I talked about the origin of the term beastfolk in Cobrin’Seil, and how it represented a political coalition of different people whose shared commonality was the origin for the term beast. What I didn’t really talk about there, though, were the actual cultures that made up that grouping, and what kind of options you have presented to you as a player, nor really what those cultures meant in their place in the world. Plus, in the overview of the Beastfolk, I kind of gave a list and that got me thinking about the cultures as a whole.
And well, I like talking about the cultures in the world of Cobrin’Seil. I like talking about their peculiarities, and about ways to encourage players to see their place in the world, and about the spaces they create by what they imply.
The Beastfolk of Cobrin’Seil, more or less, as worldbuilding entities, with an important detail about how to consider them as a player.
Hyenalike clans of territorial warriors
Cobrin’Seil Gnoll Heritage Traits
Game rules for the Cobrin’Seil gnoll are identical to the gnoll race detailed in the D&D 4e official rulebooks, except as noted below.
Ability Scores: +2 Dexterity, +2 Constitution or Strength
Languages: Common, Bestial, plus any one
Primal Beast: You are considered both a beast and a humanoid for the purpose of effects that relate to creature type. For the purpose of effects relating to beast form, you are considered to always be in beast form.
Pack Tactics: You gain a +2 heritage bonus to damage rolls against enemies that are adjacent to two or more of your allies. This replaces the Pack Attack feature.
Bestial Might: You gain your choice of either the bestial charge or bestial surge power. This choice replaces the ferocious charge power.
|Bestial Charge||Gnoll Heritage Power|
|You lunge toward the enemy with all of your considerable might.|
|Standard Action Personal|
|Effect: You charge and deal an extra 1[W] on a successful attack. If you are bloodied, double the extra damage and gain an equal number of temporary hit points.|
|Bestial Surge||Gnoll Heritage Power|
|You are revitalised by the scent of impending victory.|
|Free Action Personal|
|Trigger: You bloody an enemy or reduce an enemy to 0 hit points.|
|Effect: Spend a healing surge. If the amount healed would exceed your maximum hit points, you gain temporary hit points equal to the excess.|
A Gnoll is a humanoid that resembles a hyena, of an average height of 150 cm to 180 cm, measured from the base of their digitigrade feet to the top of their shoulders; Gnolls typically hunch forwards to some extent, resulting in a ‘hump’ of fur and flesh, which is typically seen as the ‘top’ of their height. Their legs are somewhat shorter than their arms, which means they commonly lean forwards in a threatening way, and most of their strength and mass is concentrated in their upper body, by contrast to a human’s legs and thighs. Gnolls also have short, brushlike tails, which do not typically express a lot of conscious emotion – they mostly just brush the air in response to heat or ambiguous excitement.
Gnolls do share some traits from hyenas; they’re scent-driven, matriarchal (don’t ask about the genitals if you don’t know, it’s really not polite), and favour mobile, temporary lodgings to long-term established locations. They’re typically nomadic, with most Gnoll tribes referring to their ‘stars’ in terms of looping lines of territory they occupy. Gnoll territory is not ‘we control this area’ but more ‘we will be moving along this path,’ following rivers, mountainsides, or other major landmarks and these paths can take years to go from end to end. This contributed to a historical vision of Gnolls as raiders – people might set up a temporary building or a farm in Gnoll territory, and the Gnolls following that path would pillage and burn their way through it, as they saw it as encroachment on their territory. In some areas that have learned to accommodate Gnoll territory, there are farms with really weird, broad lines painted through their fields, which just happen to be about the size of a Gnoll tribe’s path moving through every few years.
Most Gnolls are hunters and gatherers, and that is why they have the paths they do. Changing territory in response to natural disasters (or worse, encroachment) is seen as a sad thing to do, tragic, really, and there are elders in the tribes who make it a point of remembering these changes. This plays into outsider opinions about Gnolls as unreasonable and stubborn – because they are pretty hard to reason with for people who don’t recognise the importance they put on being able to share with their children the experiences they have as adults.
Gnolls are also very physically combative. Most gnolls are hunter-gatherers, and they don’t have a history of a strong social safety net for Gnolls that can’t forage for their own survival, keep up with the pack, or provide in some other way – it’s usually the limits of a personal family group. This used to be more of a problem for the Gnolls, and one of the more traditionally nasty, brutish ways the culture was seen; simply put, Gnolls who didn’t have enough resources would leave some members of the group to die on their own, and that would usually include people recovering from injuries, or the elderly. Since they weren’t stranding them in terrible locations, and just leaving them behind, these Gnolls could hypothetically catch back up when they recovered, or even survive on their own until the Pack came around again, so it wasn’t done completely heartlessly.
This was the way the first Gnolls started filtering into other communities – sometimes they were attacked as raiders, but more established locations that didn’t see them as an inherent threat were more willing to see ways that a very combat-capable, large, obviously-not-member-of-your-ingroup people could find things to do in public cultures.
I have no doubt that the way Gnolls lived as underclasses in cities led to a few becoming informants, and therefore, the creation of the term ‘grassy gnoll,’ but let’s leave that joke aside for now.
