Seafaring Cultures (Stormwrack)
In addition to the races that make their homes exclusively in or on the sea, virtually all intelligent races give rise to seafaring cultures - societies, clans, or roamers who carry the ways of their people to the farthest reach of the world's oceans. Dwarves are known chiefly as mountain delvers, but in places where the mountains meet the water the seacliff dwarves carve wondrous ports of stone and rock. Elven wingships roam the waves, graceful and swift as white eagles. Human sailors, merchants, explorers, fishers, sealers, whalers, pirates, raiders, and adventurers ply the waves, in search of sustenance, commerce, or lands yet undiscovered.
Settlements in coastal areas range from highly civilized realms with vast seaports to tiny tribal villages. Nearly every expression of humanity can be found somewhere along a coast, taking advantage of the ample fishing, sealing, trapping, whaling, and trade offered by the sea.
In warmer regions, these coastal cultures are often centers of commerce and exploration, sending out mighty fleets of ships heavy with trade goods to all manner of foreign lands. The desire for trade drives exploration. Bands of adventurers employed by these kingdoms seek out new lands, establishing trade agreements with them.
Poorer nations are usually less able to afford such fleets of traders and explorers. Indeed, many of them use their ships to help their civilizations survive hard winters by taking up raiding practices. The man who works the rocky soil of his field in spring might find himself impelled to go a-viking after the harvest in order to steal from his neighbors the prosperity that he was unable to coax from the soil.
Those who settle on islands range broadly in temperament and purpose, though invariably they are there because that island has significant resources to put to use (if only an abundance of solitude). Some such island cultures are made up of tribes who move from island to island in cleverly constructed canoes, allowing them to reap the bounty of their island homes without putting too great a strain on any one isle. Other settlements develop into great island nations, powers equal to any other nation, who have turned the resources of the sea around them to their benefit in the same way continental nations use the resources of their land. Such nations are invariably maritime powers, with massive fleets of well-crafted ships and skilled sailors who are very much at home on the sea.
Islands with ample natural resources that do not host a native settlement could serve as a stopover point for seagoing vessels on long trips. Such a place naturally evolves into a trading nexus and might eventually come to be a great power on its own.
Those who actually live upon the seas full-time are rare: even merchants, sailors, adventurers, pirates, or raiders spend a significant amount of time ashore. The raft folk are one example of a people who live the entirety of their lives aboard a ship. These people form tribes that skirt the edges of other societies, traveling in their ships from one settlement to the other, offering their services and trying to make lives for themselves until it is time to move on. While few of these folk are scoundrels and rogues, most of the raft folk (sometimes called "river rats" or "sea rats," depending on where they sail their ships) are simply a society of folk smitten with wanderlust who don't fit in with most other settlements.
The raft folk demonstrate the ingenuity of the human race. They live aboard cleverly designed rafts their entire lives, forming temporary communities by lashing their rafts together to form small floating settlements. Savoring the life that the sea has to offer them, the raft folk are a very peaceful people. After all, they never have to live near someone they dislike, since all they have to do is simply unlash their house-rafts from the rafts of the people around them and move on.
Most dwarves prefer to have as little to do with the ocean as possible, whether that means living beside, upon, or certainly within it. Nonetheless, some regard the open sea with incredible fascination. These rare few, referred to as "salt beards" by other dwarves, take to shipboard life as readily as any human or hadozee. They are expert armorers, weaponeers, and engineers, and their services are highly sought after by many captains.
Some clans of dwarves settled not in the mountain delves favored by most of their race but in the tall, impregnable cliffs that overlook the sea. These seacliff dwarves are considered by other dwarves to all be salt beards, though in truth most of them prefer the safety and security of their subterranean homes as much as any other dwarf. The difference is that those rare few among them who would be salt beards don't have far to go.
All seacliff dwarves are good swimmers, as behooves folk whose lower passages can fill with seawater during major storms. living areas and the like are always situated well above even the highest such waterline.
Seacliff dwarves are identical to standard dwarves except as noted below.
- Strong Swimmers: Seacliff dwarves gain a +2 racial bonus on Swim checks. Additionally, a seacliff dwarf doubles his Constitution score for the purposes of determining how long he can hold his breath before he must begin making checks against suffocation.
- Seacliff dwarves do not gain the +1 racial bonus to hit orcs and goblinoids that most dwarves do, since they have not encountered these creatures nearly as often as their mountain-dwelling cousins.
Elves, like humans, can often be found aboard ships. Indeed, those elf nations that abut the oceans often boast large and impressive navies. Elf ships, like other examples of elven craftsmanship, have a strong aesthetic quality to them - attention is paid not simply to the efficiency and usefulness of a design but to its shape and final appearance. Many elf ships have graceful, curving lines that call to mind birds' wings, the curve of a leaf, or the swell of a wave.
Most elf settlements are found far from coasts; even those nations that have a sea nearby prefer to build their homes inland along a deep river that will provide an outlet into the sea. In those rare instances where an elf settlement springs up near the ocean itself (whether along a coast or on an island), it always features tall towers set to watch the horizon for danger, a set of strong jetties and wave breaks, and a constant patrol of ships on the lookout for strangers.
