Skum

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Pathfinder_-_Skum

Of old Karvhandahr, nothing remains. Where once rose humanity’s triumph, cold water now pools. Where once glistened a jewel of Azlant, silence chills the air. The people lie slain, survivors of the world’s end, doomed to fall at the claws of the merciless sea.

Yet life of a sort still walks the streets of Azlant’s orphan city: the servants of its conquerors, formed in the mocking guise of humanity and left untended since its fall. Who knows what terrible purpose this army of the depths could accomplish? Who knows when their veiled masters shall rouse them to war once more? All that is known is that by this army’s might, Karvhandahr is no more.

From the Fires of Azlant,

“Of Karvhandahr the Surviving City”

INTRODUCTION

Born of obscene aboleth science and immorality, modern skum, also known as the ulat-kini, are the result of countless centuries of experimentation that fused captive humans with abominations from the ocean’s depths. They served loyally as slave-armies to their alien masters, a bridge between the bizarre aboleths and humanity, until Earthfall wiped out both Azlant and aboleths’ need for overt war. With their own cities destroyed in the ensuing devastation, the aboleths retreated from Golarion’s surface, and their need for their aquatic soldiers waned.

Those skum who were lef behind took refuge across the world in coastal settlements or deep in the cold waters of Sekamina, guessing at what their absent masters might wish of them or attempting in vain to complete their fnal orders. Over aeons, this monstrous people forgot their once-proud martial heritage and even their formal name, replacing it with the derogatory title of “skum” bestowed on them by their human adversaries.

Today, skum are spread throughout Golarion, a threat feared by most right-thinking people but occasionally embraced by the isolated or desperate. While seemingly random in their placement across the world, many colonies of skum represent the fnal sites attacked by aboleth overseers, or once-glorious undersea enclaves that survived the fall of Azlant. Their disorganization, widely dispersed nests, and fercely defensive behavior means few other powers in the Inner Sea region, humanoid or monstrous, can establish genuine relationships with the ulat-kini, leaving rumor and hearsay to fll in the details of their lives to outsiders.

GENESIS

Skum were born via the horrible process of fleshwarping, an abominable blend of alchemy and magic now more associated with drow than aboleths. Beginning with captive human stock, aboleths used alchemical reagents and their own natural slime to render their subjects pliable. They then fused the scales, fangs, and organs of deep-sea beasts into the deliquesced human flesh.

Refning the process required centuries of work and consumed untold legions of slaves before producing a stable process to transform weak, air-breathing human chattel into fearsome aquatic warriors. Once armed and trained, the ulat-kini, named for the aboleth city in which their creation was perfected, proved furious combatants.

To control skum’s numbers, aboleths cultivated their slave race with no ability to bear young or lay eggs. These features provided slave stock that was easy to produce under controlled conditions but virtually incapable of breeding uncontrollably on its own. Thanks to the ulatkini’s origins, however, some have retained the ability to mate with humans, though as they have no external genitalia, the process requires either aboleth oversight or a willing partner.

Following the ulat-kini’s inception, the species quickly became one of the aboleths’ fnest weapons in their many wars against Azlant and Thassilon. Backed by their masters’ other flesh-warped horrors, from the conniving cloakers to the enormous crayfsh that served as mounts and carriages all at once, they waged terrible war against their former kin wherever solid land rose up from the sea.

ECOLOGY

In their desire for a useful servitor race, aboleths recognized the many benefts of the human form. Humans are abundant and grow to maturity quickly.

Furthermore, a caste of human-sized slave-warriors could make use of the clumsy human tools captured from aboleths’ enemies. However, to blunt the slaves’ creativity, ambition, and capacity for self-organization, the aboleth fleshwarpers infused traits of aquatic predators. The resulting skum represent aboleths’ idealized version of humanity: physically strong, easily controlled, and able to stand the rigors of an aquatic environment.

Pathfinder - Skum

A typical skum stands roughly half a foot taller than an average human and weighs nearly twice as much because of its increased muscle mass. Tough scales that turn away simple weapons cover their rubbery flesh. Hardened spines and fns grow from their bodies, giving skum surprising grace underwater and offering an extra layer of protection. Their heads show the greatest deviation from their human origins. Reconstructed almost from scratch to allow skum to breath, see, and speak underwater, they resemble the heads of enormous, deep-sea fsh and rest atop muscular, gill-laden necks.