It’s easy to draw a line of comparison between orcs and Gnolls, and it’s entirely reasonable. Both are physically adept cultures who didn’t turn to agriculture as quickly as other cultures and wound up riding their industrialisation, resulting in a stereotype of being ‘primitive’ or ‘tribal,’ or more uncomfortably, ‘savage’ and ‘dangerous’ when people are trying to be positive about them. They’re both groups of people who see their place in the world by traditional means and have a view on personal space that can be pretty broad. The biggest difference between them is that orcs do build settlements, they just don’t look like most people’s, and gnolls are primarily nomadic even to this day. The other big difference is that orcs are, politically, seen as always outsiders; almost every cultural group thinks of orcs as an other, and by comparison, the Gnolls are seen as the threatening, combat-expert arm of the Beastfolk. Orcs are outsiders, so almost any given cultural group that wants to demonise someone can throw complaints about orc bandits around. But Gnolls, gnolls are part of a political force.
On the other hand, gnolls also just are typical adventurer types. There are truths about them – that the Gnoll language wasn’t written until the Abilen helped them construct it, that Gnolls still use stone weaponry, that Gnolls make mercenary companies – but these are all simplifications that eclipse the greater reality.
There’s myth about the idea of the Gnolls having a demon god, known as Yeenoghu, but this isn’t a settled piece of Lore amongst the Gnolls. Some believe Yeenoghu is a Gnoll who became a demon prince, some believe that Yeenoghu is an evil god of the Gnolls, some believe that Yeenoghu doesn’t even exist, and demons that look like Gnolls just say ‘oh yeah that’s me.’
HOW FURRY? Completely furry. The Gnolls are anthropomorphic hyenas.
Catfolk heirs to a trading empire
Abilen Heritage Traits
Average Height: 137-167cm (4’6”-5’6”)
Average Weight: 27-45kg (60-100 lb.)
Ability Scores: +2 Charisma, +2 Intelligence or Dexterity
Speed: 6 squares
Vision: Low-light vision
Languages: Common, Bestial, plus any one
Skill Bonuses: +2 Diplomacy, +2 Insight
Feline Grace: You have a +1 racial bonus to Reflex and Will.
Cultural Savant: At first level, you gain training in one additional skill of your choice.
Through the Crowd: You have the through the crowd heritage power.
|Through the Crowd||Abilen Heritage Power|
|You utilise your small frame to slip into the perfect position, right under your enemies’ noses.|
|Free Action Personal|
|Effect: Until the end of your turn, you do not provoke opportunity attacks for moving, and you can move through enemy squares.|
An Abilen is a humanoid that resembles a heavily domesticated anthropomorphic cat, of an average height of about 135 cm to 165cm. Their plantigrade feet and hands have soft pads on them on the underside, and they have pointed ears out of the front tops of their head, which they can pivot with a degree of flexibility. Abilen have long, flexible tails, which can express a range of emotions, though it’s not uncommon for them to be used in communication with non-Abilen to be sarcastic.
The Abilen are renowned as the functional heart of the largest trade alliance across Cobrin’Seil that isn’t explicitly tied to a particular government. When a number of cultures were getting their feet under them, Abilen were the ones arranging long-term trade deals and alliances, including things like insurance funds for protection against risk and hawala style money transfers. Abilen adapted quickly to cities, to the point where almost every major population centre has Abilen in it. Abilen do not generally own or operate banks – most of the time, most countries have banks that are built out of other, pre-existing established organisations.
The Abilen are therefore very commonly entrepreneurial; Abilen will often extend travel gifts to members of their family, with the understanding they will go to a new city, discover some new experience, and start operating a business there with what they find, and then they will exchange with one another.
This gives Abilen a lot of different opportunities growing up, because the presence of Abilen in a city means Abilen are free to pick up lots of different kinds of work and interests. Of course, given their lack of physicality, Abilen commonly take to disciplines that don’t rely on that. That means lots of Arcane and Divine magical studies, but also things like archery and fencing.
There’s a real problem in the Abilen, which are based on the Katta from Quest For Glory, and pro-social business owners because I thought it was more interesting than ‘rr ffrt’ catgirls, but every part of the inspiration that built together into this culture made me feel more and more like I was trying to make ‘furry Jews.’ Which sucks, they’re not, and also, I don’t think anti-Semitism is a necessary prejudice to build into the setting. The Abilen’s origin point in a desert culture was tied to Shapier and developed by Lut Gholein, because it’s all a window a very specific vision of videogames for me at that time.
But the more I look at them over the time I have, the idea of a single culture who are known primarily as traders, and are known for being good at it, takes very little to hop across to ideas of anti-Semitism. Now, I don’t think this is because I made a bad culture that has racist ideas in it. I think this is because anti-Semitism is so widespread and amorphous there are tons of different ways it has been applied in our own history, like spackle to fill in gaps.
And that sucks.
But it also doesn’t mean that a group of fuzzy cat people who see the world in a prosocial way and care about math should be denied as a player tool. Just, trying to bear in mind the cool things that inspire them as cool things to inspire them and not to try and use them to tell a story they don’t own and have nothing to do with. There aren’t stories of Abilen being driven out for being too good at money by fascists, for example.
HOW FURRY? Completely furry. Abilen are anthropomorphic housecats, and I mean housecats, like, the way they can only survive on their own in the wild by there being stupid prey species ill equipped for them, they are completely adapted to civilisation. This is your Zootopia Tiger Actuaries. They aren’t obligate carnivores. This is the kind of furry you get when someone falls into the community and is just the most basic version of a cat.
And that’s the two largest, most widespread social groups of the Beastfolk. Remember, when we talk about these people, remember this is a broad view of what the cultures do and how they behave, rather than any kind of template for every individual member of these heritages.