The Vitralara were originally created during the reign of Xao XXIV in the Banqua prefecture. It was a time of tumult and rampant banditry in the region, as Xao XXIV was a trivial and weak ruler, more interested with banquets, concubines and imperial intrigue in the Ancient City than with the affairs of the Empire at large. The city of al'Zed was sacked once, and laid siege to no fewer than three times during Xao's reign. The army was overtaxed and underfunded, and mercenaries who were underpaid had a bad habit of turning to banditry themselves.
The Mages of the city gathered together and created a mystical rite that would imbue a small number of men with the hunter's spirit, the aspect of the predator and the loyalty of the patriotic soldier. They were intended to be elite hunters, able to take down large numbers of bandits and thieves. Those they scattered would flee, and tell other of their scum to avoid Banqua al'Zed as the city was guarded by men who fought like night demons.
The rite worked, just not how the mages expected it to.
Invoking the Circle of Haremes
The Circle of Haremes is a moderately difficult spell to invoke, and requires a magic circle, ritual knife, four different cups of animal blood and either a willing or unconconscious human. The human must be stripped nude, purified ritually and then covered from head to foot in mystic runes to conduct the energies that are to be gathered into their body. Four magi are required to cast the invocation, the leader of the circle holding both the first cup and the ritual knife. There is the prerequisite chanting, intoning the words of power and invoking the power of the astral being Haremes. The rite concludes with the human adding their own blood to each of the four cups and either being covered with the animal blood (lesser Vitralara) or consuming the animal blood (greater Vitralara).
The first circle of warriors chosen for the right became magnificent warriors, with great strength and were terrible in battle. They felled their foes with ease, but there was something not right. After their foes were defeated, many of the once proud and lofty warriors degenerated to ripping apart and eating the corpses of the men and women slain. Their manners first became bestial, and then their features followed. Over the course of several months, they each changed. As they changed, madness overtook them until there were nothing more than patchwork abominations, collections of animal parts and barely controlled lust for blood and sex. They retained their ability to fight, their skills with weapons and working together in battle. They lost their names, the ability to speak in anything other than animalistic grunts and guttural sounds.
Thankfully, most of the first Invocation were slain in battle with enemies of Banqua al'Zed.
The Devil is in the Details
One of the important details of the rite is that the animals sacrificed to make the spell work are important. The four different animals sacrificed each add their own resonance to the spell, for good or worse. The first invocation used blood from animals known to fearlessly attack humans. These animals were chosen for their fierceness, but were overlooked as commonly being man-eaters. By changing the blood of the animals used, and the order in which it is given, different aspected Vitralara can be created. The order given indicated the relative potency of the blood. The first blood given/consumed grants the largest influence over the final form, while the last has the least.
Using animals that are closer related will also create more stable Vitralara, so a mongrelman created from a two mammals, a reptile and a bird is going to be very much scattered in its final form, while one created entirely from reptiles or entirely from mammals is going to be much more organized.
1st animal gives 3 advantages/bonuses associated with it, and four animal traits.
2nd animal gives 2 advantages/bonuses associated with it, and three animal traits.
3rd animal gives 1 advantage/bonus associated with it, and two animal traits.
4th animal gives 0 advantages/bonuses associated with it, and one animal trait.
Note: The ritual works best with mammals, reptiles, and avians. While it can be used on the more fantastic creatures on genre fantasy, using giant insects, spiders, crustaceans, amphibians, and other things grant twice as many animal traits and lead to madness much faster.
Advantages and Bonuses
The most common advantages are increases to physical stats like strength, dexterity and stamina. Other advantages include animal features that have a beneficial use such as claws from a predatory animal, poisonous bite from a reptile, or other specific abilities associated with the animal. In the typical genre bestiary there are more than the usual abilities to chose from, so most any ability can be absorbed with this ritual. A displacer beast can share its displacing ability and/or it's shoulder tentacles, a giant spider can share poison bite, web spinning abilities and so forth. A dragon used in this ritual could grant limited firebreathing to it's magical offspring.
Note: the animal used for the blood for this ritual need not be slain for the spell to work. The blood from one animal can also be divided up for multiple castings of the spell. This is not so important for mundane animals like predatory cats, wolves, and bears, but is more valuable for the more rare and dangerous fantasy animals. A slain wyvern or dragonkin could share it's blood across a dozen castings.
Animal traits fall into two categories: mental/behaviour and physical.
Mental/behaviour traits are adopting the mannerisms and behaviours of the animal in question, and this can include feeding patterns, mating patterns, and general behaviour patterns. These traits are not visible to the eye, and can be suppressed with willpower for a while, but represent an ever weakening human mind being subsumed by a chimera of the animal spirit/mind. Each mental trait reduces the Vitralara's social attributes (charisma, manipulation, Socialize, etc) as their mind is moving away from the function of humanity and towards their own inner monster.
