Introduction to John Beddoes' On the Races of Arcanum
Within the realm of Arcanum there are several kinds of thinking creature, and the resemblance which all of them share is obvious even to the most casual and unlettered observer. The modern naturalist, unable to accept the superstitious explanations which are offered by Religion, must find some other means to explain the similarity between peoples as disparate as orc and elf, human and halfling, ogre and dwarf. Why do all known races of thinking creature stand upright and walk upon two legs, count five fingers upon each hand and five toes upon each foot, and see with two eyes? It may please some to believe that the hand of an Almighty Creator was at work, and yet if one sits before different pulpits one is bound to hear different, and conflicting, tales of that Creation. None of these fables sort well with what we are daily learning by our study of fossils and our observation of the natural world. If our understanding of Life and its history is to expand, we must do better.
In the interests of this greater understanding, then, I have undertaken to create a new system of classification for the various Races of Arcanum. In this venture my own observations as a naturalist have been enriched by much study, and a diligent application of the valuable data gleaned by other scientific researchers. I have also consulted some experts in the field of Magick, when I felt that Science could not provide an adequate explanation for certain phenomena. The end result of my efforts will, I have no doubt, be displeasing to many and wholly satisfactory to almost no one. Men of Faith and men of Science alike will howl for my blood, condemning me as a heretic; practitioners of the Mystic Arts will call me a dabbler and dismiss my theories with the same carelessness with which they treat all the products of Natural Philosophy. Nevertheless, I must submit my theories to universal inspection! If I am wrong, I challenge my peers to show me the error of my ways with reasoned argument and sound evidence, rather than the shameless assassination of my character and general hysteria with which my theories have been contradicted thus far.
In this treatise I will deal chiefly with what evidence the conjoined Sciences of Paleontology, Ethnology and modern Biology have been able to discover, but I cannot say that I am wholly free of debt to several noted practitioners of the Art. Most particularly, the Alchemickal expertise of Wandrei Lightbrow, Ph.M. at the Hall of Applied Magicks in Tulla, has been of inestimable help to me, especially in the dating of fossils and the isolation of certain mystical vibrations in living subjects. I also learned much from my correspondence with Master Olaius Wyrmius, the esteemed Dean of History at Dernholm's Academy of Higher Learning, who instructed me in the theory and practice of Necromancy in the ancient world. And I cannot ever find words sufficient to express my gratitude to the Wayfinder of my journey aboard the T.S.S. Cerberus, the lady El'ena Crowe. She was not only first to listen to my thoughts on Natural and Supernatural History with any patience, but was also kind enough to assist me in my inquiries, by allowing me the opportunity to interview many of her elven friends, acquaintances and relations. She was also good enough to grant me her hand in marriage on the morning of May Eve, 18XX, by which gift she has made me the happiest of men. The following pages, and my remaining years upon this earth, are dedicated to her.
Chapter One: The Minute Races: Dwarves, Gnomes, and HalflingsEdit
The first grouping of Arcanum's intelligent peoples are the three which I have come to call the Minute Races, these being the Dwarves and their cousins, the Halflings and Gnomes. The Minute Races are easily recognized by their stature, which never admits of a height greater than some 50 inches or 130 centimeters, even in the largest representatives of their race. They are also recognizable by the proportions of the body, which are somewhat different than those exhibited by humans and their kin. Minute peoples tend to have heads which are larger in proportion to the torso and limbs than one would see in a human subject. The limbs, especially the legs, are also shorter and thicker.
Of all the Minute Races, the Dwarven Clans are indisputably the paragon. Larger and more physically formidable than their lesser cousins, the Halflings and Gnomes, they also live longer; the natural life span of a male dwarf is nearly 600 years. Dwarves range in height from 30 inches to an extreme of 50 or so, and can weigh up to nine stone, all of it muscle. They are prey to few diseases, having a constitution which can bear extremes of weather and deficiencies of diet far better than virtually any other race known. They are also highly intelligent and civilized, possess a refined artistic sensibility, and enjoy acute senses of taste, smell and hearing; faculties which all Minute persons share. In distinguishing dwarves from other Minute races, take special note of their facial hair; neither gnomes nor halflings can sport such full and luxuriant beards.
Our experiments with Dwarven tissue have shown them to be almost completely devoid of any mystical vibration, and their bones have been found at great geological depth in the fossil record. I conclude from this that they are not the product of any Magickal agency, but are instead the children of pure Natural Selection, just as humans are. According to the scanty evidence we have presently available, the parting of ways between our Median race and the Minute races occurred some two million years ago, and we evolved along parallel courses from then on. For this reason, it is impossible for humans and members of any Minute Race to produce offspring together; the blood ties between us are not strong enough to allow it.
As children of Natural Selection, dwarves, like humans, have no special aptitude for the practice of Magick, and are inclined to seek power in the application of Natural Law. They have a great gift for mathematics, and all those professions which derive from its use, including architecture and engineering. They excel in mining, refining, and shaping metals, and it is in these occupations that they are chiefly known to outsiders, but their artisans in leather, wood, and stone are also unparalleled. The beauty of their sculpture and carpentry must be seen to be properly appreciated. Alas, very few non-dwarves ever have the opportunity to see their homes, much less the many treasures inside; dwarves are a secretive people, bound by many laws and taboos which cannot be broken, on pain of banishment or even death.