Skum feed on nearly anything. When underwater, they passively consume krill, plankton, and algae with every breath, fltering this sustenance through their muscular gills. But when they’re on land and deprived of this constant feast, skum turn to raw meat, including that of defeated enemies, and their appetites grow more voracious the longer they remain away from water.

These traits make skum hostile and feral during their land-bound assaults on human settlements, but passive and docile in their watery homes. Submerged skum occasionally feed on fresh meat as well, but only in the wake of incursions from outsiders; rarely do they form deliberate hunting parties.

Skum are an immortal race, and the eldest among them date back to the time of Azlant and the earliest days of humanity, though their servile minds make no special efforts to record or recollect the wonders of history. As they never die from age, they have less need to reproduce than most younger races, but new members of their artifcial race do emerge into the world in a number of different ways. Most commonly, skum reproduce by mating with humans. Conception is difcult by design, and some skum communities have resigned themselves to establishing necessary, if grotesque, relationships with human communities, offering human women and their families treasures scavenged from the deep or bountiful harvests of fsh for years to come in exchange for bearing skum young. In other cases, skum maintain the old cruelty of their bygone masters, kidnapping women to incubate their next brood.

Human-skum relations spawn one of two results: a full-blooded skum, or an oddly deformed being that is sallow and greasy but who can still pass as human. Infant full-blooded skum, which are not yet able to breathe air for more than a few minutes, return to the sea. The more human-like infants are born able to breath air, but still carry their skum destiny; when their human flesh dies of old age, they slough off their skin, revealing a living adult skum within. Aboleths and even some unique skum possess the innate ability to accelerate this change in certain offspring, causing skum to burst forth from apparent humans in a matter of seconds.

Each skum possesses a set skin coloration in variations of green, yellow, and gray, as well as a pattern of spots unique to the individual. Generally speaking, the closer a skum remains to its original Azlanti heritage, the darker its skin’s hue. Patterns of spots are unique to each individual skum, as distinctive as human fngerprints. In rare instances, skum bear wildly different pigmentation, almost always the result of sorcerous blood sneaking into the tribe from their human relations. A jet-black tribe of ulat-kini who bear the bloodline of a black dragon now prowl the waters off Nidal collecting hordes of their own, while tribes deep within Orvian vaults sport violet hides and illusionbased magic, both gifs from an enigmatic veiled master whose name even they have forgotten.

SOCIETY

Nowadays, skum divide themselves into two distinct groups: the masterless and the loyal. The more common masterless are those skum that were lef behind on the surface or in the Darklands realm of Sekamina when the aboleths retreated. These skum survived the aeons following Earthfall through their own wits and tenacity, and while they still demonstrate little capacity for innovation or leadership, most violently reject masters, even to the point of renouncing religion and the gods themselves. Most make due with scavenged or stolen weapons and armor, casting aside their longlost masters’ magic and treasures as they age into dust, and sometimes actively destroying these items out of disgust at their former enslavement. Occasional tribes of masterless still fall under the influence of a lone aboleth or the temptations of dark powers, skum are a race bred to serve, afer all, and few have the willpower to resist an aboleth’s call, but they rarely mourn these temporary masters once the aboleths’ attention wanes or a party of adventurers removes them from power, releasing the skum once more.

A second, lesser-known group of skum still serve their aboleth masters directly in the lowest reaches of Orv’s Sightless Sea. These Orvian skum proudly serve aboleths, and bear 5,000 years’ worth of scars from continued fleshwarping to correct their perceived imperfections, further delineating the servants into distinct castes. These isolated Orvian cities still maintain incredible levels of civility and magic, wonderful and alien all at once, and unfortunate explorers who stumble upon them are taken aback by the intelligence and organization displayed by Orvian skum.

Among both groups of skum, a small number still recall the time of Azlant and the great war. Referring to themselves as am-ulat-kini, the true servants, these ancient skum wield magical weapons and armor they claimed as trophies in long-forgotten battles and develop skills in a variety of combat styles and arcane arts.

