Sea of Shards
Although they are the most diminutive of all the Free Races, the dalagi outpace the rest in numbers. Their rapid population growth and their unthreatening statures have enabled them to become ubiquitous in all corners of Allu. Most of the other races tend to see them as pests, like the rodents they resemble. But like a silent tide of plague-bearers, the ratfolk may be a force to be reckoned with.
In the Age of Gods, ratfolk were the shapechanging children of Jith, the trickster god. Content to serve their benevolent patron, the species showed little interest in earning their freedom, even when the gods raised the Soaring Spiral and promised free will to the first 12 races to conquer it. But when the 11th spot went to another race, the rakshasa, the dalagi hero-king Virezzi declared that the fiendish race did not deserve the prize, and for the good of all Allu, he resolved to rob the rakshasa of their prize. Virezzi had his pack distract the rakshasas on their way to accept their prize; meanwhile, he disguised himself as the rakshasa champion and received the gods’ blessing in their place.
The gods were impressed by the ratfolk plot, and allowed the ruling to stand. However, the rakshasa were so infuriated that they sacrificed their own greatest power—the ability to travel between planes—to exterminate the dalagi. Virezzi fled from the genocidal curse, changing his shape 20,000 times and dying once in every form. In his final form, the curse lost its power, and Virezzi fathered the race of ratfolk—single-formed in the flesh, but wily shapechangers at heart.
Physical Description: From their high, ragged ears to their long thin tails, dalagi do indeed resemble rats. Their pelts are mostly brown or grey, or more rarely yellow, black, or albino white. Their eyes are often dull red, reflecting the torchlight in disconcerting ways. They do not squeak or growl, but their snout-like faces give their speech a distinct nasal accent.
Mature male and female ratfolk stand about three feet tall. They have thin, wiry physiques, and favour wits and dexterity over brute strength. They are equally comfortable walking on two or four feet, although they prefer to stand erect when interacting with taller races. This also frees their clawed, four-fingered hands to produce darts, slings, or knives from hidden pockets in their many-layered cloaks.
Society: Ratfolk are a people of cheerful contradictions. They revere nature, yet they often prefer urban dwellings, finding safety in the anonymity of crowds. They covet wealth, especially gems and jewellery, yet they see most possessions as belonging to the pack, not the person. They enjoy fame and authority on the rare occasions they can win it; but they will abandon power just as swiftly when a new adventure beckons.
Their most consistent value is family. Dalagi pride themselves on their genealogies, tracing their lineage back to Virezzi, the All-Father. They live in packs of 10 to 100. Because they mature and reproduce prodigiously, they are in constant danger of overcrowding. This has made them highly tolerant of crowded urban conditions, but it has also implanted in many ratfolk a powerful wanderlust; thus, individuals or entire packs often become nomadic, sometimes overnight.
Ratfolk live in the shadows of other societies, or else carve their own elaborate warrens under the surface of regions left desolate by colonists or warmongers. They are immensely resourceful, finding sustenance where other species would die of thirst or starvation. They treat their elemental affinity with the earth as a symbiotic relationship with the living stone, and often collapse their warrens when they leave, so as to leave the underground as they found it. Their songs and stories always begin with a journey into the earth, and their warriors see no dishonour in lobbing a clawful of dirt into the eyes of an enemy.
Relations: Though some are extroverted, and enjoy the attentions of other races, most ratfolk prefer to keep a low profile. Unlike most of the Free Races, the dalagi have never had a true empire – but in most parts of the world, they have escaped widespread oppression and persecution from other nations, and they seek to keep it that way.
The dalagi respect any who treat them as equals. They tend to be cagey around humans, minotauri, and vishkanya, as these races have reputations of arrogance. They find the cultures of the aasimar, sagu, and sudur puzzling, but relate well to them as individuals, even though they frequently have little in common. Perhaps surprisingly, ratfolk and catfolk tend to get along very well, as they share a free-spirited nature.
The rakshasa remain vicious rivals of the dalagi. To make matters worse, the fiendish race have altered the collective memories of many other races, including gnolls, medusas, and cyclopes; now, these races believe it was they whom the dalagi cheated of privilege on the Soaring Spiral. Thus, the ratfolk are hated and hunted by many brutish races, but largely tolerated by their Free fellows.
Alignment and Religion: Most dalagi are chaotic good or chaotic neutral. Some community leaders incline towards law, but their attempts at organization are barely noticed by the majority of their fellow ratfolk. When amongst outsiders, crafty ratfolk make a show of respecting local laws and customs; when they invariably revert to form, practicing lawless behaviour for entertainment or profit, they maintain a low profile when possible. Evil ratfolk are ostracized by their packs, but occasionally an evil family will develop, often lurking in sewers or tunnels beneath cities, preying upon the unwary above.
Most dalagi are not especially religious, although they enjoy tales of the gods, particularly Jith, the trickster. Each pack does have at least one Speaker, a holy man or woman who can commune with the gods, often by speaking to their agents in the natural world. Dalagi folk tales feature Speakers prominently, and some stories suggest that the holiest of their kind still retain a fraction of Virezzi’s shapeshifting abilities.