Dwarves live in mountainous regions, and their settlements tend to be small. Ogres are their natural enemies, since the two races compete for space, but the dwarves have the advantage of greater intelligence and numbers; in any dispute between the two, dwarves are always the victors. The peculiarities of dwarven society have inspired a great many myths and misconceptions about their race, which the Clans have been at no great pains to correct. Some theologians hold that they are the Children of Earth, formed of the primordial clay and made from the beginning of time to toil underground. That their race is ancient, there can be no doubt; it is also true that they have made their homes in the mountains for many thousands of years. However, recent evidence unearthed on the far side of the Stonewall mountain range suggests that dwarves once occupied the plains there, and may have built above-ground cities within sight of the Western Ocean. In the half-buried ruins of old Ur'uk and Caamlun, archaeologists have unearthed extremely ancient ceramics and lead figures which depict dwarves hunting, hawking, even fishing and farming in the lowlands.
What catastrophe eventually drove the dwarven Clans to the forbidding mountains in which they now dwell? It is impossible at present to say. It may be linked to the overwhelming antipathy which dwarves still bear for orcs, however, which is otherwise inexplicable. It may also have to do with the remarkable longevity of their race, and the price they pay for this enduring span of natural life. Many have wondered why dwarven women are never seen by outsiders, and why they do none of the work in mine, quarry, smelter and forge for which their people have become so renowned. In attempting to arrive at some explanation for this generally known fact, I made a study of many other long-lived organisms, and I concluded that the dwarven life cycle must include a very long period of confinement for their women. My experience suggests that they most likely take over ten years to deliver a healthy infant, once the child is conceived. During this time, a dwarven lady's health must be very much at risk, and the efforts of her entire clan are probably bent to keeping her safe, well, and in a state of perfect serenity.
By visiting the dwarven settlements north of Stillwater, I was able to make a casual count of the men in the community, most of whom could be seen traveling daily to the mines. Given that number, and an estimate of the supplies which were always being delivered from the south, I was able to make a fair guess at the number of dwarven females which must live there, hidden from the prying eyes of strangers by high walls and locked doors. The results were surprising; it appeared that dwarven males outnumbered the females by nearly 2 to 1!
Combine the long period of confinement and the ratio of men to women, and it is little wonder that females of child-bearing age must be a rare and precious commodity among the dwarves, to be sheltered and protected at all costs. Perhaps this explains why we rarely see a dwarven adventurer who is not bent on making a vast fortune, and winning as much gold as he can get; the poor fellow may be hoping to raise a hefty bride price, in order to be eligible for marriage!
Gnomes, like dwarves and halflings, are a Minute Race. They are descended from Dwarven stock; according to our limited fossil finds, the first true gnomes appeared over seven hundred thousand years ago, in what is now Cumbria. It would seem that the divergence of gnomish and dwarven races occurred by the ordinary process of Natural Selection, rather than by magickal intervention. This theory is supported by alchemickal testing of gnomish tissue, which yields no distinctive mystic vibration for their species. Accordingly, like all products of pure natural selection, gnomes have no special advantage in the practice of Magick. They are not particularly known for its use.
Unlike dwarves, gnomes are not possessed of an especially powerful physique, and they do not display exceptional strength; their physical powers are more in keeping with their stature, which is quite small. Gnomes average less than 40 inches or 100 centimeters in height, and usually weigh some four or five stone at most. However, they do possess uncommon endurance and longevity! The natural life span of a gnomish male is some 500 years, barring accidents and illness.
Superficially, gnomes can also be distinguished from other Minute peoples by their facial features and feet. Unlike their dwarven cousins, they are never seen to sport a beard. They also do not possess oversized and hairy feet, as halflings do. The only remarkable physical feature of the common gnome is his or her nose, which is usually large and fleshy. Like all Minute races, gnomes are possessed of exceptionally keen senses in general, but the size of the gnomish nose may account somewhat for a gnome's sense of smell, which is extremely precise and exacting. In this particular faculty, in fact, they are second to none! The gnomish sense of smell may go far to explain the great success they have enjoyed as chemists and perfume-makers.
Aside from these superficial differences, which can be subtle to the untrained observer, the main difference between gnomes and other Minutes is in character. Here the contrasts are sharp and defining! For example: whereas dwarves make their homes almost exclusively in mountainous regions, gnomes are not confined to any particular locale; they are found everywhere that there is commerce and trade. And, while dwarves live in a closed and insular society, preferring to avoid contact with other races as much as possible, gnomes are free-ranging and cosmopolitan. Halflings are a shy, retiring, and largely sedentary folk; gnomes are fiercely energetic and driven. Of all Minute peoples, gnomes are the most likely to travel, learn new languages, and appreciate all that is novel and foreign to their experience.
At the heart of the world-famous gnomish ambition, which has inspired so many gnomes to become bankers, politicians, and captains of industry, one always finds a strong desire for security. Outside observers, who tend to pass judgement based on surface appearances, have often condemned the gnomish people for their love of gold and power; but in doing so, they ignore the motivation behind any gnome's quest for wealth. Gnomes do not love money or influence for their own sake! It is the desire to provide assurances for himself and his Family that motivates the average gnome.
It must be noted that the ordinary gnome, once stripped of his fortune and title, is a highly vulnerable person. Gnomes are not so well able to defend themselves as dwarves are, in a physical sense; they also do not have impassible mountain ranges to hide behind. If a gnome is to enjoy any peace of mind, then, he must have some means of providing for himself and his loved ones. Some barrier must be erected between himself and the world, which is full of dangers. Before being quick to pass judgement, it may be wise for us to remember that a gnome may spend up to 100 years as a pensioner!
Also, the devotion and duty which a dwarf gives to his Clan is mirrored, in gnomes, by their allegiance to the extended Family, to which any gnome's loyalties are final and absolute. Siblings, parents, grand-parents and other living ancestors, cousins and cousins-by-marriage--as a member of the Family, any given gnome is expected to assume responsibility for the health and welfare of up to one hundred people, once all his relations are counted. This burdensome thought is bearable to him, of course, because every other member of his Family is also working just as hard as he is, devoting untold energy to the Family's support. All of these efforts are directed by the head of the Family, the "Don" (or "Dona", if this person is a woman), who coordinates the efforts of every gnome bearing the Family name, giving each a set of responsibilities and duties to perform.
