Edar: Return of Akolo
All cities have secrets, and big cities hold the biggest secrets. It may be a dragon egg once found in ancient ruins and now kept over an eternal fire in the basement of an influential church, as the city-folk pledge and pray to it. Or perhaps the cult of Asmodeous rules a city in secret, and trains its citizens in the arts of war in covert ways. A city may be lost in time, or flying in the air, or disguised by rubble and broken buildings.
The city of ______ holds a secret as well. From its sewers crawl life-forms of various sub-groups, either from humanoids that have been transformed or animals given sentience. The reason is believed to be the sewer water, some lucky or unlucky mix of chemicals and magic, the by-products of this civilized time. All together, these creatures are known by the name of Sewerkin.
The real reason for their existence is the experiments of a powerful flesh-crafting alchemist, whose experiments into the Polymorph Other spell have resulted in these accidental transformations of the sewer’s population. He knows only tangentially that his experimental waste is leaking in to the sewers, but sees no reason to intervene; his work takes all of his time, and he has little care for life outside the lab.
Among the creatures who were originally of a humanoid race are Shifters, Vanara and Catfolk. Vanara and Catfolk have humanoid bodies with certain animal features, being a monkey and a cat respectively. Most who have been transformed remember their past lives fully; while there are some who regret the transformation, the rest enjoy their new-found abilities. Vanara and Catfolk always look like a hybrid between animal and humanoid, and have no natural ability to shape-change.
Shifters are different in the fact that they look like normal humanoids for most of the time, but during times of stress can visibly shape-change their bodies to become more deadly and increase their chances of survival. These changes can be anything from claws and horns to longer legs and even wings. Being some of the more powerful and respected of the Sewerkin, Shifters often form clans based on their individual shifting ability, or war parties where all of the types might be represented.
Among the creatures who once were normal animals are Hengeyokai, Nezumi and Lizardfolk. Nezumi and Lizardfolk have generally humanoid bodies, although are often slightly shorter and a bit twitchy. Their life-spans are often shorter than most humanoid races but also longer then their original animal, so they tend to move through life at a quicker pace than others are entirely comfortable with. Nezumi are all mammalian, with most being of rat origins and looking much like a large humanoid rat, while Lizardfolk are all of reptilian origins. They always look like a hybrid between animal and humanoid and have no natural ability to shape-shift.
Hengeyokai on the other hand are any sentient animal with a humanoid alternate form, and have learned to control their transformation and use it to their advantage. All Hengeyokai have three forms, being a) that of a normal humanoid, b) their original normal animal form and c) a hybrid form that favors a humanoid shape but with several highly noticeable animal-like characteristics. In humanoid form they take the appearance of a unique humanoid, although most will have slight traits that mirror their animal form like oddly colored hair or a long nose. In animal form they are indistinguishable from a normal animal, except for their behavior which will be more intelligent than a normal animal. In hybrid form they look like humanoid creatures but with animal features and certain enhanced abilities. There are many different Hengeyokai types, including dogs and foxes, various birds, fish and crab and even cats, monkeys and rats.
Last of the Sewerkin and possibly the greatest would be the Changelings. No one knows whether Changelings originated from humanoids or animals, not even the Changelings. They are nearly unlimited in their ability to shape-change and most would say the truth or their origin may only matter in academic circles. All Changelings can transform their body features at will but not their overall mass, meaning that they must keep to a mostly humanoid size and do not have the Hengeyokai’s ability to become much smaller. Also they do not have the Shifter’s ability to assume forms in combat, or rather they could but it wouldn’t be much help. Still, other than those limitations they can transform to look like anyone and anything, or assume a neutral gray-skinned form they they claim is their natural appearance. For their mastery of shape-changing they are often feared above the other Sewerkin, a fact which some do live up to while others try to change with their actions.
On average, ten Sewerkin are “born” every year. Five of those ten may die before the next year, either from the changes, from starvation as their new body seeks out sustenance, from hate crimes and persecution or even from suicide. Of those who survive the first year of their lives, roughly one in a hundred are Changelings, while the rest are roughly equal proportions of the other six. Some call this “birth” as being like an actual birth, and begin counting their age from that day; most Sewerkin who were originally humanoids changed sometime between very early childhood to nearly adult, while a rare few are born with the changes.
Public perception of Sewerkin varies. Only a small subset of the city’s populace even know of their existence, roughly one in four to be exact. Those that don’t know may still remember rumors or legends of their existence, basically that there are strange animal-like mutants that occasionally crawl from or continue to live in the sewers. Much of public perceptions trends toward the bad, caused by Sewerkin being used as “scary monsters” in the tales mothers tell to their children, especially the tales of misdeeds done by Changelings. For others they are simply another name for the poor and homeless, and indeed some citizens call any homeless person of the city a Sewerkin, ignorant of the fact that the actual group has such a diverse and unique population.
Of those who are more knowledgeable about the Sewerkin, reactions tend to vary between compassion and pity for them – much as any person might feel for a homeless and destitute person – or an uncaring ambivalence. Generally the Sewerkin do not make trouble for those living above them, and most citizens are happy if things stay that way. There are occasionally rumors of some clan of Shifter who are building a war party to attack the city from below, or some cabal led by a Changeling bent on destruction or domination … but just as often such stories tell of a Shifter clan that found some great treasure and is now living it up in the rich parts of town, or a Changeling hero who foiled an elven sneak attack and saved the city.
Also, it is important to remember that other creatures do exist throughout the world with some of these same names, appearances and characteristics. All Sewerkin are magically created life-forms and generally can not have children, although many adopt and form close-knit clans. Not true versions of the races by which they identify themselves, Sewerkin merely “mimic” the real races; for example, Lizardfolk are rumored to exist elsewhere in the world. Perhaps life tends to stick with what works, and the fleshcrafter’s mixture simply causes Sewerkin to take the forms of those races by chance. Perhaps the fleshcrafting alchemist was actually trying to create those races and succeeded to a degree. Perhaps the alchemist is far older than he appears to others, is the creator of those “true” races and is only trying to rediscover his lost formula for life that can continue itself.