Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Koros

A Koros bird-lancer.
The Koros are a race of barbarous, nomadic bird-riders. They reside in great numbers at the grasslands of Arhelia, where they and their vast herds of bird-horses live, fight, and reproduce. The lands of the Koros are vast and their internal struggles significant, but when a powerful leader emerges the Koros are willing to gather in great hordes and ride against the degenerate cities-states of their region of the world.

The Koros are polygamists. Koros men are expected to have at least three wives, each of whom will birth as many children as possible. There is also a well-established tradition allowing for women that are successful warriors to be treated similarly to men, including retaining numerous wives.

Portrait Of A Bird-Lancer

A Koros warrior typically owns two well-trained bird-horses, a steel-tipped riding spear, a bronze sword for close-quarters fighting, a quiver of filth-smeared javelins, a suit of reinforced leather armor (perhaps incorporating a breastplate if they are wealthy), a pouch of antiseptic salts, decorative bones taken from slain foes or lovers, and feathers from long-dead mounts. Though not an especially inventive people, their bird-horse kit includes stirrups (an innovation other cultures have yet to value).

Successful warriors are rewarded by ritually inscribed tattoos that protect them from various harms. They may include any or all of the following:

  • Whorl Against Witchcraft: The Koros has advantage when saving against spells of all kinds. This is the most commonly found tattoo.
  • Whorl Against Disaster: The warrior never accidentally drops or breaks their spear. They cannot botch.
  • Whorl Against Cowardice: The warrior is immune to fear and being slowed, and their mount has +2 speed.
  • Whorl Against Weakness: The Koros inflicts an extra +1d6 damage with a charge attack. They are also immune to most diseases.
Some Koros also procure flasks of blessed water, to be sprinkled over a troop of cavalry and imparting resistance (half damage) against ranged and AOE attacks for an hour or so.

Riding Birds

Every Koros bird-knight can use their mount to leap over 20 feet in a single bound, aiming their lance with the full weight of their mount behind it. Such an attack is devastating, probably inflicting double damage.

The bird-horses are quite dangerous on their own. Their claws can disembowel an armored man. A pecking bird-horse can easily crush a man's skull or rip the flesh off a limb. Skilled riders will incorporate their bird's natural talents into their combat routine.

The Taboos Of The Bird-Tribes

They have many taboos. The most important:
  1. Bodies must be brought to the gates of the afterlife. The gate is located in the ruins of an ancient temple in the center of Arhelia. To die and not be sent through the gates is to consign your soul to inflict grief upon your descendants. As I discuss elsewhere, this particular belief eventually results in a great deal of trouble.
  2. Digging in the soil is what farmers do. Do you want to be a slave to the land? I didn't think so. Do not ever dig in the soil. For that matter, most work unrelated to bird husbandry is beneath a proper Koros.
  3. The word for magic that is not bird-shaman magic is witchcraft. Witches must be killed.

A Koros shaman in full ceremonial garb.
Koros shamans are chosen from birth: one in a hundred Koros births result in an egg rather than a baby. Such an egg will be taken to the shamans' lodge and nursed until it hatches. Though biologically normal humans, the babies resulting from these eggs always display prowess with magic and prophecy.

The shamans maintain the well-being of their people, chase off evil spirits, and preserve the myths of their people. They are monolatrists. That is, they believe there are two creator deities: one created the people of the cities, who mostly worship that god's children, and one created the Koros. Naturally, the Koros pay homage to the latter, who assists them with helpful intermediate spirits.

Though their culture is illiterate, Koros shamans have an active oral tradition that preserves magical lore over time. It's really a shame: given a more traditional magical education an egg-hatched Koros could easily achieve the pinnacle of magical proficiency.

Shamanic Magic

Like many primitive peoples' the spells used by Koros shamans blend arcane and divine traditions. Critically, no spell cast by them ever has a visual effect. Their game effects are real, but an onlooker without an active detect magic spell could not be certain that a spell is being cast. Even the healing happens innocuously enough that it could just be the person feeling better.

Violent Invocation (1st)

Until the end of the caster's next turn, the shaman and the allies inflict +1d6 damage with all attacks. [If your game system allows multiple attacks per turn you should probably tweak this. Also, you are wasting everybody's time.]

Call Guardian Spirit (1st)

The shaman calls up an ancestral spirit to protect an ally within short range. That ally is healed 1 hit point and has resistance (half damage) against the next source of damage, that encounter.

