A player race in Azolin:
The artathi are a proud race of felinids who live upon and rule the savannas and jungles of Azolin. They believe they are the sons and daughters of their creation deity Ba en Aset and thus divine among the “lesser races” of the world. On a personal level, they are constantly seeking ways to prove their own worth; as a race they look for ways to expand their domains.
The artathi race is composed of seven different castes: three upper castes — Il’artathi (resembling lions), Tal’artathi (tigers), and Ahl’artathi (pumas); and four lower castes - Htak’artathi (lynx), Sal’artathi (cheetah), Dal’artathi (leopard), and Vyk’artathi (jaguar). Although members of one caste are capable of mating with those from another, the offspring from such a union are mongrels. Those unlucky enough to be tainted as such from birth are considered to be letathen, casteless ones, and are considered the lowest members of artathi society.
Artathi are essentially humanoid cats. They range from five to six feet in height (Vyk’artathi) all the way up to seven and a half to eight feet tall (Il’artathi), with a similar variance in weight. The members of the seven castes each resemble one species of big cat; the appearance of mongrels can vary widely but generally seems to favor a generic feature of little note (a tendency which increases with each generation of separation from “pure” stock).
Artathi tend to be one of two personality types, and this often has as much to do with the caste in which they were raised than anything else. Il’artathi, Tal’artathi, Htak’artathi, and Vyk’artathi tend to be impulsive and quick to anger. Ahl’artathi, Sal’artathi, and Dal’artathi, on the other hand, are quick of wit, sly, and subtle in their dealings with others. Mongrels are almost always subservient to those of the upper castes, but their frustrations will frequently manifest in a more violent temperament when dealing with anyone to whom they do not have to show deference — outsiders to Artathi society.
Artathi generally have little patience for humans, considering their relatively chaotic societies, unfocused nature, and unstructured lives to be signs of weakness. However, there are some human cultures — typically those with sophisticated and well-ordered societies - the artathi respect. The artathi almost universally view halflings and gnomes with disdain: Their cultures lack honor and their lifestyles suggest that of the letathen. Half-elves and similar races are, likewise, looked upon with distaste as a result of their “mongrel” heritage. The artistic graces and fine taste of the elves generally earn them respect, but their more chaotic aspects seem a weakness to the artathi.
The artathi view of dwarves is more complicated: The castes with a more martial bent will generally appreciate their skills and endurance, while those castes with more delicate sensibilities tend to scorn their roughness.
Artathi on Azolin
The artathi race is one of divisions. The artathi of the jungle are different from those of the savanna; those of the upper castes are different from those of the lower castes; those of the city-states are different from those of the tribes. Mirroring these divisions of life are the conflicts that make up the artathi themselves: Cultural refinement justifies barbaric custom; social grace guides a warrior’s instincts; honor mixes with deception. Within artathi society, each of these subtle elements is lent an overwhelming importance, dictating a pattern of behavior and custom that is supremely elegant in its opaque complexity.
The artathi civilization seems, at first glance, to be centered on the isolated city-states in the Dahmir Saha that serve as the most basic elements of political power. Whether found on the savanna or within the jungle, these widely dispersed centers of population serve as the nexus points that guide the migrations of the nomadic tribes that represent the other half of the artathi population. In reality, however, the city-states are as dependent on the network of trade created by the tribes as the tribes are on the concentrated resources of the city-states.
The artathi also live within a strict caste society, largely defined by the possession of power as an expression of a caste’s proximity to Ba en Aset. The three upper castes are known as the Durek (literally “first children” in the artathi language), while the four lower castes are known as the Surek (“second children”). The mongrels, or casteless, are known as the Letathen (literally the “forgotten ones”). Each of the three Durek castes possesses exactly nine households. The four castes of the Surek, on the other hand, have a varying number of households, ranging from the 12 of the Dal’artathi to the Hundred Houses of the Vyk’artathi.
In general, the Durek are more influential on the savanna, while the Surek are more influential in the jungle. However, there is no distinct or formal separation, and the Durek are still considered “closer to Ba en Aset” (and thus more powerful on an individual basis, at least in theory) throughout artathi society. The true division of power between the Durek and Surek lies in the selection of emperor and empress. The former is the “Divine Light of Ba en Aset” and “Father of the Seven Castes,” holding supreme power over all living artathi. He is selected by the Durek from among their own ranks.
Similarly, the Surek select the empress. Her approval is required for any marriage to take place. For the lower members of a caste, this is frequently nothing more than a formality. For the upper (or royal) members of a caste, however, this approval is an absolute necessity. Because the emperor holds the ultimate political authority among the artathi, the empress’ importance is frequently overlooked. However, her ability to control alliances and lines of succession within and between the households of the Durek and Surek is of supreme importance in shaping the political reality within which the emperor must function.
The emperor and empress, selected from different castes, are capable of producing only letathen offspring, preventing any attempts to form an imperial dynasty.
Artathi are typically lawful by nature, a result of their highly structured societies. Those who tend toward adventuring, however, often fall outside of this mold (particularly if they are mongrels). They are, after all, those who did not fit into the traditional strictures of their society.
The artathi worship a single goddess, Ba en Aset. Her church represents a branch of power within artathi society that is related to but separate from that of the imperial and caste systems. Power within her church is divided into nine hierarchies, each representing one of the goddess’ nine lives.
It is said that those who turn from the Church of Ba en Aset lose her favor, but the continued success of clerics and paladins who have fled from artathi society seem to belie such teachings. Perhaps even more damning of the Church’s claim of orthodoxy are those of the letathen who are gifted with divine favor. Such individuals are frequently forced to flee their homes, although many do so only with a vow to return and sweep the corruption and prejudice from their homelands.
The artathi express their native tongue Artaavi interchangeably through both their own writing and that of the Elven script. Each of the seven castes is noted for its excellence at various sorts of literature. The Ahl’artathi, for example, are known for their works of epic poetry. The Il’artathi are known best for their works on military strategy and conquest. The letathen are frequently illiterate, and those who can read rarely know more than the few pidgin phrases they need to go about their daily business.
Artathi of the Seven Castes have names that are practically works of art. Each is composed of three parts. The Name of Birth (or el’nalak) is the shortest part and is given to the newborn artathi by the empress. These names are descriptive in the artathi language but are also selected from the Sethe’nalak (the Imperial Roll of Names). To have one’s name added to the Sethe’nalak is considered one of the greatest honors of the artathi and can only be achieved by earning the extreme gratitude of the emperor and empress. Such a name would have been selected from among the Names of Honor (or sul’nalak), which precedes the Name of Birth. The number and variety of the Names of Honor depend entirely upon the artathi who possesses them, as they are earned throughout his life by demonstrated greatness in the eyes of the caste leaders. Finally, there are the Names of Caste (or artath’nalak). These follow the Name of Birth and are also attached at birth. The Names of Caste, however, are drawn through a complex ritual from the ancestors and caste-mates of the newborn, identifying his heritage to all who hear the full name.
Letathen are given only a Name of Birth, and such a name cannot appear on the Sethe’nalak.
Letathen, of all the artathi, are the most likely to become adventurers, fleeing a society that has oppressed them. Though it is rare for members of the Seven Castes to leave artathi society, those who are exiled or choose to leave are also frequently called down the path of adventure.