Friday, December 23, 2011

Bestiarum vocabulum – Tharks (New Race)

Reading Tarzan of the Apes (and Pirates of Venus a few months earlier) I understood that, while Burroughs’ pulp adventures are in general great, none have given to me more fun and ideas than his Barsoom tales.

 I’m not very good at reviewing or analyzing stories, but John Carter’s adventures (and those of other Barsoomian heroes) rings the right bells with me. They’re simple, naïve, archetypical, original, fun and even provide some food for thought (like Thuvia, Maid of Mars and Chessmen of Mars). Finally, these are the stories where Burroughs’ prejudices bother me less (both Tarzan’s recurrent racism and Pirates of Venus quick praise to KKK succeed in killing my mood).



The savage hordes of the Green Men, or Tharks, are the scourge of the wastelands. Driven only by their lust for battle and slaves, Tharks aren’t a greater menace to the civilized races because they spent most of their time fighting among themselves.

Physical: Tharks are savage green giants, around 15 feet tall, with tusks protruding from their mouths and with double torso, each with two sets of arms. Their ears are externals, standing at stalks that protuberate atop their hairless heads.

Tharks walk usually naked, except for special leather harnesses used to carry equipment, weapons, trophies and gems. They are oviparous and have an unknown life span (Green Men lives are so violent that it is rare to find one with 100 years or more).

Society: Tharks prize honor above everything. Unfortunately, for the common Green Men, honor is synonymous with brute strength. Tharks divide themselves in tribes and hordes, leading a nomadic life. Each tribe is ruled by a jed, while a horde is controlled by one of the mighty jeddaks. Tharks value strength and resistance, lacking any sense of mercy or empathy, even for their animals – savage beasts of battle that attack their own riders if given the chance.

The only salutary trait of the Tharks is their total hatred for thieves and brigands. A Green Men who is caught stealing is killed very very slowly, to the great delight of their tribe.

A few tribes of Tharks have more enlightened rulers, usually Green Men that have had contact with lawful and civilized races before been brutalized by their fellows. These rare clans reveal the true virtues of their race: true honor, courage and eternal friendship to those who are loyal.

Relations: Tharks doesn’t know trade or any kind of civilized exchange. If they need food or weapons, they plunder. If they require manufacturing experts or servants, they take slaves. Tharks only respect strength of arms, although a canny and brutal leader is capable of acquiring control over a tribe or maybe even a horde.

Alignment and Religion: Most Tharks are chaotic neutral, devoting their lives to battle and the accumulation of slaves, weapons and trophies. A good portion of the race is chaotic evil, taking great delight in the suffering of other creatures – especially given the fact that Tharks doesn’t know mercy and see weakness as the ultimate sin. Public executions of maimed and week members of the tribe are probably their second greatest hobby, after war (even if the victims are family).

A rare type of Thark is true neutral. They are usually represented by tribes or groups pushed to the wasteland’s frontiers or living in isolation of other hordes. A few sages argue that the race’s latent psionics provokes a bizarre biofeedback effect, generating a racial barbaric and bloodlust behavior (maybe a pre-programmed psychic suggestion left by the race’s creator). This can explain why isolated Green Men are usually more pacific or cautious, while their hordes are made of cruel and savage beasts.

Most Tharks worship a dead deity known as Issus, Goddess of Life and Death. They have a strong taboo against divine spellcasters and are usually counseled by “seers” (traditionally psions). Ancient tribes have one or two of the rare Thark shamans (LINK), while those tribes living closer to other regions may have a druid or even an oracle (clerics been unknown), usually devoted to gods of battle and chaos.

Adventurers: Tharks adventurers are usually exiles or members of isolated or frontier tribes, although it is not uncommon for young Green Men to leave their horde to work as mercenaries. There are rumors of a human emperor protected by a "Viridian Guard" – an entire honor guard of Tharks.
For unknown reasons there never was (until now) a Green Man sorcerer. Most Tharks are barbarians, fighters, gunslingers (Green Men are famous for their marksmanship), psychic warriors and spell-less rangers. A few Thark Jeds and Jeddaks descend from ancient warrior traditions best represented by the samurai class.

Thark Names: Green Men names are made of one, two or three syllables, usually with the letters ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’. Male Tharks usually possess composed names, while females have one-word names (although this isn't a rule).