The average gnome has very little to do with the sea. Certainly, a gnome might occasionally find herself aboard a ship following the trail of some adventure or another, but in general, gnomes tend to be uncomfortable among the unfamiliar smells of the ocean. However, a few are fascinated by the intricate workings of ship rigging and make themselves quite useful aboard a vessel.
Unlike their cousins, wavecrest gnomes are naturally drawn to the sea. Dwelling on small islands and beside hidden lagoons, wavecrest gnomes consider the sea their natural heritage. Though they love ships, as a people they rarely craft anything larger than a barge. Wavecrest gnomes would rather sign aboard one of the mighty, majestic ships of the larger folk.
Wavecrest gnome settlements are made up of round-topped buildings half buried in the sand of a secluded coast or shore. When threatened, these gnomes are skilled fighters with gaff hooks and thin-bladed daggers, but they prefer to go about their lives peaceably. Rare is the wavecrest gnome settlement that needs regular patrols, for the sea birds that live among them have learned that the gnomes reward with tasty treats those birds who warn them of approaching strangers.
Wavecrest gnomes are identical to standard gnomes except as noted below.
- +1 racial bonus on attack rolls against locathah and sahuagin. Wavecrest gnomes have had to fight off raiding parties of these creatures for generations, and have developed skills against such creatures. This bonus replaces the gnomes' normal racial attack bonus against kobolds and goblinoids.
- Spell-Like Abilities: 1/day - speak with animals (sea birds only, duration 1 minute). A gnome with a Charisma score of at least 10 also has the following spell-like abilities: 1/day - dancing lights, know direction, prestidigitation. Caster level 1st; save DC 10 + wavecrest gnome's Cha modifier + spell level. These replace the normal spell-like abilities of standard gnomes.
Half-elves take to the sea in fair numbers and are highly sought after as crew. With keen night eyes and heightened senses, they make excellent sailors.
Coastal communities found near aquatic elf settlements occasionally have one or more half-elves. Despite the greenish or blue coloration inherited from their aquatic elf parents, the human blood runs strong, and these half-elves aren't able to breathe water. Aquatic half-elves can also sometimes be found among the raft folk, humans who live intimately with the sea around them and might come into contact with the aquatic elves.
Such children might long for the sights of their aquatic heritage, perhaps even taking up the study of magic in order to one day experience those things and visit their elf parent's home. They prefer to live near the ocean when they can, so that they might hear the roar of the waves.
- *An aquatic half-elf has a swim speed of 15 feet. An aquatic half-elf has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. He can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. He can use the run action while swimming, provided he swims in a straight line.
- An aquatic half-elf does not receive any bonus on Diplomacy or Gather Information checks. Unlike other half-elves, who move easily between many other folk, aquatic half-elves are more comfortable with their own company and are not as affable and outgoing as their fellows.
- Sea Longing: An aquatic half-elf who remains out of sight of the sea for more than a week longs for the sea, taking a - 1 penalty on Wisdom-based checks until he returns to the shore.
- Automatic Languages: Common and Elven. Bonus Languages: Any (except secret languages, such as Druidic).
- Favored Class: Any.
Half-orcs are strong workers and good fighters. Moreover, many of them have a scoundrel's inclination - as a result, there are a good many half-orc pirates. In many instances, these are half-orcs who found it difficult to live in human society because of their ferocity but are spurned from orc society for their tainted blood. They find welcome among the outlaws and cutthroats that make up the lowlife of the docks.
When the wanderlust takes him, rare is the halfling who does not view the sea as a great horizon to be crossed, beyond which await sights to be seen. As a result, it is not at all uncommon to find halflings aboard ships, whether as passengers or crew. In general, most halflings don't love the sea - rather, they view it as something to cross to see what lies beyond.
Halflings rarely settle on islands or along coasts, for their traditional lifestyle tends toward something a bit more pastoral. However, halflings whose settlements lie within a decent day's travel or so of the sea take advantage of occasional outings to see the sea and ogle at the strange things that come into port towns from across the waves.
In the greenwater parts of the sea, those middle areas between land and true bluewater deep ocean, there can be found communities of shoal halflings, a subrace of amphibious halfling folk. Capable of breathing both water and air, shoal halflings dwell in the waters that lie between sandbars off a coast. Their homes are constructed of natural building materials along the bottom of these areas. The homes themselves are constructed as domes that end up covered in sand and coral, disguising them quite well.
Shoal halflings are a freckled tan, allowing them to blend quite well with sand patterns in the shallows where they dwell. Their hair is dark, ranging between a deep black to a dark greenish hue, and their eyes tend to be bright blue. Other than a slight webbing between their toes and fingers, shoal halflings can easily pass for normal halflings.
Shoal halflings are identical to the halflings described standard halflings except as noted below.
- Aquatic: Shoal halflings are humanoids with the aquatic and halfling subtypes.
- Shoal halfling swim speed is 20 feet. A shoal halfling has a +8 racial bonus on any Swim check to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. He can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. He can use the run action while swimming, provided he swims in a straight line.
- Amphibious (Ex): Shoal halflings are amphibious, capable of breathing water and air equally.
- Shoal halflings do not gain the +1 racial bonus on attack rolls with thrown weapons and slings of other halflings, since such things aren't common among shoal halflings.
- Shoal halflings do not gain any racial bonus on Climb, Jump, or Move Silently checks, since they have little opportunity to become proficient in these skills in their aquatic homes.