Physical traits are quite literally gaining changes to the body that match the animals used in the spell casting. This ranges from simple replacement, such as an arm changing into the forelimb of a tiger (or amalgam of human hand/tiger paw to patchwork growth with examples including growing patches of reptile scales, one eye turning into an animal's eye, or non-advantageous animal parts such as a rat's naked tail, hair coloration changing to match an animal, or sprouting decorative horns that aren't suited for combat. (If they are suited for combat they count as an advantage and not an animal trait, a body change cannot count as both an advantage and a trait)
A major disadvantage to many Vitralara is patchwork piecemealism, the resulting mongrelman is certainly strong and physically capable, but mentally a mess, and appearance wise, a monster of animal parts melding into a crude caricature of a man.
By using only avian and flight capable animals, it is possible to create a flying vitralara. These vitralara tend to be lean, aloof, and viciously territorial and have feathers and with luck, some have wings. These are rare, as controlling a flight capable magically crafted monstrosity does tend to be problematic.
By using only predatory mammals, like large cats, wolves, and bears, a largely homogenous beastman can be created. While much more functional and controllable than the winged hawkmen, beastmen are much more aggressive and likely to turn on their handlers.
Using only serpents and reptilians, lizardmen can be created. Largely stable and homogenous, Lizardmen are closer to their reptile kin than human and think on a different level. Lizardmen are also much more likely to be venomous.
Creating vitralara from insects and spiders is possible, considering the existence of megafauna bugs in the genre fantasy. The resulting creature is alien in almost every possible way. Best way to handle one is with fire. Lots of fire.
The 12 Sacred Animals of Banqua
The Boars of Kailinda Forest
The Boars of Kailinda forest are renowned and infamous for their surly attitude and ability to shrug off wounds when being hunted, either by hunters or predators. The boars are notable for their hairy white hides and striped legs.
The Bull Rats of Holy City Ceribel
The Holy City of Ceribel, located near the Mystic Ceribel Falls on the edge of the Elder Verge, was the first home of the bull rat. These rats are the size of large cats or small dogs and are as home in the tops of trees as they are in houses and attics. The bull rat is considered a lucky animal.
The Drunken Oxen of Om'Xiao
The Oxen of Om'Xiao are known for their huge size, red horns, and horrible attitudes. The drovers will start the day by given their beasts of burden cups of rice wine blessed by a priest of the field. By the end of a day, both the drover and his time are often intoxicated and their fields are said to be guided by the gods of chance and fortune.
The Emerald Tigers of Etun
The plains of Etun are a rich part of Banqua, studded with towers, castles, and many grain mills. The rich soil and abundant wildlife make the region bountiful. The tigers of Etun are a deep green and have golden tawny stripes which help them blend into the grasslands and the forests. The nobles of Etun have in generations past, tamed these great cats and have ridden them into glorious battle. Now the green tigers are only present in their heraldic devices.
The Maned Hares of Zhoemon
The hares of Zhoemon are known for their large size, muscular ears, and penchant for hunting small and medium sized prey. The villagers of the Zhoemon region are known for wearing large hats and bells to keep the sneaky predatory hares away from them and their children. Outside of Zhoemon they are known as Lion-Rabbits.
The Land Dragons of Yuzh-Gesh
The Yuzh-Gesh valley, in the Tevesage highlands is known and infamous for its terrestrial dragons. The Tevesage highlands remain largely uninhabited except by the hardiest of nomads, and the most desperate of criminals. The blue skinned land dragon is a symbol often associated with near certain death.
The Hull Snake of Tinacia Pass
Tinacia Pass is a vital point on the trade routes of Banqua and the lands to the west. The Tinacian mountains are home to a creature known as a hull snake. It is called this, as it's body is as large as a common merchant's ship. The snake, a massive, slow predator can go months without eating, and then gorge on an entire team of oxen before vanishing back into cavernous holes its burrowed into the mountains. It's strength is amazing and it is speculated that a hull snake could possibly drag down and kill even a young adult dragon.
The Many-Legged Horses of Ankal-Xi
The forests of Ankal-Xi are rife with giant spiders, and somehow (some blame the magi of ages past) these foul creatures crossbred with the forest horses of the Xi Wood. The resulting horses have 8 legs and many eyes. They are also somewhat larger than normal horses, and have a diet that often includes other animals that they run down. The warriors of Ankal-Xi domesticated these fearsome steeds to make them into mounts for riding into battle.
The Storm Sheep of Theralmard
The plains of Theralmard are known for producing violent lightning storms, full of light and fire but no rain. There were few animals native to the plain, but the wild sheep seemed immune to the storms. These sheep were later domesticated, and much like an electric eel, they generate their own electric current. In the wild this protected them from storms and from predators.