The gnomish love of Family gives their lives purpose and direction, as well as a personal security which other races, for the most part, can only envy. Great are the benefits enjoyed by the rare outsider who impresses a gnomish Don enough to be adopted as a "godson" to the Family! There is a dark side to all this, however; not only can power struggles within the Family turn ugly, but gnomes are known to exact terrible and bloody revenge on anyone who harms or threatens a Family member. No one can hold a grudge like a gnome! They live long, remember every offense against them with perfect detail, and they do not make nice distinctions between the person who once did them wrong and his descendents, 100 or 200 years later.
Women and children are particularly cherished by the gnomish Families, and gnomish ladies, although not as cloistered as their dwarven counterparts, are still rarely seen traveling abroad or even walking the streets unless they are accompanied by a formidable entourage of escorts and bodyguards. Trained half-ogre protectors are a common sight on the streets of any large city; they accompany all gnomish people of substance.
Halflings are the most diminutive people of Arcanum, and the smallest of all the Minute races. The average halfling never achieves a height greater than 34 inches or some 85 centimeters, and usually it is less. In weight they average some four or five stone, but can sometimes weigh up to seven, as they are somewhat prone to the vice of gluttony. They exhibit the same keen senses that all Minute peoples do, but in halflings there is a greater emphasis on the sense of taste than any other, and in accordance with this gift many halflings devote the whole of their lives to gratifying the palate, both for their own benefit and for the pleasure of others. All but a few of the world's most famous chefs are halflings, and they also provide us with our most celebrated wines, beers and ciders.
Superficially, halflings can be distinguished from their close relatives by several traits. They are physically smaller than dwarves and do not grow thick beards, although they are furnished with soft, animal-like fur on other parts of the body, especially the legs and feet. They do not have a large and fleshy nose, as gnomes do, and tend to be thicker about the middle than gnomes generally are. The most visible feature of any halfling is his or her feet, which are always disproportionately large and usually quite hairy. The skin upon the sole of a halfling's foot is thick and flexible, providing them with a soft and well-cushioned tread. They do not normally wear shoes, since they find them awkward and confining, not to mention noisy.
With these superficial physical differences, however, there are also deeper, more metaphysical differences between the halflings and their Minute cousins. Unlike dwarves and gnomes, who are the products of pure Natural Selection, the course of halfling evolution appears to have been impacted by Magick. This can be demonstrated by subjecting tissue samples from any present-day halfling to certain alchemickal tests; once all other vibrations are eliminated by a process of distillation, any halfling's tissue and bone will be seen to resonate upon a certain mystical frequency. This frequency is unique to their race, and is never exhibited by the members of any other species, regardless of how many times the test is performed. All halflings resonate at this frequency, and continue to do so long after death; we have reliably dated halfling remains as old as 50,000 years with the identical racial resonance.
The first halflings appeared some two hundred thousand years ago, in the gentle hills just south of the Glimmering Forest. It is likely that their forebears were gnomes, although as always in cases of Supernatural Selection, we cannot be absolutely certain in this. What magickal agency may have chosen to split them off from the gnomish race, we cannot say, nor can we guess what purpose this agency may have had in mind in creating the first halflings. The end result of that magickal working has been to reduce the natural life span of a halfling to some 400 years, however, in comparison to the 500-600 that a gnome or dwarf may hope to enjoy. Their physical differences from gnomes and dwarves can also be explained in this way, as well as many of the unique aspects of the halfling character.
Despite the fact that they do possess an innate magickal resonance, halflings demonstrate no great inclination to become sorcerers. Their magickal nature tends to reveal itself more subtly, in the deep connection their race enjoys with Nature, especially domestic plants and animals. The vast majority of halflings live in rural areas, and entertain no greater ambition than a simple, quiet life at home; they have great success as farmers and vintners. The halfling disposition is far more gentle, patient and passive than that of gnomes or dwarves; they love comfort and peace, and take no pleasure in being involved in the affairs of other races. Regardless of what profession a halfling adopts, he or she will always be drawn to green and quiet places. Even city-dwelling halflings feel the need to keep a garden when they can; the courtyard of a halfling's townhouse is often furnished with a lush variety of herbs and flowers, as well as a beehive or a vegetable patch.
Halflings tend to live in small, close-knit communities. Rural halflings assemble in villages and build their houses under mounds of earth, which are then covered with sod and flowers; the insulation thus provided makes their dwellings most comfortable, warm in winter and cool in summer. In the case of city-dwelling halflings, there may be more than one small community of them in a town of any great size; but while these communities are friendly to one another, each group tends to keep to itself, maintaining its own customs and traditions.
In contrast to dwarven and gnomish ladies, halfling women enjoy great freedom of movement and action. No married halfling would dream of confining his wife indoors! Very likely the lady would not stand for it; although tiny, halfling females are spirited and outspoken. They are often seen working alongside their husbands in the fields, or at any business he may run; sometimes they even own farms and businesses of their own. They rarely leave home unless it's absolutely necessary, however. Little as halfling men enjoy traveling, halfling women seem to like it even less. One seldom sees them abroad.
Chapter Two: The Gigantic Race: Ogre and Ogre HybridsEdit
Ogres are the last survivors of a very ancient and potent magickal working, which has only lately begun to wane, after having been initiated nearly one million years ago. Roughly 900,000 before the present day, the fossil record shows us a wild outburst of magickal activity, an unprecedented surge of sorcery which affected life on Arcanum for millennia after. What caused this sudden cataclysmic storm of Supernatural Selection, we may never know for certain; all that we can say now is that the magickal agencies at work at that time were enormously strong, far more powerful than the forces which any modern-day mage can command. A great many organisms were created then which survive to this day, albeit in small numbers.
