Expanding Meckros Culture - a Malzazan inspired Dungeons and Dragons Game
In my previous blog post I covered how I had decided to separate the Dwarf sub-races into distinct cultures, rather than cramming them both into the Meckros cities. What I wasn't able to expand on was how this appears in game.
Age: Meckros’ live fast lives dying younger than humans at around 60 years. Height: Meckros’ stand between 4 and 5 feet tall. Common Classes: The people of Meckros do not fear downing in the seas of Mael and heavily use fighters who wear armour. Monks and Zelot barbarians are often holy warriors of the gods. Bards are lorekeepers or play music when the city works. Meckros use the Mountain Dwarf stat-block with these changes. Stone Cunning: is changed to Wood Cunning. The same rules apply but to wood instead of stone. Dwarven Combat Training becomes Meckros Combat Training: Pike, Glaive, Longsword, Longbow and Short-bow. Instead of the Tool Proficiencies offered in the PHB choose between Carpenters Tools, Woodcarvers Tools, Herbalism Kit or Poisoner's Kit]
Most of these changes were explained in my original blog post on the Meckros, the biggest addition being the Poiseners Kit. This is a decision that came about from my ongoing desire to ensure that the Dwarves Poison Resistance feels backed into the lives of these Meckros.
When building the culture of the Meckros, expanding from what little we know about them from the books, I took it as my goal that the stats and the culture would reflect each other. I Also wanted them to feel 'not dwarves' as much as possible and distinct from the other cultures my players are likely to encounter.
I have two hand outs for my players. One has a short introduction to each of the races as they appear in my Malazan game both culturally and how thier stats are changed. I suggest my player read them, see what interest them, then start thinking of characters. If they find one of them interesting, then I suggest they have a read of the longer explanation.
Any regular users of the Malazan wiki will notice some of the sentences come from there.
The Meckros 5e D&D Handout
The introduction attempts to explain simply to the players who the Meckros are, and to establish why the medium armour wearing, weapon proficient Mountain Dwarf stat blocks are the starting point.
The Meckros are a seafaring people that live on man-made island nations. These floating cities travel the seas of the world, doing trade with many inhabitants of many lands, and raiding their coastlines. The constant need to raid for resources from those who will not trade, as well as defending themselves mean that most Meckro are trained in combat. Meckros primarily worship the Sea God Mael and his two daughters Beruse and Neruse. Mael is a wrathful and contemptus god whos moods are as changeable as the sea. He is a god who demands blood sacrifice as part of his worship. On some cities dozens of slaves will be thrown overboard to appease Mael and ask him to call off his daughter. D’rek in her aspect as poison and venom, gives the Meckros recourse to deal with inner city conflict. Rather than battle between citizens that could result in bloodshed, the aggrieved parties makes use of the numerous poisons and venoms that exist within the sea to kill each other in a ritual dinner. This extends to inter city conflict.
In order to reflect the Meckros poison resistance I created two aspects of thier culture. The first is the tenancy to eat partially rotten food. This delicacy is something we see around the world, rotten shark, hare and many more are loved throughout history.
The second and far more interesting idea, I have stolen whole cloth from a short-story that at this moment I can not find on my bookshelf. Suffice to to say, the main character is the wife of a rich noble living in a culture where an inventive alchemist overturned the norms of large scale warfare and replaced in with duel by poison. Nobles who have a conflict must sit opposite each other and eat a meal, while thier wives attempt to murder the other person through poison, and protect thier husbands. If anyone happens to remember the title of this book so I can credit, please message me! I stored this awesome idea away in my brain until along came the Meckros and thier poison resistance. What if, ravaged by war on thier own floating cities, or even between cities, the Meckros threw off the very concept of war between thier own people, and instead have had generations of conflict being resolved by simple agreeing to poison each other over dinner. Yes, they still fight none Meckros, but to have large scale ware amongst your own people? Barbaric! As well as giving an interesting idea to the Meckros cities this ties them into the world very nicely. The Goddess D'rek is strongly associated with poisons, helping to make her part of the culture rather than it being all water gods. All that White Paralt that shows up in the books? What if it was sold by Meckros traders? I can establish that if you want to buy the best poisons, it all comes from the Meckros. Player challenges a Meckros to a duel in a port? Great, he starts pulling vials out of his pockets and asks where you want to have dinner.
