The Za'akis (literaly 'People of the Earth', in the sense of earth as ground, not the planet) are a species of warm-blooded bipeds. They are similar in some aspects to earth mammal taxon of Prototheria, making them egg-layers. Za'akis are native to the world of Za'ak, which was named after it's people. Previous to the Za'akis expansion into space the planet had no officially recognized name, often bearing a simple designation of digits. Za'akis evolved and thrived on a planet notorious for it's deadly environment.
When integrated into the Delaztri Empire, they were uplifted and served as shock troops and enforcers. While records during this era are sketchy, it is assumed that only less than twenty percent of their population served outside of military and law-enforcement branches. Following the collapse of the Delaztri and the occupation of their homeworld by the Andromedans, the Za'akis scattered across the galaxy and some of them can be found amongst the Stellar Khanate.
Za'akis biology, on the surface, appears very similar to that of many alien species. They have two eyes, two arms and two legs. Some Lor theorized they might be the result of hybridation between Ancient Lor and another species inhabiting Za'ak but to this day there are no proof of this theory, despite it's popularity amongst many scholars.
Despite the common image of them as feral and brutish warriors, Za'akis are not particularly massive, with an average height very similar to Lor and humans. While muscular, they aren't particularly so. Their low body fat and hardened body make them appear particularly muscular but overall the muscle mass is nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, as a whole, unlike many of Za'ak species they have not evolved for strength and size but rather for speed and endurance. It i assumed their ancestors were pack-based hunters and scavengers who relied on their smaller size and greater manual dexterity to survive.
Facially they resemble most humanoids species and are varied in their appearance. However, their bodies are completely hairless. Instead of cutting and styling their hair, Za'akis decorate their head crests, which are bony ridges on their brow and skull, which descend down their neck and their spine. Smaller ridges exist on their feet, hands and forearms. A few Za'akis display more unusual configurations in their ridges, such as ridges extending into short horn-like structures or having ridges and spines on their brow or chin. Ears are entirely internal and only appear as slits on the side of their heads, surrounded by spiky outgrowths. Their eyes vary in color, usually in shades of red, yellow, orange and yellowish-green green with the vary rare green. They are capable of seeing the infrared spectrum and track preys based on their heat signature.
Skin pigmentation is varied, from green to blue of any shade. Za'akis skin is naturally hard and callous. While soft at birth, it harden during their growth and they become fully armored around the same time they reach sexual maturity around the age of fifteen earth years. Their skin serve the double function of protecting them from harm and regulating their body temperature. Fluids and glands under their skin and in their torso are exceedingly efficient at both regulating their temperature as well as functioning as something akin to antibodies. As a result, Za'akis are nearly immune to most known disease and poisons from birth.
Growth and Reproduction
Za'akis reproduce by laying eggs in clutches of three to six. At birth, newborn Za'akis have soft, pale rubbery skin. The skin change and darken to it's natural color as the child age. As the child enter it's first growth spurt, their skin harden and their ridges appear. Back on their homeworld, those who failed to develop their armored hide were usually killed by beasts. After their uplifting, these later bloomers usually survived but often end up mocked by their peers. By the time a Za'akis has reached sexual maturity, it's skin has finished hardening.
In term of growth and lifespan, Za'akis age at roughly the same rate as humans and can live to around a hundred years, althought truly exceptional specimens go as far as a hundred fifty. Before they were uplifted by the Delaztri, their maximum lifespan was generally shorter. The extreme conditions on their planet, however, meant that very few individuals ever lived long.
It is a known and established fact that Za'akis civilization was already old when Kharag began his unification. Traces of said civilizations, having gathered in primitive cities go back to the 8th millenium before christ (when using Earth's calendar that is) at a minimum and possibly earlier. They had already discovered bronze and invented writing by then, if not earlier. Due to it's harsh environment, it is difficult to study Za'ak's past with any certainty.
Following the fall of Za'ak to the Andromedans, the Za'akis people have been scattered. Countless died during the fall of their homeworld, but the size of the Za'akis diaspora and their quick breeding rate ensured the survival of the species. Za'akis can be found in many places across the galaxy, usually as isolated worlds or a cluster of worlds. These worlds are almost always under the control of a Great House, which is their main political unit. While the Za'akis plays overall little to no role in galactic politics, they remain a constant problem to many races as they have a tendency to default to conquest and pirating to acquire what they need.
Some Za'akis are members of the Lor Republic while others live in communities alongside other races, usually working as hired muscles or being used for physical labor. The largest population of non-Housed Za'akis is found in the Stellar Khanate.
