Updated: 11 October 2006
T’kels have only recently been distinguished by outsiders from the other serpentine races of the old Serpent Suzerainty. The Lizardmen of the swamps, however, know them best for the brutal race they once were, even though they were often blamed for T’kel transgressions. The small tribe of T'kel was long seen as savage and monstrous, having plagued wilderness communities on the South-eastern borders of the Sunterranse Federation for years. When times grew tough, T ’kels raided nearby villages and towns in search of food, driving away most Human and Half-Elven settlers. They would occasionally raid an Elven Enclave nearby, but nearly always to devastating effect on their own numbers, until the next brutish tribal chief decided the Elves were a shot again. So they clung to survival by a shred, their numbers ever-dwindling in a sheltered region near the southern shore of Lake Dakar at the distant edge of the Federation and the Suzerainty.
Their history, as oral tradition, begins with an encounter with a "nature spirit" roughly 150 years ago. The Elves they once raided eventually became friends and even teachers, forgiving the T’kel's past aggressions. Their society has since stabilized and diversified as the warrior arts have subsided. However, over the last century and a half, T’kels have gradually shifted from a hunter-gather society to an agricultural one. No longer relying on raiding those they had driven away (Humans & Half-Elves) or those who proved formidable foes (Lizardmen and Elves), their population has stabilized and begun to grow and flourish. The fierce reputation they gained during their years of savagery, meanwhile, continues to shield them from the other serpentine denizens of the Wasted Sea, and other curious outsiders, though it plagues them still when they enter civilized lands.
Outlook & Culture
T’kels follow a philosopher-king named Zuras, who led his people from what he calls “the serpent’s coils.” Almost two hundred years ago, Zuras claimed to have been hunting an Elven cadre of rangers when a “nature spirit” stopped him. It sat him down to tell him of the error of T’kel ways. They sat for fourteen days to reveal the secrets of natural harmony. Zuras took these secrets back to his people and reformed their society entirely.
To this day, those T'kel who rise to leadership positions are known to commune in the wilds with the "nature spirit" and they return enlightened and better capable of leading their race. These chosen few who are taken (a.k.a. the Taken) are said to bear "the Mark of Zuras." (NOTE: The T'kel hero, Janarl, was surprised to see that the humble monk, Nimbus, bore "the Mark of Zuras," a series of small circular scars along the back of his arms from his elbow to his wrist that Nimbus himself had hardly noticed given the extent of his slaver scars and tattoos.) Knowledge of the race is not widespread, and their transformation is even less commonly known.
Now the T’kels of the Enclave reject their barbaric ways in order to live as one with nature. This has not tamed T’kel ferocity though, only channelled it into less destructive endeavours. They live a simple pastoral life at the edge of a vast forest. They have small ranches and farm a variety of plants that they use for their medicines and produce rare spices and incense that they trade to the human and lizardmen neighbours that have learned to trust them.
T'kel of the Enclave worship the Wild. Many T’kels practice meditation, channelling their aggressive natures into the martial arts. Many human monks have made pilgrimages to learn of T’kel fighting arts. T’kel monks form a top-level caste among their society, serving as teachers and advisors. Those T'kel who do approach a level of authority often find themselves taken by a "nature spirit" during a lonely walk in the woods. Those who are taken are left subtly marked by the experience, though the "Marks of Zuras" are readily visible to all T'kel, and they deeply respect all who bear them.
One of the few traditions that have survived the T’kel transformation is the wearing of masks. T’kel masks represent many things in their society, and the shape, style, and colour of a mask identifies the wearer’s status and occupation to every other T ’kel who sees it. Other races, long impressed by the beauty of such masks, have tried and failed to learn their secrets. Living T ’kels never remove their masks where non-T’kels might see their faces, as they feel their faces are a representation of their souls, and their most secret desires.
Order of the Claw: The Order of the Claw is a semi-secretive monastic order. Acolytes enter at an early age and pass through a number of levels and duties as they receive their martial and religious training. They are commonly seen within the Enclave providing religious advice, prayer and labour to community projects such as the harvest, construction or irrigation. The more mature members of the Order tend to the physical and spiritual aspects of the Shrine such as keeping family histories or religious research. The Shrine itself is a somewhat basic stone structure on a low hill. However, it houses various relics and writings of Zuras and is the spiritual center of the Enclave. It was the site of his creation after his death. It is strongly believed by most T’Kel that it is a holy point of power for the Wild. Approximately half of the Shrine itself is sacred to the Order and is inaccessible to outsiders. Some among the T’Kel outside the Order spin tales of a vast underground lair beneath the Shrine built by T’Kel before the Advent of Zuras but respectable folk scoff at such stories.