In this distant Epoch of Enchantment we find the origins of many legendary species, including the kraken, hydra and sea serpent; Wyrms, dragons and drakes were brought forth at roughly the same time. Many pre-existing species were substantially altered, as in the case of the unicorn and the firebird; others were merged into chimeric organisms like the centaur and manticore, for reasons unknown. Humans, which pre-date this Epoch by some two hundred thousand years, were not left untouched by the general pandemonium; although the majority of our forebears went on unchanged, some of them were vastly transformed by magick. When the fantastic whirlwind of Supernatural Selection died down some four thousand years later, two new species had emerged, and thereafter co-existed with ordinary humanity: these being the elves and the giants.
True giants are no longer among us. We know that they existed; we can still see the cyclopean stones which they arranged in the Dark Fens, if we care to travel there, and visitors still come yearly to the Giant's Dance of Morbihan to see the pillars they erected to mark the dawning of the Midsummer sun. We have also found their fossilized remains, and one or two impressive skeletons have been assembled at Tarant's Museum of Natural History. But the giants of Arcanum left behind more than their bones; they still walk among us, in the form of their living descendents, the ogres and half-ogres.
We cannot say for certain how long it took the ancient giants to degenerate to the form of the modern-day ogre. Certainly it was a slow process, one which took many thousands of years. It is probably safe to surmise that succeeding generations of giants have been shrinking for the last 200,000 years or so, most likely because they have been steadily deprived of other behemoth species, which may have once provided them with food. When exactly the modern ogre was first seen we do not know, as we seldom find a complete set of remains; ogres, like orcs, have a tendency to cannibalize their own dead. Nevertheless, most naturalists put the appearance of the modern ogre at a date of 50,000 years ago at most.
The average ogre today achieves a height of no more than 150 inches, or 380 centimeters; this is a far cry from the giants of yesteryear, who could sometimes measure longer in the bone of the thigh alone. They weigh roughly 30 stone, this mass being mainly dense muscle. It's difficult to ascertain the natural lifespan of these creatures, as ogres are so inimical to life that they are killed almost immediately by any other race that encounters them, but the average age of the ogre cadavers I have examined seems to be some 200 years. How long they may live if they are left to themselves, I cannot say. Every specimen I have seen has been dead by violence.
In the wild, ogres seem to be solitary creatures. They prefer to live in mountainous regions when they can, and are quite territorial; this often brings their race into conflict with dwarves, who also choose to live in the mountains, but do not care to be bashed on the head and devoured by their neighbors! Nevertheless, despite the seeming advantage that an ogre may have over a dwarf in battle, dwarves are rarely killed by ogres; the reverse is far more common. Although the ogre has the benefit of greater size, strength and reach than his dwarven opponent, it is rare for any dwarf to be caught off-guard and alone. In general, dwarves quickly recognize the signs that an ogre is in the area; ogres are not subtle about marking their territory, and tend to block canyons with piles of great stones, or rip trees out of the ground in fits of temper. Any dwarf seeing this kind of marker will immediately organize a hunting party, and any such hunting party will either kill the beast quickly, should it choose to stand and fight, or drive it out of the area.
From the standpoint of Natural History, oddly enough, ogres may have the prior claim to the peaks of the Stonewall mountain range and even the Grey Mountains; these regions are where we most often find the bones of their giant forebears. Small ogre families can still be found in these regions from time to time, living in isolated areas; rogue males have also been known to dominate the odd orcish tribe, where their superior strength gives them authority. Ogres are neither highly intelligent nor especially civilized, although they can usually speak at least a few words of the common tongue, as well as their own language. Because they tend to be slow-witted, they show none of the aptitude for magick which their giant forebears once had; this may in part explain their special hatred for elves, who date from the same epoch of history as themselves, but who have lost none of their magickal nature.
Regardless of their inability to use magick, ogres seem equally unable to apply natural law. The only tools they employ are crude clubs and stone hatchets. Even their hunting method is simple; most often it involves the ogre leaping from some carefully chosen hiding place beside a roaring mountain stream or a narrow pass, and crushing the skull of its chosen victim with one dreadful blow.
Some may justly ask how we can say for certain that ogres, who are relatively tiny in comparison to giants, have any real relation to these colossal beings of old. Again, we demonstrate the relationship by means of Alchemy, which shows the same deep, slow, penetrating vibration in the tissue of a modern ogre that one can find in the tremendous bones of his ancestors. This vibration is much fainter in ogres, however, than it is in fossilized giants; it may be surmised that the enchantment which once brought forth giants in Arcanum is now dying at last, rendering their descendents more and more human-like. This may explain how ogres are able to mingle their blood with ordinary humans, when it is likely that their giant forebears could not.
The half-ogre is a curious hybrid, the result of somehow cross-breeding an ogre and a human. We cannot say for certain how these creatures come to be, although they must be conceived by rape. The circumstances of a half-ogre's birth are difficult to imagine; if we did not see them walking the streets of every city in Arcanum daily, most naturalists would call such a thing impossible. Although of course it is always conceivable that an ogre bull might violate a human female captive, everything we know about ogres tells us that it must be quite unusual for the victim to survive any such sexual encounter. Also, if some hardy human female could survive the assault, it is difficult to understand where an ogre father finds the patience to await the birth of his half-ogre offspring. Even after putting a human female to use in satisfying the one appetite, the standard course of the male ogre would normally be to satisfy his other hungers very quickly. To put it bluntly, one would expect the victim to be killed and eaten. After being molested by an ogre, most human women would probably welcome this fate as something of a relief!