Tribes of skum dwell throughout the Inner Sea region, where they congregate in ancient aboleth strongholds or in locations associated with the fnal orders given by the skum’s aboleth masters. While skum once possessed strong military discipline, modern skum have mostly devolved into primal survivalist groups. The strongest or oldest skum, ofen one and the same, typically takes the reins of power in such a community. These tribes still instinctively cling to the sites they fought over in bygone ages, mostly aquatic habitats where the abundant food supply blunts their aggressive tendencies. Landlocked strongholds of skum existed in the afermath of Earthfall, but the ulat-kini’s ravenous diet caused most such enclaves to gorge themselves into starvation.

Power structures among skum remain loose at best. Unless a dominant master seizes control and enforces discipline, skum usually fracture into small packs to hunt and gather before returning to a shared lair.

Disputes are settled through rough, nonlethal combat, and most ulat-kini earn as many scars from their own people as from outsiders. These loose collectives also mass together to repel invaders and, like schools of fsh, seem to maneuver and outflank opponents without a single, central intelligence to direct them.

Every skum is born imprinted with a specifc mental marker, a trait most of their kind remain unaware of even today. These brands identify each tribe’s specifc master, and these markers can be detected by any sort of telepathic intrusion (such as detect thoughts or a creature’s natural telepathy). Surviving veiled masters can use their powers to detect the exact lineage of a skum tribe, and track down lost property.

Because of their role as a servant race of aboleths, skum have unique relationships with certain species. Aboleths: Deep conditioning still compels skum to revere their ancient masters. Relations between aboleths and skum are one-sided, with aboleths always in positions of absolute power. Ulat-kini offer no counsel, ask no rights, and offer no resistance, hoping that if they serve loyally they will be rewarded as a master might reward a loyal hound. Only the strongest-willed skum resist the demands of their creators, and such individuals must flee or be torn asunder by their own people.

Aquatic Elves: Natural enemies of aboleths, aquatic elves similarly oppose any skum they encounter. But unlike with sahuagin, another traditional enemy of aquatic elves, skum clash with aquatic elves only when commanded to do so by aboleth masters or when aquatic elves push into ancient skum territories.

Cloakers: Created by aboleths as a race to spy on their human and ulat-kini minions, cloakers have a unique relationship with modern skum. When Azlant fell, the cloaker race fled, hiding in the Darklands to survive.

Cloakers fear and hate their creators, and avoid skum under aboleth influence, but they otherwise see their weak-willed cousins as useful fodder. They adore taking positions of power over skum communities, assuming the roles of charismatic rulers, as ancient impulses still compel the ulat-kini to defer to other aboleth creations.

Drow: As with most other races in the Darklands, drow detest skum and attack them on sight. Skum have an obnoxious tendency to protect their ancient homes and secrets, homes and secrets drow would undoubtedly put to superior use. The genesis of the skum race makes them frustratingly useless for drow fleshwarping.aa Captives sent to the vats either prove completely resistant to drow efforts, or melt into piscine sludge with the slightest alchemical prodding.

Gillmen: Potentially the only surviving members of the Azlanti species, the so-called “low Azlanti” distance themselves from skum communities. Skum still attack these ancient enemies on sight, even those enthralled by their aboleth masters. Predating the race’s origin by millennia, skum abhor these aquatic intruders who frequently attempt to retake the ancient Azlanti ruins the ulat-kini hold so dear.

Marsh Giants: Just as skum have dealings with isolated clans of humans, so too do they strike bargains with these profoundly deformed coastal giants. Marsh giants revere skum as messengers and servants of Dagon, and skum eagerly exploit this veneration to add marsh giants’ strength to their raiding parties and war machines.

Mimics: Though mimics’ true origins are unknown, some scholars posit that they were also created by aboleths. This could explain why many mimics congregate near major skum settlements, scavenging the communities’ lefovers, though few reveal themselves to the aquatic warriors.

Oozes: Skum possess a unique relationship with the copious species of oozes that dwell in the Darklands. Using aboleth alchemy, skum train mindless oozes to perform basic tasks. These orders consist of little more than “attack,” “follow,” or “stay,” but controlled oozes seem to obey the wishes of skum through some sympathetic relationship, rather than acknowledging any specifc verbal cues.