Desolate Curse (1st)

Even soil-digging city-dwellers have guardian spirits. This spell asks those guardian spirits to take a break. When you cast this spell, up to three creatures within short range must Will save or they are cursed until the end of the encounter, causing them to botch on a natural roll of 5 or less. [In my game, botching provokes attacks of opportunity. Modify as necessary for your system.]

Maliced Keening (2nd)

You emit raucous shrieks, allowing angry spirits to voice their displeasure through you. Until the end of your next turn, any creature that enters a space adjacent to you must Will save or provoke attacks of opportunity.

Pinioning Glare (2nd)

When you cast this spell, a single creature within medium range must Will save or be unable to move from their space until the end of their next turn. They are not paralyzed or inhibited in any way, aside from the inability to move from that space under their own power or of their own instigation. If the target makes their save, you may choose a new target for the spell. And so on, until somebody fails their save. This is a fear-based effect.

The Warrior's Way (2nd)
Casting this spell is a free action. You have until the end of your turn to hit with a melee attack. If you do, you heal 3d8+5 damage [or whatever a 3rd-level spell would heal in your game system]. If you do not, you heal 1d8+5 damage [or whatever a 1st-level spell would heal in your game system].

Spirit Talons (3rd)

You lash out with your hand in imitation of the horse-birds that your culture so reveres. A creature up to a hundred feet away falls to the ground screaming. This spell targets a creature within long range, who suffers 4d6 damage, Fort half. If the target fails their save, they fall prone and cannot stand until the end of their next turn (other creatures can help them to their feet, however). Note that the damage caused by this spell is internal and essentially invisible at the time of casting, though the target will display significant bruising later on.

Sky-Run (3rd)

The Koros have never begrudged their mounts for their lack of flight. After all, it's a big part of their creation myth that their god made soil specifically so their birds would have something to graze on. Still, the spirits are willing to help the shaman and their horse-bird attain something like flight for a little while. In order to cast this spell, you must be riding a bird-horse. When you cast it, you leap into a new space within medium range (50 feet), and land with your lance lashing between your foes, inflicting 4d6 damage to all creatures adjacent to your new location, Reflex half.

A typical Koros war bonnet.

Cultural Objects Of The Koros

The Koros have a relatively weak artisanal tradition except as relates to battles and war. For that, they spend weeks and months on featherwork, curing armor, and hammering spear-tips. They hunt the magical creatures of the grasslands where they live for supernatural ingredients, including the blood used to inscribe their magical tattoos. They beg their shamans for spare blessings. In short, despite being a nomadic warrior people, the Koros have no shortage of small magics in their life.

Slayer's Saddle

Each encounter, your first spear attack to hit inflicts +1d8 damage.

War Bonnet, Lesser

A feathered headdress crafted from the feathers of horse-birds that died in valiant battle. It imparts a +1 bonus to all saving throws. The wearer will also never botch a climb or jump check.

War Bonnet, Greater

Usually crafted after hard-fought plume hunting from creatures like eblis or, more dangerously, jubjub birds. These convey +2 to all saving throws, prevent botching with climb or jump checks, and confer immunity to harmful spells of 2nd-level or lower.

Grand Kāhili

A kāhili is a feathered standard. In this case, the Koros will bear them into battle (requiring both hands), conveying a bonus to a large group of allies. While held by a worthy creature (a player or significant NPC, not a henchman or hireling), allies of that creature within medium range inflict an extra +1d4 damage with melee attacks.

Phial Of Brazen Death

When this rusty liquid is fed to a bird-horse, it becomes immune to fear for the rest of that day. During that time, any time the creature is injured with a melee attack it will hurl magically-hardened feathers at the source, inflicting 3 damage to them. If quaffed by a human or other non-feathered creature, the phial inflicts 4d6 poison damage, Fort half. If fed to a normal horse, it always congeals that horse's entire circulatory system into solid brass, resulting in their certain death.

ʻAhu ʻula
Did you know that there is a word for a cloak woven of feathers? Yep. This magical cloak has been specially woven by priests and includes highlights painted on the feathers with precious metals. When in battle, is blessed with impressive vigor: once per round when the wearer is targeted by a ranged attack, they can move 3 spaces directly toward the source of the attack. If direct movement is impossible, this bonus movement is wasted.

Stymphalian Toupha

A single decorative feather from the stymphalian bird, usually worn atop a helmet or pinned to the shoulder. The wearer can see invisible creatures within short range and inflicts +1d6 damage against them. These are quite useful against the unseen spirits that lurk in desolate corners of Arhelia. Such touphas are usually only worn by shamans.

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