Male Thark names: Tars Tarkas, Dotar Sojat, Sarkoja, Lorqas Ptomel, Tal Hajus, Sojat, Zad, Tokas, Sar Zoor, Arkas
Female Thark names: Aola, Kala, Katja, Nala, Taja, Sola, Zora

Warning: The stats were designed with the idea that Green Men should be an eligible 1st level race for Pathfinder. Because of that, certain liberties were taken (like creature type, racial hit dices and such).

Thark Racial Traits
+2 Constitution, –2 Intelligence
Large: Tharks are Large creatures and gain a –1 size penalty to their AC, a –1 size penalty on attack rolls, a +1 bonus to their Combat Maneuver Bonus and Combat Maneuver Defense, and a –4 size penalty on Stealth checks. Tharks have a natural reach of 5 ft.
Speed: Tharks have a base speed of 40 feet.
Brute: Tharks are hulking monsters and gain a +2 racial bonus on melee damage rolls and Strength checks.
Cruel: Tharks are taught from a tender age to show cruelty and to revel in the misery of other intelligent beings. They receive a +2 racial bonus on Intimidate skill checks and a –2 racial penalty on Diplomacy, Handle Animal or Diplomacy skill checks (player’s choice). The chosen skill can never be a class skill for the Thark, unless he uses a feat slot to negate this racial trait.
Four Arms: Tharks possess four arms. While this doesn’t give them extra attacks or actions (they don’t have independent eye movement or enough synchrony to use the four arms simultaneously), it do allows a Thark to carry more weapons or items.
Far-Sighted: Tharks receive a +2 racial bonus on Perception skill checks based on sight. They also gain Far Shot as a racial bonus feat.
Wasteborn: Tharks receive a +2 racial bonus on Stealth and Survival skill checks on desert/arid regions. They also gain Endurance as a racial bonus feat.
[Optional, if using Psionics Unleashed] Naturally Psionic: Tharks receive Wild Talent as a bonus feat at 1st level. If a Thark takes levels in a psionic class, he instead gains the Psionic Talent feat.

Green Men Racial Feats suggestions
Monstrosity: The Thark gains the monstrous humanoid creature type. A second feat allows the Green Men to inflict the panicked condition on a target, once per day, with a successful Intimidate skill check.
Tusked: The Thark can use his tusks as a natural weapon (1d6 points of damage).
Savagery: This feat requires that Thark is using three or four weapons (or two two-handed weapons). It allows him to execute a flurry of chaotic and savage strikes against a single target within melee range.
The Thark suffers a –5 penalty on all his attack rolls until the beginning of his next turn. The first melee attack that hits successfully allows the Thark to roll twice the biggest weapon damage dice. The result is added together before any bonuses from Strength, weapon abilities, precision-based damage, and other damage bonuses. These extra weapon damage dice are not multiplied on a critical hit, but are added to the total.
For example: if a Thark armed with a longsword (1d8), a dagger (1d4) and a great axe (1d12) uses Savagery, his first successful melee attack in the round inflicts an additional 1d12 points of damage.
This feat must be used as part of a full-round action and, if the Thark has iterative attacks, all such attacks must be directed against the same target.

Telempathy: This feat allows a Thark to transmit emotions and one-words messages (like “Danger!”) to any other Thark or willing target (usually friends that know about this ability) within 100 ft. and with whom the Green Men has line of sight.

On Green Aliens and Multi-Limbed Heroes
We never see the Green Men of Barsoom utilizing all four arms in combat. In fact, it can be argued that in the novels their greatest advantage is their size and savagery. Because of these important points, I decided to use an effect-based mechanic with the Four Arms racial trait (let’s leave multi-armed combos to our beloved AD&D 2nd Thri-kreen).
Without racial feats, a Thark can use its arms basically to carry stuff. However, they also have two important exceptions: first, a Thark can use a shield and still have enough free hands to use a two-handed weapon; second, a Thark caster can cast using one or two free hand and still carry a shield or weapons (even a two-handed one). These two abilities are already very powerful in my opinion.

Next post: Size doesn’t matter/break the game!
The mechanics for the Green Men of Mars were an attempt at addressing an old issue: giant races and player characters. Usually in D&D/Pathfinder, “giant” equals “high Str, high Con and tons of HDs” which is a sure way of breaking the balance of any game in regard to player character races. However, I believe that you don’t have to equate giant races with those three stats. Similar results can be accomplished with alternative mechanics. With the Tharks I tried to simulate “giant strength” with racial bonus to Strength checks and damage rolls. While undoubtedly a good trait, these bonus doesn’t affect the Green Men’s attack rolls (besides CMB and CMD), which lessen its impact.