Veiled Masters: While the strongest-willed ulat-kini may resist the command of aboleths, none can deny the merest whim of a veiled master. The orders of the veiled masters are absolute, carrying enough weight even to turn a colony of skum against other aboleths if the need arises. Veiled masters’ natural telepathy also allows them to reach into the minds of the ulat-kini to divine their history and activate long-buried psychic commands.

LAIRS

Coastal skum tribes typically lair in ruins and cave complexes near bodies of seawater. Able to retreat into the waves when threatened, they prefer partially submerged structures to make the most of their amphibious nature. Farther from shore, skum claim ancient, sunken cities or more recent shipwrecks as their domains. So long as these skum remain undisturbed, they are rarely noticed by their neighbors.

Most Darklands skum remain clustered in the fallen ruins of their absent masters. The aboleths abandoned their higher cities to retreat into the depths of Orv, leaving the majority of their ulat-kini minions behind. Great cities built for thousands now hold only a few hundred scattered slave-soldiers.

Skum protect their lairs with as much military precision as they can recall, but their lives increasingly revolve around maintenance. They attempt to repair their ancient homes, or at least delay the ravages of time, but their clumsy hands and dull minds are poorly suited to the challenges of civil engineering. Longterm skum habitats show countless signs of disastrous collapse and ill-conceived repairs, ofen repeatedly in the same problem areas, and their most ancient cities feature terrifyingly elegant aboleth architecture pockmarked with amateurish stone walls.

Large skum communities still feature many of the creatures and weapons lef behind as their masters retreated. Enormous, albino crayfsh, common war mounts in ancient times, now run feral near many ulat-kini strongholds. Cloakers and mimics are both common neighbors, and chuuls ofen share their hunting grounds with skum, who revere the aberrations as something between older siblings and bogeymen.

SKUM ON GOLARION

Skum can be found all across Golarion, from small groups of survivors to entire self-sustaining colonies. Cold Momugado: Located on Lake Nirthran in the Darklands realm of Sekamina, this settlement of skum is based out of the ruins of an aboleth temple. The skum within venerate a god named Shumbauth, thought by other Darklands inhabitants to be an ancient aboleth of immense size. The few visitors who returned from the city reported sighting a horrifc, tentacled mass at the center of the temple, but disagree on its exact nature.

Some speculate that it might be a mutant aboleth, while others claim Shumbauth is a mother of oblivion, a horrifying child of Lamashtu, and still others insist the sanity-robbing entity must be an undocumented spawn of Rovagug.

Drowning Stones: A pair of humanoid-shaped megaliths rise from a gorge in the Mwangi Expanse known as the Drowning Stones. Several streams empty into the gorge, and deep within its basin rests a hidden underground temple populated by skum. The skum of this tribe long ago forsook their aboleth masters in order to venerate Sifkesh, the demon lord of suicide. This location is fully explored in Pathfnder Society Scenario #34: Encounter at the Drowning Stones.

Egregzia: Among the ruins of the lost cyclops empire of Ghol-Gan, the city Egregzia rests under the waves. Inhabited by myriad freshwater monsters, Egregzia is a destination for many Free Captains from the Shackles searching for buried treasure, but scrags and merrow have set up underwater camps to ambush such entrepreneurs. A tribe of skum also prowls the ruins. Unlike their opportunistic neighbors, these skum scavenge the area under the direction of one of their own: a particularly old ulat-kini named Sharmurr who seeks to augment his already-signifcant arsenal of magical equipment.

Hyrantam: What remains of the former capital of Lirgen is now located in the Sodden Lands. The skum here made their way into the city only recently, under the direction of a trio of bickering aboleths. The aboleths’ ultimate goal in invading the half-sunken city remains a mystery, but they focus their minions’ attentions on the city’s countless temples. For the time, the skum delight a cruel rusalka named Sarrsene, and her amusement spares them the wrath of the Lirgeni leader, a sorcerer known as the Star Savior who seeks to court the aquatic fey.