Regardless of these lurid speculations, however, half-ogres do exist and they do live among us. Prior to two hundred years ago, of course, they were exceedingly rare. It may be that the near-extinction of the ogrish race in recent years has inspired the current generation of ogre patriarchs to unheard-of heights of procreative ingenuity; we cannot say, as we are unable to interview them. The best we can do is examine their children, and draw what conclusions we can from our findings.
Half-ogres, then, show both sides of their parentage quite clearly. In body they are only slightly smaller than pure-blooded ogres, having a height which averages roughly 120 inches, or some 300 centimeters. They weigh something in the realm of 25-30 stone, and like ogres they are well-muscled and extremely strong. They do not live as long as ogres do, however, having a natural lifespan of only 90 years or so, and in character as well as longevity they show the influence of the human parent. They are more intelligent than ogres by far, and also far less violent and prone to fits of rage. They can work and live in the company of other races; normally one sees them employed by gnomes, who are more able than most to overcome their personal biases against them. Although they do still possess a slight rumble of the same mystic vibration which exists in ogres and giants, half-ogres do not seem to have the intelligence or inclination to use magick at all. They probably could make some use of tools or technological devices, if these were of an appropriate size; but such items are seldom made to fit an oversized hand or body.
It is a curious fact that all the half-ogres we see around us are male. It may be that the ogre parents of these creatures do not allow the girl-children of a human-ogre pairing to live; on a more sinister note, it may be that while their sons are allowed to wander off from the tribe, the daughters are kept for breeding purposes. In any case, the half-ogres who find their way into civilized society are well able to make their way in the world, and always find employment very quickly. They make most excellent bodyguards, bouncers, and physical labourers; gnomes benefit greatly from their services, and any gnomish gentleman of substance will be seen to travel with a half-ogre for his personal protection. The extreme loyalty of a half-ogre guardsman has become somewhat legendary. When called upon, half-ogres will fight to the death to protect their charges.
Although half-ogres are somewhat slow-witted by the standards of the average human, they have great patience and a mild temper. They have some of any ogre's hereditary dislike for dwarves and elves, but these feelings manifest as mistrust or repulsion rather than being an automatic pretext for mayhem. There even seems to be some innate parental instinct in them; they show genuine affection for persons smaller than themselves. Half-ogres are exceedingly gentle with children of all races, and are especially inclined to be fond of gnomes and halflings. Why this is, we cannot say, but one is occasionally met with the incongruous sight of a half-ogre minder charged with the protection of a small child, or even several children.
Chapter Three: The Median Races: Orcs, Elves, Humans and Human HybridsEdit
It is in the classification of the Median races - orcs, elves, humans and hybrids thereof - that my theories on Natural and Supernatural Selection always meet with the most resistance. I have no illusions in this matter; the religious beliefs of many are at stake, as well as a host of assumptions which are regarded as unassailable truths by the vast majority of our civilization. Nonetheless, I am a man of Science, as are my fellows in the fields of Natural and Supernatural History, and I must make my judgements based on evidence, not wishful thinking.
It is therefore my painful duty to state that all the median races, including the orcs and elves, are descended directly from human beings, by a process of Supernatural Selection. The evidence which has accumulated in recent years, through the science of Paleontology and the art of Forensic Alchemy, leaves this matter no longer in any doubt.
Such a statement, simple as it is, sets all former systems of classification on their collective ear, and also directly contradicts the teachings of countless religions. Those who have been pleased to associate various races with mystical "Elements" will not be glad to know that their theories are not supported by the fossil record we have available. And even those learned readers who are able to tolerate speculation on the origins of humankind will often balk when we turn the same scrutiny on orcs and elves. The premise most difficult to accept is this: two organisms cannot create offspring together unless they are closely related. Although every naturalist and farmer knows it, we are reluctant to accept the same premise when it is applied to ourselves! It is nearly impossible to make the average elf, orc or human accept the truth: the very fact that half-elves and half-orcs exist at all must mean that the parent species are cousins to one another. Further more, the fact that both half-elves and half-orcs are fertile, viable hybrids, rather than sterile sports, means that the relationship between the parent species is very close indeed!
Humans are the root stock of all the Median races, and one of the oldest peoples of Arcanum. We are the children of pure Natural Selection; fossil evidence clearly indicates that our forebears and the early dwarves diverged from one another some two million years ago, and since that time the two bloodlines have evolved along parallel courses. Just as the dwarves are the progenitors of all the Minute races, humans are the living root of all other thinking beings in Arcanum, including such ancient offshoots as the elves and giants, and the modern sub-species we know as orcs.
This premise is difficult for some to accept, but I maintain that it is the only explanation for certain inalienable facts. Primus, our study of paleontology has confirmed that humans, in their present form, have existed for over one million years in Arcanum. Second, both the tissues of a pure-blooded human and the most ancient fossilized remains of our race display no characteristic mystical vibration, which indicates that our species is not inherently magickal. Nonetheless, despite the complete absence of any inherent and universal magickal quality in the human race, humans are always able to produce fertile hybrids with three other completely disparate species, none of which are able to reproduce with one another: these being the elves, orcs and ogres. When you combine this with the geological dates we associate with the first appearance of all three subspecies in question - dates which fall long after the first true humans appeared - it becomes clear that humans are the precursor from which many other races were created, by the process known as Supernatural Selection. Elves, giants and orcs were all deliberately manufactured from human stock, by magickal workings!
The basic human ranges from 60 to 75 inches or 175 centimeters in height, and weighs between six and twelve stone. The average length of a human life is some 80 years, although some members of the race may live to be 100 if they are very fortunate; any longer span of life must be achieved by magick. Despite the lack of an inherently magickal nature, humans are sometimes able to master the Art and achieve some small success in spellcraft. On the other hand, the high native intelligence and great curiosity of humans grants them a most wonderful gift for applying Natural Law, and humans develop and control more Technology than any other people known.
