Moranth, and the Dragonbron and Tiefling Problem. Fith Edition D&D Design for the Malazan world.
Updated: Jul 11, 2018
The Moranth were at all times covered in chitinous armour, wearing helms with only small visor slots for sight. Their armour was difficult to remove and, in fact, appeared to be sutured on. Moranth were so thoroughly encased in their armour that it was difficult to identify their sex. The Moranth posses a highly sophisticated culture with written histories dating back thousands of years and an understanding of alchemy far surpassing anything created by the other races alive today. The Moranths highly regimented society is split into guilds which act something like a cast system, with each guild focusing primarily on one area, trade, seafaring, war etc.
Now this is a tricky one. There is nothing in standard D&D that comes close to this and for a long time I strongly considered not having them as a playable race at all. They keep a lot of secrets resulting in them being little explained in the books. We never get to see their homes in Cloud Forrest and we never see them without their armour. The problem of their armour is something I was especially stuck with. Getting new gear and loot is a big part of the in game reward for characters and to have a character that could never change their armour was a big problem. My first option, and one I stuck with for a long time was simply to do away with the idea that they could not take their armour off, but make it such that they would not do so in public and even when in private, with the company of close friends. This would men an end to the insect armour however. And what about mages? They don’t have any armour. In that case why not have them wear veils and hoods that maintain the insect like motif in their style and material?
Would I need to make the race from scratch or could I use something that already existed? One of the most obvious races that had no initial home within D&D was the Tieflings. With coloured skin, horns and racial magical abilities their wasn’t anywhere that they fit, nor was I sure how to shove them into the world. The Moranth were much disliked by the Barghast due to their past dealings with ‘demons’ so a connection was made there, in addition to their +1 inteligence helping to explain their heavy use of Alchemy. I was still stuck on the armour though, and the more I looked at the Moranth the more their secretive nature suggested to me that they should be a purely none playable people. Making it so that they could take off their armour and put on any old chainmail they found would remove a lot of the character and their strong military presence made little sense with their lack of any bonus to their fighting abilities. In the end I resorted to having the Tieflings be the “demonic” peoples that the Barghast hated the Moranth for working with and who taught them the secrets of Alchemy.
Dragonbron in the Malazan world?
At the same time as this I was trying to work out how to fit in the other distinctly D&D and definitely not Malazan race, the Dragonborn. I will touch more on why I wanted to include them despite their lack of presence in the books in the next section but for now it is mainly relevant to the subject of the Moranth. I felt I had a very easy solution to this gifted to me by Eriksons heavy use of evolution and decent within the world. The books make use of a very ancient race called the K’chain Che’Malle. I won’t go into them any more than I need to but suffice to say they were a race of sentient and civilised dinosaurs that existed at their peek millions of years ago, ruled over and bred by Matrons, living something like reptilian ant colonies. They largely died out some 300,000 years ago. This death was due to the rebellion of one of the special bred subspecies within their hives, the short tails. So we have a race of short tailed reptiles that walk on their hind legs, are intelligent, capable of breeding their race for specific purposes and existed a long time ago. A perfect fit for our tailless reptilian Dragonborn with their various coloured subspecies, resistances and breath weapons. So a much diminished version of the K’Chain Che’Malle found one tiny part of the world in which to survive. I knew I wanted them to be rare within the world as they rather stand out from the generally mammalian races but this offered a great way for me to start introducing again the real sense of age to the world.
With this in mind I selected a little mentioned group of humans from one of Esslemot’s books, the Umryg and set about making them into their own K’Chain Che’Malle short tailed descendants. Even in the books the Island nation of Umryg was ruled by a matriarchal female figure which led nicely into the idea that she controlled, through more conventional genetic breeding programs, the development of the different coloured reptiles.
At the start of my first play-through I still was not happy with the Tiefling place in the world, trying to spark out how and why they were here not to mention sorting out the fact that I would need to add a whole new race into the continent that wasn’t there in the books. I had them as refugees from another Warren but creating their identity was troublesome. The Dragonbron I was largely happy with but they still felt too out of place, even though I had found a way to ground them the history fo the world. To this end I needed up not including in the first test games list a pre-made characters I had produced. I was able to create over twenty just from the more mammalian races so it wasn’t too much of a loss.
