition for impetuosity and sensuality, they would be orcs. Both races’ greatest problems stem from lack of control over how quickly their populations grow; orcs are nearly as fertile as goblins, and their incredible brawn makes them perilous when their numbers grow to such an extent that they are forced to horde.
Indeed, it is more accurate to speak of an orc horde as an event than as a thing. As a collective, orcs organize into tribes and septs. A horde transcends the orcs’ regular organization, occurring when overcrowding and associated societal pressures combine with the rise of a charismatic leader to touch off a mass migration.
Outside of the context of a horde event, orcs generally are peaceful: they hunt, fish, conduct rudimentary farming, and build semi-permanent encampments, and seldom fight except in self-defense. Those who have neighbors with more advanced mining and metalworking even conduct peaceful trade, if given the chance. The problem with having orcs as neighbors is that an orc reaches sexual maturity at approximately the age of ten years. Even compared to humans, the fastest-breeding of the great races, this represents the basis for positively explosive population growth; a tribe of orcs can easily triple or quadruple in size within the same time span as it takes for a single human generation to reach adulthood. When there is room for an orc tribe to expand peacefully into unoccupied territory, that is what happens. But sooner or later, there is no more open land for the orcs, and trouble looms on the horizon.
The prelude to a horde is characterized by raiding along the orcs’ borders with their neighbors. Often, the targets of this raiding include other tribes of orcs, hobgoblin clans, and other monstrous humanoids in addition to any neighboring communities of the great races. If the tribe’s neighbors are sufficiently warlike and vigilant, in fact, this phase can last for many orcish generations because the casualties from their raids may slow the orcs’ population growth enough to stop them from proceeding on to horde.
If not reined in by death or some other disaster like plague or famine, the orc tribe(s) in a region soon find that raiding is insufficient to provide the needed food and supplies to support its population. It is at this point that an orc warlord usually rises up to lead the horde; usually, this leader is a male orc whose skill in the arts of war has been polished by successful career in the raiding phase of horde development. The rise of a warlord often coincides with a temporary drop in aggression against the orcs’ neighbors, since it is relatively common for several veteran raiders to squabble violently over the leadership. Most of the time, the leadership of a horde is established quickly, within the course of a season or two. And then, the orcs erupt from their established territories in a horde, and descend upon whichever of their neighbors the warlord considers the best candidate for a rapid conquest.
The hording cycle usually occurs once every thirty to forty years, although this timeline can be shortened to once every twenty years in regions where the orcs have plenty of food and resources and are not subject to disease or disasters, and it can lengthen to once every sixty to 100 years if environmental factors cause high mortality for the local orcs. As a result, it is common policy among the great races to hunt and kill orcs like vermin. Calling attention to the fact that this is genocide usually elicits justifications like, “Nits breed lice,” and “Get them before they get us.” The tragedy of the matter is that this attitude is, to a certain degree, accurate.
On the orcs’ side, hatred for the great races is commonplace, understandable, and arguably justified. The horde is practically a biological imperative for their race, and it has led to a tendency for orcish societies to be warlike by nature. Nevertheless, some orcs are prepared to abandon their tribes for life among the great races. In the larger part, these turncoats seek employment as mercenaries, or even enlist in the armies of the great races as a pathway to citizenship. They usually are neither trusted nor well-liked, so they face discrimination and bullying. But even so, life in a civilized nation-state often is both longer and more comfortable than it would be if an orc were subject to the ancient cycle of the horde.
The races described in the Core Rules, whether monstrous or not, are not the only ones on the face of Tolrea. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, the sentient beings peculiar to the setting also may include the following playable races.
Changelings are the outcome of pairing between a fey and a humanoid that does not result in the birth of a new member of the fey parent’s kind. Thus, a changeling is the result when an ondine has a dalliance with a mortal man and gives birth to a son, or when a human woman presents her satyr paramour with a new daughter (the female and male children of these fey grow up, respectively to be members of the same kind as their fey parents).
Physically, a changeling usually is a more delicate, refined version of the mortal parent, although changelings born to a halfling or gnome are conspicuously larger than their mortal parent (and they may be similarly oversize compared to their fey parents, if they are the children of a sprite or other smaller faerie). But in most other cases, changelings resemble their mortal parents closely enough to pass as members of the same race.
Garid (gah-REED) are avian humanoids, resembling athletic humans with the heads of eagles. Wings sprout from their backs, enabling them to fly as easily as they walk. Most live in semi-nomadic tribes and prefer hilly or mountainous country, especially when there are open plains nearby to provide easy hunting opportunities.
Fierce and insular, garid are inveterate raiders and seldom answer to outside authority, but when approached from a position of strength they are willing to engage in peaceful trade, offering furs and leather in exchange for metal, gems, and other products that they find difficult to acquire on their own. Trade, for garid, is a less-preferable alternative to raiding for food, luxuries and weapons.