The character of the human race is varied and diverse. Humans tend to form groups based on the immediate family, and show great affection for their mates and children. They are by far the most numerous of all the races of Arcanum, and can be found everywhere, living in all lands and climes. Humans pursue every imaginable occupation; human stubbornness is such that they will not allow themselves to be barred from any place or profession, no matter how they must bend to adapt themselves to it. They also seem to lack any inborn prejudices, save for a violent and unreasonable hatred of orcs, whom they find loathsome on sheer instinct. Most humans also exhibit a vivid fear and hatred of ogres, it is true--but in justice, the same fear and hatred probably extends to any being which considers human flesh a delicacy.
My theory as to the origin of the elvish race will meet with great hostility from many quarters. Up to now it has been the commonly held wisdom that elves are a younger race than any other, but fossil evidence does not support this conclusion; humans and dwarves are the oldest races of Arcanum, but elves and giants came close behind. The first distinctive elves appear some 900,000 years ago, during the Epoch of High Enchantment. They are a product of Supernatural Selection, just as giants, dragons, and many other highly magickal species were.
The first distinctively elven remains were found in the region of the Drowned Woods, scattered in a layer of earth which also contained the bones of the famous Eltdon Wyrm. Between the saw-edged teeth of this ancient monster, paleontologist John Eltdon discovered scraps of mithril chain and plate, armor which has always been peculiar to elvish warriors. Since these bones have been dated to a time no earlier than 750,000 years ago, it can be concluded that the elven civilization was already well advanced by that time.
Elves can be distinguished from the other Median Races by the proportions of the body, the facial features, and the tint of hair, eyes and skin. They are not so tall as humans, averaging some 60 inches or 150 centimeters at most in height, and tend to be frail and slender in appearance, weighing six stone or less. The arms and legs are longer in proportion to the torso than in humans, and their fingers and toes may also be unusually long and thin. They have elongated and pointed ears, almond-shaped eyes, and small, delicate noses and mouths. Their skin is pale, ranging in shade from creamy beige through chalk white to a delicate, milky olive tone. Their hair is also light in color, and may be any shade from silver to cornsilk gold to green. Some rare specimens have brilliant, flame-red tresses, or even coal-black; elves seem to find these two colors particularly appealing, and may even be attracted to humans who have such hair. Their eyes are silver-white, blue, green, grey, or amber yellow. Often the color of an elf's eyes varies with his or her moods, flashing from one hue to the next as they are moved by different emotions. Color is not the most remarkable quality of elven eyes, however; their vision is also exceptional, allowing them to see in the dark and for very long distances, which renders them the most superb marksmen of all the Median races.
Elves are an inherently magickal people. Mystic vibrations within them are so strong that isolating the universal frequency of their tissues is a challenge, although it can be found by a process of distillation. Because they are saturated with magickal energy, elves are natural practitioners of the Art, and they have made countless generations of mages in Arcanum. By the same token, they have no natural aptitude whatsoever for the study of Natural Law, and have the greatest difficulty in mastering even simple Technology. Sometimes the magick within them is so strong that small Technological devices will not work at all in their presence, while large and powerful Technological devices may even make them violently ill. In any case, Technology is not something which interests most elves much, save that they decry the despoiling of Nature which goes on in the name of "progress".
It is difficult for humans to understand the character of the elven race, as they display a sometimes paradoxical blend of qualities. They are a peaceful, gentle people as a rule, light-hearted and fond of every kind of joke and prank--and yet they take matters of honor in deadly seriousness, and if provoked will duel to the death over an insult which might seem meaningless to a human observer. They love feasts, festivals and holidays, and spend much of their time in celebration; elves rarely employ themselves in any pursuit which humans might call "work". Nonetheless, the sin with which they tax most other races most often is that of "wasting time with frivolous things", by which they mean any concern one may have with money, or making an honest living! Elves are generous, charming, forgiving and gracious hosts; and yet, at times, their arrogance can be well-nigh insufferable. They blatantly regard themselves as superior to any other race, with the possible exception of halflings, whom they seem to love inordinately.
Elves are philosophical in most things, and the classic elven arrogance most often displays itself as a mild distaste for other races and their company. This distaste is very seldom elevated to the passion that one might call "hatred"-- except in the case of orcs, whom elves will kill at any opportunity that presents itself, and ogres, whom they regard as the epitome of all things big, stupid and violent - qualities which they despise. As to the much-discussed congress between elves and humans, elves have little to say about it, save for this: most humans do not understand that the elves they tend to meet abroad are very young. For the first few centuries of their lives, elven children are expected to run a bit wild. They wander in search of new experiences and adventure, and this is the time of their lives when they are most likely to form relationships with humans; both male and female elves very often "sow their wild oats" among humankind. In maturity, elves tend to settle down and keep to their own; it may be that burying several generations of short-lived friends and spouses causes them to lose the taste for human company.
The Fair Folk are highly territorial, and group themselves by region; Glimmering Forest elves consider themselves a breed apart from the Gray Mountain elves. This is explained somewhat by the deep communion that all elves enjoy with Nature, especially the living forests of their birth. Some observers claim that they have seen elves speak in animal tongues, commanding a beast in its native speech; sometimes they swear an elf can hear the trees cry out, when they are felled by a woodsman's axe. Whether this is true or not, elves certainly exhibit a great love and respect for all living things, despite the pride they take in their skills as hunters and bowmen. Elven hunters kill only out of need, or in self defense, and never for pleasure; they abhor those who deliberately go abroad to collect trophies.
