The Races of Al-Azraq
Although all of the D&D races are present on al-Azraq, their histories, cultures, and populations may be vastly different from that described in the Players Handbook and other supplements. This should serve as a brief primer as to the “norms” for the races on al-Azraq.
At the point in al-Azraq’s history that our story takes place, three races dominate the scene, politically, culturally, and militarily. The Xarir tieflings, though fallen from their once-formidable state, still maintain control over the nucleus of their former empire. The various tribes and polities of humanity stretch across a vast, curving archipelago that stretches from the icy waters of the far north to the tropics in the south. Finally, the Zamarrid dragonborn rule the swath of islands stretching between the Xarir and Human waters, and their islands fall within tropical and temperate climes. The other races either live outside these regions or have found niches among these other cultures within which they carve out their own existences.
The Zamarrid had served within the Xarir Empire as sailors and soldiers, and at that time they had already organized themselves into castes. As a result of this organization, the dragonborn were in a prime position to take advantage of the chaos which accompanied the collapse of Xarir society. They made their home in the Serpent Sea, declaring themselves de facto rulers of the islands there. In exchange for protection from marauding pirates, orcs, and goblinoids, the Zamarrid received the loyalty, labor, and skills of the former Xarir slaves in the region, including Gnomes and Halflings. Zamarrid harbors provided safe havens for Elven wayfarers, and soon the Zamarrid found themselves at the top of a complex tapestry of hierarchies.
Zamarrid organize themselves by clan and by caste. Clans jockey for position to control key aspects of the government, with the greatest prize being that of the office of Emperor, elected for fifteen year terms, with no term limits. Only those with scales of Gold can ascend to that position, while other Golds serve as the chief administrators of the Empire. Silver scales make up the Senate, who are responsible for electing and advising the Emperor. Silvers not selected for senatorial service act as governors of substantial districts. The generals and military advisors of the Empire are those with Bronze scales, while Coppers handle matters of taxation and the treasury. Finally, Brass scales serve as diplomats to other nations and groups.
Although the – relatively rare – metallic scales handle most of the high-end governance of the Zamarrid Empire, those with chromatic scales see to day-to-day operations. Greens tend to be merchants and sailors, Reds are captains and low-level administrators, Blues are wizards, Blacks operate spy and espionage networks, and Whites are farmers and artisans. The goal of most Zamarrid dragonborn is to serve in the task assigned by their caste to advance the causes and fortunes of their clans. However, some Zamarrid feel a pull to a different task than their caste would suggest, or they feel no loyalty to the clan; these dragonborn can elect to renounce their membership in a clan, effectively revoking their citizenship. In theory, these clanless dragonborn are treated the same as any other non-dragonborn within the Empire, but in reality, they are treated far worse because of their betrayal to the bedrock of Zamarrid society.
The Xarir Empire collapsed spectacularly thousands of years ago, yet the culture still survives. The Zamarrid never attempted to conquer the former Xarir core, partly because there were few resources there to exploit, but also because most people believe that the Xarir and their islands are tainted by their associations with devils. The Tieflings remaining within the Xarir core arrange themselves into families that obsessively track their lineage back to the noble families of the Xarir zenith. No one family rules over all of the Xarir Remnant, though they all seem to compete towards some common goal that is inscrutable to the spies and diplomats of the other nations. Rumors of kidnappings, assassinations, and sacrifices of slaves surround the Remnant, and there is evidence that they have agents spread across the seas, furthering their mysterious ends.
Tieflings outside the Remnant lead solitary lives, trying to escape the legacy of their peoples’ former cruelty and tyranny. As a result, many fall in to criminal organizations or work to disguise their ancestry. Few of these tieflings gather together, since mistrust can easily turn to hatred and violence.
Humanity lacks the unity of the Zamarrid or the history of the Xarir. The one constant among humans seems to be their wanderlust, and they quickly colonized a vast stretch of islands. However, rather than unifying their territory under a single government, each island or grouping formed their own state, and over vast stretches of time, each developed its own culture. Humanity only recently developed the navigation techniques necessary to cross the seas that sunder them from the Xarir and the Zamarrid, but they have already established enclaves in the major Zamarrid ports, and their ships can be seen carrying goods throughout the world. Although the seas to their east – toward the Xarir Remnant – are more forgiving than the Sundering Sea dividing them on the west from the Zamarrid, strong superstitions and taboos discourage humans from exploring their eastern reaches too thoroughly.
Other Significant Races
Although the elves were the first to sail the seas and to chart the world, their numbers are few. High elves tend to live in small enclaves surrounded by illusions to keep unwanted visitors away while they delve into advanced studies of the arcane. Sea elves are wanderers and vagabonds, with a wanderlust to trump even that of a human. As a rule, sea elves prefer to stay at sea as much as possible, only making landfall to resupply or to explore an island they haven’t yet visited. Although they are friendly and always have valuable information, sea elves have gained a reputation as thieves and vagabonds, so in port they tend to stick to established elven enclaves. In the elfports – as they’re known by other races – savvy buyers can find deals on rare treasures or locations of wondrous ruins, and gullible buyers can find baseless rumors and worthless trinkets.
Most dwarves live within the vast underground kingdoms of the Ringing Crown, a chain of volcanic island peaks far to the north of the Zamarrid Empire. There they labor to create works of craftsmanship to please Mur-deen, the tyrannical god of the forge. To power their mines and foundries, the dwarven clans are always on the lookout for slaves – who have a prodigious death rate. As a result, a caste of dwarves has emerged to buy or otherwise acquire new labor: the dreaded Kraikadair, the slave raiding berserkers.
A handful of dwarves every generation rejects the endless toil and tyranny of the Underhalls and makes its way into the wider world. Over successive generations they have formed a substantial presence among the Zamarrid and Humans as notable smiths and craftsman, and a group near the Zamarrid capital have even organized themselves into a new clan: Clan Fhogarr.
Gnomes and Halflings
Thousands of years ago, the Xarir conquered most of the world and subjugated the peoples they encountered. While the humans and Zamarrid managed to maintain some of their original identities, Gnomes and Halflings did not. They were removed to the individual from their homelands and scattered across the empire, forced to labor for their Tiefling overlords. Under the Zamarrid, they were able to recover some of their culture, but they never regained their former unity. Instead, they live in small groups, isolated from one another by custom and social inertia. That said, their skills are valued by the Zamarrid and by human kingdoms they live in, so most halflings and gnomes are able to make decent livings doing what they love to do.
The other races in D&D supplements, like the Aarakokra, Kenku, Tabaxi, and Genasi exist on al-Azraq, but they do not maintain substantial presences. For the most part the material in the supplements will work to describe their societies. Questions to ask are why they left their home islands, how they integrate into Zamarrid and human society, and why they would find themselves on a large ship traveling from the Zamarrid core to human waters.