The S’krae are bipedal humanoids, ranging in height from 4’5” to 5’5”. They are amphibious and have smooth, slightly slimy skin. Their hide is blue, with a variety of greenish to grayish tones; some individuals have a pattern of brown speckles on their back. Their heads are the shape of squashed cylinders, the front tapering into a short snout. A series of thin, tendril-like tentacles sprout from the back of the head and are often tied into a topknot. The eyes are large and black, situated just in front of and above a pair of internal ears. Wide nostrils mark the end of the snout, and the jaw houses hardened gums rather than teeth. S’krae limbs are lanky and muscular, well-suited for swimming. Each hand has three digits with a small webbing at the base; the feet are similar, but larger and with much greater webbing. The body is stout and a short, stiff tail is present. Out of water, S’krae wear simple long vests made from seaweed and a hide belt to hold their blade.
The S’krae are an intelligent and fairly young race of amphibian ancestry. They were once exclusively water-dwellers, living in vast cities on the beds of freshwater lakes. A millenial drought caused many of these lakes to shrink, and the stagnant water poisoned a huge number of S’krae population. Their cities were abandoned and the S’krae ancestors founded smaller villages in shallower waters. Eventually they explored the shore, and over time developed the ability to breathe air. S’krae villages are few and far between, housing only a couple hundred members. Every few decades, the breeding males of a S’krae village will exodus their homes and go to another village, ensuring a rich breeding diversity.
S’krae villages are autonomous collectives without an organized system of government. This is normally not a problem, as a village consists of only a hundred or so nuclear families. When conflict does arise, prominent village members will negotiate between the two parties to reach a compromise. On rare occasions, disagreement will end in a duel.
S’krae villages are built both on the shore and in freshwater bodies of water, normally lakes. Buildings are made from stone, often placed over the water’s edge. The S’krae are primarily farmers, consuming varieties of seaweed, corals, and fish. Hunting is also very common, and parties of S’krae will sometimes swim deep out into a lake to hunt large game. Being amphibious, S’krae must keep wet, and cannot survive for more than a week without being submerged in fresh water. S’krae sleep in shallow baths, allowing them to breathe air while keeping wet.
A very communal people, S’krae are more than happy to share food or homes with other members of their race, though they are cautious of outsiders. There is one posession, however, that a S’krae will not be without: her blade. Every S’krae individual carries a sword, both for protection and as part of their social identity. Swords are generally one-handed cutting weapons, varying in decoration and embellishment. A sword is always made of ve’laan, a metal found only on the beds of certain lakes and rivers where S’krae dwell. The metal is silvery blue in color and slightly heavier than steel. It is very durable and completely waterproof. Its primary downside is that it must be kept wet, as ve’laan will deteriorate after only a few days outside of water. A S’krae carries her sword everywhere, and it lies next to her in bed. Markings on the sword often deliniate family and occupation, serving as identification to anyone that can read it. Because of the importance of swords, a blacksmith is a vital member of any village.
The nuclear family is the standard unit of S’krae society, and ancestors are remembered fondly. S’krae are ovoviviparous; that is, fertilized eggs are held in the mother’s womb until just before hatching. Broods are fairly small compared to other amphibious lifeforms, consisting of three to seven fertilized eggs. The eggs are placed in a large, permanent water basin until they hatch. S’krae young hatch in a larval nymph form, with large gills and nonfunctioning lungs. The mother and father will care for the young, but let them fend for themselves to some degree. S’krae nymphs will fight eachother for food, despite abundant feeding, and occasionally even turn to cannibalism. This is a sore subject for S’krae and is spoken of little. Because of this competition, only one to four young usually survive. Gestation is fairly short, normally two months, and nymphs grow to adolescent S’krae in the same amount of time. Breeding is infrequent, usually every decade or so, allowing the population of a village to stay relatively small. A healthy S’krae individual can live up to approximately sixty years.
S’krae consider themselves very noble creatures and have a tendancy toward pride. Personal honor is considered sacrosanct, and the slightest hint of offense will make a S’krae indignant. Everything they do is done with an air of vital importance, and even simple tasks such as eating become meticulous ceremonies. While outsiders may see them as excessively slow, a S’krae simply does things prudently and precisely. S’krae choose their words carefully in conversation, not wishing to be misunderstood. They are a philosophical people, considering everything worth thinking about. They lack devotion to any deities or spirits, perhaps because they have not been exposed to the ethereal world. Their ancestors worshiped water deities, but they forsook them after the milennial drought that forced the S’krae onto land. After a few generations, anger towards the gods turned to apathy, then ignorance. This separation from the mystical puts them at a disadvantage to magic users, and sorcery often astounds them.
