The War of Night
With very few choices in Ustalav, the half-elves generally live in Lepidstadt. There they find an easy acceptance due to the nature of the Varisians. There are small enclaves of half-elves in Caliphas, Karcau and Thrushmoor as well, but they find live somewhat more difficult in those City States. Redleaf is home to a few, and while the half-elves don’t necessarily feel like outsiders, they are considered unfortunate souls and the levels of pity frequently drive them to leave Redleaf and start anew elsewhere. It is only in Vische that their lives are truly different. There, they are slaves. Literally. Seen as the scum of Ustalav, they are not fit to be treated as a race, but poorly trained pets at best. The punishment for attempted escape is death, but this doesn’t stop them trying.
Half-elves stand taller than humans but shorter than elves. They inherit the lean build and comely features of their elven lineage, but their skin color is normally dictated by their human side. While half-elves retain the pointed ears of elves, theirs are more rounded and less pronounced. Their eyes tend to be human-like in shape, but feature an exotic range of colors from amber or violet to emerald green and deep blue. This pattern changes for half-elves of drow descent, however. Such elves are almost unfailingly marked with the white or silver hair of the drow parent, and more often than not have dusky gray skin that takes on a purplish or bluish tinge in the right light, while their eye color usually favors that of the human parent.
Half-elves understand loneliness, and know that character is often less a product of race than of life experience. As such, they are often open to friendships and alliances with other races, and less likely than most to rely on first impressions when forming opinions of new acquaintances. While many races join together to produce mixed offspring of notable power, such as half-orcs, half-dragons, and half-fiends, half-elves seem to have a unique position in the eyes of their progenitors and the rest of the world. Those humans who admire elvenkind see half-elves as a living link or bridge between the two races. But this attitude often foists unfair expectations and elevated standards upon half-elves, and quickly turns to derision when they do not live up to the grand destinies that others set for them.
Additionally, those half-elves raised by or in the company of elves often have the human half of their parentage dubbed a mere obstacle, something to be overcome with proper immersion and schooling in the elven ways, and even the most well-meaning elven mentors often push their half-elven charges to reject a full half of themselves in order to “better” themselves. The exception is those few half-elves born of humans and drow. Not unlike most half-orcs, such unions are commonly born out of violence and savagery that leaves the child unwanted by its mother if not killed outright. Moreover, as the physical features of half-drow clearly mark their parentage, crafting a reputation founded on deeds and character instead of heritage is more challenging for them. Even the most empathetic of other half-elves balk at the sight of a half-drow. Among other races, half-elves form unique and often unexpected bonds. Dwarves, despite their traditional mistrust of elves, see a half-elf’s human parentage as something hopeful, and treat them as half-humans rather than half-elves. Additionally, while dwarves are long-lived, the lifespan of the stout folk is closer to a half-elf’s own than that of either of her parents. As a result, half-elves and dwarves often form lasting bonds, be they ones of friendship, business, or even competitive rivalry.
In much the same way as the half-elves, the half-orcs have trouble fitting into most of Ustalav society, preferring to find a home in Lepidstadt or Karcau. Orcs are not particularly common in Ustalav, so a half-orc is always a product of violence, and therefore fairly rare. They have their place however, and in many of the societies, they are deemed extremely good at their chosen roles, particularly if that involves their intimidating features.
Half-orcs average around 6 feet tall, with powerful builds and greenish or grayish skin. Their canine teeth often grow long enough to protrude from their mouths, and these “tusks,” combined with heavy brows and slightly pointed ears, give them their notoriously bestial appearance. While half-orcs may be impressive, few ever describe them as beautiful. Despite these obvious orc traits, half-orcs are as varied as their human parents.