The conditions on Za'ak have shaped the Za'akis and even to this day, they remain harsh and predatory people. While far from mere savages, Za'akis are often naturally blunt and simple people, prefering the most direct solution to a problem. One core aspect of their culture is self-perfection and glory; since survival was the primary imperative on Za'ak, one's social worth is most often derived from their skill and deed. While it previously mostly meant activities such as hunting and fighting, the multiple social, cultural and economic revolutions the Za'akis underwent mean that it is no longer the case. Even then, amongst Za'akis intellectuals and artists, there is still a very harsh competition.
It should be noted that to them there is no shame in losing a contest as it does not erase previous achievements. This is why challenging a superior in battle and winning in single combat didn't automatically granted the winner the title and position; said victory had to be backed up by a sufficient amount of people who recognized the legimacy of the winner. Should the crowd decide to side with the defeated, there was no consequence for the winner. Honor dictated that the winner be given a sufficient prize and be spared. The loser, despite support, could also choose to yield to the winner, in which case the crowd would have no choice but to accept the winner. While it may seem to an outside that such practice defeat the purpose an contradict their 'might make right' philophy, in practice few would even bother challenging their superior unless they knew they would have the support of the majority. These practices are no longer used in Za'akis politics on many worlds, but some do maintain them.
When it come to honor, Za'akis could be easily misunderstood as easily-angered death seeker, eager to take the most foolish and otherwise impressive option. However that is not true; while certainly glory-seeking by nature, such attitude is one that will weed out the least intelligent (and lucky) of their kind. Za'akis can and will retreat from situations where they are a distinct disadvantage, it is simply that their more risk-taking than humans by nature and the margin for what is wise and what isn't can come off as much thinner. On a related note, Za'akis are perfectly able to use underhanded tactics, however, with these one must understand the taboo; it is only acceptable to use underhanded and honorless tactics if your opponent is equally without honor, as fighting with a strict code an opponent who has none would be suicide.
Pre-spaceflight Za'akis made it tradition to wear what they killed. While such practice still exist today, they are less common. Instead, such tradition is homaged in how the Za'akis dress; while they use the same materials as other space civilizations, their clothes are patterned to mimic leather and scales. Headress, while more subtle, often have stripes or patterns that hint at the shape of a bestial skull. Ancient tribal markings also adorn their clothes, weapons and ships. Contact with species who posses hair has created an interesting phenomena, with Za'akis attempting to mimic hair by using animal fur, which is braided and held to their cranial ridge via piercings, creating braids and locks of various color.
Za'akis names are mostly unisex and tend to follow certain patterns, especially along ethnic groups. Typical names include; Ghandak, Mohnak, Nashra, Sorahk, Thursk, Khresh, Gulgha, Horakk, Tarizi, Siviris, Atariz, Vitriz and Matsrivi.
Za'akis have always gathered, in their history, into extended families as a mean of survival. Thus, it is of absolutely of no surprise to anyone that such a social structure has survived even after their exile from their home planet and the collapse of the Delaztri empire. Clan is an apt, but somewhat incorrect description as the Za'akis would point out that the modern form of it evolved from various pre-existing cultures dating back to their pre-spaceflight days.
Modern clans, sometime called houses or Great Clans are the main political unit of Za'akis society. A Great Clan is formed of many smaller clans and family united under a same banner. Some clans are tied to specific pre-existing cultures from their pre-spaceflight days while others are more cosmopolitan, having formed after the Za'akis scattered across the stars. The amount of social mobility depends heavily on the clan; some are fairly open-minded, allowing one to choose his path so long as he (or she) is capable of exercing it well, while others are more feudal in nature, with a strict warrior class composed of members of the ruling families, with the families handling the rest of the work. In such clans, the lower class warriors are held as a distinct social class.
Many Za'akis encountered across the galaxy are exiled from their homeworlds and Za'akis space in general. These individuals have undertaken specific oaths, which excludes them from Za'akis society, making them akin to Knight Errants and Ronin. The reasons for undertaking such an oath are numerous. The most commonly accepted one is, of course, a failure of some kind. The individual is spared from death but exiled from their homes to undergo a certain task or die trying. Sometimes, the punishment is put on an entire family or bloodline, such as having all firstborn son sent to exile upon adulthood. These oaths have often been put in place in order to limit Za'akis population, as life outside of their homeworld has greatly increased their chances of survival and can cause some problem with overpopulation. Some individuals, however, undertake the oath willingly, in hope of achieving greatness and being welcomed back into society. Such returns are very rare but when they do happen these individuals are hailed as amongst the greatest heroes of the race. All Za'akis sent on such exile are invariably warriors. If they aren't (or rather, aren't competent warrior as all Za'akis are expected to know how to defend themselves) it is expected of them to become one during their exile. By tradition, it is forbidden for an exiled Za'akis to mate but many break the rules. When such children are found within Za'akis society, they themselves inherit the oath and must continue their parent's work.