It is impossible to make any final guess at the possible lifespan of an elf. The best estimate we can make is that they might live some 1,000 years naturally, without prolonging the duration of their lives by magick. However, it is very rare for elves to willingly allow themselves to die, or even age naturally, when magick comes so easily to them! A simple effort of Will can keep them alive and young for centuries. This being the case, it is considered very gauche to ask elves how old they are, especially if the elf is a lady. An elven maid who looks no older than seventeen may have seen five generations of men turn to dust in her time. If one has occasion to visit an elven city, it is best to take one's cues from other elves; usually one elf can sense automatically how old another elf might be, and will tend to address the person accordingly. If two elves of the same region meet, and are roughly the same age, they will call one another "brother" or "sister". If the elf one meets is a stranger from a different region, he or she is called "cousin". An elf who is centuries older is called "mother" or "father", unless one is trying to flatter. Elves over a thousand are called "auntie" or "uncle", indicating both affection and respect. Truly ancient elves may be referred to as "grandfather" or "grandmother". I have been in the presence of the Silver Lady of Quintarra, and heard even quite ancient elves call her "Elder"; what unimaginable length of life this may indicate, I cannot say.
Half-elves are a hybrid race, the product of human and elven parents. There is no general rule for their conception; they are as likely to be born from congress between an elven woman and a human male as by an elven male's interference with a human woman. The issue of any such union is a person who shows some traits from each race, but fully belongs to neither; a fate universal to all hybridized individuals.
Half-elves tend to show the physical build of the human parent, but this is not always the case. They range widely from 60 to 75 inches in height, and weigh between six and eleven stone. At times they can pass as fully human or fully elven, but they can almost always be spotted by the trained observer by a blend of features which is common to neither race. Even when they are small in stature, they have ordinary human proportions and lack the elongated arms, legs, fingers and toes of an elf. They almost always show the pointed ears of the elven parent, and may also have some of the classic elven complexion, but the color of the hair will often give away an admixture of human blood.
Half-elves are not harshly discriminated against in human and elven society, but neither are they ever entirely at ease. When they live among elves, their pure-blooded relations rarely greet them as "brother" or "sister", even if they are closely affiliated with the half-elf's elven parent; a half-elf is instead called "cousin", a firm reminder that they are not-entirely-welcome outsiders, and always will be. Among humans they mix freely in society, finding their own way as others do, but their longevity is something of an obstacle to forming lasting attachments; half-elves have a natural lifespan of some 400 years or more.
The character of any given half-elf depends largely upon his or her upbringing, and whether they were chiefly raised in elven or human company. Although they lack the deep and ingrained relationship with living things which elves exhibit, they do seem to commune somewhat with Nature, and often express a love of animals or spending time out-of-doors. They do not display any of the arrogance which one associates with elves, and very rarely show an elven prejudice against other races; the only exception to this rule appears to be full-blooded orcs, whom they instinctively loathe, just as humans and elves do.
Half-elves show the same innate magickal quality which one associates with their elven genitors, although to a lesser degree. They make very fine mages, should they choose to study the Art. They are also not entirely free of an elf's difficulty in mastering the uses of Natural Law, and often find themselves at something of a disadvantage in becoming Technologists--but this can be easily overcome with concentration and hard work, when the student is properly motivated. In any case, they can hold any sort of profession they desire, and the lack of overt racial prejudice makes them fine barristers, tradesmen and shop-keepers. A great many half-elves also live in rural areas and work as farmers, herdsmen and hunters; with the keen vision and marksmanship afforded by their elven heritage, half-elf hunters and guides are much sought-after.
Prior to this point, it has been the habit of both religion and science to classify orcs as a "monstrous" race, assuming some direct relationship with ogres, because the two species are similar in character. This assumed relationship does not exist, save in that ogres are also products of Supernatural Selection, and represent in their own way a branch of the human family tree. In the final analysis, orcs are a much younger race than the giants from which ogres descend, the result of a far more recent process of Supernatural Selection. That they resemble ogres physically is only a coincidence, from the standpoint of the scientist.
It is difficult to say when the first orcs appeared. We rarely find a set of intact remains; they have a tendency to cannibalize rather than bury their own dead. Nonetheless, we begin to find some signs of their existence only a few thousand years ago, perhaps ten thousand at most, in the area of the Dark Fens. They are a young race, the product of a relatively recent and extremely powerful enchantment, and the fact that their forebears were once fully human may provide some explanation for the deep, instinctive repulsion which most pure-blooded humans feel in connection with them.
The average orc has a body length of some 60 to 70 inches, or 165 centimeters, but they rarely stand that tall in practice. The spinal column of any orc has a tendency to be deformed, resulting in a hunched back, sloped shoulders, or a forward-projecting head; this detracts from their apparent height. They weigh between seven and twelve stone, just as humans do, but beyond this the resemblance between the two species ends. The facial features of an orc are a twisted parody of the human norm, often showing traits which more properly belong to a wild boar or a tiger. They may have pointed ears, large tusks or a porcine snout, slitted pupils to the eyes, or other abnormalities; they are also prone to defects like the cleft palate or "orclip", as some call it. Their teeth are unusual by human standards, as well; these have a tendency to be sharp and jagged, and whenever an orc loses a tooth it grows back immediately; a propensity that they share with sharks.
The natural lifespan of an orc is brief, a period of some 40 years. They breed quickly, however; an orcish female can deliver her offspring within four months, and when her young are born they mature faster than human infants do, being able to walk and even run in less than six months. Orc babies are also more likely be born in pairs than humans are; twins and triplets are a common occurrence. Because orcish mothers have only two breasts and two arms, however, the third child in a triple birth is usually given to the father, who eats the newborn infant by way of celebrating his fertility.