Payment for their labour is donated to the Shrine for its needs and maintenance. Custom dictates that a member of the Order can stay in a home as a guest without charge for three days and must perform an equal share of household chores in addition to the labours of the project. All members reside in the barracks adjacent to the Shrine and spend the vast majority of their time there. All members of the Order wear orange robes and add a red slash to their masks. Outside of the Enclave, the Order is renowned for its martial skill in unarmed combat. Many from outside the Enclave apply each year to study but only one non-T’Kel is allowed to enter each year.
The Order has approximately 45 members and its leader is the Master Adunar of the Raven Clan.
T'Kel Clans: Owl, Jaguar, Raven, Bear, Wolf
The T’kels exhibit a distinctly reptilian attitude. Some scholars of the Libriohenaeum propose that they may be a distant branch of the lizardmen or saughin but there is little hard evidence to support it since T’kel history (even as an oral tradition) is barely two hundred years old. Their sense of humour is subtle and difficult to draw out. They loathe displays of waste or wanton destruction and seek to pacify anything they feel threatens the natural order. They are quite taken with the concept of honour, and even at their fiercest were unwilling to break oaths.
T’kels are not particularly intelligent but their cunning usually surprises those who travel with them. While they are far more civilized than they once were, their savagery still exists. In battle, they can give in to their feral sides in a way that is terrible to behold. Among T’kels, it is considered shameful to act in such a way. A T’kel who has succumbed to such behaviour will often leave T’kel society voluntarily, in order to avoid injuring anyone else.
T’kels dress in decorative robes or armour, with elaborate facemasks of beaten metal highlighted with brightly painted colours. The more rare the metal the higher in rank its wearer. Different colours and patterns of paint signify a t’kels occupation.
Benealth their masks and robes, their skin is covered with tan to chocolate-coloured scales. They have belly and back patterns in brilliant colours ranging from aquamarine and indigo to burnt umber and saffron. They have more pronounced, pointed scales on their brows and jaws. They do not have teeth but rater they have white bony ridges that look like a line of teeth without separation.
T’kel hands and feet are clawed. Both females and males often paint their claws bright colours. T’kel height difference between genders is quite noticeable with the smaller males standing 5 to 5-1/2 feet tall, and females often reaching well over 7 feet tall. Despite their smaller size, male t’kels have dense muscles weighing as much as their female counterparts and are just as strong.
Those races that do not live near T’kels might only know of them as myth or old-wives-tales. Most that live nearby have had little interaction with the "reformed" T'kel and likely think of them little better than orcs. However, those that trade and interact with them speak highly of their honest and focus. Most T’kels today are more interested in discussing farming techniques or weather trends than in spoiling for a fight. However, if someone were to start a fight with a T’kel, the T’kel would oblige.
T’kels enjoy living as part of their environment. They now help the wilder lands thrive, where once they pillaged the land for anything that could sustain them. Their newer focus has given them success in producing common crafts, textiles and artwork. Their artwork fetches good prices in large cities, as well as the attention of serious collectors. In addition, they are excellent weavers, producing a material called sh’ematta that has brilliant colours and a soft texture.
Within the Enclave there are six clans: Wolf, Eagle, Bear, Owl, Raven and Jaguar. Each clan practices slightly different religious practices and decorative markings but is not hostile to the others. It is illegal to marry a member of one’s own clan. Clan affiliation is inherited from the mother and typically stronger than blood ties. Therefore, mothers and their brothers are responsible for her children while fathers look after their sisters’ families.
There might be barely a thousand T'kel spread across the three tribes in the Enclave (see Map). It is said all three communities (Krin, Grial and Balud) used to be a part of a single colony. They have never found another. The T'kels have no creation myth, as such, having been a part of the savage wilderness until they were not. They do not, then, have any idea where they came from, though they did not even recognize the deficiency until they adopted the civilizing philosophies of Zuras.
As a result, the T'kel have begun to wonder if they are alone in this world. A rare few young adults have been drawn to explore the world at large, looking, on the one hand, for some trace of kin, but also, on the other, drawn by sheer curiosity. However, no others have ever been found, and only a few prodigal sons and daughters have ever returned to tell of what they have seen.
Alignment: T’kels usually have some amount of neutrality in their alignment. Most T’kels are lawful and ardent practitioners of their philosophy: otherwise they lean toward neutral good. Few t’kels are ever chaotic.
Religon: Since the ascendance of Zuras, T’kels practice nature worship, drawing spiritual energy from The Wild. They aspire to become one with the land, forests and water.
Language: T’kels speak an odd patois of Draconic and Elvish as their natural tongue. As they have become more civilized, they have adapted the Draconic script to write out their philosophies and beliefs. Many have learned to speak and read Common, Elven, and Sylvan, so they may interact peacefully with their neighbours.
* Adapted from an article in Dragon #317