- This article covers the species of creatures known as xulgaths or troglodytes. For the enlightened individuals formerly referred to as "xulgaths", see thoughtmaw.
Xulgaths, commonly known as troglodytes among surface dwellers, are a barbaric and vicious Darklands-dwelling humanoid race. They are most common in Nar-Voth, and are the favored slaves for many of the other races of that realm.
Xulgaths are reptilian humanoids with dull gray scaly hides and skinny bodies. Their mottled skin gives them an uncanny ability to blend in with the rocks and stones of their subterranean environment. Their head resembles that of a cave lizard, and they generally have short, bony ridges running down their spines. They height is generally capped at around five feet (although their hunched stance makes them appear shorter), and they weigh approximately 150 pounds. Those living beneath the drier regions of Osirion, Katapesh, and Thuvia tend of be of lighter complexion than those who live in Varisia and around Lake Encarthan.
Their long exposure to the radiation of the Black Desert has permanently warped xulgath physiology. Their mutations can result in countless characteristics, but in order to more easily distinguish an individual's role, xulgaths group individuals with similar mutations into groups. The few xulgaths who retain their ancestors' latent occult power are called thoughtmaws; they are also the only xulgaths who still remember the name of their species.
Xulgaths cook meat by charring it on a spit over such a long duration that other species would consider it inedible. Due to their unique physiology, xulgaths can digest this scorched meat, and can eat any meat as long as it resembles charcoal.
The xulgaths are one of the oldest civilisations of Golarion, and though primitive by modern standards, were far more advanced than that of any contemporaries. They originated from the Orvian vault of Vask, a primeval jungle protected from the Darklands' ambient radiation by six glowing orbs known as 'cavern hearts'. They constructed vast cities of ziggurats, twisting aqueducts, fungus farms, and animal ranches, and spread their orderly and bloody society across Vask. Eventually, the xulgaths outgrew their birthplace and began building an empire across the Darklands during the Age of Legend. They came into conflict with the neothelids, xiomorns, alghollthus, serpentfolk, and elder things, and made up for their relatively primitive technology with sheer numbers and the occult magic wielded by their paragons. At the time, they were far ahead of the other humanoid races, whom they kept in thrall.
In 1 AR, Aroden came to Vask and, believing that humans could make better use of its cavern hearts (which he calls aeon orbs) than xulgaths can, took five of them to the Isle of Kortos. Although he left one at Vask as an act of mercy, Aroden was unaware that the sole remaining aeon orb was insufficient to maintain its ecosystem. As the vault was irradiated and turned into a black wasteland, the xulgaths began to change. With each generation, the xulgaths became less intelligent and patient, and lost their capacity for farming and husbandry. Formerly cooperative communities came to blows due to paranoia and scarcity. Mutations became common, and xulgaths began to exude a foul stench that blights crops and livestock, instead of the psychogenic oils that their ancestors once did. As the xulgaths descended into barbarism and cannibalism, their empire crumbled. In the following ages, they forgot both their ancestral homeland and the identity of the powerful, scaleless wizard from the world above who took it away from them.
Xulgaths make their home in small, desolate tunnels of Nar-Voth. Each community is called a clutch, which can vary in size from a dozen to several hundred. Different clutches might band together, but long-term cooperation is almost impossible due to power dynamics between leaders. Because of their high birth rate, xulgaths exist in larger numbers than any other race in Nar-Voth.
Many xulgath clutches have established lairs deep in swamps or caves in an attempt to conquer the surface. From there, they strike out to seize territories, but are rarely successful.
Strength and dominance are the two core values of xulgath society. Strength can be interpreted as anything from physical might to magical talent and shrewd scheming. Most clutches stick to one of these models to determine their leader; when members of one clutch come into conflict over which exact one, the victor is allowed to determine the clutch's new definition of strength. Aspiring xulgath leaders either defeat their predecessor in combat, scheme to destabilise their reign, or employ magic to seize power. Lower-ranking xulgaths are mostly kept busy by their own concerns, and rarely pay attention to these power plays.
Strength in turn enables dominance, which is seen as a sign of one's personal worth, and the pinnacle of dominance is killing an enemy. By burning an enemy's corpse and eating the charred remains, xulgaths believe that they are utterly destroying their essence and gaining the strength of what remains.
Despite their disparate nature, xulgath communities are organised in a relatively similar way. Each clutch's main leader is called devourer, and secondary leaders are called hardscales. Most devourers are also deepmouths (as the xulgaths refer to their divine spellcasters); those that are not tend to keep their power through backstabbing or physical strength.
Xulgaths spend most of their time raiding other xulgath tribes, but are also happy to raid the hated surface world, other races of Nar-Voth, or even venture down to attack the inhabitants of Sekamina. Despite their numbers, they remain only a minor threat, as they are generally incapable of mounting any kind of coordinated or organized attack, and are just as happy killing and looting each other. Every so often a powerful or particularly intelligent xulgath warlord will emerge and unite a number of tribes to pose a significant threat to their neighbors, but these warbands never last for very long and almost always collapse into infighting. Most but not all xulgaths view this situation as an opportunity for powerful leaders to emerge; others are inspired by the stone structures built by their ancestors as a reminder of their long-gone empire, and seek to reestablish their people's dominance. Ambitious or organised clutches are usually more inclined to look for rare materials or sources of water, spy on enemies, and plan large raids.