The Miao-Xing Devil Monkey
The Devil Monkey of Miao-Xing is a capricious creature, with the appearance of a large chimp, but possessing leathery wings like a bat. The devil monkeys delight in causing mischief and performing acts of vandalism and theft. Oddly, the monkeys never harm clergy, good aligned people, consecrated ground, and other positive aspecting things. There is a tradition in the village of Miao-Sun-Chi for the village elder to don a Devil Monkey costume and visit the homes of wayward and misbehaving children.
The Sun Birds of Su Jiuess
The great solar eagles of Su Jiuess are known for their brilliant fire colored plumage, and their ability to hunt large animals that most birds simply cannot bring down. The further one travels from Su Jiuess, the city on the cliff, the larger the sun birds become, as they grow in the telling.
The Golden Bears of Rhould Hold
The bears of Rhould Hold are known for their metallic gold coats and the way that magic simply floes off of them. The bears are strongly resistant to most known magics and have been kept as royal pets in Rhould Hold. Outside of the hold there are very few bears as most have since been hunted for their golden pelts.
The Vitralara are able to procreate, and produce their own mutant offspring. This is rare as most humans and animals are loathe to mate with an artificial abomination like a vitralara and even among themselves they are unlikely to mate for the purpose of procreation. There is also a strong bias among the race towards males, as relatively few females are selected for the original ritual.
The offspring of a vitralara and a human is a weakened form of the vitralara parent, having half the advantages and animals traits of the parent. The order of the animals is random, so a strong Tiger/weak serpent can have a serpent dominant offspring. Pairings after this see the steady decrease of advantages, but the animal traits remain in the bloodline, usually in a recessive fashion. Vitralara that mate with animals create animal/vitralara hybrids with the animal providing the base body, but gaining the alternate animal traits and advantages from the vitralara parent. Thus, there are a small number of animals with hybrid mutations, bad dispositions, and a taste for flesh that might or might not have been present in the parent animal.
The offspring of two vitralaras has the full compliment of animal features but only half of the advantages and bonuses. Like human-vitralara offspring, the advantages rapidly vanish through successive generations, leaving the animal traits. With both parents as vitralara, their offspring are decidedly weaker, but no less monstrous in appearance.
The Lost Scroll
Banqua al'Zed did not fair well during the reign of Xao XXIV, and the increased banditry eventually caused the economic downturn and eventual collapse of the city and the destabilization of the entire Banqua Prefecture. During this time, several bandit lords rose, and the region turned into an anarch state. This saw al'Zed change hands between bandit kings several times, and the city was sacked at least twice during the next decade. This marked a low period for Banqua and many people fled the region. Those who didn't flee were subject to petty tyrants and were seldom if ever safe. The works of the al'Zed Mage's Circle were eventually lost when the mage's tower was conquered and occupied by a coven of rebel magi and mystics. Their works were either destroyed in the confrontation, hidden away by the al'Zed mages before their demise, or were looted by the rebel coven.
The Invocation of the Circle of Haremes remains in very limited circulation. It was not lost but remains in the possession of the descendents of the original rebel coven. Copies of the scroll be be found very rarely, as the descendents are no longer involved in magic, and have little interest in allowing others to copy their ancestral scrolls, and certainly not interested in selling the family heirlooms. The notes for making the spell also survive, and are the sort of thing that can be found in a book and scroll dump/storage area. It would only take a moderate amount of work to reconstruct the spell from the meticulous al'Zed notes.
The Restoration of Banqua
Banqua had formerly been a valuable prefecture of the empire, and after Xao XXIV's demise, he was succedded by Princess Mitara, who eventually became Empress Law I. Law I would see to the reconquest of Banqua and in a bloody campaign ended the reign of the Bandit Kings. al'Zed was rebuilt, and it's gates were decorated with bas reliefs of the campaign, and the brutal demises of the bandit lords. The city itself remains under the benevolent rule of Arkenbass the Wise, one of the few bandit kings who opened his arms and swore fealty and undying devotion to Law I. Arkenbass was true to his promise and after his death endured as a greater undead. He remains at the rudder of the city, and is a just, if sometimes cruel leader.
The Fate of the Vitralara
The Vitralara are a brief footnote in the fall of Banqua, unknown except to those well versed in magic history and rites of transfiguration. The vitralara themselves largely died out, often hunted for sport by the bandit kings. There remain villages where there are residents who display uncanny animal like traits, such as the village of Kunnonon, where the women all oddly have tails like tigers, or the hill villages of Therion, where the men grow antlers every year.
The mongrelman, or mongrelfolk are drawn from Dungeons and Dragons. They are presented as a tragic race, the blighted offspring of magic gone awry. This divorces them from any sort of culture, any sort of common heritage other than the magical equivalent of forgetting to carry the 1 and mixing up pints and quarts.
The Vitralara are intended to be an examination of the potential of mongrelfolk. It is presented against a largely Chinese influenced background, but with an imperial scope that hopefully makes it imperial cosmopolitan rather than Three Kingdoms.