The Meckros floating cities could provide a home for up to 20,000 people. They appear as normal cities with tall homes and narrow, crooked alleys. But they were surrounded by high walls of wicker and their under structures were a complex framework of balsa logs, ladders, and inflated bladders. Smaller cities exist close to the poles, built upon giant icebergs and are rarely seen by those from warmer lands, though they regularly trade for slaves between cities.
The Iceberg versions came from my first reading of the books where I strangely combined all the Meckros cities we ket meeting that had been destroyed by ice. In my first reading I had thought they were made on the ice, and storms had destroyed them. This combined with the awesome iceberg cities featuring in GW2 I left it in as a cultural variation that might sometimes come up.
Life in a Meckros city is very hard, without farmland, finding enough food to feed everyone is hard work, and if you can’t work or contribute, you will be fed to the Fish Farms. The lame, stupid and lazy are all fed to the cycle of life in the sea. D’rek priests accept these offerings. Due to this outlook on life slaves are often very well treated on Meckros cities if they work hard and work well, perhaps better than your average Meckros citizen, something that they do not begrudge, recognising it as the value of the person justly rewarded. Meckros tend to find the weakness shown by the Land Folk as something to be disgusted by.
The feeding of the weak to the Fish Farms in Deadhouse Landing was something that gives us a real gimps into the harshness of Meckros life. Selling the idea of slaves to players can be hard, the fact that many cultures in the Malazan world ave slaves to some degree without them being the 'evil' option is difficult. Players first reaction is almost always to say "o.k but I am an X who is opposed to slavery." Which is fine, but sometimes it is more fun to play a character who is fine with slavery, and only changes thier mind over time. By building in the idea that the Meckros respect hard work and skill, even in a slave, makes the concept more palatable to people.
Due to their short lifespans and the long years it takes for a Meckros city to travel the world, deals are normally made with families rather than individuals, this is due to the high chance that the person having made the deal having died before the return journey. The Trader tongue has been largely spread by the Meckro and much of it is based on their language.
Yes, you read that right, short lifespans. Life for the Meckros is hard, so why not reflect that. Also, pretty much everything in D&D lives for hundreds of years compared with humans. I could not reduce the life spans of the long live Tiste, so to help the Meckros feel even less 'dwarf' they were altered to fit. As I have mentioned in my original blog post, I wasn't a fan of 'common' as it is used in normally D&D. As such Trader tongue is used. To easily explain how such a language can appear ll over the world, you simply have a people who have been all over the world.
One of the greatest crafts of the Meckros which they guard jealously is their crafting of Golems. This, alongside the skills to craft their floating cities, are things never traded with outsiders. They do however sell some of the most potent and expertly crafted poisons, all found in the bounty of the sea.
Ian C. Esslemont describes the Meckros as "mechanicians and artificers," but we only twice see any examples of this, once with the city guardian Keng and other with Veng, both constructed from metal and whirling gears. Because of this, many people have said to me in the past that they have made the Rock Gnomes as the basis for the Meckros, but as I've mentioned before, it plays too small a part of thier culture. The greater parts are covered by the Dwarf stats. I however did not want to completely do away with these city guardians, but they do step on the toes of the Rock gnomes as they are described in the books. Golems do feature in the books though only once (though possibly the Sech'kellyn I would argue are golems), making them an apt replacement. Nothing is stopping an Iron Golem being the chief defender of a city, with stone golems (made from wood) as additional defenders. I have even considered having four armed wooden gargoyles on temple rooves, for reasons that will become apparent in my next blog post on the Meckros Religion.