The Mantid Colonies

Overview

First found within the shadowed groves of Rao Ze, the mantid colonies represent both a remarkable opportunity and a growing threat to trade and travel. Built below the waves to keep them hidden from casual travellers, the colonies have developed in both construction and complexity at a rapid pace (testament to the ingenuity of the mantids they house).

History

The first colony discovered was a re-purposed wreck, a relic of a bygone age gutted to make room for simple living and sleeping spaces. The inhabitants were hostile, unintelligible, but fiercely protective of their little kingdom. They were left alone, their location marked on maps and charts as a place to avoid. And in truth they were largely forgotten for a time, at least until the first mantid ship was sighted – a bizarre semi-sentient hybrid of wood and chitin dragging itself through the waves with oversized foreclaws, loaded with curious goods and heading for the nearest trading port.

The mantids, in their years of isolation, had been busy.

Culture

Mantid culture is an intriguing area of study for the braver sort of Wildsea scholar. Highly formal and densely ritualistic, visitors are rarely welcome in their now-grand homes. Those that are bring back reports of staccato poetry, wordless duels and impressive alchemical metal-working.

The true danger of the colonies is a familiar one – the desire for expansion. More and more often in recent years their ships have pulled themselves up to the surface on missions of pillage and war, setting up blockades and raiding settlements for their metal and stone.

And there are rumours, now, of something being built in the shadowed tangle of the lower waves. Something jade and white. Something that snaps its claws. Something that moves like a newborn god.

Shadow & Bone, the Culture of the Hunting Families

Overview
A powerful presence across the rustling waves of the Foxloft, the Hunting Families are a collection of semi-nomadic groups working toward a singular purpose; the conquering of the Wildsea’s most dangerous beasts. Family kin are often found trading pelts, bone and meat at ports, or encountered sailing the canopy in pursuit of whatever quarry has caught their attention.

Despite their name, the blood-bonds of the Hunting Families have as much to do with co-operation and challenge as they do direct lineage. Anyone can become a member of one of the Hunting Families if they’re driven enough, regardless of their species or origin, and those born into the families do not attain the title of kin merely through circumstance. To become a recognized member you need to provide the meat for your own induction feast – a prodigious task, as the feast requires every existing member of the family be fed and the hunt to supply it must be a solo venture.

Hunting Family settlements are nebulous, consisting of a single solid port (traditionally built onto the carcass of a leviathan) and a huge network of widely-spread outposts that shift with the tides of season and prey-migration. Each of the central solid ports contains a throne, a ragged affair of skins and bones from a variety of kills. Each inductee into the family sets a trophy into the throne, but in the absence of recognized leaders it remains empty by tradition. In this way the throne is a symbol of what has been conquered, not of who conquered it.

Culture & law
Though each of the families has their own traditions, laws and cultural quirks, some traditions are universal.

  • The hunt is a thing of glory, but also practicality.
  • Providing food and trade materials for the family is a duty, but you take the first cuts of whatever you kill or capture.
  • Post-induction, effort is rewarded almost as well as success – a member that has provided for the feast has nothing left to prove.
  • Scars and injuries are a cause for celebration, both of the hunter and their quarry.
  • Your choice of target is your own, but it must be something that can challenge you. An easy hunt is no hunt at all.

Sun-Divers and the Bravest Few
The moment you judge yourself as too old for the hunt, your place in the family is in question. Some elders, those that were particularly skilled in their early years, are allowed to remain to train the younger generations of hunters. Most, however, take the sun-dive – a final feast provided for by blood-relatives or friends, which ends with a fatal leap into the nearest rift holding a piece of the sun (represented by anything which glows under its own power, such as a firefly bulb or luminous shroom-cap). The sun-dive is a raucous occassion, a celebration of skill and passion.

Some, however, choose to take the path of the Bravest Few. These elderly hunters dress themselves as in pelts and horns and slip away into the waves without a ship, believing (perhaps) that this act will allow them to live as a quarry for their fellows, a continuation of the great circle of predator and prey.

Leviathaneers
The most venerated of the Hunting Families are the Leviathaneers, those driven to dash themselves against impossible odds again and again. Leviathaneers hunt the largest creatures of the waves, squirrels and wolves and serro-squid grown to impossible sizes. While the successful kill or capture of such prey is almost unfathomably rare, leviathaneers operate under different metrics of success – the snagging of a feather or tooth is cause for massive celebration, and counts as a successful hunt.

Weapons
Every hunter is expected to carry a knife, traditionally carved from the bones of their first official kill. Most hunters use it to strip and butcher prey rather than as a true weapon, relying instead on whatever they feel most comfortable with. For some that’s sabres and axes, for others bows and carbines. Much like choice of quarry, the weapons a hunter uses are for them to decide.

Hunting Family Ships
Though most Hunting Family ships are made of bones and wood, this is due more to practicality than tradition. Hulls made from the skulls of larger beasts, or the chitinous shells of monstrous insects, are common. Many of the ships are powered by chemical engines, mechanisms that can take their fuel straight from the waves. The most confident hunters outfit their ships with an iron heart, a quasi-living engine powered (it is said) by the love of the hunt itself.

Art Showcase: The Canopized Mulcher

Another mass-produced vessel from the shipwrights of the Gatling Archipelago, the Canopized Mulcher is a far rarer sight on the rustling waves than the sales numbers would lead most to believe. It’s not that they aren’t out there – it’s more that they’re in places few ever care to look.