Large clutches deep in the Darklands are usually led by thoughtmaws, who are held in awe by others of their kind. In these clutches, deepmouths usually tend to laymen or serve as advisors.
Xulgaths obtain fuel from flammable fungus, refuse, or the inedible dead. Since smoke is a serious hazard in their underground lairs, xulgaths understand well ventilation and how to put out fires that get out of control. Even then, surviving in a smoke-filled chamber is a common rite of passage, and those who complete it demonstrate their fortitude and ability to overcome flame.
Xulgaths hold fire-wielding spellcasters in high esteem, and coal from their rites serves as important supplies for magic and art. They believe that sigils scribed with an enemy's remains are especially potent reagents, and sometimes make percussion instruments known as shattertroughs from them.
Xulgaths shape stone with inflection, a little-known technique that has survived since the fall of their empire. Deepmouths call on divine magic, thoughtmaws employ occult magic, and others resort to crude alchemy. Inflected stone is harder than before, and can be injected into other materials or even other xulgaths, in a process called stone-binding.
Xulgaths see how they control fires and shape the bones of the earth as a sign of their dominance over the environment and nature. The pinnacle of this mastery is obsidian, which is viewed as tamed fire. Since obsidian is rare and brittle, its use is limited to tools or ornaments for devourers and hardscales. Inflecting obsidian, which takes a long time and is especially difficult, creates brightbone, which is as strong as mithral.
Xulgaths have tamed numerous creatures, most often reptiles, which have spent so long in their company that they have become inured to their foul stench. Deep clutches with sufficient space and resources can field whole armies of trained mounts. Xulgaths have an affinity with dinosaurs, and employ them as beasts of burden, siege engines, and terrifying mounts. Some clutches even summon fiendish dinosaurs from Gluttondark.
Demons are frequently seen in devout xulgath clutches, usually summoned for a specific purpose or staying for an extended amount of time to advise devourers or slake their thirst for blood. In the latter case, their presence might result in the birth of hideous half-fiends known as slaugraks.
Especially desperate or violent xulgath clutches are sometimes exploited as mercenaries by drow or duergar. More powerful ones attract the attention of outcast saurians who worship demons, but the balance of power between xulgath leaders and saurians is always fragile.
Despite their violent nature, xulgaths are willing to temporarily ally with surface dwellers, guiding them through tunnels or allowing them safe passage in exchange for magic items which advance the xulgaths' ends.
The demon lord Zevgavizeb is worshipped by the vast majority of xulgaths. His hunger and destructive nature resonate particularly well with xulgaths, who kill, eat, and spread in his name, for if they do not, Zevgavizeb will devour both their bodies and souls. This belief came from the infrequent outbreaks of violence and cannibalism among xulgaths, which is attributed to Zevgavizeb stirring in his realm of Gluttondark. The more violent a clutch is, the more devout it tends to be.
As Zevgavizeb demands at least one meal of warm-blooded flesh daily, devout clutches usually keep a pen of such prey on hand. Another tradition involves dancing and screaming around a slowly-impaled sacrificial victim; for this purpose, xulgaths build their largest cooking fires alongside concentric rings of butchery tables, and around a large, sharpened stalagmite.
Xulgaths who do not worship Zevgavizeb usually turn to other demon and qlippoth lords like Oaur-Ooung and Shiggarreb. They are seen as heretics that only deserve destruction by the rest of their kind.
A few xulgaths eschew Abyssal powers altogether, instead looking into their own innate strength or occult power. Others turn to the Green Faith, reject their violent kin, and are less likely to be hostile towards surface dwellers, something which paints them as the worst traitors by other xulgaths.
Xulgaths can be found in the caves and tunnels beneath the entire Inner Sea region, from the frozen island of Antler Rock in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings, the caverns of Earthnavel in the Realm of the Mammoth Lords, the Candlestone Caverns of Andoran, to the lost city of Saventh-Yhi in the Mwangi Expanse, and the limestone caverns beneath the oases in the Meraz Desert, where they come into conflict with Al-Zabriti tribes. They can sometimes even be found in the sewers beneath large cities, such as the sewers of Vyre and the Deepmarket of Goka. In western Nidal, the Hanging Gloom celebrates when darkness descended and wiped out thousands of xulgaths, and split scales are common in regional iconography. In the Ustalavic countryside, some clutches make their homes in dark forests and abandoned fortifications. The Marshworth Clutch in Odranto worship Zura, are inspired to 'conquer' vampiric practices, and their deepmouths are capable of inflecting blood.
These xulgaths have bulging throat folds that weep a putrid bile, hence the name. These drippings provide a constant supply of poison for a bilebearer's weapons. Additionally, inflatable air sacs in their throat allow them to spray a mist of vaporized bile, though doing so depletes their stores of the material and they must wait some time before repeating this ability. Bilebearers typically serve their clutches as kidnappers and assassins.
Spinesnappers are xulgaths who are particularly larger and stronger than their kin. They serve their clutches as front-line shock troops, as well as champions when conflict is settled through proxy single combat. Different communities might also call them marrowvents or bonebreakers.
Some spinesnappers are not naturally occurring, but instead the result of botched stone-bindings that merely enhance their strength instead of granting elemental power, or else demonic rituals. Spinesnappers that arise from the latter source often bear mutations that make them visually similar to slaugraks.
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