… And there, in the deepest and darkest of spaces, far from the prying eyes of those who would judge their work, or steal their designs, a god whose name is lost, did render the form of what it had seen, and sought to make its own.
It made what it thought it saw, when it saw humans.
And when it saw what it had done, it was revolted, and fled.
The Hadalan are a rare culture from the deep oceans of Cobrin’Seil. There are people of the seas – not like the cultures of merfolk and triton, that live up near the continents, building cities at the edges of the shelf where the land falls away into dark ocean. The Hadalan are from deep in the ocean; from places where vents in the earth belch bubbles and plumes of smoke into an uncaring darkness, where great bugs sift the sands, and where the dead bones of ship and whale alike lay in the muck, too cold and dark and barren to rot.
There are stories of the Hadalan. It’s said they are people who do not have souls. When seen from a distance, their shapes are hazy and indistinct, sailors say; they change shape and morph into strange and inhuman forms. Some say they eat souls, feasting on life to life to extend their own.
And there are the stories they tell of themselves.
The Hadalan, when asked, tell stories about how they were created without souls. About how they were abandoned by a god, who was horrifed at having made them. About the way they refused to die, and made their home in the deep oceans, with the deeper secrets. About glowing libraries and columns of fire that burn in the darkness of nowhere. About how they built a civilisation; how they learned to create their own souls; how they learned the ways to call upon gods.
How they called for their god, grown, whole, and a culture to be proud of.
How their god came to them.
And they tore them apart.
Glossary Note: Conventionally, the term used in D&D for this mechanical package is race. This is the typical term, and in most conversations about this game system, the term you’re going to wind up using is race. For backwards compatibility and searchability, I am including this passage here. The term I use for this player option is heritage.
Hadalan is a player heritage for 4th edition D&D. They’re designed to fit a similar space to the Drow, as a pocket heritage of a small number of cities that can be seen as extremely defensive and insluar, with their own interconnected set of rules and structures. I don’t like drow as they exist, but I wanted something like them for some ideas in my setting, and rather than pump out yet another elf subrace that plays into some really hinky shit, I instead decided to steal from Games Workshop.
I mean it wasn’t like they were doing anything cool with it.
The Hadalan were inspired by a one-minute summary of an Age of Sigmar faction, the Idoneth Deep-Kin.
Okay, so things I like: I, a staunch anti-theist, really like the idea of a culture that, in a deific setting, is created by a god, and doesn’t start with a default positive attitude towards that god. I like sea monsters, I like ocean biology, and I like hunky monster options. Easy choices for me there.
There’s some stuff that doesn’t do anything for me, of course; the idea of an entire heritage being evil soul eating vampires, that’s boring. I want characters who can reflect their society and its values, and also differ from it. It’s okay to have a culture of insular dicks, even if they don’t reflect the norm – but it’s boring to have that be a whole culture-wide thing.
Instead, I wanted an isolated group who behave in a particular way because of reasonable pressures. They’re insular because resources are scarce; they have strange practices that others find unsettling because they are unsettling. But they farm and fish and hunt and have a drive to build a civilisation that started out of a culture-wide inferiority complex.
Fox and I have two very different D&D settings that we talk about. One big difference is that her setting doesn’t have Gods – gods are mythic structures, people worship and talk about that kind of stuff but there’s no proof that those things exist at all. Demons and angels exist and may claim to be part of a particular faith, but they don’t have proof that any given object of faith actually exists. My setting on the other hand, Cobrin’Seil, does have gods – and I wrote about the utility of gods in settings, and it seems to me a more interesting story if this idea of deicide was actually true.
Like, they did something that scares a lot of gods – they summoned their god, and after some confrontation of nonspecified details, killed and ate their god. If you knew a culture was capable of that, and you were a god, you’d have a pretty reasonable attitude towards maybe wanting to make sure that even well-intentioned followers you were responsible for weren’t going there, because like, that’s dangerous. And if people who ask you for help wound up endangered by these people, you don’t know if you can help. There’s a totally natural response to a cultural group.
This isn’t to say the Hadalans actually go about killing gods.
But if you’re a god, are you gunna wanna risk it?
I want the Hadalans to have a history of at first, piracy, playing with the idea of them being mythic creatures who damage the mind and make themselves hard to remember. Then there are the first encampments of them establishing contact, and then maybe small communities of them that are near enough to other social groups to share some people. The Hadalan, on average, are going to be mostly insulated, but rather than an Underdark Drow where every one you meet is an escapee from a totalitarian state that maintain an ideology despite regularly meeting with people outside it, the Hadalans are mostly isolated by environmental factors. They alone can handle living where they do, so they alone do; and Hadalans that roam further for adventure or exploration or advancement or something else do so as individuals.
Oh and I want them to look like hot monster people, who are rare enough that people should be surprised by seeing them.