The Mulcher is one of the few ships designed to tackle not the surface of the upper canopy, but rather the tangle of branches and vines that supports it. As close to a true submersible as the New Chthonica shipyards have managed to design, the Mulcher boasts a fully enclosed section for engine, crew quarters and piloting linkages, as well as two exterior platforms for close observation and deep-leaf sampling.

Development

While earlier canopized designs focused on smaller engines and less effective cutting techniques to increase the ship’s ability to slip unnoticed through the waves, the designers of the Mulcher threw such concerns into the fire and went instead for the largest, noisiest and most dangerous cutting edge they could find. This approach has proven surprisingly effective, and the bank of toothen wheels at the prow can grind through even the thickest foliage with worrying ease. This, combined with the sleeker-than-average hull design, has created a ship able to slip beneath the waves at a moment’s notice. You’ll be able to hear it a mile away, as the ship-hawkers boast, but you won’t see it until it’s right on top of you.

Common Modifications

Though the New Chthonica would never be caught selling to piratical factions, and would vehemently deny such charges if they ever surfaced, the fact remains that many ships from the Muclher series have made their way into the hands of less desireable wildsea types. The exposed lower platform has proven a useful area for gun-mounting, especially broadside cannons and teslacation lances. It also provides a potential staging area for mass boarding, sometimes kitted out with grappling screws and winding chains to allow heavier-armoured raiders quick access to the undersides of targeted ships.

On the more placid side of modification there’s the potential to alter the canopized covering, creating a retractable nautilus-like shell. Several fungal-agrarian societies use the closed interiors of these mulchers to grow their crops deep within the darkness of the seas, heading to the surface when storms threaten to crank back the canopy and collect as much water as they can in the shortest possible time.

This particular model has also seen great uptake among leviathaneering crews, those hunters of the largest and most dangerous beasts of the lower waves. Not only does the Mulcher’s ability to dive after fleeing prey come in useful, the atrocious noise of the cutting prow tends to keep smaller creatures away, allowing crews to focus on their titanic quarries.

Art Showcase: Low Sour Script

A decorative script designed by the shipwrights at the New Chthonica Shipyards, Low Sour is now found printed across ship-hulls and shop signs in every reach of the Wildsea. Designed more to be functional than beautiful, the strong straight anchor line of Low Sour acts as a useful measure of hull integrity – if the script begins to warp and bend, your ship hull is in desperate need of re-sealing against the chemicals and parasites of the rustling waves.

The Low Sour script was created with the Longjaw in mind, each character with a slight back-swing to represent the teeth of a sawblade. It’s read left to right, and can be written without the anchoring line at the top of each character when used for a shop-sign or printed document. The flowing upswing on the far left of the example text represents the beginning of a sentence or fragment.

This may not quite be the final versio,n but it feels pretty close. Of course, it mangles the text on the previous Longjaw image, but hopefully I can keep it pretty consistent from here on.

Free August Playtest Guide

My life has been a whirlwind of playtesting, editing and incorporating feedback over the last few months, and the world of the Wildsea is finally starting to come together. To celebrate, here’s a new thing for eveyone – the updated free playtest guide, a condensed set of rules with enough content to run a one-shot or a small story lasting several sessions. It doesn’t contain everything I’ve been workin on, but hopefully just enough to give a firm feeling for both the mechanics of the Wild Words engine and the setting of the Rustling Waves.

And here it is!

This is the biggest step forward I’ve taken in a while, and it’s a hell of a scary one. That said, I’d also like to thank the artists, playtesters, idea-mongers and friendly editors that have helped out this year.

I hope good things for us all.

Felix

Art Showcase: The Longjaw

This is the Longjaw, one of the more commonly seen ship designs across the Western Reaches of the Wildsea. The first mass-produced frame to come out of the New Chthonica shipyards, the standard Longjaw is designed for a mixture of salvaging and short-range cargo transport.

As for the presentation, I thought I’d have a little fun with this one. I’ve been meaning to finish up the presentation of a one-page RPG about terrible workplace safety, and felt like exploring the same kind of style might be appropriate for an open-decked, chainsaw-driven ship with a serious lack of railings and a massive exposed engine block.

It’s no secret that I absolutely love Pierre’s work on this ship design. It was one of the first we came up with, and I think it perfectly captures the junky, dangerous aesthetic of even the heights of Wildsea technology.

Art Showcase: Ardent Headhunter

So, in an effort to try to show off some more of the art I’ve had from Omercan and Pierre over the last couple of years, an art showcase feels appropriate.

Here’s the first piece – the Ardent Headhunter.

Death is common on the Wildsea – the sea is a hungry place. But that death usually comes at the hands of beasts, poison or predatory plants, accidents on deck or the eager bloodthirst of pirates… Rarely from those so civilized as the headhunters.

The headhunters of the sprawling western reaches aren’t assassins, in the traditional sense. They can’t be hired or paid off, and view factional squabbling and resource-based wars as unfortunate matters best left alone. Instead they hunt self-chosen targets pulled from a pool of who they consider the most dangerous – those reckless sorts that deign to use open flame on the rustling waves.

Nobody outside of their inner circle knows quite how they manage to identify such offenders. Is it the stink of smoke on their clothes, such an alien smell in a world without fire? A sense of transgression that clings to them, long after the last embers die? The look of guilt in their eyes? Perhaps it’s best not to know these things.

Art by Omercan Cirit for the Wildsea TRPG