Unlike half-elves, where at least part of society’s discrimination is born out of jealousy or attraction, half-orcs get the worst of both worlds: physically weaker than their orc kin, they also tend to be feared or attacked outright by humans who don’t bother making the distinction between full orcs and half bloods. Even on the best of terms, half-orcs in civilized societies are not exactly accepted, and tend to be valued only for their physical abilities. On the other hand, orc leaders have been known to deliberately spawn half-orcs, as the half breeds make up for their lack of physical strength with increased cunning and aggression, making them natural leaders and strategic advisors. Within orc tribes, half-orcs find themselves constantly striving to prove their worth in battle and with feats of strength. Half-orcs raised within orc tribes are more likely to file their tusks and cover themselves in tribal tattoos. Tribal leaders quietly recognize that half-orcs are often more clever than their orc cousins and often apprentice them to the tribe’s shaman, where their cunning might eventually strengthen the tribe. Apprenticeship to a shaman is a brutal and often short-lived distinction, however, and those half-orcs who survive it either become influential in the tribe or are eventually driven to leave.
Half-orcs have a much more mixed experience in human society, where many cultures view them as little more than monsters. They often are unable even to get normal work, and are pressed into service in the military or sold into slavery. In these cultures, half-orcs often lead furtive lives, hiding their nature whenever possible. The dark underworld of society is often the most welcoming place, and many half-orcs wind up serving as enforcers for thieves guilds or other types of organized crime. Less commonly, human cities may allow half-orcs a more normal existence, even enabling them to develop small communities of their own. These communities are usually centered around the arena districts, the military, or mercenary organizations where their brute strength is valued and their appearance is more likely to be overlooked. Even surrounded by their own kind, half-orc life isn’t easy. Bullying and physical confrontation comes easy to a people who have been raised with few other examples of behavior. It is, however, one of the best places for young half-orcs to grow up without prejudice, and these small enclaves are one of the few places where half-orc marriages and children are truly accepted and sometimes cherished.
Woe betide a person who confuses a halfling and gnome! Neither race is particularly worried about it, but love to feed the perception this is a grave insult and will go to some reasonable lengths to ensure that the person making the mistake pays for it in some fashion.
This has led to a fairly large group of halflings living in Thrushmoor, but in general, they actually prefer the Varisian way of life, and as such, many halflings live in Lepidstadt. They don’t tend to want to make themselves stand out, so their community is quite close-knit, regardless of where they live.
Halflings rise to a humble height of 3 feet. They prefer to walk barefoot, leading the bottoms of their feet to become roughly calloused. Tufts of thick, curly hair warm the tops of their broad, tanned feet. Their skin tends toward a rich cinnamon color and their hair toward light shades of brown. A halfling’s ears are pointed, but proportionately not much larger than those of a human. Halflings prefer simple and modest clothing. Though willing and able to dress up if the situation demands it, their racial urge to remain quietly in the background makes them rather conservative dressers in most situations. Halfling entertainers, on the other hand, make their livings by drawing attention, and tend to go overboard with gaudy and flashy costumes.
Rather than place their faith in empires or great causes, many halflings prefer to focus on the simpler and humbler virtues of their families and local communities. Halflings claim no cultural homeland and control no settlements larger than rural assemblies of free towns. Most often, they dwell at the knees of their human cousins in human cities, eking out livings as they can from the scraps of larger societies. Many halflings lead perfectly fulfilling lives in the shadow of their larger neighbors, while some prefer more nomadic lives, traveling the world and experiencing all it has to offer.
Halflings rely on customs and traditions to maintain their own culture. They have an extensive oral history filled with important stories about folk heroes who exemplify particular halfling virtues, but otherwise see little purpose in studying history in and of itself. Given a choice between a pointless truth and a useful fable, halflings almost always opt for the fable. This tendency helps to explain at least something of the famous halfling adaptability. Halflings look to the future and find it very easy to cast off the weight of ancient grudges or obligations that drag down so many other races.
Other Minority Races:
Tieflings, catfolk, oread and a miriad of other races, they all have a place to call home in Ustalav. Karcau and Lepidstadt are the major City States where they have societies. Although the numbers are small, they are around, and it’s unlikely that they haven’t been seen somewhere, so they have no special social restrictions other than the standard elven superiority to deal with.