We are 4 days out from the launch of the Upwind Kickstarter (10.11) and as promised here's another sneak peak into the core book.
Hemoths, Dwellers and Meat Crickets...Oh My!
The Kin are not the only inhabitants of the strange world of Upwind - not by a long shot. Here are three examples - and an awesome illustration by James Stowe - of the wondrous and often dangerous creatures that can be found in the uncharted skies.
The Hemoth are massive creatures that drift through the skies of the Realms in large familial herds. They are shaped like ship-sized teardrops, with rows of stubby, seemingly ineffectual wings along their flanks, and huge sail-like tails. Their gigantic, ponderous forms are held aloft by the elemental power of the Wind - like the hulls of skyships - though arcane zoologists disagree about whether their flight is an innate use of wild Potential or something more enigmatic.
Hemoth are truly gentle giants. They are clever for animals and apparently communicate using low frequency airborne vibrations that are felt more than heard. Though hunted for meat by some Kin cultures, Hemoths are only aggressive in defense of their herds, otherwise drifting peacefully through the sky. Stories are told of feral Kin who have somehow domesticated hemoth herds, not only riding upon them like ship’s crew, but of whole tribes living nomadic lives upon their backs. Such tales always seem to accompany strong drink and so should be taken accordingly.
Hemoths graze on cloud gardens, diving through the dense vegetation that grows in these drifting groves, consuming great swaths of the plants, and often the animals, that live within. A sizable herd can decimate even a large garden, eating all but a few remnant tatters in short order. These shreds however, are quick to seed new gardens and some of the species within even depend on being consumed and disbursed by feeding hemoths to facilitate this.
Dwellers are enigmatic creatures. They are gaunt, bipedal beings with long limbs, squat bodies, heavy jaws and bulbous eyes. They are social and self aware but otherwise appear prelingual. Dwellers are found across the skies but are most commonly encountered in the Twilight Frontier. Though regional populations are usually small there have been reports of large concentrations in specific locales.
The creatures are furtive and live in small, family bands. Strangely, dwellers are most frequently found denning in Masters’ ruins - living in the deepest chambers and using the tunnels to move about unseen. The more warren-like the cache the more likely dwellers are to be found. Dwellers to not appear to make tools or build structures, but they have been observed using found objects in tool-like ways - including as effective weapons. They appear to be omnivores and only opportunistic hunters.
Most Guild zoologists believe dwellers are related to the ferals encountered in the Dark - another vestigial line of Child. Some fringe thinkers believe they may be degenerate relatives of the Kin or even corrupt descendants of the Masters of the Wind themselves. Necropsies of recovered specimens have provided scant clues to the mystery and scholars continue to debate their origins.
Though the creatures generally avoid contact with Kin there are cases of violent encounters and savage battles with dweller hordes. Whether larger populations make them more aggressive or drive them into territorial frenzies these attacks have been unprovoked, vicious and deadly. Accordingly, Guild members are instructed to treat all contact with dwellers as potentially dangerous.
Meat crickets are large, regionally abundant arthropods found throughout the Frontier. They are ugly, pallid, hard-shelled creatures the size of dogs with dangerous pinching claws and long, multi-jointed hind legs that allow them to leap 30 feet at a bound. Meat crickets are voracious, carnivorous pack-hunters that employ both pursuit and ambush tactics with equal effectiveness.
When chasing prey, crickets cooperate to bring down individual animals much larger than themselves - snapping at their limbs with their formidable claws, leaping ahead to cut them off, wearing them down by injury, blood loss and fatigue. The loud and eerie chirping sounds they use to coordinate their pursuit add chilling notes to the kill.
When lying in ambush, meat crickets array themselves around a kill zone, camouflaging themselves in ground litter. The ring of predators will then take it in turns, chirping quietly, their cooing calls serving to attract other predators that are themselves on the hunt. When the unwary target finally enters their ring the crickets burst from cover, swarming the prey and eating it alive. Meat crickets in a feeding frenzy are frightening and dangerous even to themselves, often taking slices out of each other as they eat.
Meat crickets are actually quite tasty and if explorer crews are willing to risk being hunted themselves crickets are a ready source of fresh meat. They are easily roasted and served in their own shells and have a mild, fish-like taste. It has become a common pastime for the more artistic among Guild crews to scrimshaw images from their explorations on the large pincer claws leftover from a meat cricket feast.