The term “Tan’S’krae” is best translated as “dance of the S’krae,” though there is no word that can truly encompass its meaning. This is a method of communication that appears as an intricate dance. Two S’krae circle eachother slowly, making intricate hand motions and facial expressions. The ve’laan blade is also used extensively in these wordless exchanges. Distance, stance, expression, and speed are but a few of the myriad subtleties of Tan’S’krae, and it is fairly difficult to learn. There are two primary dialects, one for the land and one for underwater; the underwater dialect is far more intricate, though non-S’krae have never witnessed it. Tan’S’krae is a very formal language, used in diplomacy or any matter regarding honor.
A deeply integrated part of S’krae culture, Tan’S’krae has also lended to the difficulty of the S’krae to communicate with other groups. When a S’krae meets another individual, she will immidiately engage in Tan’S’krae and salute the stranger by drawing her blade, circling it over her head three times, and bringing the blade horizontally across her chest. To those unfamiliar with the S’krae, this appears as a threatening posture, especially with the standard circling stance of Tan’S’krae. Many flee after being saluted, while the martially adept will draw their weapons and fall into a defensive or combat stance, a deep insult to the S’krae’s honor that must be settled in confrontation. Because of this unusual linguistic custom, very few outsiders come close to S’krae civilization.
Because S’krae live in such small, scattered communities, the breeding pool becomes small after only a few generations. To combat this, the males of a S’krae village will leave their community to seek another. These migrations are coordinated so that males rotate in an organized fashion, no village having too many or too few males. These events occur about every 75 years, marking approximately the birth of the fourth generation since the previous migration. Every breeding age male in the village will leave behind their homes and families, taking only traveling supplies and their blades. The journey is often harrowing, sometimes requiring S’krae to cross great tracts of dry land to reach their target village. It is not unusual for up to half of the males to die in the journey, sometimes leaving a trail of corpses on their path. The journey is neither mandatory or voluntary by S’krae law, but a breeding male that stays behind will find himself shunned by his community. These outcasts will often live by themselves far from the community and live a life of hermitage. Such exiles are called Gra’sall in the S’krae tongue.
Few other species use ve’laan metal, save a few freshwater merfolk and naiads. Mining it requires digging into a the lake bed and removing chunks of ore from stones. Smelting and forging the metal is difficult and complex, thus a blacksmith in a S’krae village is revered for his skill. Because the metal - and also the S’krae - must be kept wet, ve’laan forges double as steam rooms. A piping system constantly runs water over hot coals, making the room a veritable sauna; fortunately, the cold-blooded S’krae don’t mind the heat. This steam is important to maintain, as ve’laan not kept moist enough during the smelting process is unstable and liable to explode. Ve’laan ore is smelted and forged in the way most other metal would be, albeit extra carefully.
“What we have here is a failure to communicate” - While exploring the area near a local body of water, the party runs into a small group of S’krae. One of the individuals attempts to salute whoever he thinks the lead party member is with Tan’S’krae. The party, having no knowledge of S’krae customs, must decide how to react. If they draw their weapons in preparation for combat, the S’krae will surely be insulted and a battle will ensue. If the party tries verbal communication, the S’krae may or may not speak common; if they do, and they are not offended (they may well be, as S’krae do not have much understanding of other cultures), they may be willing to talk. If a player recognizes the attempt to communicate, they can try to use Tan’S’krae. The best option would be to emulate the S’krae’s gestures, as the return salute is the same as the greeting. If this happens, the S’krae will probably cease Tan’S’krae and speak verbally.
Metal Trade - The regent of the local lands has heard of a silvery-blue metal that he would like to adorn his palace, one that only the S’krae have access to. He sends the party on a diplomatic mission to secure a trade agreement. Assuming the party gets past the linguistic difficulties (see above), they must negotiate with the S’krae for ve’laan. They will need to find something to offer the S’krae (the regent has pledged his support to trade whatever the S’krae would like, within limits), and also provide a proper transport that keeps the ve’laan wet so it does not deteriorate. They may also have to explain to the regent that he must constantly water his new import, something he may not take a liking to and is likely to blame the party for.
Escort - The party is travelling through a desert/tunda/somewhere relatively dry when they come across an exhausted group of S’krae males. The males are making their breeding migration and are nearly exhausted. They shirk diplomacy and beg the party for help. They have only their gratitude to offer the players. Can the party find a water source for the S’krae in time? Hopefully. Will nomadic barbarians threaten the S’krae’s safety? You can bet on it.