Different oaths fulfill different purposes and come with different codes of conduct for the individual. Those who are exiled in such way are tattooed or scarred in specific ways that mark them as outsiders to be shunned by the other Za'akis. A common loophole used is that nothing says marked individuals can't cooperate with others, sometime forming bands that travel the galaxies as heroes or as brutal raiders. The most common oath is called the Oath of Reclamation. It is an oath to go and retake Za'ak from the Andromedans. To this day, no one ever returned.
Za'akis have remained spiritual people despite many of them being now agnostic. Ancestral cults are still maintainned even when beliefs in gods and spirits have been somewhat abandonned or simplified. In the modern age, the most common religions are, when organized in wide groups;
Polytheism: Polytheism has remain quite strong and popular amongst the Za'akis. It is not uncommon to find populations of Za'akis worshipping gods associated with aspects of the world and society. The gods worshipped by polytheists include those listed below, such as Ravvok and Hanak-Kalak.
Perfection Cults: A wide array of cults, sects and beliefs built upon the Za'akis belief of self-perfection. While the ancient God-King Kharag is not directly worshipped or even acknowledge as a god, he is often cited as an example. These Cults believe that he and other heroes, both mythological and historical, achieved a form of transcendance via self-perfection. These cults are nearly all practice some form of martial art. They range from pacifists to hedonists to raging berserkers.
Ancestral Cults: More tied to the animistic beliefs of the Ancient Za'akis, these cults worship their ancestors. These cults are fairly varied, ranging from simple observance of yearly rites to more complex beliefs involving the afterlife and how to access it, usually via a certain way of life. Others involve heavy use of genealogy and arranged marriage, making it a certain form of eugenism, which is more and more frowned upon in Za'akis society.
For most Za'akis religion, anyone can become a priest. The Za'akis term for priest can be translated tospeaker. A priest is someone who speak, both with the divine and material and act very much as a community leader which is not strictly bound to any clan (althought it isn't to say priests are truly neutral, many can be biased). What rituals they perform vary heavily depending on the nature and dogma. Priest can come from any walk of life and can be of any gender. How and why one become a priest can vary immensely; some choose to become priests the same way one choose any craft or work. Other priests are chosen, not by the gods but by their community. While the concept of deeds for Za'akis is often related to martial honor and prowess, one can also cut itself above the crowd with their wisdom. Such individuals earn the deep respect of their communities and are asked to become priests. One is not obligated to agree but it is considered an honor. Becoming a priest is one of the few position in Za'akis society that is absolutely not tied to any challenge as there is generally no hiearchy to it. Anyone who is a priest will always remain one. Any spcific position such as the head and protector of a temple is to be merely passed on, not fought over. The one currently holding it decide when he relinquish it and pass it on to a sucessor. It is generally expected that a sucessor will show an interest in inheriting the position but the current holder is expected to groom the sucessor and teach him everything there is to know about the role.
The Divine Speakers
When Kharag disappeared, he left vacant the position of earthly representative of the Za'akis gods which were, at the time, already becoming very distant. The Divine Speaker was a position created in the ensuing turmoil and born more out of politics than faith; someone very powerful and with a lot of influence had left a seat completely open. At first many hesitated but no divine sign or decree was issued. Thus the role of the Divine Speaker was created, acting as the spiritual leader of the Za'akis. At least in practice, as Za'akis spirituality had always been fragmented and conflictual.
In the wake of modernization, there are now not one but three divine speakers with only one who is openly and adamantly polytheist, as the role tried to evolve toward a spiritual one without any previous religious connotations.
The ancient Za'akis pantheon, which is still worshipped today by a sizeable amount of the population, has a large array of gods and is comparable to Earth's pantheons in polytheist religions, such as the Greek, Norse or Egyptian pantheons. A sample of these gods include;
Kehnaka - The Celestial Hunter Head deity of the Za'akis pantheon, althought not the eldest. Kehnaka is a fearsome, destructive figure but he is hardly antagonistic to the Za'akis. Amongst the gods, he is the fiercest of them all in battle, a peerless hunter, the strongest and wisest. He embodies the height and greatness the Za'akis strive for.
Ravvok - The Keeper After Kehnaka, Ravvok is the most important god of the hunt. Where Kehnaka is the untouchable ideal of the hunter and warrior, Ravvok is the more down to earth god who is prayed to. Simultaneously a god of the wilderness and civilization, he embodies Za'ak's constant and symbiotic conflict between civilization and the savage wilderness.
Gharavau - The Destroyer While the Za'akis have countless warrior deities, Gharavau is generally considered the most feared and for good measures. A distant figure from the other Za'akis gods, he is the archetype of the lone warrior and destructor. He is never sated and never content. While feared, he is nonetheless respected for it is said he travels across the celestial realms, slaying monsters. His strength and prowess are admired but the Za'akis fear he may turn on them at any moment, for he is a fickle god.