Now I’m working through my lore and setting information to give full details on these critters; I know that one thing I really like is that they’d have a written language that is by default touch-readable, because a large portion of the Hadalan population just don’t have eyes. There’s also challenges like the language used to refer to these game mechanical pieces, where when you give a thing a name, you set a tone. This is a presentation of what we’ll call beta model design.
If you want to use Hadalan in your games, here’s the mechanics!
Deep sea horror humanoids who exist beyond the boundaries of the gods.
Average Height: 1.5m-2.5m (5′-8″); size varying by Soul.
Average Weight: 60kg-220kg (130-485 lbs.); weight varying by Soul
Ability Scores: +2 Constitution, and either +2 Wisdom or Strength
Speed: 6 squares
Languages: Common, Deep Speech. Hadalan writing and reading is an extraordinarily dense, tonal logosyllabary, where complex characters represent entire ideas, expressed in a single syllable.
Aberration: The Hadalan, no matter the intention of their creator, are somehow wrong, and their existence seems at odds with natural processes. Your origin is Aberration.
Chill of the Deep: You have resist 5 cold. At 11th level, the resistance improves to 10 cold. At 21st level, the resistance improves to 15 cold.
Forgotten Horror: It’s easy for people to forget you, as if something about you is unsettling and wrong. You get a +2 to Stealth.
Waterborne: You have a swim speed equal to your land speed. You can breathe underwater.
Own Soul: You crafted your own Soul, which changes your gross physical qualities, defense bonuses and skill bonuses. Choose one Soul:
- Feaster: You gain +1 Fortitude defense, and a +2 to Dungeoneering.
- Roiling: You gain +1 Reflex defense, and a +2 to Arcana.
- Deepest: You gain +1 Will defense, and a +2 to Insight.
Disjointed Learning: You can select one of your 1st-level at-will attack powers from a class different from yours.
Once regarded as a myth, the Hadalan are a culture of deep-sea humanoids, from ancient cities that lay deep in the ocean. There are stories of them as the creation of a misbegotten god, or cursed merfolk, or even the living nightmares of an ancient, dead, dreaming thing beneath the waves that whispers secrets to the Aboleth. As rare as they are, most people will never hear about them, let alone the truth of who they are.
The Hadalans are mysterious and fearsome; there is a mysticism about them, a caution about engaging with them from almost all priests and clerics. They do sometimes travel about on land, but often they are so far from anyone familiar with them that they are simply regarded as some new kind of monster, some dreadful individual mutant freak rather than a person of an ancient culture.
Play a Hadalan if you want…
- to be generally spooky.
- to be feared by the gods.
- to know dreadful things that do not frighten you.
The base Hadalan looks somewhat like a human, though of varied possible height. Hadalan can be shorter than most humans, or taller than most human-considered limits. They are bipedal humanoids, with typical proportions of a human, but scaled up. Their appearances can also vary heavily based on their Soul choice.
A Hadalan who has not yet crafted a soul is known as a slug; they are typically grey-ish white in skin texture, and have a largely humanoid appearance, though they lack eyes. They often have small finned tails and some sweeping fins about the shoulders. The slugs are considered adolescent, and not expected to work or adventure. Further differentation of Hadalans appears when they choose a soul.
Feaster Hadalans tend towards being grey and dark blue, with golden or black eyes. They often have fearsome, sharp teeth and claws, and are most often compared to types of shark or carnivorous fish. It’s not uncommon for Feasters to develop a black-and-white patch pattern as they grow larger over life. Feasters are often larger and more bulky.
Roiling Hadalans tend to cyans, golds, purples and reds, vivid colours that stand out sharply in the dark. They commonly have tentacles either as part of their limbs or as additional limbs. A common style is for a Hadalan to have a tentacle whose resting state is coiled around one arm, creating a larger, lopsided affect.
Deepest Hadalans look much like more threatening slugs; they have paler skin, often completely white, obvious and pronounced musculature with some of the structures of bone visible at the surface of the skin. Deepest Hadalan do not have eyes – their faces have sensitive spaces, and they are subject to most of the limitations of being blinded by magic and alchemical devices, but they perceive the world through some other undefined sense. Some Deepest also develop armoured or chitinous plates on their skin, resembling deep sea life like lobsters or crabs.
Playing a Hadalan
Hadalans know that they are a mystery to most; they may even be mysteries to people who have met them. Any Hadalan adventurer can expect to be the first time anyone has seen them, and may assume they will be identified as something else; perhaps a Merfolk if their fishlike traits are obvious, or some other form of fey monster person if not.
The Hadalan reputation is fearsome; this doesn’t mean that they have to be aggressive or combative, and because that reputation is tied to the vision of Feeder and Deepest Hadalans, it can sometimes mean that a Hadalan who does not pointedly emphasise the ways they are strange can blend in readily enough, maybe with some strange eyes or a propensity to wear hoods or layers of fabric.
Hadalans are perceived as… dangerous, threatening, monstrous, oceangoing, secretive, mystical.
Names: Aebt, Chae, Gorgh, Inte, Jieth, Karsh