Illmarsh: A group of skum inhabit the depths of Avalon Bay near the town of Illmarsh in Ustalav. These skum maintain surprisingly cordial relations with the inhabitants of Illmarsh, whose residents refer to them as the “neighbors down bay.” Beref of their aboleth overlords, these skum have turned to the worship of the demon lord Dagon, fervently searching for items important to the Shadow in the Sea. This tribe is further described in Pathfnder Adventure Path #46: Wake of the Watchers.

Ulat-Kini: Formerly an aboleth research facility, the aquatic overlords abandoned the Darklands city of Ulat-Kini to the species that once bore its name. Since the aboleths’ departure, Ulat-Kini has become a place of reverence for the skum, holy site, homeland, and aferlife all in one. Magically recycled air flows through the various domes of the city, which contain isolated, inbred tribes of humans unaware that a world exists beyond their dank homes. A dozen skum tribes control the city, standing in defense of the numerous elder skum that dwell in the deepest domes. Within these central domes, the oldest of the ulat-kini rest in discarded aboleth fleshwarping vats, entrapped in euphoric trances where they communicate with spirits from beyond the stars. None know for certain whether the dreams imparted to the skum elders are those of their distant aboleth masters or the whispers of masters even aboleths once served.

Wisher’s Well: The Thassilonian ruin of Wisher’s Well rests in the Sandpoint hinterlands and is home to a small tribe of skum under the command of the albino aboleth Vorimorath. Their attempts to excavate the ruins has repeatedly stalled, thanks largely to skum’s inability to work alongside a larger tribe of faceless stalkers also serving Vorimorath. Without the direct oversight of their aboleth masters, the two tribes have descended into infghting and petty squabbles over territory, food, and credit for discoveries. In order to prove themselves, the skum launch raids on nearby settlements, an act that will surely bring attention to the otherwise inconspicuous ruins.

ADVANCEMENT AND VARIANTS

Owing to their longevity, skum excel in numerous roles. Because of their long-standing martial tradition, most tend toward combat-oriented classes once they learn to improve themselves. Their strength and durability make skum especially capable barbarians and fghters.

Pathfinder _- Skum

As they learn to survive without masters, many have gravitated towards scouting and hunting roles such as rogues, hunters, and rangers. Few skum diverge from these aggressive positions, though sorcerous blood takes root among their kind as readily as it does among humans. However, few skum have the force of personality required to fully wield that power; instead, most with sorcerous blood become bloodragers.

The race’s contamination with the maddening aboleth slime leaves them more susceptible to the divine whispers that empower oracles, but more commonly, divine casters among the masterless are druids.

For the loyal skum who still serve aboleths, most still embrace their ancient role as slave-soldiers, training as cavaliers, fghters, and slayers. Others perfect their race’s largely forgotten unarmed combat style of flowing, dance-like movements and arterial slashes that work equally well on land and in the water. Casters among the loyal still venerate aboleths and the alien powers behind them, making passable clerics or, more ofen, warpriests.

A handful of variant species of skum exist across Golarion, two of which are described below. Am-Ulat-Kini: The eldest of the skum who witnessed the rise and fall of Azlant, the am-ulat-kini endured the fall of their aboleth masters and the ensuing millennia. These survivors are paragons of their species, ofen leading cabals of skum abandoned by their former masters, or serving as bodyguards or generals to aboleth warlords. Amulat-kini have the advanced creature simple template and 8 or more class levels.

Orvian Skum: These skum reside in the depths of Orv with their aboleth masters. Having existed under continuous aboleth influence, most skum of Orv have been further modifed by their masters, ofen repeatedly over the millennia, to make them more efcient servants. Skum hulks possess the giant creature simple template and serve as common laborers. Skum prodigies have been further fused with bioluminescent deep-sea fshes and serve as personal attendants to their masters. To better serve, their traditional mental limits have been removed, granting them a +6 bonus to their Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores. Skum ravagers are barely sentient voracious beasts that are loosed into the surrounding tunnels as watchdogs. They are Small and have an Intelligence and Charisma of 4, and their jaws have been augmented to deal 1d8+2 points of damage as their primary attack. Dozens of other skum variations exist, fusing skum subjects with all manner of aquatic animals and monsters; to create a new skum horror, use the amalgam creature template from Green Ronin’s Advanced Bestiary.


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