Hanak-Kalak - Master of Retribution Hanak-Kalak is the god associated with concepts such as justice and retribution. While he has a war-like aspect to him like most Za'akis god, he is not a god of wanton bloodshed and destruction. Hanak-Kalak is considered a patron of judges, executionners and assassins as well anyone whose work involve the enforcement of some form of payback. He is the twin of Kanah-Nahak.
Kanah-Nahak - Master of Mercy If Hanak-Kalak is all about enforcing retribution and payback, Kanah-Nahak is the enforcer snd patron of fairness and mercy. Where his twin brother is about the enforcement of strict codes and their consequences, Kanah-Nahak is the one to plead for breaking and reconsidering law and their fairness in a certain situation. This often lead him to be associated with liars and those who wish to subvert the code of law for their own benefit but such association is not present in the original myths.
Viidaka - Protector of Homes A goddess associated with home, nursing, protection and murder. The last one might seem out of place to non Za'akis but as the goddess who protects the home of her people, she's also a patron of self-defense, especially in the context of defending one's home from attackers and predators alike who may attempt to feast on sleeping warriors and infants. Viidaka is a vigilant figure who is said to never sleep. She's sometimes considered a possible candidate for Kharag's mother.
Duhliv - The Bringer of Fortune A goddess of farming, fishing, nature and good fortune. She's said to be the mistress of all earthly creatures. Suprisingly for what appears to be a warrior culture at a glance (an assesment that is very much true), Duhliv is one of the most beloved deity of the Za'akis pantheon, with a shrine in nearly every village. Her priests were often asked to bless the token of a hunter's first kill and marriage gifts for good fortune.
The Glorious Host An abstract group of deities. In Za'akis mythology, not only are objects, animals or places associate a god, events are also assigned a god or, rather, create one as they are comitted. As such, each battle, each hunt and each great deed is given it's god to act as it's personification in the outerworld and to immortalize the event. Those deities of events are said to gather in countless numbers around celestial campfires to tell the story of their birth. Presumably, they have a hiearchy based on the importance and scope of the event.
Loroth - The Exiled Tyrant The origin of the Za'akis tradition of replacing someone deem ill-suited to it's job comes from the story of Loroth. When a new generation of gods took over from the old one, Loroth was their leader. When he became the ruler of all heavens and earth, Loroth installed a strict order to all creation. In time, Loroth became annoyed by the other gods and desired a simpler order to the world, where he alone would rule everything in perfect order; his order. Mad with power, Loroth began enslaving all the other gods and enacting countless changes to the world. It is said that for one thousand days and one thousand nights, heavens and earth only knew the fear of Loroth. While eventually defeated, Loroth said he would never die as the legend goes that he had bullied the gods and spirits of death and fate himself and forced them to rewrite fate so that he may never be killed. Legend goes that he was thrown outside of heaven into the darkness beyond. Loroth is the archetype of the unjust and dishonorable ruler.
Martial Arts and Psychic Powers
Outside of their naturally resilient physiology, most Za'akis practice to some degree some form of martial art. Despite the abundance of ressources to make weapons, both from bestial claws and metal, most Za'akis train their body in order to fight unharmed as a result of their naturally dangerous existence. This stem from the fact that weapons can break or be lost, but one's body will always be there until death. As a result, the average Za'akis at least knows some good basics of some martial art. Some dedicated individuals, however, train themselves to truly extreme limits and learn to harness their own energy, something the people of earth would call Qi or Chi. While the Za'akis do not carry the same cultural baggage, in essence, it is very much the same thing.
One confusion that has arisen from this is the idea that Za'akis are rarely psychic. This is not true. While not a predominantly psychic race, psychic abilities do exist in a relatively stable amount of the population. The reason this confusion has arisen is that Za'akis rarely, if ever, learn to channel such gifts as the Lor Mentats. Instead of telepathy and telekinesis, they learn to channel their raw emotions through their body. Because such training is directly tied into their physical training, this mean most Za'akis “mentat” in essence learn to blend bodily energy and psychic energy, which they channel almost exclusively through their body, giving their powers such as bursts of superhuman speed, the ability to perfectly control their bodily function or venting their rage through primal bursts, often via screaming. Za'akis psionics are nothing like the subtle psychic gifts of the other races, it is violent, primal and physical.
Za'akis Template (PL 4+)
The following template is suitable for helping stat a baseline Za'akis, representing their physical capabilities:
Abilities: Str +4, Dex +4, Con +4
Powers: Immunity 2 (Cold, Heat) Immunity 2 (Disease, Poison, Flaw: Half Effect), Protection 2, Super-Senses 2 (Infravision, Tracking)