Change of Plans
During these first games, and latter through my re-reading of Memories of Ice, the primary source book for the campaign, I came to a few conclusions. Firstly a lot of players wanted to play the very none human races, most of which were not from Genabackis. This is good in some ways as it result is in the players having a real sense of foreignness and due to me having made some regenerated characters it could easily be explained how and why they were there. The problem comes about when I play future games, or if my existing player characters die and they want to make another character. They will almost always end up being a foreigner which makes it rather convoluted to always have to explain why they are there. Secondly trying to shoe horn the tieflings Genabackis not feel natural and I really wasn’t happy with their placement, particularly as it is is revealed in Memories of Ice exactly what the daemons the Moranth were dealing with were (I had forgotten), making the Tieflings a poor choice.
Then I had a revelation. The Moranth guild system works on colours. What race already has colour as an important part of their distinctiveness? With it revealed that there is some kin relation to the Barghast and a strong military presence in the world what stat would it make the most sense to have as their highest score? What race ticks both of these boxes? The Dragonborn of course. What does this do? It removes the Dragonborn as lizard people and makes them fit into the Malazan setting and helps players to feel like they are in a whole different world, compared to the D&D they are sued to. The guilds colour work perfectly, letting players choose their guild and their racial colour simultaneously making their colour choice far more important than it often is in D&D. The breath weapon as well is an excellent opportunity to bring to the for the Moranths use of alchemies unseen anywhere else. This does not exist in the books, at all but the idea of the Moranth have alchemical dispenses in their helmets that can shoot acid or fire seems to fit rather well. Their resistance to damage can again be explained as a quality of their armour…ah…the armour...we have that same problem yet again.
For the Moranth their insect like armour is very much their identity in the books. They look to be not human and at first there is the question as to if it really is armour and not just part of their body. Rather than having the human looking tiefling don the chitinous exoskeleton it works much better to have a race that is already very none human and unlikely to fit in the Malazan world, take up the mantel. Using the Dragonborn statistics also frees up some mechanical breathing room with the class. I play a Black Dragonborn in my main online line campaign and I can tell you this. My acid resistance has never come up, and I’ve spat a line of acid twice in the the campaign and it was a lot less effective than if I had just used my weapons. Though the power of your breath weapon improves as you level, the DC for enemies to avoid the damage increases very little and is based on your constitution. Some colours and classes can use it better, but that makes you only every want to play those colours. You also don’t get darkvison. So all you have are a pair of rather situation abilities. Thats it. In many ways I would have been more powerful if I can been a standard human.
To this end I have no qualms in adding, an admittedly restrictive, benefit to the Dragonbron/Moranth without feeling the need to take anything away in exchange.
+1 to their base AC. That sounds rather good doesn’t it? It means that even a mage starts before dexterity bonuses with an AC of 11 and unlike the Lizardfolk AC bonus it applies no matter armour you are wearing, so it always feels relevant. This was I can have a mage still visually being fully covered in armour and give a feeling that the Moranth armour is some how special.
But what about that restriction I mentioned?
You can’t take it off. But what about the cool gear problem again? I said YOU can’t take it off. What you can instead do is visit a Moranth Guild building in a city. Not all cities will have them and most of them will be Green Moranth who are the traders guild. No matter what though you will be able to speak with them and if you pay the gold cost of the set of armour you want, they will take you off for who knows what and put you into your new set of armour, which importantly is still insect like. Got a set of shiny new magical armour? Not a problem they can transfer the enchantment across and then suit you up in the new gear. Also note that you won’t be able to sell off the old set of armour at the normal half gold cost.
This means you get the lovely +1 to AC that helps make Dragonborn a tad more powerful, butwith a set of restrictions that limits this power in a way that flavourfully fits the Moranth.
Charismatic Moranth and Paladins
I make a quick not here about the important aspect of the Dragonborns +1 to Charisma. In my mind this represented their nature as mercenaries and traders that works out nicely. What it does do is mean that Dragonborn are favoured by paladin players. What does that mean for the Moranth for whome religion is not really mentioned? After my re reading of Memories of Ice and discovering the heightened connection between the Barghast and the Morangth, as well as a few choice comments by member of the Black Moranth, I like many people, came to the conclusion the the Moranth are ancestor worshipers. So how is one a Moranth Paladin? By channeling the power of the numerous spirits of your forbears, calling upon your great grandmother who was a mighty warrior, or your three times removed uncle who fought against daemons. This should hopefully make for some interesting Paladin characters in my games.
So what happens to the Tieflings? As mentioned before the problems with them still existed so what to do with them? Well, an opening in the Umryg had recently opened up. Perhaps they could go there? I will address this aspect in greater detail alongside the other races not present in the Malazan world.
Thank you for reading.