Despite the brevity of their natural lives, orcs possess a frightening vitality. They have great strength, far greater than one would expect from a human of the same size. If injured, they heal almost immediately. If their hands, feet or individual digits are severed, those extremities will continue to live for some minutes apart from the body; even whole arms and legs may be successfully reattached, if they can be found and sewn back on by a competent surgeon. They are highly resistant to disease and seem to be wholly immune to infection of any kind, as of gangrene; they also suffer far less than humans do from extremes of cold or heat. This unassailable health seems to be an aspect of the magickal working which split them off from the rest of the human species, thousands of years ago; even the most ancient accounts of their race include reports of the orc's vigorous constitution.
Orcs organize themselves into large tribes, with as many as 30 or 40 members in any one group. The males dominate their society, with the strongest and most cunning male leading the tribe; other males cooperate in hunting and defense of the females, but they do not oppose the decisions of the Chief in any way, unless they wish to challenge him directly. An orcish Chieftain must be ready to face such a challenge for supremacy at any time. If he relaxes his vigilance, he will always be taken down by a younger, stronger orc--or even by a stronger member of some other species. Ogres have been known to lead orc tribes. Even a half-orc or a particularly degenerate human can hold such authority, as in the case of the famous Cannibal of Cattan, Sawney Beane.
Orcs are nomadic people by nature, moving constantly from place to place. They are a constant danger in the lonely places of the world, and on the outskirts of any settled area; orcish tribes can be found in any region which is not densely populated by civilized peoples. The orcish character has two great motivating forces, these being fear and hate: they hate nearly everything that lives, especially other thinking beings, and they fear anything which is stronger than they are in some way; i.e., anything which can kill them. Fear translates in the orc to respect and veneration; hate always translates into violence and murder, sooner or later--and usually sooner.
Alchemickal testing of orc tissues shows a powerful mystic vibration knitted into their flesh and bone. If their race possessed more than the rudest animal cunning, they might make formidable mages; a notion which will doubtless fill most of us with horror! Fortunately, orcs do not have a very high native intelligence. The same magick which has shortened their lives and twisted their bodies is also at work in their brains, filling them with hate and rage, and keeping them from the higher realms of thought.
Of course, the fact that orcs are strong and not terribly intelligent does make them uniquely qualified to serve as day laborers. Some of them have been permitted to live in the poorer neighborhoods of industrial cities like Tarant, provided they are willing to work in the nearby factories. Orcs, despite their consuming hatred of the more civilized races, deliberately seek out this kind of work; they seem to be drawn irresistibly to Technology of any kind, although they do not show any great understanding of Natural Law. Apparently they have a liking for tools and machines which they could not build on their own, and they are especially fond of firearms--although few merchants are unethical enough to sell such a weapon to an orc!
The half-orc is a hybrid race, the result of interbreeding between the orc and the pure-blooded human. Such a pairing is usually accomplished by rape, the mother a human and the father a full orc; in rare cases, however, human males have been known to breed with orcish females willingly, and half-orcs can also marry one another and produce children. In any event, the commingling of orcish and human blood is a subject of extreme distaste among most ordinary humans, who view the resulting children of such a union with abhorrence and loathing.
Half-orcs vary greatly in physical appearance. They have roughly the same stature as humans, ranging from 65 to 80 inches or 175 centimeters in height, and some seven to twelve stone in weight. In general they tend to look like tall, robust orcs, largely free of the spinal irregularities which plague their pure-blooded orcish parents. They are only slightly less hairy and have only slightly less prominent teeth than orcs do. Of course, this is not by any means a firm rule; some half-orcs are nearly indistinguishable from humans. Only the subtlest clues point out the orcish heritage of such individuals. A skilled observer might note that the subject had more body hair than is strictly normal for a human being, that the nose was upturned, the fingernails especially thick and sharp, or the canine teeth exceptionally large--but otherwise, there might be very little sign of ought amiss. Half-orcs can sometimes "pass" for many years before being spotted, even by those closest to them.
Unfortunately, an extremely human countenance is not common in half-orcs. Generally speaking, even the handsomest half-orcs have some distinctly orcish features, which brand them for life if they choose to live in human society. Half-orcs can rarely find work in any but the most menial professions. They may be taken on as farm hands in rural communities, but in cities they can almost never find any occupation but the meanest: garbage collecting, chimney sweeping, rag picking, mining or factory work. By contrast, half-orcs often rise high in the hierarchy of the orcish tribes, should they choose to eschew the company of humans entirely; they are far more intelligent than pure-blooded orcs, and the ability to think clearly serves them well in an environment where only the fittest survive.
As to the half-orc character in general, this is difficult to discuss. Orcs have no sense of family per se, but they also do not discriminate against their half-orc children; half-orcs are given what respect they can earn by their strength and cunning, appearances notwithstanding. Humans, on the other hand, hardly ever accept half-orcs into the family, or treat them well enough to encourage any of the finer feelings we associate with our race. The intolerance to which half-orcs are subjected in our society colors their outlook on life permanently, and it is impossible to know whether they might be capable of transcending their orcish tendencies, were they treated as humans from birth. In any case, as it stands now one tends to find half-orcs brutish, venal, unforgiving and prone to violence. Given the environment in which they are usually raised, this cannot be surprising!
Some half-orcs are able to learn to control the violent orcish temper which plagues them. Their native intelligence, combined with the slight advantage they gain from being members of an innately magickal race, will allow them to learn some of the fundamentals of Spellcraft, if this is permitted. They can also grasp the workings of Natural Law and become Technologists, when given the opportunity. Such opportunities are afforded only rarely to them, however, as they have little or no access to higher education; all civilized peoples discriminate against them freely, and most hold a low opinion of their intellectual capacity. Nonetheless, in the 60 or so years which make up a half-orc's natural life time, they may accomplish a great deal. Some have become famous bandits; others have demonstrated more humanity than the pure-blooded humans who gave them life. They are born balancing on the edge of a razor, and any sensible person can see that they fall to wickedness most often because they are pushed.